Genesis i. 20-23.

June 25, 2010

God also said: Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven.  And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  And he blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea: and let the birds be multiplied upon the earth.  And the evening and morning were the fifth day.

20-23. The continuation of the work of adornment.  The fifth day: the creation of animals inhabiting sea and air.

St. Thomas: “As was said above, the work of adornment corresponds in order to that of distinction.  Whence, just as in the three days assigned  for distinction, the middle, which is the second, was assigned for the distinction of the middle body, namely water: so among the three days assigned for the work of adornment, the middle, that is the fifth, is assigned to the adornment of the middle body, through the production of birds and fish.  Whence, just as Moses mentions the heavenly lights and light in general on the fourth day, to show that the fourth day corresponds to the first, on which he had said light was made: so on this fifth day he makes mention of the waters and the firmament of heaven, to show that the fifth day corresponds to the second” (ST. Ia q. lxxi.).

St. Basil: “Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life.”  Now is created the first living and sensing animal.  For plants and trees, even if they be said to live on account of that faculty whereby they are nourished and increased, only have life partially; they are not animals, they are not active creatures.” (Hexæmeron, vii. 1.)

“I saw all these things, and I marvelled at the wisdom of God in all of them.  If the beasts provide for themselves, and preserve their own health; if the fish knows what to choose for itself or from what to flee: what are we to say, we who are honored with reason, instructed by law, invited with promises, and taught by the Spirit, and who yet still manage our affairs more ineptly than the fish themselves?” (ibid., 5.).

St. Ambrose: “We know that snakes are called reptiles [lit. “creepers”], because they creep upon the earth: but everything that swims creeps much more, either by appearance or by nature.  For although some plunge themselves into the depths, they are still seen to split the water;[1] while those who swim above creep with their whole body, which they drag along the surface of the waters.  Whence David says: So is this great sea, which stretcheth wide its arms: there are creeping things without number[2] (Hexæmeron, V. i. 4.).

St. Thomas: “Because air is invisible, it is not counted by itself, but with other things, partly with water, with regard to its lower part, which is thickened by exhalations of water; partly with the heavens, with regard to its higher part.  Now birds have their movement in the lower part of the air, and therefore are said to fly beneath the firmament of heaven, even if the firmament be taken to mean the cloudy air.  And therefore the production of birds is ascribed to water” (ST. Ia q. lxxi. ad 3.).

St. Chrysostom: “It is true there are some madmen, who still dare to doubt even after hearing such teaching, and who do not want to confess that there is some creator of these visible things: for some say they exist by chance and of themselves; others contend that they were made out of some subsistent pure matter.  See how great the devil’s deceit is, how he has abused with errors those who serve him in easy credulity.  It is for this reason that blessed Moses, inspired by the Holy Spirit, teaches us with such diligence, lest the same thing happen to us; that instead we might know plainly both the order of creatures, and how each one was created.  For if God had not had care for our salvation, and had not directed the tongue of his prophet accordingly, it would have been enough to say: ‘God made heaven and earth, and the sea, and animals’: nor was it necessary to set forth the order of days, nor what was made first, and what afterward.  But so that no excuse might be left for the ungrateful and evil-thinking, He thus plainly distinguishes the order of His deeds, and the number of days, and teaches us all things with great accommodation, so that we might learn the whole truth and no longer attend to others’ errors, but rather know the indescribable power of our Creator” (Homiliæ in Genesin, vii. 4.).

St. Ambrose: “You are a fish, o man.  Listen, and hear how you are a fish: The kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, and gathering together all kinds of fishes.  Which, when it was filled, they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they chose out the good into vessels, but the bad they cast forth[3] Therefore there are good and bad fish: the good are kept for pay; the bad are immediately burned.  And the nets do not smother the good fish, but lift it up; nor does the hook kill or destroy it, but pours over it with the blood of a precious wound; and in the fish’s mouth is found, by confession, a good price, by which the apostolic tribute and the census of Christ can be paid. [4] So do not fear, o good fish, the hook of Peter: it does not cut, but consecrates.  Do not despise yourself as worthless when you see your fragile body: you have in your mouth something you can offer for Peter and for Christ.  Do not fear the nets of Peter, to whom Jesus said: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets.[5] For he does not cast them on the left side, but on the right, as he was ordered by Christ.  Do not fear the hook of him to whom it was said: From henceforth thou shalt vivify men.[6] Therefore he cast his nets, and caught Stephen,[7] the first to rise out of the Gospel with the coin of justice in his mouth.[8] Whence, constant in his confession, he cried out, saying: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.[9] The Lord Jesus was standing waiting for this fish; for He knew that in his mouth was the price of His own census.  And so as a richly gifted champion Stephen fulfilled the judgment and teaching of Peter, and Christ’s grace, with his glorious martyrdom.

“And do not let it disturb you that I have put the sea for the Gospel.  The Gospel is that, in which Christ walked:[10] the Gospel is that, in which Peter, though he tottered at his denial, still found the grace of his station, fortified in faith by the right hand of Christ:[11] the Gospel is that from which the martyr arose; the Gospel is the sea, in which the apostles fish, in which is cast the net that is like to the kingdom of heaven: The Gospel is the sea, in which the mysteries of Christ take shape:[12] the Gospel is the sea through which the Hebrew escaped and the Egyptian was destroyed:[13] the Gospel is the sea, because the bride of Christ is the Church, full of divine grace, founded upon the seas, as the prophet said: He hath founded it upon the seas.[14] Leap upon the waves, o man, for you are a fish: do not let the waves of this world crush you: if there is a storm, head for the depths: if the weather is fair, play in the waves: if there is a gale, beware of the rocky beach, lest the furious tide smash you against the cliff.  For it is written: Be ye wise as serpents[15] (Hexæmeron, V. vi-vii. 15-17.).


[1] The sense seems to be that sea creatures that swim in deep water can be said to “crawl” upon water because of the way they move through and displace it.

[2] Ps. ciii. 25.

[3] Matt. xiii. 47-48.  St. Ambrose quotes the whole parable, verses 47-50.

[4] St. Ambrose here quotes the relevant passage, Matt. xvii. 24-26.  The coin in the mouth of the fish caught by St. Peter is taken by St. Ambrose to represent the confession of Christ in the mouth of a Christian, as exemplified by St. Stephen, the first martyr.

[5] Luke v. 4.

[6] Luke v. 10.  St. Ambrose cites it as Ex hoc eris homines vivificans; the Vulgate/DR have From henceforth thou shalt catch men.

[7] Act. vi. 5.

[8] As the fish arose from the sea with the coin in its mouth, so St. Stephen “rose out” of the Gospel, that is, he became holy from the preaching of the Apostles, with the confession of Christ in his mouth.

[9] Act. vii. 55.

[10] Lat. in quo Christus ambulavit; the English “in” does not have the full range of the Latin; thus we would say “Christ walked on the sea” rather than “in the sea,” but St. Ambrose’s point is that the sea is a metaphor for the Gospel because Christ walked “in” both of them (in English: on the sea, in the Gospel); because Peter found his faith “in” both of them (at sea, in the Gospel).

[11] These first two metaphors are allusions to Matt. xiv. 24-33.  The second is compressed: as Peter tottered on the waves through lack of faith, so did he totter when he denied Christ; but in both cases he was strengthened by Christ’s right hand (in the first case literally, Matt. xiv. 31., in the second metaphorically).

[12] Lat. figurantur: i.e. appear in the Gospel, are prefigured or symbolized in various ways in the sea.

[13] Ex. xiv. 21-31.

[14] Ps. xxiii. 2.

[15] Matt. x. 16.

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