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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

St Basil the Great HEXAEMERON, Complete

Translated by Bl. Jackson.

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80 Pages (Homilies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Page 66

2. "Let the earth bring forth a living soul." Why did the earth produce a living soul? so that you may make a difference between the soul of cattle and that of man. You will soon learn how the human soul was formed; hear now about the soul of creatures devoid of reason. Since, according to Scripture, "the life of every creature is in the blood," [1645] as the blood when thickened changes into flesh, and flesh when corrupted decomposes into earth, so the soul of beasts is naturally an earthy substance. "Let the earth bring forth a living soul." See the affinity of the soul with blood, of blood with flesh, of flesh with earth; and remounting in an inverse sense from the earth to the flesh, from the flesh to the blood, from the blood to the soul, you will find that the soul of beasts is earth. Do not suppose that it is older than the essence [1646] of their body, nor that it survives the dissolution of the flesh; [1647] avoid the nonsense of those arrogant philosophers who do not blush to liken their soul to that of a dog; who say that they have been formerly themselves women, shrubs, fish. [1648] Have they ever been fish? I do not know; but I do not fear to affirm that in their writings they show less sense than fish. "Let the earth bring forth the living creature." Perhaps many of you ask why there is such a long silence in the middle of the rapid rush of my discourse. The more studious among my auditors will not be ignorant of the reason why words fail me. What! Have I not seen them look at each other, and make signs to make me look at them, and to remind me of what I have passed over? I have forgotten a part of the creation, and that one of the most considerable, and my discourse was almost finished without touching upon it. "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament, of heaven." [1649] I spoke of fish as long as eventide allowed: to-day we have passed to the examination of terrestrial animals; between the two, birds have escaped us. We are forgetful like travellers who unmindful of some important object, are obliged, although they be far on their road, to retrace their steps, punished for their negligence by the weariness of the journey. So we have to turn back. That which we have omitted is not to be despised. It is the third part of the animal creation, if indeed there are three kinds of animals, land, winged and water.

"Let the waters" it is said "bring forth abundantly moving creature that hath life and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." Why do the waters give birth also to birds? Because there is, so to say, a family link between the creatures that fly and those that swim. In the same way that fish cut the waters, using their fins to carry them forward and their tails to direct their movements round and round and straightforward, so we see birds float in the air by the help of their wings. Both endowed with the property of swimming, their common derivation from the waters has made them of one family. [1650] At the same time no bird is without feet, because finding all its food upon the earth it cannot do without their service. Rapacious birds have pointed claws to enable them to close on their prey; to the rest has been given the indispensable ministry of feet to seek their food and to provide for the other needs of life. There are a few who walk badly, whose feet are neither suitable for walking nor for preying. Among this number are swallows, incapable of walking and seeking their prey, and the birds called swifts [1651] who live on little insects carried about by the air. As to the swallow, its flight, which grazes the earth, fulfils the function of feet.

[1645] cf. Lev. xvii. 11.

[1646] hupostasis.

[1647] It may be supposed "that the souls of brutes, being but so many eradiations or effuxes from that source of life above, are, as soon as ever those organized bodies of theirs, by reason of their indisposition, become uncapable of being further acted upon by them, then to be resumed again and retracted back to their original head and fountain. Since it cannot be doubted but what creates anything out of nothing, or sends it forth from itself, by free and voluntary emanation, may be able either to retract the same back again to its original source, or else to annihilate it at pleasure. And I find that there have not wanted some among the Gentile philosophers themselves who have entertained this opinion, whereof Porphyry is one, luetai hekaste dunamis alogos eis ten holen zoen tou pantos." Cudworth, i. 35.

[1648] Empedocles is named as author of the lines: ede gar pot' ego genomen kourete koros te, Thamnos t' oionos te kai ein hali ellopos ichthus cf. Diog. Laert. viii. 78, and Plutarch, D Solert. An. ii. 964. Whether the "faba Pythagorae cognata" of Hor., Sat. ii. 6, 63, implies the transmigration of the soul into it is doubtful. cf. Juv., Sat. xv. 153. Anaximander thought that human beings were originally generated from fish. Plut., Symp. viii. 8.

[1649] Gen. i. 20.

[1650] Fialon quotes Bossuet, 1st Elev. 5th week: "Qui a donne aux oiseaux et aux poissons ces rames naturelles, qui leur font fendre les eaux et les airs? Ce qui peut etre a donne lieu a leur Createur de les produire ensemble, comme animaux d'un dessin a peu pres semblable: le vol des oiseaux semblant, etre une espece de faculte de nager dans une liqueur plus subtile, comme la faculte de nager dans les poissons est une espece de vol dans une liqueur plus epaisse." The theory of evolutionists is, as is well known, that birds developed out of reptiles and reptiles from fish. Vide E. Haeckel's monophyletic pedigree in his History of Creation.

[1651] drepanis, i.e. sickle-bird.

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