Almagest: Vol. XI, Issue 1
La nature dans les commentaires chrétiens sur la Genèse (hexaéméra)
Table of Contents and Abstracts, Almagest 11-1, May 2020
Foreword by E. Delli and E. Nicolaidis
Since the dawn of time, the aporia about the origins and the formation of the universe, nature and humanity has haunted and universally mobilized the imagination and the human spirit, giving birth to archetypal tales and philosophical-religious cosmogonies. Their veiling in symbolic discourse has not ceased to challenge the interpreter, who embarks on an uncompromising search for their meaning, in order to decipher the mysteries of the cosmos and their own nature, to create order in their life within the Whole surrounding them, and define their relation to the divine.
Concerning the creation of the world, the account of the first chapters of Genesis (1:1 – 2:4) has been in this respect a major text for all Abrahamic religions. Biblical language has nourished many expressions of faith, in terms of both exchanges and conflicts between them. If the biblical account of creation can be inscribed in the sphere of mythological discourse, especially by its structure and its narrative character, putting on stage a God who acts by speaking with human words, it is however distinguished both from the myths of other religions and the rational ideas of philosophy, being the outcome of divine Revelation.
Considered one of the most accomplished parts of the Old Testament, brief, solemn, with a dense language, endowed with a carefully balanced rhythmic structure, the story of creation has a rational coherence which inspired theological, philosophical and scientific thought for more than two millennia, setting off a monumental hermeneutic enterprise whose plurality, complexity and metamorphoses traverse centuries and places. This intellectual and spiritual approach was intimately joined by a multifaceted and remarkable artistic production. From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and up to modern times, the inspiration of Genesis 1-2 is abundantly detected in the plastic arts, music and poetry.
This thematic volume is the outcome of the international symposium entitled “Cosmogonie, Cosmologie, Hexaéméron” which took place at the Royal Academy of Belgium in September 2014 with the collaboration of three research teams: The Centre Interdisciplinaire d’étude des Religions et Laïcité (CIERL), Narses: Nature and Religion in South Eastern Europe of the National Hellenic Research Foundation, Oikoumene: Center for Mediterranean Studies of the ULB. This symposium was intended as a first effort for a non-theological collective study of various Hexaemerons (the exegesis of the story of the six days of Creation in the Old Testament), a very first step in order to constitute in the long run a multidisciplinary research project on the history of the exegesis of the book of Genesis. As a result, the papers included in this volume, although spanning a long period (from the first Hexaemerons to the end of the Middle Ages), remain sporadic, and constitute only small parts of a larger picture that covers almost two millennia and includes several languages and cultures.
The Hexaemeron, an exegetic genre predominantly Judeo-Christian, occupies a prominent place in patristic and medieval literature, constituting a large and rich corpus. From the first century CE, Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenized Jewish philosopher, writes comments in Greek, the lingua franca for philosophy and science in the Roman Empire, on the first chapters of Genesis which deal with crucial questions about the creation of the universe (the sky and the earth, the original light, the matter, the firmament and the separation of the waters, the plants, the day and the night, the sun and the moon), animals and man. Pythagorean and Platonic, Philo conceives a creation based on arithmetic symbolism and a corporal world perceived by senses, copied from an intelligible and incorporeal world created also by God, to serve as an archetypal model. Philo's goal is to convince pagan philosophers of the merits of the biblical story. Two centuries later, Origen and Hippolytus of Rome will write the first Christian Hexaemera, followed by those of Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, John Philoponus, George of Pisidia, Anastasius of Sinai, to name a few Greek-language authors of Eastern Christianity. In the same cultural context, we also have Hexaemera in Syriac language, such as those by Jacob of Edessa in the seventh century or of Abū-l-Farağ Gamal al-Dīn, known as Bar Hebræus, in the thirteenth century. From the fourth century, theologians in the West will write commentaries on Genesis in Latin: Ambrosius of Milan and Saint Augustine, followed by Bede the Venerable, John Scotus Eriugena, Peter Abelard, Henry of Langestein - to name but a few main exegetes of the Western Middle Ages.
The exegeses inspired by the first chapters of Genesis often go beyond the strictness of the commentary, and take various literary forms, such as chronicles, poetry, homilies, hymns, questions and answers, legendary narrations, monastic literature as well as sui generis forms, such as that of Cosmas Indicopleustes, the Alexandrian merchant follower of the dyophysite bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia. In addition, many of them have survived in fragments or in the exegetical chains of Genesis, while others have been lost forever.
