St. Augustine of Hippo- Confessions BOOK XII
AUTHOR: Augustine
PUBLISHED ON: March 27, 2003

St. Augustine of Hippo: CONFESSIONS
“New Advent Catholic Supersite”

St. Augustine of Hippo




I. My heart, 0 Lord, affected by the words of Thy Holy Scripture,
is much busied in this poverty of my life; and therefore, for the
most part, is the want of human intelligence copious in language,
because inquiry speaks more than discovery, and because demanding is
longer than obtaining, and the hand that knocks is more active than
the hand that receives. We hold the promise; who shall break it? “If
God be for us, who can be against us?. “Ask, and ye shall have;
seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for
every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to
him that knocketh it shall be opened.’. These are Thine own
promises; and who need fear to be deceived where the Truth


2. The weakness of my tongue confesseth unto Thy Highness, seeing
that Thou madest heaven and earth. This heaven which I see, and this
earth upon which I tread (from which is this earth that I carry
about me), Thou hast made. But where is Chat heaven of heavens, O
Lord, of which we hear in the words of the Psalm, The heaven of
heavens are the Lord’s, I but the earth hath He given to the
children of men. Where is the heaven, which we behold not, in
comparison of which all this, which we behold, is earth? For this
corporeal whole, not as a whole everywhere, hath thus received its
beautiful figure in these lower parts, of which the bottom is our
earth; but compared with that heaven of heavens, even the heaven of
our earth is but earth; yea, each of these great bodies is not
absurdly called earth, as compared with that, I know not what manner
of heaven, which is the Lord’s, not the sons’ of men.


3. And truly this earth was invisible and formless. and there
was I know not what profundity of the deep upon which there was no
light,’ because it had no form. Therefore didst Thou command that it
should be written, that darkness was upon the face of the deep; what
else was it than the absence of light?. For had there been light,
where should it have been save by being above all, showing itself
aloft, and enlightening? Where, therefore, light was as yet not, why
was it that darkness was present, unless because light was absent?
Darkness therefore was upon it, because the light above was absent;
as silence is there present where sound is not. And what is it to
have silence there, but not to have sound there? Hast not Thou, 0
Lord, taught this soul which confesseth unto Thee? Hast not Thou
taught me, 0 Lord, that before Thou didst form and separate this
formless matter, there was nothing, neither colour, nor figure, nor
body, nor spirit? Yet not altogether nothing; there was a certain
formlessness without any shape.


4. What, then, should it be called, that even in some ways it
might be conveyed to those of
duller mind, save by some conventional word? But what, in all parts
of the world, can be found nearer to a total formlessness than the
earth and! the deep? For, from their being of the lowest position,
they are less beautiful than are the other higher parts, all
transparent and shining. Why, therefore, may I not consider the
formlessness of matter–which Thou hadst created without shape,
whereof to make this shapely world–to be fittingly intimated unto
men by the name of earth invisible and formless?


S. So that when herein thought seeketh what the sense may arrive
at, and saith to itself, “It is no intelligible form, such as life
or justice, because it is the matter of bodies; nor perceptible by
the senses, because in the invisible and formless there is nothing
which can be seen and felt;–while human thought saith these things
to itself, it may endeavour either to know it by being ignorant, or
by knowing it to be ignorant.


6. But were I, O Lord, by my mouth and by my pen to confess unto
Thee the whole, whatever Thou hast taught me concerning that matter,
the name of which hearing beforehand, and not understanding (they
who could not understand it telling me of it), I conceive. it as
having innumerable and varied forms. And therefore did I not
conceive it; my mind revolved in disturbed order foul and horrible
“forms,” but yet “forms;” and I called it formless, not that it
lacked form, but because it had such as, did it appear, my mind
would turn from, as unwonted and incongruous, and at which human
weakness would be disturbed. But even that which I did conceive was
formless, not by the privation of all form, but in comparison of
more beautiful forms; and true reason persuaded me that I ought
altogether to remove from it all remnants of any form whatever, if I
wished to conceive matter wholly without form; and I could not. For
sooner could I imagine that that which should be deprived of all
form was not at all, than conceive anything between form and
nothing,–neither formed, nor nothing, formless, nearly nothing. And
my mind hence ceased to question my spirit, filled (as it was) with
the images of formed bodies, and changing and varying them according
to its will; and I applied myself to the bodies themselves, and
looked more deeply into their mutability, by which the. y cease to
be what they had. been, and begin to be what they were not; and.
this same transit from form unto form I have looked upon to be
through some formless condition, not through a very nothing; but I
desired to know, not to guess. And if my voice and my pen should
confess the whole unto Thee, whatsoever knots Thou hast untied for
me,concerning this question, who of my readers would endure to take
in the whole? Nor yet, therefore, shall my heart cease to give Thee
honour, and a song of praise, for those things which it is not able
to express. For the mutability of mutable things is itself capable
of all those forms into which mutable things are changed. And this
mutability, what is it? Is it soul? Is it body? Is it the outer
appearance of soul or body? Could it be said, “Nothing were
something,” and “That which is, is not,” I would say that this were
it; and yet in some manner was it already, since it could receive
these visible and compound shapes.


7. And whence and in what manner was this, unless from Thee, from
whom are all things, in so far as they are? But by how much the
farther from Thee, so much the more unlike unto Thee; for it is not
distance of place. Thou, therefore, O Lord, who art not one thing in
one place, and otherwise in another, but the Self-same, and the
Self-same, and the Self-same? Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God- Almighty,
didst in the beginning, which is of Thee, in Thy Wisdom, which was
born of Thy Substance, create something, and that out of nothing.
For Thou didst create heaven and earth, not out of Thyself, for then
they would be equal to Thine Only-begotten, and thereby even to
Thee. and in no wise would it be right that anything should be
equal to Thee which was not of Thee. And aught else except Thee
there was not whence Thou mightest create these things, O God, One
Trinity, and Trine Unity; and, therefore, out of nothing didst Thou
create heaven and earth,–a great thing and a small,because Thou art
Almighty and Good, to make all things good, even the great heaven
and the I small earth. Thou wast, and there was nought else from
which Thou didst create heaven and earth; two such things, one near
unto Thee, the other near to nothing,6–one to which Thou shouldest
be superior, the other to which nothing should be inferior.



