HAVING TREATED IN THE FOUR PRECEDING BOOKS OF THE ORIGIN OF THE TWO CITIES, THE EARTHLY AND THE HEAVENLY, AUGUSTINE EXPLAINS THEIR GROWTH AND PROGRESS IN THE FOUR BOOKS WHICH FOLLOW; AND, IN ORDER TO DO SO, HE EXPLAINS THE CHIEF PASSAGES OF THE SACRED HISTORY WHICH BEAR UPON THIS SUBJECT. IN THIS FIFTEENTH BOOK HE OPENS THIS PART OF HIS WORK BY EXPLAINING THE EVENTS RECORDED IN GENESIS FROM THE TIME OF CAIN AND ABEL TO THE DELUGE.
1. Of the two lines of the human race which from first to last divide it.
OF the bliss of Paradise, of Paradise itself, and of the life of our first parents there, and of their sin and punishment, many have thought much, spoken much, written much. We ourselves, too, have spoken of these things in the foregoing books, and have written either what we read in the Holy Scriptures, or what we could reasonably deduce from them. And were we to enter into a more detailed investigation of these matters, an endless number of endless questions would arise, which would involve us in a larger work than the present occasion admits. We cannot be expected to find room for replying to every question that may be started by unoccupied and captious men, who are ever more ready to ask questions than capable of understanding the answer. Yet I trust we have already done justice to these great and difficult questions regarding the beginning of the world, or of the soul, or of the human race itself. This race we have distributed into two parts, the one consisting of those who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. And these we also mystically call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to suffer eternal punishment with the devil. This, however, is their end, and of it we are to speak afterwards. At present, as we have said[Pg 50] enough about their origin, whether among the angels, whose numbers we know not, or in the two first human beings, it seems suitable to attempt an account of their career, from the time when our two first parents began to propagate the race until all human generation shall cease. For this whole time or world-age, in which the dying give place and those who are born succeed, is the career of these two cities concerning which we treat.
Of these two first parents of the human race, then, Cain was the first-born, and he belonged to the city of men; after him was born Abel, who belonged to the city of God. For as in the individual the truth of the apostle’s statement is discerned, “that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual,”whence it comes to pass that each man, being derived from a condemned stock, is first of all born of Adam evil and carnal, and becomes good and spiritual only afterwards, when he is grafted into Christ by regeneration: so was it in the human race as a whole. When these two cities began to run their course by a series of deaths and births, the citizen of this world was the first-born, and after him the stranger in this world, the citizen of the city of God, predestinated by grace, elected by grace, by grace a stranger below, and by grace a citizen above. By grace,—for so far as regards himself he is sprung from the same mass, all of which is condemned in its origin; but God, like a potter (for this comparison is introduced by the apostle judiciously, and not without thought), of the same lump made one vessel to honour, another to dishonour. But first the vessel to dishonour was made, and after it another to honour. For in each individual, as I have already said, there is first of all that which is reprobate, that from which we must begin, but in which we need not necessarily remain; afterwards is that which is well-approved, to which we may by advancing attain, and in which, when we have reached it, we may abide. Not, indeed, that every wicked man shall be good, but that no one will be good who was not first of all wicked; but the sooner any one becomes a good man, the more speedily does he receive this title, and[Pg 51] abolish the old name in the new. Accordingly, it is recorded of Cain that he built a city, but Abel, being a sojourner, built none. For the city of the saints is above, although here below it begets citizens, in whom it sojourns till the time of its reign arrives, when it shall gather together all in the day of the resurrection; and then shall the promised kingdom be given to them, in which they shall reign with their Prince, the King of the ages, time without end.
2. Of the children of the flesh and the children of the promise.
There was indeed on earth, so long as it was needed, a symbol and foreshadowing image of this city, which served the purpose of reminding men that such a city was to be, rather than of making it present; and this image was itself called the holy city, as a symbol of the future city, though not itself the reality. Of this city which served as an image, and of that free city it typified, Paul writes to the Galatians in these terms: “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bond maid, the other by a free woman. But he who was of the bond woman was born after the flesh, but he of the free woman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bond woman and her son: for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman. And we, brethren, are not children of the bond woman, but of the free, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”[Pg 52] This interpretation of the passage, handed down to us with apostolic authority, shows how we ought to understand the Scriptures of the two covenants—the old and the new. One portion of the earthly city became an image of the heavenly city, not having a significance of its own, but signifying another city, and therefore serving, or “being in bondage.” For it was founded not for its own sake, but to prefigure another city; and this shadow of a city was also itself foreshadowed by another preceding figure. For Sarah’s handmaid Agar, and her son, were an image of this image. And as the shadows were to pass away when the full light came, Sarah, the free woman, who prefigured the free city (which again was also prefigured in another way by that shadow of a city Jerusalem), therefore said, “Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac,” or, as the apostle says, “with the son of the free woman.” In the earthly city, then, we find two things—its own obvious presence, and its symbolic presentation of the heavenly city. Now citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin, but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin; whence the former are called “vessels of wrath,” the latter “vessels of mercy.” And this was typified in the two sons of Abraham,—Ishmael, the son of Agar the handmaid, being born according to the flesh, while Isaac was born of the free woman Sarah, according to the promise. Both, indeed, were of Abraham’s seed; but the one was begotten by natural law, the other was given by gracious promise. In the one birth, human action is revealed; in the other, a divine kindness comes to light.
3. That Sarah’s barrenness was made productive by God’s grace.
Sarah, in fact, was barren; and, despairing of offspring, and being resolved that she would have at least through her handmaid that blessing she saw she could not in her own person procure, she gave her handmaid to her husband, to whom she herself had been unable to bear children. From him she required this conjugal duty, exercising her own right in another’s womb. And thus Ishmael was born according to the common[Pg 53] law of human generation, by sexual intercourse. Therefore it is said that he was born “according to the flesh,”—not because such births are not the gifts of God, nor His handiwork, whose creative wisdom “reaches,” as it is written, “from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth she order all things,” but because, in a case in which the gift of God, which was not due to men and was the gratuitous largess of grace, was to be conspicuous, it was requisite that a son be given in a way which no effort of nature could compass. Nature denies children to persons of the age which Abraham and Sarah had now reached; besides that, in Sarah’s case, she was barren even in her prime. This nature, so constituted that offspring could not be looked for, symbolized the nature of the human race vitiated by sin and by just consequence condemned, which deserves no future felicity. Fitly, therefore, does Isaac, the child of promise, typify the children of grace, the citizens of the free city, who dwell together in everlasting peace, in which self-love and self-will have no place, but a ministering love that rejoices in the common joy of all, of many hearts makes one, that is to say, secures a perfect concord.
4. Of the conflict and peace of the earthly city.
But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will no longer be a city when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford. But as this is not a good which can discharge its devotees of all distresses, this city is often divided against itself by litigations, wars, quarrels, and such victories as are either life-destroying or short-lived. For each part of it that arms against another part of it seeks to triumph over the nations through itself in bondage to vice. If, when it has conquered, it is inflated with pride, its victory is life-destroying; but if it turns its thoughts upon the common casualties of our mortal condition, and is rather anxious concerning the disasters that may befall it than elated with the successes already achieved, this victory, though of a higher kind, is still only short-lived; for it cannot abidingly rule over those whom it has victoriously subjugated.[Pg 54] But the things which this city desires cannot justly be said to be evil, for it is itself, in its own kind, better than all other human good. For it desires earthly peace for the sake of enjoying earthly goods, and it makes war in order to attain to this peace; since, if it has conquered, and there remains no one to resist it, it enjoys a peace which it had not while there were opposing parties who contested for the enjoyment of those things which were too small to satisfy both. This peace is purchased by toilsome wars; it is obtained by what they style a glorious victory. Now, when victory remains with the party which had the juster cause, who hesitates to congratulate the victor, and style it a desirable peace? These things, then, are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God. But if they neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better,—if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase.
5. Of the fratricidal act of the founder of the earthly city, and the corresponding crime of the founder of Rome.
Thus the founder of the earthly city was a fratricide. Overcome with envy, he slew his own brother, a citizen of the eternal city, and a sojourner on earth. So that we cannot be surprised that this first specimen, or, as the Greeks say, archetype of crime, should, long afterwards, find a corresponding crime at the foundation of that city which was destined to reign over so many nations, and be the head of this earthly city of which we speak. For of that city also, as one of their poets has mentioned, “the first walls were stained with a brother’s blood,” or, as Roman history records, Remus was slain by his brother Romulus. And thus there is no difference between the foundation of this city and of the earthly city, unless it be that Romulus and Remus were both citizens of the earthly city. Both desired to have the glory of founding the Roman republic, but both could not have as much glory as if one only claimed it; for he who wished to have[Pg 55] the glory of ruling would certainly rule less if his power were shared by a living consort. In order, therefore, that the whole glory might be enjoyed by one, his consort was removed; and by this crime the empire was made larger indeed, but inferior, while otherwise it would have been less, but better. Now these brothers, Cain and Abel, were not both animated by the same earthly desires, nor did the murderer envy the other because he feared that, by both ruling, his own dominion would be curtailed,—for Abel was not solicitous to rule in that city which his brother built,—he was moved by that diabolical, envious hatred with which the evil regard the good, for no other reason than because they are good while themselves are evil. For the possession of goodness is by no means diminished by being shared with a partner either permanent or temporarily assumed; on the contrary, the possession of goodness is increased in proportion to the concord and charity of each of those who share it. In short, he who is unwilling to share this possession cannot have it; and he who is most willing to admit others to a share of it will have the greatest abundance to himself. The quarrel, then, between Romulus and Remus shows how the earthly city is divided against itself; that which fell out between Cain and Abel illustrated the hatred that subsists between the two cities, that of God and that of men. The wicked war with the wicked; the good also war with the wicked. But with the good, good men, or at least perfectly good men, cannot war; though, while only going on towards perfection, they war to this extent, that every good man resists others in those points in which he resists himself. And in each individual “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” This spiritual lusting, therefore, can be at war with the carnal lust of another man; or carnal lust may be at war with the spiritual desires of another, in some such way as good and wicked men are at war; or, still more certainly, the carnal lusts of two men, good but not yet perfect, contend together, just as the wicked contend with the wicked, until the health of those who are under the treatment of grace attains final victory.
6. Of the weaknesses which even the citizens of the city of God suffer during this earthly pilgrimage in punishment of sin, and of which they are healed by God’s care.
This sickliness—that is to say, that disobedience of which we spoke in the fourteenth book—is the punishment of the first disobedience. It is therefore not nature, but vice; and therefore it is said to the good who are growing in grace, and living in this pilgrimage by faith, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” In like manner it is said elsewhere, “Warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man.” And in another place, “If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” And elsewhere, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” And in the Gospel, “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” So too of sins which may create scandal the apostle says, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” For this purpose, and that we may keep that peace without which no man can see the Lord, many precepts are given which carefully inculcate mutual forgiveness; among which we may number that terrible word in which the servant is ordered to pay his formerly remitted debt of ten thousand talents, because he did not remit to his fellow-servant his debt of two hundred pence. To which parable the Lord Jesus added the words, “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother.” It is thus the citizens of the city of God are healed while still they sojourn in this earth and sigh for the peace of their heavenly country. The Holy Spirit, too, works within, that the medicine externally applied may have some good result. Otherwise, even though God Himself make use of the creatures that are subject to Him, and in some human form address our human senses, whether we receive those impressions in sleep[Pg 57] or in some external appearance, still, if He does not by His own inward grace sway and act upon the mind, no preaching of the truth is of any avail. But this God does, distinguishing between the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy, by His own very secret but very just providence. When He Himself aids the soul in His own hidden and wonderful ways, and the sin which dwells in our members, and is, as the apostle teaches, rather the punishment of sin, does not reign in our mortal body to obey the lusts of it, and when we no longer yield our members as instruments of unrighteousness, then the soul is converted from its own evil and selfish desires, and, God possessing it, it possesses itself in peace even in this life, and afterwards, with perfected health and endowed with immortality, will reign without sin in peace everlasting.
7. Of the cause of Cain’s crime and his obstinacy, which not even the word of God could subdue.
But though God made use of this very mode of address which we have been endeavouring to explain, and spoke to Cain in that form by which He was wont to accommodate Himself to our first parents and converse with them as a companion, what good influence had it on Cain? Did he not fulfil his wicked intention of killing his brother even after he was warned by God’s voice? For when God had made a distinction between their sacrifices, neglecting Cain’s, regarding Abel’s, which was doubtless intimated by some visible sign to that effect; and when God had done so because the works of the one were evil but those of his brother good, Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. For thus it is written: “And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou offerest rightly, but dost not rightly distinguish, hast thou not sinned? Fret not thyself, for unto thee shall be his turning, and thou shalt rule over him.” In this admonition administered by God to Cain, that clause indeed, “If thou offerest rightly, but dost not rightly distinguish, hast thou not sinned?” is obscure, inasmuch as it is not apparent for what reason or purpose it was spoken, and many meanings have been put upon it, as each one who discusses it attempts to interpret it according to the[Pg 58] rule of faith. The truth is, that a sacrifice is “rightly offered” when it is offered to the true God, to whom alone we must sacrifice. And it is “not rightly distinguished” when we do not rightly distinguish the places or seasons or materials of the offering, or the person offering, or the person to whom it is presented, or those to whom it is distributed for food after the oblation. Distinguishing is here used for discriminating,—whether when an offering is made in a place where it ought not or of a material which ought to be offered not there but elsewhere; or when an offering is made at a wrong time, or of a material suitable not then but at some other time; or when that is offered which in no place nor any time ought to be offered; or when a man keeps to himself choicer specimens of the same kind than he offers to God; or when he or any other who may not lawfully partake profanely eats of the oblation. In which of these particulars Cain displeased God, it is difficult to determine. But the Apostle John, speaking of these brothers, says, “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” He thus gives us to understand that God did not respect his offering because it was not rightly “distinguished” in this, that he gave to God something of his own but kept himself to himself. For this all do who follow not God’s will but their own, who live not with an upright but a crooked heart, and yet offer to God such gifts as they suppose will procure from Him that He aid them not by healing but by gratifying their evil passions. And this is the characteristic of the earthly city, that it worships God or gods who may aid it in reigning victoriously and peacefully on earth not through love of doing good, but through lust of rule. The good use the world that they may enjoy God: the wicked, on the contrary, that they may enjoy the world would fain use God,—those of them, at least, who have attained to the belief that He is and takes an interest in human affairs. For they who have not yet attained even to this belief are still at a much lower level. Cain, then, when he saw that God had respect to his brother’s sacrifice, but not to his own, should have humbly chosen his good[Pg 59] brother as his example, and not proudly counted him his rival. But he was wroth, and his countenance fell. This angry regret for another person’s goodness, even his brother’s, was charged upon him by God as a great sin. And He accused him of it in the interrogation, “Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?” For God saw that he envied his brother, and of this He accused him. For to men, from whom the heart of their fellow is hid, it might be doubtful and quite uncertain whether that sadness bewailed his own wickedness by which, as he had learned, he had displeased God, or his brother’s goodness, which had pleased God, and won His favourable regard to his sacrifice. But God, in giving the reason why He refused to accept Cain’s offering and why Cain should rather have been displeased at himself than at his brother, shows him that though he was unjust in “not rightly distinguishing,” that is, not rightly living and being unworthy to have his offering received, he was more unjust by far in hating his just brother without a cause.
Yet He does not dismiss him without counsel, holy, just, and good. “Fret not thyself,” He says, “for unto thee shall be his turning, and thou shalt rule over him.” Over his brother, does He mean? Most certainly not. Over what, then, but sin? For He had said, “Thou hast sinned,” and then He added, “Fret not thyself, for to thee shall be its turning, and thou shalt rule over it.” And the “turning” of sin to the man can be understood of his conviction that the guilt of sin can be laid at no other man’s door but his own. For this is the health-giving medicine of penitence, and the fit plea for pardon; so that, when it is said, “To thee its turning,” we must not supply “shall be,” but we must read, “To thee let its turning be,” understanding it as a command, not as a prediction. For then shall a man rule over his sin when he does not prefer it to himself and defend it, but subjects it by repentance; otherwise he that becomes protector of it shall surely become its prisoner. But if we understand this sin to be that carnal concupiscence of which the apostle says, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit,” among the fruits of which lust he[Pg 60] names envy, by which assuredly Cain was stung and excited to destroy his brother, then we may properly supply the words “shall be,” and read, “To thee shall be its turning, and thou shalt rule over it.” For when the carnal part which the apostle calls sin, in that place where he says, “It is not I who do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” that part which the philosophers also call vicious, and which ought not to lead the mind, but which the mind ought to rule and restrain by reason from illicit motions,—when, then, this part has been moved to perpetrate any wickedness, if it be curbed and if it obey the word of the apostle, “Yield not your members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin,” it is turned towards the mind and subdued and conquered by it, so that reason rules over it as a subject. It was this which God enjoined on him who was kindled with the fire of envy against his brother, so that he sought to put out of the way him whom he should have set as an example. “Fret not thyself,” or compose thyself, He says: withhold thy hand from crime; let not sin reign in your mortal body to fulfil it in the lusts thereof, nor yield your members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin. “For to thee shall be its turning,” so long as you do not encourage it by giving it the rein, but bridle it by quenching its fire. “And thou shalt rule over it;” for when it is not allowed any external actings, it yields itself to the rule of the governing mind and righteous will, and ceases from even internal motions. There is something similar said in the same divine book of the woman, when God questioned and judged them after their sin, and pronounced sentence on them all,—the devil in the form of the serpent, the woman and her husband in their own persons. For when He had said to her, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children,” then He added, “and thy turning shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” What is said to Cain about his sin, or about the vicious concupiscence of his flesh, is here said of the woman who had sinned; and we are to understand that the husband is to rule his wife as the soul rules the flesh. And therefore, says the apostle, “He that loveth his wife, loveth himself; for no man[Pg 61] ever yet hated his own flesh.” This flesh, then, is to be healed, because it belongs to ourselves: is not to be abandoned to destruction as if it were alien to our nature. But Cain received that counsel of God in the spirit of one who did not wish to amend. In fact, the vice of envy grew stronger in him; and, having entrapped his brother, he slew him. Such was the founder of the earthly city. He was also a figure of the Jews who slew Christ the Shepherd of the flock of men, prefigured by Abel the shepherd of sheep: but as this is an allegorical and prophetical matter, I forbear to explain it now; besides, I remember that I have made some remarks upon it in writing against Faustus the Manichæan.
8. What Cain’s reason was for building a city so early in the history of the human race.
At present it is the history which I aim at defending, that Scripture may not be reckoned incredible when it relates that one man built a city at a time in which there seem to have been but four men upon earth, or rather indeed but three, after one brother slew the other,—to wit, the first man the father of all, and Cain himself, and his son Enoch, by whose name the city was itself called. But they who are moved by this consideration forget to take into account that the writer of the sacred history does not necessarily mention all the men who might be alive at that time, but those only whom the scope of his work required him to name. The design of that writer (who in this matter was the instrument of the Holy Ghost) was to descend to Abraham through the successions of ascertained generations propagated from one man, and then to pass from Abraham’s seed to the people of God, in whom, separated as they were from other nations, was prefigured and predicted all that relates to the city whose reign is eternal, and to its king and founder Christ, which things were foreseen in the Spirit as destined to come; yet neither is this object so effected as that nothing is said of the other society of men which we call the earthly city, but mention is made of it so far as seemed needful to enhance the glory of the heavenly city by contrast to its opposite. Accordingly, when the divine Scripture, in mentioning the[Pg 62] number of years which those men lived, concludes its account of each man of whom it speaks, with the words, “And he begat sons and daughters, and all his days were so and so, and he died,” are we to understand that, because it does not name those sons and daughters, therefore, during that long term of years over which one lifetime extended in those early days, there might not have been born very many men, by whose united numbers not one but several cities might have been built? But it suited the purpose of God, by whose inspiration these histories were composed, to arrange and distinguish from the first these two societies in their several generations,—that on the one side the generations of men, that is to say, of those who live according to man, and on the other side the generations of the sons of God, that is to say, of men living according to God, might be traced down together and yet apart from one another as far as the deluge, at which point their dissociation and association are exhibited: their dissociation, inasmuch as the generations of both lines are recorded in separate tables, the one line descending from the fratricide Cain, the other from Seth, who had been born to Adam instead of him whom his brother slew; their association, inasmuch as the good so deteriorated that the whole race became of such a character that it was swept away by the deluge, with the exception of one just man, whose name was Noah, and his wife and three sons and three daughters-in-law, which eight persons were alone deemed worthy to escape from that desolating visitation which destroyed all men.
Therefore, although it is written, “And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Enoch, and he builded a city and called the name of the city after the name of his son Enoch,” it does not follow that we are to believe this to have been his first-born; for we cannot suppose that this is proved by the expression “he knew his wife,” as if then for the first time he had had intercourse with her. For in the case of Adam, the father of all, this expression is used not only when Cain, who seems to have been his first-born, was conceived, but also afterwards the same Scripture says, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bare a son, and[Pg 63] called his name Seth.” Whence it is obvious that Scripture employs this expression neither always when a birth is recorded nor then only when the birth of a first-born is mentioned. Neither is it necessary to suppose that Enoch was Cain’s first-born because he named his city after him. For it is quite possible that though he had other sons, yet for some reason the father loved him more than the rest. Judah was not the first-born, though he gives his name to Judæa and the Jews. But even though Enoch was the first-born of the city’s founder, that is no reason for supposing that the father named the city after him as soon as he was born; for at that time he, being but a solitary man, could not have founded a civic community, which is nothing else than a multitude of men bound together by some associating tie. But when his family increased to such numbers that he had quite a population, then it became possible to him both to build a city, and give it, when founded, the name of his son. For so long was the life of those antediluvians, that he who lived the shortest time of those whose years are mentioned in Scripture attained to the age of 753 years. And though no one attained the age of a thousand years, several exceeded the age of nine hundred. Who then can doubt that during the lifetime of one man the human race might be so multiplied that there would be a population to build and occupy not one but several cities? And this might very readily be conjectured from the fact that from one man, Abraham, in not much more than four hundred years, the numbers of the Hebrew race so increased, that in the exodus of that people from Egypt there are recorded to have been six hundred thousand men capable of bearing arms, and this over and above the Idumæans, who, though not numbered with Israel’s descendants, were yet sprung from his brother, also a grandson of Abraham; and over and above the other nations which were of the same stock of Abraham, though not through Sarah,—that is, his descendants by Hagar and Keturah, the Ishmaelites, Midianites, etc.