The Christian Hexaemerons are essentially set up on a constitutive tension which is reflected in their contents as much as in their literary forms and the exegetical methods adopted. First, they bring to light the major ruptures introduced by the Christian Revelation in the conception of God, of the world and of humankind, in comparison to the relevant doctrines developed by pagan Greco-Roman philosophers. The emergence of the world is no longer conceived as an emanation or as a derivation from an impersonal organizing Principle; nor does it constitute a pale reflection of a world of Ideal Forms, nor the product of a process of decline. In addition, the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, systematically formulated towards the end of the second century, in the context of the debates against the Gnostics, broke its links both with the Platonic demiurge of Timaeus, the eternal world of Aristotle, and some equivocal formulas in this regard from the Old Testament. The god-world of paganism is replaced by an absolutely transcendent Trinitarian God who brings the world into being by an act of will and love, in order to inscribe it in the History of salvation. The relationships between God, human and the world revolve around the redemptive Christ, Incarnate Word, and substantial link of the entire universe. These ruptures attribute to the Hexaemerons, more or less explicitly, a polemical character against the pagans and the Jews.
It should be noted that the transition to the Christian worldview did not take place in a cultural and historical vacuum. The emerging Christianity was formed in a multicultural environment that permeated it and with which it entered into dialogue in order to define its own identity in relation to paganism, but also to deal with the "heresies" arising within its own milieu. For example, the Hexaemeron of Basil of Caesarea, which has known a tremendous diffusion in the Eastern Christian world and has greatly influenced the Latin tradition, is very often positioned against other Christian exegeses, which have been labelled as heretic. It should also not be overlooked that within the established dogma, fundamentally distinct conceptions of the world appear in different Hexaemerons. While most of these exegeses follow the Hellenic-Jewish tradition of Philo and present the fundamental characteristics of Greek cosmology from Plato onwards (spherical earth at the center of a spherical world, uniform circular movement of celestial orbs), others, beginning with John Chrysostom, let suppose or explicitly present a flat Earth surrounded by a motionless sky in the shape of vault. This cosmology of the flat Earth will be found later in popular Christian literature on the lives of Saints, both in East and in West Christianity.
Although Christian theology is in conflict with pagan metaphysics of nature, the concepts as well as the hermeneutical methods used for the interpretation of the sacred texts, are largely conditioned by Greek philosophy, explicitly or implicitly. In this sense, the split between Hellenic and Christian thought which seems at first sight radical, is strongly nuanced. The Christian theological discourse on the account of the creation of the world draws from the dominant philosophical thoughts, although in an eclectic and varied way. These philosophical foundations are necessary for the doctrinal formulation of Christian faith, in order to make it intelligible and shareable by the dominant intellectual milieu, deeply marked by Hellenic culture. Oscillating thus between the reception and the rejection of the Hellenic philosophical heritage, Christian thinkers not only aimed at a fine rationalization of the biblical accounts and the religious experience by means of the pagan philosophical logos and the natural sciences that this logos vehicles, but they also followed these sciences in their evolution until the sixth century.
Arranged in chronological order, according to the author presented, the contributions gathered in this volume provide an indicative panorama of the vast field of the Christian approaches and interpretations of the story of the creation of the world. They are centered on the exegetical genre of the Hexaemeron and the thematic ramifications attached to it (such as those on matter, light, the image of the Creator, etc.). They highlight the cultural conditions for the deployment of the exegesis of the text of Genesis and the methods of its reception within medieval Christian traditions (western and eastern) as well as its transformations until the thirteenth century.
In her article “From Plato to Basil of Caesarea and George of Pisidia: the metamorphoses of the demiurge in his work become a Christian tool for perfection”, Florence Meunier presents the changes of the concept of demiurge, the creator of the world. During the fourth century, Saint Basil developed the Christian concept of the demiurge which, although influenced by Greek philosophy, is fundamentally different from that of Plato. Three centuries later, the Byzantine George of Pisidia in his Hexaemeron in verses, points out two Christian concepts about the demiurge: the role of the divine Trinity in Creation, and the perfection of Creation. Closing her paper, Meunier presents a 12th century Byzantine author, Theodore Prodromos, who transgressed the established norms by presenting in a work of fiction a parodic variant of the Creation and the person of the demiurge.
In his article “Plato and Hipparchos have read the Bible: the Hexaemeron of John Philoponus”, Efthymios Nicolaidis presents the most influenced by Ancient Greek philosophy Christian Hexaemeron. Philoponus, like Philo of Alexandria, reflects on a Creation in two stages, the first being the ideal conception of the world and the second the transformation of this ideal conception into the material cosmos. Philoponus tries to save the authority of Plato and Greek astronomy by stating that Plato and Hipparchos were inspired by God because they have read the Ancient Testament.
