Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

The Confessions Of Saint Augustine




   My heart, O Lord, touched with the words of Thy Holy Scripture, is much

   busied, amid this poverty of my life. And therefore most times, is the

   poverty of human understanding copious in words, because enquiring hath

   more to say than discovering, and demanding is longer than obtaining,

   and our hand that knocks, hath more work to do, than our hand that

   receives. We hold the promise, who shall make it null? If God be for

   us, who can be against us? Ask, and ye shall have; seek, and ye shall

   find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that

   asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that

   knocketh, shall it be opened. These be Thine own promises: and who need

   fear to be deceived, when the Truth promiseth?




   The lowliness of my tongue confesseth unto Thy Highness, that Thou

   madest heaven and earth; this heaven which I see, and this earth that I

   tread upon, whence is this earth that I bear about me; Thou madest it.

   But where is that heaven of heavens, O Lord, which we hear of in the

   words of the Psalm. The heaven of heavens are the Lord's; but the earth

   hath He given to the children of men? Where is that heaven which we see

   not, to which all this which we see is earth? For this corporeal whole,

   not being wholly every where, hath in such wise received its portion of

   beauty in these lower parts, whereof the lowest is this our earth; but

   to that heaven of heavens, even the heaven of our earth, is but earth:

   yea both these great bodies, may not absurdly be called earth, to that

   unknown heaven, which is the Lord's, not the sons' of men.




   And now this earth was invisible and without form, and there was I know

   not what depth of abyss, upon which there was no light, because it had

   no shape. Therefore didst Thou command it to be written, that darkness

   was upon the face of the deep; what else than the absence of light? For

   had there been light, where should it have been but by being over all,

   aloft, and enlightening? Where then light was not, what was the

   presence of darkness, but the absence of light? Darkness therefore was

   upon it, because light was not upon it; as where sound is not, there is

   silence. And what is it to have silence there, but to have no sound

   there? Hast not Thou, O Lord, taught his soul, which confesseth unto

   Thee? Hast not Thou taught me, Lord, that before Thou formedst and

   diversifiedst this formless matter, there was nothing, neither colour,

   nor figure, nor body, nor spirit? and yet not altogether nothing; for

   there was a certain formlessness, without any beauty.




   How then should it be called, that it might be in some measure conveyed

   to those of duller mind, but by some ordinary word? And what, among all

   parts of the world can be found nearer to an absolute formlessness,

   than earth and deep? For, occupying the lowest stage, they are less

   beautiful than the other higher parts are, transparent all and shining.

   Wherefore then may I not conceive the formlessness of matter (which

   Thou hadst created without beauty, whereof to make this beautiful

   world) to be suitably intimated unto men, by the name of earth

   invisible and without form.




   So that when thought seeketh what the sense may conceive under this,

   and saith to itself, "It is no intellectual form, as life, or justice;

   because it is the matter of bodies; nor object of sense, because being

   invisible, and without form, there was in it no object of sight or

   sense";--while man's thought thus saith to itself, it may endeavour

   either to know it, by being ignorant of it; or to be ignorant, by

   knowing it.




   But I, Lord, if I would, by my tongue and my pen, confess unto Thee the

   whole, whatever Thyself hath taught me of that matter,--the name

   whereof hearing before, and not understanding, when they who understood

   it not, told me of it, so I conceived of it as having innumerable forms

   and diverse, and therefore did not conceive it at all, my mind tossed

   up and down foul and horrible "forms" out of all order, but yet "forms"

   and I called it without form not that it wanted all form, but because

   it had such as my mind would, if presented to it, turn from, as

   unwonted and jarring, and human frailness would be troubled at. And

   still that which I conceived, was without form, not as being deprived

   of all form, but in comparison of more beautiful forms; and true reason

   did persuade me, that I must utterly uncase it of all remnants of form

   whatsoever, if I would conceive matter absolutely without form; and I

   could not; for sooner could I imagine that not to be at all, which

   should be deprived of all form, than conceive a thing betwixt form and

   nothing, neither formed, nor nothing, a formless almost nothing. So my

   mind gave over to question thereupon with my spirit, it being filled

   with the images of formed bodies, and changing and varying them, as it

   willed; and I bent myself to the bodies themselves, and looked more

   deeply into their changeableness, by which they cease to be what they

   have been, and begin to be what they were not; and this same shifting

   from form to form, I suspected to be through a certain formless state,

   not through a mere nothing; yet this I longed to know, not to suspect

   only.-If then my voice and pen would confess unto Thee the whole,

   whatsoever knots Thou didst open for me in this question, what reader

   would hold out to take in the whole? Nor shall my heart for all this

   cease to give Thee honour, and a song of praise, for those things which

   it is not able to express. For the changeableness of changeable things,

   is itself capable of all those forms, into which these changeable

   things are changed. And this changeableness, what is it? Is it soul? Is

   it body? Is it that which constituteth soul or body? Might one say, "a

   nothing something", an "is, is not," I would say, this were it: and yet

   in some way was it even then, as being capable of receiving these

   visible and compound figures.




   But whence had it this degree of being, but from Thee, from Whom are

   all things, so far forth as they are? But so much the further from

   Thee, as the unliker Thee; for it is not farness of place. Thou

   therefore, Lord, Who art not one in one place, and otherwise in

   another, but the Self-same, and the Self-same, and the Self-same, Holy,

   Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, didst in the Beginning, which is of

   Thee, in Thy Wisdom, which was born of Thine own Substance, create

   something, and that out of nothing. For Thou createdst heaven and

   earth; not out of Thyself, for so should they have been equal to Thine

   Only Begotten Son, and thereby to Thee also; whereas no way were it

   right that aught should be equal to Thee, which was not of Thee. And

   aught else besides Thee was there not, whereof Thou mightest create

   them, O God, One Trinity, and Trine Unity; and therefore out of nothing

   didst Thou create heaven and earth; a great thing, and a small thing;

   for Thou art Almighty and Good, to make all things good, even the great

   heaven, and the petty earth. Thou wert, and nothing was there besides,

   out of which Thou createdst heaven and earth; things of two sorts; one

   near Thee, the other near to nothing; one to which Thou alone shouldest

   be superior; the other, to which nothing should be inferior.