9. Of the long life and greater stature of the antediluvians.
Wherefore no one who considerately weighs facts will[Pg 64] doubt that Cain might have built a city, and that a large one, when it is observed how prolonged were the lives of men, unless perhaps some sceptic take exception to this very length of years which our authors ascribe to the antediluvians and deny that this is credible. And so, too, they do not believe that the size of men’s bodies was larger then than now, though the most esteemed of their own poets, Virgil, asserts the same, when he speaks of that huge stone which had been fixed as a landmark, and which a strong man of those ancient times snatched up as he fought, and ran, and hurled, and cast it,—
thus declaring his opinion that the earth then produced mightier men. And if in the more recent times, how much more in the ages before the world-renowned deluge? But the large size of the primitive human body is often proved to the incredulous by the exposure of sepulchres, either through the wear of time or the violence of torrents or some accident, and in which bones of incredible size have been found or have rolled out. I myself, along with some others, saw on the shore at Utica a man’s molar tooth of such a size, that if it were cut down into teeth such as we have, a hundred, I fancy, could have been made out of it. But that, I believe, belonged to some giant. For though the bodies of ordinary men were then larger than ours, the giants surpassed all in stature. And neither in our own age nor any other have there been altogether wanting instances of gigantic stature, though they may be few. The younger Pliny, a most learned man, maintains that the older the world becomes, the smaller will be the bodies of men.And he mentions that Homer in his poems often lamented the same decline; and this he does not laugh at as a poetical figment, but in his character of a recorder of natural wonders accepts it as historically true. But, as I said, the bones which are from time to time discovered[Pg 65] prove the size of the bodies of the ancients, and will do so to future ages, for they are slow to decay. But the length of an antediluvian’s life cannot now be proved by any such monumental evidence. But we are not on this account to withhold our faith from the sacred history, whose statements of past fact we are the more inexcusable in discrediting, as we see the accuracy of its prediction of what was future. And even that same Pliny tells us that there is still a nation in which men live 200 years. If, then, in places unknown to us, men are believed to have a length of days which is quite beyond our own experience, why should we not believe the same of times distant from our own? Or are we to believe that in other places there is what is not here, while we do not believe that in other times there has been anything but what is now?
10. Of the different computation of the ages of the antediluvians, given by the Hebrew manuscripts and by our own.
Wherefore, although there is a discrepancy for which I cannot account between our manuscripts and the Hebrew, in the very number of years assigned to the antediluvians, yet the discrepancy is not so great that they do not agree about their longevity. For the very first man, Adam, before he begot his son Seth, is in our manuscripts found to have lived 230 years, but in the Hebrew mss. 130. But after he begot Seth, our copies read that he lived 700 years, while the Hebrew give 800. And thus, when the two periods are taken together, the sum agrees. And so throughout the succeeding generations, the period before the father begets a son is always made shorter by 100 years in the Hebrew, but the period after his son is begotten is longer by 100 years in the Hebrew than in our copies. And thus, taking the two periods together, the result is the same in both. And in the sixth[Pg 66] generation there is no discrepancy at all. In the seventh, however, of which Enoch is the representative, who is recorded to have been translated without death because he pleased God, there is the same discrepancy as in the first five generations, 100 years more being ascribed to him by our mss. before he begat a son. But still the result agrees; for according to both documents he lived before he was translated 365 years. In the eighth generation the discrepancy is less than in the others, and of a different kind. For Methuselah, whom Enoch begat, lived, before he begat his successor, not 100 years less, but 100 years more, according to the Hebrew reading; and in our mss. again these years are added to the period after he begat his son; so that in this case also the sum-total is the same. And it is only in the ninth generation, that is, in the age of Lamech, Methuselah’s son and Noah’s father, that there is a discrepancy in the sum-total; and even in this case it is slight. For the Hebrew mss. represent him as living twenty-four years more than ours assign to him. For before he begat his son, who was called Noah, six years fewer are given to him by the Hebrew mss. than by ours; but after he begat this son, they give him thirty years more than ours; so that, deducting the former six, there remains, as we said, a surplus of twenty-four.
11. Of Methuselah’s age, which seems to extend fourteen years beyond the deluge.
From this discrepancy between the Hebrew books and our own arises the well-known question as to the age of Methuselah; for it is computed that he lived for fourteen years after the deluge, though Scripture relates that of all who were then upon the earth only the eight souls in the ark escaped destruction by the flood, and of these Methuselah was not one. For, according to our books, Methuselah, before he begat the son whom he called Lamech, lived 167 years; then Lamech himself, before his son Noah was born, lived 188 years, which together make 355 years. Add to these the age of Noah at the date of the deluge, 600 years, and this gives a total of 955 from the birth of Methuselah to the[Pg 67] year of the flood. Now all the years of the life of Methuselah are computed to be 969; for when he had lived 167 years, and had begotten his son Lamech, he then lived after this 802 years, which makes a total, as we said, of 969 years. From this, if we deduct 955 years from the birth of Methuselah to the flood, there remain fourteen years, which he is supposed to have lived after the flood. And therefore some suppose that, though he was not on earth (in which it is agreed that every living thing which could not naturally live in water perished), he was for a time with his father, who had been translated, and that he lived there till the flood had passed away. This hypothesis they adopt, that they may not cast a slight on the trustworthiness of versions which the Church has received into a position of high authority, and because they believe that the Jewish mss. rather than our own are in error. For they do not admit that this is a mistake of the translators, but maintain that there is a falsified statement in the original, from which, through the Greek, the Scripture has been translated into our own tongue. They say that it is not credible that the seventy translators, who simultaneously and unanimously produced one rendering, could have erred, or, in a case in which no interest of theirs was involved, could have falsified their translation; but that the Jews, envying us our translation of their Law and Prophets, have made alterations in their texts so as to undermine the authority of ours. This opinion or suspicion let each man adopt according to his own judgment. Certain it is that Methuselah did not survive the flood, but died in the very year it occurred, if the numbers given in the Hebrew mss. are true. My own opinion regarding the seventy translators I will, with God’s help, state more carefully in its own place, when I have come down (following the order which this work requires) to that period in which their translation was executed. For the present question, it is enough that, according to our versions, the men of that age had lives so long as to make it quite possible that, during the lifetime of the first-born of the two sole parents then[Pg 68] on earth, the human race multiplied sufficiently to form a community.
12. Of the opinion of those who do not believe that in these primitive times men lived so long as is stated.
For they are by no means to be listened to who suppose that in those times years were differently reckoned, and were so short that one of our years may be supposed to be equal to ten of theirs. So that they say, when we read or hear that some man lived 900 years, we should understand ninety,—ten of those years making but one of ours, and ten of ours equalling 100 of theirs. Consequently, as they suppose, Adam was twenty-three years of age when he begat Seth, and Seth himself was twenty years and six months old when his son Enos was born, though the Scripture calls these months 205 years. For, on the hypothesis of those whose opinion we are explaining, it was customary to divide one such year as we have into ten parts, and to call each part a year. And each of these parts was composed of six days squared; because God finished His works in six days, that He might rest the seventh. Of this I disputed according to my ability in the eleventh book. Now six squared, or six times six, gives thirty-six days; and this multiplied by ten amounts to 360 days, or twelve lunar months. As for the five remaining days which are needed to complete the solar year, and for the fourth part of a day, which requires that into every fourth or leap-year a day be added, the ancients added such days as the Romans used to call “intercalary,” in order to complete the number of the years. So that Enos, Seth’s son, was nineteen years old when his son Cainan was born, though Scripture calls these years 190. And so through all the generations in which the ages of the antediluvians are given, we find in our versions that almost no one begat a son at the age of 100 or under, or even at the age of 120 or thereabouts; but the youngest fathers are recorded to have been 160 years old and upwards. And the reason of this, they say, is that no one can beget children when he is ten years old, the age spoken of by those men as 100, but that sixteen is the age of puberty, and competent now to propagate offspring; and this is the age[Pg 69] called by them 160. And that it may not be thought incredible that in these days the year was differently computed from our own, they adduce what is recorded by several writers of history, that the Egyptians had a year of four months, the Acarnanians of six, and the Lavinians of thirteen months. The younger Pliny, after mentioning that some writers reported that one man had lived 152 years, another ten more, others 200, others 300, that some had even reached 500 and 600, and a few 800 years of age, gave it as his opinion that all this must be ascribed to mistaken computation. For some, he says, make summer and winter each a year; others make each season a year, like the Arcadians, whose years, he says, were of three months. He added, too, that the Egyptians, of whose little years of four months we have spoken already, sometimes terminated their year at the wane of each moon; so that with them there are produced lifetimes of 1000 years.
By these plausible arguments certain persons, with no desire to weaken the credit of this sacred history, but rather to facilitate belief in it by removing the difficulty of such incredible longevity, have been themselves persuaded, and think they act wisely in persuading others, that in these days the year was so brief that ten of their years equal but one of ours, while ten of ours equal 100 of theirs. But there is the plainest evidence to show that this is quite false. Before producing this evidence, however, it seems right to mention a conjecture which is yet more plausible. From the Hebrew manuscripts we could at once refute this confident statement; for in them Adam is found to have lived not 230 but 130 years before he begat his third son. If, then, this mean thirteen years by our ordinary computation, then he must have begotten his first son when he was only twelve or thereabouts. Who can at this age beget children according to the ordinary and familiar course of nature? But not to mention him, since it is possible he may have been able to beget his like as soon as he was created,—for it is not credible that he was created so little as our infants are,—not to mention him, his[Pg 70] son was not 205 years old when he begat Enos, as our versions have it, but 105, and consequently, according to this idea, was not eleven years old. But what shall I say of his son Cainan, who, though by our version 170 years old, was by the Hebrew text seventy when he beget Mahalaleel? If seventy years in those times meant only seven of our years, what man of seven years old begets children?
13. Whether, in computing years, we ought to follow the Hebrew or the Septuagint.
But if I say this, I shall presently be answered, It is one of the Jews’ lies. This, however, we have disposed of above, showing that it cannot be that men of so just a reputation as the seventy translators should have falsified their version. However, if I ask them which of the two is more credible, that the Jewish nation, scattered far and wide, could have unanimously conspired to forge this lie, and so, through envying others the authority of their Scriptures, have deprived themselves of their verity; or that seventy men, who were also themselves Jews, shut up in one place (for Ptolemy king of Egypt had got them together for this work), should have envied foreign nations that same truth, and by common consent inserted these errors: who does not see which can be more naturally and readily believed? But far be it from any prudent man to believe either that the Jews, however malicious and wrong-headed, could have tampered with so many and so widely-dispersed manuscripts; or that those renowned seventy individuals had any common purpose to grudge the truth to the nations. One must therefore more plausibly maintain, that when first their labours began to be transcribed from the copy in Ptolemy’s library, some such misstatement might find its way into the first copy made, and from it might be disseminated far and wide; and that this might arise from no fraud, but from a mere copyist’s error. This is a sufficiently plausible account of the difficulty regarding Methuselah’s life, and of that other case in which there is a difference in the total of twenty-four years. But in those cases in which there is a methodical resemblance in the falsification, so that uniformly the one version allots to the period before a son and successor is born 100 years more than the other, and to the[Pg 71] period subsequent 100 years less, and vice versâ, so that the totals may agree,—and this holds true of the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh generations,—in these cases error seems to have, if we may say so, a certain kind of constancy, and savours not of accident, but of design.
Accordingly, that diversity of numbers which distinguishes the Hebrew from the Greek and Latin copies of Scripture, and which consists of a uniform addition and deduction of 100 years in each lifetime for several consecutive generations, is to be attributed neither to the malice of the Jews nor to men so diligent and prudent as the seventy translators, but to the error of the copyist who was first allowed to transcribe the manuscript from the library of the above-mentioned king. For even now, in cases where numbers contribute nothing to the easier comprehension or more satisfactory knowledge of anything, they are both carelessly transcribed, and still more carelessly emended. For who will trouble himself to learn how many thousand men the several tribes of Israel contained? He sees no resulting benefit of such knowledge. Or how many men are there who are aware of the vast advantage that lies hid in this knowledge? But in this case, in which during so many consecutive generations 100 years are added in one manuscript where they are not reckoned in the other, and then, after the birth of the son and successor, the years which were wanting are added, it is obvious that the copyist who contrived this arrangement designed to insinuate that the antediluvians lived an excessive number of years only because each year was excessively brief, and that he tried to draw the attention to this fact by his statement of their age of puberty at which they became able to beget children. For, lest the incredulous might stumble at the difficulty of so long a lifetime, he insinuated that 100 of their years equalled but ten of ours; and this insinuation he conveyed by adding 100 years whenever he found the age below 160 years or thereabouts, deducting these years again from the period after the son’s birth, that the total might harmonize. By this means he intended to ascribe the generation of offspring to a fit age, without diminishing the total sum of years ascribed to the[Pg 72] lifetime of the individuals. And the very fact that in the sixth generation he departed from this uniform practice, inclines us all the rather to believe that when the circumstance we have referred to required his alterations, he made them; seeing that when this circumstance did not exist, he made no alteration. For in the same generation he found in the Hebrew MS. that Jared lived before he begat Enoch 162 years, which, according to the short year computation, is sixteen years and somewhat less than two months, an age capable of procreation; and therefore it was not necessary to add 100 short years, and so make the age twenty-six years of the usual length; and of course it was not necessary to deduct, after the son’s birth, years which he had not added before it. And thus it comes to pass that in this instance there is no variation between the two manuscripts.
This is corroborated still further by the fact that in the eighth generation, while the Hebrew books assign 182 years to Methuselah before Lamech’s birth, ours assign to him twenty less, though usually 100 years are added to this period; then, after Lamech’s birth, the twenty years are restored, so as to equalize the total in the two books. For if his design was that these 170 years be understood as seventeen, so as to suit the age of puberty, as there was no need for him adding anything, so there was none for his subtracting anything; for in this case he found an age fit for the generation of children, for the sake of which he was in the habit of adding those 100 years in cases where he did not find the age already sufficient. This difference of twenty years we might, indeed, have supposed had happened accidentally, had he not taken care to restore them afterwards as he had deducted them from the period before, so that there might be no deficiency in the total. Or are we perhaps to suppose that there was the still more astute design of concealing the deliberate and uniform addition of 100 years to the first period and their deduction from the subsequent period,—did he design to conceal this by doing something similar, that is to[Pg 73] say, adding and deducting, not indeed a century, but some years, even in a case in which there was no need for his doing so? But whatever may be thought of this, whether it be believed that he did so or not, whether, in fine, it be so or not, I would have no manner of doubt that when any diversity is found in the books, since both cannot be true to fact, we do well to believe in preference that language out of which the translation was made into another by translators. For there are three Greek mss., one Latin, and one Syriac, which agree with one another, and in all of these Methuselah is said to have died six years before the deluge.
14. That the years in those ancient times were of the same length as our own.
Let us now see how it can be plainly made out that in the enormously protracted lives of those men the years were not so short that ten of their years were equal to only one of ours, but were of as great length as our own, which are measured by the course of the sun. It is proved by this, that Scripture states that the flood occurred in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life. But why in the same place is it also written, “The waters of the flood were upon the earth in the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the twenty-seventh day of the month,” if that very brief year (of which it took ten to make one of ours) consisted of thirty-six days? For so scant a year, if the ancient usage dignified it with the name of year, either has not months, or its month must be three days, so that it may have twelve of them. How then was it here said, “In the six hundredth year, the second month, the twenty-seventh day of the month,” unless the months then were of the same length as the months now? For how else could it be said that the flood began on the twenty-seventh day of the second month? Then afterwards, at the end of the flood, it is thus written: “And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters decreased continually until the eleventh month: on the first day of the month were the tops of the mountains seen.” But if the[Pg 74] months were such as we have, then so were the years. And certainly months of three days each could not have a twenty-seventh day. Or if every measure of time was diminished in proportion, and a thirtieth part of three days was then called a day, then that great deluge, which is recorded to have lasted forty days and forty nights, was really over in less than four of our days. Who can away with such foolishness and absurdity? Far be this error from us,—an error which seeks to build up our faith in the divine Scriptures on false conjecture, only to demolish our faith at another point. It is plain that the day then was what it now is, a space of four-and-twenty hours, determined by the lapse of day and night; the month then equal to the month now, which is defined by the rise and completion of one moon; the year then equal to the year now, which is completed by twelve lunar months, with the addition of five days and a-fourth to adjust it with the course of the sun. It was a year of this length which was reckoned the six hundredth of Noah’s life; and in the second month, the twenty-seventh day of the month, the flood began,—a flood which, as is recorded, was caused by heavy rains continuing for forty days, which days had not only two hours and a little more, but four-and-twenty hours, completing a night and a day. And consequently those antediluvians lived more than 900 years, which were years as long as those which afterwards Abraham lived 175 of, and after him his son Isaac 180, and his son Jacob nearly 150, and some time after, Moses 120, and men now seventy or eighty, or not much longer, of which years it is said, “their strength is labour and sorrow.”
But that discrepancy of numbers which is found to exist between our own and the Hebrew text does not touch the longevity of the ancients; and if there is any diversity so great that both versions cannot be true, we must take our ideas of the real facts from that text out of which our own version has been translated. However, though any one who pleases has it in his power to correct this version, yet it is not unimportant to observe that no one has presumed to emend the Septuagint from the Hebrew text in the many[Pg 75] places where they seem to disagree. For this difference has not been reckoned a falsification; and for my own part I am persuaded it ought not to be reckoned so. But where the difference is not a mere copyist’s error, and where the sense is agreeable to truth and illustrative of truth, we must believe that the divine Spirit prompted them to give a varying version, not in their function of translators, but in the liberty of prophesying. And therefore we find that the apostles justly sanction the Septuagint, by quoting it as well as the Hebrew when they adduce proofs from the Scriptures. But as I have promised to treat this subject more carefully, if God help me, in a more fitting place, I will now go on with the matter in hand. For there can be no doubt that, the lives of men being so long, the first-born of the first man could have built a city,—a city, however, which was earthly, and not that which is called the city of God, to describe which we have taken in hand this great work.
15. Whether it is credible that the men of the primitive age abstained from sexual intercourse until that date at which it is recorded that they begat children.
Some one, then, will say, Is it to be believed that a man who intended to beget children, and had no intention of continence, abstained from sexual intercourse a hundred years and more, or even, according to the Hebrew version, only a little less, say eighty, seventy, or sixty years; or, if he did not abstain, was unable to beget offspring? This question admits of two solutions. For either puberty was so much later as the whole life was longer, or, which seems to me more likely, it is not the first-born sons that are here mentioned, but those whose names were required to fill up the series until Noah was reached, from whom again we see that the succession is continued to Abraham, and after him down to that point of time until which it was needful to mark by pedigree the course of the most glorious city, which sojourns as a stranger in this world, and seeks the heavenly country. That which is undeniable is that Cain was the first who was born of man and woman. For had he not been the first who was added by birth to the two unborn persons, Adam could not have said what he is recorded to have said, “I have gotten a man by[Pg 76] the Lord.” He was followed by Abel, whom the elder brother slew, and who was the first to show, by a kind of foreshadowing of the sojourning city of God, what iniquitous persecutions that city would suffer at the hands of wicked and, as it were, earth-born men, who love their earthly origin, and delight in the earthly happiness of the earthly city. But how old Adam was when he begat these sons does not appear. After this the generations diverge, the one branch deriving from Cain, the other from him whom Adam begot in the room of Abel slain by his brother, and whom he called Seth, saying, as it is written, “For God hath raised me up another seed for Abel whom Cain slew.” These two series of generations accordingly, the one of Cain, the other of Seth, represent the two cities in their distinctive ranks, the one the heavenly city, which sojourns on earth, the other the earthly, which gapes after earthly joys, and grovels in them as if they were the only joys. But though eight generations, including Adam, are registered before the flood, no man of Cain’s line has his age recorded at which the son who succeeded him was begotten. For the Spirit of God refused to mark the times before the flood in the generations of the earthly city, but preferred to do so in the heavenly line, as if it were more worthy of being remembered. Further, when Seth was born, the age of his father is mentioned; but already he had begotten other sons, and who will presume to say that Cain and Abel were the only ones previously begotten? For it does not follow that they alone had been begotten of Adam, because they alone were named in order to continue the series of generations which it was desirable to mention. For though the names of all the rest are buried in silence, yet it is said that Adam begot sons and daughters; and who that cares to be free from the charge of temerity will dare to say how many his offspring numbered? It was possible enough that Adam was divinely prompted to say, after Seth was born, “For God hath raised up to me another seed for Abel,” because that son was to be capable of representing Abel’s holiness, not because he was born first after him in point of time. Then because it is written, “And Seth lived 205 years,” or, according to the Hebrew reading,[Pg 77] “105 years, and begat Enos,” who but a rash man could affirm that this was his first-born? Will any man do so to excite our wonder, and cause us to inquire how for so many years he remained free from sexual intercourse, though without any purpose of continuing so, or how, if he did not abstain, he yet had no children? Will any man do so when it is written of him, “And he begat sons and daughters, and all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died?” And similarly regarding those whose years are afterwards mentioned, it is not disguised that they begat sons and daughters.
Consequently it does not at all appear whether he who is named as the son was himself the first begotten. Nay, since it is incredible that those fathers were either so long in attaining puberty, or could not get wives, or could not impregnate them, it is also incredible that those sons were their first-born. But as the writer of the sacred history designed to descend by well-marked intervals through a series of generations to the birth and life of Noah, in whose time the flood occurred, he mentioned not those sons who were first begotten, but those by whom the succession was handed down.
Let me make this clearer by here inserting an example, in regard to which no one can have any doubt that what I am asserting is true. The evangelist Matthew, where he designs to commit to our memories the generation of the Lord’s flesh by a series of parents, beginning from Abraham and intending to reach David, says, “Abraham begat Isaac;” why did he not say Ishmael, whom he first begat? Then “Isaac begat Jacob;” why did he not say Esau, who was the first-born? Simply because these sons would not have helped him to reach David. Then follows, “And Jacob begat Judah and his brethren:” was Judah the first begotten? “Judah,” he says, “begat Pharez and Zara;” yet neither were these twins the first-born of Judah, but before them he had begotten three other sons. And so in the order of the generations he retained those by whom he might reach David, so as to proceed onwards to the end he had in view. And from this we may understand that the antediluvians who are mentioned were not the first-born, but those through whom the order of[Pg 78] the succeeding generations might be carried on to the patriarch Noah. We need not, therefore, weary ourselves with discussing the needless and obscure question as to their lateness of reaching puberty.
