Signifies a term of six days, or, technically, the history of the six days' work of creation
Hexaemeron signifies a term of six days, or, technically, the history of the six days’ work of creation, as contained in the first chapter of Genesis. The Hexaemeron in its technical sense—the Biblical Hexaemeron—is the subject of the present article. We shall consider: I. TEXT; II. SOURCE; III. MEANING.
I. TEXT OF THE HEXAEMERON.—The Hexaemeron proper deals with the six days of the earth’s formation, or the so-called Second Creation. In its Biblical setting it is preceded by the account of the First Creation, and is followed by the mention of the seventh day, or the Day of Rest. Completeness and clearness render it advisable to give the text of both of these additions.
A. First Creation.—Verse 1: In the beginning God created heaven, and earth. 2: And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters.
B. Second Creation.—(a) Work of Division.—First Day.—Verse 3: And God said: Be light made. And light was made. 4: And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. 5: And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day.
Second Day.—Verse 6: And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters. 7: And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament, and it was so. 8: And God called the firmament, Heaven; and the evening and morning were the second day.
Third Day.—Verse 9: God also said: Let the waters that are under the heaven, be gathered together into one place: and let the dry land appear. And it was so done. 10: And God called the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
(b) Work of Adornment.—Verse 11: And he said: Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And it was so done. 12: And the earth brought forth the green herb, and such as yieldeth seed according to its kind, and the tree that beareth fruit, having seed each one according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13: And the evening and the morning were the third day.
Fourth Day.—Verse 14: And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: 15: To shine in the firmament of heaven, and to give light upon the earth. And it was so done. 16: And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars. 17: And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth. 18: And to rule the day and the night, and to divide the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19: And the evening and morning were the fourth day.
Fifth Day.—Verse 20: God also said: Let the waters bring forth the creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly over the earth under the firmament of heaven. 21: And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22: And he blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea: and let the birds be multiplied upon the earth. 23: And the evening and morning were the fifth day.
Sixth Day.—Verse 24: And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds. And it was so done. 25: And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and every thing that creepeth on the earth after its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26: And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. 27: And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. 28: And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. 29: And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: 30: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done. 31: And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.
C. Day of Rest.—Chapter ii, verse 1: So the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the furniture of them. 2: And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. 3: And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
The work of division separates between light and darkness, between the waters above and the waters below, between the seas and the dry land; the work of adornment covers the earth with vegetation, beautifies the firmament with heavenly bodies, fills the waters with fishes, the air with birds, and the continents with animal life. The third day and the sixth are distinguished by a double work, while each of the other four days has only one production assigned to it. Including the account of what is called the First Creation, God intervenes nine distinct times: (I) He creates matter; (2) He produces light; (3) He develops the firmament (the atmosphere); (4) He raises the continents; (5) He produces vegetation; (6) He causes the heavenly bodies to be visible; (7) He produces aquatic and bird life; (8) He calls into being the land animals; (9) finally, He creates man and makes him ruler of the earth. Hence the suspicion arises that the division of God‘s creative acts into six days is really a schematism employed to inculcate the importance and the sanctity of the seventh day. A trace of schematism may also be detected in the grouping of the Hexaemeron into the works of division and the works of adornment, in the division of things immovable (first three days) and things that move (second three days), and even in the separate accounts of each day. These latter begin with the respective Divine edict, add in the second place the description of its fulfilment, and end with the Divine approval of the work. On each of the first three days the Creator gives a name to His new production, and He imparts His special blessing at the end of each of the last two days.
II. SOURCE OF THE HEXAEMERON.—The Critics no longer ask whether the Biblical cosmogony taught by the Hexaemeron can be reconciled with the results of natural science, but whence the cosmogonic ideas expressed in the Old Testament have been derived. Prescinding from minor variations, the various views as to the source of the Hexaemeron may be reduced to four: (I) The Hebrews borrowed their ideas from others; (2) the Hebrew cosmogony is an independent development of a primitive Semitic myth; (3) the Biblical cosmogony is the resultant of two elements: Divine inspiration and Hebrew folklore; (4) the Hexaemeron is derived from Divine Revelation.
(I) Babylonian Source.—Professor J. P. Arendzen has treated of the various cosmogonic ideas of the principal ancient and modern nations in the article Cosmogony (Vol. IV, pp. 405 sqq.). For our present purpose it suffices to keep in mind a summary of the Babylonian traditions. The Babylonian account carries us back to a period prior to the existence of any god. The universe begins with a double, purely material, principle, Apsu and Tiamtu, male and female, probably personifying the mass of salt and sweet water, mixed into one. From these sprang first Lahmu and Lahamu, more probably the personifications of dawn and twilight than the monsters and demons with which popular mythology identified them. After a long interval Ansar and Kisar were produced, the personified ideas of the above and the below, or of heaven and earth in their most general acceptation. Another long interval intervened, and then Anu, Bel, and Ea (the sky, the earth, and the water) sprang forth. Then Ea and his consort Dauke gave birth to Belos or Marduk, the sun-god.
