Document: Letter 44
Date: c. 389
Addressee: Horontianus
English Translation: FC 26.264-272
Summary of Contents: Answers to questions on Creation

You have noted remarkably well the distinction drawn by the Prophet, or, rather, by God, for Moses did not write by his own power; he wrote by inspiration and revelation, particularly in what concerns the creation of the world. This distinction sets apart worker and works. Since the one was incapable of suffering and the other susceptible of suffering, he attributed that which is incapable of suffering to God the worker, and to the world that which is susceptible of suffering, having no life or motion of its own, receiving from its Creator motion, life, and form. The world, once it was made, was not to be left unguarded, without a pilot and father. Hence, he relates very clearly that the unseen God is the guide and protector of this visible world. The invisible, then, is everlasting; the visible is temporal.

He states that the world was made in six days, not because God had need of time to set it up, since a moment suffices for Him to do what He wishes, for ‘he spoke and they were made, but things which are made require an order and order generally requires both time and number. For this reason, being about to give us a pattern for our work. He observed a number of days and seasons. We, too, need time to do something well, so as not to hurry, our plans and works, or fail to keep a proper order. But when we read, as Scripture shows, that God did all things with wisdom and certain foresight and purpose and order, it is consonant with reason that He first made heaven which is most beautiful. This must be so that we may lift our eyes there first and realize that we must arrive there, and esteem that abode preferable to all things of earth.

Hence, “He created the world in six days and on the seventh He rested from His works.” The number seven is good; we shall treat it, not as do the Pythagoreans or other philosophers, but according to the form and divisions of spiritual grace, since the Prophet Isaiah has included seven principal virtues of the Holy Spirit. This sevenfold number, like that of the adorable Trinity of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, without time or order, is the origin of number, being not bound by the law of number. And as the sky, the earth, and the sea were formed for the sake of the Trinity, as well as the sun, the moon, and the stars, so, too, do we note that for the sevenfold path and orbit of spiritual virtues, driven on by the vigor of a divine operation, a sevenfold ministry of planets was created for the illumination of the world. Their services are said to agree with their number, being called fixed stars or, as the Greeks say aplaneîs. The north has also received its Latin name, septemtrio, because a gleam of seven stars shines in it and pilots are said to keep it before their gaze as a guide.

This particular dignity of rank has come down from heaven to earth, not to mention the sevenfold gift of head, two eyes, two ears and nostrils, and the mouth by which we partake of great sweetness. How wonderful it is that for most men their genuine beginning is formed in the seventh month, and one who will issue forth at a later time begins the course of his life’s generation. But we see that nature itself prohibits the eighth month as the season for bringing forth children; if some grave necessity perchance opens the barrier of the womb 10 at that time, peril is advanced for the mother and child.

A child, born at seven months, though born well, is born for hardships; but one who begins the mystery of regeneration on the eighth day is sanctified by grace and called to the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. Great in the power of the Holy Spirit is the grace of seven, yet the same grace echoes in response to seven and consecrates the number eight. In the one is the name; in the other, the enjoyed. Thus, the grace of the Spirit which was bestowed on the eighth day brought back to paradise those whom sin had made outcasts.

The Old Testament took note of this number eight, called by us in Latin an octave, for Ecclesiastes says: “Give a portion to those seven, and also to those eight.” The seven of the Old Testament is the eight of the New, since Christ arose and the day of the new salvation has shed light upon all It is the day of which the Prophet says: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice at it.” On that day there comes the splendor of a full and perfect circumcision to the hearts of men. On this account the Old Testament gave the number eight a share in the ceremony of circumcision. But it still lay hidden in darkness. Then came the Sun of justice and in the accomplishment of His passion He revealed the rays of His light, showing them to all, disclosing the brightness of eternal life.

Those are the seven and eight of which Osee says that with this number he bought and took to himself the fullness of faith, for you read: “And I went and bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver and for a core of barley and for a half core of barley and a measure of wine.” The Lord had told him previously to buy a harlot, and it is proof that he bought her since he declares how much he paid. The fifteen pieces of silver consist of seven and eight and symbolize the number seven and the number eight. By the price of the two Testaments, that is, of the fullness of faith, the prophecy received the consummation of faith, the Church received the fullness. By the first Testament the people of Israel were gained; by the second, the heathens and Gentiles. By the plenitude of faith the harlot is bought who seeks union with the Gentiles or with adulterous people of the Jews who left their Lord and the author of their virginal faith, spreading their assemblies all over the world.

When he said “a core and a half core of barley,” under- stand that in a core there is full measure, in a half core half measure. The fullness is in the Gospel, only semi- perfection is in the Law, as we read when the Lord said: “I have not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill.” Elsewhere, too, we have the Lord saying through the Prophet Micheas: “Then this man will be our peace in the land of Israel, when the Assyrian shall come into his land, and seven shepherds and eight jaws of men have risen against him.” The faithful people then will enjoy perfect peace and freedom from all temptation and vanity, for peace and grace will shut out of their hearts the vanity of this world. Peace is of the Old Testament; grace, of the New.