16. Of marriage between blood-relations, in regard to which the present law could not bind the men of the earliest ages.
As, therefore, the human race, subsequently to the first marriage of the man who was made of dust, and his wife who was made out of his side, required the union of males and females in order that it might multiply, and as there were no human beings except those who had been born of these two, men took their sisters for wives,—an act which was as certainly dictated by necessity in these ancient days as afterwards it was condemned by the prohibitions of religion. For it is very reasonable and just that men, among whom concord is honourable and useful, should be bound together by various relationships; and that one man should not himself sustain many relationships, but that the various relationships should be distributed among several, and should thus serve to bind together the greatest number in the same social interests. “Father” and “father-in-law” are the names of two relationships. When, therefore, a man has one person for his father, another for his father-in-law, friendship extends itself to a larger number. But Adam in his single person was obliged to hold both relations to his sons and daughters, for brothers and sisters were united in marriage. So too Eve his wife was both mother and mother-in-law to her children of both sexes; while, had there been two women, one the mother, the other the mother-in-law, the family affection would have had a wider field. Then the sister herself by becoming a wife sustained in her single person two relationships, which, had they been distributed among individuals, one being sister, and another being wife, the family tie would have embraced a greater number of persons. But there was then no material for effecting this, since there were no human beings but the brothers and sisters born of those two first parents. Therefore, when an abundant population made it possible, men ought to choose for wives women who were not already their sisters; for not only would there then be no[Pg 79] necessity for marrying sisters, but, were it done, it would be most abominable. For if the grandchildren of the first pair, being now able to choose their cousins for wives, married their sisters, then it would no longer be only two but three relationships that were held by one man, while each of these relationships ought to have been held by a separate individual, so as to bind together by family affection a larger number. For one man would in that case be both father, and father-in-law, and uncle to his own children (brother and sister now man and wife); and his wife would be mother, aunt, and mother-in-law to them; and they themselves would be not only brother and sister, and man and wife, but cousins also, being the children of brother and sister. Now, all these relationships, which combined three men into one, would have embraced nine persons had each relationship been held by one individual, so that a man had one person for his sister, another his wife, another his cousin, another his father, another his uncle, another his father-in-law, another his mother, another his aunt, another his mother-in-law; and thus the social bond would not have been tightened to bind a few, but loosened to embrace a larger number of relations.
And we see that, since the human race has increased and multiplied, this is so strictly observed even among the profane worshippers of many and false gods, that though their laws perversely allow a brother to marry his sister, yet custom, with a finer morality, prefers to forego this licence; and though it was quite allowable in the earliest ages of the human race to marry one’s sister, it is now abhorred as a thing which no circumstances could justify. For custom has very great power either to attract or to shock human feeling. And in this matter, while it restrains concupiscence within due bounds, the man who neglects and disobeys it is justly branded as abominable. For if it is iniquitous to plough beyond our own boundaries through the greed of gain, is it not much more iniquitous to transgress the recognised boundaries of morals through sexual lust? And with regard to marriage in the next degree of consanguinity, marriage between[Pg 80] cousins, we have observed that in our own time the customary morality has prevented this from being frequent, though the law allows it. It was not prohibited by divine law, nor as yet had human law prohibited it; nevertheless, though legitimate, people shrank from it, because it lay so close to what was illegitimate, and in marrying a cousin seemed almost to marry a sister,—for cousins are so closely related that they are called brothers and sisters, and are almost really so. But the ancient fathers, fearing that near relationship might gradually in the course of generations diverge, and become distant relationship, or cease to be relationship at all, religiously endeavoured to limit it by the bond of marriage before it became distant, and thus, as it were, to call it back when it was escaping them. And on this account, even when the world was full of people, though they did not choose wives from among their sisters or half-sisters, yet they preferred them to be of the same stock as themselves. But who doubts that the modern prohibition of the marriage even of cousins is the more seemly regulation,—not merely on account of the reason we have been urging, the multiplying of relationships, so that one person might not absorb two, which might be distributed to two persons, and so increase the number of people bound together as a family, but also because there is in human nature I know not what natural and praiseworthy shamefacedness which restrains us from desiring that connection which, though for propagation, is yet lustful, and which even conjugal modesty blushes over, with any one to whom consanguinity bids us render respect?
The sexual intercourse of man and woman, then, is in the case of mortals a kind of seed-bed of the city; but while the earthly city needs for its population only generation, the heavenly needs also regeneration to rid it of the taint of generation. Whether before the deluge there was any bodily or visible sign of regeneration, such as was afterwards enjoined upon Abraham when he was circumcised, or what kind of sign it was, the sacred history does not inform us. But it does inform us that even these earliest of mankind sacrificed[Pg 81] to God, as appeared also in the case of the two first brothers; Noah, too, is said to have offered sacrifices to God when he had come forth from the ark after the deluge. And concerning this subject we have already said in the foregoing books that the devils arrogate to themselves divinity, and require sacrifice that they may be esteemed gods, and delight in these honours on no other account than this, because they know that true sacrifice is due to the true God.
17. Of the two fathers and leaders who sprang from one progenitor.
Since, then, Adam was the father of both lines,—the father, that is to say, both of the line which belonged to the earthly, and of that which belonged to the heavenly city,—when Abel was slain, and by his death exhibited a marvellous mystery, there were henceforth two lines proceeding from two fathers, Cain and Seth, and in those sons of theirs, whom it behoved to register, the tokens of these two cities began to appear more distinctly. For Cain begat Enoch, in whose name he built a city, an earthly one, which was not from home in this world, but rested satisfied with its temporal peace and happiness. Cain, too, means “possession;” wherefore at his birth either his father or mother said, “I have gotten a man through God.” Then Enoch means “dedication;” for the earthly city is dedicated in this world in which it is built, for in this world it finds the end towards which it aims and aspires. Further, Seth signifies “resurrection,” and Enos his son signifies “man,” not as Adam, which also signifies man but is used in Hebrew indifferently for man and woman, as it is written, “Male and female created He them, and blessed them, and called their name Adam,” leaving no room to doubt that though the woman was distinctively called Eve, yet the name Adam, meaning man, was common to both. But Enos means man in so restricted a sense, that Hebrew linguists tell us it cannot be applied to woman: it is the equivalent of the “child of the resurrection,” when they neither marry nor are given in marriage. For there shall be no generation in that place to which regeneration shall have brought us. Wherefore I think it not immaterial to observe that in those generations[Pg 82] which are propagated from him who is called Seth, although daughters as well as sons are said to have been begotten, no woman is expressly registered by name; but in those which sprang from Cain at the very termination to which the line runs, the last person named as begotten is a woman. For we read, “Methusael begat Lamech. And Lamech took unto him two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. And Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of the shepherds that dwell in tents. And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ. And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.” Here terminate all the generations of Cain, being eight in number, including Adam,—to wit, seven from Adam to Lamech, who married two wives, and whose children, among whom a woman also is named, form the eighth generation. Whereby it is elegantly signified that the earthly city shall to its termination have carnal generations proceeding from the intercourse of males and females. And therefore the wives themselves of the man who is the last named father of Cain’s line are registered in their own names,—a practice nowhere followed before the deluge save in Eve’s case. Now as Cain, signifying possession, the founder of the earthly city, and his son Enoch, meaning dedication, in whose name it was founded, indicate that this city is earthly both in its beginning and in its end,—a city in which nothing more is hoped for than can be seen in this world,—so Seth, meaning resurrection, and being the father of generations registered apart from the others, we must consider what this sacred history says of his son.
18. The significance of Abel, Seth, and Enos to Christ and His body the Church.
“And to Seth,” it is said, “there was born a son, and he called his name Enos: he hoped to call on the name of the Lord God.” Here we have a loud testimony to the truth. Man, then, the son of the resurrection, lives in hope: he lives in hope as long as the city of God, which is begotten[Pg 83] by faith in the resurrection, sojourns in this world. For in these two men, Abel, signifying “grief,” and his brother Seth, signifying “resurrection,” the death of Christ and His life from the dead are prefigured. And by faith in these is begotten in this world the city of God, that is to say, the man who has hoped to call on the name of the Lord. “For by hope,” says the apostle, “we are saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.” Who can avoid referring this to a profound mystery? For did not Abel hope to call upon the name of the Lord God when his sacrifice is mentioned in Scripture as having been accepted by God? Did not Seth himself hope to call on the name of the Lord God, of whom it was said, “For God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel?” Why then is this which is found to be common to all the godly specially attributed to Enos, unless because it was fit that in him, who is mentioned as the first-born of the father of those generations which were separated to the better part of the heavenly city, there should be a type of the man, or society of men, who live not according to man in contentment with earthly felicity, but according to God in hope of everlasting felicity? And it was not said, “He hoped in the Lord God,” nor “He called on the name of the Lord God,” but “He hoped to call on the name of the Lord God.” And what does this “hoped to call” mean, unless it is a prophecy that a people should arise who, according to the election of grace, would call on the name of the Lord God? It is this which has been said by another prophet, and which the apostle interprets of the people who belong to the grace of God: “And it shall be that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” For these two expressions, “And he called his name Enos, which means man,” and “He hoped to call on the name of the Lord God,” are sufficient proof that man ought not to rest his hopes in himself; as it is elsewhere written, “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man.” Consequently no one ought to trust in himself that he shall become a citizen of that other city which is not[Pg 84] dedicated in the name of Cain’s son in this present time, that is to say, in the fleeting course of this mortal world, but in the immortality of perpetual blessedness.
19. The significance of Enoch’s translation.
For that line also of which Seth is the father has the name “Dedication” in the seventh generation from Adam, counting Adam. For the seventh from him is Enoch, that is, Dedication. But this is that man who was translated because he pleased God, and who held in the order of the generations a remarkable place, being the seventh from Adam, a number signalized by the consecration of the Sabbath. But, counting from the diverging point of the two lines, or from Seth, he was the sixth. Now it was on the sixth day God made man, and consummated His works. But the translation of Enoch prefigured our deferred dedication; for though it is indeed already accomplished in Christ our Head, who so rose again that He shall die no more, and who was Himself also translated, yet there remains another dedication of the whole house, of which Christ Himself is the foundation, and this dedication is deferred till the end, when all shall rise again to die no more. And whether it is the house of God, or the temple of God, or the city of God, that is said to be dedicated, it is all the same, and equally in accordance with the usage of the Latin language. For Virgil himself calls the city of widest empire “the house of Assaracus,” meaning the Romans, who were descended through the Trojans from Assaracus. He also calls them the house of Æneas, because Rome was built by those Trojans who had come to Italy under Æneas. For that poet imitated the sacred writings, in which the Hebrew nation, though so numerous, is called the house of Jacob.
20. How it is that Cain’s line terminates in the eighth generation, while Noah, though descended from the same father, Adam, is found to be the tenth from him.
Some one will say, If the writer of this history intended, in enumerating the generations from Adam through his son Seth, to descend through them to Noah, in whose time the[Pg 85] deluge occurred, and from him again to trace the connected generations down to Abraham, with whom Matthew begins the pedigree of Christ the eternal King of the city of God, what did he intend by enumerating the generations from Cain, and to what terminus did he mean to trace them? We reply, To the deluge, by which the whole stock of the earthly city was destroyed, but repaired by the sons of Noah. For the earthly city and community of men who live after the flesh will never fail until the end of this world, of which our Lord says, “The children of this world generate, and are generated.” But the city of God, which sojourns in this world, is conducted by regeneration to the world to come, of which the children neither generate nor are generated. In this world generation is common to both cities; though even now the city of God has many thousand citizens who abstain from the act of generation; yet the other city also has some citizens who imitate these, though erroneously. For to that city belong also those who have erred from the faith, and introduced divers heresies; for they live according to man, not according to God. And the Indian gymnosophists, who are said to philosophize in the solitudes of India in a state of nudity, are its citizens; and they abstain from marriage. For continence is not a good thing, except when it is practised in the faith of the highest good, that is, God. Yet no one is found to have practised it before the deluge; for indeed even Enoch himself, the seventh from Adam, who is said to have been translated without dying, begat sons and daughters before he was translated, and among these was Methuselah, by whom the succession of the recorded generations is maintained.
Why, then, is so small a number of Cain’s generations registered, if it was proper to trace them to the deluge, and if there was no such delay of the date of puberty as to preclude the hope of offspring for a hundred or more years? For if the author of this book had not in view some one to whom he might rigidly trace the series of generations, as he designed in those which sprang from Seth’s seed to descend to Noah, and thence to start again by a rigid order, what need was there of omitting the first-born sons for the sake of descending[Pg 86] to Lamech, in whose sons that line terminates,—that is to say, in the eighth generation from Adam, or the seventh from Cain,—as if from this point he had wished to pass on to another series, by which he might reach either the Israelitish people, among whom the earthly Jerusalem presented a prophetic figure of the heavenly city, or to Jesus Christ, “according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed for ever,” the Maker and Ruler of the heavenly city? What, I say, was the need of this, seeing that the whole of Cain’s posterity were destroyed in the deluge? From this it is manifest that they are the first-born sons who are registered in this genealogy. Why, then, are there so few of them? Their numbers in the period before the deluge must have been greater, if the date of puberty bore no proportion to their longevity, and they had children before they were a hundred years old. For supposing they were on an average thirty years old when they began to beget children, then, as there are eight generations, including Adam and Lamech’s children, 8 times 30 gives 240 years; did they then produce no more children in all the rest of the time before the deluge? With what intention, then, did he who wrote this record make no mention of subsequent generations? For from Adam to the deluge there are reckoned, according to our copies of Scripture, 2262 years, and according to the Hebrew text, 1656 years. Supposing, then, the smaller number to be the true one, and subtracting from 1656 years 240, is it credible that during the remaining 1400 and odd years until the deluge the posterity of Cain begat no children?
But let any one who is moved by this call to mind that when I discussed the question, how it is credible that those primitive men could abstain for so many years from begetting children, two modes of solution were found,—either a puberty late in proportion to their longevity, or that the sons registered in the genealogies were not the first-born, but those through whom the author of the book intended to reach the point[Pg 87] aimed at, as he intended to reach Noah by the generations of Seth. So that, if in the generations of Cain there occurs no one whom the writer could make it his object to reach by omitting the first-borns and inserting those who would serve such a purpose, then we must have recourse to the supposition of late puberty, and say that only at some age beyond a hundred years they became capable of begetting children, so that the order of the generations ran through the first-borns, and filled up even the whole period before the deluge, long though it was. It is, however, possible that, for some more secret reason which escapes me, this city, which we say is earthly, is exhibited in all its generations down to Lamech and his sons, and that then the writer withholds from recording the rest which may have existed before the deluge. And without supposing so late a puberty in these men, there might be another reason for tracing the generations by sons who were not first-borns, viz. that the same city which Cain built, and named after his son Enoch, may have had a widely extended dominion and many kings, not reigning simultaneously, but successively, the reigning king begetting always his successor. Cain himself would be the first of these kings; his son Enoch, in whose name the city in which he reigned was built, would be the second; the third Irad, whom Enoch begat; the fourth Mehujael, whom Irad begat; the fifth Methusael, whom Mehujael begat; the sixth Lamech, whom Methusael begat, and who is the seventh from Adam through Cain. But it was not necessary that the first-born should succeed their fathers in the kingdom, but those would succeed who were recommended by the possession of some virtue useful to the earthly city, or who were chosen by lot, or the son who was best liked by his father would succeed by a kind of hereditary right to the throne. And the deluge may have happened during the lifetime and reign of Lamech, and may have destroyed him along with all other men, save those who were in the ark. For we cannot be surprised that, during so long a period from Adam to the deluge, and with the ages of individuals varying as they did, there should not be an equal number of generations in both lines, but seven in Cain’s, and ten in Seth’s; for as I have already said, Lamech is the seventh[Pg 88] from Adam, Noah the tenth; and in Lamech’s case not one son only is registered, as in the former instances, but more, because it was uncertain which of them would have succeeded when he died, if there had intervened any time to reign between his death and the deluge.
But in whatever manner the generations of Cain’s line are traced downwards, whether it be by first-born sons or by the heirs to the throne, it seems to me that I must by no means omit to notice that, when Lamech had been set down as the seventh from Adam, there were named, in addition, as many of his children as made up this number to eleven, which is the number signifying sin; for three sons and one daughter are added. The wives of Lamech have another signification, different from that which I am now pressing. For at present I am speaking of the children, and not of those by whom the children were begotten. Since, then, the law is symbolized by the number ten,—whence that memorable Decalogue,—there is no doubt that the number eleven, which goes beyond ten, symbolizes the transgression of the law, and consequently sin. For this reason, eleven veils of goat’s skin were ordered to be hung in the tabernacle of the testimony, which served in the wanderings of God’s people as an ambulatory temple. And in that haircloth there was a reminder of sins, because the goats were to be set on the left hand of the Judge; and therefore, when we confess our sins, we prostrate ourselves in haircloth, as if we were saying what is written in the psalm, “My sin is ever before me.” The progeny of Adam, then, by Cain the murderer, is completed in the number eleven, which symbolizes sin; and this number itself is made up by a woman, as it was by the same sex that beginning was made of sin by which we all die. And it was committed that the pleasure of the flesh, which resists the spirit, might follow; and so Naamah, the daughter of Lamech, means “pleasure.” But from Adam to Noah, in the line of Seth, there are ten generations. And to Noah three sons are added, of whom, while one fell into sin, two were blessed by their father; so that, if you deduct the reprobate and add the gracious sons to the number, you get twelve,—a number signalized in the case[Pg 89] of the patriarchs and of the apostles, and made up of the parts of the number seven multiplied into one another,—for three times four, or four times three, give twelve. These things being so, I see that I must consider and mention how these two lines, which by their separate genealogies depict the two cities, one of earth-born, the other of regenerated persons, became afterwards so mixed and confused, that the whole human race, with the exception of eight persons, deserved to perish in the deluge.
21. Why it is that, as soon as Cain’s son Enoch has been named, the genealogy is forthwith continued as far as the deluge, while after the mention of Enos, Seth’s son, the narrative returns again to the creation of man.
We must first see why, in the enumeration of Cain’s posterity, after Enoch, in whose name the city was built, has been first of all mentioned, the rest are at once enumerated down to that terminus of which I have spoken, and at which that race and the whole line was destroyed in the deluge; while, after Enos the son of Seth has been mentioned, the rest are not at once named down to the deluge, but a clause is inserted to the following effect: “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him; male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” This seems to me to be inserted for this purpose, that here again the reckoning of the times may start from Adam himself,—a purpose which the writer had not in view in speaking of the earthly city, as if God mentioned it, but did not take account of its duration. But why does he return to this recapitulation after mentioning the son of Seth, the man who hoped to call on the name of the Lord God, unless because it was fit thus to present these two cities, the one beginning with a murderer and ending in a murderer (for Lamech, too, acknowledges to his two wives that he had committed murder), the other built up by him who hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God? For the highest and complete terrestrial duty of the city of God, which is a stranger in this world, is that which was exemplified in the individual who was begotten by him[Pg 90] who typified the resurrection of the murdered Abel. That one man is the unity of the whole heavenly city, not yet indeed complete, but to be completed, as this prophetic figure foreshows. The son of Cain, therefore, that is, the son of possession (and of what but an earthly possession?), may have a name in the earthly city which was built in his name. It is of such the Psalmist says, “They call their lands after their own names.” Wherefore they incur what is written in another psalm: “Thou, O Lord, in Thy city wilt despise their image.” But as for the son of Seth, the son of the resurrection, let him hope to call on the name of the Lord God. For he prefigures that society of men which says, “But I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I have trusted in the mercy of God.” But let him not seek the empty honours of a famous name upon earth, for “Blessed is the man that maketh the name of the Lord his trust, and respecteth not vanities nor lying follies.” After having presented the two cities, the one founded in the material good of this world, the other in hope in God, but both starting from a common gate opened in Adam into this mortal state, and both running on and running out to their proper and merited ends, Scripture begins to reckon the times, and in this reckoning includes other generations, making a recapitulation from Adam, out of whose condemned seed, as out of one mass handed over to merited damnation, God made some vessels of wrath to dishonour and others vessels of mercy to honour; in punishment rendering to the former what is due, in grace giving to the latter what is not due: in order that by the very comparison of itself with the vessels of wrath, the heavenly city, which sojourns on earth, may learn not to put confidence in the liberty of its own will, but may hope to call on the name of the Lord God. For will, being a nature which was made good by the good God, but mutable by the immutable, because it was made out of nothing, can both decline from good to do evil, which takes place when it freely chooses, and can also escape the evil and do good, which takes place only by divine assistance.
22. Of the fall of the sons of God who were captivated by the daughters of men, whereby all, with the exception of eight persons, deservedly perished in the deluge.
When the human race, in the exercise of this freedom of will, increased and advanced, there arose a mixture and confusion of the two cities by their participation in a common iniquity. And this calamity, as well as the first, was occasioned by woman, though not in the same way; for these women were not themselves betrayed, neither did they persuade the men to sin, but having belonged to the earthly city and society of the earthly, they had been of corrupt manners from the first, and were loved for their bodily beauty by the sons of God, or the citizens of the other city which sojourns in this world. Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked. And thus, when the good that is great and proper to the good was abandoned by the sons of God, they fell to a paltry good which is not peculiar to the good, but common to the good and the evil; and when they were captivated by the daughters of men, they adopted the manners of the earthly to win them as their brides, and forsook the godly ways they had followed in their own holy society. And thus beauty, which is indeed God’s handiwork, but only a temporal, carnal, and lower kind of good, is not fitly loved in preference to God, the eternal, spiritual, and unchangeable good. When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: “These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made.”
But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is[Pg 92] loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love; and on this account, in the Canticles, the bride of Christ, the city of God, sings, “Order love within me.” It was the order of this love, then, this charity or attachment, which the sons of God disturbed when they forsook God, and were enamoured of the daughters of men. And by these two names (sons of God and daughters of men) the two cities are sufficiently distinguished. For though the former were by nature children of men, they had come into possession of another name by grace. For in the same Scripture in which the sons of God are said to have loved the daughters of men, they are also called angels of God; whence many suppose that they were not men but angels.
