Genesis vii. 6.

July 15, 2010

And he was six hundred years old, when the waters of the flood overflowed the earth.

6. “And he was six hundred years old”

St. Chrysostom: “Attend here, I beseech you, and let us not hastily pass over what is said: for these short words hold hidden riches: if we extend our mind, we will be able to discover even from this the excellence of the Lord’s mercy and the surpassing malice of the men of that time.

“We have already learned that when the wrath and warning of God occurred [vi. 3-7], Noe was five hundred years old [v. 31], but six hundred when the flood was led in; thus one hundred years passed between God’s warning and the flood: and in these years they did not even improve the smallest bit, although they were taught to do so by Noe’s building of the ark … For the very fact that the just man, a man who had reached the highest peak of virtue, was constructing the ark with such zeal, should have been enough to instill distress and forboding in anyone who had a mind, and persuade them to placate such a gentle and merciful Lord.

“But perhaps someone will ask: ‘Why, if the Lord said, Their days will be one hundred and twenty years, and promised that He would show them tolerance for that time, did He bring about universal disaster before the promised years had been completed?’  But even this is the greatest indication and proof of His mercy.  For because He saw that they were incurably sinning every day, and that not only were they profiting nothing by His indescribable tolerance, but that their ulcers even grew worse, He therefore cut down the interval of time, so that they would not make themselves guilty of a greater punishment.  ‘And what,’ someone will say, ‘could be greater than this punishment?’  There is clearly, beloved, there is a punishment even greater, and more terrible, and everlasting: namely that in the world to come.  For if some undergo punishment in this world, even if they do not escape punishment in the next, they will nevertheless be punished more lightly; the greatness of their sentence there will be reduced because of their punishments here … Blessed Paul teaches us [Rom. ii. 4-5] that those who abuse the patience granted to us by God for penance render themselves liable to greater punishment and to condemnation.  And for this reason the good God, as though excusing Himself, and giving the reason why He brought on the flood before the promised time was fulfilled, declares and says: Noe was six hundred years old.  For if they did not wish to be converted in one hundred years, what more would they profit from twenty years, which they would instead use for more sins?  Indeed He truly showed His indescribable mercy and surpassing goodness when He did not refuse to warn them again seven days before that the flood was about to be brought on, so that they might be chastened and show some conversion through the shortness of time remaining.

“And see the mercy of the Lord, how like a good doctor He tries to cure their disease in various ways.  For because their wounds were incurable, He ordered there be such a long time for them, wishing that they might come to their senses even in so long a time and He might revoke the sentence of His wrath.  For it is always His custom, when He takes care for our salvation, to foretell the punishments He is going to inflict – but for this reason only: so that He need not inflict them.  If He wished to inflect them, He would not tell us of them: but He earnestly foretells them, so that when we have learned of them, we may be improved by fear, avert His wrath, and render the punishments needless.  For there is nothing that brings Him such joy as our conversion, and the return from sin to virtue.  Pay attention, then, to how He struggles with a certain effort to cure their illness: first, He gave them a long time for penance; then, when He saw that, as if they were insane, they behaved in such a way that they profited nothing by that length of time, when the flood was already just about at the very gates, again He forewarns, not three days before, as for the Ninivites, but seven before.  And I may confidently say, knowing the greatness of Our Lord’s mercy, that even if they had wished to do real penance in those seven days, they would have certainly escaped the danger of the flood.  So because neither the lengthening of time nor its compression serves to lead them away from their wickedness, He brought on the flood in the six hundredth year of Noe’s life.  Did you see, beloved, what useful matter it was to know the number of years of the just man, and how old he was, when the flood came?” (xxv. 1, 2, 3).

Cornelius: “Note here the constancy of faith in Noe: for he persevered in the faith of the flood for one hundred years, that is from his 500th to his 600th year, and constantly proclaimed it, mocked by all his kin as though he were a man seized by a foolish fear to sweat away at the stupid work of building the ark for so many years; but in this year their laughter is changed to weeping and repentance – too late.  Noe was similar to Mathathias, I Machab. ii. 19” (Commentaria, p 141).

St. Bede: “Noe’s age designates the great perfection of those who enter the Church and, by faith and worthy works done in faith, attain the eternal joys.  For six times one hundred is six hundred; now the number six, the number of days in which the earth was made, or formed, not without reason designates the perfection of a good action.  And the number one hundred, which, as we have mentioned above, crosses from the left hand to the right when we count it on our fingers, is greatly fitting to them who, standing at the right hand of the Judge at the last trial, will hear: Come, ye blessed of my father, possess you the kingdom.[1] And so the number one hundred multiplied by six designates that perfection of spiritual virtue which is not shown without for the praise of men, but which is fulfilled for the glory of the Creator in the hope of heavenly reward; and fittingly the protection of the ark, in which the condition of the Church is expressed, even in its own time designates the devotion of those who thus enter it, so that they too may merit by their good works to pass over to eternal life – although it may also be understood in this way: that because the waters of the flood designate the wave of baptism, then Noe’s age represents the perfection for which those who are baptized ought to strive.  And if they prefigure the time of the last judgment, then that number of years signifies figuratively those who will enter with the Lord into eternal rest, which is the meaning of the name Noe; that is, those who by the effect of good works and a heart of clean intention are worthy of entering heaven” (In Principium Genesis II. col. 94).

[1] Matt. xxv. 34.


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