8. But that heaven of heavens was for Thee, O Lord; but the
earth, which Thou hast given to the sons of men,x to be seen and
touched, was not such as now we see and touch. For ff was invisible
and “without form, and there was a deep over which there was not
light; or, darkness was over the deep, that is, more than in the
deep. For this deep of waters, now visible, has, even in its depths,
a light suitable to its nature, perceptible in some manner unto
fishes and creeping things in the bottom of it. But the entire deep
was almost nothing, since hitherto it was altogether formless; yet
there was then that which could be formed. For Thou, O Lord, hast
made the world of a formless matter, which matter, out of nothing,
Thou hast made almost nothing, out of which to make those great
things which we, sons of men, wonder at. For very wonderful is this
corporeal heaven, of which firmament, between water and water, the
second day after the creation of light, Thou saidst, Let it be made,
and it was made? Which firmament Thou calledst heaven, that is, the
heaven of this earth and sea, which Thou madest on the third day, by
giving a visible shape to the formless matter which Thou madest
before all days. For even already hadst Thou made a heaven before
all days, but that was the heaven of this heaven; because in the
beginning Thou hadst made heaven and earth. But the earth itself
which Thou hadst made was formless matter, because it was invisible
and without form, and darkness was upon the deep. Of which invisible
and formless earth, of which formlessness, of which almost nothing,
Thou mightest make all these things of which this changeable world
consists, and yet consisteth not; whose very changeableness appears
in this, that times can be observed and numbered in it. Because
times are made by the changes of things, while the shapes, whose
matter is the invisible earth aforesaid, are varied and turned.


9. And therefore the Spirit, the Teacher of Thy servant. when He
relates that Thou didst in the Beginning create heaven and earth, is
silent as to times, silent as to days. For, doubtless, that heaven
of heavens, which Thou in the Beginning didst create, is some
intellectual creature, which, although in no wise co-eternal unto
Thee, the Trinity, is yet a partaker of Thy eternity, and by reason
of the sweetness of that most happy contemplation of Thyself, doth
greatly restrain its own mutability,’ and without any failure, from
the time in which it was created, in clinging unto Thee, surpasses
all the rolling change of times. But this shapelessness—this earth
invisible and without form–has not itself been numbered among the
days. For where there is no shape nor order, nothing either cometh
or goeth; and where this is not, there certainly are no days, nor
any vicissitude of spaces of times.


10. Oh, let Truth, the light of my heart. not my own darkness,
speak unto me! I have descended to that, and am darkened. But
thence, even thence, did I love Thee. I went astray, and remembered
Thee: I heard Thy voice behind me bidding me return, and scarcely
did I hear it for the tumults of the unquiet ones. And now, behold,
I return burning and panting after Thy fountain. Let no one prohibit
me; of this will I drink, and so have life. Let me not be my own
life; from myself have I badly lived,Neath was I unto myself; in
Thee do I revive. Do Thou speak unto me; do Thou discourse unto me.
In Thy books have I believed, and their words are very deep.


11. Already hast Thou told me, 0 Lord, with a strong voice, in my
inner ear, ‘that Thou art eternal, having alone immortality. Since
Thou art not changed by any shape or motion, nor is Thy will altered
by times, because no will which changes is immortal. This in Thy
sight is clear to me, and let it become more and more clear, I
beseech Thee; and in that manifestation let me abide more soberly
under Thy wings. Likewise hast Thou said to me, 0 Lord, with a
strong voice, in my inner ear, that Thou hast made all natures and
substances, which are not what Thou Thyself art, and yet they are;
and that only is not from Thee which is not, and the motion of
the will from Thee who art, to that which in a less degree is,
because such motion is guilt and sin; x and that no one’s sin doth
either hurt Thee, or disturb the order of Thy rule. either first or
last. This, in Thy sight, is clear to me and let it become more and
more clear, I beseech Thee; and in that manifestation let me abide
more soberly under Thy wings.

12. Likewise hast Thou said to me, with a strong voice, in my
inner ear, that that creature, whose will Thou alone art, is not
co-eternal unto Thee, and which, with a most persevering purit.
drawing its support from Thee, doth, in place and at no time, put
forth its own mutability; ‘ and Thyself being ever present with it,
unto whom with its entire affection it holds itself, having no
future to expect nor conveying into the past what it remembereth, is
varied by no change, nor extended into any times.s O blessed
one,–if any such there be,–in clinging unto Thy Blessedness; blest
in Thee, its everlasting Inhabitant and its Enlightener! Nor do I
find what the heaven of heavens, which is the Lord’s, can be better
called than Thine house, which contemplateth Thy delight without any
defection of going forth to another; a pure mind, most peacefully
one, by that stability of peace of holy spirits. the citizens of
Thy city “in the heavenly places,” above these heavenly places which
are seen.

13. Whence the soul, whose wandering has been made far away, may
understand, if now she thirsts for Thee, if now her tears have
become bread to her, while it is daily said unto her “Where is thy
God?”. if she now seeketh of Thee one thing, and desireth that she
may dwell in Thy house all the days of her life? And what is her
life but Thee? And what are Thy days but Thy eternity, as Thy years
which fail not, because Thou art the same? Hence, therefore, can the
soul, which is able, understand how far beyond all times Thou art
eternal; when Thy house, which has not wandered from Thee, although
it be not co-eternal with Thee, yet by continually and unfailingly
clinging unto Thee, suffers no vicissitude of times. This in Thy
sight is clear unto me, and may it become more and more clear unto
me, I beseech Thee; and in this manifestation may I abide more
soberly under Thy wings.