After this the differentiation of the watery All is seriously threatened. Tiamtu creates a set of monsters which endeavor to bring back the original chaos. Who were these monsters? Nightly darkness obscuring and enveloping all nature in the primeval shroud; black mists and vapours of fantastic shape, reuniting at times the waters of heaven and earth; continued rains threatening to deluge the earth and again to convert the celestial and terrestrial waters into the one vast original ocean; the crashing thunder and the fierce tornado, too, were among the offspring and the abetters of Tiamtu in her bitter warfare against the established order. Ansar, the lord of the comprehensive heavens, attempted in vain to overcome these foes; Ea, the deity of the earthly waters, availed still less. Finally, Marduk, the rising sun, is sent. A fearful storm ensues, a battle between Marduk and Tiamtu; but the god of the rising sun dispels the darkness, lifts the vapours in masses on high, subdues the tempest, reopens the space between heaven and earth. According to the personifying ideas of the Babylonian records, Marduk slays Tiamtu, establishes the superiority of Ansar, cleaves Tiamtu in twain, and with one half overshadows the heavens. Then he measures the watery abyss opposite the heavens and founds an edifice like Ishara, which he had built as heaven, and lets Anu, Bel, and Ea occupy their dwellings. Then he embellishes the heavens, prepares places for the great gods, makes the stars, sets the Zodiac, founds a place for Nibiru, fixes the poles, opens the gates provided with locks on either side, causes the moon to shine forth and establishes its laws. The remainder of the Babylonian tablet-series, as first known, is fragmentary, narrating only the creation of plants (possibly) and animals. Any reference to man it may have contained is broken off. But Berosus, priest of Bel, supplies this deficiency. Bel commanded one of the gods to remove his (Bel’s) head and mix the earth with the thence-flowing blood, and to form men and beasts capable of enduring the light. The more recently recovered additional fragments of the Babylonian Creation Epos agree with Berosus. “Let me gather my blood”, says Marduk, “and let me [take my] bone, let me set up man”.
We do not here consider the question of some remote connection between the Babylonian creation story and the Hexaemeron—which is of course possible. But we ask: can the Babylonian story claim to be the source of the Biblical account? Their difference in form is striking, though not fully decisive. The Babylonian story knows nothing of a division into days, whereas a division into six days forms the whole framework of the Hebrew account. Again, the Babylonian presentation amplifies the plain narrative of creation with the account of the choice and of the deeds of a demiurgus; it is highly figurative and anthropomorphic to the highest degree. The Hexaemeron, on the contrary, is the sober recital, in simple yet stately prose, of the impressive teaching concerning the development of the ordered universe from chaos. This literary excellence of the Hebrew account might be due to the special capability of the inspired writer; if no other considerations prevented it, the Hebrew writer might be thought to have borrowed his material from the Babylonian cosmogony. But the discrepancy of ideas between the profane and the inspired writer prevents such an assumption. The cuneiform record goes back to a time when the gods did not exist: the Hebrew account places God before all creation. The Babylonian cosmogony knows nothing about the production of the original chaotic matter; the Hebrew writer derives even the primeval matter from the action of God. There is no idea of any creative action in the Babylonian tablets; the inspired account opens with God‘s creative act. The Babylonian record starts with a double material principle; the Hebrew text knows only one God. The Babylonian stories taken together describe the primeval waters as spontaneously generative; the Hebrew account represents the material of the universe as lying waste and lifeless, and as not assuming order or becoming productive of life until the going forth of the Divine command. The Babylonian course of cosmic development is interrupted by the opposition of Tiamtu; the Hebrew Hexaemeron proceeds uninterruptedly from the less to the more perfect. According to the Babylonians the world arises out of a struggle between chaos and order, between good and evil; according to the Hebrew conception there is no opposition to the power of the Divine command. In the light of all these discrepancies between the Babylonian and the Hebrew cosmogonies, it is hardly possible to consider the former the source of the latter.
In reply, the critics grant that “the cosmogony of Gen., i, cannot have been simply taken over from the Babylonians”; they add, therefore, the following two modifications: (a) The Hebrew Hexaemeron does not correspond to the first part of the Babylonian account, but only to the formative work ascribed to Marduk. (b) “Circumstanced as the Israelites were, we must allow for the possibility of Phoenician, Egyptian, and Persian, as well as Babylonian influences, and we must not refuse to take a passing glance at cosmogonies of less civilized peoples.”
