The "Six Days" of Genesis; Brownson's Quarterly Review for April 1863

The "Six Days" of Genesis, Brownson's Quarterly Review, 1863


In the January number of this Review, we have given good reasons, as we think, for ascribing to this earth of ours an extreme old age.  Thousands and hundreds of thousands will not serve to reckon up its years.  It is necessary now to reconcile this conclusion of inductive reason with the statements of the Bible.  The first chapter of Genesis informs us that the world, with its whole complement of creatures, organic and inorganic, was created in six days; and according to the most liberal calculation of the somewhat confused chronology of the Bible, that week of creation cannot be placed farther back than 7,800 years from the present time.  If so, there would seem to be a contradiction between the two records, the record of Revelation and the record of Nature.  What shall we say? Must the Christian world, like the authors of "Essays and Reviews," give up its faith in an external revelation, or shall it accept the invitation of the Abbe Sorignet, and abandon its confidence in the plain conclusions of the science?  The Christian world, we think, is not likely to do either.  Yet there is, to say the least, a prima facie conflict between these two sources of knowledge, and it is important to know how to reconcile them.


In attempting to harmonize the Mosaic account of creation with geology, we are not bound to clear away all obscurity from the subject. In this life, all truths, like natural objects in a landscape, stand in relief and shade.  We are not bound to demonstrate positively that there is no conflict between the two.  The burden of proof is not on our side.  All that can fairly be demanded of us is to show that the seeming points of contradiction are not necessarily such.  This being done, we leave both revelation and science to stand upon their own several bases of credibility.  Now there are several methods of interpreting the "Days" of Genesis, either one of which, as its adherents claim, will remove all appearance of conflict with natural science.  We will give some of these in succession, concluding with that one which approves itself best to our understanding.  The first theory supposes the word day to signify a literal day of twenty-four hours.  The present creation, or the habitable globe as we see it now, with all its existing forms of life, its animals and plants, was commenced and finished within the space of six such natural days.  Nevertheless the matter, or component material, of the earth and of the stars, was not created at this time, but at some earlier period lying far remote in the abyss of the past.  The opening verse of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," is referred to this first creation of the matter of the universe.  The second verse commences a detailed account of the present creation, thus passing over in silence a vast period of time, during which occurred those many changes which geology reveals to us in the configuration of the earth's surface, those successive formations of new rocks out of the ruins of the old, and all those creations of animals and plants now found in the fossil state.* (St. Augustine has been incorrectly cited for the opinion that matter was first created, and that afterwards an indefinite interval elapsed until the "six days" of Genesis.  He says: "That matter, out of which are derived all those things which are distinct and formed, was made at first in a confused state, which I think the Greek calls chaos.  And thus in another place we read, what is said to the praise of God, 'qui fecisti mundum de materia informi,' which some copies have, 'de materia invisa.'  And therefore God is rightly believed to have made all things from nothing; because, although all things having form were made of that matter, that matter itself was made out of absolute nothing." (De Genesi. contra Manich. Bk 1, cap. 6)

  There is nothing in the above that indicates any such indefinite interval of ages. Besides, it is certain that St. Augustine had no thought of any interval of time between creation of matter and the organization of the world, his theory being a different one, as we shall presently see.  In his "Confessions," after repeating the same thing as above, he explains his meaning to be that the matter of the universe was prior to the organized world, as sound is prior to music, "non in tempore, sed in origine." (Confess. Bk 12, cap. 29))


To this theory various difficulties at once suggest themselves.  A natural, literal day is produced by a revolution of the earth upon its axis beneath the rays of the sun.  But the creation of the sun, moon, and the stars is assigned by Genesis to the fourth day.  By what measure of time then were the first three days computed?  And again, the light was created on the first day.  Was the earth in darkness during the long ages that preceded it?


The reply made to these objections is, that a more just interpretation of the language of the Prophet shows his meaning to be, not that the heavenly bodies, nor light itself, were created at that time, but that on the first day light was made to reappear, dissipating in part the darkness which prevailed before; and that on the fourth day a more perfect dissipation of the chaotic mist unveiled the orbs of the sun and moon and revealed the full glory of the heavens.  It must be borne in mind, moreover, that the theory we are now considering does not suppose a constant state of chaos, from the first creation of unformed matter up to the commencement of the present creation, or that described by Moses.  It supposes a succession of destructions and renovations of life, elevations and submergences of continents and islands, terminating with that last chaos and that final re-creation of which we read in Genesis.  The theory is given by Cardinal Wiseman in its most attractive form, as follows:


"Had the Scripture allowed no interval between creation and organization, but declared that they were simultaneous or closely consecutive acts, we should perhaps have stood perplexed in the reconciliation between its assertions and modern discoveries.  But when, instead of this, it leaves an undecided interval between the two; nay more, informs us that there was a state of confusion and conflict, of waste and darkness, and a want of a proper basin for the sea, which thus would cover first one part of the earth and then another; we my truly say that the geologist reads in those few lines the history of the earth such as his monuments have recorded it,- a series of disruptions, elevations, and dislocations; sudden inroads of the unchained element, entombing successive generations of amphibious animals; calm, but unexpected subsidences of the waters, embalming in their various beds their myriads of aquatic inhabitants; alternations of sea and land, and fresh-water lakes; an atmosphere obscured by dense carbonic vapor, which by gradual absorption in the waters was cleared away, and produced the pervading mass of calcareous formations; till at length came the last revolution preparatory for our creation, when the earth, being now sufficiently broken for that beautiful diversity which God now intended to bestow on it, or to produce those landmarks and barriers which his foreseeing counsels had designed, the work of ruin was suspended, save for one more great scourge; and the earth remained in that state of sullen and gloomy prostration, from which it was recalled by the reproduction of light and the subsequent work of the six days creation."


