Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book XIII/Chapter 24
Chapter XXIV.—Why God Has Blessed Men, Fishes, Flying Creatures, and Not Herbs and the Other Animals (Ver. 28).
35. But what is this, and what kind of mystery is it? Behold, Thou blessest men, O Lord, that they may “be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth;” in this dost Thou not make a sign unto us that we may understand something? Why hast Thou not also blessed the light, which Thou calledst day, nor the firmament of heaven, nor the lights, nor the stars, nor the earth, nor the sea? I might say, O our God, that Thou, who hast created us after Thine Image,—I might say, that Thou hast willed to bestow this gift of blessing especially upon man, hadst Thou not in like manner blessed the fishes and the whales, that they should be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the waters of the sea, and that the fowls should be multiplied upon the earth. Likewise might I say, that this blessing belonged properly unto such creatures as are propagated from their own kind, if I had found it in the shrubs, and the fruit trees, and beasts of the earth. But now is it not said either unto the herbs, or trees, or beasts, or serpents, “Be fruitful and multiply;” since all these also, as well as fishes, and fowls, and men, do by propagation increase and preserve their kind.
36. What, then, shall I say, O Thou Truth, my Light,—“that it was idly and vainly said?” Not so, O Father of piety; far be it from a minister of Thy word to say this. But if I understand not what Thou meanest by that phrase, let my betters—that is, those more intelligent than I—use it better, in proportion as Thou, O my God, hast given to each to understand. But let my confession be also pleasing before Thine eyes, in which I confess to Thee that I believe, O Lord, that Thou hast not thus spoken in vain; nor will I be silent as to what this lesson suggests to me. For it is true, nor do I see what should prevent me from thus understanding the figurative sayings of Thy books. For I know a thing may be manifoldly signified by bodily expression which is understood in one manner by the mind; and that that may be manifoldly understood in the mind which is in one manner signified by bodily expression. Behold, the single love of God and of our neighbour, by what manifold sacraments and innumerable languages, and in each several language in how innumerable modes of speaking, it is bodily expressed. Thus do the young of the waters increase and multiply. Observe again, whosoever thou art who readest; behold what Scripture delivers, and the voice pronounces in one only way, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth;” is it not manifoldly understood, not by any deceit of error, but by divers kinds of true senses? Thus are the offspring of men “fruitful” and do “multiply.”
37. If, therefore, we conceive of the natures of things, not allegorically, but properly, then does the phrase, “be fruitful and multiply,” correspond to all things which are begotten of seed. But if we treat those words as taken figuratively (the which I rather suppose the Scripture intended, which doth not, verily, superfluously attribute this benediction to the offspring of marine animals and man only), then do we find that “multitude” belongs also to creatures both spiritual and corporeal, as in heaven and in earth; and to souls both righteous and unrighteous, as in light and darkness; and to holy authors, through whom the law has been furnished unto us, as in the firmament which has been firmly placed betwixt waters and waters; and to the society of people yet endued with bitterness, as in the sea; and to the desire of holy souls, as in the dry land; and to works of mercy pertaining to this present life, as in the seed-bearing herbs and fruit-bearing trees; and to spiritual gifts shining forth for edification, as in the lights of heaven; and to affections formed unto temperance, as in the living soul. In all these cases we meet with multitudes, abundance, and increase; but what shall thus “be fruitful and multiply,” that one thing may be expressed in many ways, and one expression understood in many ways, we discover not, unless in signs corporeally expressed, and in things mentally conceived. We understand the signs corporeally pronounced as the generations of the waters, necessarily occasioned by carnal depth; but things mentally conceived we understand as human generations, on account of the fruitfulness of reason. And therefore do we believe that to each kind of these it has been said by Thee, O Lord, “Be fruitful and multiply.” For in this blessing I acknowledge that power and faculty has been granted unto us, by Thee, both to express in many ways what we understand but in one, and to understand in many ways what we read as obscurely delivered but in one. Thus are the waters of the sea replenished, which are not moved but by various significations; thus even with the human offspring is the earth also replenished, the dryness whereof appeareth in its desire, and reason ruleth over it.
- Gen. i. 28.
- See p. 92, note 1, above.
- See p. 189, note 2, above.
- See p. 199, note 3, above.
- See sec. 21, and note, above.