Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Commentary on the Six Days of Creation and the Six Ages (St. Bede)

Concerning the Six Ages of the World

By Saint Bede

Hitherto it may have sufficed to speak literally of the origins of the growing world. It is pleasing, however, to intimate in a few words that order of those six or seven days in which the world was made correspond to its ages - which are of the same number.

For the first day, on the which God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light,’ corresponds with the first age in whose beginning that same world was made and man was set in the pleasurable delights of paradise, where he enjoyed the presence of his maker’s grace, free, and innocent of all evil. But that day already began to decline towards evening when the first people lost, by sinning, the happiness of the heavenly homeland and were sent into this vale of tears; that also signified the hour of that time when Adam, after the sin of transgression, heard the Lord walking away in paradise in the hour after noon. Indeed, the Lord walked away in the garden so that he might signify that he was going away from man, in whose heart calm had dwelt; and this happened ‘in the hour after noon,’ so that man might recognize that the light of divine understanding and the fervor of divine love were diminished in him. However, the full evening of this day came when the whole earth was corrupted before the face of God, by the growing vices of the human race, and it was filled with iniquity, to such an extent that all flesh deserved to be destroyed in the flood, except those in the ark.

On the second day the firmament was made in the midst of the waters, and in the second age of the world, the ark, in which the remains of the human race and the seed of succeeding ages, so to speak, was preserved, was placed in the midst of the waters, which were quickly poured in by all the springs of the abyss bursting forth on the one side, the sluices of the sky opening on the other. But that day too declined towards evening, when the nations, forgetting the closeness of the anger or mercy of God, met to build a tower of pride; but it attained full evening when, with the confusion of the languages of the human race, society was split asunder.

On the third day, when the waters flowed together into their places, dry land appeared and was soon covered with green grass and leafy groves; and with the beginning of the third age, when the races had separated into their own places, as for the idolaters, whose error, unstable and changeable by the vain doctrines of idols, as if by all the winds, is rightly signified by the term ‘sea’, the seed of the fathers was separated from their [the idolaters’] society and made rich with spiritual fruit, with the Lord saying to Abraham, ‘Go out from your land and kindred and from the house of your fathers into the land which I will show you and I will make you into a great race and I will bless you,’ etc. until he said, ‘And in you the kindred of the whole earth will be blessed’. In that race the different ranks of the faithful, just like green grass and apple-bearing trees, came forth from one and the same earth, receiving the celestial showers of holy speech. However, this day also began to decline towards eventide, when that same Israelite people, casting aside the faith of their fathers and the ceremonies of the law that had been given to them, were both polluted by the wickednesses of foreign races and were also oppressed by slavery. Now the evening came when that same people, together with a king which they had chosen for themselves, having neglected God, was for the most part wiped out by the sword of foreigners.

On the fourth day the heavens received the lights, and in the fourth age, the aforementioned people of God were made prominent by new light through the imperial power of David and of Solomon, of the other kings also ruling by God’s authority - through that very noble temple which Solomon founded for God, through the signs of the prophets, which through all the time of those same kings did not stop flowering, and most of all through this, that to the first and most preeminent of the kings who pleased Him the Lord swore, saying, ‘The fruit from your loins I will place upon my throne.’ Truly even this day began to move towards evening, when afterwards both the same kings and the people, spurning the temple and the laws of God, were destroyed and torn apart by enemies. But it was not only a most oppressive evening, but night followed, when all of the kingdom was destroyed, the temple burnt, all the people led captive to Babylon.

However, on the fifth day, the waters brought forth forms of living creatures and the birds of the air flying above the earth beneath the firmament of the sky; and in the fifth age, the sons of exiles grew and multiplied in Babylon, which is often called by the name of ‘waters.’ Very many of them stayed like fish in the waters, of those, however, there were not a few, who like great whales sought to dominate the great waves of the world, rather than serve them, because by no terror were they able to be corrupted to idolatry. Others, loosed from their captivity, as if receiving wings of freedom, returned to the land of Israel, and in the form of birds sought with all intent the heavens, in such a way that they strove to rebuild the temple and city of God, and also to restore His law with greatest perseverance. But evening was drawing near, when afterwards among other shadows of wickedness they disagreed amongst themselves in domestic conflicts and were themselves traitors of their own land to the Romans; it also came when it happened that they not only were made tributaries, but also were subjected to the rule of a foreign king.

On the sixth day, the earth brought forth drought animals and reptiles. On the which day, God also created man - first Adam in his image, and from his rib as he slept, He created the woman, Eve. In the sixth age of the world, among many false men who could be compared deservedly with serpents and beasts, namely on account of their savagery and because with their whole soul they cling to worldly cares and enticements, which is ‘ad idolatriam,’ also many saints were born among the people of God, who in the likeness of clean animals knew how to ruminate upon the word of God, to keep the hoof of discernment to the way of good works, to carry the yoke of divine law, and to keep the poor warm with the fleeces of their sheep, of both of whom [that is the false men and the saints] apt mention is made in the Gospel, among whom the second Adam, to wit the mediator between God and mankind, in whom was all the fullness of the image of God appeared in the world and, sleeping on the cross, blood and water came out from his side, from which sacraments the church is born and is nourished, which is the mother of all living a true life throughout the world, which is what the name of Eve means. Hence the Lord himself says of these sacraments, ‘Who eats my flesh and drinks my blood ... will have eternal life.’ Now we perceive the evening of this day approaching, since with iniquity abounding through all, the love of many grows cold. However, a much more shadowy one than the rest will come, when with the appearance of the man of sin, the son of iniquity, who is lifted up and extolled above all that is called God or that is worshiped, there will be such great tribulation that even the elect will be led into error, if that is possible. Immediately the following hour will be that of the judgment of all, about which it is written: ‘Coming like unto a son of man, you may consider, will he find faith on earth?’

On the seventh day God rested from all his works, and sanctified and blessed it; and the seventh age is eternal rest in another life, in which God rests with his saints in eternity after the good works, which He accomplished in them throughout the six ages of this world. However, this age of the height of peace and rest in God, is and will be everlasting; but then it begins for mankind, when the protomartyr Abel with his body entered the rest of the tomb, but with his soul entered the joy of eternal life. There that rich man saw the poor man resting, while he himself was twisted in hell. This sabbath of the holy souls will last until the end of the age; and when the last age of the world, after its evening about which we have already spoken, will have attained its end when the Antichrist has been killed by the Lord Jesus, then also that sabbath rest will be granted to the bodies rising to life eternal with greater blessing and sanctity. And therefore indeed it is right that no evening is said to follow the seventh day, because the way in which the seventh day was ended, it will not have sadness; indeed, rather it will be perfected by the greater happiness, so we have said, of the eighth age, which indeed, beginning then by the glory of the resurrection, when the whole of this life will have passed over, without any end, with no changeableness of things, will be transformed by contemplation of the face of God.

Here ends the exposition of the work of the six days.