And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
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Augustine of Hippo
The waters were divided so that some were above the firmament and others below the firmament. Since we said that matter was called water, I believe that the firmament of heaven separated the corporeal matter of visible things from the incorporeal matter of invisible things. .
But as far as concerns the separation of the waters I am obliged to contest the opinion of certain writers in the church who, under the shadow of high and sublime conceptions, have launched out into metaphor and have seen in the waters only a figure to denote spiritual and incorporeal powers. In the higher regions, accordingly, above the firmament, dwell the better; in the lower regions, earth and matter are the dwelling place of the malignant. So, say they, God is praised by the waters that are above the heavens, that is to say, by the good powers, the purity of whose soul makes them worthy to sing the praises of God. And the waters that are under the heavens represent the wicked spirits, who from their natural height have fallen into the abyss of evil. Turbulent, seditious, agitated by the tumultuous waves of passion, they have received the name of sea, because of the instability and the inconstancy of their movements. Let us reject these theories as dreams and old women’s tales.
Someone may ask this: Why does the Scripture reduce to a command of the Creator that tendency to flow downward which belongs naturally to water? … If water has this tendency by nature, the command ordering the waters to be gathered together into one place would be superfluous…. To this inquiry we say this, that you recognized very well the movements of the water after the command of the Lord, both that it is unsteady and unstable and that it is borne naturally down slopes and into hollows; but how it had any power previous to that, before the motion was engendered in it from this command, you yourself neither know nor have you heard it from one who knew. Reflect that the voice of God makes nature, and the command given at that time to creation provided the future course of action for the creatures.
Before laying hold of the meaning of Scripture let us try to meet objections from other quarters. We are asked how, if the firmament is a spherical body, as it appears to the eye, its convex circumference can contain the water which flows and circulates in higher regions? What shall we answer? One thing only: because the interior of a body presents a perfect concavity it does not necessarily follow that its exterior surface is spherical and smoothly rounded. Look at the stone vaults of baths, and the structure of buildings of cave form; the dome, which forms the interior, does not prevent the roof from having ordinarily a flat surface. Let these unfortunate men cease, then, from tormenting us and themselves about the impossibility of our retaining water in the higher regions.
Now we must say something about the nature of the firmament, and why it received the order to hold the middle place between the waters. Scripture constantly makes use of the word firmament to express extraordinar...
The firmament was created on the evening of the second night, just as the heavens came to be on the evening of the first night. But when the firmament came into existence, the covering of clouds that had served for a night and a day in the place of the firmament dissipated. Because [ the firmament ] had been created between the light and the darkness, no darkness remained above it, for the shadow of the clouds was dispelled when the clouds themselves were dispelled. Nor did any of this light remain there, for its alotted measure of time had come to an end and so it sank into the waters that were beneath [ the firmament ].
The wind could not have remained there, either, because it did not even exist there. It was on the first night that Moses said "it hovered" and not on the second night. If the firmament had been created on the first night when [ the wind ] was blowing there could then be some debate. But, since it is not written that [ the wind ] was blowing when the firmament was cr...
As the excessive volume of water bore along over the face of the earth, the earth was by reason thereof invisible and formless. When the Lord of all designed to make the invisible visible, He fixed then a third part of the waters in the midst; and another third part He set by itself on high, raising it together with the firmament by His own power; and the remaining third He left beneath, for the use and benefit of men. Now at this point we have an asterisk. The words are found in the Hebrew, but do not occur in the Septuagint.
As the excessive volume of water bore along over the face of the earth, the earth was by reason thereof “invisible” and “formless.” When the Lord of all designed to make the invisible visible, He fixed then a third part of the waters in the midst; and another third part He set by itself on high, raising it together with the firmament by His own power; and the remaining third He left beneath, for the use and benefit of men. Now at this point we have an asterisk. The words are found in the Hebrew, but do not occur in the Septuagint.
Firmament: Not that in which the stars are set, but the part of the atmosphere where the clouds are collected, and which has received the name firmament from the firmness and density of the air. "For a body is called firm," that is dense and solid, "thereby differing from a mathematical body" as is remarked by Basil (Hom. iii in Hexaem.).
Above the firmament: The waters above the firmament must rather be the vapors resolved from the waters which are raised above a part of the atmosphere, and from which the rain falls. As to the nature of these waters, all are not agreed. Origen says (Hom. i in Gen.) that the waters that are above the firmament are "spiritual substances." Wherefore it is written (Psalm 148:4): "Let the waters that are above the heavens praise the name of the Lord," and (Daniel 3:60): "Ye waters that are above the heavens, bless the Lord." To this Basil answers (Hom. iii in Hexaem.) that these words do not mean that these waters are rational creatures, but that "the t...