   But that heaven of heavens was for Thyself, O Lord; but the earth which

   Thou gavest to the sons of men, to be seen and felt, was not such as we

   now see and feel. For it was invisible, without form, and there was a

   deep, upon which there was no light; or, darkness was above the deep,

   that is, more than in the deep. Because this deep of waters, visible

   now, hath even in his depths, a light proper for its nature;

   perceivable in whatever degree unto the fishes, and creeping things in

   the bottom of it. But that whole deep was almost nothing, because

   hitherto it was altogether without form; yet there was already that

   which could be formed. For Thou, Lord, madest the world of a matter

   without form, which out of nothing, Thou madest next to nothing,

   thereof to make those great things, which we sons of men wonder at. For

   very wonderful is this corporeal heaven; of which firmament between

   water and water, the second day, after the creation of light, Thou

   saidst, Let it be made, and it was made. Which firmament Thou calledst

   heaven; the heaven, that is, to this earth and sea, which Thou madest

   the third day, by giving a visible figure to the formless matter, which

   Thou madest before all days. For already hadst Thou made both an

   heaven, before all days; but that was the heaven of this heaven;

   because In the beginning Thou hadst made heaven and earth. But this

   same earth which Thou madest was formless matter, because it was

   invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep, of which

   invisible earth and without form, of which formlessness, of which

   almost nothing, Thou mightest make all these things of which this

   changeable world consists, but subsists not; whose very changeableness

   appears therein, that times can be observed and numbered in it. For

   times are made by the alterations of things, while the figures, the

   matter whereof is the invisible earth aforesaid, are varied and turned.




   And therefore the Spirit, the Teacher of Thy servant, when It recounts

   Thee to have In the Beginning created heaven and earth, speaks nothing

   of times, nothing of days. For verily that heaven of heavens which Thou

   createdst in the Beginning, is some intellectual creature, which,

   although no ways coeternal unto Thee, the Trinity, yet partaketh of Thy

   eternity, and doth through the sweetness of that most happy

   contemplation of Thyself, strongly restrain its own changeableness; and

   without any fall since its first creation, cleaving close unto Thee, is

   placed beyond all the rolling vicissitude of times. Yea, neither is

   this very formlessness of the earth, invisible, and without form,

   numbered among the days. For where no figure nor order is, there does

   nothing come, or go; and where this is not, there plainly are no days,

   nor any vicissitude of spaces of times.




   O let the Light, the Truth, the Light of my heart, not mine own

   darkness, speak unto me. I fell off into that, and became darkened; but

   even thence, even thence I loved Thee. I went astray, and remembered

   Thee. I heard Thy voice behind me, calling to me to return, and

   scarcely heard it, through the tumultuousness of the enemies of peace.

   And now, behold, I return in distress and panting after Thy fountain.

   Let no man forbid me! of this will I drink, and so live. Let me not be

   mine own life; from myself I lived ill, death was I to myself; and I

   revive in Thee. Do Thou speak unto me, do Thou discourse unto me. I

   have believed Thy Books, and their words be most full of mystery.




   Already Thou hast told me with a strong voice, O Lord, in my inner ear,

   that Thou art eternal, Who only hast immortality; since Thou canst not

   be changed as to figure or motion, nor is Thy will altered by times:

   seeing no will which varies is immortal. This is in Thy sight clear to

   me, and let it be more and more cleared to me, I beseech Thee; and in

   the manifestation thereof, let me with sobriety abide under Thy wings.

   Thou hast told me also with a strong voice, O Lord, in my inner ear,

   that Thou hast made all natures and substances, which are not what

   Thyself is, and yet are; and that only is not from Thee, which is not,

   and the motion of the will from Thee who art, unto that which in a less

   degree is, because such motion is transgression and sin; and that no

   man's sin doth either hurt Thee, or disturb the order of Thy

   government, first or last. This is in Thy sight clear unto me, and let

   it be more and more cleared to me, I beseech Thee: and in the

   manifestation thereof, let me with sobriety abide under Thy wings.


   Thou hast told me also with a strong voice, in my inner ear, that

   neither is that creature coeternal unto Thyself, whose happiness Thou

   only art, and which with a most persevering purity, drawing its

   nourishment from Thee, doth in no place and at no time put forth its

   natural mutability; and, Thyself being ever present with it, unto Whom

   with its whole affection it keeps itself, having neither future to

   expect, nor conveying into the past what it remembereth, is neither

   altered by any change, nor distracted into any times. O blessed

   creature, if such there be, for cleaving unto Thy Blessedness; blest in

   Thee, its eternal Inhabitant and its Enlightener! Nor do I find by what

   name I may the rather call the heaven of heavens which is the Lord's,

   than Thine house, which contemplateth Thy delights without any

   defection of going forth to another; one pure mind, most harmoniously

   one, by that settled estate of peace of holy spirits, the citizens of

   Thy city in heavenly places; far above those heavenly places that we



   By this may the soul, whose pilgrimage is made long and far away, by

   this may she understand, if she now thirsts for Thee, if her tears be

   now become her bread, while they daily say unto her, Where is Thy God?

   if she now seeks of Thee one thing, and desireth it, that she may dwell

   in Thy house all the days of her life (and what is her life, but Thou?

   and what Thy days, but Thy eternity, as Thy years which fail not,

   because Thou art ever the same?); by this then may the soul that is

   able, understand how far Thou art, above all times, eternal; seeing Thy

   house which at no time went into a far country, although it be not

   coeternal with Thee, yet by continually and unfailingly cleaving unto

   Thee, suffers no changeableness of times. This is in Thy sight clear

   unto me, and let it be more and more cleared unto me, I beseech Thee,

   and in the manifestation thereof, let me with sobriety abide under Thy



   There is, behold, I know not what formlessness in those changes of

   these last and lowest creatures; and who shall tell me (unless such a

   one as through the emptiness of his own heart, wonders and tosses

   himself up and down amid his own fancies?), who but such a one would

   tell me, that if all figure be so wasted and consumed away, that there

   should only remain that formlessness, through which the thing was

   changed and turned from one figure to another, that that could exhibit

   the vicissitudes of times? For plainly it could not, because, without

   the variety of motions, there are no times: and no variety, where there

   is no figure.




