02 September 2008
Genesis, Creation and Early Man
Fr. Seraphim Rose
New Edition available August 2011
This book review [old edition, 710 pages] consists of the Table of Contents, Foreword, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.
I have a copy of this book I will lend out.
Table of Contents
Editor's Preface: The Story Behind the Book by Hieromonk Damascene
1. The Intellectual Milieu of Fr. Seraphim's Formative Years
2. From the Evolutionary Worldview to the Orthodox Worldview
3. The Roots of Evolutionism
4. The Mind of the Holy Fathers
5. Evolution and Chiliasm
6. "Traditionalists" in Favor of Evolution
7. The Scientific Side of the Question
8. The "Survival Course" and the Courses on Genesis
9. The Plan of the Book
10. Developments in the 1980's
11. Developments in the 1990's Phillip E. Johnson
12. Changes in the Orthodox World
13. Beyond Darwinism
14. The Present Book
15. This Book's Primary Contribution to the World
16. The Nature of Man
Introduction: Fr. Seraphim Rose and 21st-Century Science, by Phillip E. Johnson
1. The Mechanism of Evolution: Mutation and Selection
2. The Common Ancestry Thesis
3. Evolution (in the Scientific Sense) Is Inherently Godless
4. Conclusion: Can Science Tell Us a True Story about Origins?
Part I: An Orthodox Patristic Commentary on Genesis
Foreword: Why Study the Book of Genesis?
Chapter One: How to Read Genesis
2. The Holy Fathers: Our Key to the Understanding of Genesis
3. Basic Principles of Our Approach to Understanding Genesis
4. Literal vs. Symbolical Interpretations
5. The Nature of the Text
Chapter Two: The Six Days of Creation (General Observations)
2. General Remarks about the Six Days
3. Why Six Days?
Chapter Three: The Six Days (Day by Day)
1. The First Day (Genesis 1:1-5)
2. The Second Day (Genesis 1:6-8)
3. The Third Day (Genesis 1:9-13)
4. The Fourth Day (Genesis 1:14-19)
5. The Fifth Day (Genesis 1:20-23)
6. The Sixth Day (Genesis 1:24-31)
Chapter Four: The Creation of Man (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:4-7)
Chapter Five: Paradise (Genesis 2:8-24)
Chapter Six: The Fall of Man (Genesis 3:1-24)
Chapter Seven: Life Outside Paradise (Genesis 4:1-6:5)
1. The Banishment of Adam
2. Cain and Abel
3. The Genealogy from Adam through Seth to Noah
4. The Corruption of Mankind
Chapter Eight : The Flood (Genesis 6:6-8:22)
Chapter Nine: The Dispersion of the Peoples (Genesis 9:1-11:32)
1. Noah and God's New Covenant
2. The Generations of Noah
3. The Tower of Babel
Part II: The Philosophy of Evolution
Chapter One: Science and the Holy Fathers
1. True Theology and Secular Knowledge
2. Science and Christian Philosophy
3. Distinguishing Materialistic Fantasies from Scientific Truth
4. Science as a Lower Form of Knowledge
5. An Alien System of Thought
6. The Lack of Philosophical Culture among Orthodox Christians
7. The Philosophy of the Holy Fathers
Chapter Two: A Brief Critique of the Evolutionary Model
2. Historical Background
3. "Proofs" of Evolution
4. The Theory of Evolution is Understandable Philosophically
5. The Conflict between Christian Truth and Evolutionary Philosophy
Chapter Three: "Christian Evolutionism"
2. Lecome du Nouy
3. Fr. Anthony Kosturos
4. Karl Rahner
5. Stephanus Trooster
6. The Roman Catholic View of Original Man
7. Theodosius Dobzhansky
8. Teilhard de Chardin
9. The Chialism of Teilhard de Chardin
10. Teilhardism in the Light of Orthodoxy
11. "Orthodox" Followers of Teilhard de Chardin
Part III: The Patristic Doctrine of Creation
1. Philosophy, Not fact
2. A Clear Definition
3. Development, Not Evolution
4. How Do the Holy Fathers Interpret Genesis?
5. "By Man Came Death: (I Corinthians 15:21)
6. Divine Vision
7. The Nature of Man
Part IV: Questions and Answers
1. The Age of the Earth
2. Carbon 14 Dating
3. Geological Strata
4. A Matter of Models
5. The Origin of the Heavenly Bodies (Patristic Cosmogony)
6. Scientific Creationists
7. Various Evolutionary Ideas
8. The Limits of Biological Change
9. "Human Evolution"
10. The Limits of Scientific Inquiry
11. The Biblical Chronology
12. The Pre-existence of Souls, "Reincarnation," and Evolution
13. The Nature of Paradise
14. Free Will
15. The Creation of Adam and Eve
16. The Mind of Adam
17. Paradise and Heaven
18. The Devil
19. Christ's Spiritual Body
20. The Firmament
21. The "Location" of Paradise
22. Between the Fall and the Flood
23. The Flood
24. Patristic Interpretation vs. Modern Textual Criticism
25. The Ages of the Patriarchs
26. Different Interpretations
Part V: Selections From Letters
1. A key in the Program of Anti-Christianity
2. Theistic Evolution
3. A Rival Thought-pattern to Orthodoxy
4. A Deep-seated Primordial Force
5. The Argument against Evolution Is Not Scientific but Theological
6. The Real Intellectual Problems of Today
7. Such "Theology" We Do Not Need
8. A Product of the "Spirit of the Times"
9. Looking Forward with an Open Mind
10. Quibbling Over Words
11. The Holy Fathers as the Answer to Medieval Scholasticism
12. Scientific Faith
13. At Last the Real Battle Begins
14. Love for the Holy Fathers
15. The Power of This World and its Fashionable Ideas
16. Unknowingly Harboring "Modern Ideas"
17. Genuine Science
18. Clearing Up Confusion
19. The Genealogies of Christ
20. The Larger Idea of Naturalism
21. Scientists Who Question Evolution
22. Avoiding One-Sidedness
23. Three Axioms
24. Notes from a Dialogue on Evolution
25. Clergy in Greece against "Orthodox Evolutionism"
26. People Are Ready to Hear This
Editor's Epilogue: Evolutionism and the Religion of the Future by Hieromonk Damascene
1. The Passing of Scientific Materialism
2. Evolutionism as the Philosophy of Antichrist
3. Teilhard de Chardin as "Prophet"
4. Elements of Teilhardism
5. A New Evolutionary Synthesis
6. The Minimum Requirements for Christians to be Accepted within the New Synthesis
7. The "God" of the New Synthesis
8. The Philosophy of Antichrist
9. The Spirit of the Philosophy
10. The Effect of Evolutionary Philosophy upon Christians
11. The "Wedge" and Beyond
12. The State of Orthodoxy Today
Appendix One: Notes on Science, Evolution, and Christian Philosophy
1. The Incorruption of the First-Created World
2. Science and the Question of Incorruption
3. Evolution and "Cosmic Religion"
4. The "Mysticism" of Teilhard de Chardin
5. Evolution of the Exact Opposite of Christianity
6. Why Orthodox Christians Should Not Be Indifferent to Evolution
7. Paleontology and "Ivory-Tower Orthodoxy"
8. Man as Qualitatively Different from Animals
9. The Roman Catholic Idea of the State of Adam (According to Fr. Michael Pomazansky)
10. Reading the Fossil Record
11. An "Inferiority Complex" among Christians
12. What Kind of Simple-minded Fools Are We?
13. The Old Testament Chronology
14. The Missing Evidence
Appendix Two: Outlines of Proposed Studies
2. Patristic Section
Appendix Three: Fr. Seraphim's Last Talk on Creation and Evolution
Appendix Four: The Faith of Radiometric Dating by Curt Sewell
1. Radiometric Dating
2. Experimental Errors
3. Documented Discrepancies
4. Skull 1470
5. Grand Canyon Dating
6. Causes of Errors
7. Original Isotopic Material
Appendix Five: Suggested Readings by the Editor
I. Patristic Sources
II. Scientific Sources
1. Initial Reading
2. Other Important Scientific Critiques of Evolutionism
3. On "Human Evolution"
4. On Radiometric Dating
5. On the Age of the Earth
6. On the Dinosaurs
7. On the Flood
8. On Biological Variation
9. On the History of Darwinism
10. Creation Scientists in Defense of the Holy Fathers
11. Aids in Apologetics
12. For the Education of Children
13. Where to Order These Sources
Why Study the book of Genesis?
Why should we study such a book as Genesis? Why shouldn't we just be concerned to save our souls, instead of thinking about these things, like what is the world going to be like at the end, or what was it like at the beginning? We might get into trouble - Carl Sagan might come and fight with us. Isn't it safer to just occupy ourselves with saying our prayers, and not think about these great subjects? Why think about these remote things when we have to think about our salvation?
I've heard phrases like these. In answer to them, we can say, first of all, that there is a direct relation between how you behave and how you believe about mans origin. Fr. George Calciu, in his public addresses to young people living under communism in Romania, said: "You have been told that you descend from the apes, that you are a beast which must be trained." That can be a very powerful thing:
"Science proves we're just animals, and therefore, let's go out and blow up a church."
Secondly, the book of Genesis is apart of the Scriptures, and God gave us the Scriptures for our salvation. We're supposed to know the meaning of the Scriptures through all the commentaries of the Holy Fathers. The Fathers talked about the book of Genesis in church; all their commentaries were actually sermons given in church, because the book of Genesis is read in church on all weekdays during Great Lent. The great Fathers who did this were St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, and St. Ambrose of Milan. Their sermons were taken down in shorthand by people who were in church listening to them, so that others could read them. Thus, the reading of these texts was considered a part of the everyday life of people who went to church. We have somewhat lost this idea nowadays. Therefore, the account of Genesis or the Apocalypse has become a very mysterious realm somehow. We are so scared of these subjects - but the Fathers were talking about them.
Finally (this is the big point): our Christianity is a religion which tells us about what we are going to be doing in eternal life. It is to prepare us for something eternal, not this world. If we think only about this world, our horizon is very limited, and we don't know what is after death, where we came from, where we're going, what is the purpose of life. When we talk about the beginning of things, or the end of things, we find out what our whole life is about.
How to Read Genesis
In a sense, none of us knows how to approach this book. Modern science and philosophy have filled our minds with so many theories and supposed facts about the beginnings of the universe and man that we inevitably come to this book with preconceived notions. Some want it to agree with their particular scientific theories; others look for it to disagree. Both of these look to it as having something scientific to say; but others look on it as sheer poetry, a product of religious imagination having nothing to do with science.
The central question that causes our difficulties in understanding this book is: how "literally" are we to read it?
Some Protestant fundamentalists tell us it is all (or virtually all) "literal." But such a view places us in some impossible difficulties: quite apart from our literal or non-literal interpretation of various passages, the very nature of the reality which is described in the first chapters of Genesis (the very creation of all things) makes it quite impossible for everything to be understood "literally"; we don't even nave words, for example, to describe "literally" how something can come out of nothing. How does God "speak"? - does He make a noise which resounds in an atmosphere that doesn't yet exist? This explanation is obviously a little too simple - the reality is more complex.
Then there is the opposite extreme. Some people would like to interpret this book (at least the earliest chapters which give the most dificulty) as being an allegory, a poetic way of describing something that is really much closer to our experience. Roman Catholic thinkers in recent years, for example, have come up with some ingenious ways of "explaining away" Paradise and the fall of man; but in reading these interpretations one has the impression that they have so little respect for the text of Genesis that they treat it as a primitive commentary on some recent scientific theories. This is also an extreme. St. John Damascene, the eighth-century Father whose views generally sum up the Patristic opinion of the first Christian centuries, specifically states that the allegorical interpretation of Paradise is part of an early heresy and does not belong to the Church.