14. Behold, I know not what shapelessness there is in those
changes of these last and lowest creatures. And who shall tell me,
unless it be some one who, through the emptiness of his own heart,
wanders and is staggered by his own fancies? Who, unless such a one,
would tell me that (all figure being diminished and consumed), if
the formlessness only remain, through which the thing was changed
and was turned from one figure into another, that that can exhibit
the changes of times? For surely it could not be, because without
the change of motions times are not, and there is no change where
there is no figure.


15. Which things considered as much as Thou givest, O my God, as
much as Thou excitest me to “knock,” and as much as Thou openest
unto me when I
knock, two things I find which Thou hast made, not within the
compass of time, since neither is co-eternal with Thee. One, which
is so formed that, without any failing of contemplation, without any
interval of change, although changeable, yet not changed, it may
fully enjoy Thy eternity and unchangeableness; the other, which was
so formless, that it had not that by which it could be changed from
one form into another, either of motion or of repose, whereby it
might be subject unto time. But this Thou didst not leave to be
formless, since before all days, in the beginning Thou createdst
heaven and earth,–these two things of which I spoke. But the earth
was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep.n By
which words its shapelessness is conveyed unto us,that by degrees
those minds may be drawn on which cannot wholly conceive the
privation of all form without coming to nothing,–whence another
heaven might be created, and another earth visible and well-formed,
and water beautifully ordered, and whatever besides is, in the
formation of this world, recorded to have been, not without days,
created; because such things are so that in them the vicissitudes of
times may take place, on account of the appointed changes of motions
and of forms.


16. Meanwhile I conceive this, O my God, when I hear Thy
Scripture speak, saying, In the beginning God made heaven and earth;
but the earth was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon
the deep, and not stating on what day Thou didst create these
things. Thus, meanwhile, do I conceive, that it is on account of
that heaven of heavens, that intellectual heaven, where to
understand is to know all at once,–not “in part,” not “darkly,” not
“through a glass,” x but as a whole, in manifestation, “face to
face;” not this thing now, that anon, but (as has been said) to know
at once without any change of times; and on account of the invisible
and formless earth, without any change of times; which change is
wont to have “this thing now, that anon,” because, where there is no
form there can be no distinction between “this” or “that; “–it is,
then, on account of these two,–a primitively formed, and a wholly
formless; the one heaven, but the heaven of heavens, the other
earth, but the earth invisible and formless;–on account of these
two do I meanwhile conceive that Thy Scripture said without mention
of days, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
For immediately it added of what earth it spake. And when on the
second day the firmament is recorded to have been created, and
called heaven, it suggests to us of which heaven He spake before
without mention of days.


17. Wonderful is the depth of Thy oracles, whose surface is
before us, inviting the little ones; and yet wonderful is the depth,
O my God, wonderful is the depth.’ It is awe to look into it; and
awe of honour, and a tremor of love. The enemies thereof I hate
vehemently. Oh, if Thou wouldest slay them with Thy two-edged
sword. that they be not its enemies! For thus do I love, that they
should be slain unto themselves that they may live unto Thee. But
behold others not reprovers, but praisers of the book of Genesis,–”
The Spirit of God,” say they, “Who by His servant Moses wrote these
things, willed not that these words should be thus understood. He
willed not that it should be understood as Thou sayest, but as we
say.” Unto whom, 0 God of us all, Thyself being Judge, do I thus


18. “Will you say that these things are false, which, with a
strong voice, Truth tells me in my inner ear, concerning the very
eternity of the Creator, that His substance is in no wise changed by
time, nor that His will is separate from His substance? Wherefore,
He willeth not one thing now, another anon, but once and for ever He
willeth all things that He willeth; not again and again, nor now
this, now that; nor willeth afterwards what He willeth not before,
nor willeth not what before He willed. Because such a will is
mutable and no mutable thing is eternal; but our God is eternal.s
Likewise He tells me, tells me in my inner ear, that the expectation
of future things is turned to sight when they have come; and this
same sight is turned to memory when they have passed. Moreover, all
thought which is thus varied is mutable, and nothing mutable is
eternal; but our God is eternal.” These things I sum up and put
together, and I find that my God, the eternal God, hath not made any
creature by any new will, nor that His knowledge suffereth anything

19. What, therefore, will ye say, ye objectors? Are these things
false? “No,” they say. “What is this? Is it false, then, that every
nature already formed, or matter formable, is only from Him who is
supremely good, because He is supreme? . . . . Neither do we deny
this,” say they. “What then? Do you deny this, that there is a
certain sublime creature, clinging with so chaste a love with the
true and truly eternal God, that although it be not co-eternal with
Him, yet it separateth itself not from Him, nor floweth into any
variety and vicissitude of times, but resteth in the truest
contemplation of Him only?” Since Thou, O God, showest Thyself unto
him, and sufficest him, who loveth Thee as muce as Thou commandest,
and, therefore, he declineth not from Thee, nor toward himself.
This is the house of God, not earthly, nor of any celestial bulk
corporeal, but a spiritual house and a partaker of Thy eternity,
because without blemish for ever. For Thou hast made it fast for
ever and ever; Thou hast ‘given it a law, which it shall not pass?
Nor yet is it co-eternal with Thee, O God, because not without
beginning, for it was made.