Unfortunately for this theory, the progress of science has made it utterly untenable.  It has commonly been taken for granted that all the existing species of animals and plants date their origin from a common starting point, the epoch of man's creation, the earlier forms of life having been cut off by the chaotic period which immediately preceded our own.  This assumption is now known to be unfounded.  The present creation is not cut off abruptly from a preceding one; the chaos so conveniently located between the two never existed; and indeed the whole Brahminical theory, once so popular among geologists, of general revolutions in nature, "of creations and destructions of worlds innumerable," has of late years grown into great disrepute.


"It is a great fact," says Mr. Hugh Miller, "now fully established in the course of geological discovery, that between the plants which in the present time cover the earth, and the animals which inhabit it, and the animals and plants of the later extinct creations, there occurred no break or blank, but that, on the contrary, many of the existing organisms were contemporary, during the morning or their being, with many of the extinct ones during the evening of their." (Test of the Rocks, Lect. 3, p. 147)


The testimony of Sir Charles Lyell was given long ago to the same effect. "In going back from the recent to the Eocene period, we are carried by many successive steps from the fauna now contemporary with man, to an assemblage of fossil species wholly different from those now living.  In the retrospect we have not succeeded in tracing back a perfect transition from the recent to an extinct fauna; but there are usually so many species in common to the groups which stand next in succession as to show that there is no great chasm, no signs of a crisis when one class of organic beings was annihilated to give place suddenly to another. This analogy, therefore, derived from a period of the earth's history which can but be compared with the present state of things, and more thoroughly investigated than any other, leads to the conclusion that the extinction and creation of species has been and is the result of a slow and gradual change in the organic world."  It is a singular fact, that distinguished authors who have sustained this theory of reconciliation which we are now considering should quote so freely from Lyell's Principles of Geology, and seem to be unaware, all the while, that the main tenor of that great work is to show the groundlessness of that convulsive system of sweeping destructions and re-creations upon which their theory is built.  Can it be that they had read the book they cited so familiarly? 


The principles, so ably advocated by Lyell, of a slow and uniform action of nature in remote as well as modern epochs of the earth's history, were received at first with great hesitation even by geologists, and it is therefore no wonder that others, not scientific men, should go on, even after the publication of Lyell's great work, to frame methods of connection between Genesis and geology based on the old ideas.  But now, to the vast eruptions, fires, and floods of earlier theories, calmer views have succeeded in the circles of science, which make it necessary to seek some more sober way of explaining its relations with sacred literature.


For our part, we are glad of it.  The idea of building the world over and over again, to knock it down as often, consorts better, we think, with some capricious heathen deity than with the God of our fathers.


This theory of six literal days, cut off from the earlier ages of the earth's existence by a chaos, has been proposed in a modified form by the late Dr. Smith, a learned English divine, and one well conversant with geology.  This modification consists in supposing that the six days' work described by Moses was a local, not a universal creation, the chaotic period of darkness and death being so limited to a particular region of the earth coextensive with the new creation.  This region he conceives to have been "a part of Asia, lying between the Caucasian ridge, the Caspian sea, and Tartary on the north, the Persian and Indian seas on the south, and the high mountain ridges which run at considerable distances on the eastern and western flank."  We must allow him to explain his views in his own language.


"I venture to think that man, as first created, and for many ages afterwards, did not extend his race beyond these limits, and therefore had no connection with the extreme east, the Indian and Pacific clusters of islands, Africa, Europe, and America; in which regions we have ocular demonstrations that animal and vegetable creatures had existed, to a vast amount, uninterruptedly through periods past of indescribable duration.  This region was first, by atmospheric and geological causes of previous operation under the will of the Almighty, brought into a condition of superficial ruin, or some kind of general disorder.  With reverence I propose the supposition, that this state was produced by the subsidence of the region, of which the immediate cause might be the same that we know has often wrought a similar effect in various districts upon the earth's surface; namely, that which is probably the cause of earthquakes, a movement of the igneous fluid mass below.  Extreme darkness has been often known to accompany such phenomena.  This is the unforced meaning of the two words rendered 'without form and void.'  Those words (tohu vabohu) are elsewhere in the hebrew Bible used to describe ruined cities, wild wastes of desert land, and figuratively any thing that is empty, unsubstantial, or useless.