One encounters often today a common way out between these two views. The statement of a Roman Catholic nun (who is also a teacher) was recently publicized widely under the title: "God helped create evolution." She says: "The biblical story of creation has a religious purpose. It contains, but does not teach, errors. The evolutionary theory of creation, in contrast, has a scientific purpose, and the search for truth is the province of astronomers, geologists, biologists, and the like. Those two purposes are distinct, and both offer truth to the human mind and heart." She states that Genesis comes from oral traditions which were limited by the scientific views of that time.
According to this view, Genesis belongs in one category, and scientific truth or reality in another; Genesis has little if anything to do with any kind of truth, whether literal or allegorical. Therefore, one doesn't really need to think about the question: you read Genesis for spiritual uplift or poetry, and the scientists will tell you what you need to know about the facts of the world's and man's beginning.
In one form or another this is a very common view today - but what it actually amounts to is a failure to look at the question at all; it does not take Genesis seriously. But our very purpose in studying Genesis is to take it seriously, to see what it actually says. None of these approaches we have mentioned can do this. We must look elsewhere for the "key" to understanding Genesis.
In approaching Genesis we must try to avoid pitfalls such as we have mentioned above by a certain degree of self-awareness: what kind or prejudices or predispositions might we have in approaching the text?
We have already mentioned that some of us may be too anxious to have the meaning of Genesis agree (or disagree) with some particular scientific theory. Let us state a more general principle as to how we, with our twentieth-century mentality, tend to do this. In reaction to the extreme literalness of our scientific outlook (a literalness which is required by the very nature of science), when we turn to non-scientific texts of literature or theology we are very much predisposed to find non-literal or "universal" meanings. And this is natural: we want to save these texts from appearing ridiculous in the eyes of scientifically trained men. But we must realize that with this predisposition we often leap to conclusions which we have not really thought over very seriously.
To take an obvious example: When we hear of the "Six Days" of creation, most of us automatically adjust these days to accord with what contemporary science teaches of the gradual growth and development of creatures. "These must be some indefinitely long periods of time - millions or billions of years," our twentieth-century mind tells us; "all those geological strata, all those fossils - they couldn't have been formed in a literal 'day'." And if we hear that a fundamentalist in Texas or southern California is once more loudly insisting that these days are positively twenty-four hours long and no longer, we can even become indignant and wonder how people can be so dense and anti-scientific. In this course I don't intend to tell you how long those days were. But I think we should be aware that our natural, almost subconscious tendency to regard them as indefinitely long periods, thereby thinking that we have solved the "problem" they present, is not really a thought-out answer to this problem, but more of a predisposition or prejudice which we have picked up out of the intellectual air in which we live.* When we look at these days more closely, however, we will see that the whole question is not so simple and that our natural predisposition in this as in many other cases tends more to cloud than to clarify the real question.
We will look at this specific question later. For now I would urge us to be not too certain of our accustomed ways of looking at Genesis, and to open ourselves to the wisdom of the God-bearing men of the past who have devoted so much intellectual effort to understanding the text of Genesis as it was meant to be understood. These Holy Fathers are our key to understanding Genesis.
2. The Holy Fathers: Our Key to the Understanding of Genesis
In the Holy Fathers we find the "mind of the Church" - the living understanding of God's revelation. They are our link between the ancient texts which contain God's revelation and today's reality. Without such a link it is every man for himself - and the result is a myriad of interpretations and sects.
There are many Patristic commentaries on Genesis. This already is an indication to us that this text is considered extremely important by the Fathers of the Church. Let us look now at which Fathers talked about this text and what books they wrote.
In this course I will make use primarily of four commentaries of the early Fathers:
1. St. John Chrysostom wrote a larger and smaller commentary on the whole book of Genesis. The larger, called Homilies on Genesis, was actually a course of lectures delivered during Great Lent, since during Lent the book of Genesis is read in church. This book contains sixty-seven homilies and is some seven hundred pages long.* Another year, St. John delivered eight other homilies, comprising several hundred more pages. He also wrote a treatise called On the Creation of the World, over a hundred pages long. Thus, in St. John Chrysostom we have a thousand pages or more of interpretation of Genesis. He is one of the main interpreters of this book.
2. St. Ephraim the Syrian, from about the same time as St. John Chrysostom, also has a commentary on the whole book. In his work, called simply Interpretation of the Books of the Bible, several hundred pages are devoted to Genesis. St. Ephraim is valued as an Old Testament interpreter because he knew Hebrew, was an "Easterner" (i.e., of an Eastern mentality), and knew sciences.
3. St. Basil the Great gave homilies on the Six Days of Creation, called the Hexæmeron - meaning "Six Days." There are other Hexæmera in the literature of the early Church, some going back to the second century. St. Basil's, one might say, is the most authoritative. It does not cover the whole of Genesis, but only the first chapter. Another book by him which we will quote is called On the Origin of Man, which is like a continuation of the Hexæmeron.
4. In the West, St. Ambrose of Milan read St. Basil's homilies and wrote homilies on the Six Days himself. His Hexæmeron is quite a bit longer, about three hundred pages. St. Ambrose also wrote a whole book on Paradise, a continuation of the Hexæmeron, as well as a book on Cain and Abel.
In addition to these basic commentaries, we will look at a number of books which do not go into the whole book of Genesis or into the whole of the Six Days. For example, the brother of St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, has a book On the Making of Man, which goes into detail about the end of the first chapter and the beginning of the second chapter of Genesis.
I have also made use of outlines of Orthodox dogma. The book of St. John Damascene, On the Orthodox Faith, contains many chapters on questions about the Six Days, the creation of man, the fall, Paradise, and so forth. The catechisms of the early Church - the Great Catechism of St. Gregory of Nyssa and the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem - also have a few details on these questions.
On one specific question of the Patristic worldview I have used the treatises on the Resurrection by Sts. Athanasius the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Ambrose of Milan.
St. Symeon the New Theologian has written homilies on Adam, the fall and the early world, which we have in English in the book The Sin of Adam.
Then there are various writings of St. Gregory the Theologian about the creation of man, about man's nature and his soul. St. Macarius The Great, St. Abba Dorotheus, St. Isaac the Syrian and other writers of the ascetic life often talk about Adam and the fall. Since the basic the basic aim the ascetic life is to return to the state of Adam before the fall, they write about what the fall means, what Paradise was, and what it is we are trying to get back to.
Blessed Augustine touches on the subject of Genesis in The City of God. St. Gregory Palamas writes on various aspects in his apologetic works; and St. Gregory of Sinai writes on Paradise as well.
(There are also some later commentaries which I have not seen, unfortunately. One is by St. John of Kronstadt on the Hexæmeron, and another is by Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow on Genesis.)
These Fathers don't give us all the answers to questions we may have about Genesis; we read them rather to get our attitude toward Genesis. Sometimes Fathers may seem to contradict each other or to speak in a way we might not consider very useful for the questions we have today. Therefore we must have some basic principles which govern our understanding both of Genesis and the Holy Fathers.
3. Basic Principles of Our Approach to Understanding Genesis.
1. We are seeking truth. We must respect the text of Genesis enough to recognize that it contains truth, even though that truth may seem unusual or surprising to us. If it seems to conflict with what we think we know from science, let us remember that God is the Author of all truth, and anything genuinely true in Scripture cannot contradict anything that is genuinely true in science.
2. The Scripture is Divine in inspiration. We will look more closely below at what this means; but for a beginning, it means that we must look in it for truths of a high order, and if we find difficulty in understanding anything we should suspect first our own lack of knowledge rather than a deficiency in the inspired text.
3. We should not hasten to offer our own explanations of "difficult" passages, but should first try to familiarize ourselves with what the Holy Fathers have said about these passages, recognizing that they have spiritual wisdom that we lack.
4. We should also beware of the temptation to seize on isolated, out-of-context quotes from the Holy Fathers to "prove" a point one would like to make. For example, I have seen an Orthodox person, wishing to prove that there was nothing "special" about the creation of Adam, quote the following statement from St. Athanasius the Great: "The first-created man was made of dust like everyone, and the hand which created Adam then is creating also and always those who come after him." This is a general statement about God's continuous creative activity which no one would think of contradicting. * But the point this person wanted to make was that there was no real distinction between the creation of every living man and the creation of the first man - and specifically, that the body of Adam could have been formed by natural generation in the womb of some not-quite-human creature. Can such a statement legitimately be used as a "proof" on this question?
*Without God's continuous creative effort, nothing would exist or come into being. We think it is "natural" that plants grow from a seed, that everything, in fact, comes from a small seed and grows into a full individual. But without God, this process cannot continue. So of course God is still creating today, "from the dust."
It so happens that we can find a passage in the works of St. Athanasius that specifically refutes this idea. In another place he says: "Though Adam only was formed out of earth, yet in him was involved succession of the whole race." Here he quite specifically states that Adam was created in a way different from all other men, which indeed, we shall see, is the teaching of the Holy Fathers in general. Therefore, it is illegitimate to take one quote of his and think that it proves or opens the way to some favorite idea of our own. St. Athanasius' general statement about the nature of man says nothing whatever about the specific nature of Adam's creation.
Such a misuse of quotations from the Holy Fathers is a very common pitfall in our days when polemics on such subjects are often very passionate. In this course we will try our best to avoid such pitfalls by not forcing any of our own interpretations on the Holy Fathers, but simply trying to see what they say themselves.
5. We do not need to accept every word the Fathers wrote on Genesis; sometimes they made use of the science of their time for illustrative material, and this science was mistaken in some points. But we should carefully distinguish their science from their theological statements, and we should respect their whole approach and general conclusions and theological insights.
6. If we ourselves think we can add something to the understanding of the text for our days (perhaps based on the findings of modern science), let it be done cautiously and with full respect for the integrity or the text of Genesis and the opinions of the Holy Fathers. And we should always be humble in this attempt - the science of our own days has its failings and mistakes, and if we rely too much on it we may find ourselves with wrong understandings. *
* It is a very common view among people who do not go too deeply into the question that "ancient science is wrong, modern science is right, and therefore we can trust everything the modern scientists tell us." But it so happens that one generation overthrows the so-called scientific facts of the preceding generation. We have to realize what is fact and what is theory. Contemporary science has many views which, fifty years from now (if they even last that long), will be overturned, and there will be new theories.
7. Specifically in this course we will be trying first to understand the Fathers, and only then to offer our own answers to some questions if we have them.
8. Finally, if it is true that modern science is capable of throwing some light on the understanding of at least a few passages of Genesis - for we do not need to deny that in some areas the truths of these two spheres overlap - I think that it is no less true that the Patristic understanding of Genesis is also capable of throwing light on modern science and gives some hints on how to understand the facts of geology, paleontology, and other sciences concerned with the early history of the earth and of mankind. This study can therefore be a fruitful one in both directions.
9. The aim of this course, however, is not to answer all questions about Genesis and creation, but rather, first of all, to inspire Orthodox Christians to think about this subject in a broader way than it is usu-ally approached, without being satisfied with the simplistic answers that are so often heard.
4. Literal vs. Symbolical Interpretations
This question is a great stumbling block for us modern men, who have been brought up with a "scientific" education and worldview which has left us impoverished in our understanding of symbolical meanings in literature. Too often, as a result of this, we jump to conclusions: if there is a symbolical meaning to some image in Scripture (for example, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) we are very inclined to say "it's only a symbol"; the slightest indication of a figurative or metaphorical meaning often leads us to dismiss the literal meaning. Sometimes this attitude can even lead to sweeping judgments of whole portions or books of Scripture: If there are symbolical or figurative elements, for example, in the Genesis narrative of the Garden of Eden, we easily jump to the conclusion that the whole narrative is a "symbol" or an "allegory."
Our key to understanding Genesis is: how did the Holy Fathers understand this question, specifically with regard to separate passages, and generally with regard to the book as a whole?
