Severian of Gabala, Homily 3 on Genesis, chapter 5

I’ve translated roughly a little more of the French translation of Bareille of these sermons, which I increasingly find interesting.  I’m getting an idea of why Severian was such a popular preacher.  I really think that I will commission a translation of the homilies on Genesis by Severian (although I think I would use the best translator I know on them).

5. Let us now ask where the sun goes down, and where, during the night, it purses its course?  According to our adversaries, under the land; and we who look at the sky as a tent, what is our feeling on this?  Look and see, I beg you, whether we are in error, or whether the truth of our opinion appears clearly, and whether reality is in agreement with our hypothesis. 

Imagine that above your head a pavilion has been set up.  East would be there, north here, south there and west there.  When the sun has left the East and starts to set, it will not set under the land; but crossing the limits of the sky, it traverses the northern areas where it is hidden by a kind of wall from our gaze, the upper waters concealing his journey from us; and, after having traversed these areas, it returns to the East. 

And where is the proof of this assertion?  In Ecclesiastes, an authentic and not interpolated work of Solomon: “The sun rises and the sun sets,” it is written there;  “while rising, it moves towards its setting, then it turns to the north;  it turns, it turns, and it rises again in its place.”  Eccl., i, 5.  Otherwise it is during the winter that you will note this southward journey of the sun, and its movement in the direction of the north; then, it does not rise in the centre of the East, it inclines towards the south, and, following a shorter route, it makes the day shorter; once it has set, it continues its circular direction, and the nights then are longer. 

We all know, my brothers, that the sun always does not start at the same point.  How then do the days become shorter?  Because the sun, to rise, moves from the south; then, from where it rises, it follows an oblique path, and from this comes the brevity of the days.   As it sets in the extremity of the west, it must necessarily traverse during the night the west, north, all of the east, to arrive on the edge of the south; from which inevitably follows the length of the night.  When the distance traversed and the speed of travel are the same, the nights then are equal to the days.  After that, it moves northwards as during the winter it had moved south; it rises in the northern heights and makes the day longer;  on the other hand the curve which it must follow during the night being shorter, the nights also become shorter. 

This is not what the Greeks have taught us:  they do not want these teachings, and they claim that the sun and the stars continue their course beneath the land.  But no, the Scripture, this divine mistress, the Scripture leads us and dispenses her light to us. 

Thus the Lord has made the sun, a torch which never weakens; he made the moon, whose glory shines and fades alternately.  The work reveals the workman.  The workman never knows failure, the work is also eternal.  The moon does not lose its light, it is concealed only to our eyes, a faithful image of mortal men. 

Think of the centuries that have passed since its appearance!  And yet, when the moon is new, we say:  The moon is born today.  Why this language?  Because we see a figure of our corporeal life there.  The moon is born, grows, reaches its apogee, only to then decrease, diminish and disappear:  and we also, we are born, we grow, we arrive at our apogee; then we fade, we decline, we age and we disappear in death.  But, just as the moon reappears then, we also will come back to life and another life is reserved for us.  This is why the Saviour, to teach us that, following the example of our birth on earth, a new birth awaits us beyond the tomb, expresses himself in these terms:  “When the Son of man comes at the time of the new Genesis.”  Matth. xix, 28. 

So the moon guarantees the resurrection to us.  What! she says to us, you see me disappearing to reappear, and you lose all hope?  Wasn’t the sun itself created for us, as well as the moon, and all creatures?  What does not promise us our resurrection?  Isn’t the night the image of death?  When darkness covers our bodies, you recognize nobody any more.  Often it happens that you touch with your hand the face of someone sleeping, and you do not know whose face this is, whose is that one; and you ask, so that the voice allows you to recognize those whom the darkness conceals from you.  So in the same way as the night hides the features of everyone, and as we do not recognize one another any more, when we are all together; in the same way death destroyed the human form and prevents us recognizing them any more. 

Walk through the tombs, look at the skulls which they contain; do you recognize to which people they belonged?  He knows who formed them; He who delivered these bodies to dissolution knows from where they came.  And you do not admire the creative power of the Lord?  There is a multitude of men, and none is exactly the same as any other.  You could traverse the ends of the universe in vain, you would not find two men who resembled each other exactly; and, when you believe you have found such, there would be presented in the eyes or the nose a difference which would justify this astonishing truth. Two children come out of the same place at the same time, and their resemblance is imperfect.  


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