   These things considered, as much as Thou givest, O my God, as much as

   Thou stirrest me up to knock, and as much as Thou openest to me

   knocking, two things I find that Thou hast made, not within the compass

   of time, neither of which is coeternal with Thee. One, which is so

   formed, that without any ceasing of contemplation, without any interval

   of change, though changeable, yet not changed, it may thoroughly enjoy

   Thy eternity and unchangeableness; the other which was so formless,

   that it had not that, which could be changed from one form into

   another, whether of motion, or of repose, so as to become subject unto

   time. But this Thou didst not leave thus formless, because before all

   days, Thou in the Beginning didst create Heaven and Earth; the two

   things that I spake of. But the Earth was invisible and without form,

   and darkness was upon the deep. In which words, is the formlessness

   conveyed unto us (that such capacities may hereby be drawn on by

   degrees, as are not able to conceive an utter privation of all form,

   without yet coming to nothing), out of which another Heaven might be

   created, together with a visible and well-formed earth: and the waters

   diversly ordered, and whatsoever further is in the formation of the

   world, recorded to have been, not without days, created; and that, as

   being of such nature, that the successive changes of times may take

   place in them, as being subject to appointed alterations of motions and

   of forms.




   This then is what I conceive, O my God, when I hear Thy Scripture

   saying, In the beginning God made Heaven and Earth: and the Earth was

   invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep, and not

   mentioning what day Thou createdst them; this is what I conceive, that

   because of the Heaven of heavens,--that intellectual Heaven, whose

   Intelligences know all at once, not in part, not darkly, not through a

   glass, but as a whole, in manifestation, face to face; not, this thing

   now, and that thing anon; but (as I said) know all at once, without any

   succession of times;--and because of the earth invisible and without

   form, without any succession of times, which succession presents "this

   thing now, that thing anon"; because where is no form, there is no

   distinction of things:--it is, then, on account of these two, a

   primitive formed, and a primitive formless; the one, heaven but the

   Heaven of heaven, the other earth but the earth invisible and without

   form; because of these two do I conceive, did Thy Scripture say without

   mention of days, In the Beginning God created Heaven and Earth. For

   forthwith it subjoined what earth it spake of; and also, in that the

   Firmament is recorded to be created the second day, and called Heaven,

   it conveys to us of which Heaven He before spake, without mention of





   Wondrous depth of Thy words! whose surface, behold! is before us,

   inviting to little ones; yet are they a wondrous depth. O my God, a

   wondrous depth! It is awful to look therein; an awfulness of honour,

   and a trembling of love. The enemies thereof I hate vehemently; oh that

   Thou wouldest slay them with Thy two-edged sword, that they might no

   longer be enemies unto it: for so do I love to have them slain unto

   themselves, that they may live unto Thee. But behold others not

   faultfinders, but extollers of the book of Genesis; "The Spirit of

   God," say they, "Who by His servant Moses wrote these things, would not

   have those words thus understood; He would not have it understood, as

   thou sayest, but otherwise, as we say." Unto Whom Thyself, O Thou God

   all, being judge, do I thus answer.




   "Will you affirm that to be false, which with a strong voice Truth

   tells me in my inner ear, concerning the Eternity of the Creator, that

   His substance is no ways changed by time, nor His will separate from

   His substance? Wherefore He willeth not one thing now, another anon,

   but once, and at once, and always, He willeth all things that He

   willeth; not again and again, nor now this, now that; nor willeth

   afterwards, what before He willed not, nor willeth not, what before He

   willed; because such a will is and no mutable thing is eternal: but our

   God is eternal. Again, what He tells me in my inner ear, the

   expectation of things to come becomes sight, when they are come, and

   this same sight becomes memory, when they be past. Now all thought

   which thus varies is mutable; and is eternal: but our God is eternal."

   These things I infer, and put together, and find that my God, the

   eternal God, hath not upon any new will made any creature, nor doth His

   knowledge admit of any thing transitory. "What will ye say then, O ye

   gainsayers? Are these things false?" "No," they say; "What then? Is it

   false, that every nature already formed, or matter capable of form, is

   not, but from Him Who is supremely good, because He is supremely?"

   "Neither do we deny this," say they. "What then? do you deny this, that

   there is a certain sublime creature, with so chaste a love cleaving

   unto the true and truly eternal God, that although not coeternal with

   Him, yet is it not detached from Him, nor dissolved into the variety

   and vicissitude of times, but reposeth in the most true contemplation

   of Him only?" Because Thou, O God, unto him that loveth Thee so much as

   Thou commandest, dost show Thyself, and sufficest him; and therefore

   doth he not decline from Thee, nor toward himself. This is the house of

   God, not of earthly mould, nor of celestial bulk corporeal but

   spiritual, and partaker of Thy eternity, because without defection for

   ever. For Thou hast made it fast for ever and ever, Thou hast given it

   a law which it shall not pass. Nor yet is it coeternal with Thee, O

   God, because not without beginning; for it was made.


   For although we find no time before it, for wisdom was created before

   all things; not that Wisdom which is altogether equal and coeternal

   unto Thee, our God, His Father, and by Whom all things were created,

   and in Whom, as the Beginning, Thou createdst heaven and earth; but

   that wisdom which is created, that is, the intellectual nature, which

   by contemplating the light, is light. For this, though created, is also

   called wisdom. But what difference there is betwixt the Light which

   enlighteneth, and which is enlightened, so much is there betwixt the

   Wisdom that createth, and that created; as betwixt the Righteousness

   which justifieth, and the righteousness which is made by justification.