23. Whether we are to believe that angels, who are of a spiritual substance, fell in love with the beauty of women, and sought them in marriage, and that from this connection giants were born.
In the third book of this work (c. 5) we made a passing reference to this question, but did not decide whether angels, inasmuch as they are spirits, could have bodily intercourse with women. For it is written, “Who maketh His angels spirits,” that is, He makes those who are by nature spirits His angels by appointing them to the duty of bearing His messages. For the Greek word ἄγγελος, which in Latin appears as “angelus,” means a messenger. But whether the Psalmist speaks of their bodies when he adds, “and His ministers a flaming fire,” or means that God’s ministers ought to blaze with love as with a spiritual fire, is doubtful. However, the same trustworthy Scripture testifies that angels have appeared to men in such bodies as could not only be seen, but also touched. There is, too, a very general rumour, which many have verified by their own experience, or which trustworthy persons who have heard the experience of others corroborate, that sylvans and fauns, who are commonly called “incubi,” had often made wicked assaults upon women, and satisfied[Pg 93] their lust upon them; and that certain devils, called Duses by the Gauls, are constantly attempting and effecting this impurity is so generally affirmed, that it were impudent to deny it. From these assertions, indeed, I dare not determine whether there be some spirits embodied in an aerial substance (for this element, even when agitated by a fan, is sensibly felt by the body), and who are capable of lust and of mingling sensibly with women; but certainly I could by no means believe that God’s holy angels could at that time have so fallen, nor can I think that it is of them the Apostle Peter said, “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” I think he rather speaks of those who first apostatized from God, along with their chief the devil, who enviously deceived the first man under the form of a serpent. But the same holy Scripture affords the most ample testimony that even godly men have been called angels; for of John it is written: “Behold, I send my messenger (angel) before Thy face, who shall prepare Thy way.” And the prophet Malachi, by a peculiar grace specially communicated to him, was called an angel.
But some are moved by the fact that we have read that the fruit of the connection between those who are called angels of God and the women they loved were not men like our own breed, but giants; just as if there were not born even in our own time (as I have mentioned above) men of much greater size than the ordinary stature. Was there not at Rome a few years ago, when the destruction of the city now accomplished by the Goths was drawing near, a woman, with her father and mother, who by her gigantic size overtopped all others? Surprising crowds from all quarters came to see her, and that which struck them most was the circumstance that neither of her parents were quite up to the tallest ordinary stature. Giants therefore might well be born, even before the sons of God, who are also called angels of God, formed a connection[Pg 94] with the daughters of men, or of those living according to men, that is to say, before the sons of Seth formed a connection with the daughters of Cain. For thus speaks even the canonical Scripture itself in the book in which we read of this; its words are: “And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair [good]; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord God said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became the giants, men of renown.” These words of the divine book sufficiently indicate that already there were giants in the earth in those days, in which the sons of God took wives of the children of men, when they loved them because they were good, that is, fair. For it is the custom of this Scripture to call those who are beautiful in appearance “good.” But after this connection had been formed, then too were giants born. For the words are: “There were giants in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men.” Therefore there were giants both before, “in those days,” and “also after that.” And the words, “they bare children to them,” show plainly enough that before the sons of God fell in this fashion they begat children to God, not to themselves,—that is to say, not moved by the lust of sexual intercourse, but discharging the duty of propagation, intending to produce not a family to gratify their own pride, but citizens to people the city of God; and to these they as God’s angels would bear the message, that they should place their hope in God, like him who was born of Seth the son of resurrection, and who hoped to call on the name of the Lord God, in which hope they and their offspring would be co-heirs of eternal blessings, and brethren in the family of which God is the Father.
But that those angels were not angels in the sense of not being men, as some suppose, Scripture itself decides, which unambiguously declares that they were men. For when it had first been stated that “the angels of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all which they chose,” it was immediately added, “And the Lord God said, My Spirit shall not always strive with these men, for that they also are flesh.” For by the Spirit of God they had been made angels of God, and sons of God; but declining towards lower things, they are called men, a name of nature, not of grace; and they are called flesh, as deserters of the Spirit, and by their desertion deserted [by Him]. The Septuagint indeed calls them both angels of God and sons of God, though all the copies do not show this, some having only the name “sons of God.” And Aquila, whom the Jews prefer to the other interpreters, has translated neither angels of God nor sons of God, but sons of gods. But both are correct. For they were both sons of God, and thus brothers of their own fathers, who were children of the same God; and they were sons of gods, because begotten by gods, together with whom they themselves also were gods, according to that expression of the psalm: “I have said, Ye are gods, and all of you are children of the Most High.” For the Septuagint translators are justly believed to have received the Spirit of prophecy; so that, if they made any alterations under His authority, and did not adhere to a strict translation, we could not doubt that this was divinely dictated. However, the Hebrew word may be said to be ambiguous, and to be susceptible of either translation, “sons of God,” or “sons of gods.”
Let us omit, then, the fables of those scriptures which are called apocryphal, because their obscure origin was unknown to the fathers from whom the authority of the true Scriptures has been transmitted to us by a most certain and well-ascertained[Pg 96] succession. For though there is some truth in these apocryphal writings, yet they contain so many false statements, that they have no canonical authority. We cannot deny that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, left some divine writings, for this is asserted by the Apostle Jude in his canonical epistle. But it is not without reason that these writings have no place in that canon of Scripture which was preserved in the temple of the Hebrew people by the diligence of successive priests; for their antiquity brought them under suspicion, and it was impossible to ascertain whether these were his genuine writings, and they were not brought forward as genuine by the persons who were found to have carefully preserved the canonical books by a successive transmission. So that the writings which are produced under his name, and which contain these fables about the giants, saying that their fathers were not men, are properly judged by prudent men to be not genuine; just as many writings are produced by heretics under the names both of other prophets, and, more recently, under the names of the apostles, all of which, after careful examination, have been set apart from canonical authority under the title of Apocrypha. There is therefore no doubt that, according to the Hebrew and Christian canonical Scriptures, there were many giants before the deluge, and that these were citizens of the earthly society of men, and that the sons of God, who were according to the flesh the sons of Seth, sunk into this community when they forsook righteousness. Nor need we wonder that giants should be born even from these. For all of their children were not giants; but there were more then than in the remaining periods since the deluge. And it pleased the Creator to produce them, that it might thus be demonstrated that neither beauty, nor yet size and strength, are of much moment to the wise man, whose blessedness lies in spiritual and immortal blessings, in far better and more enduring gifts, in the good things that are the peculiar property of the good, and are not shared by good and bad alike. It is this which another prophet confirms when he says, “These were the giants, famous from the beginning, that were of so great stature, and so expert in war. Those did not the Lord choose, neither gave He the way of knowledge[Pg 97] unto them; but they were destroyed because they had no wisdom, and perished through their own foolishness.”
24. How we are to understand this which the Lord said to those who were to perish in the flood: “Their days shall be 120 years.”
But that which God said, “Their days shall be an hundred and twenty years,” is not to be understood as a prediction that henceforth men should not live longer than 120 years,—for even after the deluge we find that they lived more than 500 years,—but we are to understand that God said this when Noah had nearly completed his fifth century, that is, had lived 480 years, which Scripture, as it frequently uses the name of the whole for the largest part, calls 500 years. Now the deluge came in the 600th year of Noah’s life, the second month; and thus 120 years were predicted as being the remaining span of those who were doomed, which years being spent, they should be destroyed by the deluge. And it is not unreasonably believed that the deluge came as it did, because already there were not found upon earth any who were not worthy of sharing a death so manifestly judicial,—not that a good man, who must die some time, would be a jot the worse of such a death after it was past. Nevertheless there died in the deluge none of those mentioned in the sacred Scripture as descended from Seth. But here is the divine account of the cause of the deluge: “The Lord God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth; both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air: for I am angry that I have made them.”
25. Of the anger of God, which does not inflame His mind, nor disturb His unchangeable tranquillity.
The anger of God is not a disturbing emotion of His mind, but a judgment by which punishment is inflicted upon sin. His thought and reconsideration also are the unchangeable[Pg 98] reason which changes things; for He does not, like man, repent of anything He has done, because in all matters His decision is as inflexible as His prescience is certain. But if Scripture were not to use such expressions as the above, it would not familiarly insinuate itself into the minds of all classes of men, whom it seeks access to for their good, that it may alarm the proud, arouse the careless, exercise the inquisitive, and satisfy the intelligent; and this it could not do, did it not first stoop, and in a manner descend, to them where they lie. But its denouncing death on all the animals of earth and air is a declaration of the vastness of the disaster that was approaching: not that it threatens destruction to the irrational animals as if they too had incurred it by sin.
26. That the ark which Noah was ordered to make figures in every respect Christ and the church.
Moreover, inasmuch as God commanded Noah, a just man, and, as the truthful Scripture says, a man perfect in his generation,—not indeed with the perfection of the citizens of the city of God in that immortal condition in which they equal the angels, but in so far as they can be perfect in their sojourn in this world,—inasmuch as God commanded him, I say, to make an ark, in which he might be rescued from the destruction of the flood, along with his family, i.e. his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law, and along with the animals who, in obedience to God’s command, came to him into the ark: is certainly a figure of the city of God sojourning in this world; that is to say, of the church, which is rescued by the wood on which hung the Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus. For even its very dimensions, in length, breadth, and height, represent the human body in which He came, as it had been foretold. For the length of the human body, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, is six times its breadth from side to side, and ten times its depth or thickness, measuring from back to front: that is to say, if you measure a man as he lies on his back or on his face, he is six times as long from head to foot as he is broad from side to side, and ten times as long as he is high from the ground. And therefore the ark was made 300 cubits in length, 50 in breadth, and 30 in[Pg 99] height. And its having a door made in the side of it certainly signified the wound which was made when the side of the Crucified was pierced with the spear: for by this those who come to Him enter; for thence flowed the sacraments by which those who believe are initiated. And the fact that it was ordered to be made of squared timbers, signifies the immoveable steadiness of the life of the saints; for however you turn a cube, it still stands. And the other peculiarities of the ark’s construction are signs of features of the church.
But we have not now time to pursue this subject; and, indeed, we have already dwelt upon it in the work we wrote against Faustus the Manichean, who denies that there is anything prophesied of Christ in the Hebrew books. It may be that one man’s exposition excels another’s, and that ours is not the best; but all that is said must be referred to this city of God we speak of, which sojourns in this wicked world as in a deluge, at least if the expositor would not widely miss the meaning of the author. For example, the interpretation I have given in the work against Faustus, of the words, “with lower, second, and third storeys shalt thou make it,” is, that because the church is gathered out of all nations, it is said to have two storeys, to represent the two kinds of men,—the circumcision, to wit, and the uncircumcision, or, as the apostle otherwise calls them, Jews and Gentiles; and to have three storeys, because all the nations were replenished from the three sons of Noah. Now any one may object to this interpretation, and may give another which harmonizes with the rule of faith. For as the ark was to have rooms not only on the lower, but also on the upper storeys, which were called “third storeys,” that there might be a habitable space on the third floor from the basement, some one may interpret these to mean the three graces commended by the apostle,—faith, hope, and charity. Or even more suitably they may be supposed to represent those three harvests in the gospel, thirty-fold, sixtyfold, an hundredfold,—chaste marriage dwelling in the ground floor, chaste widowhood in the upper, and chaste virginity in the top storey. Or any better interpretation may be given, so long as the reference to this city is maintained. And the same statement I would make of all the remaining[Pg 100] particulars in this passage which require exposition, viz. that although different explanations are given, yet they must all agree with the one harmonious catholic faith.
27. Of the ark and the deluge, and that we cannot agree with those who receive the bare history, but reject the allegorical interpretation, nor with those who maintain the figurative and not the historical meaning.
Yet no one ought to suppose either that these things were written for no purpose, or that we should study only the historical truth, apart from any allegorical meanings; or, on the contrary, that they are only allegories, and that there were no such facts at all, or that, whether it be so or no, there is here no prophecy of the church. For what right-minded man will contend that books so religiously preserved during thousands of years, and transmitted by so orderly a succession, were written without an object, or that only the bare historical facts are to be considered when we read them? For, not to mention other instances, if the number of the animals entailed the construction of an ark of great size, where was the necessity of sending into it two unclean and seven clean animals of each species, when both could have been preserved in equal numbers? Or could not God, who ordered them to be preserved in order to replenish the race, restore them in the same way He had created them?
But they who contend that these things never happened, but are only figures setting forth other things, in the first place suppose that there could not be a flood so great that the water should rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, because it is said that clouds cannot rise above the top of Mount Olympus, because it reaches the sky where there is none of that thicker atmosphere in which winds, clouds, and rains have their origin. They do not reflect that the densest element of all, earth, can exist there; or perhaps they deny that the top of the mountain is earth. Why, then, do these measurers and weighers of the elements contend that earth can be raised to those aerial altitudes, and that water cannot, while they admit that water is lighter, and liker to ascend than earth? What reason do they adduce why earth, the heavier and lower element, has for so many ages scaled to the tranquil æther, while water, the lighter, and more likely to[Pg 101] ascend, is not suffered to do the same even for a brief space of time?
They say, too, that the area of that ark could not contain so many kinds of animals of both sexes, two of the unclean and seven of the clean. But they seem to me to reckon only one area of 300 cubits long and 50 broad, and not to remember that there was another similar in the storey above, and yet another as large in the storey above that again; and that there was consequently an area of 900 cubits by 150. And if we accept what Origen has with some appropriateness suggested, that Moses the man of God, being, as it is written, “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” who delighted in geometry, may have meant geometrical cubits, of which they say that one is equal to six of our cubits, then who does not see what a capacity these dimensions give to the ark? For as to their objection that an ark of such size could not be built, it is a very silly calumny; for they are aware that huge cities have been built, and they should remember that the ark was an hundred years in building. Or, perhaps, though stone can adhere to stone when cemented with nothing but lime, so that
a wall of several miles may be constructed, yet plank cannot be
riveted to plank by mortices, bolts, nails, and pitch-glue, so as to construct an ark which was not made with curved ribs but straight timbers, which was not to be launched by its builders but to be lifted by the natural pressure of the water when it reached it, and which was to be preserved from shipwreck as it floated about rather by divine oversight than by human skill.
As to another customary inquiry of the scrupulous about the very minute creatures, not only such as mice and lizards, but also locusts, beetles, flies, fleas, and so forth, whether there were not in the ark a larger number of them than was determined by God in His command, those persons who are moved by this difficulty are to be reminded that the words “every creeping thing of the earth” only indicate that it was not needful to preserve in the ark the animals that can live in the water, whether the fishes that live submerged in it, or the sea-birds that swim on its surface. Then, when it is said[Pg 102] “male and female,” no doubt reference is made to the repairing of the races, and consequently there was no need for those creatures being in the ark which are born without the union of the sexes from inanimate things, or from their corruption; or if they were in the ark, they might be there as they commonly are in houses, not in any determinate numbers; or if it was necessary that there should be a definite number of all those animals that cannot naturally live in the water, that so the most sacred mystery which was being enacted might be bodied forth and perfectly figured in actual realities, still this was not the care of Noah or his sons, but of God. For Noah did not catch the animals and put them into the ark, but gave them entrance as they came seeking it. For this is the force of the words, “They shall come unto thee,”—not, that is to say, by man’s effort, but by God’s will. But certainly we are not required to believe that those which have no sex also came; for it is expressly and definitely said, “They shall be male and female.” For there are some animals which are born out of corruption, but yet afterwards they themselves copulate and produce offspring, as flies; but others, which have no sex, like bees. Then, as to those animals which have sex, but without ability to propagate their kind, like mules and she-mules, it is probable that they were not in the ark, but that it was counted sufficient to preserve their parents, to wit, the horse and the ass; and this applies to all hybrids. Yet, if it was necessary for the completeness of the mystery, they were there; for even this species has “male and female.”
Another question is commonly raised regarding the food of the carnivorous animals,—whether, without transgressing the command which fixed the number to be preserved, there were necessarily others included in the ark for their sustenance; or, as is more probable, there might be some food which was not flesh, and which yet suited all. For we know how many animals whose food is flesh eat also vegetable products and fruits, especially figs and chestnuts. What wonder is it, therefore, if that wise and just man was instructed by God what would suit each, so that without flesh he prepared and[Pg 103] stored provision fit for every species? And what is there which hunger would not make animals eat? Or what could not be made sweet and wholesome by God, who, with a divine facility, might have enabled them to do without food at all, had it not been requisite to the completeness of so great a mystery that they should be fed? But none but a contentious man can suppose that there was no prefiguring of the church in so manifold and circumstantial a detail. For the nations have already so filled the church, and are comprehended in the framework of its unity, the clean and unclean together, until the appointed end, that this one very manifest fulfilment leaves no doubt how we should interpret even those others which are somewhat more obscure, and which cannot so readily be discerned. And since this is so, if not even the most audacious will presume to assert that these things were written without a purpose, or that though the events really happened they mean nothing, or that they did not really happen, but are only allegory, or that at all events they are far from having any figurative reference to the church; if it has been made out that, on the other hand, we must rather believe that there was a wise purpose in their being committed to memory and to writing, and that they did happen, and have a significance, and that this significance has a prophetic reference to the church, then this book, having served this purpose, may now be closed, that we may go on to trace in the history subsequent to the deluge the courses of the two cities,—the earthly, that lives according to men, and the heavenly, that lives according to God.
IN THE FORMER PART OF THIS BOOK, FROM THE FIRST TO THE TWELFTH CHAPTER, THE PROGRESS OF THE TWO CITIES, THE EARTHLY AND THE HEAVENLY, FROM NOAH TO ABRAHAM, IS EXHIBITED FROM HOLY SCRIPTURE: IN THE LATTER PART, THE PROGRESS OF THE HEAVENLY ALONE, FROM ABRAHAM TO THE KINGS OF ISRAEL, IS THE SUBJECT.
1. Whether, after the deluge, from Noah to Abraham, any families can be found who lived according to God.
It is difficult to discover from Scripture, whether, after the deluge, traces of the holy city are continuous, or are so interrupted by intervening seasons of godlessness, that not a single worshipper of the one true God was found among men; because from Noah, who, with his wife, three sons, and as many daughters-in-law, achieved deliverance in the ark from the destruction of the deluge, down to Abraham, we do not find in the canonical books that the piety of any one is celebrated by express divine testimony, unless it be in the case of Noah, who commends with a prophetic benediction his two sons Shem and Japheth, while he beheld and foresaw what was long afterwards to happen. It was also by this prophetic spirit that, when his middle son—that is, the son who was younger than the first and older than the last born—had sinned against him, he cursed him not in his own person, but in his son’s (his own grandson’s), in the words, “Cursed be the lad Canaan; a servant shall he be unto his brethren.” Now Canaan was born of Ham, who, so far from covering his sleeping father’s nakedness, had divulged it. For the same reason also he subjoins the blessing on his two other sons, the oldest and youngest, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall gladden Japheth, and he shall dwell in the houses of Shem.” And[Pg 105] so, too, the planting of the vine by Noah, and his intoxication by its fruit, and his nakedness while he slept, and the other things done at that time, and recorded, are all of them pregnant with prophetic meanings, and veiled in mysteries.
2. What was prophetically prefigured in the sons of Noah.
The things which then were hidden are now sufficiently revealed by the actual events which have followed. For who can carefully and intelligently consider these things without recognising them accomplished in Christ? Shem, of whom Christ was born in the flesh, means “named.” And what is of greater name than Christ, the fragrance of whose name is now everywhere perceived, so that even prophecy sings of it beforehand, comparing it in the Song of Songs to ointment poured forth? Is it not also in the houses of Christ, that is, in the churches, that the “enlargement” of the nations dwells? For Japheth means “enlargement.” And Ham (i.e. hot), who was the middle son of Noah, and, as it were, separated himself from both, and remained between them, neither belonging to the first-fruits of Israel nor to the fulness of the Gentiles, what does he signify but the tribe of heretics, hot with the spirit, not of patience, but of impatience, with which the breasts of heretics are wont to blaze, and with which they disturb the peace of the saints? But even the heretics yield an advantage to those that make proficiency, according to the apostle’s saying, “There must also be heresies, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” Whence, too, it is elsewhere said, “The son that receives instruction will be wise, and he uses the foolish as his servant.” For while the hot restlessness of heretics stirs questions about many articles of the catholic faith, the necessity of defending them forces us both to investigate them more accurately, to understand them more clearly, and to proclaim them more earnestly; and the question mooted by an adversary becomes the occasion of instruction. However, not only those who are openly separated from the church, but also all who glory in the Christian name, and at the same time lead abandoned[Pg 106] lives, may without absurdity seem to be figured by Noah’s middle son: for the passion of Christ, which was signified by that man’s nakedness, is at once proclaimed by their profession, and dishonoured by their wicked conduct. Of such, therefore, it has been said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And therefore was Ham cursed in his son, he being, as it were, his fruit. So, too, this son of his, Canaan, is fitly interpreted “their movement,” which is nothing else than their work. But Shem and Japheth, that is to say, the circumcision and uncircumcision, or, as the apostle otherwise calls them, the Jews and Greeks, but called and justified, having somehow discovered the nakedness of their father (which signifies the Saviour’s passion), took a garment and laid it upon their backs, and entered backwards and covered their father’s nakedness, without their seeing what their reverence hid. For we both honour the passion of Christ as accomplished for us, and we hate the crime of the Jews who crucified Him. The garment signifies the sacrament, their backs the memory of things past: for the church celebrates the passion of Christ as already accomplished, and no longer to be looked forward to, now that Japheth already dwells in the habitations of Shem, and their wicked brother between them.