20. For although we find no time before it, for wisdom was
created before all things. — not certainly that Wisdom manifestly
co-eternal and equal unto Thee, our God, His Father, and by Whom all
things were created, and in Whom, as the Beginning, Thou createdst
heaven and earth; but truly that wisdom which has been created,
namely, the intellectual nature,t which, in the contemplation of
light, is light. For this, although created, is also called wisdom.
But as great as is the difference between the Light which
enlighteneth and that which is enlightened? so great is the
difference between the Wisdom that createth and that which hath been
created; as between the Righteousness which justifieth, and the
righteousness which has been made by justification. For we also are
called Thy righteousness; for thus saith a certain servant of Thine:
“That we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’s
Therefore, since a certain created wisdom was created before all
things, the rational and intellectual mind of that chaste city of
Thine, our mother which is above, and is free,’ and “eternal in the
heavens. (in what heavens, unless in those that praise Thee, the
“heaven of heavens,” because this also is the “heaven of heavens,”
which is the Lord’s) –although we find not time before it, because
that which hath been created before all things also precedeth the
creature of time, yet is the Eternity of the Creator Himself before
it, from Whom, having been created, it took the beginning, although
not of time,–for time as yet was not,–yet of its own very nature.

21. Hence comes it so to be of Thee, our God, as to be manifestly
another than Thou, and not the Self-same. Since, although we find
time not only not before it, but not in it (it being proper ever to
behold Thy face, nor is ever turned aside from it, wherefore it
happens that it is varied by no change), yet is there in it that
mutability itself whence it would become dark and cold, but that,
clinging unto Thee with sublime love, it shineth and gloweth from
Thee like a perpetual noon. O house, full of light and splendour! I
have loved thy beauty, and the place of the habitation of the glory
of my Lord, thy builder and owner. Let my wandering sigh after
thee; and I speak unto Him that made thee, that He may possess me
also in thee, seeing He hath made me likewise. “I have gone astray,
like a lost sheep;. yet upon the shoulders of my Sheperd. thy
builder, I hope that I may be brought back to thee.

22. “What say ye to me, O ye objectors whom I was addressing, and
who yet believe that Moses was the holy servant of God, and that his
books were the oracles of the Holy Ghost? Is not this house of God,
not indeed co-eternal with God, yet, according to its measure,
eternal in the heavens, n where in vain you seek for changes of
times, because you will not find them? For that surpasseth all
extension, and every revolving space of time, to which it is ever
good to cleave fast to God.”  “It is,” say they. “What, therefore,
of those things which my heart cried out unto my God, when within it
heard the voice of His praise, what then do you contend is false? Or
is it because the matter was formless, wherein, as there was no
form, there was no order? But where there was no order there could
not be any change of times; and yet this ‘ almost nothing,’ inasmuch
as it was not altogether nothing, was verily from Him, from Whom is
whatever is, in what state soever anything is.””This also,” say
they, “we do not deny.”


23. With such as grant that all these things which Thy truth
indicates to my mind are true, I desire to confer a little before
Thee, 0 my God. For let those who deny these things bark and drown
their own voices with their clamour as much as they please; I will
endeavour to persuade them to be quiet, and to suffer Thy word to
reach them. But should they be unwilling, and should they repel me,
I beseech, O my God, that Thou “be not silent to me.”  Do Thou
speak truly in my heart, for Thou only so speakest, and I will send
them away blowing upon the dust from without, and raising it up into
their own eyes; and will myself enter into my chamber, and sing
there unto Thee songs of love,–groaning with groaning unutterable.
in my pilgrimage, and remembering Jerusalem, with heart raised up
towards it,

Jerusalem my country, Jerusalem my mother, and Thyself, the Ruler
over it, the Enlightener, the Father, the Guardian, the Husband, the
chaste and strong delight,’ the solid joy, and all good things
ineffable, even all at the same time, because the one supreme and
true Good. And I will not be turned away until Thou collect all that
I am, from this dispersio. and deformity, into the peace of that
very dear mother, where are the first-fruits of my spirit,
whence these things are assured to me, and Thou conform and confirm
it for ever, my God, my Mercy. But with reference to those who say
not that all these things which are true and false, who honour Thy
Holy Scripture set forth by holy Moses, placing it, as with us, on
the summit of an authority. to be followed, and yet who contradict
us in some particulars, I thus speak: Be Thou, O,our God, judge
between my confessions and their contradictions.


24. For they say, “Although these things be true, yet Moses
regarded not those two things, when by divine revelation he said, ‘
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.. Under the
name of heaven he did not indicate that spiritual or intellectual
creature which always beholds the face of God; nor under the name of
earth, that shapeless matter.” ‘ What then?” “‘that man,” say they,
“meant as we say; this it is that he declared by those words.” “What
is that?” “By the name of heaven and earth,” say they, “did he first
wish to set forth, universally and briefly, all this visible world,
that afterwards by the enumeration of the days he might distribute,
as if in detail, all those things which it pleased the Holy Spirit
thus to reveal. For such men were that rude and carnal people to
which he spoke, that he judged it prudent that only those works of
God as were visible should be entrusted to them.” They agree,
however, that the earth invisible and formless, and the darksome
deep (out of which it is subsequently pointed out that all these
visible things, which are known to all, were made and set in order
during those” days”), may not unsuitably be understood of this
formless matter.

25. What, now, if another should say “That this same formlessness
and confusion of matter was first introduced under the name of
heaven and earth, because out of it this visible world, with all
those natures which most manifestly appear in it, and which is wont
to be called by the name of heaven and earth, was created and
perfected “? But what if another should say, that “That invisible
and visible nature is not inaptly called heaven and earth; and that
consequently the universal creation, which God in His wisdom hath
made,–that is, ‘ in the begining,’–was comprehended under these
two words. Yet, since all things have been made, not of the
substance of God, but out of nothings (because they are not that
same thing that God is, and there is in them all a certain
mutability, whether they remain, as doth the eternal house of God,
or. be changed, as are the soul and body of man), therefore, that
the common matter of all things invisible and visible,–as yet
shapeless, but still capable of form,–out of which was to be
created heaven and earth (that is, the invisible and visible
creature already formed), was spoken of by the same names by which
the earth invisible and formless and the darkness upon the deep
would be called; with this difference, however, that the earth
invisible and formless is understood as corporeal matter, before it
had any manner of form, but the darkness upon the deep as spiritual
matter, before it was restrained at all of its unlimited fluidity,
and before the enlightening of wisdom.”