Let us take some examples:
1. St. Macarius the Great of Egypt, a Saint of the most exalted mystical life and whom one certainly cannot suspect of overly literal views of Scripture, writes on Genesis 3:24: "That Paradise was closed and that a Cherubim was commanded to prevent man from entering it by a flaming sword: of this we believe that in visible fashion it was indeed just as it is written, and at the same time we find that this occurs mystically in every soul." This is a passage which many of us might have expected to have only a mystical meaning, but this great seer of Divine things assures us that it is also true "just as it is written" - for those capable of seeing it.
2. St. Gregory the Theologian, noted for his profound mystical interpretations of Scripture, says of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: "This tree was, according to my view, Contemplation, upon which it is only safe for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter." Does this mean that he regarded this tree as only a symbol, and not also a literal tree? In his own writings he apparently does not give an answer to this question, but another great Holy Father does (for when they are teaching Orthodox doctrine and not just giving private opinions, all the great Fathers agree with each other and even help to interpret each other). St. Gregory Palamas, the fourteenth-century hesychast Father, comments on this passage:
Gregory the Theologian has called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil "contemplation" ... but it does not follow that what is involved is an illusion or a symbol without existence of its own. For the divine Maximus (the Confessor) also makes Moses the symbol of judgment, and Elijah the symbol of foresight! Are they too then supposed not to have really existed, but to have been invented "symbolically"?
3. These are specific interpretations. As for general approaches to the "literal" or "symbolical" nature of the text of Genesis, let us look at the words of several other Holy Fathers who have written commentaries on Genesis. St. Basil the Great in his Hexæmeron writes:
Those who do not admit the common meaning of the Scriptures say that water is not water, but some other nature, and they explain a plant and a fish according to their opinion.... (But) when I hear "grass," I think of grass, and in the same manner I understand everything as it is said, a plant, a fish, a wild animal, and an ox. Indeed, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16)."... (Some) have attempted by false arguments and allegorical interpretations to bestow on the Scripture a dignity of their own imagining. But theirs is the attitude of one who considers himself wiser than the revelations of the Spirit and introduces his own ideas in pretense of an explanation. Therefore, let it be understood as it has been written.
4. St. Ephraim the Syrian tells us similarly in the Commentary on Genesis:
No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, we must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names of heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names.
5. St. John Chrysostom, speaking specifically of the rivers of Paradise, writes:
Perhaps one who loves to speak from his own wisdom here also will not allow that the rivers are actually rivers, nor that the waters are precisely waters, but will instill, in those who allow themselves to listen to them, the idea that they (under the names of rivers and waters) represented something else. But I entreat you, let us not pay heed to these people, let us stop up our hearing against them, and let us believe the Divine Scripture, and following what is written in it, let us strive to preserve in our souls sound dogmas.
This shows that the Holy Fathers were facing this question in their day, in the fourth century. There were many people who were interpreting the text of Genesis as an allegory, running wild with symbolical interpretations, and denying that it has any literal meaning at all - especially the first three chapters we will be studying. Therefore, the Holy Fathers made a specific point of saying it has a literal meaning, and we must understand exactly what that meaning is.
This should be enough to show us that the Holy Fathers who wrote on Genesis were in general quite "literal" in their interpretation of the text, even while, in many cases, allowing also a symbolic or mystical meaning. There are, of course, in Scripture, as in every kind of literature, obvious metaphors which no one in his right mind would think of taking "literally." For example, in Psalm 103 it says "the sun knoweth his going down." With full respect for the text, we do not need to believe that the sun has a consciousness and literally "knows" when it is to set; this is simply a normal device of poetic language and should cause trouble to no one.
There is, further, one important kind of statement in Scripture - and there are many examples of it in Genesis - which the Holy fathers tell us specifically not to understand in a literal way. These are anthropomorphic statements made of God as though He were a man who walks, talks, gets angry, etc. All such statements we are to understand in a "God-befitting" manner - that is, based on our knowledge from Orthodox teaching that God is purely spiritual, has no physical organs, and that His acts are described in Scripture as they seem to us. The Fathers are very careful over the text of Genesis in this regard. Thus, St. John Chrysostom states:
When you hear that "God planted Paradise in Eden in the East," understand the word "planted" befittingly of God: that is, that He commanded; but concerning the words that follow, believe precisely that Paradise was created and in that very place where the Scripture has assigned it.
As for the "scientific" information given in the book of Genesis - and since it talks about the formation of the world we know, there cannot but be some scientific information there - contrary to popular belief, there is nothing "out-of-date" about it. Its observations, it is true, are all made as seen from earth and as affecting mankind; but they do not put forth any particular teaching, for example, on the nature of the heavenly bodies or their relative motions, and so the book can be read by each generation and understood in the light of its own scientific knowledge. The discovery in recent centuries of the vastness of space and the immensity of many of its heavenly bodies does nothing but add grandeur in our minds to the simple account of Genesis.
When the Holy Fathers talk about Genesis, of course, they try to illustrate it with examples taken from the natural science of their time; we do the same thing today. All this illustrative material is open to scientific criticism, and some of it, in fact, has become out-of-date. But the text of Genesis itself is unaffected by such criticism, and we can only wonder at how fresh and timely it is to each new generation. And the theological commentary of the Holy Fathers on the text partakes or this same quality.
5. The Nature of the Text
A final important point to consider before approaching the text of Genesis itself: what kind of text is it?
We all know of the anti-religious arguments about the Scripture, and in particular about Genesis: that it is a creation of backward people who new little of science or the world, that it is full of primitive mythology about "creator-gods" and supernatural beings, that it has all been taken from Babylonian mythology, etc. But no one can seriously compare Genesis with any of the creation myths of other peoples without being struck by the sobriety and simplicity of the Genesis account. Creation myths are indeed full of fabulous events and fairy-tale beings which are not even intended intended to be taken as the text is written. There is no competition between these texts and Genesis; they are not in the least comparable.
Nonetheless, there is a widespread popular view - without foundation either in Scripture or in Church tradition - that Moses wrote Genesis after consulting other early accounts of the creation, or that he simply recorded the oral traditions that came down to him; that he compiled and simplified the tales that had come down to his time. This, of course, would make Genesis a work of human wisdom and speculation, and it would be pointless to study such a work as a statement of truth about the beginning of the world.
There are different kinds of knowledge, and the knowledge that comes directly from God is quite distinct from that which proceeds from man's natural powers. St. Isaac the Syrian distinguishes these kinds of knowledge in the following way:
Knowledge which is concerned with the visible, or which receives through the senses what comes from the visible, is called natural. Knowledge which is concerned with the power of the immaterial and the nature of incorporeal entities within a man is called spiritual, because perceptions are received by the spirit and not by the senses. Because of these two origins (perceptions of the visible and of the spiritual) each kind of knowledge alike comes to the soul from without. But the knowledge bestowed by Divine power is called supra-natural; it is more unfathomable and is higher than knowledge. Contemplation of this knowledge comes to the soul not from matter, which is outside it.... It manifests and reveals itself in the innermost depths of the soul itself, immaterially, suddenly, spontaneously, and unexpectedly, since, according to the words of Christ, 'the Kingdom of God is within you' (Luke 17:21).
St. Isaac in another place describes how, in men of the highest spiritual life, the soul can rise to a vision of the beginning of things. Describing how such a soul is enraptured at the thought of the future age of incorruption, St. Isaac writes:
And from this one is already exalted in his mind to that which pre-ceded the composition (making) of the world, when there was no creature, nor heaven, nor earth, nor angels, nothing of that which was brought into being, and to how God, solely by His good will, suddenly brought everything from non-being into being, and everything stood before Him in perfection.
Thus, one can believe that Moses and later chroniclers made use of written records and oral tradition when it came to recording the acts and chronology of historical Patriarchs and kings; but an account of the beginning of the world's existence, when there were no witnesses to God's mighty acts, can come only from God's revelation; it is a supra-natural knowledge revealed in direct contact with God. * And this is exactly what the Fathers and Church tradition tell us the book of Genesis is.
St. Ambrose writes:
Moses "spoke to God the Most High, not in a vision nor in dreams, but mouth to mouth" (Numbers 12:6-8). Plainly and clearly, not by figures nor by riddles, there was bestowed on him the gift of the Divine presence. And so Moses opened his mouth and uttered what the Lord spoke within him, according to the promise He made to him when He directed him to go to King Pharaoh: "Go therefore and I will open thy mouth and instruct thee what thou shouldest speak" (Ex. 4:12). For, if he had already accepted from God what he should say concerning the liberation of the people, how much more should you accept what He should say concerning heaven? Therefore, "not in the persuasive words of wisdom," not in philosophical fallacies, "but in the demonstration of the Spirit and power" (1 Cor. 2:4), he has ventured to say as if he were a witness of the Divine work: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth."
In a similar vein, St. Basil writes at the very beginning of his Hexæmeron:
This man, who is made equal to the angels, being considered worthy of the sight of God face to face, reports to us those things which he heard from God.
St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on Genesis comes back again and again to the statement that every word of the Scripture is Divinely inspired and has a profound meaning - that it is not Moses' words, but God's:
Let us see now what we are taught by the blessed Moses, who speaks not of himself but by the inspiration of the grace of the Spirit.
He then has a fascinating description of how Moses does this. We know that the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. In the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation), St. John the Theologian prophesied about the events of the end of the world and the future of the Church. How did they know what was going to happen? Obviously, God revealed it to them. St. John Chrysostom says that, just as St. John the Theologian was a prophet of things of the fu-ture, Moses was a prophet of things of the past. He says the following:
All the other prophets spoke either of what was to occur after a long time or of what was about to happen then; but he, the blessed (Moses), who lived many generations after (the creation of the world), was vouchsafed by the guidance of the right hand of the Most High to utter what had been done by the Lord before his own birth. It is for this reason that he begins to speak thus: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," as if calling out to us all with a loud voice: it is not by the instruction of men that I say this; He Who called them (heaven and earth) out of non-being into being - it is He Who has roused my tongue to relate of them. And therefore I entreat you, let us pay heed to these words as if we heard not Moses but the very Lord of the universe Who speaks through the tongue of Moses, and let us take leave for good of our own opinions.
Thus, we should approach the early chapters of Genesis as we would a book of prophecy, knowing that it is actual events being described, but knowing also that - because of their remoteness to us and because of their very nature as the very first events in the history of the world - we will be able to understand them only imperfectly, even as we have a very imperfect understanding of the events at the very end of the world as set forth in the Apocalypse and other New Testament Scriptures. St. John Chrysostom himself warns us not to think we understand too much about the creation:
With great gratitude let us accept what is related (by Moses), not stepping out of our own limitations, and not testing what is above us as the enemies of the truth did when, wishing to comprehend everything with their minds, they did not realize that human nature cannot comprehend the creation of God.
Let us then try to enter the world of the Holy Fathers and their understanding of the Divinely inspired text of Genesis. Let us love and respect their writings, which in our confused times are a beacon of clarity which shines most clearly on the inspired text itself. Let us not be quick to think we "know better" than they, and if we think we have some understanding they did not see, let us be humble and hesitant about offering it, knowing the poverty and fallibility of our own minds. Let them open our minds to understand God's revelation.
We should add here a final note about the study of Genesis in our own times. The Holy Fathers of the early Christians who wrote about the Six Days of Creation found it necessary at various points to take note of the non-Christian scientific or philosophical speculations of their days - such views, for example, as that the world is eternal, that it produced itself, that it was created out of pre-existing matter by a limited fashioner-god (demiurge), and the like.
In our own times, too, there are non-Christian speculations about the beginnings of the universe, of life on earth, and the like, and we cannot help but touch on them at various points of our commentary The most widespread such ideas today are those bound up with the so-called theory of "evolution." We will have to discuss some of these ideas briefly, but in order to avoid misunderstandings let us state what we mean by this word.
