SERMON: Homily 7 — On the Creation of Crawling Creatures, by Basil the Great

Let the waters bring forth crawling creatures. (Genesis 1:20)

Then God said, “Let the waters bring forth crawling creatures” of different kinds “that have life, and winged creatures” of different kinds “that fly below the firmament of the heavens.”  (Genesis 1:20)  After the creation of the lights, then the waters were filled with living creatures, so that this portion of the world also was adorned.  The earth had received its ornamentation from its own plants; the heavens had received the flowers of stars and had been adorned with two great lights as if with the radiance of twin eyes.  It remained for the waters, too, to be given their proper ornament.  The command came.  Immediately rivers were productive and marshy lakes were fruitful of species proper and natural to each; the sea was in travail with all kinds of swimming creatures, and not even the water which remained in the slime and ponds was idle or without its contribution in creation.  For, clearly, frogs and mosquitoes and gnats were generated from them.  Things still seen, even at the present time, are a proof of what is past.  Thus all water was in eager haste to fulfill the command of its Creator, and the great and ineffable power of God immediately produced an efficacious and active life in creatures of which one would not even be able to enumerate the species, as soon as the capacity for propagating living creatures came to the waters through His command.  “Let the waters bring forth crawling creatures that have life.”  Now, for the first time an animal was created which possessed life and sensation.  Plants and trees, even if they are said to live because they share the power of nourishing themselves and of growing, yet are not animals nor are they animate.  For this reason, “Let the earth bring forth crawling creatures.”

Every creature able to swim, whether it swims at the surface of the water or cuts through its depths, is of the nature of crawling creatures, since it makes its way through a body of water.  Even though some of the aquatic animals have feet and are able to walk (especially the amphibians, which are many, for instance, seals, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, frogs, and crabs), yet the ability to swim is antecedent.  Therefore, “Let the waters bring forth crawling creatures.”  In these few words what species has been omitted?  What has not been embraced by the command of the Creator?  Have not the vivipara, such as seals and dolphins and rays and those like them that are called cartilaginous?  Are not the ovipara included, which are, roughly speaking, all the different kinds of fishes?  Are not those which are scaly and those which are horny scaled, those which have fins and those which do not?  The words of the command were few, rather, there was no word, but only the force and impetus of the will; yet, the variety of meaning in the command is as great as the various species and families of fishes.  To mention all these accurately is like counting the waves of the sea or trying to measure the water of the sea in the hollow of the hand.

“Let the waters bring forth the crawling creatures.”  Among them are animals of the open sea, those frequenting the shores, those of the deep sea, those which cling to rocks, those which travel in shoals, those which live solitary, the sea monsters, the enormous, and the tiniest fish.  By the same power and by an equal command, in fact, both the large and the small were given existence.  “Let the waters bring forth.”  He showed you the natural kinship of the swimming creatures with water, and therefore, when the fish are removed from the water for a short time, they perish.  They do not even have organs for breathing, so as to draw in this air; but, water is for the swimming species what air is for land animals.  And the cause is evident.  We have lungs, internal organs of loose texture and many passages, which receive air by the dilation of the chest, fan away our inner heat, and refresh us; but, for them the dilation and folding of the gills, which receive the water and eject it, fulfill the purpose of breathing organs.  Fish have a peculiar state, a characteristic nature, a distinct nourishment, a specific mode of life.  For this reason none of the water animals is able to be tamed, nor does it endure at all the touch of the human hand.

“Let the waters bring forth crawling creatures of different kinds that have life.”  (Genesis 1:20)  God orders the firstlings of each kind to be brought forth, seeds, as it were, for nature; and their numbers are controlled by successive progeny, whenever they must increase and become numerous.  Of one kind are those which are called testaceans, such as mussels, scallops, sea snails, conchs, and numberless varieties of bivalves.  Again, another kind besides there are the fish named crustaceans: crayfish, crabs, and all similar to them.  Still another kind are the so-called soft fish, whose flesh is tender and loose: polyps, cuttlefish, and those like them.  And among these, again, there are innumerable varieties.  In fact, there are weevers, and lampreys, and eels, which are produced in the muddy rivers and swamps, and which resemble in their nature venomous animals more than fish.  Another class is that of ovipara, and another, that is vivipara.  And of the cetaceans the majority are vivipara, as dolphins and seals; these are said to readmit and hide in their belly the cubs, while still young, whenever they have for some reason or other been startled.  “Let the waters bring forth the different kinds.”  The cetacean is one kind, and the tiny fish is another.  Again, among the fish numberless varieties are distinguished according to species.  Since their peculiar names and different food and form and size and qualities of flesh, all differ with the greatest variations from each other, the fish are placed in various classes.  Now, what men who watch for tunneys are able to enumerate for us the varieties of its species?  And yet, they say that they report even the number of fish in the great schools.  Who of those who have grown old around the shores and beaches is able to acquaint us accurately with the history of all fishes?

The fishermen in the Indian Ocean know some kinds; those in the Egyptian Gulf, others; islanders, others; and the Mauretanians, still others.  That first command and that ineffable power produced all things, both small and great alike.  Many are the differences of their modes of life; many also are the varieties in the method or perpetuation of the species.  The majority of the fishes do not hatch out the young as the birds do, nor do they fix nests or nourish the young with their own labors; but the water, taking up the egg when it has been laid, brings forth the living creature.  And the method of perpetuation for each species is invariable and is without mixture with any other nature.  There are not such unions as produce mules on land or such as of some birds which debase their species.  None of the fishes is halfway equipped with teeth, as among us the ox and the sheep are; indeed, none of them ruminates, except only, as some historians write, the parrot-wrasse.  But, all the species are furnished with serried and very sharp pointed teeth, in order that the food may not slip through in the long-continued chewing; for, unless it is quickly cut up and swallowed, it is likely to be carried away by the water in the process of being ground.

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