26. should any man wish, he may still say, “That the already
perfected and formed natures, invisible and visible, are not
signified under the name of heaven and earth when it is read, ‘ In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth;’ but that the
yet same formless beginning of things, the matter capable of being
formed and made, was called by these names, because contained in it
there were these confused things not as yet distinguished by their
qualities and forms, the which now being digested in their own
orders, are called heaven and earth, the former being the spiritual,
the latter the corporeal creature. ‘ ‘


27. All which things having been heard and considered, I am
unwilling to contend about words. for that is profitable to nothing
but to the subverting of the hearers. But the law is good to edify,
if a man use it lawfully;. for the end of it “is charity out of a
pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” And
well did our Master know, upon which two commandments He hung all
the Law and
the Prophets.x And what doth it hinder me, 0 my God, Thou light of
my eyes in secret, while ardently confessing these things,–since by
these words many things may be understood, all of which are yet
true,–what, I say, doth it!
hinder me, should I think otherwise of what the writer thought than
some other man thinketh? Indeed, all of us who read endeavour to
trace out and to understand that which he whom we read wished to
convey; and as we believe him to speak truly, we dare not suppose
that he has spoken anything which we either know or suppose to be
false. Since, therefore, each person endeavours to understand in the
Holy Scriptures that which the writer understood, what hurt is it if
a man understand what Thou, the light of all true-speaking minds,
dost show him to be true although he whom he reads understood not
this, seeing that he also understood a Truth, not, however, this


28. For it is true, O Lord, that Thou hast made heaven and earth;
it is also true, that the Beginning is Thy Wisdom, in Which Thou
hast made all things.’ It is likewise true, that this visible world
hath its own great parts, the heaven and the earth, which in a short
compass comprehends all made and created natures. It is also true,
that everything mutable sets before our minds a certain want of
form, whereof it taketh a form, or is changed and turned. It is
true, that that is subject to no times which so cleaveth to the
changeless form as that, though it be mutable, it is not changed. It
is true, that the formlessness, which is almost nothing, cannot have
changes, of times. It is true, that that of which anything is made
may by a certain mode of speech be called by the name of that thing
which is made of it; whence that formlessness of which heaven and
earth were made might it be called “heaven and earth.” It is true,
that of all things having form, nothing is nearer to the formless
than the earth and the deep. It is true, that not only every
created, and formed thing, but also whatever is capable of creation
and of form, Thou hast made, “by whom are all things.” ‘ It is true,
that everything that is formed from that which is formless was
formless before it was formed.


29. From all these truths, of which they doubt not whose inner
eye Thou hast granted ‘to see such things, and who immoveably
believe, Moses, Thy servant, to have spoken in the spirit of truth;
from all these, then, he taketh one who saith, “In the beginning God
created the heaven and the earth,”–that is, “In His Word,
co-eternal with Himself, God made the intelligible and the sensible,
or the spiritual and corporeal creature.” He taketh another, who
saith, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the
earth,”–that is, “In His Word, co-eternal with Himself, God made
the universal mass of this corporeal world, with all those manifest
and known natures which it containeth.” He, another, who saith, “In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,’ ‘that is, “In
His Word, co-eternal with Himself, God made the formless matter of
the spiritua. and corporeal creature.” He, another, who saith, “In
the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’–that is, “In
His Word, co-eternal with Himself, God made the formless matter of
the corporeal creature, wherein heaven and earth lay as yet
confused, which being now distinguished and formed, we, at this day,
see in the mass of this world.” He, another, who saith, “In the
beginning God created heaven and earth, “–that is, “In the very
beginning of creating and working, God made that formless matter
confusedly containing heaven and earth, out of which, being formed,
they now stand out, and are manifest, with all the things that are
in them.”


30. And as concerns the understanding of
the following words, out of all those truths he selected one to
himself, who saith, “But the earth was invisible and without form,
and darkness was upon the deep, “–that is, “That corporeal thing,
which God made, was as yet the formless matter of corporeal things,
without order without light.” He taketh another, who saith, “But the
earth was invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the
deep, “–that is, “This whole, which is called heaven and earth, was
as yet formless and darksome matter, out of which the corporeal
heaven and the corporeal earth were to be made, with all things
therein which are known to our corporeal senses.” He, another, who
saith, “But the earth was invisible and without form, and darkness
was upon the deep,”–that is, “This whole, which is called heaven
and earth, was as yet a formless and darksome matter, out of which
were to be made that intelligible heaven, which is otherwise called
the heaven of heavens, and the earth, namely, the whole corporeal
nature, under which name may also be comprised this corporeal
heaven,–that is, from which every invisible and visible creature
would be created.” He, another, who saith, “But the carth was
invisible and without form, and darkness was upon the deep,” — “The
Scripture called not that formlessness by the name of heaven and
earth, but that formlessness itself,” saith he, “already was, which
he named the earth invisible and formless and the darksome deep, of
which he had said before, that God had made the heaven and the
earth, namely, the spiritual and corporeal creature.” He, another,
who saith, “But the earth was invisible and formless, and darkness
was upon the deep,’ ‘that is, “There was already a formless matter,
whereof the Scripture before said, that God had made heaven and
earth, namely, the entire corporeal mass of the world, divided into
two very great parts, the superior and the inferior, with all those
familiar and known creatures which are in them.”