   For we also are called Thy righteousness; for so saith a certain

   servant of Thine, That we might be made the righteousness of God in

   Him. Therefore since a certain created wisdom was created before all

   things, the rational and intellectual mind of that chaste city of

   Thine, our mother which is above, and is free and eternal in the

   heavens (in what heavens, if not in those that praise Thee, the Heaven

   of heavens? Because this is also the Heaven of heavens for the

   Lord);--though we find no time before it (because that which hath been

   created before all things, precedeth also the creature of time), yet is

   the Eternity of the Creator Himself before it, from Whom, being

   created, it took the beginning, not indeed of time (for time itself was

   not yet), but of its creation.


   Hence it is so of Thee, our God, as to be altogether other than Thou,

   and not the Self-same: because though we find time neither before it,

   nor even in it (it being meet ever to behold Thy face, nor is ever

   drawn away from it, wherefore it is not varied by any change), yet is

   there in it a liability to change, whence it would wax dark, and chill,

   but that by a strong affection cleaving unto Thee, like perpetual noon,

   it shineth and gloweth from Thee. O house most lightsome and

   delightsome! I have loved thy beauty, and the place of the habitation

   of the glory of my Lord, thy builder and possessor. Let my wayfaring

   sigh after thee, and I say to Him that made thee, let Him take

   possession of me also in thee, seeing He hath made me likewise. I have

   gone astray like a lost sheep: yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd,

   thy builder, hope I to be brought back to thee.


   "What say ye to me, O ye gainsayers that I was speaking unto, who yet

   believe Moses to have been the holy servant of God, and his books the

   oracles of the Holy Ghost? Is not this house of God, not coeternal

   indeed with God, yet after its measure, eternal in the heavens, when

   you seek for changes of times in vain, because you will not find them?

   For that, to which it is ever good to cleave fast to God, surpasses all

   extension, and all revolving periods of time." "It is," say they. "What

   then of all that which my heart loudly uttered unto my God, when

   inwardly it heard the voice of His praise, what part thereof do you

   affirm to be false? Is it that the matter was without form, in which

   because there was no form, there was no order? But where no order was,

   there could be no vicissitude of times: and yet this almost nothing,'

   inasmuch as it was not altogether nothing, was from Him certainly, from

   Whom is whatsoever is, in what degree soever it is." "This also," say

   they, "do we not deny."




   With these I now parley a little in Thy presence, O my God, who grant

   all these things to be true, which Thy Truth whispers unto my soul. For

   those who deny these things, let them bark and deafen themselves as

   much as they please; I will essay to persuade them to quiet, and to

   open in them a way for Thy word. But if they refuse, and repel me; I

   beseech, O my God, be not Thou silent to me. Speak Thou truly in my

   heart; for only Thou so speakest: and I will let them alone blowing

   upon the dust without, and raising it up into their own eyes: and

   myself will enter my chamber, and sing there a song of loves unto Thee;

   groaning with groanings unutterable, in my wayfaring, and remembering

   Jerusalem, with heart lifted up towards it, Jerusalem my country,

   Jerusalem my mother, and Thyself that rulest over it, the Enlightener,

   Father, Guardian, Husband, the pure and strong delight, and solid joy,

   and all good things unspeakable, yea all at once, because the One

   Sovereign and true Good. Nor will I be turned away, until Thou gather

   all that I am, from this dispersed and disordered estate, into the

   peace of that our most dear mother, where the first-fruits of my spirit

   be already (whence I am ascertained of these things), and Thou conform

   and confirm it for ever, O my God, my Mercy. But those who do not

   affirm all these truths to be false, who honour Thy holy Scripture, set

   forth by holy Moses, placing it, as we, on the summit of authority to

   be followed, and do yet contradict me in some thing, I answer thus; By

   Thyself judge, O our God, between my Confessions and these men's





   For they say, "Though these things be true, yet did not Moses intend

   those two, when, by revelation of the Spirit, he said, In the beginning

   God created heaven and earth. He did not under the name of heaven,

   signify that spiritual or intellectual creature which always beholds

   the face of God; nor under the name of earth, that formless matter."

   "What then?" "That man of God," say they, "meant as we say, this

   declared he by those words." "What?" "By the name of heaven and earth

   would he first signify," say they, "universally and compendiously, all

   this visible world; so as afterwards by the enumeration of the several

   days, to arrange in detail, and, as it were, piece by piece, all those

   things, which it pleased the Holy Ghost thus to enounce. For such were

   that rude and carnal people to which he spake, that he thought them fit

   to be entrusted with the knowledge of such works of God only as were

   visible." They agree, however, that under the words earth invisible and

   without form, and that darksome deep (out of which it is subsequently

   shown, that all these visible things which we all know, were made and

   arranged during those "days") may, not incongruously, be understood of

   this formless first matter.


   What now if another should say that "this same formlessness and

   confusedness of matter, was for this reason first conveyed under the

   name of heaven and earth, because out of it was this visible world with

   all those natures which most manifestly appear in it, which is ofttimes

   called by the name of heaven and earth, created and perfected?" What

   again if another say that "invisible and visible nature is not indeed

   inappropriately called heaven and earth; and so, that the universal

   creation, which God made in His Wisdom, that is, in the Beginning, was

   comprehended under those two words? Notwithstanding, since all things

   be made not of the substance of God, but out of nothing (because they

   are not the same that God is, and there is a mutable nature in them

   all, whether they abide, as doth the eternal house of God, or be

   changed, as the soul and body of man are): therefore the common matter

   of all things visible and invisible (as yet unformed though capable of

   form), out of which was to be created both heaven and earth (i. the

   invisible and visible creature when formed), was entitled by the same

   names given to the earth invisible and without form and the darkness

   upon the deep, but with this distinction, that by the earth invisible

   and without form is understood corporeal matter, antecedent to its

   being qualified by any form; and by the darkness upon the deep,

   spiritual matter, before it underwent any restraint of its unlimited

   fluidness, or received any light from Wisdom?"