The concept of "evolution" has many levels of application in both scientific and popular language: sometimes it is no more than a synonym for "development"; at other times it is used to describe the "variations" that occur within a species; and again, it describes real or hypothesized changes in nature of a somewhat larger kind. In this course we will not have to be concerned with these kinds of "evolution," which belong pretty much to the realm of scientific fact and its interpretation.
The only kind of "evolution" we will have to deal with is evolution as a "cosmogony" - that is, a theory about the origin of the world. This kind of theory of evolution occupies the same place for contemporary students of the book of Genesis as the ancient speculations on the origins of the world did for the early Church Fathers. There are those, of course, who will insist that even this kind of evolution is perfectly scientific; in fact, some of them are quite "dogmatic" about it. But any reasonably objective view will have to admit that the evolutionary cosmogony, unless it claims to be Divinely revealed, is just as speculative as any other theory of origins and can be discussed on the same level with them. Although it may claim to have its foundation in scientific facts, it itself belongs to the realm of philosophy and even touches on theology, inasmuch as it cannot avoid the question of God as Creator of the world, whether it accepts or denies Him.
In this course, therefore, we will touch on "evolution" only as a universal theory that attempts to explain the origin of the world and of life
The Six Days of Creation
(Genesis 1:1-25; 2:1-3)
Now let us study the Patristic model of the Six Days of Creation. We will not occupy ourselves with trying to guess "how long" these days were, although by the time we come to the end we will have a pretty good idea of how the Fathers viewed their length. Many fundamentalists think their literal interpretation of Genesis is lost if these days are not accepted as precisely twenty-four hours long; and many others who want to reconcile Genesis with the modern theory of evolution think their hopes rest upon accepting these days as millions or billions of years long so they will accord with the supposed findings of geology. I think we can safely say that both of these views miss the mark.
It is not that these days could not have been twenty-four hours long, if God so willed; one or two Fathers (St. Ephraim the Syrian, for example) even state precisely that they were twenty-four hours long. But most Fathers do not say anything at all on the subject: it was not a subject of debate in their times, and it seems not to have occurred to them to insist on projecting the time scale of our fallen world back to the stupendous and miraculous events of those Six Days.
But if we do not need to define the Six Days of Creation as twenty-four hours long, it is quite impossible for us to regard them as millions or billions of years long - that is, to force them into an evolutionary time scale. The events of the Six Days simply do not fit into the evolutionary picture at all. In Genesis the first living things are grasses and trees upon the dry land; life did not first appear in the sea, as the evolutionary theory would have it; these land plants exist for a whole day (billions of years?) before the sun was created, while in any evolutionary conception the sun precedes the earth itself. Any reasonably objective observer would have to conclude that the Six Days of Creation, if they are a true account and not a product of arbitrary fancy or speculation, simply do not fit into the evolutionary framework, and therefore there is no need to make them billions of years long. We will see below also how the description of these Days by the Holy Fathers makes this interpretation quite impossible. Evolutionary theory is obviously talking about something other than the Six Days of Creation.
And in actual fact, no scientific theory can tell us about those Six Days. Science tries to explain (sometimes with more and sometimes with less success) the changes of this world, based on projections of natural processes which can be observed today. But the Six Days of Creation are not a natural process; they are what came before all the world's natural processes began to work. They are God's work; by very definition they are miraculous and do not fit into the natural laws which govern the world we see now. If we can know what happened in those Six Days at all, it is not by scientific projections or speculations, but only by God's revelation. In this respect, modern scientists are no better off than the ancient creators of cosmic speculations and myths. The writers of commentaries on Genesis emphasize this point. St. John Chrysostom writes:
What does it mean that first there is heaven, and then earth, first the roof and then the foundation? God is not subject to natural necessity; He is not subject to the laws of art. The will of God is the creator and artificer of nature and of art and of everything existing.
Speaking of the Fifth Day of Creation, the same Father says:
Today God goes over to the waters and shows us that from them, by His word and command, there proceeded animate creatures.... What mind, tell me, can understand this miracle?
St. Basil teaches in the Hexaemeron that in the Third Day there was nî natural necessity for waters to flow downward; this is a law of our own world, but then there was as yet no law, until God's command came:
Someone may, perhaps, ask this: Why does the Scripture reduce to a command of the Creator that tendency to flow downward which belongs naturally to water?... If water has this tendency by nature, the command ordering the waters to be gathered together into one place would be superfluous.... To this inquiry we say this, that you recognized very well the movements of the water after the command of the Lord, both that it is unsteady and unstable and that it is borne naturally down slopes and into hollows; but how it had any power previous to that, before the motion was engendered in it from this command, you yourself neither know nor have you heard it from one who knew. Reflect that the voice of God makes nature, and the command given at that time to creation provided the future course of action for the creatures.
Undoubtedly, here is one of the chief sources of the conflict between scientific theory and religious revelation. During the Six Days nature itself was being made; our present knowledge of natural laws cannot possibly tell us how these laws themselves were made. The very subject of ultimate origins, of beginnings, of the Genesis of all things - is outside the sphere of science. When a scientist enters this realm he guesses and speculates like any ancient cosmologist; and this only distracts him from his serious work of studying the natural processes of this world - it also makes him a competitor of religious revelation, which is the only possible source of our real knowledge of the beginning of things, just as it is our only source of knowledge of the final end of all things. St. Basil writes:
We are proposing to examine the structure of the world and to contemplate the whole universe, not from the wisdom of the world, but from what God taught His servant when He spoke to him in person and without riddles.
If we can humble ourselves enough to know that we can actually know rather little about the details of the Creation of the Six Days, we will have a better chance of understanding what we can about Genesis. The Holy Fathers, and not scientific or cosmological speculations, are our key to understanding the text.
2. General Remarks about the Six Days
What, then, can we say of these Six Days?
First: One Orthodox person reflecting on the Six Days very nicely expressed our aim in studying them: we should measure them, not quantitatively, but theologically. The important thing about them is not how long they were, but what happened in them. They are the statement of six immense creative acts of God which produced the universe as we know it. In a moment we will look at these six acts in detail.
Second: As we have seen, by their very nature the events of these days are miraculous, are not subject to the laws of nature that now govern the world, and we cannot understand them by projections from our present experience.
Third: a point very much emphasized by the Holy Fathers who have written on Genesis: The creative acts of God in the Six Days are sudden, instantaneous.
St. Ephraim the Syrian, who understands the days of Creation to be twenty-four hours long, emphasizes that the creative acts of God in these days do not require twenty-four hours, but only an instant. Thus, concerning the First Day he writes:
Although both the light and the clouds were created in the twinkling of an eye, still both the day and the night of the First Day continued for twelve hours each.
St. Basil the Great likewise emphasizes at various points of his commentary on the Six Days the instantaneous nature of God's creation. On the Third Day of Creation, he writes,
At this saying all the dense woods appeared; all the trees shot up.... Likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garland plants ... all came into existence in a moment of time, although they were not previously upon the earth. "Let the earth bring forth." This brief command was immediately a mighty nature and an elaborate system which brought to perfection more swiftly than our thought the countless properties of plants.
St. Ambrose writes that when Moses says so abruptly "In the beginning God created," he intends to "express the incomprehensible speed of the work." And, having the cosmological speculations of the Greeks in mind, he writes words that apply equally well to the speculations of our own times:
He (Moses) did not look forward to a late and leisurely creation of the world out of a concourse of atoms.
St. Ambrose says further:
And fittingly (Moses) added: "He created," lest it be thought there was a delay in creation. Furthermore, men would see also how incomparable the Creator was Who completed such a great work in me briefest moment of His creative act, so much so that the effect of His will anticipated the perception of time.
St. Athanasius the Great - in arguing against the Arian teaching that Christ is the "beginning" of all things and thus like the creation - sets forth as his understanding of the Six Days of Creation that all things in each of these days were created simultaneously:
As to the separate stars or the great lights, not this appeared first, and that second, but in one day and by the same command, they were all called into being. And such was the original formation of the quadrupeds, and of birds, and fishes, and cattle, and plants.... No one creature was made before another, but all things originate subsisted at once together upon one and the same command.
3. Why Six Days?
We have already quoted St. Ephraim the Syrian, who states that "it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account (of Genesis), to have been created in the course of six days, was created in a single instant." The Holy Fathers are quite insistent in their faithfulness to the text of Genesis: when the text says "day," they find it impermissible to understand some indefinitely long epoch, since God's creative acts are instantaneous; but they also find it impermissible to interpret these Six Days as merely some literary device to express a totally instantaneous creation. Although each creative act is instantaneous, the whole creation consists of an orderly sequence of these creative acts.
St. Gregory the Theologian writes:
To the days (of creation) is added a certain firstness, secondness, thirdness, and so on to the seventh day of rest from works, and by these days is divided all that is created, being brought into order by unutterable laws, but not produced in an instant, by the Almighty Word, for Whom to think or to speak means already to perform the deed. If man appeared in the world last, honored by the handiwork and image of God, this is not in the least surprising; since for him, as for a king, the royal dwelling had to be prepared and only then was the king to be led in, accompanied by all creatures.
In the same vein St. John Chrysostom writes:
The Almighty right hand of God and His limitless wisdom would have had no difficulty in creating everything in a single day. And what do I say, in a single day? - in an instant. But since He created everything that exists not for His own benefit, because He needs nothing, being All-sufficient unto Himself, on the contrary He created everything in His love of mankind and goodness, and so He creates in parts and offers us by the mouth of the blessed Prophet a clear teaching of what is created so that we, having found out about this in detail, would not fall under the influence of those who are drawn away by human reasonings... And why, you will say, was man created afterwards, if he surpassed all these creatures? For a good reason. When a king intends to enter a city, his armsbearers and others must go ahead, so that the king might enter chambers already prepared for him. Precisely thus did God now, intending to place as it were a king and master over everything earthly, at first arrange all this adornment, and only then did He create the master (man).
St. Gregory of Nyssa repeats this same teaching that man, as king, appeared only after his dominion had been prepared for him; but he also has another, more mystical interpretation of the sequence of the Six Days which some have tried to interpret as an expression of the theory of evolution. Let us therefore look closely at this teaching. He writes:
Scripture informs us that the Deity proceeded by a sort of graduated and ordered advance to the creation of man. After the foundations of the universe were laid, as the history records, man did not appear on the earth at once; but the creation of the brutes preceded him, and the plants preceded them. Thereby Scripture shows that the vital forces blended with the world of matter according to a gradation; first, it infused itself into insensate nature; and in continuation of this advanced into the sentient world; and then ascended to intelligent and rational beings.... The creation of man is related as coming last, as of one who took up into himself every single form of life, both that of plants and that which is seen in brutes. His nourishment and growth he derives from vegetable life; for even in vegetables such processes are to be seen when aliment is being drawn in by their roots and given off in fruit and leaves. His sentient organization he derives from the brute creation. But his faculty of thought and reason is incommunicable, and is a peculiar gift in our nature.... It is not possible for this reasoning faculty to exist in the life of the body without existing by means of sensations, and since sensation is already found subsisting in the brute creation, necessarily, as it were, by reason of this one condition, our soul has touch with the other things which are knit up with it; and these are all those phenomena within us that we call "passions."
At the end of another description in a different book, St. Gregory concludes:
If, therefore, Scripture tells us that man was made last, after every animate thing, the lawgiver (Moses) is doing nothing else than declaring to us the doctrine of the soul, considering that what is perfect comes last, according to a certain necessary sequence in the order of things.... Thus we may suppose that nature makes an ascent as it were by steps - I mean the various properties of life - from the lower to the perfect form.