"The sacred record presents to us the district described as overflowed with water, and its atmosphere so turbid that extreme gloominess prevailed.  'Darkness was upon the face of the deep,' 'the waters' mentioned just before.  Both this deluge, from a flowing in of a sea or rivers, and the darkness, would be the effect of an extensive subsidence.  The Hebrew word does not mean necessarily the absolute privation of light: it is used in relation to various circumstances of partial darkness; and we know that conditions of the atmosphere have locally happened, in ancient and in recent times, in which the noonday has become dark as an ordinary night.  The divine power acted through the laws of gravity and molecular attraction; and, where requisite, in an immediate, extraordinary, or miraculous manner.  The atmosphere over the region became so far cleared as to be pervious to light, though not yet perfectly transparent.  In this process the watery vapor collected into floating masses, the clouds, which, as we have seen, the ancient Hebrews expressed by the phrase, 'waters above the firmament.'  Elevations of land took place, by upheaving igneous force; and consequently the waters flowed into the lower parts, producing lakes, and probably the Caspian Sea, which manifestly belonged to the very region.  The elevated land was now clothed with vegetation instantly created.  By the fourth day, the atmosphere over this district had become pellucid; and had there been a human eye to behold, the brightness of the sun would have been seen, and the other heavenly bodies after the sun was set.  Animals were produced by immediate creation, in this succession- the inhabitants of the waters, birds, and land animals; all in the full vigor of their natures.  No mention is made of the thousands of tribes of insects, molluscous creatures, and animalcules, whose number, we know, transcends calculation.  It is generally assumed by commentators that they are included in 'the things that creep.'  But this very phrase supplies an illustration of the Scripture style, as condescending to the limited knowledge and the simple associations of comparatively uncultivated men.  Last of all, God formed his noblest earthly creature: 'In the image of God created he him,' in the command of physical faculties, the possession of intellect, a dominion over the lower creation, and the noblest enjoyment of all, the image of the divine holiness." (Scripture and Geology, by John Pye Smith, Lecture 7, part 2, pg. 250)


Dr. Smith's work is both able and learned, and, especially in regard to those facts of physical science which bear upon his subject, abounds with information for the general reader.  He is frank, fair, and liberal minded, and deserves well the high commendation he received from Sir John Herschell.  We are far from being satisfied with his theory, but feel under obligations to him for having proposed and discussed it, for this reason at least if for no other, that by his bad success he has demonstrated how useless it is to speculate any longer in the same direction.


On the side of natural science, this modified theory is very unsatisfactory.  It supposes a local depression of the land, a vast inundation and destruction of life, which indeed is very supposable, although it requires of course a miraculous agency to destroy in this way all the inhabitants of the waters.  A subsequent elevation of the land would produce a new platform, and lakes and rivers, to receive a new local creation of vegetation, and of beasts, birds, and fish.  But the naturalist will tell us that this new creation would be a very unnecessary proceeding, since nature would soon provide the new district with a fauna and a flora of its own by immigration, and the transportation of seeds. Dr. Smith does not say that this new creation was a creation of ne types of life for that particular locality.  If so, this peculiarity in the natural history of the Asiatic new world would show itself to the zoologist and botanist, either in living nature, or at least in the recent formations, and bear testimony to the theory.  But, in point of fact, the continent of Australia would yield it a far better support in this respect; for the strange creatures that inhabit it, and its peculiar vegetation, do look indeed like the productions of an independent creation.  On the other hand, if the beings produced by Almighty power in the new-constructed district were not of new types, surely it would seem to be a creation without a reason, preceded by a most needless chaos.  Man might as well have been created on the old soil.


But our chief difficulty with Dr. Smith's hypothesis is in its religious aspect.  This interpretation of the first of Genesis is not a noble one.  We should not care to quarrel with it upon any point of mere verbal construction.  The text might support it, taken by piecemeal, but the entire chapter sinks under it.  It is stripped of its dignity, its sublimity, and its theological force.  The doctrine of this grand chapter, if it has any, is that of an omnipotent Creator.  Viewed as a standard of true religion, reared by the Hebrew church, in opposition to the prevalent idolatry of those times, it becomes thus a very feeble one.  The Prophet might naturally enough pass over those ages represented by the fossil world without any express notice, so long as they were not excluded, for the reason that they were unknown and undreamed of, and belonged to a vanished state of things.  But that, while classifying the creatures of a locality, in order to declare through them the doctrine of creation and of a supreme God, he should pass over in silence and even exclude from his description the greatest part of the earth, whose broad breast, at the very time he wrote, with teeming with living creatures, the actual objects too of idolatrous worship- this is an hypothesis scarcely admissible.  The Hebrews were either then in Egypt, or just come away; an idolatrous country, not included in that portion of central Asia marked out by Dr. Smith.  The country to which they migrated was also excluded.  Surely there was more danger of their worshipping the creature forms of Palestine and Egypt than those of central Asia, and therefore they needed quite as much to be enumerated among the self-helpless works of the divine hand. Every way, it seems to us, in point of religious doctrine and of moral significance, the chapter is almost destroyed by this theory.  The idea of a local creation in Genesis is as meagre in its religious bearings as that of a local salvation in the Gospels. The whole Hebrew and Christian doctrine of the creation consists in this, that one God created all things.  According to the interpretation which we have been considering, one single verse alone contains it, and yet none too clearly.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with showing, in detail, that God created Tartary and the surrounding levels, with the fauna and flora of that region.  In the study of the Scriptures it is good to lean as much as possible to the literal sense, where no certainty exists; but, first of all, let us save the great doctrines.  Dr. Smith, no doubt, believed in God the Creator in the truest and fullest Christian sense, but the light he had on this subject was preserved and transmitted by a nobler, broader, and more religious view of the first of Genesis than his interpretation allows us.


Let us now pass on to some other method of explaining the difficulty.  If we may not understand the "six days" of Genesis to be literal days of twenty-four hours each, in what other sense may we understand them?


Some consider them to represent vast periods, of indefinite, and probably very unequal length.  The word Day is sometimes employed for an indefinite period.  The fourth verse of the second chapter of Genesis affords an example: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heavens and the earth." We have, moreover, the familiar expression of a man's day, to signify either the period of his youth and strength, or the whole epoch of his lifetime.  St. Augustine argues against the literal understanding of the word in the week of creation, from the fact that the first three days had no sun or moon, by means of which our ordinary days are measured.  The literal sense is therefore not imperative, and, if geology furnishes urgent reasons against it, we are free to abandon it.  If, moreover, these days are still admitted as measures of time, why may they not stand for periods long enough to answer all the requirements of science? Why may they not be "days of ages?"