   It yet remains for a man to say, if he will, that "the already

   perfected and formed natures, visible and invisible, are not signified

   under the name of heaven and earth, when we read, In the beginning God

   made heaven and earth, but that the yet unformed commencement of

   things, the stuff apt to receive form and making, was called by these

   names, because therein were confusedly contained, not as yet

   distinguished by their qualities and forms, all those things which

   being now digested into order, are called Heaven and Earth, the one

   being the spiritual, the other the corporeal, creation."




   All which things being heard and well considered, I will not strive

   about words: for that is profitable to nothing, but the subversion of

   the hearers. But the law is good to edify, if a man use it lawfully:

   for that the end of it is charity, out of a pure heart and good

   conscience, and faith unfeigned. And well did our Master know, upon

   which two commandments He hung all the Law and the Prophets. And what

   doth it prejudice me, O my God, Thou light of my eyes in secret,

   zealously confessing these things, since divers things may be

   understood under these words which yet are all true,--what, I say, doth

   it prejudice me, if I think otherwise than another thinketh the writer

   thought? All we readers verily strive to trace out and to understand

   his meaning whom we read; and seeing we believe him to speak truly, we

   dare not imagine him to have said any thing, which ourselves either

   know or think to be false. While every man endeavours then to

   understand in the Holy Scriptures, the same as the writer understood,

   what hurt is it, if a man understand what Thou, the light of all

   true-speaking minds, dost show him to be true, although he whom he

   reads, understood not this, seeing he also understood a Truth, though

   not this truth?




   For true it is, O Lord, that Thou madest heaven and earth; and it is

   true too, that the Beginning is Thy Wisdom, in Which Thou createst all:

   and true again, that this visible world hath for its greater part the

   heaven and the earth, which briefly comprise all made and created

   natures. And true too, that whatsoever is mutable, gives us to

   understand a certain want of form, whereby it receiveth a form, or is

   changed, or turned. It is true, that that is subject to no times, which

   so cleaveth to the unchangeable Form, as though subject to change,

   never to be changed. It is true, that that formlessness which is almost

   nothing, cannot be subject to the alteration of times. It is true, that

   that whereof a thing is made, may by a certain mode of speech, be

   called by the name of the thing made of it; whence that formlessness,

   whereof heaven and earth were made, might be called heaven and earth.

   It is true, that of things having form, there is not any nearer to

   having no form, than the earth and the deep. It is true, that not only

   every created and formed thing, but whatsoever is capable of being

   created and formed, Thou madest, of Whom are all things. It is true,

   that whatsoever is formed out of that which had no form, was unformed

   before it was formed.




   Out of these truths, of which they doubt not whose inward eye Thou hast

   enabled to see such things, and who unshakenly believe Thy servant

   Moses to have spoken in the Spirit of truth;--of all these then, he

   taketh one, who saith, In the Beginning God made the heaven and the

   earth; that is, "in His Word coeternal with Himself, God made the

   intelligible and the sensible, or the spiritual and the corporeal

   creature." He another, that saith, In the Beginning God made heaven and

   earth; that is, "in His Word coeternal with Himself, did God make the

   universal bulk of this corporeal world, together with all those

   apparent and known creatures, which it containeth." He another, that

   saith, In the Beginning God made heaven and earth; that is, "in His

   Word coeternal with Himself, did God make the formless matter of

   creatures spiritual and corporeal." He another, that saith, In the

   Beginning God created heaven and earth; that is, "in His Word coeternal

   with Himself, did God create the formless matter of the creature

   corporeal, wherein heaven and earth lay as yet confused, which, being

   now distinguished and formed, we at this day see in the bulk of this

   world." He another, who saith, In the Beginning God made heaven and

   earth; that is, "in the very beginning of creating and working, did God

   make that formless matter, confusedly containing in itself both heaven

   and earth; out of which, being formed, do they now stand out, and are

   apparent, with all that is in them."




   And with regard to the understanding of the words following, out of all

   those truths, he chooses one to himself, who saith, But the earth was

   invisible, and without form, and darkness was upon the deep; that is,

   "that corporeal thing that God made, was as yet a formless matter of

   corporeal things, without order, without light. " Another he who says,

   The earth was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the

   deep; that is, "this all, which is called heaven and earth, was still a

   formless and darksome matter, of which the corporeal heaven and the

   corporeal earth were to be made, with all things in them, which are

   known to our corporeal senses." Another he who says, The earth was

   invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep; that is,

   "this all, which is called heaven and earth, was still a formless and a

   darksome matter; out of which was to be made, both that intelligible

   heaven, otherwhere called the Heaven of heavens, and the earth, that

   is, the whole corporeal nature, under which name is comprised this

   corporeal heaven also; in a word, out of which every visible and

   invisible creature was to be created." Another he who says, The earth

   was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep, "the

   Scripture did not call that formlessness by the name of heaven and

   earth; but that formlessness, saith he, already was, which he called

   the earth invisible without form, and darkness upon the deep; of which

   he had before said, that God had made heaven and earth, namely, the

   spiritual and corporeal creature." Another he who says, The earth was

   invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep; that is,

   "there already was a certain formless matter, of which the Scripture

   said before, that God made heaven and earth; namely, the whole

   corporeal bulk of the world, divided into two great parts, upper and

   lower, with all the common and known creatures in them."




   For should any attempt to dispute against these two last opinions,

   thus, "If you will not allow, that this formlessness of matter seems to

   be called by the name of heaven and earth; Ergo, there was something

   which God had not made, out of which to make heaven and earth; for

   neither hath Scripture told us, that God made this matter, unless we

   understand it to be signified by the name of heaven and earth, or of

   earth alone, when it is said, In the Beginning God made the heaven and

   earth; that so in what follows, and the earth was invisible and without

   form (although it pleased Him so to call the formless matter), we are

   to understand no other matter, but that which God made, whereof is

   written above, God made heaven and earth." The maintainers of either of

   those two latter opinions will, upon hearing this, return for answer,

   "we do not deny this formless matter to be indeed created by God, that

   God of Whom are all things, very good; for as we affirm that to be a

   greater good, which is created and formed, so we confess that to be a

   lesser good which is made capable of creation and form, yet still good.