31. For, should any one endeavour to contend against these last
two opinions, thus,–” If you will not admit that this formlessness
of matter appears to be called by the name of heaven and earth, then
there was something which God had not made out of which He could
make heaven and earth; for Scripture hath not told us that God made
this matter, unless we understand it to be implied in the term of
heaven and earth, or of earth only, when it is said, ‘ In the
beginning God created heaven and earth,’ as that which follows, but
the earth was invisible and formless, although it was pleasing to
him so to call the formless matter, we may not yet understand any
but that which God made in that text which hath been already
written, ‘ God made heaven and earth.'” The maintainers of either
one or the other of these two opinions which we have put last will,
when they have heard these things, answer and say, “We deny not
indeed that this formless matter was created by God, the God of whom
are all things, very good; for, as we say that that is a,greater
good which is created and formed, so we acknowledge that that is a
minor good which :is capable of creation and form, but yet good. But
yet the Scripture hath not declared that God made this formlessness,
any more than it hath declared many other things; as the ‘Cherubim,’
and ‘Seraphim, and those of which the apostle distinctly speaks,
‘Thrones,’ ‘Dominions,’ ‘Principalities,’ ‘Powers, all of which it
is manifest God made. Or if in that which is said,’ He made heaven
and earth,’ all things are comprehended, what do we say of the
waters upon which the Spirit of God moved? For if they are
understood as incorporated in the word earth, how then can formless
matter be meant in the term earth when we see the waters so
beautiful? Or if it be so meant, why then is it written that out of
the same formlessness the firmament was made and called heaven, and
yet it is not written that the waters were made? For those waters,
which we perceive flowing in so beautiful a manner, remain not
formless and invisiblee. But if, then, they received that beauty
when God said, Let the water which is under the firmament be
gathered together. so that the gathering be the very formation,
what will be answered concerning the waters which are above the
firmament, because if formless they would not have deserved to
receive a seat so honourable, nor is it written by what word they
were formed? If, then, Genesis is silent as to anything that God has
made, which, however, neither sound faith nor unerring understanding
doubteth that God hath made. let not any sober teaching dare to say
that these waters were co-eternal with God because we find them
mentioned in the book of Genesis; but when they were created, we
find not. Why–truth instructing us — may we not understand that
that formless matter, which the Scripture calls the earth invisible
and without form, and the darksome deep. have been made
by God out of nothing, and therefore that they are not co-eternal
with Him, although that narrative hath failed to tell when they were


32. These things, therefore, being heard and perceived according
to my weakness of apprehension, which I confess unto Thee, O Lord,
who knowest it, I see that two sorts of differences may arise when
by signs anything is related, even by true reporters,- one
concerning the truth of the things, the other concerning the meaning
of him who reports them. For in one way we inquire, concerning the
forming of the creature, what is true; but in another, what Moses,
that excellent servant of Thy faith, would have wished that the
reader and hearer should understand by these words. As for the first
kind, let all those depart from me who imagine themselves to know as
true what is false. And as for the other also, let all depart from
me who imagine Moses to have spoken things that are false. But let
me be united in Thee, O Lord, with them, and in Thee delight myself
with them that feed on Thy truth, in the breadth of charity; and let
us approach together unto the words of Thy book, and in them make
search for Thy will, through the will of Thy servant by whose pen
Thou hast dispensed them.


33. But which of us, amid so many truths which occur to inquirers
in these words, understood as they are in different ways, shall so
discover that one interpretation as to confidently say “that Moses
thought this,” and “that in that narrative he wished this to be
understood,” as confidently as he says “that this is true,” whether
he thought this thing or the other? For behold, O
my God, I Thy servant, who in this book have vowed unto Thee a
sacrifice of confession, and beseech Thee that of Thy mercy I may
pay my vows unto Thee,’
behold, can I, as I confidently assert that Thou in Thy immutable
word hast created all things, invisible and visible, with equal
confidence assert that Moses meant nothing else than this when he
wrote, “In the beginning God created. the heaven and the earth. No.
Because it is not as clear to me that this was in his mind when he
wrote these things, as I see it to be certain in Thy truth. For his
thoughts might be set upon the very beginning of the creation when
he said, “In the beginning;” and he might wish it to be understood
that, in this place, “the heaven and the earth” were no formed and
perfected nature, whether spiritual or corporeal, but each of them
newly begun, and as yet formless. Because I see, that which-soever
of these had been said, it might have been said truly; but which of
them he may have thought in these words, I do not so perceive.
Although, whether it were one of these, or some other meaning which
has not been mentioned by me, that this great man saw in his mind
when he used these words, I make no doubt but that he saw it truly,
and expressed it suitably.


34. Let no one now trouble me by saying, Moses thought not as you
say, but as I say.” For should he ask me, “Whence knowest thou that
Moses thought this which you deduce from his words?” I ought to take
it contented]y, and reply perhaps as I have before, or somewhat
more fully should he be obstinate. But when he says, “Moses meant
not what you say, [but what I say,” and yet denies not what each of
us says, and that both are true, O my God, life of the poor, in
whose bosom there is no contradiction, pour down into my heart Thy
soothings, that I may patiently bear with such as say this to me;
not because they are divine, and because they have seen in the heart
of Thy servant what they say, but because they are proud, and have
not known the opinion of Moses, but love their own,- not because it
is true, but because it is their own. Otherwise they would equally
love another true opinion, as I love what they say when they speak
what is true j not because it is theirs, but because it is true, and
therefore now not theirs because true. But if they therefore love
that because it is true, it is now both theirs and mine, since it is
common :to all the lovers of truth. But because they contend that
Moses meant not what I say, but I what they themselves say, this I
neither like nor love; because, though it were so, yet that rashness
is not of knowledge, but of audacity; and not vision, but vanity
brought it forth. And therefore, 0 Lord, are Thy judgments to be
dreaded, since Thy truth is neither mine, nor his, nor another’s,
but of all of us, whom Thou publicly callest to have it in common,
warning us terribly not to hold it as specially for ourselves, test we be
deprived of it. For whosoever claims to himself as his own that
which Thou appointed to all to enjoy, and desires that to be his own
which belongs to all, is forced away from what is common to all to
that which is his own — that is, from truth to falsehood. For he
that “speaketh a lie, speaketh of his Own. I,

