Genesis i. 1.

June 24, 2010

In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

St. Basil: “Wonder at this thought stops my speech.  What shall I say first? where shall I begin to describe it?  Shall I refute the futility of the heathens? or shall I bring forth our truth in praises? … Blessed nature, immense goodness, that which is lovable for all who partake of reason, beauty greatly desirable, the beginning of all things that exist, the fountain of life, spiritual light, inaccessible wisdom, this In the beginning He created heaven and earth” (Homiliæ in Hexæmeron, i., 2.).

St. Thomas: “This phrase … is explained in a threefold sense in order to exclude three errors.  For some said that the world always was, and that time had no beginning.  And to exclude this in the beginning is set forth, namely of time.  And some said that there are two principles of creation, one of good and the other of evil.  And to exclude this is set forth in the beginning, that is in the Son.  For as the efficient principle is appropriated to the Father, on account of power, so the exemplar principle is appropriated to the Son, on account of wisdom, in order that, as it is said, Thou hast made all things in wisdom,[1] thus God may be understood to have made all things in the beginning, that is in the Son; according to the Apostle, in Him, namely the Son, were created all things.[2] And others said that corporeal things were created by God through the medium of spiritual creatures.  And to exclude this is set forth, in the beginning God created Heaven and Earth, that is before all things.  For four things are given as created together, namely the Empyrean heaven, corporeal matter (which is understood by the name of earth), time, and Angelic nature” (ST. Ia q. xlvi. a. iii.).

Calmet: “The word bara, ‘created,’ is here determined by tradition and by reason to mean a production out of nothing” (Haydock Bible).  “The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) affirms that God ‘from the beginning of time made at once out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal …’” (CCC §327).

Note: Thus the superiority of St. Jerome’s Vulgate is shown already in the first sentence of the Bible, in translating bara by the special verb creavit, which distinguishes the uniqueness of God’s act of creation to a degree that the broader fecit of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine and the ἐποίησεν of the Septuagint and the Greek Fathers do not.

1b. The Most Holy Trinity.

St. Ambrose: “There is also a mystical beginning, as is this: I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.[3] And especially that passage in the Gospel, where, when asked who he was, the Lord replied, The beginning, who also speak unto you.[4] Truly according to His divinity He is the beginning of all things, for there was no one before Him; and the end, for there will be no one after Him: and according to Solomon[5] the beginning of the Lord’s ways is in His works; that through Him the race of men might learn to follow the ways of the Lord, and to work the works of God.  Therefore it was in this beginning, that is in Christ, that God made heaven and earth; for all things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.  In him was life;[6] for by him all things consist.[7] And He is the firstborn of every creature:[8] whether because He was before every creature, or because He is holy, since firstborn are holy, as the firstborn of Israel; not because he was before all, but because he was more holy than anything else.  For the Lord is holy above all creation and according to his taking on of His body; for He alone is without sin, He alone is without vanity.  For the creature was made subject to vanity[9] (Hexæmeron, I. iv. 15.; for the interpretation of Christ as principium, especially with reference to John viii. 25, cf. also St. Isidore, Quæstiones in Vetum Testamentum, i. 2; St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 13; In Pentateuchum Comentarii col. 190;  St. Jerome, infra).

St. Jerome: “Very many suppose … that the Hebrew says:  In the Son God created Heaven and Earth; which the truth of the matter itself shows to be false … In Hebrew is written, beresith; which Aquila translates, in the head, in the chapter [i.e. in the beginning]; and not baben, which is in the Son.  Therefore, this is able to be taken of Christ more from the sense than from the translation of the phrase: in both the very beginning of Genesis, which is the head of all books, and in the beginning of John’s Gospel, He is confirmed as the founder of Heaven and Earth.  Whence in the Psalter[10] He says of Himself: In the head of the book it is written of me, that is, in the beginning of Genesis.  And in the Gospel: All things were made by him; and without him was made nothing[11] (Liber Hebraicarum Quaestionum in Genesim).

