Friends, welcome to part 5 of the 2nd chapter of Genesis. In today’s blog we will see what may be seen as a conflict in understanding, I always love to find these things and I enjoy reading them. (Obviously I may be a little strange in this way). There are those who are so literal in understanding that they will argue any sense of an allegorical or spiritual meaning to Holy Scripture. The fact that those who spoke in allegorical terms did not deny the actual historical and literal understanding, they simply saw another level to the Holy Scripture aside from the literal in which they always classified it as the first understanding, so, not neglecting or denying it.
2:10-14 And a river proceeds out of Eden to water the garden, thence it divides itself into four heads. 11 The name of the one, Phisom, this it is which encircles the whole land of Hevilath, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good, there also is carbuncle and emerald. 13 And the name of the second river is Geon, this it is which encircles the whole land of Ethiopia. 14 And the third river is Tigris, this is that which flows forth over against the Assyrians. And the fourth river is Euphrates.
AMBROSE OF MILAN. There was a fount which irrigated the land of Paradise. [Gen 2:10] Is not this stream our Lord Jesus Christ, the Fount as well as the Father of eternal life? It is written: ‘For with thee is the fountain of life.’ [Ps 35:10] Hence: ‘From within him there shall flow living waters.’ [John 7:38; cf. Isa 58:11] We read of a fountain and a river which irrigates in Paradise the fruit-bearing tree that bears fruit for life eternal. You have read, then, that a fount was there and that ‘a river rose in Eden,’ [Gen 2:10] to say that is, in your soul there exists a fount. This is the meaning of Solomon’s words: ‘Drink water out of your own cistern and the streams of your own well.’ [Prov. 5:15] This refers to the fount which rose out of that well-tilled soul, full of pleasant things, this fount which irrigates Paradise, that is to say, the soul’s virtues that blossom because of their eminent merits.
‘The river,’ we are told, ‘is separated into four branches. The name of one is Phison which encircles all the land of Hevila, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good, bdellium and onyx there. The name of the second river is Gihon. This river encircles all the land of Ethiopia. The name of the third river is Tigris, which river flows by the Assyrians. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.’ [Gen 2:10.14] There are, therefore, four rivers. Phison-.so called by the Hebrews, but named Ganges by the Greeks-flows in the direction of India. Gihon is the river Nile, which flows around the land of Egypt or Ethiopia. The land enclosed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is called Mesopotamia because it lives between these two rivers. This name conveys its location even to far-distant peoples and, besides, expresses popular belief. But how is the fount called the Wisdom of God? That this is a fount the Gospel tells us in the words, ‘If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.’ [John 7:37] Wisdom is a fount according to the Prophet: ‘Come and eat my bread and drink the wine which I have mingled for you.’ [Prov. 9:15 ] As Wisdom is the fountain of life, it is also the fountain of spiritual grace. It is also the fountain of other virtues which guide us to the course of eternal life. Therefore, the stream that irrigates Paradise rises from the soul when well-tilled, not from the soul which lies uncultivated. The results therefrom are fruit trees of diverse virtues. There are four principal trees which constitute the divisions of Wisdom. These are the well-known four principal virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. The wise men of this world have adopted this division from us and transferred it to their writings. Hence, Wisdom acts as the source from which these four rivers take their rise, producing streams that are composed of these virtues.
Phison, therefore, stands for prudence. Hence it has pure gold, brilliant rubies, and topaz stones. We often refer to wise discoveries as gold, as the Lord says, speaking through the Prophet: ‘I gave to them gold and silver.’ [Hosea 2:8 ] Daniel says of the wise: ‘If you sleep among the midst of the lots, you shall be as the wings of the dove covered with silver and the hinder parts of her back like to gold.’ [Ps 67:14 ] In this way one who puts his trust in the aid of the Old and New Testament can by resourceful inquiry attain the inmost secrets of the Wisdom of God. Here, therefore, is found pure gold, not the metal which is melted, which belongs to this earth, and is subject to corruption. In this land, we are told, there is found the brilliant ruby stone in which there exists the vita (life) spark of our souls. Here, too, is the topaz stone which by the nature of its color reveals an effect of greenness and vitality. Plants which are alive give forth green sprouts, while those that are dead are sapless and dry. The earth grows green when it is in bloom. The seeds, too, sprout forth green shoots in their periods of growth. The river Phison is rightfully given first place. The Hebrews call it Pheoyson, which means ‘change of mouth,’ because it flows even through Lydia and not merely around one nation, for Wisdom, which is of benefit to all men, is productive and useful. Hence, if a person were to leave Paradise, this river of Wisdom would be the first object he would meet. Thus he may not become inert and arid and his return to Paradise may be facilitated. Many men resort to this river, which is considered to have marvelous beauty and fecundity (fruitfulness, richness). Accordingly, it is regarded as a figure of Wisdom, which confers manifold fruits in the coming of the Lord of Salvation. It flows, too, to the very ends of the earth, because, by Wisdom all men have been redeemed. Wherefore it is written: ‘Their sound has gone forth into all the earth and their words unto the end of the world.’ [ Ps 18:5 ]
The second river is Gihon, by which, when they were sojourning in Egypt, was laid down the law of the Israelites that they should depart from Egypt, [Exod. 12:11] and having girded their loins they should as a sign of temperance partake of a lamb. It is fitting that the chaste and the sanctified should celebrate the Pasch of the Lord. For that reason, the observance of the Law was first carried out beside that river, the name of which signifies an opening of the earth. Therefore, just as an opening absorbs the earth and whatever defilements and refuse there may be in it, in like manner chastity tends to consume all the passions of the body. Appropriately, then, the observance of the established Law first took place there, because carnal sin is absorbed by the Law. And so Gihon, which is a figure of chastity, is said to surround the land of Ethiopia in order to wash away our lowly bodies and quench the fires of our vile flesh. The meaning of Ethiopia in Latin is ‘holy and vile.’ What is more lowly, what is more like Ethiopia, than our bodies, blackened, too, by the darkness of sin?