35. Hearken, O God, Thou best Judge! Truth itself, hearken to
what I shall say to this gainsayer; hearken, for before Thee I say
it, and before my brethren who use Thy law lawfully, to the end of
charity. hearken and behold what I shall say to him, if it be
pleasing unto Thee. For this brotherly and peaceful word do I return
unto him: “If we both see that that which thou sayest is true, and
if we both see that what I say is true, where, I ask, do we see it?
Certainly not I in thee, nor thou in me, but both in the
unchangeable truth itself? which is above our minds.” When,
therefore, we may not contend about the very light of the Lord our
God, why do we contend about the thoughts of. our neighbour, which
we cannot so see as incommutable truth is seen; when, if Moses
himself had appeared to us and said, “This I meant,” not so should
we see it, but believe it? Let us not, then, “be puffed up for one
against the other,”. above that which is written; let us love the
Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our
mind, and our neighbour as ourself. As to which two precepts of
charity, unless we believe that Moses meant whatever in these books
he did mean, we shall make God a liar when we think otherwise
concerning our fellow-servants’ mind than He hath taught us. Behold,
now, how foolish it is, in so great an abundance of the truest
opinions which can be extracted from these words, rashly to affirm
which of them Moses particularly meant; and with pernicious
contentions to offend charity itself, on account of which he hath
spoken all the things whose words we endeavour to explain.


36. And yet, O my God, Thou exaltation of my humility, and rest
of my labour, who hearest my confessions, and forgivest my sins,
since Thou commandest me that I should love my neighbour as myself,
I cannot believe that Thou gavest to Moses, Thy most faithful
servant, a less gift than I should wish and desire for myself from
Thee, had I been born in his time, and hadst Thou placed me in that
position that through the service of my heart and of my tongue those
books might be distributed, which so long after were to profit all
nations, and through the whole world, from so great a pinnacle of
authority, were to surmount the words of all false and proud
teachings. I should have wished truly had I then been Moses (for we
all come from the same mass; and what is man, saving that Tho.u art
mindful of him?). I should then, had I been at that time what he
was, and enjoined by Thee to write the book of Genesis, have wished
that such a power of expression and such a method of arrangement
should be given me, that they who cannot as yet understand how God
creates might not reject the words as surpassing their powers; and
they who are already able to do this, would find, in what true
opinion soever they had by thought arrived at, that it was not
passed over in the few words of Thy servant; and should another man
by the light of truth have discovered another, neither should that
fail to be found in those same words.


37. For as a fountain in a limited space is more plentiful, and
affords supply for more streams over larger spaces than any one of
those streams which, after a wide interval, is derived from the same
fountain; so the narrative of Thy dispenser, destined to benefit
many who were likely to discourse thereon, does, from a limited
measure of language, overflow into streams of clear truth, whence
each one may draw out for himself that truth which he can concerning
these subjects,- this one that truth, that one another, by larger
circumlocutions of discourse. For some, when they read or hear these
words, think that God as a man or some mass gifted with immense
power, by some new and sudden resolve, had, outside itself, as if at
distant places, ]created heaven and earth, two great bodies above
and below, wherein all things were to be contained. And when they
hear, God said, Let it be made, and it was made, they think of words
begun and ended, sounding in times and passing away, after the
departure of which that came into being which was commanded to be;
and whatever else of the kind their familiarity with the worl.
would suggest. In whom, being as yet little ones. while their
weakness by this humble kind of speech is carried on as if in a
mother’s bosom, their faith is healthfully built
up, by which they have and hold as certain that God made all
natures, which in wondrous variety their senses perceive on every
side. Which words, if any one despising them, as if trivial, with
proud weakness shall have stretched himself beyond his fostering
cradle, he will, alas, fall miserably. Have pity, O Lord God, lest
they who pass by trample on the unfledged bird; and send Thine
angel, who may restore it to its nest that it may live until it can


38. But others, to whom these words are no longer a nest, but
shady fruit-bowers, see the fruits concealed in them, fly around
rejoicing, and chirpingly search and pluck them. For they see when
they read or hear these words, O God, that all times past and future
are surmounted by Thy eternal and stable abiding, and still that
there is no temporal creature which Thou hast not made. And by Thy
will, because! it is that which Thou art, Thou hast made all!
things, not by any changed will, nor by a will which before was not,
–not out of Thyself, in Thine own likeness, the form of all things,
but out of nothing, a formless unlikeness which should be formed by
Thy likeness (having recourse to Thee the One, after their settled
capacity, according as it has been given to each thing in his kind),
and might all be made very good; whether they remain around Thee,
or, being by degrees removed in time and place, make or undergo
beautiful variations. These things they see, and rejoice in the
light of Thy truth, in the little degree they here may.

39. Again, another of these directs his attention to that which
is said, “In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth,” and
beholdeth Wisdom,- the Beginning,’ because It also speaketh unto
us. Another likewise directs his attention to the same words, and
by “beginning” understands the commencement of things created; and
receives it thus,- In the beginning He made, as if it were said, He
at first made. And among those who understand “In the beginning” to
mean, that “in Thy Wisdom Thou bast created heaven and earth,” one
believes the matter out of which the heaven and earth were to be
created to be there called “heaven and earth;” another, that they
are natures already formed and distinct; another, one formed nature,
and that a spiritual, under the name of heaven, the other formless,
of corporeal matter, under the name of earth.

But they who under the name of “heaven and earth” understand
matter as yet formless, out of which were to be formed heaven and
earth, do not themselves understand it in one manner; but one, that
matter out of which the intelligible and the sensible creature were
to be completed; another, that only out of which this sensible
corporeal mass was to come, holding in its vast bosom these visible
and prepared natures. Nor are they who believe that the creatures
already set in order and arranged are in this place called heaven
and earth of one accord; but the one, both the invisible and
visible; the other, the visible only, in which we admire the
luminous heaven and darksome earth, and the things that are therein.