The seven shepherds are the commandments of the Law which in the rod of Moses guided and governed the flock through the desert. The eight jaws of men are the commandments of the Gospel and the words of the Lord’s mouth: “With the heart a man believes unto justice, and with the mouth profession of faith is made unto salvation.” Those jaws are good by which we have tasted the gift of eternal life, devouring the remission of sins in the Body of Christ. In the Old Testament the jaw of death is bitter, since it is said: “Strong death is all devouring.” In the New Testament the jaw of death is sweet, for it has swallowed death, as the Apostle says: “Death is swallowed up in victory? O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

To use, in addition, the Apostle’s evidence: when God made man He rested the seventh day from all His works. But because the Jewish people through contempt refused to obey the commands of their God, the Lord said: “If they shall enter into my rest.” God appointed another day and said of it: “O that you may hear My voice today.” The words of Scripture include all days in two days, yesterday and today, as in the words: “Imitate their faith in Jesus Christ, He is the same yesterday and today, yes, and forever.” The promise is made the first day; the following day it is fulfilled. Since neither Moses nor Joshua, the son of Nun, brought the people to their rest yesterday, Christ brought them today to whom His Father said: “This day I have begotten you.” Through His resurrection Jesus has purchased rest for His people. Our rest is the Lord Jesus, who says: “This day you shall be with me in paradise.” Rest is in heaven; it is not on earth.

What need have I to study the rising and the setting of the stars, and at their rising plough up and pierce the fallow ground with hard ploughshares, or at their setting cut the fruitful crop? One star means more to me than all the others, “the bright morning star” at whose rising was sown not the seed of grain but the seed of martyrs, that time when Rachel wept for her children to offer for Christ her babes washed with her tears. The setting of that star brought back in triumph from the tomb not the unfeeling relics of funeral piles, but bands of the living, who had been dead.

The number seven should be esteemed because the life of man passes through seven stages to old age, as Hippocrates, the master of medicine, has explained in his writings. The first age is infancy; the second, boyhood; the third, youth; fourth, adulthood; fifth, manhood; sixth, maturity; seventh, old age. So there is the infant, the child, the youth, the young man, the man, the man of experience, and the aged. Solon imagined that there were ten periods of life, each of seven years’ duration. The first period of infancy extends to the time when he cuts his teeth, which he uses in chewing his food and articulating his speech so that it is distinct; boyhood extends to the time of puberty and carnal temptations; youth to the growth of the beard; adulthood to attaining of perfect manliness; the fifth age is manhood during its seven-year period it is fully adapted to marriage; the sixth period, too, is assigned to manhood, which is well-suited to display prudence and is vigorous in its action; the seventh period and the eighth show man ripe in years, vigorous in his faculties, and his speech endowed with a quality of delivery not unpleasant; the ninth period still has some strength left, while in speech and wisdom it is more mellow; the tenth period of seven years completes the span, and one who reaches this period will after the full course of time finally knock at the gate of death.

Both Hippocrates and Solon admitted either seven ages or seven-year periods. In these the number seven should prevail. The eighth period introduces one continual period in which we grow up into a perfect man, knowing God, possessing the fullness of faith, wherein the measure of genuine life is fulfilled.

Even in the organs of our body the number seven is favored. They say that we have seven organs within us: stomach, heart, lungs, spleen, liver, and the two kidneys. These are also seven outwardly: head, hind parts, abdomen, two hands, and two feet.

These are very excellent, but they are subject to pain. Would anyone doubt that the number eight has a greater task, for it renews the whole man and makes him unable to suffer? Now that the seventh age of the world has been concluded, the grace of the eighth has dawned, and made man no longer of this world but above it. No longer do we live our life, but we live Christ: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain…I no longer live in the flesh, but in the faith of Christ.” The Apostle has spoken and we know from this that the day of the world has drawn to a close. At the last hour, the Lord Jesus came and died for us. And we are all dead in Him so that we may live to God. We who were do not live, but Christ lives in us.

The number seven has gone; the number eight has come. Yesterday is gone; today has come. That is the promised day on which we have been warned to hear and follow God’s word. The day of the Old Testament is gone; the new day has come wherein the New Testament is made perfect, of which he [Paul] says: “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in that day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.” He adds the reason why the covenant was changed: “They did not abide by my covenant, and I did not regard them, says the Lord.”

The priests of the Law and the sanctuaries of the Law have gone. Let us draw near our new High Priest, to the throne of grace, the Guest of our souls, the Priest, made not according to the law of the carnal commandment, but chosen by the power [of the command] which cannot end. He did not take the honor to Himself, but He was chosen by the Father, as the Father Himself says: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.” We see what the new Priest has offered. Other priests make offerings for themselves and their people. This one, having no sin of His own for which He should make offerings, offered Himself for the world and by His own Blood entered the Holy of Holies.

He, then, is the new Priest and the new Victim, not of the Law but above it, the Advocate of the world, the Light of time, who said: “Behold I come, and he came.” Let us approach Him to adore Him in the fullness of faith and to hope in Him whom we do not see with our eyes, but whom we have in our heart. To Him is all honor always and glory.

Farewell, son, and love us, because we love you.

Translation from FC 26.264-272, adapted by SMT

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Last updated: 5-13-2011

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