Genesis i. 6-7.

June 24, 2010

And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters.  And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament from those that were above the firmament, and it was so.

6-7. The continuation of the work of distinction.  The second day: the firmament and separation of the waters.

a. The nature of the firmament.

St. Thomas: “We read that the firmament was made on the second day; now this is able to be understood in two ways.  In the first way, of the firmament in which the stars are … in the other way, so that by the firmament made on the second day, we understand, not the firmament in which the stars are fixed, but that part of the air in which clouds are grouped together.  And this is called the firmament because of the density of the air there … And according to this [second] explanation, nothing follows contrary to any other opinion.  Whence Augustine, commending this explanation, says, ‘I judge this consideration most worthy of praise; for what it says is not only not contrary to faith, but when set forth is readily able to be believed” (ST. Ia q. lxviii. a. i.).

b. The opinion that the firmament is the cloudy atmosphere.

St. Augustine: “A certain one has laudably tried to explain the waters above the heavens, so that he might assert the faith proposed by Scripture from visible natures themselves.  And first, which was very easy, he showed that the air is also called heaven, not only in common speech, as when we say ‘cloudy’ or ‘clear heavens,’ but even in the custom of our Scriptures themselves, as they say volatilia cœli,[1] as it is clear that bird fly in the air: and since the Lord spoke of clouds: You know then how to discern the face of the sky [of the heavens].[2] Now we often see clouds accumulate in the air close to the earth, as they rest on the peaks of mountains, so that frequently they even pass the mountaintops.  Since therefore he has proved that the air is called heaven, for no other cause would he wish the name firmament also to be supposed, unless its space divided between certain water vapors, and those waters that flow more fully on earth.  And in fact clouds, in gathering and accumulating, produce just such a kind of very small drops, as those have experienced who have walked among them in the mountains; and if these drops become thicker, so that many small drops become joined in one large one, the air is not able to hold it, but gives way to its greater weight: and this is rain.  Therefore, from the air, which is among the damp vapors, where the higher clouds form, and the sea poured out below, this man wanted to show there to be a heaven between water and water.  Therefore I consider this diligence and conclusion most worthy of praise …” (De Gen. ad Lit., II, iv. 7).

c. The opinion that the firmament is the sidereal heaven.

St. Bede: “Described here is the creation of our heaven, in which the heavenly bodies are fixed; which evidently stands firm in the middle of the waters” (In Principium Genesis I col. 18).

d. A combination of the two opinions.

Challoner: “By this name [firmament] is here understood the whole space between the earth and the highest stars.  The lower part of which divideth the waters that are upon the earth, from those that are above in the clouds.”

St. Thomas: “Now Moses, accommodating an undeveloped people, followed those things that appear to the senses … If the firmament made on the second day be different from that in which the heavenly bodies are placed, according to the distinction of nature – although the senses, which Moses follows, do not distinguish the difference – the objection ceases.  For the firmament was made on the second day, as far as the lower part.  On the fourth day, the heavenly bodies are placed in the firmament as far as the higher part, so that the whole is taken for one structure, following what appears to the senses” (ST. Ia q. lxx. a. i. ad 3.).

e. Further opinions on the water above the firmament.

St. Thomas: “Whether by the firmament we understand the heaven in which the stars are, or the cloudy part of the air, it is fittingly said that the firmament divides the waters from the waters, as unformed matter is signified by [the name] water; or as all transparent bodies are understood under the name of ‘waters.’[3] For the sidereal heaven separates the lower transparent bodies from the higher.  The cloudy air separates the higher region of the air, in which rain and similar things are generated, from the lower part of the air, which is joined to water, and is understood under the name of ‘waters’ (ibid., a. 3.).


[1] Gen ii. 20., et al.

[2] Matt. xvi. 4.

[3] “Moses makes specific mention of water and earth, but he does not expressly name air, lest he place something unknown before undeveloped people … on account of the invisibility of air and similar bodies, he included all bodies of this sort under the name of water.  And thus it is plain that on either side of the firmament, in whatever sense it is taken, there are waters” (ibid.; ibid., ad 3.).

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