   We say however that Scripture hath not set down, that God made this

   formlessness, as also it hath not many others; as the Cherubim, and

   Seraphim, and those which the Apostle distinctly speaks of, Thrones,

   Dominions, Principalities, Powers. All which that God made, is most

   apparent. Or if in that which is said, He made heaven and earth, all

   things be comprehended, what shall we say of the waters, upon which the

   Spirit of God moved? For if they be comprised in this word earth; how

   then can formless matter be meant in that name of earth, when we see

   the waters so beautiful? Or if it be so taken; why then is it written,

   that out of the same formlessness, the firmament was made, and called

   heaven; and that the waters were made, is not written? For the waters

   remain not formless and invisible, seeing we behold them flowing in so

   comely a manner. But if they then received that beauty, when God said,

   Let the waters under the firmament be gathered together, that so the

   gathering together be itself the forming of them; what will be said as

   to those waters above the firmament? Seeing neither if formless would

   they have been worthy of so honourable a seat, nor is it written, by

   what word they were formed. If then Genesis is silent as to God's

   making of any thing, which yet that God did make neither sound faith

   nor well-grounded understanding doubteth, nor again will any sober

   teaching dare to affirm these waters to be coeternal with God, on the

   ground that we find them to be mentioned in the hook of Genesis, but

   when they were created, we do not find; why (seeing truth teaches us)

   should we not understand that formless matter (which this Scripture

   calls the earth invisible and without form, and darksome deep) to have

   been created of God out of nothing, and therefore not to be coeternal

   to Him; notwithstanding this history hath omitted to show when it was





   These things then being heard and perceived, according to the weakness

   of my capacity (which I confess unto Thee, O Lord, that knowest it),

   two sorts of disagreements I see may arise, when a thing is in words

   related by true reporters; one, concerning the truth of the things, the

   other, concerning the meaning of the relater. For we enquire one way

   about the making of the creature, what is true; another way, what

   Moses, that excellent minister of Thy Faith, would have his reader and

   hearer understand by those words. For the first sort, away with all

   those who imagine themselves to know as a truth, what is false; and for

   this other, away with all them too, which imagine Moses to have written

   things that be false. But let me be united in Thee, O Lord, with those

   and delight myself in Thee, with them that feed on Thy truth, in the

   largeness of charity, and let us approach together unto the words of

   Thy book, and seek in them for Thy meaning, through the meaning of Thy

   servant, by whose pen Thou hast dispensed them.




   But which of us shall, among those so many truths, which occur to

   enquirers in those words, as they are differently understood, so

   discover that one meaning, as to affirm, "this Moses thought," and

   "this would he have understood in that history"; with the same

   confidence as he would, "this is true," whether Moses thought this or

   that? For behold, O my God, I Thy servant, who have in this book vowed

   a sacrifice of confession unto Thee, and pray, that by Thy mercy I may

   pay my vows unto Thee, can I, with the same confidence wherewith I

   affirm, that in Thy incommutable world Thou createdst all things

   visible and invisible, affirm also, that Moses meant no other than

   this, when he wrote, In the Beginning God made heaven and earth? No.

   Because I see not in his mind, that he thought of this when he wrote

   these things, as I do see it in Thy truth to be certain. For he might

   have his thoughts upon God's commencement of creating, when he said In

   the beginning; and by heaven and earth, in this place he might intend

   no formed and perfected nature whether spiritual or corporeal, but both

   of them inchoate and as yet formless. For I perceive, that whichsoever

   of the two had been said, it might have been truly said; but which of

   the two he thought of in these words, I do not so perceive. Although,

   whether it were either of these, or any sense beside (that I have not

   here mentioned), which this so great man saw in his mind, when he

   uttered these words, I doubt not but that he saw it truly, and

   expressed it aptly.




   Let no man harass me then, by saying, Moses thought not as you say, but

   as I say: for if he should ask me, "How know you that Moses thought

   that which you infer out of his words?" I ought to take it in good

   part, and would answer perchance as I have above, or something more at

   large, if he were unyielding. But when he saith, "Moses meant not what

   you say, but what I say," yet denieth not that what each of us say, may

   both be true, O my God, life of the poor, in Whose bosom is no

   contradiction, pour down a softening dew into my heart, that I may

   patiently bear with such as say this to me, not because they have a

   divine Spirit, and have seen in the heart of Thy servant what they

   speak, but because they be proud; not knowing Moses' opinion, but

   loving their own, not because it is truth, but because it is theirs.

   Otherwise they would equally love another true opinion, as I love what

   they say, when they say true: not because it is theirs, but because it

   is true; and on that very ground not theirs because it is true. But if

   they therefore love it, because it is true, then is it both theirs, and

   mine; as being in common to all lovers of truth. But whereas they

   contend that Moses did not mean what I say, but what they say, this I

   like not, love not: for though it were so, yet that their rashness

   belongs not to knowledge, but to overboldness, and not insight but

   vanity was its parent. And therefore, O Lord, are Thy judgements

   terrible; seeing Thy truth is neither mine, nor his, nor another's; but

   belonging to us all, whom Thou callest publicly to partake of it,

   warning us terribly, not to account it private to ourselves, lest we he

   deprived of it. For whosoever challenges that as proper to himself,

   which Thou propoundest to all to enjoy, and would have that his own

   which belongs to all, is driven from what is in common to his own; that

   is, from truth, to a lie. For he that speaketh a lie, speaketh it of

   his own.