Both of these modifications deserve a passing examination. (a) It is urged that in Marduk’s work the primeval light, the primeval flood, the production of heaven by the division of the primeval flood, the order of the creative acts, the Divine admonitions addressed to men after their creation, and the creation by a word are so many points of contact between the Hebrew and the Babylonian cosmogony. But several of these points present a discrepancy rather than a harmony. The critics themselves admit that the parallelism “in the present form of Gen., i, is imperfect”; they admit, too, that the Babylonian record does not mention creation by a word, but they merely suppose that this idea must have been prominent in the full Babylonian epic. It is true that Marduk, being the sun-god, was a god of light, but it is probable that the Babylonian primeval light is represented by Lahmu and Lahamu, the dawn and the twilight; again, Marduk is only a demiurge, a creature, and as such does not resemble the Hebrew God. Moreover, Marduk has no connection with the primeval waters in the Babylonian account; he is at best the restorer of the order destroyed by Tiamtu. He does not produce heaven, but only reopens the space between heaven and earth. Finally, it would be hard to imagine a greater discrepancy than is found between the Babylonian story of man’s creation and the Hebrew account of the event. The source of the Hexaemeron, therefore, is not the Babylonian record of Marduk’s work.
(b) The appeal of the critics to Phoenician, Egyptian, and Persian influences is of a rather elusive character. It is hard to see which particular points of these various cosmogonies can be said to have influenced the Hebrew writer. The Phoenicians begin with air moved by a breath of wind, and dark chaos; another account places first time, then desire, then darkness. The union of desire and darkness begets air (representing pure thought) and breath (the prototype of life); from these springs the cosmic egg. Sun, moon, and stars spring from the cosmic egg, and under the influence of light and heat the cosmic development continues, till the present universe is completed. The Egyptian cosmogony does not appear to contain any elements more fit to serve as the source of the Hexaemeron than are the Phoenician successive evolutions. In the beginning we find the primeval waters called Nun, containing the male and female germs, and informed by the divine proto-soul. The latter felt a desire (personified as the god Thot) for creative activity, the image of the future universe having formed itself in the eyes of Thot. Thot causes a movement in the waters, and the latter differentiate themselves into four pairs of deities, male and female. These cosmogonic gods transform the invisible divine will of Thot into a visible universe. First an egg is formed, out of which arises the god of light, Ra; he is the immediate cause of life in this world. In the subsequent formation of the universe the great Ennead of gods concurs. Variations of this cosmogony are found in the more popular accounts of creation, but they are not such as might be regarded as the source of the Hebrew cosmogony. The Persian cosmogony is really the second phase of the Iranian concept of creation. The great characteristic of Iranian thought is its dualism, which gradually tends towards monism. The early Persian phase dates from the time of the Sassanids, but in its present form is not earlier than the seventh century of the Christian Era. At any rate it seems quite impossible that the well-ordered and clear account of the Hexaemeron should be the out-come of the complicated and obscure presentation of the Avesta and the Pahlavi literature. Generally speaking, the Biblical Hexaemeron cannot be surpassed in grandeur, dignity, and simplicity. To derive it from any of the profane cosmogonies implies a derivation of order from disorder, of beauty from hideousness, of the sublime from the bizarre.
Primitive Semitic Myth.—Professor T. K. Cheyne (“Encyclopaedia Biblica”, art. “Creation“, 940) writes: “Either the Hebrew and the Babylonian accounts are independent developments of a primitive Semitic myth, or the Hebrew is borrowed directly or indirectly from the Babylonian.” We have already excluded the second alternative. Professor Cheyne himself proves, against Dillmann, that the first alternative is inadmissible. A specifically Hebrew myth ought to be in keeping with the natural surroundings of the people. And, as the human mind naturally pictures to itself the first rise of the world as it still arises every day and every year, a distinctively Hebrew myth of the first rise, or the creation, of the universe should be a picture of the early morning and the springtime in Palestine or the Syro-Arabian desert. The watery chaos of the Hexaemeron, its division into the waters above and the waters below, and its separation between the waters and the dry land, do not agree with the sandy and desert country of the Hebrews. If it could be established that the Babylonian cosmogony is a mere nature myth, the foregoing data would agree with the phenomena of the Babylonian spring and the Babylonian morning. Owing to the heavy rains, the Babylonian plain looks like the sea during the long winter; then the god of the vernal sun, Marduk, brings forth the land anew, dividing the waters of Tiamtu, and sending them partly upwards as clouds, partly downwards to the rivers and canals. Again, the god of the rising sun, Marduk, every day conquers the cosmic sea, Tiamtu, dispelling the chaos of darkness, and dividing the nightly mists and fogs of the plain. A similar origin is quite impossible from a purely Hebrew point of view. While the foregoing considerations are hardly conclusive against those who admit a supernatural element in the formation of the Hebrew cosmogony, they are quite convincing against those who regard the Hebrew views on creation as a mere nature myth.