The theory is simple enough thus far; but the next step brings us into difficulty. The "six days" of the Mosaic record, if they represent time at all, were stages of progress in the work of creation. The light, sky, earth, and ocean having first been created and ordered, on the third day the vegetation appeared; on the fourth, the sun, moon, and stars; on the fifth the fish and fowl were created, and on the sixth the animals of the land, concluding with man himself.  Now, if this present theory be true, the petrifactions embedded in the rocks should show the like progress.  The fossil flora, created on the third day, should be found first of deepest, the remains of marine animals coming in next and above, and these again followed by animals of the land.  Is this correspondence found to exist between the Mosaic record and the record of the rocks? 


Now, sooth to say, it is not; although time was when it did not seem so.  Sa far as geological researches have yet gone, the remains of animal life are found in the earliest fossiliferous formations, and yield nothing in point of antiquity to the vegetable world; and the sun was shining and the rain falling at the earliest day of either.  "Paleontology has shown," says Professor Hall, a master in that science to whom this country has no superior, "that from the remote period of the Pottsdam sandstone of the American continent, and the Cambrian rocks of Europe, the ocean was peopled by numerous forms of animal and vegetable life. We know that the tide ebbed and flowed, that the waters were agitated by storms, and even that the sands laid bare by the ebb of the tide were rippled by the wind, and trailed by the animals of that primeval ocean.  From that period at least, light and heat, cloud and sunshine, rain and wind have refreshed and fertilized the earth, which teemed with animal and vegetable existences." (New American Cyclopedia, art. Paleontology)


This very nearly demolishes the theory, so far as it depends upon geology for positive proofs, or for parallels in its favor.  It must be confessed, nevertheless, that it is not in clear contradiction with that science, and is therefore still tenable, as the following explanation will show.


The science of geology, albeit well advanced, is not yet by any means perfected, nor its resources exhausted.  It does not positively tell us yet, when organized life first began upon the earth, nor in what order.  The earliest formation in which fossils have been found is known, but who knows that life began then and there?  More ancient fossils may still be found, and, even if none older exist, they may have existed and been obliterated.  There is a class of rocks called metamorphic, which carry evidence of having been originally deposited by the action of water, and subsequently transformed by fire or heat. Those which immediately underlie the oldest fossiliferous formations are of this character.  Who can say then that fossils may not have once existed in them before their metamorphosis, and been afterwards destroyed by the new arrangement of particles in crystallization?  In truth, fossil forms partially obliterated have been found in rocks imperfectly altered; granite itself is now believed to have been originally a sedimentary formation; who then is able to assert that all the great primitive rocks, so called, may not have contained fossils at some early period, which, together with the marks of stratification, have been obliterated by metamorphosis?  The earth is perhaps older, and has been stocked much longer, than even geologists have imagined.  Add to this the fact that the land occupies only about one-fourth of the earth's surface, the rest being water.  The researches of geologists are in consequence confined to this small portion of the globe, with the exception of certain superficial observations of the sea-bottom in the shallower parts.


We object therefore to the urging of premature theories, however probable they may seem, as certain principles of science, and compelling the students of Scripture to bow down to them.  The circumstances which have governed the formation of strata, and the grouping of fossil remains in remote epochs, are not so perfectly determined that we may safely proceed to generalize, constructing cosmogonies out of local ruins, and repeopling all the woods and oceans from the shells and bones of a few graveyards.  Science has never yet put her finger with certainty upon the birthplace of a single type of life; and she is hardly yet in a position to decide what the actual succession of organic creatures has been over the entire globe.  We confess to some doubt even (without putting forward any opinion) whether, the entire globe considered, there has been any succession of types.  Old types have sometimes become extinct, but the coming in of new is not so clearly proved.  The whole argument of Sir Charles Lyell against a progressive development of organic life at successive geological periods, is equally applicable to all theories of successive creations (or transmutations) of species.


"Times so enormous as that contemplated by the geologist may multiply exceptional cases till they seem to constitute the rule, and so impose on the imagination as to lead us to infer the non-existence of creatures of which no monuments happen to remain.  Professor Forbes has remarked, that few geologists are aware how large a proportion of all known species of fossils are founded on single specimens, while a still greater number are founded on a few individuals discovered in one spot.  This holds true not only in regard to animals and plants inhabiting the land, the lake, and the river, but even to a surprising number of the marine mollusca, articulata, and radiata.  Our knowledge, therefore, of the living creation of any given period of the past may be said to depend in a great degree on what we commonly call chance; and the casual discovery of some new localities rich in peculiar fossils, may modify or entirely overthrow all our previous generalizations."  (Princ. of Geol., ch. 9)


We do not see, therefore, that this theory of age-long days has become in its main principle untenable, although it is impossible to carry out any position parallel between the six days of Genesis, and any supposable divisions of geological time founded on the actual classifications of that science.  For this reason, probably, little favor has been shown it of late by naturalists.  It has nevertheless been adopted recently, in a modified form, by an accomplished geologist of Scotland, the late Hugh Miller.