The article “Survival and transformations of the hexaemeral literature. Between literature, theology and philosophy: The case of Georges of Pisidia’’ by Eudoxie Delli demonstrates how hexaemeral literature records the incessant metamorphoses over the centuries that reflect the change of intellectual priorities and religious sensibilities of Christians towards Creation. The article focuses on the Hexaemeron of the Byzantine poet George of Pisidia, which is the fruit of a synthesis of previous wisdoms in the form of a poem aiming to reformulate the meaning of the Hexaemeron in the light of author's own times. Delli studies the character, the literary traits as well as the posterity of George of Pisidia’s poem and concentrates her analysis on the title, the structure, the triptych Nature-God-Human and, finally, on the pagan and Christian sources that inspired the author in bringing to light a dynamic image of the world and of being within it.
In her article “Matter of Creation in four Carolingian commentaries on Genesis (I, 1-14): an origin of the world, torn between shape and darkness", Alice Lamy analyses the ontological statute of matter in the Christian conception of Creation through four Carolingian authors: Bède, Alcuin, Haymon d'Auxerre and Rémi d'Auxerre. Primordial matter concentrates in all its aspects the enigma of the creation ex nihilo, before its deployment in a space for the life of every being, intelligible and sensitive. Lamy shows that while the four authors use different developments of the exegesis of Augustine, from the Manichean controversy to De Genesi ad litteram, Bede and Alcuin present matter as positive and ductile, while Haymond and Rémi d’Auxerre highlight the confused and dark nature of matter.
In the article “Robert Grosseteste: Light and the Foundations of the World”, Christian Brouwer analyses the different conceptions of two Grosseteste works, De luce and Hexaemeron. De luce appears more as a cosmological text while the Hexaemeron is a text about cosmogony. Despite great differences in their approach between the two writings, Brouwer detects some common aspects that can be seen as a use of natural philosophy in the explanation of the revealed text.
The Candelabra of the Sanctuaries is a Jacobite summa theologica written by the Maphrian of the Syriac Church Bar Hebræus (1225-1286) or Abulpharagius, as he was known in the Latin tradition. In his article “On what has been created the sixth day… Discourse on Man in the Candelabra of the Sanctuaries of Bar Hebræus”, Arnauld Delhove examines the discourse on Man in Bar Hebræus’s commentary on what was created on the sixth day. Delhove aims to study the structure of this presentation of Man and how it fits into the Hexaemeron and more broadly into the Candelabra of the Sanctuaries. In addition, he discusses how Bar Hebræus compiled many elements from secular sources to insert them into a theological work.
This thematic issue closes with a selective secondary bibliography on Hexaemerons and related subjects. At the crossroads of religion, philosophy and the secular sciences, embracing a broad spectrum of issues (cosmology, astronomy, the physical world, nature, anthropology), originating in different exegetical traditions with plural ramifications and in various literary forms, the literature on Hexaemerons resists rigorous systematization. Given the width and plurality of the disciplines concerned, the richness of hermeneutical approaches, as well as the increasing number of related publications, the bibliography offered here is not intended to be complete. It aims to provide readers with a useful tool for further reading on Hexaemerons, with the use of which they can deepen their bibliographical research on the topic. We have thus opted for a rather concise version structured in chronological order, allowing the reader to follow the main research orientations and perspectives and their evolution over time, as well as to identify the authors of reference in this field.
Introduction de E. Delli et E. Nicolaïdis
De Platon et Philon d’ Alexandrie à Basile de Césarée et Georges Pisides : les métamorphoses du Démiurge devenues outil de perfectionnement chrétien
From ancient "paganism" to Christianity, passing through Judaism, the concept of "demiurge", creator of the world, has been crucially evolved, even if the influence of Greek philosophy remains noticeable on this question in a Byzantine theologian such as Basil of Caesarea, fundamental Christian source. Basil had been the main source of inspiration for the 7th century Byzantine poet, Georges of Pisidia, in a common celebration of the six days of Creation. The Christian specificity of these hexaemerons emerges on two essential points: the importance of the divine Trinity within Creation, and the perfection of Creation, source of wonder and respect, since manifestation of the power, intelligence and kindness of the Creator. Yet, a 12th century Byzantine author, Theodore Prodromos, chose to transgress the established norms by presenting - in a work of fiction - a parodic variant of Creation and of demiurge’ person.