Hebrew Folk-Lore.—Those who regard Hebrew folk-lore as the source of the Hexaemeron point out that each nation has its tradition concerning its early history, or rather concerning men who lived and events which happened before the properly historical age of the nation. Among the Hebrews similar traditions must have existed, even including views as to the origin of the universe. Combining this fact with the Christian doctrine that the Biblical Hexaemeron is Divinely inspired, we may ask whether its text may not be a snatch of folk-lore, by Divine influence purged of error and of all that is not in keeping with the sacred character of the word of God, and committed to writing in order to teach men that the whole universe is the creature of God, and that the seventh day must be sanctified. In this case, the first chapter of Genesis would not be supernaturally revealed in the strictest sense of the word, but it would be an infallible record of an ancient belief, current among the Hebrews, as to the origin of the world. The sacred writer would have left us an inspired report of a Hebrew tradition just as other inspired writers have left us inspired accounts of certain historical documents. In itself, such a view of Gen., i, does not seem impossible; but, taking the Hexaemeron in the light of Christian tradition, its folk-lore theory of origin seems to be inadmissible. The Fathers, the early ecclesiastical writers, the Scholastics, and the more recent commentators would have been wrong in their endeavors to explain each sentence and even every word of Gen., i, in the same strict way in which they interpret the most sacred passages of Scripture. Their occasional recourse to figure and allegory only shows their conviction that the Hexaemeron contains not only inspired but also strictly revealed truth. A Catholic interpreter can hardly surrender such an uninterrupted Christian tradition in order to make room for a theory which sprang up only towards the end of the nineteenth century. Nor can it be urged that every sentence and every word of the Hebrew tradition concerning the origin of the universe, purified and infallibly preserved to us by inspiration, are equivalent to the strictly revealed passages of Scripture. Such an assumption concerning a profane ancient tradition implies the admission of a greater miracle than is demanded by a supernatural revelation in the strict sense of the word. Besides, the patrons of the folk-lore theory must explain the origin or source of the sublime Hebrew tradition, the existence of which they assume; thus they burden themselves with all the difficulties which are encountered by the critics in their endeavors to explain the natural origin of the creation myths.
Finally, the Biblical Commission in a decree issued June 30, 1909, denies the existence of any solid foundation for the various exegetical systems devised and defended with a show of science to exclude the literal, historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis; in particular, it forbids the teaching of the view that the said three chapters of Genesis contain, not accounts of things which have really happened, but either fables derived from mythologies and the cosmogonies of ancient peoples, and by the sacred author expurgated of all error of polytheism and adapted to monotheistic doctrine, or allegories and symbols destitute of any foundation of objective reality and proposed under the form of history to inculcate historical and philosophical truths, or legends partly historical and partly-fictitious freely composed for the instruction and edification of minds. The commission bases its prohibition on the character and historical form of the Book of Genesis, the special nexus of the first three chapters with one another and with those that follow, the almost unanimous opinion of the Fathers, and the traditional sense which, transmitted by the people of Israel, the Church has ever held.
(4) Revelation.—As no man witnessed the creation and formation of the universe, all human speculations concerning this subject present only conjectures and hypotheses. In this field we obtain certain knowledge only by Divine revelation. Whether God granted this revelation by way of language, or by vision, or by another more intellectual process, we do not know; all of these methods are possible, and as such they may enter into the exegesis of Gen., i. Again, though very plausible reasons may be advanced for the thesis that God granted such a revelation to the first man, Adam, they are not absolutely convincing; the full instruction as to the origin of the world may have been given at a later period, perhaps only to the inspired writer of the Hexaemeron. If the revelation in question was granted at an earlier time, perhaps immediately after man’s creation, its substance may have been preserved by the aid of a special providence among the ancestors of the Hebrews. While the primitive doctrine degenerated among the races into their respective cosmogonies, modified by their various natural surroundings, one race may have kept alive the spark of Divine truth as it had been received from God in the cradle of humanity. Or, if such a purity of doctrine among the Hebrew ancestors appears to be incompatible with the vagaries of other Semitic cosmogonies, it may be assumed that God partially or wholly repeated His primitive revelation, during the time of the Patriarchs, for instance, or of Moses. At any rate, the attitude of Christian tradition towards the Hexaemeron implies its revealed character; hence, whatever theories may be held as to its transmission, its ultimate source is Divine revelation.
III. MEANING OF THE HEXAEMERON.—The genuine meaning of the Hexaemeron is not self-evident. The history of its exegesis shows that even the greatest minds differ in their opinion as to its real meaning. All interpreters begin by feeling the need of an explanation of this passage of the Bible, and all end by differing from all other interpreters. There are hints as to the meaning of Gen., i, in other parts of Scripture. Prov., iii, 19 sq.; viii, 22 sq.; Wisd., ix, 9; Ecclus., xxiv, refer to the personal Divine Wisdom what the Hexaemeron attributes to the word of God; Prov., viii, 23 sqq., and Ecclus., xxiv, 14, exclude eternal creation. The words of the woman recorded in II Mach., vii, 28, inculcate a production out of nothing. Ps. ciii and Job, xxxviii sq., give a poetical amplification of the Hexaemeron. But these Biblical elucidations cannot claim to be a commentary on Gen., i. Nor has the Church given us any official explanation of the Mosaic account of God‘s creative work. We must, therefore, rely on the principles of Catholic hermeneutics and the writings of Catholic interpreters for our understanding of the Hexaemeron. It will be found convenient, in our review of the pertinent exegetical work, to distinguish between literal and allegorical explanations.