But the wicked brother is, in the person of his son (i.e. his work), the boy, or slave, of his good brothers, when good men make a skilful use of bad men, either for the exercise of their patience or for their advancement in wisdom. For the apostle testifies that there are some who preach Christ from no pure motives; “but,” says he, “whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” For it is Christ Himself who planted the vine of which the prophet says, “The vine of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel;” and He drinks of its wine, whether we thus understand that cup of which He says, “Can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” and, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” by which He obviously means His passion. Or, as wine is the fruit of[Pg 107] the vine, we may prefer to understand that from this vine, that is to say, from the race of Israel, He has assumed flesh and blood that He might suffer; “and he was drunken,” that is, He suffered; “and was naked,” that is, His weakness appeared in His suffering, as the apostle says, “though He was crucified through weakness.” Wherefore the same apostle says, “The weakness of God is stronger than men; and the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” And when to the expression “he was naked” Scripture adds “in his house,” it elegantly intimates that Jesus was to suffer the cross and death at the hands of His own household, His own kith and kin, the Jews. This passion of Christ is only externally and verbally professed by the reprobate, for what they profess they do not understand. But the elect hold in the inner man this so great mystery, and honour inwardly in the heart this weakness and foolishness of God. And of this there is a figure in Ham going out to proclaim his father’s nakedness; while Shem and Japheth, to cover or honour it, went in, that is to say, did it inwardly.
These secrets of divine Scripture we investigate as well as we can. All will not accept our interpretation with equal confidence, but all hold it certain that these things were neither done nor recorded without some foreshadowing of future events, and that they are to be referred only to Christ and His church, which is the city of God, proclaimed from the very beginning of human history by figures which we now see everywhere accomplished. From the blessing of the two sons of Noah, and the cursing of the middle son, down to Abraham, or for more than a thousand years, there is, as I have said, no mention of any righteous persons who worshipped God. I do not therefore conclude that there were none; but it had been tedious to mention every one, and would have displayed historical accuracy rather than prophetic foresight. The object of the writer of these sacred books, or rather of the Spirit of God in him, is not only to record the past, but to depict the future, so far as it regards the city of God; for whatever is said of those who are not its citizens, is given either for her instruction, or as a foil to enhance her[Pg 108] glory. Yet we are not to suppose that all that is recorded has some signification; but those things which have no signification of their own are interwoven for the sake of the things which are significant. It is only the ploughshare that cleaves the soil; but to effect this, other parts of the plough are requisite. It is only the strings in harps and other musical instruments which produce melodious sounds; but that they may do so, there are other parts of the instrument which are not indeed struck by those who sing, but are connected with the strings which are struck, and produce musical notes. So in this prophetic history some things are narrated which have no significance, but are, as it were, the framework to which the significant things are attached.
3. Of the generations of the three sons of Noah.
We must therefore introduce into this work an explanation of the generations of the three sons of Noah, in so far as that may illustrate the progress in time of the two cities. Scripture first mentions that of the youngest son, who is called Japheth: he had eight sons, and by two of these sons seven grandchildren, three by one son, four by the other; in all, fifteen descendants. Ham, Noah’s middle son, had four sons, and by one of them five grandsons, and by one of these two great-grandsons; in all, eleven. After enumerating these, Scripture returns to the first of the sons, and says, “Cush begat Nimrod; he began to be a giant on the earth. He was a giant hunter against the Lord God: wherefore they say, As Nimrod the giant hunter against the Lord. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Assur, and built Nineveh, and the city Rehoboth, and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: this was a great city.” Now this Cush, father of the giant Nimrod, is the first-named among the sons of Ham, to whom five sons and two grandsons are ascribed. But he either begat this giant after his grandsons were born, or, which is more credible, Scripture speaks of him[Pg 109] separately on account of his eminence; for mention is also made of his kingdom, which began with that magnificent city Babylon, and the other places, whether cities or districts, mentioned along with it. But what is recorded of the land of Shinar which belonged to Nimrod’s kingdom, to wit, that Assur went forth from it and built Nineveh and the other cities mentioned with it, happened long after; but he takes occasion to speak of it here on account of the grandeur of the Assyrian kingdom, which was wonderfully extended by Ninus son of Belus, and founder of the great city Nineveh, which was named after him, Nineveh, from Ninus. But Assur, father of the Assyrian, was not one of the sons of Ham, Noah’s middle son, but is found among the sons of Shem, his eldest son. Whence it appears that among Shem’s offspring there arose men who afterwards took possession of that giant’s kingdom, and advancing from it, founded other cities, the first of which was called Nineveh, from Ninus. From him Scripture returns to Ham’s other son, Mizraim; and his sons are enumerated, not as seven individuals, but as seven nations. And from the sixth, as if from the sixth son, the race called the Philistines are said to have sprung; so that there are in all eight. Then it returns again to Canaan, in whose person Ham was cursed; and his eleven sons are named. Then the territories they occupied, and some of the cities, are named. And thus, if we count sons and grandsons, there are thirty-one of Ham’s descendants registered.
It remains to mention the sons of Shem, Noah’s eldest son; for to him this genealogical narrative gradually ascends from the youngest. But in the commencement of the record of Shem’s sons there is an obscurity which calls for explanation, since it is closely connected with the object of our investigation. For we read, “Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Heber, the brother of Japheth the elder, were children born.” This is the order of the words: And to Shem was born Heber, even to himself, that is, to Shem himself was born Heber, and Shem is the father of all his children. We are intended to understand that Shem is the patriarch of all his posterity who were to be mentioned, whether sons, grandsons,[Pg 110] great-grandsons, or descendants at any remove. For Shem did not beget Heber, who was indeed in the fifth generation from him. For Shem begat, among other sons, Arphaxad; Arphaxad begat Cainan, Cainan begat Salah, Salah begat Heber. And it was with good reason that he was named first among Shem’s offspring, taking precedence even of his sons, though only a grandchild of the fifth generation; for from him, as tradition says, the Hebrews derived their name, though the other etymology which derives the name from Abraham (as if Abrahews) may possibly be correct. But there can be little doubt that the former is the right etymology, and that they were called after Heber, Heberews, and then, dropping a letter, Hebrews; and so was their language called Hebrew, which was spoken by none but the people of Israel among whom was the city of God, mysteriously prefigured in all the people, and truly present in the saints. Six of Shem’s sons then are first named, then four grandsons born to one of these sons; then it mentions another son of Shem, who begat a grandson; and his son, again, or Shem’s great-grandson, was Heber. And Heber begat two sons, and called the one Peleg, which means “dividing;” and Scripture subjoins the reason of this name, saying, “for in his days was the earth divided.” What this means will afterwards appear. Heber’s other son begat twelve sons; consequently all Shem’s descendants are twenty-seven. The total number of the progeny of the three sons of Noah is seventy-three, fifteen by Japheth, thirty-one by Ham, twenty-seven by Shem. Then Scripture adds, “These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.” And so of the whole number: “These are the families of the sons of Noah after their generations, in their nations; and by these were the isles of the nations dispersed through the earth after the flood.” From which we gather that the seventy-three (or rather, as I shall presently show, seventy-two) were not individuals, but nations. For in a former passage, when the sons of Japheth were enumerated, it is said in conclusion, “By these were the isles of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his language, in their tribes, and in their nations.”
But nations are expressly mentioned among the sons of Ham, as I showed above. “Mizraim begat those who are called Ludim;” and so also of the other seven nations. And after enumerating all of them, it concludes, “These are the sons of Ham, in their families, according to their languages, in their territories, and in their nations.” The reason, then, why the children of several of them are not mentioned, is that they belonged by birth to other nations, and did not themselves become nations. Why else is it, that though eight sons are reckoned to Japheth, the sons of only two of these are mentioned; and though four are reckoned to Ham, only three are spoken of as having sons; and though six are reckoned to Shem, the descendants of only two of these are traced? Did the rest remain childless? We cannot suppose so; but they did not produce nations so great as to warrant their being mentioned, but were absorbed in the nations to which they belonged by birth.
4. Of the diversity of languages, and of the founding of Babylon.
But though these nations are said to have been dispersed according to their languages, yet the narrator recurs to that time when all had but one language, and explains how it came to pass that a diversity of languages was introduced. “The whole earth,” he says, “was of one lip, and all had one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there. And they said one to another, Come, and let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly. And they had bricks for stone, and slime for mortar. And they said, Come, and let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top shall reach the sky; and let us make us a name, before we be scattered abroad on the face of all the earth. And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children, of men builded. And the Lord God said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Come, and let us go down, and confound there their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. And God scattered them thence on the[Pg 112] face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city and the tower. Therefore the name of it is called Confusion; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and the Lord God scattered them thence on the face of all the earth.” This city, which was called Confusion, is the same as Babylon, whose wonderful construction Gentile history also notices. For Babylon means Confusion. Whence we conclude that the giant Nimrod was its founder, as had been hinted a little before, where Scripture, in speaking of him, says that the beginning of his kingdom was Babylon, that is, Babylon had a supremacy over the other cities as the metropolis and royal residence; although it did not rise to the grand dimensions designed by its proud and impious founder. The plan was to make it so high that it should reach the sky, whether this was meant of one tower which they intended to build higher than the others, or of all the towers, which might be signified by the singular number, as we speak of “the soldier,” meaning the army, and of the frog or the locust, when we refer to the whole multitude of frogs and locusts in the plagues with which Moses smote the Egyptians. But what did these vain and presumptuous men intend? How did they expect to raise this lofty mass against God, when they had built it above all the mountains and the clouds of the earth’s atmosphere? What injury could any spiritual or material elevation do to God? The safe and true way to heaven is made by humility, which lifts up the heart to the Lord, not against Him; as this giant is said to have been a “hunter against the Lord.” This has been misunderstood by some through the ambiguity of the Greek word, and they have translated it, not “against the Lord,” but “before the Lord;” for ἔναντιον means both “before” and “against.” In the Psalm this word is rendered, “Let us weep before the Lord our Maker.”The same word occurs in the book of Job, where it is written, “Thou hast broken into fury against the Lord.” And so this giant is to be recognised as a “hunter againstthe Lord.” And what is meant by the term “hunter” but deceiver, oppressor, and destroyer of the animals of the[Pg 113] earth? He and his people, therefore, erected this tower against the Lord, and so gave expression to their impious pride; and justly was their wicked intention punished by God, even though it was unsuccessful. But what was the nature of the punishment? As the tongue is the instrument of domination, in it pride was punished; so that man, who would not understand God when He issued His commands, should be misunderstood when he himself gave orders. Thus was that conspiracy disbanded, for each man retired from those he could not understand, and associated with those whose speech was intelligible; and the nations were divided according to their languages, and scattered over the earth as seemed good to God, who accomplished this in ways hidden from and incomprehensible to us.
5. Of God’s coming down to confound the languages of the builders of the city.
We read, “The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men built:” it was not the sons of God, but that society which lived in a merely human way, and which we call the earthly city. God, who is always wholly everywhere, does not move locally; but He is said to descend when He does anything in the earth out of the usual course, which, as it were, makes His presence felt. And in the same way, He does not by “seeing” learn some new thing, for He cannot ever be ignorant of anything; but He is said to see and recognise, in time, that which He causes others to see and recognise. And therefore that city was not previously being seen as God made it be seen when He showed how offensive it was to Him. We might, indeed, interpret God’s descending to the city of the descent of His angels in whom He dwells; so that the following words, “And the Lord God said, Behold, they are all one race and of one language,” and also what follows, “Come, and let us go down and confound their speech,” are a recapitulation, explaining how the previously intimated “descent of the Lord” was accomplished. For if He had already gone down, why does He say, “Come, and let us go down and confound?”—words which seem to be addressed to the angels, and to intimate that He who was in the angels descended in their descent.[Pg 114] And the words most appropriately are, not, “Go ye down and confound,” but, “Let us confound their speech;” showing that He so works by His servants, that they are themselves also fellow-labourers with God, as the apostle says, “For we are fellow-labourers with God.”
6. What we are to understand by God’s speaking to the angels.
We might have supposed that the words uttered at the creation of man, “Let us,” and not Let me, “make man,” were addressed to the angels, had He not added “in our image;” but as we cannot believe that man was made in the image of angels, or that the image of God is the same as that of angels, it is proper to refer this expression to the plurality of the Trinity. And yet this Trinity, being one God, even after saying “Let us make,” goes on to say, “And God made man in His image,” and not “Gods made,” or “in their image.” And were there any difficulty in applying to the angels the words, “Come, and let us go down and confound their speech,” we might refer the plural to the Trinity, as if the Father were addressing the Son and the Holy Spirit; but it rather belongs to the angels to approach God by holy movements, that is, by pious thoughts, and thereby to avail themselves of the unchangeable truth which rules in the court of heaven as their eternal law. For they are not themselves the truth; but partaking in the creative truth, they are moved towards it as the fountain of life, that what they have not in themselves they may obtain in it. And this movement of theirs is steady, for they never go back from what they have reached. And to these angels God does not speak, as we speak to one another, or to God, or to angels, or as the angels speak to us, or as God speaks to us through them: He speaks to them in an ineffable manner of His own, and that which He says is conveyed to us in a manner suited to our capacity. For the speaking of God antecedent and superior to all His works, is the immutable reason of His work: it has no noisy and passing sound, but an energy eternally abiding and producing results in time. Thus He speaks to the holy angels; but to us, who are far off, He speaks otherwise. When, however, we[Pg 115] hear with the inner ear some part of the speech of God, we approximate to the angels. But in this work I need not labour to give an account of the ways in which God speaks. For either the unchangeable Truth speaks directly to the mind of the rational creature in some indescribable way, or speaks through the changeable creature, either presenting spiritual images to our spirit, or bodily voices to our bodily sense.
The words, “Nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do,” are assuredly not meant as an affirmation, but as an interrogation, such as is used by persons threatening, as, e.g., when Dido exclaims,
We are to understand the words as if it had been said, Shall nothing be restrained from them which they have imagined to do? From these three men, therefore, the three sons of Noah we mean, 73, or rather, as the catalogue will show, 72 nations and as many languages were dispersed over the earth, and as they increased filled even the islands. But the nations multiplied much more than the languages. For even in Africa we know several barbarous nations which have but one language; and who can doubt that, as the human race increased, men contrived to pass to the islands in ships?
7. Whether even the remotest islands received their fauna from the animals which were preserved, through the deluge, in the ark.
There is a question raised about all those kinds of beasts which are not domesticated, nor are produced like frogs from the earth, but are propagated by male and female parents, such as wolves and animals of that kind; and it is asked how they could be found in the islands after the deluge, in which all the animals not in the ark perished, unless the breed was restored from those which were preserved in pairs in the ark. It might, indeed, be said that they crossed to the islands by swimming, but this could only be true of those very near the mainland; whereas there are some so distant, that we fancy no animal could swim to them. But if men caught them[Pg 116] and took them across with themselves, and thus propagated these breeds in their new abodes, this would not imply an incredible fondness for the chase. At the same time, it cannot be denied that by the intervention of angels they might be transferred by God’s order or permission. If, however, they were produced out of the earth as at their first creation, when God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature,” this makes it more evident that all kinds of animals were preserved in the ark, not so much for the sake of renewing the stock, as of prefiguring the various nations which were to be saved in the church; this, I say, is more evident, if the earth brought forth many animals in islands to which they could not cross over.
8. Whether certain monstrous races of men are derived from the stock of Adam or Noah’s sons.
It is also asked whether we are to believe that certain monstrous races of men, spoken of in secular history, have sprung from Noah’s sons, or rather, I should say, from that one man from whom they themselves were descended. For it is reported that some have one eye in the middle of the forehead; some, feet turned backwards from the heel; some, a double sex, the right breast like a man, the left like a woman, and that they alternately beget and bring forth: others are said to have no mouth, and to breathe only through the nostrils; others are but a cubit high, and are therefore called by the Greeks “Pigmies:” they say that in some places the women conceive in their fifth year, and do not live beyond their eighth. So, too, they tell of a race who have two feet but only one leg, and are of marvellous swiftness, though they do not bend the knee: they are called Skiopodes, because in the hot weather they lie down on their backs and shade themselves with their feet. Others are said to have no head, and their eyes in their shoulders; and other human or quasi-human races are depicted in mosaic in the harbour esplanade of Carthage, on the faith of histories of rarities. What shall I say of the Cynocephali, whose dog-like head and barking[Pg 117] proclaim them beasts rather than men? But we are not bound to believe all we hear of these monstrosities. But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in colour, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.
The same account which is given of monstrous births in individual cases can be given of monstrous races. For God, the Creator of all, knows where and when each thing ought to be, or to have been created, because He sees the similarities and diversities which can contribute to the beauty of the whole. But he who cannot see the whole is offended by the deformity of the part, because he is blind to that which balances it, and to which it belongs. We know that men are born with more than four fingers on their hands or toes on their feet: this is a smaller matter; but far from us be the folly of supposing that the Creator mistook the number of a man’s fingers, though we cannot account for the difference. And so in cases where the divergence from the rule is greater. He whose works no man justly finds fault with, knows what He has done. At Hippo-Diarrhytus there is a man whose hands are crescent-shaped, and have only two fingers each, and his feet similarly formed. If there were a race like him, it would be added to the history of the curious and wonderful. Shall we therefore deny that this man is descended from that one man who was first created? As for the Androgyni, or Hermaphrodites, as they are called, though they are rare, yet from time to time there appear persons of sex so doubtful, that it remains uncertain from which sex they take their name; though it is customary to give them a masculine name, as the more worthy. For no one ever called them Hermaphroditesses. Some years ago, quite within my own memory, a man was born in the East, double in his upper, but single in his lower half—having two heads, two chests, four hands, but one body and two feet like an ordinary man; and he lived so long that many had an opportunity of seeing[Pg 118] him. But who could enumerate all the human births that have differed widely from their ascertained parents? As, therefore, no one will deny that these are all descended from that one man, so all the races which are reported to have diverged in bodily appearance from the usual course which nature generally or almost universally preserves, if they are embraced in that definition of man as rational and mortal animals, unquestionably trace their pedigree to that one first father of all. We are supposing these stories about various races who differ from one another and from us to be true; but possibly they are not: for if we were not aware that apes, and monkeys, and sphinxes are not men, but beasts, those historians would possibly describe them as races of men, and flaunt with impunity their false and vainglorious discoveries. But supposing they are men of whom these marvels are recorded, what if God has seen fit to create some races in this way, that we might not suppose that the monstrous births which appear among ourselves are the failures of that wisdom whereby He fashions the human nature, as we speak of the failure of a less perfect workman? Accordingly, it ought not to seem absurd to us, that as in individual races there are monstrous births, so in the whole race there are monstrous races. Wherefore, to conclude this question cautiously and guardedly, either these things which have been told of some races have no existence at all; or if they do exist, they are not human races; or if they are human, they are descended from Adam.
9. Whether we are to believe in the Antipodes.
But as to the fable that there are Antipodes, that is to say, men on the opposite side of the earth, where the sun rises when it sets to us, men who walk with their feet opposite ours, that is on no ground credible. And, indeed, it is not affirmed that this has been learned by historical knowledge, but by scientific conjecture, on the ground that the earth is suspended within the concavity of the sky, and that it has as much room on the one side of it as on the other: hence they say that the part which is beneath must also be inhabited. But they do not remark that, although it be supposed or scientifically demonstrated that the world is of a round and spherical form,[Pg 119] yet it does not follow that the other side of the earth is bare of water; nor even, though it be bare, does it immediately follow that it is peopled. For Scripture, which proves the truth of its historical statements by the accomplishment of its prophecies, gives no false information; and it is too absurd to say, that some men might have taken ship and traversed the whole wide ocean, and crossed from this side of the world to the other, and that thus even the inhabitants of that distant region are descended from that one first man. Wherefore let us seek if we can find the city of God that sojourns on earth among those human races who are catalogued as having been divided into seventy-two nations and as many languages. For it continued down to the deluge and the ark, and is proved to have existed still among the sons of Noah by their blessings, and chiefly in the eldest son Shem; for Japheth received this blessing, that he should dwell in the tents of Shem.
10. Of the genealogy of Shem, in whose line the city of God is preserved till the time of Abraham.
It is necessary, therefore, to preserve the series of generations descending from Shem, for the sake of exhibiting the city of God after the flood; as before the flood it was exhibited in the series of generations descending from Seth. And therefore does divine Scripture, after exhibiting the earthly city as Babylon or “Confusion,” revert to the patriarch Shem, and recapitulate the generations from him to Abraham, specifying besides, the year in which each father begat the son that belonged to this line, and how long he lived. And unquestionably it is this which fulfils the promise I made, that it should appear why it is said of the sons of Heber, “The name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided.” For what can we understand by the division of the earth, if not the diversity of languages? And, therefore, omitting the other sons of Shem, who are not concerned in this matter, Scripture gives the genealogy of those by whom the line runs on to Abraham, as before the flood those are given who carried on the line to Noah from Seth. Accordingly this series of generations begins thus: “These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two[Pg 120]years after the flood. And Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.” In like manner it registers the rest, naming the year of his life in which each begat the son who belonged to that line which extends to Abraham. It specifies, too, how many years he lived thereafter, begetting sons and daughters, that we may not childishly suppose that the men named were the only men, but may understand how the population increased, and how regions and kingdoms so vast could be populated by the descendants of Shem; especially the kingdom of Assyria, from which Ninus subdued the surrounding nations, reigning with brilliant prosperity, and bequeathing to his descendants a vast but thoroughly consolidated empire, which held together for many centuries.
But to avoid needless prolixity, we shall mention not the number of years each member of this series lived, but only the year of his life in which he begat his heir, that we may thus reckon the number of years from the flood to Abraham, and may at the same time leave room to touch briefly and cursorily upon some other matters necessary to our argument. In the second year, then, after the flood, Shem when he was a hundred years old begat Arphaxad; Arphaxad when he was 135 years old begat Cainan; Cainan when he was 130 years begat Salah. Salah himself, too, was the same age when he begat Eber. Eber lived 134 years, and begat Peleg, in whose days the earth was divided. Peleg himself lived 130 years, and begat Reu; and Reu lived 132 years, and begat Serug; Serug 130, and begat Nahor; and Nahor 79, and begat Terah; and Terah 70, and begat Abram, whose name God afterwards changed into Abraham. There are thus from the flood to Abraham 1072 years, according to the Vulgate or Septuagint versions. In the Hebrew copies far fewer years are given; and for this either no reason or a not very credible one is given.