Calmet: “Elohim, the Judges or Gods, denoting plurality, is joined with a verb singular, he created, whence many, after Peter Lombard, have inferred that in this first verse of Genesis the adorable mystery of the Blessed Trinity is insinuated” (HB).

1c. “Heaven”; expounded of the creation of the Angels.

(i) Why Heaven (the Empyrean heaven)[12] was created on the first day.

St. Thomas: “A more fitting reason [than those offered by Basil, Bede and Strabus] may be taken from the very nature of glory.  For a twofold glory is awaited as a future reward, that is, spiritual, and corporeal; and not only in human bodies that are to be glorified, but also in the whole world made new.  Now spiritual glory began from the very beginning of the world in the blessedness of the Angels, equality with whom is promised to the saints.  Whence it was fitting that from the beginning corporeal glory might also begin in some body, free from the slavery of corruption and change, and completely light-filled; just as is awaited for all corporeal creation after the resurrection that is to come.  And therefore that heaven is called the Empyrean, that is, ‘fiery,’ not from its heat, but from its splendor” (ST. Ia q. lxvi. a. iii.).

(ii) What heaven or heavens are indicated as being created on the first day.

St. Thomas: “According to Chrysostom, first Moses said generally what God made, putting first, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and afterwards explained it piece by piece; as if one were to say, ‘this builder built this house,’ and then to add, ‘first he made the foundations; then he raised the walls; third, he put the roof on top.’  And thus it is not necessary for us to understand a different heaven, when it is said, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and when it is said that on the second day the firmament was made.  It is also able to be said that the heaven created on the first day, is different from that made on the second.  And this can be in many ways.  For according to Augustine, the heaven made on the first day is unformed spiritual nature, while the heaven made on the second day, is the corporeal heaven.  But according to Bede and Strabus, the heaven made on the first day is the Empyrean heaven, and the firmament made on the second day is the sidereal heaven … Following another explanation, which Augustine mentions, the heaven made on the first day is also itself the sidereal heaven, and by the firmament made on the second day is understood that space of the air in which clouds are grouped together; and this is also called heaven, equivocally.  Accordingly, to indicate the equivocation, it is expressly said, God called the firmament, Heaven; as it had said above, He called the light Day (for day is also presented as meaning a space of twenty-four hours)” (ST. Ia q. lxviii. a. i. ad 1.).

(iii) Understood with reference to creation of the Angels.

Note: Following St. Thomas in many places, as well as St. Bede and Strabus, St. Chrysostom’s opinion seems untenable; for if we hold, as seems nearly certain, that the Angels were created in the Empyrean heaven on the first day (infra), that heaven (the firmament) created on the second day must be different in some way.  Bede holds the following order of creation (infra): 1) Empyrean heaven; 2) Angels; 3) light.

St. Bede: “Why would Moses have brought in this [v. 2] regarding the earth, leaving out heaven, unless he did not wish anything to be understood of such a heaven?  This is because he is speaking of the highest heaven, which remains hidden from the whole turbulent state of this world, resting in the glory of the divine foreknowledge.  For in the following passages he tells of our heaven, in which the heavenly bodies necessary to this world are placed, and of the manner and time of its creation.  Therefore that highest heaven, inaccessible to the sight of every mortal, was not created empty and void on earth, which in its first creation brought forth no green plants or living souls; for having been created, it without doubt was immediately filled with its inhabitants, that is with the most blessed armies of angels.  That they were created in the beginning with heaven and earth, and subsequently returned their created being for the praise of the creator of the beginning of all creation, the Creator himself bears witness, when he says, speaking to his servant Job: Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? And slightly after: When the morning stars praised me together, and all the sons of God made a joyful melody?[13] Clearly the morning stars are the angels themselves, whom he also calls the sons of God, doubtless to distinguish them from holy men, who were to be created afterwards, and who, like stars of evening, after confession of the divine praise were to fall by death of the flesh …” (In Principium Genesis I col. 13-14).