The legitimate character of this method of proceeding will become clear in the light of the aforesaid decree of June 30, 1909, issued by the Biblical Commission. After safeguarding the literal, historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis in as far as they bear on the facts touching the foundations of the Christian religion—e.g., the creation of all things by God at the beginning of time, the special creation of man, the formation of the first woman from the first man, the unity of the human race—the commission lays down several special principles as to the interpretation of the first part of Genesis:—(I) Where the Fathers and Doctors differ in their interpretation, without handing down anything as certain and defined, it is lawful, saving the judgment of the Church and preserving the analogy of faith, for everybody to follow and defend his own prudently adopted opinion. (2) When the expressions themselves manifestly appear to be used improperly, either metaphorically or anthropomorphically, and when either reason prohibits our holding the proper sense, or necessity compels us to set it aside, it is lawful to depart from the proper sense of the words and phrases in the above-mentioned chapters. (3) In the light of the example of the holy Fathers and of the Church herself, presupposing the literal and historical sense, the allegorical and prophetical interpretation of some parts of the said chapters may be wisely and usefully employed. (4) In interpreting the first chapter of Genesis we need not always look for the precision of scientific language, since the sacred writer did not intend to teach in a scientific manner the intimate constitution of visible things and the complete order of creation, but to give his people a proper notion according to the common mode of expression of the time. (5) In the denomination and distinction of the six days mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis the word yom (day) can be taken either in its proper sense, as a natural day, or in an improper sense, for a period of time, and discussion on this point among exegetes is legitimate.
A. Literal Explanations.—Literal explanations do not necessarily exclude the admission of any figurative language in the Hexaemeron. The various actions of God, for instance—His commands, His review of His work, His blessings—are expressed in anthropomorphic language. But a literal explanation insists on the literal interpretation of the six days, understanding them as periods corresponding to our spaces of twenty-four hours.
Non-Concordist Interpretations.—The author of IV Esdr., vi, 38 sqq., is excessive in the literalness of his interpretation; he also supplements the Biblical account of creation with profane Jewish traditions. Omitting the views of Theophilus of Antioch (“Ad Autol.”, II, in P.G., VI, 1069 sqq.), Hippolytus (fragm. in P.G., X, 583 sqq.), Tertullian (“Adv. Hermog.”, xix sqq., in P.L., II, 214 sqq.), and Clement of Alexandria (“Strom.”, V, xiv, in P.G., IX, 129 sqq.), who have dealt only cursorily with the Hexaemeron problem, we find patrons of the literal interpretation of Gen., i, in such writers as Ephraem (Opp., ed. Rome, 1737, I), Jacob of Edessa (ibid., p. 116), Diodorus of Tarsus (P.G., XXXIII, 1561 sqq.), Theodore of Mopsuestia (P.G., LXVI, 636 sqq.), St. Basil (P.G., XXIX, 17), Gregory of Nyssa (“Hexaemeron” in P.G., XLIV, 68), Philoponus (“De mundi creation”; ed. Corderius, Vienna, 1630), Gregory the Great (“Mor.” in Job, xl, 10, in P.L., LXXVI, 644 sqq.), the Venerable Bede (“Hexaemeron” in P.L., XCI, 10 sqq.), Rabanus Maurus (“Comm. in Gen.” in P.L., CVII, 439), Walafried (“Glossa ord.” in P.L., CXIII, 67), Hugh of St. Victor (“Annot. in Pentateuch.”; “De sacram. fidei” in P.L., CLXXV, 29, and CLXXVI, 173), and other authors of minor importance. During the Scholastic age, too, the literal interpretation of the Hexaemeron was the prevalent one, as may be seen in the great works of Peter Lombard (Sent., II), Bl. Albertus Magnus (Summ. theol., II, tract. XI), and St. Thomas (Summa, I, Q. lxv sqq.). Most of the subsequent commentators urged the literal sense of the Hexaemeron; this is true even of the early Protestant writers who were always insisting on the primitive text of Scripture. The scientific difficulties implied in the literal interpretation of Gen., i, were explained mainly by recourse to miracle, a method occasionally employed even down to our own day by some theological writers. We call these interpreters non-Concordist, not because they do not explain the difficulties in an absolutely possible way, but because they have no regard for the harmony between the inspired record and the laws of nature.