The third river is the Tigris, which flows by the Assyrian land. To this river the deceiver Israel was dragged as a prisoner. This river is the swiftest of all rivers. The Assyrian dwell by it, guarding its course-.for this is the meaning of its name. Hence, those who by their fortitude hold in check the guileful vices of the body and direct themselves to higher things are thought to have something in common with this river. For that same reason fortitude emanates from that source in Paradise. Fortitude in its rapid course tosses aside everything standing in its path and like this river is not hindered by any material obstacle.
The fourth river is the Euphrates, which means in Latin ‘fecundity (fertile) and abundance of fruits.’ It presents a symbol of Justice, the nourishment of every soul. No virtue produces more abundant benefits than Equity or Justice, which is more concerned with others than with itself, neglecting its own advantages, and preferring the common good. Many derive Euphrates from the Greek apo tou euphrainesthai –that is, from a ‘feeling of gladness,’ because the human race rejoices in nothing more than it does in Justice and Equity. The question as to why, although the location itself of other rivers is reported, (because) we have no description of the regions through which the river Euphrates flows (this ) calls for an answer. The waters of this river are considered to have a vital quality which fosters growth and increase. Wherefore, the wise men among the Hebrews and the Assyrians called this river Auxen [increase] in contradistinction to the water of other rivers. The opposition has been well established between wisdom and malice, fortitude and irascibility (hot tempered, easy to provoke), temperance, and other vices. Justice, on the other hand, is the most important as it represents the concord of all the other virtues. Hence it is not known from the places from which it flows, that is to say, it is not known in part. Justice is not divisible into parts. It is, as it were, the mother of all virtues. In these four rivers are symbolized, therefore, the four principal virtues. It may well be said that these virtues have been the determining boundary lines for the four great ages of the world. This, in fact, is the topic of the discourse which follows.
The first age, then, is the age of Wisdom. This period extends from the beginnings of the world up to the time of the Flood. The Lord has given us the names of the just men of this age. Abel was so called, and so was Enos, a man made to the image of God, who hoped to invoke the name of the Lord God. Henoch, also, whose name in Latin means ‘grace of God,’ was carried up to heaven, [ Gen 5:24 ] and Noe, who was a just man [ Gen 6:9 ] and one who might be called a guide to tranquility.[Cf. Isidore, Etym. 7.6:15]
The second age of the world is that of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob, and a number of other patriarchs. This was a period in which religion flourished in its more temperate and purest form. Pure was Isaac, a son given to Abraham according to promise, not as an offering of the body, but as a gift of divine beneficence. In him there is found the figure of Him who is pure as the Apostle teaches. ‘The promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring.’ [Gal 3:16 ] He does not say, “And to his offsprings,” but as of one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.’16
The third age lies in the period of the Law of Moses and in the time of the other Apostles. ‘For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, of Barac, of Samson, of David and of Samuel, Elias and Elisaeus, who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle and captured the camps of aliens.’ [Heb. 11:32-34 ] Not without reason, then, do these men stand as types of fortitude. Further on we are told: ‘They were sawed asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword. They went about in goatskins, destitute, distressed, afflicted-of whom the world was not worthy-wandering in deserts, mountains, caves and holes in the earth.’ [Heb. 11:37,38 ] Appropriately, therefore, do we set these men down as types of Fortitude.