When, therefore, we look for the city of God in these seventy-two nations, we cannot affirm that while they had but one lip, that is, one language, the human race had departed from the worship of the true God, and that genuine godliness had survived only in those generations which descend from Shem through Arphaxad and reach to Abraham;[Pg 121] but from the time when they proudly built a tower to heaven, a symbol of godless exaltation, the city or society of the wicked becomes apparent. Whether it was only disguised before, or non-existent; whether both cities remained after the flood,—the godly in the two sons of Noah who were blessed, and in their posterity, and the ungodly in the cursed son and his descendants, from whom sprang that mighty hunter against the Lord,—is not easily determined. For possibly—and certainly this is more credible—there were despisers of God among the descendants of the two sons, even before Babylon was founded, and worshippers of God among the descendants of Ham. Certainly neither race was ever obliterated from earth. For in both the Psalms in which it is said, “They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” we read further, “Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.”There was then a people of God even at that time. And therefore the words, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one,” were said of the sons of men, not of the sons of God. For it had been previously said, “God looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if any understood and sought after God;” and then follow the words which demonstrate that all the sons of men, that is, all who belong to the city which lives according to man, not according to God, are reprobate.
11. That the original language in use among men was that which was afterwards called Hebrew, from Heber, in whose family it was preserved when the confusion of tongues occurred.
Wherefore, as the fact of all using one language did not secure the absence of sin-infected men from the race,—for even before the deluge there was one language, and yet all but the single family of just Noah were found worthy of destruction by the flood,—so when the nations, by a prouder godlessness, earned the punishment of the dispersion and the confusion of tongues, and the city of the godless was called Confusion or Babylon, there was still the house of Heber in which the primitive language of the race survived. And therefore, as I have already mentioned, when an enumeration is made of the[Pg 122] sons of Shem, who each founded a nation, Heber is first mentioned, although he was of the fifth generation from Shem. And because, when the other races were divided by their own peculiar languages, his family preserved that language which is not unreasonably believed to have been the common language of the race, it was on this account thenceforth named Hebrew. For it then became necessary to distinguish this language from the rest by a proper name; though, while there was only one, it had no other name than the language of man, or human speech, it alone being spoken by the whole human race. Some one will say: If the earth was divided by languages in the days of Peleg, Heber’s son, that language, which was formerly common to all, should rather have been called after Peleg. But we are to understand that Heber himself gave to his son this name Peleg, which means Division; because he was born when the earth was divided, that is, at the very time of the division, and that this is the meaning of the words, “In his days the earth was divided.” For unless Heber had been still alive when the languages were multiplied, the language which was preserved in his house would not have been called after him. We are induced to believe that this was the primitive and common language, because the multiplication and change of languages was introduced as a punishment, and it is fit to ascribe to the people of God an immunity from this punishment. Nor is it without significance that this is the language which Abraham retained, and that he could not transmit it to all his descendants, but only to those of Jacob’s line, who distinctively and eminently constituted God’s people, and received His covenants, and were Christ’s progenitors according to the flesh. In the same way, Heber himself did not transmit that language to all his posterity, but only to the line from which Abraham sprang. And thus, although it is not expressly stated, that when the wicked were building Babylon there was a godly seed remaining, this indistinctness is intended to stimulate research rather than to elude it. For when we see that originally there was one common language, and that Heber is mentioned before all Shem’s sons, though he belonged to the fifth generation from[Pg 123] him, and that the language which the patriarchs and prophets used, not only in their conversation, but in the authoritative language of Scripture, is called Hebrew, when we are asked where that primitive and common language was preserved after the confusion of tongues, certainly, as there can be no doubt that those among whom it was preserved were exempt from the punishment it embodied, what other suggestion can we make, than that it survived in the family of him whose name it took, and that this is no small proof of the righteousness of this family, that the punishment with which the other families were visited did not fall upon it?
But yet another question is mooted: How did Heber and his son Peleg each found a nation, if they had but one language? For no doubt the Hebrew nation propagated from Heber through Abraham, and becoming through him a great people, is one nation. How, then, are all the sons of the three branches of Noah’s family enumerated as founding a nation each, if Heber and Peleg did not so? It is very probable that the giant Nimrod founded also his nation, and that Scripture has named him separately on account of the extraordinary dimensions of his empire and of his body, so that the number of seventy-two nations remains. But Peleg was mentioned, not because he founded a nation (for his race and language are Hebrew), but on account of the critical time at which he was born, all the earth being then divided. Nor ought we to be surprised that the giant Nimrod lived to the time in which Babylon was founded and the confusion of tongues occurred, and the consequent division of the earth. For though Heber was in the sixth generation from Noah, and Nimrod in the fourth, it does not follow that they could not be alive at the same time. For when the generations are few, they live longer and are born later; but when they are many, they live a shorter time, and come into the world earlier. We are to understand that, when the earth was divided, the descendants of Noah who are registered as founders of nations were not only already born, but were of an age to have immense families, worthy to be called tribes or nations. And therefore we must by no means suppose that they were born in the order in which they were set down; otherwise, how could the twelve sons of Joktan,[Pg 124] another son of Heber’s, and brother of Peleg, have already founded nations, if Joktan was born, as he is registered, after his brother Peleg, since the earth was divided at Peleg’s birth? We are therefore to understand that, though Peleg is named first, he was born long after Joktan, whose twelve sons had already families so large as to admit of their being divided by different languages. There is nothing extraordinary in the last born being first named: of the sons of Noah, the descendants of Japheth are first named; then the sons of Ham, who was the second son; and last the sons of Shem, who was the first and oldest. Of these nations the names have partly survived, so that at this day we can see from whom they have sprung, as the Assyrians from Assur, the Hebrews from Heber, but partly have been altered in the lapse of time, so that the most learned men, by profound research in ancient records, have scarcely been able to discover the origin, I do not say of all, but of some of these nations. There is, for example, nothing in the name Egyptians to show that they are descended from Misraim, Ham’s son, nor in the name Ethiopians to show a connection with Cush, though such is said to be the origin of these nations. And if we take a general survey of the names, we shall find that more have been changed than have remained the same.
12. Of the era in Abraham’s life from which a new period in the holy succession begins.
Let us now survey the progress of the city of God from the era of the patriarch Abraham, from whose time it begins to be more conspicuous, and the divine promises which are now fulfilled in Christ are more fully revealed. We learn, then, from the intimations of holy Scripture, that Abraham was born in the country of the Chaldeans, a land belonging to the Assyrian empire. Now, even at that time impious superstitions were rife with the Chaldeans, as with other nations. The family of Terah, to which Abraham belonged, was the only one in which the worship of the true God survived, and the only one, we may suppose, in which the Hebrew language was preserved; although Joshua the son of Nun tells us that even this family served other gods in Mesopotamia. The[Pg 125] other descendants of Heber gradually became absorbed in other races and other languages. And thus, as the single family of Noah was preserved through the deluge of water to renew the human race, so, in the deluge of superstition that flooded the whole world, there remained but the one family of Terah in which the seed of God’s city was preserved. And as, when Scripture has enumerated the generations prior to Noah, with their ages, and explained the cause of the flood before God began to speak to Noah about the building of the ark, it is said, “These are the generations of Noah;” so also now, after enumerating the generations from Shem, Noah’s son, down to Abraham, it then signalizes an era by saying, “These are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.” This Iscah is supposed to be the same as Sarah, Abraham’s wife.
13. Why, in the account of Terah’s emigration, on his forsaking the Chaldeans and passing over into Mesopotamia, no mention is made of his son Nahor.
Next it is related how Terah with his family left the region of the Chaldeans and came into Mesopotamia, and dwelt in Haran. But nothing is said about one of his sons called Nahor, as if he had not taken him along with him. For the narrative runs thus: “And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarah his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and led them forth out of the region of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; and he came into Haran, and dwelt there.”Nahor and Milcah his wife are nowhere named here. But afterwards, when Abraham sent his servant to take a wife for his son Isaac, we find it thus written: “And the servant took ten camels of the camels of his lord, and of all the goods of his lord, with him; and arose, and went into Mesopotamia, into the city of Nahor.” This and other testimonies of this sacred history show that Nahor, Abraham’s brother, had also left the[Pg 126] region of the Chaldeans, and fixed his abode in Mesopotamia, where Abraham dwelt with his father. Why, then, did the Scripture not mention him, when Terah with his family went forth out of the Chaldean nation and dwelt in Haran, since it mentions that he took with him not only Abraham his son, but also Sarah his daughter-in-law, and Lot his grandson? The only reason we can think of is, that perhaps he had lapsed from the piety of his father and brother, and adhered to the superstition of the Chaldeans, and had afterwards emigrated thence, either through penitence, or because he was persecuted as a suspected person. For in the book called Judith, when Holofernes, the enemy of the Israelites, inquired what kind of nation that might be, and whether war should be made against them, Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, answered him thus: “Let our lord now hear a word from the mouth of thy servant, and I will declare unto thee the truth concerning the people which dwelleth near thee in this hill country, and there shall no lie come out of the mouth of thy servant. For this people is descended from the Chaldeans, and they dwelt heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were glorious in the land of the Chaldeans, but went out of the way of their ancestors, and adored the God of heaven, whom they knew; and they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia, and dwelt there many days. And their God said to them, that they should depart from their habitation, and go into the land of Canaan; and they dwelt,” etc., as Achior the Ammonite narrates. Whence it is manifest that the house of Terah had suffered persecution from the Chaldeans for the true piety with which they worshipped the one and true God.
14. Of the years of Terah, who completed his lifetime in Haran.
On Terah’s death in Mesopotamia, where he is said to have lived 205 years, the promises of God made to Abraham now begin to be pointed out; for thus it is written: “And the days of Terah in Haran were two hundred and five years, and he died in Haran.” This is not to be taken as if he had spent all his days there, but that he there completed the days of his[Pg 127] life, which were two hundred and five years: otherwise it would not be known how many years Terah lived, since it is not said in what year of his life he came into Haran; and it is absurd to suppose that, in this series of generations, where it is carefully recorded how many years each one lived, his age was the only one not put on record. For although some whom the same Scripture mentions have not their age recorded, they are not in this series, in which the reckoning of time is continuously indicated by the death of the parents and the succession of the children. For this series, which is given in order from Adam to Noah, and from him down to Abraham, contains no one without the number of the years of his life.
15. Of the time of the migration of Abraham, when, according to the commandment of God, he went out from Haran.
When, after the record of the death of Terah, the father of Abraham, we next read, “And the Lord said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house,” etc., it is not to be supposed, because this follows in the order of the narrative, that it also followed in the chronological order of events. For if it were so, there would be an insoluble difficulty. For after these words of God which were spoken to Abraham, the Scripture says: “And Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him. Now Abraham was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran.” How can this be true if he departed from Haran after his father’s death? For when Terah was seventy years old, as is intimated above, he begat Abraham; and if to this number we add the seventy-five years which Abraham reckoned when he went out of Haran, we get 145 years. Therefore that was the number of the years of Terah, when Abraham departed out of that city of Mesopotamia; for he had reached the seventy-fifth year of his life, and thus his father, who begat him in the seventieth year of his life, had reached, as was said, his 145th. Therefore he did not depart thence after his father’s death, that is, after the 205 years his father lived; but the year of his departure from that place, seeing it was his seventy-fifth, is inferred beyond a doubt to have been the 145th of his father, who begat him[Pg 128] in his seventieth year. And thus it is to be understood that the Scripture, according to its custom, has gone back to the time which had already been passed by the narrative; just as above, when it had mentioned the grandsons of Noah, it said that they were in their nations and tongues; and yet afterwards, as if this also had followed in order of time, it says, “And the whole earth was of one lip, and one speech for all.” How, then, could they be said to be in their own nations and according to their own tongues, if there was one for all; except because the narrative goes back to gather up what it had passed over? Here, too, in the same way, after saying, “And the days of Terah in Haran were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran,” the Scripture, going back to what had been passed over in order to complete what had been begun about Terah, says, “And the Lord said to Abram, Get thee out of thy country,” etc. After which words of God it is added, “And Abram departed, as the Lord spake unto him; and Lot went with him. But Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed out of Haran.” Therefore it was done when his father was in the 145th year of his age; for it was then the seventy-fifth of his own. But this question is also solved in another way, that the seventy-five years of Abraham when he departed out of Haran are reckoned from the year in which he was delivered from the fire of the Chaldeans, not from that of his birth, as if he was rather to be held as having been born then.
Now the blessed Stephen, in narrating these things in the Acts of the Apostles, says: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran, and said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, and come into the land which I will show thee.” According to these words of Stephen, God spoke to Abraham, not after the death of his father, who certainly died in Haran, where his son also dwelt with him, but before he dwelt in that city, although he was already in Mesopotamia. Therefore he had already departed from the Chaldeans. So that when Stephen adds, “Then Abraham went out of the land of[Pg 129] the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charran,” this does not point out what took place after God spoke to him (for it was not after these words of God that he went out of the land of the Chaldeans, since he says that God spoke to him in Mesopotamia), but the word “then” which he uses refers to that whole period from his going out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelling in Haran. Likewise in what follows, “And thenceforth, when his father was dead, he settled him in this land, wherein ye now dwell, and your fathers,” he does not say, after his father was dead he went out from Haran; but thenceforth he settled him here, after his father was dead. It is to be understood, therefore, that God had spoken to Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran; but that he came to Haran with his father, keeping in mind the precept of God, and that he went out thence in his own seventy-fifth year, which was his father’s 145th. But he says that his settlement in the land of Canaan, not his going forth from Haran, took place after his father’s death; because his father was already dead when he purchased the land, and personally entered on possession of it. But when, on his having already settled in Mesopotamia, that is, already gone out of the land of the Chaldeans, God says, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house,” this means, not that he should cast out his body from thence, for he had already done that, but that he should tear away his soul. For he had not gone out from thence in mind, if he was held by the hope and desire of returning,—a hope and desire which was to be cut off by God’s command and help, and by his own obedience. It would indeed be no incredible supposition that afterwards, when Nahor followed his father, Abraham then fulfilled the precept of the Lord, that he should depart out of Haran with Sarah his wife and Lot his brother’s son.
16. Of the order and nature of the promises of God which were made to Abraham.
God’s promises made to Abraham are now to be considered; for in these the oracles of our God, that is, of the true God,[Pg 130] began to appear more openly concerning the godly people, whom prophetic authority foretold. The first of these reads thus: “And the Lord said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, and go into a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name; and thou shalt be blessed: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee: and in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” Now it is to be observed that two things are promised to Abraham, the one, that his seed should possess the land of Canaan, which is intimated when it is said, “Go into a land that I will show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation;” but the other far more excellent, not about the carnal but the spiritual seed, through which he is the father, not of the one Israelite nation, but of all nations who follow the footprints of his faith, which was first promised in these words, “And in thee shall all tribes of the earth be blessed.” Eusebius thought this promise was made in Abraham’s seventy-fifth year, as if soon after it was made Abraham had departed out of Haran; because the Scripture cannot be contradicted, in which we read, “Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.” But if this promise was made in that year, then of course Abraham was staying in Haran with his father; for he could not depart thence unless he had first dwelt there. Does this, then, contradict what Stephen says, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran?” But it is to be understood that the whole took place in the same year,—both the promise of God before Abraham dwelt in Haran, and his dwelling in Haran, and his departure thence,—not only because Eusebius in the Chronicles reckons from the year of this promise, and shows that after 430 years the exodus from Egypt took place, when the law was given, but because the Apostle Paul also mentions it.
17. Of the three most famous kingdoms of the nations, of which one, that is, the Assyrian, was already very eminent when Abraham was born.
During the same period there were three famous kingdoms[Pg 131] of the nations, in which the city of the earth-born, that is, the society of men living according to man under the domination of the fallen angels, chiefly flourished, namely, the three kingdoms of Sicyon, Egypt, and Assyria. Of these, Assyria was much the most powerful and sublime; for that king Ninus, son of Belus, had subdued the people of all Asia except India. By Asia I now mean not that part which is one province of this greater Asia, but what is called Universal Asia, which some set down as the half, but most as the third part of the whole world,—the three being Asia, Europe, and Africa, thereby making an unequal division. For the part called Asia stretches from the south through the east even to the north; Europe from the north even to the west; and Africa from the west even to the south. Thus we see that two, Europe and Africa, contain one half of the world, and Asia alone the other half. And these two parts are made by the circumstance, that there enters between them from the ocean all the Mediterranean water, which makes this great sea of ours. So that, if you divide the world into two parts, the east and the west, Asia will be in the one, and Europe and Africa in the other. So that of the three kingdoms then famous, one, namely Sicyon, was not under the Assyrians, because it was in Europe; but as for Egypt, how could it fail to be subject to the empire which ruled all Asia with the single exception of India? In Assyria, therefore, the dominion of the impious city had the pre-eminence. Its head was Babylon,—an earth-born city, most fitly named, for it means confusion. There Ninus reigned after the death of his father Belus, who first had reigned there sixty-five years. His son Ninus, who, on his father’s death, succeeded to the kingdom, reigned fifty-two years, and had been king forty-three years when Abraham was born, which was about the 1200th year before Rome was founded, as it were another Babylon in the west.
18. Of the repeated address of God to Abraham, in which He promised the land of Canaan to him and to his seed.
Abraham, then, having departed out of Haran in the seventy-fifth year of his own age, and in the hundred and forty-fifth of his father’s, went with Lot, his brother’s son, and Sarah his wife, into the land of Canaan, and came even to[Pg 132] Sichem, where again he received the divine oracle, of which it is thus written: “And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Nothing is promised here about that seed in which he is made the father of all nations, but only about that by which he is the father of the one Israelite nation; for by this seed that land was possessed.
19. Of the divine preservation of Sarah’s chastity in Egypt, when Abraham had called her not his wife but his sister.
Having built an altar there, and called upon God, Abraham proceeded thence and dwelt in the desert, and was compelled by pressure of famine to go on into Egypt. There he called his wife his sister, and told no lie. For she was this also, because she was near of blood; just as Lot, on account of the same nearness, being his brother’s son, is called his brother. Now he did not deny that she was his wife, but held his peace about it, committing to God the defence of his wife’s chastity, and providing as a man against human wiles; because if he had not provided against the danger as much as he could, he would have been tempting God rather than trusting in Him. We have said enough about this matter against the calumnies of Faustus the Manichæan. At last what Abraham had expected the Lord to do took place. For Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who had taken her to him as his wife, restored her to her husband on being severely plagued. And far be it from us to believe that she was defiled by lying with another; because it is much more credible that, by these great afflictions, Pharaoh was not permitted to do this.
20. Of the parting of Lot and Abraham, which they agreed to without breach of charity.
On Abraham’s return out of Egypt to the place he had left, Lot, his brother’s son, departed from him into the land of Sodom, without breach of charity. For they had grown rich, and began to have many herdmen of cattle, and when these strove together, they avoided in this way the pugnacious discord of their families. Indeed, as human affairs go, this cause might even have given rise to some strife between themselves. Consequently these are the words of Abraham to Lot, when taking[Pg 133] precaution against this evil, “Let there be no strife between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. Behold, is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself from me: if thou wilt go to the left hand, I will go to the right; or if thou wilt go to the right hand, I will go to the left.” From this, perhaps, has arisen a pacific custom among men, that when there is any partition of earthly things, the greater should make the division, the less the choice.
21. Of the third promise of God, by which He assured the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed in perpetuity.
Now, when Abraham and Lot had separated, and dwelt apart, owing to the necessity of supporting their families, and not to vile discord, and Abraham was in the land of Canaan, but Lot in Sodom, the Lord said to Abraham in a third oracle, “Lift up thine eyes, and look from the place where thou now art, to the north, and to Africa, and to the east, and to the sea; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any one can number the dust of the earth, thy seed shall also be numbered. Arise, and walk through the land, in the length of it, and in the breadth of it; for unto thee will I give it.” It does not clearly appear whether in this promise that also is contained by which he is made the father of all nations. For the clause, “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth,” may seem to refer to this, being spoken by that figure the Greeks call hyperbole, which indeed is figurative, not literal. But no person of understanding can doubt in what manner the Scripture uses this and other figures. For that figure (that is, way of speaking) is used when what is said is far larger than what is meant by it; for who does not see how incomparably larger the number of the dust must be than that of all men can be from Adam himself down to the end of the world? How much greater, then, must it be than the seed of Abraham,—not only that pertaining to the nation of Israel, but also that which is and shall be according to the imitation of faith in all nations of the whole wide world! For that seed is indeed very small in[Pg 134] comparison with the multitude of the wicked, although even those few of themselves make an innumerable multitude, which by a hyperbole is compared to the dust of the earth. Truly that multitude which was promised to Abraham is not innumerable to God, although to man; but to God not even the dust of the earth is so. Further, the promise here made may be understood not only of the nation of Israel, but of the whole seed of Abraham, which may be fitly compared to the dust for multitude, because regarding it also there is the promise of many children, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. But we have therefore said that this does not clearly appear, because the multitude even of that one nation, which was born according to the flesh of Abraham through his grandson Jacob, has increased so much as to fill almost all parts of the world. Consequently, even it might by hyperbole be compared to the dust for multitude, because even it alone is innumerable by man. Certainly no one questions that only that land is meant which is called Canaan. But that saying, “To thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever,” may move some, if by “for ever” they understand “to eternity.” But if in this passage they take “for ever” thus, as we firmly hold it means, that the beginning of the world to come is to be ordered from the end of the present, there is still no difficulty, because, although the Israelites are expelled from Jerusalem, they still remain in other cities in the land of Canaan, and shall remain even to the end; and when that whole land is inhabited by Christians, they also are the very seed of Abraham.
22. Of Abraham’s overcoming the enemies of Sodom, when he delivered Lot from captivity and was blessed by Melchizedek the priest.
Having received this oracle of promise, Abraham migrated, and remained in another place of the same land, that is, beside the oak of Mamre, which was Hebron. Then on the invasion of Sodom, when five kings carried on war against four, and Lot was taken captive with the conquered Sodomites, Abraham delivered him from the enemy, leading with him to battle three hundred and eighteen of his home-born servants, and won the victory for the kings of Sodom, but would take nothing of the spoils when offered by the king[Pg 135] for whom he had won them. He was then openly blessed by Melchizedek, who was priest of God Most High, about whom many and great things are written in the epistle which is inscribed to the Hebrews, which most say is by the Apostle Paul, though some deny this. For then first appeared the sacrifice which is now offered to God by Christians in the whole wide world, and that is fulfilled which long after the event was said by the prophet to Christ, who was yet to come in the flesh, “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek,”—that is to say, not after the order of Aaron, for that order was to be taken away when the things shone forth which were intimated beforehand by these shadows.
23. Of the word of the Lord to Abraham, by which it was promised to him that his posterity should be multiplied according to the multitude of the stars; on believing which he was declared justified while yet in uncircumcision.