The Hexaemeron Prior to the Geological Strata.—In order to avoid any opposition between the Hexaemeron and the data of geology, it has been attempted to place the geological formations after the six days of creation. A. Gonzalez de Sala (1650), I. Woodward (1659), I. Scheuchzer (1731), and others expressed the opinion that our present geological strata, fossils, etc. are due to the waters of the Deluge. G. Leibniz, A. L. Moro (1740), and others expressed their belief that the influence of fire and heat had been at least partial causes of the present conformation of the earth’s crust and surface. There was a great diversity of opinion as to the real length of time covered by the six days: G. Wiston (1696) maintained that before the rotation of the earth around its axis a day lasted a year; G. L. Buffon (1749) required a hundred thousand years for the Hexaemeron; while I. E. Silberschlag (1780) is content with six natural days. Among more recent writers the following are Diluvialists: C. F. Keil (“Biblischer Commentar”, Leipzig, 1866), P. Laurent (“Etudes geologiques”, Paris, 1863), A. Sorignet (“La Cosmogonie de la Bible“, etc., Paris, 1854), V. M. Gatti (“Institutiones apologetico-polemicae”, 1867), I. E. Veith (“Die Anfange der Menschenwelt”, Vienna, 1865), A. Bosizio (“Das Hexaemeron and die Geologie”, Mainz, 1865; “Die Geologie und die Sundfluth”, Mainz, 1877), A. Trissl (“Sundfluth oder Gletscher?” Munich, 1894, and “Das biblische Sechstagewerk”, Ratisbon, 1894), G. I. Burg (“Biblische Chronologie”, Trier, 1894). But this theory does not fully agree with the Biblical account of the Flood, nor does it satisfy the geologists.
The Hexaemeron Posterior to the Geological Data.—Another class of writers, whom we may call Restitutionists, are of the opinion that the Hexaemeron gives the history of the restoration of the earth after it had been so utterly destroyed that its chaos is properly described in Gen., i, 2. The geological data belong, therefore, to the period preceding this destruction of the world. Among the patrons of this theory we may mention: I.G. Rosenmuller (“Antiquissima telluris historia”, Ulm, 1776), W. F. Hetzel (“Die Bibel, Altes und Neues Test.”, Lemgo, 1780), Th. Chalmers (“Review of Cuvier’s Theory of the Earth”, Edinburgh, 1814; “Evidence and Authority of the Divine Revelation“, Edinburgh, 1814), N. Wiseman (“Twelve Lectures”, London, 1849), W. Buckland (“Geology and Mineralogy”, London, 1838). The following interpreters identified the primeval destruction of the earth with the catastrophe brought on by the fall of the angels: L. Schmid (“Erklarung der hl. Schriften”, etc., Munster, 1834), A.Westermayer (“Das Alte Testament und seine Bedeutung”, Schaffhausen, 1861), and I. H. Kurtz (“Bibel und Astronomie”, Berlin, 1842). The speculations implied in this theory are hardly upheld by Sacred Scripture.
The Hexaemeron Within the Geological Formations.—Father Pianciani has expressed the view that the six days of the Hexaemeron, though natural days, may not be continuous days; they may be picked out from among the long geological periods to which they respectively belong in such a way as to illustrate, as it were, the work going on in the several formative ages. A vast space of time may intervene between every two consecutive days, so as to make the six days cover the whole period of geological formation. But this explanation is hardly in keeping with the Biblical account of the six days. Besides, it can hardly be maintained that long ages intervened between the sixth and seventh day.
The Hexaemeron is a Vision.—Father von Hummelauer (“Commentarius in Genesim”, Paris, 1895) feels convinced, on the one hand, that the Hexaemeron speaks of six natural days, and that, on the other hand, it does not oppose the certain results of science. He believes that the vision theory will safeguard both these requirements. Instead of revealing the origin of the world in so many words, God showed Adam in a vision the general dependence of everything on His creative power; hence the Biblical Hexaemeron must be explained in the way in which other Scriptural visions are interpreted. The real length of time covered by the six visional days is not determined by Scripture; even the sequence of certain details may be different in nature from that in the vision, so that this theory does not interfere with the data of geology, while it safeguards the veracity of the inspired record. It is urged that the idea of Adam‘s learning the history of the origin of the world in a vision was suggested by Chrysostom (P.G., LIII, 27), Severianus Gabalitus (“Or. V”, P.G., LVI, 431), and Junilius Africanus (“Instit. regularia”, lib. I, iii sq., in P.L., LXVIII, 17), for they taught that Moses learned the cosmogony by means of a prophetic light illuminating past, instead of future, events. Similar views concerning the origin of the Biblical cosmogony are advanced by Basil (P.G., XXIX, 5), Ambrose (P.L., XIV, 131 sqq.), Eustathius (P.L., LIII, 869), Gregory of Nyssa (P.G., XLIV, 65), Procopius (P.G., LXXXVII, 28), and other early writers. In more recent times the vision theory has been explained and partly defended by such writers as I. H. Kurtz (“Bibel und Astronomie”, Berlin, 1842), H. Miller (“The Testimony of the Rocks”, Edinburgh, 1857), F. W. Schultz (“Die Schopfungsgeschichte nach Naturwissenschaft und Bibel”, Gotha, 1865), H. Reusch (“Bibel and Natur”, Freiburg, 1870), F. de Rougemont (“Le surnaturel demontre par les sciences naturelles”, Neuchatel, 1870), B. Schafer (“Bibel und Wissenschaft”, Munster, 1881), Moigno (“Les splendeurs de la foi”, Paris, 1877), E. Bougaud (“Le christianisme et les temps presents”, Paris, 1878), M. I. Scheeben (“Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik”, Freiburg, 1878), von Hummelauer (“Der biblische Schopfungsbericht”, Freiburg, 1877; “Stimmen aus Maria Laach”, XXII, 1882, p. 97), V. Becker (“Studien op godsdienstig, wetenschappeliik en letterkundig gebied”, Brussels and Bar-le-Duc, 1879), I. Corluy (“Spicil. dogm.—bibl.”, I, 880 sqq., Ghent, 1884; “La science catholique”, July 15, 1889), W. Gray Elmslie (“The First Chapter of Genesis” in “Contemporary Review”, 1887), and some anonymous authors (“The Mosaic Record in Harmony with the Geological”, London, 1855; the “Katholik”, I, 1879, p. 250 sqq.). Still, there are other interpreters who take exception to the vision theory; they urge that in other parts of the Bible the presence of a vision is always indicated, that such a practical precept as the observance of the Sabbath cannot be based on a mere vision, etc.