Mr. Miller supposes that the great Hebrew Prophet must have received his revelations of the world's genesis in a vision.  In this vision the works of creation were presented to his eye in six stages of their progress, like the successive scenes of a drama, or the moving tableaux of a diorama.  These are the six days of Genesis.  The Prophet, moreover, in reducing to writing the scenes of this vision, did not record the details, as would a naturalist, according to any order of scientific classification, but, like an unscientific albeit intelligent observer, noted down the most prominent and striking objects which met his view.  His eye marked and retained only the grand and striking characteristics of each shifting scene.  He remembered and noted down each class of creatures in that order of time in which, by its great predominance upon the scene, it engrossed his own attention. He assigns, therefore, the grass and plants to that stage only of the vision -to that day- when an abundant and vigorous vegetation ruled the earth; the sun and moon to that in which they were made to shine out through the rarefied atmosphere with their disks unveiled, and in their full flood of glory.  And so with the fish of the seas, the birds of the air, the reptiles and great beasts of the land- each class finds place at that point, not where its first types were actually created, but where it predominated and ruled upon the scene. According to such an order, Mr. Miller claims, the two records agree perfectly.  "I am greatly mistaken," he concludes, after an elaborated but glowing comparison upon these principles, "if we have not in the six geological periods all the elements, without misplacement or exaggeration, of the Mosaic drama of creation."


We, for our part, see no fatal objection to the general principle of interpretation which Mr. Miller applies to the first of Genesis.  A revelation to Moses could have been made by vision, although we see no indications of this in the record.  If, moreover, that vision embraced vast periods of time, it would doubtless be so foreshortened that the mass of details would be lost, its objects and events being presented in grand groupings only; but we can find little satisfaction in the particular accommodation he has made of his periods of geological time to the days of Genesis.


In the first place, we have a special objection to it on the Scriptural side.  From Genesis 2: 5,6 in comparison with Genesis 1:11-13, it appears that before the creation of the grass, plants, etc., on the third day it had not rained upon the earth.  The reason why the Prophet states this is evidently to show that no natural cause existed which could account for the production of vegetation.  The real drift of this passage is so apparent, that commentators give a different translation to the Hebrew from that of our ordinary versions.  "The following sense," says Calmet, "may be given to the Hebrew: Behold in what manner God created the heavens and the earth, and the plants before ever they sprang up in the earth, and the grass before it grew; for as yet God had not made it to rain upon the earth, and no man been created that could till it, and the earth had not yielded any fountain (or mist) that could water it.  In place of what we have in the Vulgate: 'But a spring rose out of the earth, etc.,' the Rabbi Saadia read, 'And no vapors rose out of the earth to water the surface.' He repeated the negation of the preceding member, thus: 'Homo non erat, et fons seu vapor (non) ascendebat.' We find in Scripture many examples of this substitution of the negative.  For example, in Psalm 9: 19: 'For the poor man shall not be forgotten to the end, the patience of the afflicted shall (not) perish forever,' the negation in the second clause is supposed but not expressed in the Hebrew; and so in Psalm 43: 19: 'Our heart hath not turned back, and our steps have (not) turned aside from thy way.'"  The context shows that the like repetition of the negative must be supposed in the above passage from the 2nd of Genesis, the whole and sole intent of it being to show that the vegetation which made its appearance on the third day, as declared in the first chapter, was a veritable creation, and not the result of any causes of nature.  Now, according to Mr. Miller's hypothesis, a vegetation already existed, albeit a sluggish and inferior one, before the carboniferous era, which is his third day, and consequently rain too, or some equivalent.  By this the entire meaning of the passage in 2nd of Genesis is stultified. Geology tells us that it certainly rained long before the carboniferous era; while Genesis declares that before the third day it had not rained.  That day, therefore, cannot correspond to the epoch of the coal measures. The difficulty is a very serious one, if Mr. Miller would leave the inspired text any meaning at all; but it is only one of the many which may be urged against his ingenious parallel of days and epochs.


Our principal objection, however, to his theory, or at least to his special application of it, has been already stated.  In the present state of science, all attempts to carry out parallels of this nature must fail.  At best, the geological periods, so called, mark only (and that imperfectly) the natural history, at different stages of formation, of that portion of the earth which is now dry land, and open to research.  From all the data we have we cannot say what types of life have been characteristic of the whole earth, especially in the remoter periods.  For aught we know, during the Silurian and Devonian epochs, vast continents, with their surrounding seas and interior lakes, may have existed where now the great southern ocean spreads her wide waste of waters over nearly an entire hemisphere; and these may have had their faunas of birds, beasts, and reptiles as monstrous as any the later rocks reveal, and many of them as familiar as any we see now.  The fact that in those ages land was wanting in this northern hemisphere, where now our actual continents are mostly congregated, would lead us very naturally to infer that it existed elsewhere; for modern science has discovered, or at least strongly suspects, a law of oscillation in the earth's crust, by which the slow upheaval of land in one part is simultaneous in depression with another.  It seems to us, therefore, useless to waste our time in parallels like those drawn by Mr. Miller,- mere tracks in the sand to be washed out by the next tide.  In the present state of science, this hypothesis of age-long "days" can neither be established nor disproved by a comparison with geological epochs.


The theories of interpretation we have already considered agree in this, that they regard the "days" of Genesis as periods of time, really successive to each other, and in the precise order designated in that book.  It is possible, however, to take a third view, which not only gives a figurative sense to these days, but regards the whole first chapter in quite another light, as being rather a theological than a historical account of creation, and not given in the sense of a literal narrative of events in their exact order of succession.