The word of the Lord came to Abraham in a vision also. For when God promised him protection and exceeding great reward, he, being solicitous about posterity, said that a certain Eliezer of Damascus, born in his house, would be his heir. Immediately he was promised an heir, not that house-born servant, but one who was to come forth of Abraham himself; and again a seed innumerable, not as the dust of the earth, but as the stars of heaven,—which rather seems to me a promise of a posterity exalted in celestial felicity. For, so far as multitude is concerned, what are the stars of heaven to the dust of the earth, unless one should say the comparison is like inasmuch as the stars also cannot be numbered? For it is not to be believed that all of them can be seen. For the more keenly one observes them, the more does he see. So that it is to be supposed some remain concealed from the keenest observers, to say nothing of those stars which are said to rise and set in another part of the world most remote from us. Finally, the authority of this book condemns those like Aratus or Eudoxus, or any others who boast that they have found out and written down the complete number of the stars. Here, indeed, is set down that sentence which the apostle quotes in order to commend the grace of God, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness;”lest the circumcision[Pg 136] should glory, and be unwilling to receive the uncircumcised nations to the faith of Christ. For at the time when he believed, and his faith was counted to him for righteousness, Abraham had not yet been circumcised.
In the same vision, God in speaking to him also says, “I am God that brought thee out of the region of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” And when Abram asked whereby he might know that he should inherit it, God said to him, “Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another; but the birds divided he not. And the fowls came down,” as it is written, “on the carcases, and Abram sat down by them. But about the going down of the sun, great fear fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And He said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and they shall reduce them to servitude; and shall afflict them four hundred years: but the nation whom they shall serve will I judge; and afterward shall they come out hither with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; kept in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And when the sun was setting, there was a flame, and a smoking furnace, and lamps of fire, that passed through between those pieces. In that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river Euphrates: the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.”
All these things were said and done in a vision from God; but it would take long, and would exceed the scope of this work, to treat of them exactly in detail. It is enough that we should know that, after it was said Abram believed in[Pg 137] God, and it was counted to him for righteousness, he did not fail in faith in saying, “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” for the inheritance of that land was promised to him. Now he does not say, How shall I know, as if he did not yet believe; but he says, “Whereby shall I know,” meaning that some sign might be given by which he might know the manner of those things which he had believed, just as it is not for lack of faith the Virgin Mary says, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” for she inquired as to the way in which that should take place which she was certain would come to pass. And when she asked this, she was told, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.” Here also, in fine, a symbol was given, consisting of three animals, a heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, and two birds, a turtle-dove and pigeon, that he might know that the things which he had not doubted should come to pass were to happen in accordance with this symbol. Whether, therefore, the heifer was a sign that the people should be put under the law, the she-goat that the same people was to become sinful, the ram that they should reign (and these animals are said to be of three years old for this reason, that there are three remarkable divisions of time, from Adam to Noah, and from him to Abraham, and from him to David, who, on the rejection of Saul, was first established by the will of the Lord in the kingdom of the Israelite nation: in this third division, which extends from Abraham to David, that people grew up as if passing through the third age of life), or whether they had some other more suitable meaning, still I have no doubt whatever that spiritual things were prefigured by them as well as by the turtle-dove and pigeon. And it is said, “But the birds divided he not,” because carnal men are divided among themselves, but the spiritual not at all, whether they seclude themselves from the busy conversation of men, like the turtle-dove, or dwell among them, like the pigeon; for both birds are simple and harmless, signifying that even in the Israelite people, to which that land was to be given, there would be individuals who were children of the promise, and[Pg 138] heirs of the kingdom that is to remain in eternal felicity. But the fowls coming down on the divided carcases represent nothing good, but the spirits of this air, seeking some food for themselves in the division of carnal men. But that Abraham sat down with them, signifies that even amid these divisions of the carnal, true believers shall persevere to the end. And that about the going down of the sun great fear fell upon Abraham and a horror of great darkness, signifies that about the end of this world believers shall be in great perturbation and tribulation, of which the Lord said in the gospel, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning.”
But what is said to Abraham, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and they shall reduce them to servitude, and shall afflict them 400 years,” is most clearly a prophecy about the people of Israel which was to be in servitude in Egypt. Not that this people was to be in that servitude under the oppressive Egyptians for 400 years, but it is foretold that this should take place in the course of those 400 years. For as it is written of Terah the father of Abraham, “And the days of Terah in Haran were 205 years,” not because they were all spent there, but because they were completed there, so it is said here also, “And they shall reduce them to servitude, and shall afflict them 400 years,” for this reason, because that number was completed, not because it was all spent in that affliction. The years are said to be 400 in round numbers, although they were a little more,—whether you reckon from this time, when these things were promised to Abraham, or from the birth of Isaac, as the seed of Abraham, of which these things are predicted. For, as we have already said above, from the seventy-fifth year of Abraham, when the first promise was made to him, down to the exodus of Israel from Egypt, there are reckoned 430 years, which the apostle thus mentions: “And this I say, that the covenant confirmed by God, the law, which was made 430 years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.”[Pg 139] So then these 430 years might be called 400, because they are not much more, especially since part even of that number had already gone by when these things were shown and said to Abraham in vision, or when Isaac was born in his father’s 100th year, twenty-five years after the first promise, when of these 430 years there now remained 405, which God was pleased to call 400. No one will doubt that the other things which follow in the prophetic words of God pertain to the people of Israel.
When it is added, “And when the sun was now setting there was a flame, and lo, a smoking furnace, and lamps of fire, which passed through between those pieces,” this signifies that at the end of the world the carnal shall be judged by fire. For just as the affliction of the city of God, such as never was before, which is expected to take place under Antichrist, was signified by Abraham’s horror of great darkness about the going down of the sun, that is, when the end of the world draws nigh,—so at the going down of the sun, that is, at the very end of the world, there is signified by that fire the day of judgment, which separates the carnal who are to be saved by fire from those who are to be condemned in the fire. And then the covenant made with Abraham particularly sets forth the land of Canaan, and names eleven tribes in it from the river of Egypt even to the great river Euphrates. It is not then from the great river of Egypt, that is, the Nile, but from a small one which separates Egypt from Palestine, where the city of Rhinocorura is.
25. Of Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, whom she herself wished to be Abraham’s concubine.
And here follow the times of Abraham’s sons, the one by Hagar the bond maid, the other by Sarah the free woman, about whom we have already spoken in the previous book. As regards this transaction, Abraham is in no way to be branded as guilty concerning this concubine, for he used her for the begetting of progeny, not for the gratification of lust; and not to insult, but rather to obey his wife, who supposed it would be a solace of her barrenness if she could make use of the fruitful womb of her handmaid to supply the defect of her own nature, and by that law of which[Pg 140] the apostle says, “Likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife,”could, as a wife, make use of him for childbearing by another, when she could not do so in her own person. Here there is no wanton lust, no filthy lewdness. The handmaid is delivered to the husband by the wife for the sake of progeny, and is received by the husband for the sake of progeny, each seeking, not guilty excess, but natural fruit. And when the pregnant bond woman despised her barren mistress, and Sarah, with womanly jealousy, rather laid the blame of this on her husband, even then Abraham showed that he was not a slavish lover, but a free begetter of children, and that in using Hagar he had guarded the chastity of Sarah his wife, and had gratified her will and not his own,—had received her without seeking, had gone in to her without being attached, had impregnated without loving her,—for he says, “Behold thy maid is in thy hands: do to her as it pleaseth thee;” a man able to use women as a man should,—his wife temperately, his handmaid compliantly, neither intemperately!
26. Of God’s attestation to Abraham, by which He assures him, when now old, of a son by the barren Sarah, and appoints him the father of the nations, and seals his faith in the promise by the sacrament of circumcision.
After these things Ishmael was born of Hagar; and Abraham might think that in him was fulfilled what God had promised him, saying, when he wished to adopt his home-born servant, “This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth of thee, he shall be thine heir.” Therefore, lest he should think that what was promised was fulfilled in the handmaid’s son, “when Abram was ninety years old and nine, God appeared to him, and said unto him, I am God; be well-pleasing in my sight, and be without complaint, and I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will fill thee exceedingly.”
Here there are more distinct promises about the calling of the nations in Isaac, that is, in the son of the promise, by which grace is signified, and not nature; for the son is promised from an old man and a barren old woman. For[Pg 141] although God effects even the natural course of procreation, yet where the agency of God is manifest, through the decay or failure of nature, grace is more plainly discerned. And because this was to be brought about, not by generation, but by regeneration, circumcision was enjoined now, when a son was promised of Sarah. And by ordering all, not only sons, but also home-born and purchased servants to be circumcised, he testifies that this grace pertains to all. For what else does circumcision signify than a nature renewed on the putting off of the old? And what else does the eighth day mean than Christ, who rose again when the week was completed, that is, after the Sabbath? The very names of the parents are changed: all things proclaim newness, and the new covenant is shadowed forth in the old. For what does the term old covenant imply but the concealing of the new? And what does the term new covenant imply but the revealing of the old? The laughter of Abraham is the exultation of one who rejoices, not the scornful laughter of one who mistrusts. And those words of his in his heart, “Shall a son be born to me that am an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” are not the words of doubt, but of wonder. And when it is said, “And I will give to thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land in which thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession,” if it troubles any one whether this is to be held as fulfilled, or whether its fulfilment may still be looked for, since no kind of earthly possession can be everlasting for any nation whatever, let him know that the word translated everlasting by our writers is what the Greeks term αἰώνιον, which is derived from αἰὼν, the Greek for sæculum, an age. But the Latins have not ventured to translate this by secular, lest they should change the meaning into something widely different. For many things are called secular which so happen in this world as to pass away even in a short time; but what is termed αἰώνιον either has no end, or lasts to the very end of this world.
27. Of the male, who was to lose his soul if he was not circumcised on the eighth day, because he had broken God’s covenant.
When it is said, “The male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people,[Pg 142] because he hath broken my covenant,” some may be troubled how that ought to be understood, since it can be no fault of the infant whose life it is said must perish, nor has the covenant of God been broken by him, but by his parents, who have not taken care to circumcise him. But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die.”Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shalt die the death.” Now, as the law was more plainly given afterward, and the apostle says, “Where no law is, there is no prevarication,” on what supposition is what is said in the psalm true, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” except that all who are held liable for any sin are accused of dealing deceitfully (prevaricating) with some law? If on this account, then, even the infants are, according to the true belief, born in sin, not actual but original, so that we confess they have need of grace for the remission of sins, certainly it must be acknowledged that in the same sense in which they are sinners they are also prevaricators of that law which was given in Paradise, according to the truth of both scriptures, “I accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators,” and “Where no law is, there is no prevarication.” And thus, because circumcision was the sign of regeneration, and the infant, on account of the original sin by which God’s covenant was first broken, was not undeservedly to lose his generation unless delivered by regeneration, these divine words are to be understood as if it had been said, Whoever is not born again, that soul shall perish from his people, because he hath broken my covenant, since he also has sinned in Adam with all[Pg 143] others. For had He said, Because he hath broken this my covenant, He would have compelled us to understand by it only this of circumcision; but since He has not expressly said what covenant the infant has broken, we are free to understand Him as speaking of that covenant of which the breach can be ascribed to an infant. Yet if any one contends that it is said of nothing else than circumcision, that in it the infant has broken the covenant of God because he is not circumcised, he must seek some method of explanation by which it may be understood without absurdity (such as this) that he has broken the covenant, because it has been broken in him although not by him. Yet in this case also it is to be observed that the soul of the infant, being guilty of no sin of neglect against itself, would perish unjustly, unless original sin rendered it obnoxious to punishment.
28. Of the change of name in Abraham and Sarah, who received the gift of fecundity when they were incapable of regeneration owing to the barrenness of one, and the old age of both.
Now when a promise so great and clear was made to Abraham, in which it was so plainly said to him, “I have made thee a father of many nations, and I will increase thee exceedingly, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall go forth of thee. And I will give thee a son of Sarah; and I will bless him, and he shall become nations, and kings of nations shall be of him,”—a promise which we now see fulfilled in Christ,—from that time forward this couple are not called in Scripture, as formerly, Abram and Sarai, but Abraham and Sarah, as we have called them from the first, for every one does so now. The reason why the name of Abraham was changed is given: “For,” He says, “I have made thee a father of many nations.” This, then, is to be understood to be the meaning of Abraham; but Abram, as he was formerly called, means “exalted father.” The reason of the change of Sarah’s name is not given; but as those say who have written interpretations of the Hebrew names contained in these books, Sarah means “my princess,” and Sarai “strength.” Whence it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength[Pg 144] to conceive seed.” For both were old, as the Scripture testifies; but she was also barren, and had ceased to menstruate, so that she could no longer bear children even if she had not been barren. Further, if a woman is advanced in years, yet still retains the custom of women, she can bear children to a young man, but not to an old man, although that same old man can beget, but only of a young woman; as after Sarah’s death Abraham could of Keturah, because he met with her in her lively age. This, then, is what the apostle mentions as wonderful, saying, besides, that Abraham’s body was now dead; because at that age he was no longer able to beget children of any woman who retained now only a small part of her natural vigour. Of course we must understand that his body was dead only to some purposes, not to all; for if it was so to all, it would no longer be the aged body of a living man, but the corpse of a dead one. Although that question, how Abraham begot children of Keturah, is usually solved in this way, that the gift of begetting which he received from the Lord, remained even after the death of his wife, yet I think that solution of the question which I have followed is preferable, because, although in our days an old man of a hundred years can beget children of no woman, it was not so then, when men still lived so long that a hundred years did not yet bring on them the decrepitude of old age.
29. Of the three men or angels, in whom the Lord is related to have appeared to Abraham at the oak of Mamre.
God appeared again to Abraham at the oak of Mamre in three men, who it is not to be doubted were angels, although some think that one of them was Christ, and assert that He was visible before He put on flesh. Now it belongs to the divine power, and invisible, incorporeal, and incommutable nature, without changing itself at all, to appear even to mortal men, not by what it is, but by what is subject to it. And what is not subject to it? Yet if they try to establish that one of these three was Christ by the fact that, although he saw three, he addressed the Lord in the singular, as it is written, “And, lo, three men stood by him: and, when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent-door, and worshipped[Pg 145] toward the ground, and said, Lord, if I have found favour before thee,” etc.; why do they not advert to this also, that when two of them came to destroy the Sodomites, while Abraham still spoke to one, calling him Lord, and interceding that he would not destroy the righteous along with the wicked in Sodom, Lot received these two in such a way that he too in his conversation with them addressed the Lord in the singular? For after saying to them in the plural, “Behold, my lords, turn aside into your servant’s house,” etc., yet it is afterwards said, “And the angels laid hold upon his hand, and the hand of his wife, and the hands of his two daughters, because the Lord was merciful unto him. And it came to pass, whenever they had led him forth abroad, that they said, Save thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all this region: save thyself in the mountain, lest thou be caught. And Lot said unto them, I pray thee, Lord, since thy servant hath found grace in thy sight,” etc. And then after these words the Lord also answered him in the singular, although He was in two angels, saying, “See, I have accepted thy face,” etc. This makes it much more credible that both Abraham in the three men and Lot in the two recognised the Lord, addressing Him in the singular number, even when they were addressing men; for they received them as they did for no other reason than that they might minister human refection to them as men who needed it. Yet there was about them something so excellent, that those who showed them hospitality as men could not doubt that God was in them as He was wont to be in the prophets, and therefore sometimes addressed them in the plural, and sometimes God in them in the singular. But that they were angels the Scripture testifies, not only in this book of Genesis, in which these transactions are related, but also in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where in praising hospitality it is said, “For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” By these three men, then, when a son Isaac was again promised to Abraham by Sarah, such a divine oracle was also given that it was said, “Abraham shall become a great and numerous nation, and all[Pg 146] the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him.” And here these two things are promised with the utmost brevity and fulness,—the nation of Israel according to the flesh, and all nations according to faith.
30. Of Lot’s deliverance from Sodom, and its consumption by fire from heaven; and of Abimelech, whose lust could not harm Sarah’s chastity.
After this promise Lot was delivered out of Sodom, and a fiery rain from heaven turned into ashes that whole region of the impious city, where custom had made sodomy as prevalent as laws have elsewhere made other kinds of wickedness. But this punishment of theirs was a specimen of the divine judgment to come. For what is meant by the angels forbidding those who were delivered to look back, but that we are not to look back in heart to the old life which, being regenerated through grace, we have put off, if we think to escape the last judgment? Lot’s wife, indeed, when she looked back, remained, and, being turned into salt, furnished to believing men a condiment by which to savour somewhat the warning to be drawn from that example. Then Abraham did again at Gerar, with Abimelech the king of that city, what he had done in Egypt about his wife, and received her back untouched in the same way. On this occasion, when the king rebuked Abraham for not saying she was his wife, and calling her his sister, he explained what he had been afraid of, and added this further, “And yet indeed she is my sister by the father’s side, but not by the mother’s;” for she was Abraham’s sister by his own father, and so near of kin. But her beauty was so great, that even at that advanced age she could be fallen in love with.
31. Of Isaac, who was born according to the promise, whose name was given on account of the laughter of both parents.
After these things a son was born to Abraham, according to God’s promise, of Sarah, and was called Isaac, which means laughter. For his father had laughed when he was promised to him, in wondering delight, and his mother, when he was again promised by those three men, had laughed, doubting for joy; yet she was blamed by the angel because that laughter, although it was for joy, yet was not full of faith. Afterwards[Pg 147] she was confirmed in faith by the same angel. From this, then, the boy got his name. For when Isaac was born and called by that name, Sarah showed that her laughter was not that of scornful reproach, but that of joyful praise; for she said, “God hath made me to laugh, so that every one who hears will laugh with me.” Then in a little while the bond maid was cast out of the house with her son; and, according to the apostle, these two women signify the old and new covenants,—Sarah representing that of the Jerusalem which is above, that is, the city of God.
32. Of Abraham’s obedience and faith, which were proved by the offering up of his son in sacrifice; and of Sarah’s death.
Among other things, of which it would take too long time to mention the whole, Abraham was tempted about the offering up of his well-beloved son Isaac, to prove his pious obedience, and so make it known to the world, not to God. Now every temptation is not blameworthy; it may even be praiseworthy, because it furnishes probation. And, for the most part, the human mind cannot attain to self-knowledge otherwise than by making trial of its powers through temptation, by some kind of experimental and not merely verbal self-interrogation; when, if it has acknowledged the gift of God, it is pious, and is consolidated by stedfast grace and not puffed up by vain boasting. Of course Abraham could never believe that God delighted in human sacrifices; yet when the divine commandment thundered, it was to be obeyed, not disputed. Yet Abraham is worthy of praise, because he all along believed that his son, on being offered up, would rise again; for God had said to him, when he was unwilling to fulfil his wife’s pleasure by casting out the bond maid and her son, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” No doubt He then goes on to say, “And as for the son of this bond woman, I will make him a great nation, because he is thy seed.” How then is it said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” when God calls Ishmael also his seed? The apostle, in explaining this, says, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called, that is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but[Pg 148] the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” In order, then, that the children of the promise may be the seed of Abraham, they are called in Isaac, that is, are gathered together in Christ by the call of grace. Therefore the father, holding fast from the first the promise which behoved to be fulfilled through this son whom God had ordered him to slay, did not doubt that he whom he once thought it hopeless he should ever receive would be restored to him when he had offered him up. It is in this way the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews is also to be understood and explained. “By faith,” he says, “Abraham overcame, when tempted about Isaac: and he who had received the promise offered up his only son, to whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called: thinking that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead;” therefore he has added, “from whence also he received him in a similitude.” In whose similitude but His of whom the apostle says, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all?” And on this account Isaac also himself carried to the place of sacrifice the wood on which he was to be offered up, just as the Lord Himself carried His own cross. Finally, since Isaac was not to be slain, after his father was forbidden to smite him, who was that ram by the offering of which that sacrifice was completed with typical blood? For when Abraham saw him, he was caught by the horns in a thicket. What, then, did he represent but Jesus, who, before He was offered up, was crowned with thorns by the Jews?
But let us rather hear the divine words spoken through the angel. For the Scripture says, “And Abraham stretched forth his hand to take the knife, that he might slay his son. And the Angel of the Lord called unto him from heaven, and said, Abraham. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy beloved son for my sake.” It is said, “Now I know,” that is, Now I have made to be known; for God was not previously ignorant of this. Then, having offered up that ram[Pg 149] instead of Isaac his son, “Abraham,” as we read, “called the name of that place The Lord seeth: as they say this day, In the mount the Lord hath appeared.” As it is said, “Now I know,” for Now I have made to be known, so here, “The Lord sees,” for The Lord hath appeared, that is, made Himself to be seen. “And the Angel of the Lord called unto Abraham from heaven the second time, saying, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy beloved son for my sake; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and thy seed shall possess by inheritance the cities of the adversaries: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” In this manner is that promise concerning the calling of the nations in the seed of Abraham confirmed even by the oath of God, after that burnt-offering which typified Christ. For He had often promised, but never sworn. And what is the oath of God, the true and faithful, but a confirmation of the promise, and a certain reproof to the unbelieving?
After these things Sarah died, in the 127th year of her life, and the 137th of her husband; for he was ten years older than she, as he himself says, when a son is promised to him by her: “Shall a son be born to me that am an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” Then Abraham bought a field, in which he buried his wife. And then, according to Stephen’s account, he was settled in that land, entering then on actual possession of it,—that is, after the death of his father, who is inferred to have died two years before.
33. Of Rebecca, the grand-daughter of Nahor, whom Isaac took to wife.
Isaac married Rebecca, the grand-daughter of Nahor, his father’s brother, when he was forty years old, that is, in the 140th year of his father’s life, three years after his mother’s death. Now when a servant was sent to Mesopotamia by his father to fetch her, and when Abraham said to that servant, “Put thy hand under my thigh, and I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the Lord of the earth,[Pg 150] that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son Isaac of the daughters of the Canaanites,” what else was pointed out by this, but that the Lord, the God of heaven, and the Lord of the earth, was to come in the flesh which was to be derived from that thigh? Are these small tokens of the foretold truth which we see fulfilled in Christ?