Note: This seems most likely, and follows what St. Thomas himself says supra: “For four things are given as created together, namely the Empyrean heaven, corporeal matter (which is understood by the name of earth), time, and Angelic nature” (ST. Ia q. xlvi. a. iii.).  This teaching also follows the opinion mentioned by St. Augustine and St. Thomas (infra) that the word cœlum includes the Angels; the creation of light (v. 3) is subsequent to these.

St. Augustine prefers the opinion that the Angels are included in the word lux:

St. Augustine: “When sacred Scripture speaks of the creation of the world, it is not plainly said, whether or in what way the Angels were created; but if they were not left out, they are signified either by the name of heaven, where it is said: In the beginning God created heaven and earth, or rather by this light[14]… The Angels themselves are that light, which received the name of day; in order that their unity might be designated, it is not called the first day, but one day … For when God said: Be light made, and light was made, if in this light the creation of the Angels is rightly understood, they were made sharers in the eternal light, which is itself the unchangeable Wisdom of God, through Whom all things were made, Whom we call the only-begotten Son of God; in order that, enlightened by that light through which they were created, they might become light and be called day in participation with the unchangeable Light and Day, the Word of God, through whom both the Angels themselves and all things were made.  For the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world,[15] also enlightens every clean angel, that he might be light, not in himself, but in God; from whom if an angel turn himself, he becomes unclean; and thus are all who are called unclean spirits: not now light in the Lord, but in themselves darkness, deprived of participation in the eternal light.  For evil is no nature; the loss of good has received the name evil” (De civitate Dei, XI. ix.).

Note: It seems preferable, however, to retain this exposition but understand the light of the Angels as a metaphorical light, antecedent to the creation of corporeal light; cf. the opinion of St. Bede, infra, who holds that the creation of corporeal light was fitting precisely because the angels had already begun to enjoy the vision of God, the true light.

(iv) The reason Moses did not explicitly mention the Angels in the Creation narrative:

St. Thomas: “What Augustine says in XI of the City of God is to be held, that the Angels were not left out in that first creation of things, but are signified by the name heavens, or also light.  They were either left out, or signified by names of corporeal things, because Moses was speaking to an undeveloped people, which was not yet able to understand incorporeal nature; and if it had been made clear to them that there were other things above corporeal nature, it would have been for them an occasion of idolatry, to which they were inclined, and from which Moses particularly strained to keep them” (ST. Ia q. lxi. a. 1.).

(v) Visionary evidence for the creation of the Angels on the first day.

Bl. Anne Emmerich: “First I saw a boundless space full of light spreading out before me, and high in it, something like a sphere of light, similar to a sun, and in that, I felt, was the Unity of the Trinity.  I named it to myself the ‘one nature’[16] and saw something like an effect from it: there arose under the sphere something like shining circles, rings, choirs of spirits, lying within one another, infinitely radiant and powerful and beautiful.  This world of light stood like a sun under the higher Sun” (The Creation, 1.).

1d. The place and time of angelic creation.

St. Thomas: “Strabus says, commenting on this passage, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, ‘this heaven is not the visible firmament, but the Empyrean, that is the “fiery” or “intellectual,” which is so called, not from its heat, but from its splendor, and which was filled by the Angels as soon as it was made’ … The one universe is created out of corporeal and spiritual beings.  Thus, accordingly, the spiritual creatures were created in such a way, that they have a particular order toward corporeal creation, and preside over every all of creation.  Whence it was fitting that the Angels be created in the highest body, as presiding over all of corporeal nature …” (ST. Ia q. lxi. a. iv.).

“Whether the Angel was created before corporeal creation … It would not be true to say, In the beginning God created heaven and earth, if He had created anything beforehand.  Therefore the Angels were not created before corporeal nature.  For Angels are a specific part of the universe; they do not contitute by themselves their own universe; rather, they combine with corporeal creation to form one universe.  Which appears from the order of one creature to another, since the order of things to each other is the good of all.  No part is perfect is separated from its whole.  Therefore it is not probable that God, whose works are perfect, as Deut. xxxii says,[17] would have created Angelic creation by itself before the other creatures” (ibid., a. iii.).[18]

1e. Concerning the nature of Angels.