Now, some pious reader may ask - Is it allowable to take so liberal a view of the chapter?


We do not know of any legitimate or competent authority to the contrary.  This interpretation is certainly a very ancient one, although not in modern times a very common or popular one, or even much known.  Philo the jew held it, as also Origen, St. Augustine, and others in their day; and, in later times, Melchior Canus and Cardinal Cajetan, with Berti the Augustinian, who explains and defends with great ability the interpretation of the great patriarch of his order.  It has therefore this advantage, that it cannot be sneered at as owing its origin more to the pressure of modern discoveries in physical science than to a fair consideration of the sacred text.  The learned commentators and theologians just mentioned could have had no thought of harmonizing their views with geological data when they wrote; on the contrary, their views of cosmogony were quite antagonistic to the revelations of modern science, for they considered that all things were created simultaneously, without any interval of ages or of days- not even so much as six minutes.  Their views are thus summed up by Calmet: "In regard to the Sabbath, it is disputed whether the Lord created the world simultaneously, by a single fiat, and one single act, or whether he set about it, so to speak, at six different times, and in a succession of six days, so that the seventh day of the week was the very day of the Lord's rest, and the end of a successive creation.  There is a great difference of opinion upon this question.  Philo, Origen, St. Augustine, Procopius, and several moderns sustain that God not only created all matter at once, and in a moment, but that he likewise reduced it to form and order at once, and without any delay of six days; that the recital which Moses makes, and the distribution he marks out of the work of the Lord in six

days, is not any succession of time, but a succession of order and reason, for the express purpose of proportioning himself to the understanding of the people, and to give them a more distinct notion of the creation of beings, by distributing them in this way into divisions, and according to a certain classification." -Dictionnaire de Calmet, 2nd Ed., 1730. A Geneve. "La Sabbat."


With out present lights, we cannot of course hold with them to a simultaneous creation of the world, or rather not of the world as we now find it; but we may fairly avail ourselves of their liberal interpretation of the Scripture text, and with them understand the "six days" to be neither literal days, nor any measure whatever of time, but figurative or symbolical expressions under which the works of creation are classified.


Now, as to the principle upon which this classification is made- it would be very natural to suppose it one adopted by the Prophet himself, in accordance with the lights of the times in which he lived, and his own conceptions of the physical world.  Whatever direction was given to his pen by inspiration, would be for the purpose of connecting what he wrote with religious mysteries, rather than to teach through him any secrets of profane learning or natural science.  Under this supposition, we suggest that he would naturally place first those things which seemed to him the most elementary and simple-chatoic matter before organisms, light before the sun and stars, water before land, and the living creatures according to their apparent dignity in the scale of being, the nobles being named latest.  And such is the order of Genesis.


But why, it will be asked, should these classes take their names from the six days of a week?  Is it not something singular, to classify natural objects by terms chosen from measures of time?


Not so very singular.  A distinguished American geologist has done the same thing. Professor Rogers classifies all the fossiliferous rocks below the upper new red sandstone into eight series, corresponding to eight different hours of the day, viz., the Primal, Matinal, Levant, Premeridal, Meridial, Postmeridial, Vespertine, and Seral.  The classification of the Prophet is upon a similar principle, we suppose, but in far better taste; for we must consider the peculiar style of this chapter of Genesis.  In is not written in the exact language of philosophy or history, nor according to any technical method of science, but in that free and illustrative language in which sublime truths are best taught to simple minds.  It is the anthropological style throughout.  The author represents God as laboring, and taking time in his labor; deliberating, determining, and talking to himself as he labors; and when his work is done, examining it critically to see if it is good, and finally resting as would a laboring man.  Now the labor of man is naturally measured by the rising and setting of the sun: "Man shall go forth to his work and to his labor until the evening."  It is in happy keeping with the rest of the chapter to lend the idea of a week of daily labor to the divine work, with a workman's day of rest at the close, although it would be strangely inconsistent with every correct notion of God to take this language for literally true.  But additional reasons may be assigned for the classification of the divine work by the days of the week.  The institution of the Sabbath not only fulfilled the natural obligation of human society to observe stated times of public worship, but was expressly appointed as a religious festival to commemorate the creation.  Now this furnishes motive enough why the author should model his account of the divine labor and rest by the days of the Hebrew week.  In this light, the days of Genesis assume a symbolical character.  They are in typical relation with sacred institutions and deep religious mysteries.  They indicate the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt, and their emancipation; the days of labor and rest prescribed in the third commandment; the periods of seven years and of seven weeks of years, terminated by the sabbatical year and the year of jubilee; the passion and death of the Savior terminated by his resurrection; and, finally, the great work of redemption, to be closed by the final rest of all the saints in heaven.


When, moreover, we remember that in the Hebrew language the present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, and the aorist are all expressed by one and the same tense, the difference of time being marked either by adverbs signifying time, or very commonly by the mere context; and when with this in view we read the whole chapter, as in the childlike style of the original, "God make," "God say," "God call," etc., then the sentences lose much of their show of consecutive history, and assume a more didactic appearance.


An objection is sometimes urged against the last mentioned theory of indefinite periods, which, if well founded, would be equally adverse to this.  In Exodus 20: 11, we read that "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and sanctified it."  It would seem, then, that the reason why God appointed the seventh day for a holy day of rest and worship, was because on that day he had rested from the work of creation.  Now, if that day of God's rest was a literal day, like the Sabbath of the Jews, the other six must have been the same.


