On Genesis: Two Books on Genesis against the Manichees; And, on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, An Unfinished Book

By Saint Augustine; Roland J. S. J. Teske | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

How It Should Be Understood, According to Verse Two, That the
Spirit of God Was Borne over the Waters

8. The Manichees are accustomed to find fault with the words, "And the Spirit of God was borne over the water." 31. They ask, "Was the water, then, the dwelling of the Spirit of God, and did it contain the Spirit of God?" With their perverted minds they try to distort everything, and their malice blinds them. For when we say, "The sun is borne over the earth," do we want to imply that the sun dwells in the earth and that the earth contains the sun? 32. And yet the Spirit of God was not borne over the water, as the sun is borne over the earth, but in another way that few understand. For that Spirit of God was not borne over the water through stretches of space, as the sun is borne over the earth, but by the power of its invisible grandeur. Let these men tell us how the will of the craftsman is borne over the things he intends to make. If they do not comprehend these human and everyday matters, let them fear God and seek with a simple heart what they do not understand, lest, in trying to cut with their sacrilegious words the truth which they cannot see, the ax bounce back onto their legs. For what stands immutable cannot be cut, and whatever blows are hurled against it are thrown back and redound with greater force upon those who dare to cleave what they ought to believe so that they might merit to understand. 33.

____________________
31.
Gen 1.2.
32.
The Latin superferebatur, which is literally translated as 'was borne over,' here seems to be taken to mean 'works upon.' Augustine may have gotten this meaning from hearing Ambrose's instructions before baptism; cf. De mysteriis 3.9; also DGnI 4.16. Only the few—presumably those who can grasp spiritual realities—know how the will of an artisan moves over things he makes; cf. below, 1.7.12, as well as ch. 7, nt. 43. In DGnL 1.18.36 Augustine shows that he is aware that the Syrian translation of the Bible used a word meaning 'cherished' or 'hovered over' (fovebat) instead of 'was borne over.' Cf. the note by Agaësse and Solignac on DGnL 1.18.36 in BA 48.590‐ 593.
33.
Augustine's Old Latin text of Isa 7.9 read, "Unless you believe, you will not understand." The LXX has that reading, though the Vulgate and most modern versions differ. Augustine's many years of seeking knowledge

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