RC: “God created out of nothing spiritual nature and innumerable Angels so that they might serve and assist Him, and augmented and adorned them with the wondrous gift of His grace and power” (I, ii., 17.).

St. Thomas: “[An Angel is completely incorporeal:] For the perfection of the universe it is required that there be some intellectual creatures.  But neither an act of the body, nor any corporeal power can understand: whence it is necessary to state, that for the universe to be perfect, there must be some incorporeal creature” (ST. Ia q. l. a. i.) … “It is impossible that an intellectual substance have any matter whatsoever” [i.e. Angels are pure form] (ibid., a. ii.) … “The Angels exist in a specific multitude of the greatest kind, exceeding every material multitude; and the reason for this is that, since the perfection of the universe is that which God principally intended in the creation of things, however much more things are perfect, in such greater excess are they created by God” (ibid., a. iii.) … “An Angel understands without composition or division” (ibid., q. lviii. a. iv.) … “An Angel does not acquire perfection through any discursive movement, as man does; it is present to him at once, on account of the dignity of his nature” (ibid., q. lxii. a. i.) … “An Angel, after his first act of charity, through which he merited beatitude, immediately was made blessed” (ibid., a. v.)

1f. The Angelic hierarchies.

St. Thomas: “Dionysius distinguishes three hierarchies of Angels” (ibid., q. cviii. a. i.) … “The first hierarchy grasps the reasons of things in God Himself; the second in universal causes; the third, according to their designation for particular effects.  And because God is the end, not only of the angelic offices, but also of all creation, to the first hierarchy pertains consideration of the end; to the middle, the arrangement of general or universal things to be done; to the last the application of the arrangement to bring about the effect, which is the carrying out of the work … And therefore Dionysius, considering the characteristics of the orders from their names, placed those orders in the first hierarchy, whose names are given with respect to God, namely Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones.  He placed those orders in the middle hierarchy, whose names designate a certain universal government or arrangement, namely Dominations, Virtues and Powers.  And he placed those orders in the third hierarchy, whose names designate the execution of a work, namely Principalities, Angels and Archangels” (ibid., a. vi.; the two-last named orders are inverted).

Note: The fall of the Devil and his Angels, although it occurred immediately after their creation, is discussed under v. 4.


[1] Ps. ciii. 24.

[2] I Col. i. 16.

[3] Apoc. i. 8.

[4] John viii. 25.

[5] Prov. viii. 22: The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing from the beginning.

[6] John i. 3-4.

[7] Col. i. 17.

[8] Col. i. 15.

[9] Rom. viii. 20.

[10] Ps. xxxix. 8.

[11] John i. 3.

[12] The immobile, highest heaven, the abode of God and the angels and saints (i.e. the corporeal heaven of the blessed): “the bodies of the saints, which will arise from the earth, will ascend to the Empyrean” (ST. suppl. q. lxxxiv. a. ii.).  “The Empyrean heaven is the highest of all corporeal places, and is outside of all change” (ST. Ia q. cii. a. ii. ad 1).

[13] Job xxxviii. 4, 7.

[14] Be light made, Gen. i. 3.

[15] John i. 9.

[16] German Einstimmung, lit. the “one mood, atmosphere”; mystically suggests the transcendent nature and immense power of God.

[17] Deut. xxxii. 4: The works of God are perfect, and all his ways are judgments.

[18] Cf. supra: “For four things are given as created together, namely the Empyrean heaven, corporeal matter (which is understood by the name of earth), time, and Angelic nature” (ibid., q. xlvi. a. iii.).

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3 Responses to “Genesis i. 1.”

  1. Alessandro Cota Says:

    God bless you! I love you blog. Do you know if there are English editions of St. Jerome’s commentary and of St. Isidore’s? Are they still available? Where can one find them? Thanks you!

  2. Alessandro Cota Says:

    Sorry, I meant “thank you” and not “thanks you.” I must be tired.


  3. Dear Alessandro,
    To my knowledge there are, unfortunately, no English editions of either St. Jerome’s or St. Isidore’s commentaries.
    God bless.


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