   Hearken, O God, Thou best judge; Truth Itself, hearken to what I shall

   say to this gainsayer, hearken, for before Thee do I speak, and before

   my brethren, who employ Thy law lawfully, to the end of charity:

   hearken and behold, if it please Thee, what I shall say to him. For

   this brotherly and peaceful word do I return unto Him: "If we both see

   that to be true that Thou sayest, and both see that to be true that I

   say, where, I pray Thee, do we see it? Neither I in thee, nor thou in

   me; but both in the unchangeable Truth itself, which is above our

   souls." Seeing then we strive not about the very light of the Lord God,

   why strive we about the thoughts of our neighbour which we cannot so

   see, as the unchangeable Truth is seen: for that, if Moses himself had

   appeared to us and said, "This I meant"; neither so should we see it,

   but should believe it. Let us not then be puffed up for one against

   another, above that which is written: let us love the Lord our God with

   all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind: and our

   neighbour as ourself. With a view to which two precepts of charity,

   unless we believe that Moses meant, whatsoever in those books he did

   mean, we shall make God a liar, imagining otherwise of our fellow

   servant's mind, than he hath taught us. Behold now, how foolish it is,

   in such abundance of most true meanings, as may be extracted out of

   those words, rashly to affirm, which of them Moses principally meant;

   and with pernicious contentions to offend charity itself, for whose

   sake he spake every thing, whose words we go about to expound.




   And yet I, O my God, Thou lifter up of my humility, and rest of my

   labour, Who hearest my confessions, and forgivest my sins: seeing Thou

   commandest me to love my neighbour as myself, I cannot believe that

   Thou gavest a less gift unto Moses Thy faithful servant, than I would

   wish or desire Thee to have given me, had I been born in the time he

   was, and hadst Thou set me in that office, that by the service of my

   heart and tongue those books might be dispensed, which for so long

   after were to profit all nations, and through the whole world from such

   an eminence of authority, were to surmount all sayings of false and

   proud teachings. I should have desired verily, had I then been Moses

   (for we all come from the same lump, and what is man, saving that Thou

   art mindful of him?), I would then, had I been then what he was, and

   been enjoined by Thee to write the book of Genesis, have desired such a

   power of expression and such a style to be given me, that neither they

   who cannot yet understand how God created, might reject the sayings, as

   beyond their capacity; and they who had attained thereto, might find

   what true opinion soever they had by thought arrived at, not passed

   over in those few words of that Thy servant: and should another man by

   the light of truth have discovered another, neither should that fail of

   being discoverable in those same words.




   For as a fountain within a narrow compass, is more plentiful, and

   supplies a tide for more streams over larger spaces, than any one of

   those streams, which, after a wide interval, is derived from the same

   fountain; so the relation of that dispenser of Thine, which was to

   benefit many who were to discourse thereon, does out of a narrow

   scantling of language, overflow into streams of clearest truth, whence

   every man may draw out for himself such truth as he can upon these

   subjects, one, one truth, another, another, by larger circumlocutions

   of discourse. For some, when they read, or hear these words, conceive

   that God like a man or some mass endued with unbounded power, by some

   new and sudden resolution, did, exterior to itself, as it were at a

   certain distance, create heaven and earth, two great bodies above and

   below, wherein all things were to be contained. And when they hear, God

   said, Let it be made, and it was made; they conceive of words begun and

   ended, sounding in time, and passing away; after whose departure, that

   came into being, which was commanded so to do; and whatever of the like

   sort, men's acquaintance with the material world would suggest. In

   whom, being yet little ones and carnal, while their weakness is by this

   humble kind of speech, carried on, as in a mother's bosom, their faith

   is wholesomely built up, whereby they hold assured, that God made all

   natures, which in admirable variety their eye beholdeth around. Which

   words, if any despising, as too simple, with a proud weakness, shall

   stretch himself beyond the guardian nest; he will, alas, fall

   miserably. Have pity, O Lord God, lest they who go by the way trample

   on the unfledged bird, and send Thine angel to replace it into the

   nest, that it may live, till it can fly.




   But others, unto whom these words are no longer a nest, but deep shady

   fruit-bowers, see the fruits concealed therein, fly joyously around,

   and with cheerful notes seek out, and pluck them. For reading or

   hearing these words, they see that all times past and to come, are

   surpassed by Thy eternal and stable abiding; and yet that there is no

   creature formed in time, not of Thy making. Whose will, because it is

   the same that Thou art, Thou madest all things, not by any change of

   will, nor by a will, which before was not, and that these things were

   not out of Thyself, in Thine own likeness, which is the form of all

   things; but out of nothing, a formless unlikeness, which should be

   formed by Thy likeness (recurring to Thy Unity, according to their

   appointed capacity, so far as is given to each thing in his kind), and

   might all be made very good; whether they abide around Thee, or being

   in gradation removed in time and place, made or undergo the beautiful

   variations of the Universe. These things they see, and rejoice, in the

   little degree they here may, in the light of Thy truth.


   Another bends his mind on that which is said, In the Beginning God made

   heaven and earth; and beholdeth therein Wisdom, the Beginning because

   It also speaketh unto us. Another likewise bends his mind on the same

   words, and by Beginning understands the commencement of things created;