Platon et Hipparque ont lu la Biblese : l’Hexaéméron de Jean Philopon
The creation of the world according to Moses, which Jean Philopon wrote around 546-549 in a controversial context against non-Hellenic conceptions of the world, is the Christian Hexaemeron most influenced by Greek philosophy. In this book, Philopon explains to pagan philosophers not only how the world was created according to the Bible, but that the universe resulting from this Creation is compatible with the Hellenic perception of the cosmos. Philopon insists on the creation ex nihilo of space, matter and time, and discusses the question of the moment of creation of angels who, according to him, are incorporeal and were created before the world. Following this Christian part of cosmology, Philopon presents a world completely compatible with the model of Ptolemy, by providing details which we do not find in other Hexaemerons, like the fact that the planetary spheres are either eccentric or they carry epicycles. In order to prove to Christian theologians that Hellenic cosmology is valid, Philopon writes a chapter in which he affirms that Plato, "the flower of philosophy", imitated Moses in his Timaeus in his account on the origin of the world. Hipparchus and Ptolemy were inspired by the existence, according to Moses, of the firmament which is below the sphere delimiting the world, to conjecture a ninth sphere without stars, external to all, which would imprint the movement of the world of West to East.
Survie et transformations des problématiques issues des Hexaéméra. Entre la Bible et le Timée. Le cas de Georges de Pisidie
Based on the idea that the hexaemeral literature turns out to be the register of incessant metamorphoses over the centuries reflecting the changing of intellectual priorities and religious sensibilities of Christians towards Creation, the article focuses on the Hexaemeron of the Byzantine poet Georges of Pisidia, which constitutes the fruit of a synthesis of previous wisdoms in a literary form, which aims to update its meaning in the author's own time. After a brief presentation of the historical framework in which the production of the poem takes shape, the author studies its character, its literary traits as well as its posterity. Then, the author concentrates her analysis on the title, the subtitle (Cosmourgie), the structure, the major themes of the Hexaemeron (around the triptych Nature-God-Man) and, finally, on the pagan and Christian sources from which Georges of Pisidia is inspired in order to bring to light a dynamic image of the world and of being within it.
La matière de la création dans quatre commentaires Carolingiens sur la Genèse (I, 1-14) : un orogine du monde entre forme et ténèbres
The first verses of the book of Genesis on creation reflect the beginning of the world, the radiation of an active and all-powerful divine principle on nature and the emergence of created beings. Primordial matter, at the heart of this undifferentiated universe, concentrates in all its aspects the enigma of creation ex nihilo, before its deployment in a space for the life of any being, intelligible and sensitive.
Our study aims to analyse the ontological statute of matter through four Carolingian authors: Bède, Alcuin, Haymon d'Auxerre and Rémi d'Auxerre, in their respective use of their Augustinian heritage. While the four authors use the different generations of Augustinian exegesis, from the Manichean controversy to De Genesi ad litteram, the first two exegetes present matter as positive and ductile, while the last two more highlight the confused nature of matter which is dark.
Robert Grosseteste : la lumière et les fondements du monde
The writings of Robert Grosseteste (circa 1170-1253) offer the possibility of comparing different methods in the exposition of cosmology or cosmogony. The present study aims to expose some points that emerge from this confrontation. In De luce (Treatise on light), Grosseteste analyses a mode of constitution of the cosmos where light plays the role of the form of corporeality, that is to say that light is identified with a primordial form of constitution of bodies composed of matter and form. This treatise appears more like a cosmology than a cosmogony. In the Hexaemeron, which is posterior to De luce, Grosseteste comments on the story of creation in Genesis 1,1 - 2,16. Here, the question of temporality is central, notably that of the meaning to be given to creation in six days. Despite great differences in approach in the two writings, it is possible to detect some commonalities which can be considered as a use of natural philosophy in the explanation of the revealed text.
De ce qui fut créé le sixième jour... Discours sur l’homme dans le Candélabre des Sanctuaires de Bar Hebræus (II, 3, 6)
In the Candelabra of the Sanctuaries, a Jacobite summa theologica, the Maphrian of the Syriac Church Bar Hebræus (1225-1286) gives to a part of his treatise on the nature of the universe a hexaemeral form.
This article examines the discourse on man in the commentary on what was created on the sixth day. It intends to highlighting the structure of Bar Hebræus’s presentation of man and how this structure fits into the hexaemeron and more broadly into the Candelabra of the Sanctuaries. In addition, it discusses how Bar Hebræus compiled many elements from secular sources to insert them into a theological work and the relationship he established between these data and the framework of the Revelation.
Secondary selective Bibliography on Hexaemerons and related subjects
The bibliography offered here is neither intended to be complete nor exhaustive. It aims to provide the reader with a useful tool for future research on Hexaemerons, from which he can deepen his bibliographic research on this subject. This bibliography also aims to show the main directions and the evolution of the literature on Hexaemerons. For this purpose, we opted for a rather synoptic version and above all structured in chronological order, permitting the reader to follow the research orientations and perspectives and their evolution over time, and to identify the authors of reference in this field.
Le texte de Genèse 1, 1 -2,4 (traduction française)