In reply, we suggest that the objection supposes more in the passage just cited than the words warrant.  It does not so clearly appear that the seventh day of the Hebrew week was the same as the seventh of the creation, but only that each was the seventh of its own week.  On the other hand, it is plain from the nature of the case that the day of God's rest was not a literal day, nor measured by any time whatever.  That rest can mean nothing else than cessation from labor, or the accomplishment of the divine work.  That rest, then, is not yet finished- or rather, to speak more correctly, it was finished as soon as begun, for by its very nature it occupied no space of time.  From this very fact St. Augustine concludes that the first six days also were not real days, not intended to designate any space of time whatever.  "For," he says, "if in the other days, (the first six of Genesis) the evening and morning signify such alternations of time as are now accomplished by the actual space of a day, I do not see why the seventh day should not close with an evening, and its night with a morning also; so that it might be said as well: And the evening and the morning were the seventh day.  For surely that is one of those days which together constitute seven, and which by repetition make up months, and years, and ages...It is most probable, therefore, that while these our present seven days, named and numbered as they are, and following each other in succession, traverse real spaces of time, those first six days are to be understood as being of an unusual kind unknown to our experience, and explicable only by the actual conditions of things at the time.  In them, both the evening and the morning, as well as the light itself and the darkness, that is, the day and night, did not afford that sort of vicissitude which these afford by the revolution of the sun.  This certainly we are compelled to acknowledge, in regard to those three days which are mentioned and enumerated before the creation of the luminaries." (De Genesi ad literam, Bk. 4, cap 18)  St. Augustine elsewhere expresses his opinion that the matter of the universe was prior to the organized world only in that sense in which sound is prior to music, "non in tempore, sed in origine" - not in the order of time but of origin.  The same may be understood of the succession of days in the Mosaic account.  It was not a succession in the order of events, but in the order of conception; not in the order of execution, but in that of plan; not as things happen before the eyes of men, but (to use his own favorite expression) as they present themselves to the "angelic intelligences," who enjoy the beatific vision, and see things mapped in the mind of God in their truest order.


It was our good fortune lately to be present at a lecture delivered by Professor Agassiz, on  "The position of Man in Natural History."  He demonstrated how one plan of structure runs through all the various grades of vertebrates- fish, serpents, birds, and mammals, including man. Just as different styles obtain in the same order of architecture, so all these, albeit varying widely in their external forms, are constructed on one essential principle, namely, that of a back-bone, which is set like a key-beam, or ridge-pole, between two opposing systems of arches.  He traced on a blackboard the progress of these forms through all the different grades of development, making that which was first a fish to grow, by slight obliterations and additions, through higher and higher types of being, until at last it appeared with the noble proportions of man.  Yet (he argued against Darwin) this development is not a historical one; geology proves the contrary.  We find, for instance, in the earliest fossil fish- those of the Silurian formation- some of the peculiar characteristics of higher forms of life, such as the ball and socket joint, and the separation of the head from the body by a neck.  The development, therefore, is only one of plan in the mind of the great Architect and Creator.  No species ever departs from its own type to assume the features of a nobler, nor can we infer that the lowest forms have, of necessity, been the earliest in actual existence.


This exemplifies well the idea of St. Augustine in regard to the six days of Genesis.  They were stages of progressive development, but the development existed only in the plan.  The days, or degrees of progress, described by the sacred historian were mapped out in that divine mind which palnned the world of nature, but they had no such order of succession in point of time.  Darwin reads the book of nature as the literalists read the book of Genesis, confounding the order of system or plan with the historical order of time.


We must confess, that, to our mind, this theory is the most simple and satisfactory of any.  Recent discoveries in science have made the first- that of literal days- a very awkward one to defend, to say the least; while the second -that of indefinite long periods- although not in conflict with any certain acquisitions of science, and defensible enough also in point of mere critical construction, falls far below our present theory in point of simplicity.  We have all been latterly taught to regard the Mosaic account as strictly historical, and it is not easy to divest one's self of so familiar an impression; but this bias of early education once overcome, and a symbolical sense in the "six days" admitted, the whole way seems clear, and all the rest of the chapter is easily explained.  Besides, the theory is an old one, as we have already seen; and now that so much new light has been thrown upon the physical history of the earth by geological discoveries, it merits a new hearing among the rest.  It is open to attack only upon its religious side.  In its relations with natural science the advantages of it are obvious enough, and may be briefly stated as follows:


All the scientific difficulties presented to the reader of the first of Genesis are at once solved by this theory.  What matter then how old the earth may seem!  A health to her wrinkled visage and her grey locks! She's an orthodox old planet after all.  What matter which creatures were first created! Neither measure of time nor order of succession is attributed to the text.  That three days are given by Moses before either sun, moon, or stars appeared to mark the time, occasions no embarrassment here, as in the other theories.  These are days which have nothing to do with the revolutions of the earth, belonging to a different order of things, and the Prophet may say to the astronomers: "Mihi autem pro minimo est ut a vobis judicer, out ab humano die."  (1 Cor. 4:3) This theory leaves the interpreter far less hampered by technical objections, and free to expound the religious doctrine of the chapter, with all its spiritual treasures.  If admitted, it cannot give but great satisfaction to the Christian geologist, since he may then freely follow the light of his science without exposing himself to ignorant charges of infidelity; and excellent Christians have suffered sorely and needlessly in this way.  And, finally, the greatest of all its advantages is this- it gives us a more noble and strictly religious view of the first of Genesis.