This is one of the very few passages in the writings of the Holy Fathers which believers in the evolutionary cosmogony find sympathetic to their views. It speaks of an "ascent by steps ... from the lower to the perfect form," and states that man somehow "partakes" in the life or the lower creation. But the evolutionary theory of origins requires much more than these general views, which no one will dispute. The theory of evolution requires that man be shown to be a descendant or the lower creation, to have "evolved" out of it. In a later lecture we will look losely at what the Fathers say of man's origin. Here we will only say that St. Gregory not only says nothing whatever that indicates he believed such a view, but other of his own views contradict it. Thus, he agrees with the rest of the Fathers who have written on Genesis that God's creation is instantaneous; in this same treatise he says that "every hillside and slope and hollow were crowned with young grass, and with the varied produce of the trees, just risen from the ground, yet shot up at once into their perfect beauty," and that "the creation is, so to say, made offhand by the Divine power, existing at once on His command."
Further, St. Gregory states specifically that the one reason human nature has contact with the lower creation is because it shares the same sentient nature; it comes, indeed, from the same earth the lower creatures also sprang from. It is a totally arbitrary addition to the Saint's meaning to insist that this means man "descended" from the brute creation; in this case, indeed, it would be required also that he (and the brutes) descended from the vegetable creation, since he has something of their nature also within himself. But evolutionary theory teaches, not that animals "evolved" from plants, but that the two kingdoms are separate and parallel branches from a common primitive ancestor.
St. Gregory's "ascent by steps," therefore, does not at all show the chronological descent of man from plants and animals, but only shows his kinship with the lower creation through sharing the nutritive and sentient nature which all earthborn creatures have, to the degree God has given it to them. He is describing, not the history of man, but his nature.
We will see more specifically below what St. Gregory actually thought about the "mixing of natures" which is implied in the evolutionary theory.
The Six Days
DAY BY DAY
(Genesis 1:1-25, 2:1-3)
Let us turn now to the text of Genesis and see briefly what God brought into being during the Six Days of Creation:
1. The First Day (Genesis 1:1-5)
1:1 In the beginning...
This book is about the very first things in the world. But there can also be a mystical significance to the words, as St. Ambrose teaches:
A beginning in a mystical sense is denoted by the statement: I am the first and the last, the beginning and the end (Apoc. 1:8).... In truth, He Who is the beginning of all things by virtue of His Divinity is also the end.... Therefore, in this beginning, that is, in Christ, God created heaven and earth, because all things were made through Him and without Him was made nothing that was made (John 1:3).
The succeeding acts of creation begin with the words: "And God said." St. Basil asks the meaning of this, and answers it for us:
Let us inquire how God speaks. Is it in our manner?... Does He manifest His hidden thought by striking the air with the articulate movement of the voice? Surely, it is fantastic to say that God needs such a roundabout way for the manifestation of His thoughts. Or, is it not more in conformity with true religion to say that the Divine will joined with the first impulse of His intelligence is the Word of God? [i.e., Christ]. The Scripture delineates Him in detail in order that it may show that God wished the creation not only to be accomplished, but also to be brought to this birth through some co-worker. It could have related everything fully as it began, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," then "He created light," next, "He created the firmament." But now, introducing God as commanding and speaking, it indicates silently Him to Whom He gives the command and to Whom He speaks.... This way of speaking has been wisely and skillfully employed so as to rouse our mind to an inquiry of the Person to Whom the words are directed.
And so we see Christ is the Creator, as is also stated by St. John the Evangelist: "In the beginning was the Word ... all things were made through Him and without Him was made nothing that was made" (John 1:1, 3). St. Paul teaches the same thing: "God ... created all things by Jesus Christ" (Eph. 3:9); "by Him (Christ) were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him" (Col. 1:16).
Thus, in traditional Orthodox iconography of the creation we see not Michelangelo's old man (the Father) creating Adam (as in the fresco in the Sistine Chapel), but Christ. Of course, it is the Trinity as a whole that creates: the Father commands, the Son creates, and in a moment we will see the Spirit participating in this work, as he "moves" or "hovers" over the waters. Of this St. Ephraim the Syrian writes:
It was fitting for the Holy Spirit to hover as a proof that in creative power He is equal to the Father and the Son. For the Father uttered, the Son created, and it was fitting for the Spirit also to offer His work. And this He did by hovering, thereby clearly showing that all was brought into being and accomplished by the Trinity.
1:1-2 God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was form and void (Septuagint: invisible and unfinished).
St. Basil asks:
How is it, if both the heavens and the earth were of equal honor, that the heavens were brought to perfection and the earth is still imperfect and unfinished? Or, in short, what was the lack of preparation of the earth? And for what reason was it invisible? Surely, the perfect condition of the earth consists in its state of abundance: the budding of all sorts of plants, the putting forth of the lofty trees both fruitful and barren, the freshness and fragrance of flowers, and whatever things appeared on earth a little later by the command of God to adorn their mother. Since as yet there was nothing of this, the Scripture reasonably spoke of it as incomplete. We might say the same also about the heavens; that they were not yet brought to perfection themselves, nor had they received their proper adornment, since they were not yet lighted around by the moon nor the sun, nor crowned by the choirs of the stars. For, these things had not yet been made. Therefore, you will not err from the truth if you say that the heavens also were incomplete.
St. Ambrose speaks of this work of the First Day as the "foundation" of the world:
The good architect lays the foundation first, and afterwards, when the foundation has been laid, plots the various parts of the building, one after the other, and then adds thereto the ornamentation.... Why did not God ... grant to the elements at the same time as they arose their appropriate adornments, as if He, at the moment of creation, were unable to cause the heavens immediately to gleam with studded stars and the earth to be clothed with flowers and fruit? That could very well have happened. Yet Scripture points out that things were first created and afterwards put in order, lest it be supposed that they were not actually created and that they had no beginning, just as if the nature of things had been, as it were, generated from the beginning and did not appear to be something added afterwards.
St. Ephraim says:
He said this desiring to show that emptiness preceded the natures (of things)... There was then only the earth, and there was nothing beside it.
1:2 And darkness was upon the face of the deep.
The waters of the "deep" were created together with the earth and completely submerged the earth. This is the cause of its unfinished appearance. The Fathers assume there was a certain light created with the heavens, since the heavens are the region of light; but if so the clouds covering the earth prevented its reaching the earth. St. Ephraim writes:
If everything created (whether its creation is mentioned or not) was created in six days, then the clouds were created on the first day.... For everything had to be created in six days.
(This is another indication, incidentally, that the work of the Six Days is distinct from the continuous creative work of God after that, and that we cannot understand it by projecting back from our present experience.)
St. Ambrose specifically rejects the opinion that the "darkness" here refers allegorically to powers of evil.
1:2 And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
Here we see the activity of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity in die creation. St. Ambrose writes:
There was still to come the plenitude of the operation in the Spirit, as it is written: "By the Word of the Lord the heavens were established and all the power of them by the Spirit of His mouth" (Ps. 32, 6)... The Spirit fittingly moved over the earth, destined to bear fruit, because by the aid of the Spirit it held the seeds of new birth which were to germinate according to the words of the Prophet: "Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created and Thou shah renew the face of the earth" (Ps. 103:32).
St. Ephraim gives us a homey image of the activity of the Spirit on the First Day:
[The Holy Spirit] warmed the waters and made them fertile and capable of birth, like a bird when it sits with its outstretched wings on its eggs and by its warmth gives them warmth and produces fertility in them. This same Holy Spirit represented for us then an image of Holy Baptism, in which by His moving over the waters He gives birth to the children of God.
The Holy Spirit also participated in the other days of Creation, for Job speaks of "the Divine Spirit which made me" (Job 33:4).
1:3 And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.
St. Ambrose writes:
God is the author of light, and the place and cause of darkness is the world. But the good Author uttered the word "light" so that He might reveal the world by infusing brightness therein and thus make its aspect beautiful. Suddenly, then, the air became bright and darkness shrank in terror from the brilliance of the novel brightness. The brilliance of the light which suddenly permeated the whole universe overwhelmed the darkness and, as it were, plunged it into the abyss.
St. Ephraim, in harmony with the other Fathers, tells us clearly that this light had nothing to do with the sun, which was created only on the Fourth Day:
The light which appeared on earth was like either a bright cloud, or a rising sun, or the pillar that illumined the Hebrew people in the desert. In any case, the light could not disperse the darkness that embraced everything if it had not extended everywhere either its substance or its rays, like the rising sun. The original light was shed everywhere and was not enclosed in a single definite place; it dispersed the darkness without having any movement; its whole movement consisted in its appearance and disappearance; after its sudden disappearance there came the dominion of night, and with its appearance this dominion ended. Thus the light produced also the three following days.... It aided the conception and bringing forth of everything that the earth was to produce on the third day; as for the sun, when it was established in the firmament, it was to bring to maturity what had already been produced with the aid of the original light.
1:4 And God saw that the light was good.
God calls each stage of His work "good," seeing its perfect and unspoiled nature and, as St. Ambrose teaches, looking forward to the perfection of the whole work:
God, as judge of the whole work, foreseeing what is going to happen as something completed, commends that part of His work which is still in its initial stages, being already cognizant of its termination.... He praises each individual part as befitting what is to come.
1:4-5 And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.
St. Basil comments on this passage:
"God separated the light from the darkness." That is, God made their natures incapable of mixing and in opposition, one to the other. For, He divided and separated them with a very great distinction between them. "And God called the light Day and the darkness Night." Now, henceforth, after the creation of the sun, it is day when the air is illuminated by the sun shining on the hemisphere above the earth, and night is the darkness of the earth when the sun is hidden. Yet, it was not at that time according to solar motion, but it was when that first created light was diffused and again drawn in according to the measure ordained by God, that day came and night succeeded.
1:5 And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
St. Basil continues:
Evening, then, is a common boundary line of day and night; and similarly, morning is the part of night bordering on day. In order, therefore, to give the prerogative of prior generation to the day, Moses mentioned first the limit of the day and then that of the night, as night followed the day. The condition in the world before the creation of light was not night, but darkness; that which was opposed to the day was named night; wherefore it received its name later than the day did.... Why did he say "one" and not "first"? It is more consistent for him who intends to introduce a second and a third and a fourth day, to call the one which begins the series "first." But he said "one" because he was defining the measure of day and night.
This First Day of creation (no matter how "long" one may guess it to be) is the beginning of the cycle of seven days (each with its "day" and "night") which continues up to our own days. Those rationalist commentators who see in the "seven days" and the fact that "evening" precedes "morning" merely a projection backwards of later Jewish customs show themselves totally out of harmony with the Patristic way of viewing these things, and they are therefore unable to answer the question: where and why did the Jews derive these customs? In the Patristic view, the revealed text can and does give the literal origins of the world and the reasons for the Jewish customs (which are now Christian - for our church day also begins with Vespers, the evening service).
Thus we have come to the end of "Day One," the First Day of creation. It has established the measure of time for all succeeding ages (because "before" it there was no time; time begins with it). And in another sense also it is a day unlike those that follow it, as St. Ephraim explains:
Thus, according to the testimony of Scripture, heaven, earth, fire, air, and the waters were created out of nothing; while the light which was created on the First Day and everything else that was created after it were created out of what existed before. For when Moses speaks of what was created out of nothing he uses the word "created" (Hebrew: bara): God created the heavens and the earth. And although it is not written that fire, the waters and the air were created, it is likewise not said that they were produced from what existed earlier. And therefore they also are out of nothing, just as heaven and earth are out of nothing. But when God begins to create out of what already existed, the Scripture uses an expression like this: God said, let there be light, and the rest. And if it is said: God created the great sea monsters, before this the following is said: Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. Therefore, only the above-named five kinds of creations were created out of nothing, while everything else was created out of what had already been created out of nothing.
