Genesis i. 24-25.

June 25, 2010

And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds.  And it was so done.  And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and every thing that creepeth on the earth after its kind.  And God saw that it was good.

24-25. The continuation of the work of ornation.  The sixth day (i): the creation of animals inhabiting the dry land.

St. Thomas: “Just as on the fifth day the middle body was adorned, and corresponds to the second day, so on the sixth day is adorned the lowest body, namely the earth, by the production of land animals, and corresponds to the third day.  Whence in both places it makes mention of land” (ST. Ia q. lxxii.).

“By cattle [jumenta or ‘pecora’] are understood domestic animals, which serve man in some way.  By beasts, however, are understood wild animals, as bears and lions.  And by creeping things [reptilia], animals that either do not have feet by which they may be raised from the ground, as snakes, or have short feet, by which they are raised very little, as lizards and tortoises and things of this sort” (ibid., ad 2).

“As Basil says, various grades of life found in different living things can be gathered from Scripture’s way of speaking.  Plants have a most imperfect and hidden life.  Whence in their production no mention is made of life, but only of generation, because it is only with regard to this that the act of life is found in them; for nutritive and augmentative qualities serve the generative, as will be said below.  Now among the animals, land animals are more perfect, generally speaking, than birds and fish; not because fish lack memory, as Basil says and Augustine rejects, but on account of the distinction of their members, and the perfection of their generation (with regard however to other characteristics, even some imperfect animals flourish more greatly, as bees and ants).  And therefore Scripture calls fish, not a living creature, but the creeping creature having life; but it calls land animals living creatures, on account of the perfection of life in them; and if fish are bodies having some kind of soul, land animals, because of the perfection of their life, are like souls ruling over bodies.  But the most perfect grade of life is in man.  And therefore the life of man is not said to be produced from land or sea, as with the other animals, but from God” (ibid., ad 1).

(i) Why God’s blessing of the birds and fish was repeated for man but not for the land animals.

“God’s blessing gives the power of multiplying by generation.  And so because it was given to the birds and fish, which were created first, it was unnecessary to repeat it for land animals; instead it is understood.  However, the blessing is repeated for men, because in them is a certain reason for multiplying – filling up the number of the elect – and lest anyone say that in the act of begetting children there was any sin.  Plants, though, have no desire to generate offspring, and generate without any sense at all; whence they were judged unworthy of a word of blessing” (ibid., ad 4).

(ii) How poisonous and harmful animals could exist before man sinned.

“As Augustine says in I super Gen. contra Manichæos,[1] ‘if someone unskilled enters some workman’s workshop, he will see there many tools whose uses he does not know, and if he is very foolish, he thinks them superflous.  Now if an incautious man falls into a furnace, or wounds himself with some sharp iron tool, he thinks they are very harmful; the craftsman knows their use, but the fool mocks them.  So in this world certain men dare to find fault with many things, whose uses they do not see; but even if they are not necessary for our houses, it is by them that the integrity of creation is completed.’  Now before his sin, man was related in complete order to the uses of the things of this world.  Whence poisonous animals were not harmful to him” (ibid., ad 6).

St. Augustine: “Certainly [after the fall] all animals are either useful to us, or harmful, or superflous.  They [the Manichees] have nothing to say against the useful ones.  Now by the harmful ones we are either punished, or trained, or frightened, so that we might love and desire, not this lower life with its many dangers and labors, but another, better one, where there is utmost freedom from care; and that we might acquire it for ourselves by the merits of our piety.  And of the superfluous – what is there for us to question?  If it displeases you that they are not useful to us, let it please you that they are not harmful to us; for even if they are not necessary for our houses, it is by them that the integrity of this world is completed; and this is much greater than our house, and much better.  For God cares for this world much better than we do for our own houses.  Therefore, use the useful animals, beware the harmful ones, leave behind the superfluous.  And in all things, when you see measure and number and order, seek the Creator” (De Genesi contra Manichæos, I. xvi. 26.).

St. Basil: “And so you have the heavens fully adorned, the earth clothed in beauty, the sea surging with its offspring, the air filled with birds flying through it.  All these things that were given forth into the light from nothing at God’s command, and the others that our oration has at present left out, avoiding a longer pause over these things, that it might not seem to exceed its limits: think to yourself, as zealous men, and learn more fully the wisdom of God in all things; and as you do, never cease to wonder, never cease to give glory to the Creator for every creature” (Hexæmeron, viii. 7.).

St. Chrysostom: “And why, you will say, was man created later, if he surpasses the rest of creation in dignity?  With good reason.  For as when a king is about to enter a city, courtiers are sent ahead of him so that the king may find well-adorned royal things in it: in a similar way now, as if He were putting a king and chief in charge of earthly things, God first made this whole world, and at last brought forth man to take charge of them, declaring by these deeds what great honor should accompany this creature” (Homiliæ in Genesin, viii. 2.).


[1] I. xvi. 25.

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