   In the beginning He made, as if it were said, He at first made. And

   among them that understand In the Beginning to mean, "In Thy Wisdom

   Thou createdst heaven and earth," one believes the matter out of which

   the heaven and earth were to be created, to be there called heaven and

   earth; another, natures already formed and distinguished; another, one

   formed nature, and that a spiritual, under the name Heaven, the other

   formless, a corporeal matter, under the name Earth. They again who by

   the names heaven and earth, understand matter as yet formless, out of

   which heaven and earth were to be formed, neither do they understand it

   in one way; but the one, that matter out of which both the intelligible

   and the sensible creature were to be perfected; another, that only, out

   of which this sensible corporeal mass was to he made, containing in its

   vast bosom these visible and ordinary natures. Neither do they, who

   believe the creatures already ordered and arranged, to be in this place

   called heaven and earth, understand the same; but the one, both the

   invisible and visible, the other, the visible only, in which we behold

   this lightsome heaven, and darksome earth, with the things in them





   But he that no otherwise understands In the Beginning He made, than if

   it were said, At first He made, can only truly understand heaven and

   earth of the matter of heaven and earth, that is, of the universal

   intelligible and corporeal creation. For if he would understand thereby

   the universe, as already formed, it may be rightly demanded of him, "If

   God made this first, what made He afterwards?" and after the universe,

   he will find nothing; whereupon must he against his will hear another

   question; "How did God make this first, if nothing after?" But when he

   says, God made matter first formless, then formed, there is no

   absurdity, if he be but qualified to discern, what precedes by

   eternity, what by time, what by choice, and what in original. By

   eternity, as God is before all things; by time, as the flower before

   the fruit; by choice, as the fruit before the flower; by original, as

   the sound before the tune. Of these four, the first and last mentioned,

   are with extreme difficulty understood, the two middle, easily. For a

   rare and too lofty a vision is it, to behold Thy Eternity, O Lord,

   unchangeably making things changeable; and thereby before them. And

   who, again, is of so sharpsighted understanding, as to be able without

   great pains to discern, how the sound is therefore before the tune;

   because a tune is a formed sound; and a thing not formed, may exist;

   whereas that which existeth not, cannot be formed. Thus is the matter

   before the thing made; not because it maketh it, seeing itself is

   rather made; nor is it before by interval of time; for we do not first

   in time utter formless sounds without singing, and subsequently adapt

   or fashion them into the form of a chant, as wood or silver, whereof a

   chest or vessel is fashioned. For such materials do by time also

   precede the forms of the things made of them, but in singing it is not

   so; for when it is sung, its sound is heard; for there is not first a

   formless sound, which is afterwards formed into a chant. For each

   sound, so soon as made, passeth away, nor canst thou find ought to

   recall and by art to compose. So then the chant is concentrated in its

   sound, which sound of his is his matter. And this indeed is formed,

   that it may be a tune; and therefore (as I said) the matter of the

   sound is before the form of the tune; not before, through any power it

   hath to make it a tune; for a sound is no way the workmaster of the

   tune; but is something corporeal, subjected to the soul which singeth,

   whereof to make a tune. Nor is it first in time; for it is given forth

   together with the tune; nor first in choice, for a sound is not better

   than a tune, a tune being not only a sound, but a beautiful sound. But

   it is first in original, because a tune receives not form to become a

   sound, but a sound receives a form to become a tune. By this example,

   let him that is able, understand how the matter of things was first

   made, and called heaven and earth, because heaven and earth were made

   out of it. Yet was it not made first in time; because the forms of

   things give rise to time; but that was without form, but now is, in

   time, an object of sense together with its form. And yet nothing can be

   related of that matter, but as though prior in time, whereas in value

   it is last (because things formed are superior to things without form)

   and is preceded by the Eternity of the Creator: that so there might be

   out of nothing, whereof somewhat might be created.




   In this diversity of the true opinions, let Truth herself produce

   concord. And our God have mercy upon us, that we may use the law

   lawfully, the end of the commandment, pure charity. By this if man

   demands of me, "which of these was the meaning of Thy servant Moses";

   this were not the language of my Confessions, should I not confess unto

   Thee, "I know not"; and yet I know that those senses are true, those

   carnal ones excepted, of which I have spoken what seemed necessary. And

   even those hopeful little ones who so think, have this benefit, that

   the words of Thy Book affright them not, delivering high things

   lowlily, and with few words a copious meaning. And all we who, I

   confess, see and express the truth delivered in those words, let us

   love one another, and jointly love Thee our God, the fountain of truth,

   if we are athirst for it, and not for vanities; yea, let us so honour

   this Thy servant, the dispenser of this Scripture, full of Thy Spirit,

   as to believe that, when by Thy revelation he wrote these things, he

   intended that, which among them chiefly excels both for light of truth,

   and fruitfulness of profit.




   So when one says, "Moses meant as I do"; and another, "Nay, but as I

   do," I suppose that I speak more reverently, "Why not rather as both,

   if both be true?" And if there be a third, or a fourth, yea if any

   other seeth any other truth in those words, why may not he be believed

   to have seen all these, through whom the One God hath tempered the holy

   Scriptures to the senses of many, who should see therein things true

   but divers? For I certainly (and fearlessly I speak it from my heart),

   that were I to indite any thing to have supreme authority, I should

   prefer so to write, that whatever truth any could apprehend on those

   matters, might he conveyed in my words, rather than set down my own

   meaning so clearly as to exclude the rest, which not being false, could

   not offend me. I will not therefore, O my God, be so rash, as not to

   believe, that Thou vouchsafedst as much to that great man. He without

   doubt, when he wrote those words, perceived and thought on what truth

   soever we have been able to find, yea and whatsoever we have not been

   able, nor yet are, but which may be found in them.




   Lastly, O Lord, who art God and not flesh and blood, if man did see

   less, could any thing be concealed from Thy good Spirit (who shall lead

   me into the land of uprightness), which Thou Thyself by those words

   wert about to reveal to readers in times to come, though he through

   whom they were spoken, perhaps among many true meanings, thought on

   some one? which if so it be, let that which he thought on be of all the

   highest. But to us, O Lord, do Thou, either reveal that same, or any

   other true one which Thou pleasest; that so, whether Thou discoverest

   the same to us, as to that Thy servant, or some other by occasion of

   those words, yet Thou mayest feed us, not error deceive us. Behold, O

   Lord my God, how much we have written upon a few words, how much I

   beseech Thee! What strength of ours, yea what ages would suffice for

   all Thy books in this manner? Permit me then in these more briefly to

   confess unto Thee, and to choose some one true, certain, and good sense

   that Thou shalt inspire me, although many should occur, where many may

   occur; this being the law my confession, that if I should say that

   which Thy minister intended, that is right and best; for this should I

   endeavour, which if I should not attain, yet I should say that, which

   Thy Truth willed by his words to tell me, which revealed also unto him,

   what It willed.



<--Table Of Contents

Copyright ©1999-2016 e-Catholic2000.com