The "five creations" that St. Ephraim mentions are the "four elements" out of which, according to the definition of ancient science, everything on earth consists, in addition to "heaven." One does not have to accept this particular way of analyzing the creation to see that there is indeed something "fundamental" about the First Day of Creation: it contains the beginnings of everything that is to come after. One might speculate as to where the actual matter came from for the living creatures, the heavenly bodies, and other creations of the next five days: was it newly created out of nothing, or was it really only a transformation of pre-existing matter? But this would be a profitless exercise that would not, in any case, contradict the truth that the basic structure and matter of creation was made on the First Day; the work of the next five days is less "radical" than that of the First Day - it is rather a "shaping" than a "creation" in the strict sense.
The very idea of "creation out of nothing" or "from non-being" sharply distinguishes the Genesis account from that of all pagan myths and speculations about creation. In the latter it is some kind of "demiurge" or "fashioner-god" who forms the world out of already existing matter - which, as the Holy Fathers say, thus is a kind of "god" also. Genesis describes the absolute beginning of the whole world, not its development from something already existing; even the creations of the following five days, as we shall see, although they come out of the matter which has already been created, are something radically new which cannot be understood as a mere development of the first-created matter. The speculations of modern thinkers who try to trace the world back to some ultimately simple matter which develops by itself can be seen to be akin to the ancient pagan speculations; the radicalness of the Genesis explanation is beyond them both-precisely because it comes from God's revelation and not the guesses and projections of men.
The Christian who understands the absoluteness of God's creative work in the Six Days views the present creation with different eyes than does someone who views it as a gradual development or "evolution" from primordial matter (whether the latter is understood as created by God or as self-existing). In the latter view, the world is seen to be "naturally" what it is, and one can trace it back to ever simpler forms, each of which can be understood "naturally"; but in the former view, the view of Genesis, one is placed before the two radical poles of existence: that which now is, and the absolute nothingness from which it came, suddenly and by God's will alone.
There is only one more question for us to ask concerning the First Day: where does the creation of the world of angels fit into it? Moses describes the creation only of the visible world; when was the invisible world of spiritual beings created? Some Fathers think they are included in the creation of "heaven"; others are not so specific, but know that they were also created "in the beginning." St. Basil teaches:
In fact there did exist something, as it seems, even before this world, which our mind can attain by contemplation, but which has been left uninvestigated because it is not adapted to those who are beginners and as yet infants in understanding. This was a certain condition older than the birth of the world and proper to the supramundane powers, one beyond time, everlasting, without beginning or end. In it the Creator and Producer of all things perfected the works of His art, a spiritual light befitting the blessedness or those who love the Lord, rational and invisible natures, and the whole orderly arrangement of spiritual creatures which surpass our understanding and of which it is impossible even to discover the names. These fill completely the essence of the invisible world.
Similarly, St. Ambrose writes:
The Angels, Dominations, and Powers, although they began to exist at some time, were already in existence when the world was created. For all things "were created, things visible and things invisible, whether Thrones or Dominations or Principalities or Powers. All things," we are told, "have been created through and unto Him" (Col. 1:16).
Indeed, God said to Job: "When the stars were made, all My angels praised Me with a loud voice" (Job 38:7, Septuagint). We will see on the Sixth Day how Adam was tempted by satan, and therefore we know that the battle of the proud angels in heaven, as described in the Apocalypse (12:7-8) has already been fought before then, and satan has already "fallen like lightning" (Luke 10:18).
2. The Second Day (Genesis 1:6-8)
1:6-8 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
Some have tried to find in this passage an "unscientific" view of the heavens, as though Moses believed in a kind of hard crystal dome which the stars are embedded and above which there is a fictitious store of water. But there is nothing so fantastic to be found in this text.
The word "firmament" seems to have two shades of meaning in Genesis, one quite specific and "scientific," the other general. In its general meaning the firmament is more or less synonymous with "heaven" or "sky": the stars are called "lights in the firmament of the heavens" (Gen. 1:14), and the birds fly "across the firmament of the heavens" (Gen. 1:20). We who have lost the specific meaning of "firmament" would omit it in such descriptions and say that stars and birds are both to be seen in the "heavens." The idea that the stars are embedded in crystal spheres is a speculation of ancient pagan thought and does not have to be projected into the inspired text of Genesis.
What, then, is the specific "scientific" meaning of the "firmament" in this text? St. Basil teaches that, even though it is also called "heaven," it is not synonymous with the "heaven" mentioned at the beginning of Genesis.
Since both a second name and a function peculiar to the second heaven was recorded, this is a different one from that recorded in the beginning, one of a more solid nature and furnishing a special service for the universe.... We believe that this word has been assigned for a certain firm nature which is capable of supporting the fluid and unstable water. And, surely, we need not believe, because it seems to have had its origin, according to the general understanding, from water, that it is like either frozen water or some ... translucent stone ... almost like the air in transparency. Now, we compare the firmament to none of these things. Truly, it is peculiar to a childish and simple intellect to hold such notions about the heavens.... We have been taught by the Scripture to permit our mind to invent no fantasy beyond the knowledge that has been granted it....
Not a firm and solid nature, which has weight and resistance, it is not this that the word "firmament" means. In that case the earth would more legitimately be considered deserving of such a name. But, because the nature of the substances lying above is light and rare and imperceptible, He called this (a) firmament, in comparison with those very light substances which are incapable of perception by the senses. Now, imagine some place which tends to separate the moisture, and lets the rare and filtered part pass through into the higher regions, but lets the coarse and earthly part drop below, so that, by the gradual reduction of the liquids, from the beginning to the end the same mild temperature may be preserved.
The "firmament" in Genesis, therefore, is some kind of natural harrier or filter that separates two levels of atmospheric moisture. We do not observe today such a definite phenomenon that we could call a "firmament." Was it perhaps different in the first-formed earth?
St. Basil believes that the function of the "firmament" was to preserve a mild temperature over the whole earth. Now, it so happens that we know of a certain "greenhouse" effect on the earth in prehistoric times: tropical plants and animals have been found in the ice of the far north, indicating that the northern regions were indeed once temperate. Further, in the second chapter of Genesis we are told that before the creation of man, "the Lord had not caused it to rain upon the earth ... but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground" (Gen. 2:5-6).
The early earth, then, seems to have been a place rather different from the one we know: a place universally temperate, plentiful in moisture which constantly watered an abundant vegetation, which, as we shall see, was all that God intended not only for the food of man, but even of the beasts (Gen. 1:30).
When did this happy situation come to an end? We will soon look at the consequences of the fall of man; but there are indications that the earth even after the fall of man preserved some of the characteristics of the earliest earth. Let us look briefly at what the Scripture says in the light of our scientific knowledge of the atmosphere. The Holy Fathers themselves often applied the scientific knowledge of their times in understanding the Scripture, and we are also permitted to do so - provided only that we do no violence to the text of Scripture and are humble and moderate in our own supposed understanding. The following explanation, therefore, is offered not as dogma but as speculation.
The very phenomenon of rain is not mentioned in the text of Genesis until the time of Noah; and then it is not an ordinary rain but a kind of cosmic catastrophe: "All the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights" (Gen. 7:11-12). Immense - to us, nearly unimaginable - amounts of water were loosed on the earth reducing it virtually to its state on the First Day of creation, when the "deep" covered the earth. The rains we know today could not cause this to happen; but the text describes something even worse: an immense underground supply of water was loosed, and the "firmament" - the atmospheric condition that preserved a permanent reservoir of water in the air, evidently in the form of clouds such as the planet Venus has even now - was literally "broken" and emptied its contents upon the earth.
In this light we can also understand why God gave the rainbow as the sign of His covenant with Noah and all creatures that there would never again be such a flood upon earth. How could the rainbow have been a sign, when supposedly it had existed throughout the centuries before that? Evidently the rainbow then appeared for the first time. The rainbow is formed by the direct rays of the sun upon moisture in the air. If the permanent cloud cover of the earth was dissipated by the breaking of the "firmament," then literally the direct rays of the sun struck the earth for the first time after the Flood. The rainbow had been unknown to man before that - which is why it can now be a sign to man that literally the supply of moisture in the air is limited and cannot cause a universal flood any more.
Some scientists recently have speculated - on different evidence - that the amount of cosmic radiation striking the earth for some reason manifested a striking increase about five thousand years ago. This of course would be true if the waters above the firmament had served as a filter and kept out harmful radiation.
In view of all this, it would seem that the time after the Flood is a whole new epoch in human history. The comparatively "paradisal conditions of the earth up to the time of Noah, when a universal temperateness prevailed over the earth and abundant vegetation supplied the needs of man without the need to eat meat (Noah is the first to receive God's permission to eat flesh; Gen. 9:3), gives way to the harsher post-Flood earth we know, when there is "seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter" (Gen. 8:22), and men no longer live ninde hundred years as did Adam and the early Patriarchs, but very quickly are reduced to the seventy or eighty years which is the general limit of our life even up to now.
3. The Third Day (Genesis 1:9-13)
1:9-10 And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
On each Day of creation a command is given that becomes the law of nature for all time thereafter. From the First Day, the succession of day and night begins; and from the Third Day, the waters begin their ceaseless movement. Thus, "the element of water was ordered to flow, and it never grows weary when urged on unceasingly by this command."
It is tempting for us, in the pride of our scientific knowledge, to speculate about the how of this event: Did the waters flow into underground reservoirs? Did the land rise up? The Scripture does not say and for this reason the Holy Fathers say little on this subject. St. Ambrose writes:
What He actually has done, which I have not learned from the clear testimony of Scripture, I pass over as a mystery, lest, perchance, that stir up other questions starting even from this point. Nevertheless, I maintain in accordance with the Scriptures, that God can extend the low-lying regions and the open plains, as He has said: "I will go before thee and make level the mountains" (Is. 45:2).
On this same question of the "how" of creation St. Gregory of Nyssa teaches:
As for the question, how any single thing came into existence, we must banish it altogether from our discussion. Even in the case of things which are quite within the grasp of our understanding and of which we have sensible perception, it would be impossible for the speculative reason to grasp the "how" of the production of the phenomenon; so much so, that even inspired and saintly men have deemed such questions insoluble. For instance, the Apostle says, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen are not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3).... While the Apostle affirms that it is an object of his faith that it was by the will of God that the world itself and all which is therein was framed,... he has on the other hand left out of the investigation the "how" of this framing.... Let us, following the example of the Apostle, leave the question of the "how" in each created thing, without meddling with it at all, but merely observing incidentally that the movement of God's will becomes at any moment that He pleases a fact, and the intention becomes at once realized in nature.
In all that has to do with the Six Days of Creation, therefore, the Holy Fathers offer few guesses (and they are always tentative) regarding how God created; and we likewise should refrain from projecting our knowledge of the "how" of the present creation (to the small extent that we know it) back to the first-created world.
The dry land appeared at the command of God, and not by some natural process. St. Ambrose writes:
It was provided that the earth would, to all appearance, have been dry by the hand of God rather than by the sun, for the earth actually became dry before the sun was created. Wherefore, David, too, distinguished the sea from the land, referring to the Lord God: "For the sea is His and He made it, and His hands made the dry land" (Ps. 94:5).
1:11-13 And God said, Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth. And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.
The Holy Fathers are unanimous in emphasizing the miraculous nature of the creation of the Third Day. St. Basil teaches:
"Let the earth bring forth herbs." And in the briefest moment of time the earth, beginning with germination in order that it might keep the laws of the Creator, passing through every form of increase, immediately brought the shoots to perfection. The meadows were deep with the abundant grass; the fertile plains, rippling with standing crops, presented the picture of a swelling sea with its moving heads of grain. And every herb and every kind of vegetable and whatever shrubs and legumes there were, rose from the earth at that time in all profusion.... "And the fruit tree," He said, "that bears fruit containing seed of its own kind and of its own likeness on the earth. At this saying all the dense woods appeared; all the trees shot up, those which are wont to rise to the greatest height, the firs, cedars, cypresses, and pines; likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garland plants - the rose bushes, myrtles, and laurels-all came into existence in a moment f time, although they were not previously upon the earth, each o with its own peculiar nature.