(f) The Poetic Theory.—We omit here the view that the Hexaemeron is merely an inspired record of a Semitic myth or a profane tradition (cf. F. Lenormant, “Origines”, I); this theory has been considered above. In a modified form it has been adopted by those writers who consider the Biblical cosmogony as a poem incorporated by Moses in the Book of Genesis. G. E. Paulus (“Neues Repertorium”, Jena, 1790) calls Gen., i, a Sabbath hymn; Rorison (“Replies to Essays and Reviews”, 1861), a creation psalm; Huxtable (The Sacred Record of Creation), a parable intended to teach the keeping of the Sabbath; Bishop Clifford (“Dublin Review”, 1881, I, p. 311 sqq.; II, p. 498 sqq.; “The London Tablet”, 1881, April to July), a scheme to consecrate each day of the week to a particular creative act of God, so as to do away with the previous consecration of the weekdays to the several heathen gods. But both the setting of the Hexaemeron in the Book of Genesis and the constant tradition concerning its literary character agree in proclaiming its historicity; the poetic theory is at variance with this testimony.
B. Allegorical Explanations.—Philo maintained the eternity of matter, identified the light of the first day with the angels, and gave a similar allegorical explanation of the other cosmogonic days. Origen, too (“Horn. in Hex.” in P.G., XII, 145 sqq.; “De princ.”, lib. IV, n. 16, and “C. Cels.”, lib. VI, 60, in P.G., XI, 376 sq., 1380), follows an allegorical explanation—the light of the first day denotes the angels, the abyss is hell, the upper and lower waters are the good and bad angels, the sun and the moon are Christ and His Church, etc. The world was created simultaneously, the various days denote only the diversity of created objects. Athanasius (“Or. II, c. Arian.”, n. 60, in P.G., XXVI, 276) also appears to maintain a simultaneous creation of the world; Procopius (“Comment.” in P.G., LXXXVII, 28 sqq.) regards the days of the Hexaemeron as purely ideal, indicating the order of created things. St. Augustine attempted three different times to explain the Hexaemeron in a literal sense, but each time he ended with an allegorical exegesis. In 389 (“De Gen. c. Manich.” in P.L., XXXIV, 173) he arrived at the conclusion that the cosmogonic evening and morning denote the completion and the inception of each successive work. In 393 (“De Gen. ad lit. lib. imperf.” in P.L., XXXIV, 221) the great African Doctor starts again with a literal explanation of Gen., i, but is soon perplexed by the questions: Did God consume the whole day in creating the various works?—How could there be days before there were heavenly luminaries?—How could there be light before the existence of the sun and the stars?—This leads him to adopt simultaneous creation, to identify the light of the first day with the angels, and to explain the evening and morning by the limitation and the beauty of the various created objects. In 4August 01ine began the third time to explain the Hexaemeron (“De Gen. ad lit. libr. XII” in P.L., XXXIV, 245; cf. “Retract.”, II, 24; “Confess.”, lib. XII sq., in P.L., XXXII, 825), but published his results only fifteen years later. He admits again a simultaneous formation of the world, so that the six days indicate an order of dignity—angels, the firmament, the earth, etc. Morning and evening he refers now to the knowledge of the angels, assuming that they denote respectively the angelic vision of things in the Word of God, and the vision of the objects themselves. The opinion of Augustine was followed by pseudo-Eucherius (“Comm. in Gen.” in P.L., L, 893), Isidore (“Quaest. in Gen.”; “Sent.”, I, 10, in P.L., LXXXIII, 207, 1153), pseudo-Augustine (“De mirab. script. s.” in P.L., XXXV, 2149), another pseudo-Augustine (“Quaest. ex V. et N. T.” in P.L., XXXV, 2213), Alcuin (“Intern et respons. in Gen.” in P.L., C, 515), Scotus Eriugena (“De divis. natur.” in P.L., CXXII, 439), Rupertus (“De Trinit. et oper. ejus” in P.L., CLXVII, 199), and Abelard (“Expos. in Hex.” in P.L., CLXXVIII, 731). In the sixteenth century, too, Cajetan and Melchior Cano adhered to the view of a simultaneous creation (cf. “Loc. theol.”, Salamanca, 1563). In the following centuries this allegorical interpretation developed into two main branches:
