Literature Study GuidesThe ConfessionsBook 12 Sections 1 15 Summary

The Confessions | Study Guide

Saint Augustine

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The Confessions | Book 12, Sections 1–15 (Heaven and Earth) | Summary



Augustine now turns to the parts in Genesis that talk about formless matter (darkness over the abyss). He first distinguishes between "heaven's heaven," the immaterial realm, and the heaven that is simply the celestial realms of matter that can be called part of earth (sky, sun, moon, stars). He then says that the earth was unorganized but already matter. God made heaven and earth out of nothing, first creating formless matter. One realm was made near to him (heaven's heaven), and one was "bordering on nothingness" (earth and the heavens). Next, God created light and separated the earth from the sky. From the beginning, heaven's heaven was an intellectual creation, transcending mutability (change) and enjoying continuous bliss contemplating God. Augustine continues to describe this realm, which he calls the house of God. Although this house is not "coeternal" with God, it holds fast to him and "suffers none of the vicissitudes of time."


In these first sections of Book 12, Augustine is establishing the terms by which he will discuss the Book of Genesis. People often refer to the sky as the "heavens," so he wants to make a distinction between earth's "heaven," which is only the sky and what modern people call space, where the stars and the planets are located. In that sense, earth's heaven is still part of earth in Augustine's view. Heaven's heaven is the celestial realm, where he imagines celestial beings (for example, angels) live. But it is important to understand that this realm is immaterial for Augustine. He does not think heaven's heaven is a physical place. This house of God is not coeternal with him because it was created; however, it is not subject to change in the way earth is. God does not create this house of God (or heaven's heaven) out of the formless matter. He uses the formless matter to create the earth. Augustine's idea of formless matter is derived from Aristotle, according to the editors of Maria Boulding's translation of The Confessions. Aristotle proposed the idea of prime matter, not exactly material, but a potency from which all material things can be fashioned.

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