40. But he who does not otherwise understand, “In the beginning
He made,” than if it were said, “At first He made,” can only truly
understand heaven and earth of the matter of heaven and earth,
namely, of the universal, that is, intelligible and corporeal
creation. For if he would have it of the universe. as already
formed, it might rightly be asked of him: “If at first God made
this, what made He afterwards?” And after the universe he will find
nothing; thereupon must he, though unwilling, hear, “How is this
first, if there is nothing afterwards?” But when he says that God
made matter first formless, then formed, he is not absurd if he be
but able to discern what precedes by eternity, what by time, what by
choice, what by origin. By eternity, as God is before all things; by
time, as the flower is before the fruit; by choice, as the fruit is
before the flower; by origin, as sound is before the tune. Of these
four, the first and last which I have referred to are with much
difficulty understood; the two middle very easily. For an uncommon
and too lofty vision it is to behold, O Lord, Thy Eternity,
immutably making things mutable, and thereby before them. Who is so
acute of mind as to be able without great labour to discover how the
sound is prior to the tune, because a tune is a formed sound; and a
thing not formed may exist, but that which existeth not cannot be
formed?. So is the matter prior to that which is made from it; not
prior because it maketh it, since itself is rather made, nor is it
prior by an interval of time. For we do not as to time first utter
formless sounds without singing, and then adapt or fashion them into
the form of a song, just as wood or silver from which a chest or
vessel is made. Because such materials do by
time also precede the forms of the things which are made from them;
but in singing this is not so. For when it is sung, its sound is
heard at the same time; seeing there is not first a formless sound,
which is afterwards formed into a song. For as soon as it shall have
first sounded it passeth away; nor canst thou find anything of it,
which being recalled thou canst by art compose. And, therefore, the
song is absorbed in its own sound, which sound of it is its matter.
Because this same is formed that it may be a tune; and therefore, as
I was saying, the matter of the sound is prior to the form of the
tune, not before through any power of making it a tune; for neither
is a sound the composer of the tune, but is sent forth from the body
and is subjected to the soul of the singer, that from it he may form
a tune. Nor is it first in time, for it is given forth together with
the tune; nor first in choice, for a sound is not better than a
tune, since a tune is not merely a sound, but a beautiful sound. But
it is first in origin, because the tune is not formed that it may
become a sound, but the sound is formed that it may become a tune.
By this example, let him who is able understand that the matter of
things was first made, and called heaven and earth, because out of
it heaven and earth were made. Not that it was made first in time,
because the forms of things give rise to time,’ but that was
formless; but now, in time, it is perceived together with its form.
Nor yet can anything be related concerning that matter, unless as if
it were prior in time, while it is considered last (because things
formed are assuredly superior to things formless), and is preceded
by the Eternity of the Creator, so that there might be out of
nothing that from which something might be made.


41. In this diversity of true opinions let Truth itself beget
concord. and may our God have mercy upon us, that we may use the
law lawfully,a the end of the commandment, pure charity. And by
this if any one asks of me, “Which of these was the meaning of Thy
servant Moses?” these were not the utterances of my confessions,
should I not confess unto Thee, “I know not;” and yet I know that
those opinions are true, with the exception of those carnal ones
concerning which I have spoken what I thought well. However, these
words of Thy Book affright not those little ones of good hope,
treating few of high things in a humble fashion, and few things in
varied ways.s But let all, whom I acknowledge to see and speak the
truth in these words, love one another, and equally love Thee, our
God, fountain of truth,- if we thirst not for vain things, but for
it; yea, let us so honour this servant of Thine, the dispenser of
this Scripture, full of Thy Spirit, as to believe that when Thou
revealedst Thyself to him, and he wrote these things, he intended
that which in them chiefly excels both for light of truth and
fruitfulness of profit.


42. Thus, when one shall say, “He [Moses] meant as I do,” and
another, “Nay, but as I do,” I suppose that I am speaking more
religiously when I say, “Why not rather as both, if both be true?”
And if there be a third truth, or fourth, and if any one
seek any truth altogether different in those words, why may not he
be believed to have seen all these, through whom one God hath
tempered the Holy Scriptures to the senses of many, about to see
therein things true but different? I certainly, — and I fearlessly
declare it from my heart, –were I to write anything to have the
highest authority, should prefer so to write, that whatever of truth
any one might apprehend concerning these matters, my words should
re-echo, rather than that I should set down one true opinion so
clearly on this as that I should exclude the rest, that which was
false in which could not offend me. Therefore am I unwilling, O my
God, to be so headstrong as not to believe that from Thee this man
[Moses] hath received so much. He, surely, when he wrote those
words, perceived and thought whatever of truth we have been able to
discover, yea, and whatever we have not been able, nor yet are able,
though still it may be found in them.


43. Finally, 0 Lord, who art God, and not flesh and blood, if man
doth see anything less,
can anything lie hid from “T by good Spirit,” who shall “lead me
into the land of uprightness,’ x which Thou Thyself, by those
words, weft about to reveal to future readers, although he through
whom they were spoken, amid the many interpretations that might have
been found, fixed on but one? Which, if it be so, let that which he
thought on be more exalted than the rest. But to us, 0 Lord, either
point out the same, or any other true one which may be pleasing unto
Thee; so that whether Thou makest known to us that which Thou didst
to that man of Thine, or some other by occasion of the same words,
yet Thou mayest feed us, not error deceive us. Behold, 0 Lord my
God, how many things we have written concerning a few words, –how
many, I beseech Thee! What strength of ours, what ages would suffice
for all Thy books after this manner? Permit me, therefore, in these
more briefly to confess unto Thee, and to select some one true,
certain, and good sense, that Thou shall inspire, although many
[senses offer themselves, where many, indeed, I may; this being the
faith of my confession, that if I should say that which Thy minister
felt, rightly and profitably, this I should strive for; the which if
I shall not attain, yet I may say that which Thy Truth willed
through Its words to say unto me, which said also unto him what It

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