34. What is meant by Abraham’s marrying Keturah after Sarah’s death.
What did Abraham mean by marrying Keturah after Sarah’s death? Far be it from us to suspect him of incontinence, especially when he had reached such an age and such sanctity of faith. Or was he still seeking to beget children, though he held fast, with most approved faith, the promise of God that his children should be multiplied out of Isaac as the stars of heaven and the dust of the earth? And yet, if Hagar and Ishmael, as the apostle teaches us, signified the carnal people of the old covenant, why may not Keturah and her sons also signify the carnal people who think they belong to the new covenant? For both are called both the wives and the concubines of Abraham; but Sarah is never called a concubine (but only a wife). For when Hagar is given to Abraham, it is written, “And Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.” And of Keturah, whom he took after Sarah’s departure, we read, “Then again Abraham took a wife, whose name was Keturah.” Lo, both are called wives, yet both are found to have been concubines; for the Scripture afterward says, “And Abraham gave his whole estate unto Isaac his son. But unto the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from his son Isaac, (while he yet lived,) eastward, unto the east country.” Therefore the sons of the concubines, that is, the heretics and the carnal Jews, have some gifts, but do not attain the promised kingdom; “For they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed, of whom it was said, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.” For I do not see why Keturah, who[Pg 151] was married after the wife’s death, should be called a concubine, except on account of this mystery. But if any one is unwilling to put such meanings on these things, he need not calumniate Abraham. For what if even this was provided against the heretics who were to be the opponents of second marriages, so that it might be shown that it was no sin in the case of the father of many nations himself, when, after his wife’s death, he married again? And Abraham died when he was 175 years old, so that he left his son Isaac seventy-five years old, having begotten him when 100 years old.
35. What was indicated by the divine answer about the twins still shut up in the womb of Rebecca their mother.
Let us now see how the times of the city of God run on from this point among Abraham’s descendants. In the time from the first year of Isaac’s life to the seventieth, when his sons were born, the only memorable thing is, that when he prayed God that his wife, who was barren, might bear, and the Lord granted what he sought, and she conceived, the twins leapt while still enclosed in her womb. And when she was troubled by this struggle, and inquired of the Lord, she received this answer: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger.” The Apostle Paul would have us understand this as a great instance of grace; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, the younger is chosen without any good desert, and the elder is rejected, when beyond doubt, as regards original sin, both were alike, and as regards actual sin, neither had any. But the plan of the work on hand does not permit me to speak more fully of this matter now, and I have said much about it in other works. Only that saying, “The elder shall serve the younger,” is understood by our writers, almost without exception, to mean that the elder people, the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians. And truly, although this might seem to be fulfilled in the Idumean nation, which was born of the elder (who had two names, being called both Esau and Edom, whence the name Idumeans), because it was afterwards[Pg 152] to be overcome by the people which sprang from the younger, that is, by the Israelites, and was to become subject to them; yet it is more suitable to believe that, when it was said, “The one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger,” that prophecy meant some greater thing; and what is that except what is evidently fulfilled in the Jews and Christians?
36. Of the oracle and blessing which Isaac received, just as his father did, being beloved for his sake.
Isaac also received such an oracle as his father had often received. Of this oracle it is thus written: “And there was a famine over the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; but dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of. And abide in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee: unto thee and unto thy seed I will give all this land; and I will establish mine oath, which I sware unto Abraham thy father: and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all this land: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because that Abraham thy father obeyed my voice, and kept my precepts, my commandments, my righteousness, and my laws.” This patriarch neither had another wife, nor any concubine, but was content with the twin-children begotten by one act of generation. He also was afraid, when he lived among strangers, of being brought into danger owing to the beauty of his wife, and did like his father in calling her his sister, and not telling that she was his wife; for she was his near blood-relation by the father’s and mother’s side. She also remained untouched by the strangers, when it was known she was his wife. Yet we ought not to prefer him to his father because he knew no woman besides his one wife. For beyond doubt the merits of his father’s faith and obedience were greater, inasmuch as God says it is for his sake He does Isaac good: “In thy seed,” He says, “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because that Abraham thy father obeyed my voice, and kept my precepts,[Pg 153] my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” And again in another oracle He says, “I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So that we must understand how chastely Abraham acted, because imprudent men, who seek some support for their own wickedness in the Holy Scriptures, think he acted through lust. We may also learn this, not to compare men by single good things, but to consider everything in each; for it may happen that one man has something in his life and character in which he excels another, and it may be far more excellent than that in which the other excels him. And thus, according to sound and true judgment, while continence is preferable to marriage, yet a believing married man is better than a continent unbeliever; for the unbeliever is not only less praiseworthy, but is even highly detestable. We must conclude, then, that both are good; yet so as to hold that the married man who is most faithful and most obedient is certainly better than the continent man whose faith and obedience are less. But if equal in other things, who would hesitate to prefer the continent man to the married?
37. Of the things mystically prefigured in Esau and Jacob.
Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob, grew up together. The primacy of the elder was transferred to the younger by a bargain and agreement between them, when the elder immoderately lusted after the lentiles the younger had prepared for food, and for that price sold his birthright to him, confirming it with an oath. We learn from this that a person is to be blamed, not for the kind of food he eats, but for immoderate greed. Isaac grew old, and old age deprived him of his eyesight. He wished to bless the elder son, and instead of the elder, who was hairy, unwittingly blessed the younger, who put himself under his father’s hands, having covered himself with kid-skins, as if bearing the sins of others. Lest we should think this guile of Jacob’s was fraudulent guile, instead of seeking in it the mystery of a great thing, the Scripture has predicted in the words just before, “Esau[Pg 154] was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a simple man, dwelling at home.” Some of our writers have interpreted this, “without guile.” But whether the Greek ἄπλαστος means “without guile,” or “simple,” or rather “without feigning,” in the receiving of that blessing what is the guile of the man without guile? What is the guile of the simple, what the fiction of the man who does not lie, but a profound mystery of the truth? But what is the blessing itself? “See,” he says, “the smell of my son is as the smell of a full field which the Lord hath blessed: therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fruitfulness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: let nations serve thee, and princes adore thee: and be lord of thy brethren, and let thy father’s sons adore thee: cursed be he that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” The blessing of Jacob is therefore a proclamation of Christ to all nations. It is this which has come to pass, and is now being fulfilled. Isaac is the law and the prophecy: even by the mouth of the Jews Christ is blessed by prophecy as by one who knows not, because it is itself not understood. The world like a field is filled with the odour of Christ’s name: His is the blessing of the dew of heaven, that is, of the showers of divine words; and of the fruitfulness of the earth, that is, of the gathering together of the peoples: His is the plenty of corn and wine, that is, the multitude that gathers bread and wine in the sacrament of His body and blood. Him the nations serve, Him princes adore. He is the Lord of His brethren, because His people rules over the Jews. Him His Father’s sons adore, that is, the sons of Abraham according to faith; for He Himself is the son of Abraham according to the flesh. He is cursed that curseth Him, and he that blesseth Him is blessed. Christ, I say, who is ours is blessed, that is, truly spoken of out of the mouths of the Jews, when, although erring, they yet sing the law and the prophets, and think they are blessing another for whom they erringly hope. So, when the elder son claims the promised blessing, Isaac is greatly afraid, and wonders when he knows that he has blessed one instead of the other, and demands who he is; yet he does not complain that[Pg 155] he has been deceived, yea, when the great mystery is revealed to him, in his secret heart he at once eschews anger, and confirms the blessing. “Who then,” he says, “hath hunted me venison, and brought it me, and I have eaten of all before thou camest, and have blessed him, and he shall be blessed?” Who would not rather have expected the curse of an angry man here, if these things had been done in an earthly manner, and not by inspiration from above? O things done, yet done prophetically; on the earth, yet celestially; by men, yet divinely! If everything that is fertile of so great mysteries should be examined carefully, many volumes would be filled; but the moderate compass fixed for this work compels us to hasten to other things.
38. Of Jacob’s mission to Mesopotamia to get a wife, and of the vision which he saw in a dream by the way, and of his getting four women when he sought one wife.
Jacob was sent by his parents to Mesopotamia that he might take a wife there. These were his father’s words on sending him: “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of the Canaanites. Arise, fly to Mesopotamia, to the house of Bethuel, thy mother’s father, and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. And my God bless thee, and increase thee, and multiply thee; and thou shalt be an assembly of peoples; and give to thee the blessing of Abraham thy father, and to thy seed after thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou dwellest, which God gave unto Abraham.” Now we understand here that the seed of Jacob is separated from Isaac’s other seed which came through Esau. For when it is said, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called,” by this seed is meant solely the city of God; so that from it is separated Abraham’s other seed, which was in the son of the bond woman, and which was to be in the sons of Keturah. But until now it had been uncertain regarding Isaac’s twin-sons whether that blessing belonged to both or only to one of them; and if to one, which of them it was. This is now declared when Jacob is prophetically blessed by his father, and it is said to him,[Pg 156] “And thou shalt be an assembly of peoples, and God give to thee the blessing of Abraham thy father.”
When Jacob was going to Mesopotamia, he received in a dream an oracle, of which it is thus written: “And Jacob went out from the well of the oath, and went to Haran. And he came to a place, and slept there, for the sun was set; and he took of the stones of the place, and put them at his head, and slept in that place, and dreamed. And behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and the angels of God ascended and descended by it. And the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; fear not: the land whereon thou sleepest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and it shall be spread abroad to the sea, and to Africa, and to the north, and to the east: and all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed in thee and in thy seed. And, behold, I am with thee, to keep thee in all thy way wherever thou goest, and I will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done all which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awoke out of his sleep, and said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob arose, and took the stone that he had put under his head there, and set it up for a memorial, and poured oil upon the top of it. And Jacob called the name of that place the house of God.” This is prophetic. For Jacob did not pour oil on the stone in an idolatrous way, as if making it a god; neither did he adore that stone, or sacrifice to it. But since the name of Christ comes from the chrism or anointing, something pertaining to the great mystery was certainly represented in this. And the Saviour Himself is understood to bring this latter to remembrance in the gospel, when He says of Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” because Israel who saw this vision is no other than Jacob. And in the same place He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye[Pg 157] shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Jacob went on to Mesopotamia to take a wife from thence. And the divine Scripture points out how, without unlawfully desiring any of them, he came to have four women, of whom he begat twelve sons and one daughter; for he had come to take only one. But when one was falsely given him in place of the other, he did not send her away after unwittingly using her in the night, lest he should seem to have put her to shame; but as at that time, in order to multiply posterity, no law forbade a plurality of wives, he took her also to whom alone he had promised marriage. As she was barren, she gave her handmaid to her husband that she might have children by her; and her elder sister did the same thing in imitation of her, although she had borne, because she desired to multiply progeny. We do not read that Jacob sought any but one, or that he used many, except for the purpose of begetting offspring, saving conjugal rights; and he would not have done this, had not his wives, who had legitimate power over their own husband’s body, urged him to do it. So he begat twelve sons and one daughter by four women. Then he entered into Egypt by his son Joseph, who was sold by his brethren for envy, and carried there, and who was there exalted.
39. The reason why Jacob was also called Israel.
As I said a little ago, Jacob was also called Israel, the name which was most prevalent among the people descended from him. Now this name was given him by the angel who wrestled with him on the way back from Mesopotamia, and who was most evidently a type of Christ. For when Jacob overcame him, doubtless with his own consent, that the mystery might be represented, it signified Christ’s passion, in which the Jews are seen overcoming Him. And yet he besought a blessing from the very angel he had overcome; and so the imposition of this name was the blessing. For Israel means seeing God, which will at last be the reward of all the saints. The angel also touched him on the breadth of the[Pg 158] thigh when he was overcoming him, and in that way made him lame. So that Jacob was at one and the same time blessed and lame: blessed in those among that people who believed in Christ, and lame in the unbelieving. For the breadth of the thigh is the multitude of the family. For there are many of that race of whom it was prophetically said beforehand, “And they have halted in their paths.”
40. How it is said that Jacob went into Egypt with seventy-five souls, when most of those who are mentioned were born at a later period.
Seventy-five men are reported to have entered Egypt along with Jacob, counting him with his children. In this number only two women are mentioned, one a daughter, the other a grand-daughter. But when the thing is carefully considered, it does not appear that Jacob’s offspring was so numerous on the day or year when he entered Egypt. There are also included among them the great-grandchildren of Joseph, who could not possibly be born already. For Jacob was then 130 years old, and his son Joseph thirty-nine; and as it is plain that he took a wife when he was thirty or more, how could he in nine years have great-grandchildren by the children whom he had by that wife? Now, since Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, could not even have children, for Jacob found them boys under nine years old when he entered Egypt, in what way are not only their sons but their grandsons reckoned among those seventy-five who then entered Egypt with Jacob? For there is reckoned there Machir the son of Manasseh, grandson of Joseph, and Machir’s son, that is, Gilead, grandson of Manasseh, great-grandson of Joseph; there, too, is he whom Ephraim, Joseph’s other son, begot, that is, Shuthelah, grandson of Joseph, and Shuthelah’s son Ezer, grandson of Ephraim, and great-grandson of Joseph, who could not possibly be in existence when Jacob came into Egypt, and there found his grandsons, the sons of Joseph, their grandsires, still boys under nine years of age. But doubtless, when the Scripture mentions Jacob’s entrance into Egypt with seventy-five souls, it does[Pg 159] not mean one day, or one year, but that whole time as long as Joseph lived, who was the cause of his entrance. For the same Scripture speaks thus of Joseph: “And Joseph dwelt in Egypt, he and his brethren, and all his father’s house: and Joseph lived 110 years, and saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation.” That is, his great-grandson, the third from Ephraim; for the third generation means son, grandson, great-grandson. Then it is added, “The children also of Machir, the son of Manasseh, were born upon Joseph’s knees.” And this is that grandson of Manasseh, and great-grandson of Joseph. But the plural number is employed according to scriptural usage; for the one daughter of Jacob is spoken of as daughters, just as in the usage of the Latin tongue liberi is used in the plural for children even when there is only one. Now, when Joseph’s own happiness is proclaimed, because he could see his great-grandchildren, it is by no means to be thought they already existed in the thirty-ninth year of their great-grandsire Joseph, when his father Jacob came to him in Egypt. But those who diligently look into these things will the less easily be mistaken, because it is written, “These are the names of the sons of Israel who entered into Egypt along with Jacob their father.” For this means that the seventy-five are reckoned along with him, not that they were all with him when he entered Egypt; for, as I have said, the whole period during which Joseph, who occasioned his entrance, lived, is held to be the time of that entrance.
41. Of the blessing which Jacob promised in Judah his son.
If, on account of the Christian people in whom the city of God sojourns in the earth, we look for the flesh of Christ in the seed of Abraham, setting aside the sons of the concubines, we have Isaac; if in the seed of Isaac, setting aside Esau, who is also Edom, we have Jacob, who also is Israel; if in the seed of Israel himself, setting aside the rest, we have Judah, because Christ sprang of the tribe of Judah. Let us hear, then, how Israel, when dying in Egypt, in blessing his sons, prophetically blessed Judah. He says: “Judah, thy brethren shall praise thee: thy hands shall be on the back of[Pg 160] thine enemies; thy father’s children shall adore thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the sprouting, my son, thou art gone up: lying down, thou hast slept as a lion, and as a lion’s whelp; who shall awake him? A prince shall not be lacking out of Judah, and a leader from his thighs, until the things come that are laid up for him; and He shall be the expectation of the nations. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s foal to the choice vine; he shall wash his robe in wine, and his clothes in the blood of the grape: his eyes are red with wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.” I have expounded these words in disputing against Faustus the Manichæan; and I think it is enough to make the truth of this prophecy shine, to remark that the death of Christ is predicted by the word about his lying down, and not the necessity, but the voluntary character of His death, in the title of lion. That power He Himself proclaims in the gospel, saying, “I have the power of laying down my life, and I have the power of taking it again. No man taketh it from me; but I lay it down of myself, and take it again.” So the lion roared, so He fulfilled what He said. For to this power what is added about the resurrection refers, “Who shall awake him?” This means that no man but Himself has raised Him, who also said of His own body, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” And the very nature of His death, that is, the height of the cross, is understood by the single word, “Thou art gone up.” The evangelist explains what is added, “Lying down, thou hast slept,” when he says, “He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.” Or at least His burial is to be understood, in which He lay down sleeping, and whence no man raised Him, as the prophets did some, and as He Himself did others; but He Himself rose up as if from sleep. As for His robe which He washes in wine, that is, cleanses from sin in His own blood, of which blood those who are baptized know the mystery, so that he adds, “And his clothes in the blood of the grape,” what is it but the Church? “And his eyes are red with wine,” [these are] His spiritual people drunken with His cup, of which the psalm sings, “And thy cup that makes drunken, how excellent it is!”[Pg 161] “And his teeth are whiter than milk,”—that is, the nutritive words which, according to the apostle, the babes drink, being as yet unfit for solid food. And it is He in whom the promises of Judah were laid up, so that until they come, princes, that is, the kings of Israel, shall never be lacking out of Judah. “And He is the expectation of the nations.” This is too plain to need exposition.
42. Of the sons of Joseph, whom Jacob blessed, prophetically changing his hands.
Now, as Isaac’s two sons, Esau and Jacob, furnished a type of the two people, the Jews and the Christians (although as pertains to carnal descent it was not the Jews but the Idumeans who came of the seed of Esau, nor the Christian nations but rather the Jews who came of Jacob’s; for the type holds only as regards the saying, “The elder shall serve the younger”), so the same thing happened in Joseph’s two sons; for the elder was a type of the Jews, and the younger of the Christians. For when Jacob was blessing them, and laid his right hand on the younger, who was at his left, and his left hand on the elder, who was at his right, this seemed wrong to their father, and he admonished his father by trying to correct his mistake and show him which was the elder. But he would not change his hands, but said, “I know, my son, I know. He also shall become a people, and he also shall be exalted; but his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” And these two promises show the same thing. For that one is to become “a people;” this one “a multitude of nations.” And what can be more evident than that these two promises comprehend the people of Israel, and the whole world of Abraham’s seed, the one according to the flesh, the other according to faith?
43. Of the times of Moses and Joshua the son of Nun, of the judges, and thereafter of the kings, of whom Saul was the first, but David is to be regarded as the chief, both by the oath and by merit.
Jacob being dead, and Joseph also, during the remaining 144 years until they went out of the land of Egypt that nation increased to an incredible degree, even although wasted[Pg 162] by so great persecutions, that at one time the male children were murdered at their birth, because the wondering Egyptians were terrified at the too great increase of that people. Then Moses, being stealthily kept from the murderers of the infants, was brought to the royal house, God preparing to do great things by him, and was nursed and adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh (that was the name of all the kings of Egypt), and became so great a man that he—yea, rather God, who had promised this to Abraham, by him—drew that nation, so wonderfully multiplied, out of the yoke of hardest and most grievous servitude it had borne there. At first, indeed, he fled thence (we are told he fled into the land of Midian), because, in defending an Israelite, he had slain an Egyptian, and was afraid. Afterward, being divinely commissioned in the power of the Spirit of God, he overcame the magi of Pharaoh who resisted him. Then, when the Egyptians would not let God’s people go, ten memorable plagues were brought by Him upon them,—the water turned into blood, the frogs and lice, the flies, the death of the cattle, the boils, the hail, the locusts, the darkness, the death of the first-born. At last the Egyptians were destroyed in the Red Sea while pursuing the Israelites, whom they had let go when at length they were broken by so many great plagues. The divided sea made a way for the Israelites who were departing, but, returning on itself, it overwhelmed their pursuers with its waves. Then for forty years the people of God went through the desert, under the leadership of Moses, when the tabernacle of testimony was dedicated, in which God was worshipped by sacrifices prophetic of things to come, and that was after the law had been very terribly given in the mount, for its divinity was most plainly attested by wonderful signs and voices. This took place soon after the exodus from Egypt, when the people had entered the desert, on the fiftieth day after the passover was celebrated by the offering up of a lamb, which is so completely a type of Christ, foretelling that through His sacrificial passion He should go from this world to the Father (for pascha in the Hebrew tongue means transit), that when the new covenant was revealed, after Christ our passover was offered up, the Holy Spirit came from heaven on the fiftieth day; and He is called[Pg 163] in the gospel the Finger of God, because He recalls to our remembrance the things done before by way of types, and because the tables of that law are said to have been written by the finger of God.
On the death of Moses, Joshua the son of Nun ruled the people, and led them into the land of promise, and divided it among them. By these two wonderful leaders wars were also carried on most prosperously and wonderfully, God calling to witness that they had got these victories not so much on account of the merit of the Hebrew people as on account of the sins of the nations they subdued. After these leaders there were judges, when the people were settled in the land of promise, so that, in the meantime, the first promise made to Abraham began to be fulfilled about the one nation, that is, the Hebrew, and about the land of Canaan; but not as yet the promise about all nations, and the whole wide world, for that was to be fulfilled, not by the observances of the old law, but by the advent of Christ in the flesh, and by the faith of the gospel. And it was to prefigure this that it was not Moses, who received the law for the people on Mount Sinai, that led the people into the land of promise, but Joshua, whose name also was changed at God’s command, so that he was called Jesus. But in the times of the judges prosperity alternated with adversity in war, according as the sins of the people and the mercy of God were displayed.
We come next to the times of the kings. The first who reigned was Saul; and when he was rejected and laid low in battle, and his offspring rejected so that no kings should arise out of it, David succeeded to the kingdom, whose son Christ is chiefly called. He was made a kind of starting-point and beginning of the advanced youth of God’s people, who had passed a kind of age of puberty from Abraham to this David. And it is not in vain that the evangelist Matthew records the generations in such a way as to sum up this first period from Abraham to David in fourteen generations. For from the age of puberty man begins to be capable of generation; therefore he starts the list of generations from Abraham, who also was made the father of many nations when he got his name changed. So that previously this family of God’s people was[Pg 164] in its childhood, from Noah to Abraham; and for that reason the first language was then learned, that is, the Hebrew. For man begins to speak in childhood, the age succeeding infancy, which is so termed because then he cannot speak. And that first age is quite drowned in oblivion, just as the first age of the human race was blotted out by the flood; for who is there that can remember his infancy? Wherefore in this progress of the city of God, as the previous book contained that first age, so this one ought to contain the second and third ages, in which third age, as was shown by the heifer of three years old, the she-goat of three years old, and the ram of three years old, the yoke of the law was imposed, and there appeared abundance of sins, and the beginning of the earthly kingdom arose, in which there were not lacking spiritual men, of whom the turtle-dove and pigeon represented the mystery.