St. Ephraim the Syrian states precisely:
The herbs, at the time of their creation, were the productions of a single instant, but in appearance they appeared the productions of months. Likewise the trees, at the time of their creation, were the productions of a single day, but in their perfection and fruits, which weighed down the branches, they appeared the productions of years.
St. Gregory of Nyssa also emphasizes that what was created by God was not merely seeds or a potentiality for growth, but the actual creations we know; seeds come from those first-created plants:
We learn from Scripture in the account of the first creation, that first the earth brought forth "the green herb," and that then from this plant seed was yielded, from which, when it was shed on the ground, the same form of the original plant again sprang up.... In the beginning, we see, it was not an ear rising from a grain, but a grain coming from an ear, and, after that, the ear grows round the grain.
Plants and trees appeared on earth, as the Fathers repeat again and again, before the very existence of the sun. St. John Chrysostom writes:
(Moses) shows you that everything was accomplished before the creation of the sun, so that you might ascribe the ripening of the fruits not to it, but to the Creator of the universe.
St. Basil states:
The adornment of the earth is older than the sun, that those who have been misled may cease worshipping the sun as the origin of life.
Ambrose waxes eloquent on this subject:
Before the light of the sun shall appear, let the green herb be born, let its light be prior to that of the sun. Let the earth germinate before ceives the fostering care of the sun, lest there be an occasion for human error to grow. Let everyone be informed that the sun is not the author of vegetation.. . . How can the sun give the faculty of life growing plants, when these have already been brought forth by the life-giving creative power of God before the sun entered into such a life as this? The sun is younger than the green shoot, younger than the green plant.
The vegetation and trees brought forth seeds, "each according to its kind." This expression of Scripture is a key one in Patristic thought; we will devote a lengthy discussion to it under the Fifth Day of creation, when living creatures were brought forth likewise "each according to its kind."
4. The Fourth Day (Genesis 1:14-19)
1:14-19 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth. And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; He made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
The Fourth Day of creation is a source of great embarrassment for those who would like to fit the Six Days into an evolutionary framework. There is absolutely no way this can be done if the sun was actually created on the Fourth Day.
For this reason, such apologists for the evolutionary interpretation have to believe that the sun was really created on the First Day with the heavens, but only appeared on the Fourth Day - apparently after the cloud covering of the earth during the first three days had lifted.
But we should remind ourselves once more that the first chapters of Genesis are not an account of the natural development of the earth accorrding to the laws now governing this development, but an account of the miraculous beginnings of all things. We are not free to rearrange the Days of Genesis to fit our theories; we must rather humble our understanding so as to comprehend what the sacred text actually says. And here as always the Holy Fathers are our key to this comprehension. How did they understand the Fourth Day?
The Holy Fathers are unanimous in affirming that the sun and the heavenly luminaries were created on the Fourth Day; they did not merely appear then. There is no reason why, if the text of Genesis permitted it, the Fathers could not have accepted the seemingly more "natural explanation" that the light of the sun illuminated the first three days of creation, but that the orb of the sun only became visible from earth on the Fourth Day. That they universally reject this explanation can only mean that the text of Genesis does not allow it.
St. John Chrysostom writes: "He created the sun on the Fourth Day so that you might not think that it produces the day."
St. Basil teaches:
The heavens and the earth had come first; after them, light had been created, day and night separated, and in turn, the firmament and dry land revealed. Water had been collected into a fixed and definite gathering. The earth had been filled with its proper fruits; for, it had brought forth countless kinds of herbs, and had been adorned with varied species of plants. However, the sun did not yet exist, nor the moon, lest men might call the sun the first cause and rather of light, and lest they who are ignorant of God might deem it the producer of what grows from the earth.... If the creation of light had preceded, why, now, is the sun in turn said to have been made to give light?.... At the time (the First Day) the actual nature of light was introduced, but now this solar body has been made ready to be a vehicle for that first-created light.... And do not tell me that it is impossible for these to be separated. I certainly do not say that the separation of light from the solar body is possible for you and me, but that that which we are able to separate in thought can also be separated in actuality by the Creator of its nature.. "Let them serve," He says, "for the fixing of days," not for making days, but for ruling the days. For, day and night are earlier than the generation of the luminaries.
St. Ambrose makes a special emphasis on this point:
Look first upon the firmament of heaven which was made before the sun; look first upon the earth which began to be visible and was already formed before the sun put in its appearance; look at the plants of the earth which preceded in time the light of the sun. The bramble preceded the sun; the blade of grass is older than the moon. Therefore, do not believe that object to be a god to which the gifts of God are seen to be preferred. Three days have passed. No one, meanwhile, has looked for the sun, yet the brilliance of light has been in evidence everywhere. For the day, too, has its light which is itself the precursor of the sun.
The idea that life on earth from the beginning was dependent on the sun, and even that the earth itself comes from the sun - is a recent idea that is nothing but the sheerest guess; it even has no direct connection with the truth or falsity of the so-called evolution of life on earth. Because men in recent centuries have been looking for a "new and "natural" explanation of the worlds origin, having rejected the explanation that comes from Divine revelation, it has seemed a matter of course that the sun - so much larger and astronomically more significant than the earth, and the center of the earths orbit-should precede the earth, rather than the other way around.
But Divine revelation, as interpreted by the Holy Fathers, tells us the contrary: that the earth comes first, both in time and in significance, and the sun comes second. If our minds were not so chained to the intellectual fashions of the times, if we were not so fearful of being thought "behind the times," we would not have such difficulty in opening our minds to this alternative explanation of the world's beginnings.
In the Scriptural-Patristic view the earth, as the home of man, the pinnacle of God's creation, is the center of the universe. Everything else - no matter what the scientific explanation of its present state and movement, or the physical immensity of it in comparison to the earth - is secondary, and was made for the sake of the earth, that is, for man. Our God is of such power and majesty that we need not doubt that in a single momentary exercise of His creative might He brought into being this whole earth - large to us, but only a speck in the whole universe - and that in another moment of His power He made the whole immensity of the stars of heaven. He could do vastly more than that if He willed; in the inspired text of Genesis He has left us the barest outline of what He did do, and this account is not required to accord with our human speculations and guesses.
In our days it has become fashionable and easy to believe that everything "evolved," by absolutely uniform laws which we can now observe, from a primordial blob of energy or matter; if one needs "God" to explain anything, it is only to be the "creator" of this blob, or the initiator of the "big bang" that supposedly has produced everything there is. Today it requires a broader mind, less chained to "public opinion," to begin to see the enormity of the creative acts of God as described in Genesis. The Holy Fathers - the most "sophisticated" and "scientific" minds of their time - can be the unchainers of our fettered minds.
But surely, it might be asked, the creations of God must make sense from the "natural" point of view also. Why, therefore, did God create such an enormous body as the sun to serve such a small body as the earth? Couldn't He have conserved this energy and made a sun more in accordance with the scale of the earth?
One could, of course, conceive of a sun much smaller than the one we know and much closer to the earth, while preserving its apparent size as seen from the earth. But such a sun would expend its energy many times more rapidly than our present sun does. Evidently God made the sun the size and the distance from earth it needs to have if it is to give to earth the amount of light and heat it requires to support life to the end of this age, when the sun shall be darkened (Matt. 24:29).
We may also see another, a mystical reason, for the fact that the light precedes the sun in the days of creation. Here, admittedly, we have no Fathers to quote, and we offer this interpretation as our own opinion. We will see below that the separation of man into male and female was not part of the original "image" in which God created him; and we know that it will not be part of man's nature in the eternal kingdom of heaven, for in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven (Matt. 22:30). Rather, God made the division into male and female foreseeing the fall of man and that the increase of mankind would require a passionate mode of generation.
Might it not be, then, that the sun and moon are also not part of God's original "image" of His creation, but were only created to mark the days and months and years of man's fallen estate? The original light, created on the First Day, had no need of a body to contain it. At the end of the world shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven (Matt. 24:29); and in the kingdom of heaven, as on the First Day of Creation, there will be once more light without the sun and moon - for the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of the Lord did lighten it (Apoc. 21:23).
But these are mysteries at which we can do no more than guess.
5. The Fifth Day (Genesis 1:20-23)
1:20-23 And God said, Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens. So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
In his commentary on the Fifth Day of Creation, St. John Chrysostom emphasizes the preciseness and accurateness of the order in which the creation is described.
The blessed Moses, instructed by the Spirit of God, teaches us with such detail ... so that we might clearly know both the order and the way of the creation of each thing. If God had not been concerned for our salvation and had not guided the tongue of the Prophet, it would have been sufficient to say that God created the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and living creatures, without indicating either the order of the days or what was created earlier and what later.... But he distinguishes so clearly both the order of creation and the number of days, and instructs us about everything with great condescension, in order that we, coming to know the whole truth, would no longer heed the false teachings of those who speak of everything according to their own reasonings, but might comprehend the unutterable power of our Creator.
Thus, on the Fifth Day, he writes:
Just as He said of the earth only: "Let it bring forth," and there appeared a great variety of flowers, herbs, and seeds, and all occurred by His word alone, so here also He said: "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens" - and instantly there were so many kinds of crawling things, such a variety of birds, that one cannot number them in words.
St. Basil writes:
All water was in eager haste to fulfill the command of its Creator, and the great and ineffable power of God immediately produced an efficacious and active life in creatures of which one would not even be able to enumerate the species, as soon as the capacity for propagating living creatures came to the waters through His command.
And St. Ambrose:
At this command the waters immediately poured forth their offspring. The rivers were in labor. The lakes produced their quota of life. The sea itself began to bear all manner of reptiles.... We are unable to record the multiplicity of the names of all those species which by Divine command were brought to life in a moment of time. At the same instant substantial form and the principle of life were brought into existence.... The whale, as well as the frog, came into existence at the same time by the same creative power.
Here, as in the creation of all living things, God creates the first of each kind:
God orders the firstlings of each kind to be brought forth, seeds, as it were, for nature; and their numbers are controlled by successive progeny, whenever they must increase and become numerous (St. Basil).
Here, therefore, let us examine the meaning of the expression, repeated on each of the three days in which life is created, "each according to its kind."
There can be no doubt whatever that the Holy Fathers understood, clearly and unanimously, that on these three days God created all the kinds of creatures that we know today. This can be seen in their often-repeated assertions that God creates immediately and instantly, that it is His word alone that brings the creatures into being, that it is not a natural property of the waters or earth to bring forth life. On the latter point St. Basil writes (speaking of the Sixth Day):
When He said: "Let it bring forth," (the earth) did not produce what was stored up in it, but He Who gave the command also bestowed upon it the power to bring forth. Neither did the earth, when it heard, "Let it bring forth vegetation and the fruit trees," produce plants which it had hidden in it; nor did it send up to the surface the palm or the oak or the cypress which had been hidden somewhere down below in its womb. On the contrary, it is the Divine Word that is the origin of all things made. "Let the earth bring forth"; not, let it put forth what it has, but, let it acquire what it does not have, since God is enduing it with the power of active force.
The Holy Fathers have a very definite teaching on the "kinds" of creation. Let us only bear in mind here that we need not define precisely the limits of these "kinds." The "species" of modern taxonomy (the science of classification) are sometimes arbitrary and do not necessarily correspond to the "kinds" of Genesis; but in general one might say that the Fathers understand as included in a "kind" those creatures capable of producing a fertile offspring, as will be seen in what follows.
St. Basil teaches that the "kinds" of Genesis (except, of course, for those that may have become extinct) maintain their nature to the end of time:
There is nothing truer than this, that each plant either has seed or there exists in it some generative power. And this accounts for the expression "of its own kind." For the shoot of the reed is not productive of an olive tree, but from the reed comes another reed; and from seeds spring plants related to the seeds sown. Thus, what was put forth by the earth in its first generation has been preserved until the present time, since the kinds persisted through constant reproduction.