The figure of Justice is, according to the Gospel, a meritorious one, because ‘it is unto salvation to everyone who believes.’ [Rom 1:16] Hence, the Lord Himself says: ‘Permit us to fulfill all justice.’ [Matt 3:15] She is truly the prolific parent of the other virtues. Yet, whoever possesses any of the above mentioned principal virtues has the other virtues, also, since these virtues are so connected as to form a unit. Surely, Abel, a just and courageous man, Abraham, a man of great patience, the Prophets, men of the greatest wisdom, and Moses, a man of great learning, considered that the ingloriousness of Christ brought far greater honor than the treasures of Egypt. Who was wiser than Daniel? Solomon, too, sought wisdom and merited it. [1 Kings 3:8] Enough has been said, therefore, on the subject of the four rivers of virtue whose waters are salutary. We have discussed, too, the reason why Phison is said to have not only the gold, but also the ruby and the topaz stone, of that goodly land. We propose now to develop the latter topic.
Since Enos in his wisdom yearned to know the name of God, he seems to us to stand for gold that is good. [Gen 4:26: 5:24] Henoch, who was borne aloft and did not see death, can be likened to a ruby stone of pleasant odor which holy Henoch by his works offered to God, thus exhaling in his active and exemplary life something akin to sweetness. Noe, on the other hand, like the green topaz stone, suggests a color which represents life, since he alone at the time of the Flood preserved in his ark the vital seed of the formation of the world to come. Paradise, a land watered by many rivers, is then appropriately situated in the East and not in the regions facing it. This reference to the East is significant, for the rising sun may be compared to Christ [Matt 24:27] who flashed forth a gleam of eternal light which exists in Eden, that is, in a land of delight. [On Paradise]
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. Must I endeavor to prove that these are real rivers rather than imaginary rivers intended to serve as symbols, when their reality is indicated by their names alone, so well known in the countries they bathe and spread so to speak? in the whole world? Time: changed the primitive name of two of these rivers; just as the Tiber was first called the Albula, the Nile and the Ganges are the modern names of the Geon and the Phis; as for the other two they still bear the same name as in the old times. Now, if their existence is proved, must we not also hear literally all the stories of Scripture, and see instead of pure allegories, historical events that hid a figurative meaning? Surely a parable can borrow a historical color from circumstances that have nothing real, for example, that where the Lord tells that a man, who went from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell into the hands of thieves (Luke, X, 30). How not to see that it is there a parable and that the language is allegorical from one end to the other However the two cities which are named there are real and can still be seen today in Judea. We would explain in the same way the four rivers, if we were obliged to interpret in the figurative sense all the details that the Scriptures transmit to us on the earthly paradise; but since we have no reason not to take literally the facts at their origin, why not attach ourselves with simplicity to the authority of Scripture, when it tells of events of an eminently historical character, by passing from the knowledge of the reality in the figurative sense that it can enclose?
Must we stop at the objection that, on these four rivers, some have a known source, the others a hidden source, and that consequently it is literally impossible for them to come out of the only river of Paradise? Far from it the situation of the terrestrial paradise being an enigma for the human mind, it is necessary to believe that the river which watered the Paradise was divided in four arms, according to the incontestable testimony of the Scripture; as for the rivers whose sources, it is said, are known, they disappeared somewhere underground, and, after having traversed a long circuit, they reappeared in other countries, where they pass to take their source. What is more common than this phenomenon? But it is known only for streams that do not stay hidden for a long time underground. Thus a river came out of Eden, that is to say, from a place of loosed; this river watered Paradise, in other words, the magnificent trees, laden with fruit, which shaded all the space included in this park. [Literal Commentary on Genesis]
EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA. Gaiōn (Geon). (Verse 13) The Nile according to the Egyptians, arising out of Paradise and encircling “all of Ethiopia.”
Tigris. (Verse 14) The river going out east from Paradise, according to Scripture, “over against Assyria” after many turns flowing “into the Red Sea” as Josephus affirms. It is called by the nickname Tigris because of the violence resembling that of the like-named animal. [Onomasticon]
JEROME OF STRIDON. 2:11 THE NAME OF THE ONE IS PHISON. — It is thought that this is the Ganges, the river of India.
2:12 WHERE (THERE) IS THE CARBUNCLE AND THE PRASINE STONE. — Instead of carbuncle and prasine stone, the others have translated as bdellion and onyx. [Hebrew Questions on Genesis]
JEROME OF STRIDON. Ethiopia, the Latins give this word the meaning of night or darkness.
Geon, chest, or steep. [Book on Hebrew Names]
THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH. And the Hebrew word Eden signifies “delight.” And it was signified that a river flowed out of Eden to water Paradise, and after that divides into four heads; of which the two called Pison and Gihon water the eastern parts, especially Gihon, which encompasses the whole land of Ethiopia, and which, they say, reappears in Egypt under the name of Nile. And the other two rivers are manifestly recognizable by us— those called Tigris and Euphrates— for these border on our own regions. [To Autolycus 2.24 ANF v.2]
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