(a) The Concordists.—I. Kant (1755) and P. S. Laplace (1796) suggested that the stars were formed under the influence of the force of gravity by the rotation of the primitive body of matter around its own axis. G. Cuvier (“Discours sur les revolutions du globe”, Paris, 1812) divided the ages of geological formation into six periods and separated one from the other by great catastrophes. He was followed in this by M. de Serres (De la cosmogonie de Moise), J. F. Kruger (“Geschichte der Urwelt”, Quedlinburg and Leipzig, 1822), D. A. de Frayssinous (“Defense du christianisme”, Paris, 1825), A. Nicolas (“Etudes philosophiques sur le Christianisme”, Paris, 1842), and I. B. Pianciani (“In historiam creationis mosaicam commentatio”, Naples, 1851). C. Lyell (1836-38) denied the occurrence of the six great catastrophes, substituting an imperceptibly slow process of geological formation in their place. Still, there remains the general division into the palaeozoic, the mesozoic, and the caenozoic strata; the first are characterized by their remains of carboniferous plants; the second by traces of amphibious and fish life; the third show remnants of mammals. These periods correspond, therefore, roughly speaking, to the third, fifth, and sixth days of the Hexaemeron. Similarly, there appear to be astronomical periods which correspond to the first, second, and fourth days of Gen., i. It is not surprising, therefore, that the so-called Concordists have found these six long periods in the six days of the Hexaemeron, and have endeavored to establish an identity between the product of each period and the work described in each day of Gen., i. Moreover, these scholars point out that the Hebrew word translated “day” does not necessarily mean a natural day; that, in the absence of the sun, the first three days of the Hexaemeron cannot be natural days, and that therefore the second three days are not necessarily natural days; again, that the seventh day is certainly not a natural day, so that the first six days must be indefinite periods of time rather than natural days. Among the writers who favor this theory we may name: C. G. Hensler (“Bemerkungen uber Stellen aus den Psalmen und der Genesis“, Kiel, 1791), S. Turner (“Sacred History of the World”, 3rd ed., London, 1833), H. Miller (“The Testimony of the Rocks”, Edinburgh, 1857), I. Ebrard (“Der Glaube an die heilige Schrift und die Ergebnisse der Naturforschung”, Konigsberg, 1861), Msgr. Meignan (“Le monde et l’homme primitif”, Paris, 1869), G. Molloy (“Geology and Revelation“, London, 1870), M. Pozzy (“La terre et le recit biblique de la creation”, Paris, 1874). On the other hand, it has been pointed out that more than 20,000 species of animal life are found in the old palaeozoic strata, while the fruit-bearing plants are found only in the mesozoic strata; moreover, that the plants found in the palaeozoic strata resemble the plants found in the more recent strata, so that they must have needed the light of the sun, though the sun appeared only in the period succeeding that of the palaeozoic strata; finally, that, according to the obvious sense of the text, the work of each day of the Hexaemeron was complete before the next day commenced. Arguments like these are urged by such writers as H. Reusch (“Bibel und Natur”, 3rd ed., Freiburg, 1870, pp. 235 sqq.; 4th ed., 1876, pp. 244 sqq.) and C. Gutler (“Naturforschung und Bibel”, Freiburg, 1877, pp. 91 sqq.).
(b) The Idealists.—We have seen that St. Augustine and a number of patristic writers maintained the simultaneity of creation, and regarded the division into six days only as a classification of the various things created. The Idealists take their start from the second part of St. Augustine’s position, while for the great African Doctor‘s simultaneous creation they substitute the gradual development of the earth as demanded by the scientists. Among the first to propose this theory was F. Michelis (“Natur und Offenbarung”, Munster, 1855). He believes that Moses narrates the creation story as an historian might write the life of Charlemagne by considering him successively as king, as lawgiver, as Christian, as father of a family. Reusch, who had been a Concordist in the first editions of his great work, became an Idealist in the third edition (“Bibel and Natur”, Freiburg, 1870). Father Braun (“Veber Kosmogonie vom Standpunkt christlicher Wissenschaft”, Munster, 1889) endeavors to combine Concordism with Idealism. I. B. Baltzer (“Die biblische Schopfungsgeschichte”, Leipzig, 1867), Reusch (“Theol. Literatur-Blatt”, Bonn, 1867, p. 232), C. Guttler (“Naturforschung and Bibel”, Freiburg, 1877, pp. 101 sqq.), and Schafer (“Bibel and Wissenschaft”, Munster, 1881, pp. 237 sq.) have written against Idealism either as a whole or in its various special forms. The cosmogonic days and their succession, as exhibited in the Hexaemeron, appear to lose all meaning in the Idealists’ theory.
Considering the foregoing theories without bias, and in the light of both science and Revelation, a moderate form of Concordism or the theory of vision will be found to serve the Catholic interpreter most effectually both from a scientific and a critical point of view.
A. J. MAAS