Under such an interpretation, this grand chapter is no longer to be treated as an antique cosmogony, a mere historical or antiquarian treasure, rendered more curious, but not a whit more useful, by the divine authority attributed to it.  It becomes a majestic exposition of that great article of Hebrew faith, the first also of the Christian symbol- "Credo in unum Deum Factorem coeli et terrae."  The Prophet could have had no intention to instruct in questions of natural science, or to reveal matters of mere secular curiosity. It was simply to teach, in accordance with the old patriarchal traditions, in great part forgotten by the Gentiles, and loosely held even the Hebrews, that all things- water, air, earth, light, sun, moon, stars, plants, fish, reptiles, birds, four-footed beasts, and man himself - had been created according to their several natures, and that the very primal substance of the world was not eternal, but called into existence by the will of God.  By doing this he struck a sweeping blow at all the various idolatries of the heathen; for scarcely any type of creature existed in the air, on the earth, or in the waters, which was not made an object of superstitious adoration.  This, it seems to us, is the reason why so many objects in nature are enumerated by the Prophet. Strictly speaking, it would have been enough to say, in the language of St. John, "By Him were all things made, and without Him was nothing made."  But in addressing the multitude, governed always by impressions more than by reflection, it was necessary to draw a distinct picture of each thing created, and leave it impressed on their minds as a safeguard against idolatry in that form.


We must be permitted to add that there is something dramatic, or at least scenic, in this chapter, both in style and plan.  It is, to be sure, in the form of an instruction; it is essentially didactic; but it is popularly so, and therefore, as we say, somewhat dramatic.  It is addressed to the mind of the multitude, not to philosophers, naturalists, or scholars of any kind.  We find in it that art which belongs to all popular men, whether authors or orators - the art of enlarging upon a great truth, and presenting it over and over again, in a great variety of detail and expression, until the minds of the auditors or readers are thoroughly imbued with it and familiar with its bearings.  The great truth presented, and re-presented over and over again, in this chapter, is the origin of all things, absolutely all, from the creative hand of the only uncreated and eternal God.  It is, as we have said before, the amplification, the detailed exposition of that great first article of religion: "I believe in one God, the Father almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth."  Never, perhaps, among a people professedly Christian, was there more need of upholding this great primary doctrine than in our day and country; and it makes one loath to admit of any interpretation of the first of Genesis which compels our theologians to descend from their high religious ground, and dispute in the mines and quarries and observatories upon questions of secular science.  And yet- a divine hand has written the physical history of this earth in the rocks that lie upon its bosom; and if they are right who say that it is written in the first of Genesis also - then must we make the records square.


What had the great Prophet of the Hebrews to do with the age of the world, or with the relative priorities of the earth and the stars, or of the different creatures of the land and the waters, or with the secrets of meteorology?  he stood as the chosen mediator between his God and a sensual, hard-headed people - a people whose ancient faith and primitive simplicity of manners had almost melted away before the polished paganism and voluptuous civilization of Egypt. Picture to yourself that Prophet wearied and wasted with anxiety, sick of life, and often driven to the verge of despair by the moral depravity, the spiritual obduracy of his people, and their repeated relapses into idolatry.  Call up thus to mind the perplexities of his position, coupled with the sublime character of his mission.  See him then sitting down with his tablets, or sheets of papyrus, to write for the instructions of such a people- to write something at once appropriate to their present ignorance, errors, and dangers, and worthy of their lofty vocation.  Such reflections will prepare us for a noble and solemnly religious interpretation of that grand first chapter of Genesis.  We shall see something in it than a quaint lecture on cosmogony.  We shall see there the great Hebrew profession of faith: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  All things were made, and made by Him, whether in the heavens, on the earth, or under the waters. He made the light.  He made the day and night.  He made the sky, the waters beneath it, and the reservoirs of rain above it.  He made the ocean and the dry land.  He made the grass, and every plant and tree.  He made the sun, the moon, and stars, and he alone appointed their uses; - and thus the Prophet goes on enumerating all that ever was, or might be made, an object of superstitious worship, and attributes the origin of all to the hand of that one, uncreated, and eternal Being to whom all adoration is due.


The advocates of the theory of "literal days" lay much stress upon these words: "And the evening and the morning were the first day-second day," etc.  Why, they ask, is this said, and so often repeated, and always in the same words, unless the Prophet means to be understood in the literal sense, and puts forth his meaning with an emphasis? 


To this we reply, that the emphasis can only lend its strength to that signification which we attach to the words.  It is like a good knocker, that sounds loud whoever may be at the door.  The repetition makes the account more dramatic and lifelike, and is in keeping with the whole style of the chapter.  It has a stirring effect, too, like the beat of a drum at intervals.  We have heard it suggested by a learned and eminent prelate that it has all the appearance of a chorus.  The resemblance is still more striking when the words are given in the abrupt, simple style of the original: "And evening was, and morning was - day one - day second," etc.  Such is the theological importance of this chapter that it may well have constituted, in the very beginning, a lesson to be publicly read, perhaps chanted too, by the Hebrews in their religious assemblies; and this verse may have been introduced as a choral response.  But, of course, this is only conjecture.  Our knowledge of times so ancient is necessarily scanty, and all that we know is but a fragment from the forgotten mass. A thousand questions may be raised in reference to the Book of Genesis which no human wisdom can solve, for the requisite data are wanting.  Let us be satisfied without knowing every thing.


"This ancient book

Its quaint, old, honest look

Would lack, if on its pages

Were scattered nothing of the dust of ages."