The nature of existing objects, set in motion by one command, passes through creation without change, by generation and destruction, preserving the succession of the kinds through resemblance, until it reaches the very end. It begets a horse as the successor of a horse, a lion of a lion, and an eagle of an eagle; and it continues to preserve each of the animals by uninterrupted successions until the consummation of the universe. No length of time causes the specific characteristics of the animals to be corrupted or extinct, but, as if established just recently, nature, ever fresh, moves along with time.
Similarly, St. Ambrose teaches:
In the pine cone nature seems to express an image of itself; it preserves its peculiar properties which it received from that Divine and celestial command, and it repeats in the succession and order of the years its generation until the end of time is fulfilled.
And the same Father says even more decisively:
The Word of God permeates every creature in the constitution of the world. Hence, as God had ordained, all kinds of living creatures were quickly produced from the earth. In compliance with a fixed law they all succeed each other from age to age according to their aspect and kind. The lion generates a lion; the tiger, a tiger; the ox, an ox; the swan, a swan; and the eagle, an eagle. What was once enjoined became in nature a habit for all time. Hence the earth has not ceased to offer the homage of her service. The original species of liv-mg creatures is reproduced for future ages by successive generations of its kind.
The attempts of breeders, both of animals and plants, in all ages to make a new species by mating individuals of different species produces (when it succeeds) a result that only proves the Patristic maxim of the constancy of species: these "hybrids" are sterile and cannot reproduce themselves. St. Ambrose uses this example to warn men against "unnatural unions" which go against the laws which God established in the Days of Creation:
What pure and untarnished generations follow without intermingling one after another, so that a thymallus produces a thymallus; a sea-wolf, a sea-wolf. The sea-scorpion, too, preserves unstained its marriage bed.... Fish know nothing of union with alien species. They do not have unnatural betrothals such as are designedly brought about between animals of two different species as, for instance, the donkey and the mare, or again the female donkey and the horse, both being examples of unnatural union. Certainly there are cases in which nature suffers more in the nature of defilement rather than that of injury to the individual. Man as an abettor of hybrid barrenness is responsible for this. He considers a mongrel animal more valuable than one of a genuine species. You mix together alien species and you mingle diverse seeds.
The distinctness and integrity of the "seeds" of each of the "kinds" of creation is so much a part of Scriptural and Patristic thought that it serves in the Gospel as the basis for the Parable of our Lord regarding the distinctness of good and evil, virtue and sin. St. Ambrose uses this parable (Matt. 13:24-30) to illustrate the integrity of the seeds of each "kind":
There is no danger that the precept of God, to which nature has accustomed itself, may become void in future time by a failure of propagation, since today the integrity of the stock is still preserved in the seeds. We know that cockle and the other alien seeds which often are interspersed among fruits of the earth are called "weeds" in the Gospel. These, however, belong to a special species and have not degenerated into another species by a process of mutation from the seed of the wheat plant. The Lord told us that this is so when He aid' "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while men were asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat." We gather from this that weeds and wheat certainly seem to be distinct both in name and in kind. Hence, the servants, too, said to the householder, "Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? How then does it have weeds?" He said to them, "An enemy hath done this." One is the seed of the devil; the other, that of Christ which is sown in accordance with justice. Therefore, the Son of Man sowed one and the devil sowed the other. For that reason the nature of each is distinct, since the sowers are opposed. Christ sows the kingdom of God, whereas the devil sows sin. How, therefore, can this kingdom be of one and the same race as sin? "This is the kingdom of God," He says, "as though a man should cast seed into the earth."
Just as the distinction of species is related to the distinction between good and evil, so is the confusion of species related to moral relativity. It is certainly well known how believers in the relativity of good and evil, of virtue and vice, make use of the cosmological theory of universal evolution to defend their belief as "scientific" and "factual": if man was "once" a lower animal and is "evolving" into something else, then how can his inconstant nature be compelled to obey commandments given at only one stage of his "development"? Marxist atheism bound itself to this theory of evolution from the very beginning and to this day preaches it as one of the cardinal doctrines of its relativistic philosophy.
The idea of the consistency of nature and the integrity and distinctness of its "kinds" runs throughout Patristic literature. It serves as a model, for example, of the resurrection of the human body. St. Ambrose writes, in his treatise on the resurrection:
Nature in all its produce remains consistent with itself.... Seeds of one kind cannot be changed into another kind of plant, nor bring forth produce differing from its own seeds, so that men should spring from serpents and flesh from teeth; how much more, indeed, is it to be believed that whatever has been sown rises again in its own nature, and that crops do not differ from their seed, that soft things do not spring from hard, nor hard from soft, nor is poison changed into blood; but that flesh is restored from flesh, bone from bone, blood from blood, the humors of the body from humors. Can ye then, ye heathen, who are able to assert a change, deny a restoration of the nature?
In a similar view, St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:
Whereas we learn from Scripture in the account of the first Creation, that first the earth brought forth "the green herb" (as the narrative says), and that then from this plant seed was yielded, from which, when it was shed on the ground, the same form of the original plant again sprang up, the Apostle, it is to be observed, declares that this very same thing happens in the Resurrection also; and so we learn from him the fact, not only that our humanity will be then changed into something nobler, but also that what we have therein to expect is nothing else than that which was at the beginning.
A strange parallel to the modern theory of universal evolution may be seen in the ancient pagan teaching of the transmigration of souls (reincarnation). The reaction of the Holy Fathers to this idea, which they universally condemned, shows how concerned they were to preserve the orderliness of creation and the distinctness of its kinds of creatures. St. Gregory of Nyssa writes:
Those who would have it that the soul migrates into natures divergent from each other seems to me to obliterate all natural distinctions; to blend and confuse together, in every possible respect, the rational, the irrational, the sentient, and the insensate; if, that is, all these are to pass into each other, with no distinct natural order secluding them from mutual transition. To say that one and the same soul, on account of a particular environment of body, is at one time a rational and intellectual soul, and that then it is caverned along with the reptiles, or herds with the birds, or is a beast of burden, or a carnivorous one, or swims in the deep; or even drops down to an insensate thing, so as to strike out roots or become a complete tree, producing buds on branches, and from those buds a flower, or a thorn, or a fruit edible or noxious - to say this, is nothing short of making all things the same and believing that one single nature runs through all beings; that there is a connection between them which blends and confuses hopelessly all the marks by which one could be distinguished from another.
The idea that "one single nature runs through all beings," of course, lies at the heart of the theory of universal evolution. Erasmus Darwin (the grandfather of Charles) had already pointed scientific speculation in this direction at the end of the eighteenth century. Such an idea is profoundly alien to Scriptural and Patristic thought.
6. The Sixth Day (Genesis 1:24-31)
1:24-25 And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds. And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
The teaching of the Holy Fathers on the creation of the land animals on the Sixth Day does little more than repeat what has already been said about the other living creatures. Thus, St. Ephraim writes:
The earth at God's command immediately brought forth creeping things, beasts of the field, creatures of prey, and domestic animals, as many as were necessary for the service of him who, on that very day, transgressed the commandment of his Lord.
St. Basil teaches:
The soul of brute beasts did not emerge after having been hidden in the earth, but it was called into existence at the time of the command.
With this act of creation, all is ready for the appearance of man, who is to be lord over it all. But this magnificent creation is not merely for the practical use of man. There is something mystical in it; being the good creation of the All-good God, it can raise our minds to Him. St. John Chrysostom writes:
God created everything not only for our use, but also that we, seeing the great wealth of his creations, might be astonished at the might of the Creator and might understand that all this was created with wisdom and unutterable goodness for the honor of man, who was to appear.
St. Basil, marvelling at the grandeur of God's creation, says:
Let us glorify the Master Craftsman for all that has been done wisely and skillfully; and from the beauty of the visible things let us form an idea of Him Who is more than beautiful; and from the greatness of these perceptible and circumscribed bodies let us conceive of Him Who is infinite and immense and Who surpasses all understanding in the plenitude of His power. For even if we are ignorant of things made, yet, at least, that which in general comes under our observation is so wonderful that even the most acute mind is shown to be at a loss as regards the least of the things in the world, either in the ability to explain it worthily or to render due praise to the Creator, to Whom be all glory, honor, and power forever.
God made the world, as St. John Damascene teaches, because, "not ontent to contemplate Himself, by a superabundance of goodness He saw fit that there should be some things to benefit by and participate in this goodness."
Perhaps no part of Scripture expresses so well the awe-inspiring majesty of God in His creation, and man's nothingness in comparison, as does the passage in which God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind:
Where wast thou when I founded the earth? Tell me now, if thou hast knowledge, who set the measures of it, if thou knowest? Or who stretched a line upon it? On what are its rings fastened? And who is he that laid the cornerstone upon it? When the stars were made, all My angels praised Me with a loud voice. And I shut up the sea with gates, when it rushed out, coming forth out of its mother's womb. And I made a cloud its clothing, and swathed it in mist. And I set bounds to it, surrounding it with bars and gates. And I said to it, Hitherto shalt thou come, but thou shalt not go beyond, but thy waves shall be confined within thee. Or did I order the morning light in thy time; and did the morning star then first see his appointed place; to lay hold of the extremities of the earth, to cast out the ungodly out of it? Or didst thou take clay of the ground, and form a living creature, and set it with the power of speech upon the earth? (Job 38:4-14, Septuagint).
The Genesis account of the creation of man is given in two accounts, those of chapter one and chapter two; these we shall examine in the next chapter.
2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation.
Of this, God's "sabbath" rest from creation, St. John Chrysostom writes:
The Divine Scripture indicates here that God rested from His works; but in the Gospel Christ says: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). In comparing these utterances, is there not a contradiction to be found in them? May it not be so; in the words of the Divine Scripture there is no contradiction whatever. When the Scripture here says: "God rested from all His works," it thereby instructs us that on the Seventh Day He ceased to create and to bring out of nonexistence into existence; but when Christ says: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work," it thereby indicates to us His uninterrupted Providence, and it calls "work" the preservation of what exists, the giving to it of continuance (of existence) and the governance of it at all times. Otherwise, how could the universe exist, if a higher hand did not govern and order everything visible and the human race?
Viewing the marvel of what happens every day in what we have become accustomed to call "nature" - the development, for example, of a fully mature plant, animal, or even human being from a tiny seed - we cannot help but see the continuous creative activity of God. But this is not all the same as the Creation of the Six Days, the original bringing into being of everything there is. The first chapter of Genesis describes this unique and unrepeatable creation.
Being accustomed to the "working" of God in our present world, we can scarcely conceive of that other kind of "work" which He did in the Six Days. The world, then, while perfect and fully formed, was still "new." St. Gregory the Theologian emphasizes that when God wished to create Adam of the dust, "the Word, having taken a part of the newly created earth, with His immortal hands formed my image." St. Ephraim the Syrian teaches:
Just as the trees, the grasses, the animals, birds and man were at the same time both old and young: old in the appearance of their members and structures, young in the time of their creation; so also the moon was at the same time both old and young: young because it was just created, old because it was full as on the fifteenth day.
St. Ephraim and other Fathers emphasize this newness by stating their belief that the world was created in the spring. St. Ambrose ties his together with the fact that among the Hebrews the year began in the spring:
He created heaven and earth at the time when the months began, from which time it is fitting that the world took its rise. Then there was the mild temperature of spring, a season suitable for all things. Consequently, the year, too, has the stamp of a world coming to birth.... In order to show that the creation of the world took place in the spring, Scripture says: "This month shall be to you the beginning of months, it is for you the first in the months of the year" (Ex. 12:2), calling the first month the springtime. It was fitting that the beginning of the year be the beginning of generation.
Now, after this look at the Holy Fathers' very realistic understanding of the Six Days of Creation, let us turn to the more complex question of the making of the crown of God's creation, man.
- published by St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood