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Cosmas Indicopleustes, Christian Topography (1897) pp. 321-330.  Book 9



Concerning the course of the heavenly bodies.

HE circle of the twelve months is the uppermost, that of the sun is lower, and that of the moon is lower still.1 Divine scripture signifies this by the structure of the candlestick, whereby the circular branches spring out from its shaft three on the one side and three on the other in such wise that one branch precedes another branch,2 and each day the circle of the twelve months outruns the sun one degree, so that the sun is found in thirty days running through one month, and thus in twelve months completing the year, falling short, as has been said, one degree each day.3 The circle again of the sun outruns the circle of the moon 4 twelve degrees each day,5 so that it is found that the moon in thirty 6 days falls short of accomplishing the whole of the circle, that is, one month. But if any |322 [310] should choose to consider the matter in the reverse way,7 then the circle of the moon falls short of that of the sun every day twelve degrees and some minutes, and the circle of the sun falls short of the uppermost circle of all, that is, of the twelve months, every day one degree. But these bodies are moved by the invisible Powers in an orderly and rational manner according to the will of God, these Powers having received this as a law, according to what is written in David: Bless the Lord, all ye his angels, ye mighty in strength, that fulfil his word, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Bless the Lord all ye his hosts, ye ministers of his that do his pleasure.8 To Him be glory for ever and ever, Amen!

And these courses of the twelve mansions of the twelve stars and of the two great luminaries, according to the length of their three circles, we have explained to the best of our power in terms consistent with Christian doctrine, being moved by divine assistance, and at the same time drawing our conclusions from optical appearances. But as to the course of the two great luminaries in respect of latitude, and as to their transitions, their ascensions and declinations, conjunctions and seasons of full moon, nodes and elongations of their courses,9 parallaxes and phases, regular and irregular motions, and their northern and southern limits, and other terms which the pagans are pleased to employ, whereby they calculate the eclipses of the same luminaries, we resign the calculation to those who know and investigate such subjects with a view to calculate and foretell eclipses, since by this our withers are unwrung, and we are |323 even more confirmed in our views. For if terms of this kind, namely, transitions, ascensions, declinations, etc., hold [as they do] a place in our scheme, contention is futile. Now we have not cared to show anything else by this treatise of ours than that these eclipses of the two luminaries do occur, and are in harmony with our scheme, although the heaven should not be moved at all from east to west, or from west to east, and whether it be spherical or consist of many spheres; while at the same time the stars and luminaries in the air, by the agency of the rational powers, complete their course in observance of their order, and the figure of the two heavens and of the earth is preserved in accordance with divine scripture----a figure in which from the beginning God prepared two states ----the present and the future, namely those circles which we have described, and not heavens that are spherical, continuous, solid of body and transparent-----according to the nonsensical babble of the pagans.

We remember to have stated in the second book that the angels move the luminaries and the stars and all else, as having been ordained for the service of men, and there also we have delineated the scheme as far as it is possible [311] to exhibit it graphically. For we have testimonies from divine scripture showing that this is so. For that these bodies have a circular motion David shows when he says: Thou shalt bless the crown of the year with thy goodness;10 here with wonderful propriety styling the circle of the twelve months a crown, as crowning the face of the earth with beauty, whence he added: And the fields shall be filled with thy fatness.1 For by the circular motion and the succession of returns from the tropics, the fruits of the earth grow and reach maturity. Yea, even Moses placed upon that which was typical of the earth, namely, upon |324 the table all round, the twelve loaves of shew-bread, three at each corner, signifying by the corners the four tropics, each distant from each three months, and by the circle the twelve months, and by the loaves the fruits of the earth, thus mystically representing the months by a circle crowning the earth above. In like manner also he arranged the twelve tribes in a circle around the Tabernacle, three on the east, three on the south, three on the west, and three on the north, beginning from the east, going up to south, descending again to the west and then lastly running through the north in accordance with the motion of the stars and the position of the earth.

This circle the pagans call the Zodiac which we have ourselves delineated in accordance with their theory.11 But the other seven stars, which they call planets, Moses obscurely represented by placing seven lamps in the candlestick, which he placed in the south, so that it cast its light upon the table towards the north, while by the lamps he signified a week of seven days, signifying by all these the days, the weeks, the months, the tropics, and the year. By the daily loaves which were each day laid down new upon the table, he indicated the days, and by the seven lamps the week, and by the number of the loaves the twelve months, and by the four corners the tropics, and by the circle the year, concerning which things the divine Apostle speaks in the Epistle to the Hebrews:12 Now if he were on earth he would not be a priest at all, seeing there are those who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses is warned of God when he is about to make the Tabernacle: For, see, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern which was shown thee in thc Mount. And Solomon says: The sun ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to |325 his place. Arising he goeth there towards the south and wheeleth round in his circuit, and the wind goeth on its circuits.13 He also, in what he says, agrees with Moses and David, namely, that the sun proceeding from the east ascends to the south, and by making a circuit through the .north, causes the tropics, and completes the great circle of the year in his passage through the air; for this is what the expression the wind goeth on means, as if he said, in the [312] air. And that the heavenly bodies are moved by the invisible Powers, divine scripture intimates this also, when it says: For the creation was made subject to vanity not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God;14 meaning by this, that at the final consummation, the angels shall be delivered from this bondage, and from the ministrations which they render on account of men, for men, having then become immortal and immutable, will no longer be in need of such ministrations, as the Lord also in the Gospels speaks thus concerning the consummation: For the powers of heaven shall be shaken,15 thus calling the angels the powers of heavens, and by the expression they shall be shaken, He means they shall be set free from their former office. As the angels, therefore, who move the stars themselves and other things, are certainly set free from this office and ministry, He declares that the stars fall to the earth.

The language of the Apostle also: Are they not all ministering spirits senf forth to minister for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation?16 very clearly shows that they all for the sake of man are occupied night and day in their ministrations and services, and in doing everything else |326 towards giving men relaxation from their toils and towards supplying their wants. For, when we shall no longer need them, they shall be set free from this bondage and service, and shall cast down the stars upon the earth. As Paul endured many toils and afflictions and persecutions for the Church, and at last, from the multitude of his impending dangers, was driven to despondency, the divine grace consoled him by means of frequent visions, encouraging him not to despair, but to persevere, and to minister to the growth and propagation of the Church. He therefore sets forth from these things for us two causes [of the visions], one pointing to labour, and the other to reward. For what does he say? I know a man in Christ fourteen years ago (whether in the body I know not, or whether out of the body I know not, God knoweth), how that he was caught up into the third heaven;17 and again he says: And I know such a man that he was caught up into the third heaven and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter;18 here manifestly setting forth things concerning himself in the person of another. I know, he says, O Corinthians, if I needs must myself come to visions and revelations of the Lord, that I was, in a wondrous manner beyond all conception, caught up to a vast height, that of the distance from the earth to the firmament, two-third parts, so that only one third of the whole height of heaven remained to me to be ascended.19 And what was the cause of his being thus caught up I will with God's help explain. Since the invisible powers in this height [313] up to which Paul was caught, in obedience to the divine ordinance, for the sake of man move the heavenly bodies unceasingly and unhesitatingly by night and by day, He |327 therefore caught up Paul, and conducted him thither, to show him the incessant service which they perform for the sake of men----to show him in what a rational, orderly, rhythmical and intelligent a manner, and with what toil and assiduity and solicitude, they render their service, and fulfil their work, that he might thus in a measure comfort Paul, so that in labouring for the Church, he might not give way to despondency, but persevere in his ministry, as he saw the angels were doing in theirs. Paul therefore had the boldness to reveal how they ranked in dignity, naming Principalities, and Powers, and Virtues, and Thrones, and Dominations. For some of them perform the work while others superintend the workers, and others exercise power as commanders of squadrons; and to say all in a word, all of them alike, groaning and travailing in pain together, perform their labour with great anxiety and solicitude, and in rational order, all of them being together desirous to gain their freedom from that bondage under which they serve for the sake of men.

I shall here speak again, God helping me, concerning the being caught up into Paradise. Since, after their departure from the body, the souls of the righteous, who are thought worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven, are consigned to Paradise (as we learn from the case of the thief who was crucified along with the Lord), until the resurrection, being there kept as in a choice and honoured place by the invisible Powers, who entertain them with hymns and every mark of honour; God caught up Paul thither, and by way of comforting him, showed him, but in part only, the crowns which were the prizes of his toils and struggles; whence he was unable to give a perfect description of the things there; yea, he rather declared them to be unspeakable and incomprehensible, but he had the boldness to write, that for him, as one who had finished his course of service, and had kept the faith, there was |328 laid up a crown of righteousness by the Lord, and not for him only, but also for all who are like him. And so much we have said with regard to the visions.

But here it is to be noted that all the heavenly bodies are under the firmament, and are moved and wheeled in their orbits below the two-thirds of the height of heaven,20 by the ministry and the arrangement of the invisible Powers. And from this we learn that an angel does not ascend beyond the heavenly bodies. For if they are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for the sake of them that shall inherit salvation,21 let any one who is opposed to this opinion declare in what service the angel, who goes above the firmament, is engaged; and if he is at a loss to point this out, let him submit, I do not say to us, but to divine scripture. For it is impossible for any of us, while still mortal or corruptible or mutable, to go beyond the stars, unless we receive from God incorruption and [314] immortality and immutability by the resurrection from the dead; unless the angels also are, in like manner, along with us, delivered from bondage, and casting down the stars to the earth, likewise obtain immutability and freedom, we do not go beyond the stars and cleave the firmament to enter into the kingdom of heaven. For this the Apostle shows when he says: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God;20 here by the word flesh meaning mortality, and by blood mutability. He declared therefore that it is impossible for one who is mortal or mutable to inherit the kingdom of heaven. He subjoins immediately: Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption 22----and he repeated this, by way of showing that nothing that is corrupt can go up and enter there, for harm rather than any advantage would |329 result. For just as we, who are far away from the sun, have not the power, should we direct our eyes to his disc, to continue doing so, but would be injured and blinded rather than profited, so would it fare with any one if, while still mortal or mutable or corruptible, he should seek to overstep the boundaries, and approach the way which leads to the kingdom of heaven, while still far off therefrom. So then, just as the Lord Christ when He had risen from the dead, having become incorruptible in the body and immortal, and in soul immutable, then passed beyond the heavenly Powers, and when He had approached the firmament, having become, as it is written, better than the angels, He pierced it and entered into the kingdom of heaven; as Paul also declares when he says that he ascended far above all principality, etc., so we also and the angels, having obtained these attributes, enter therein. Again, the two trees in the middle of Paradise mystically presignify the present state and the future, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a type of this world which is mortal and mutable, having pleasures and pains, and being a school of discipline,23 just as Adam was taught by this tree both good and evil. Now the tree of life is a type of the future heavenly world, in which life and blessedness reign, for the saying: Lest he stretch forth his hand and take of the tree of life,24 signified the vast height of the tree and thereby signified the mansions above. As therefore He commanded the Cherubim with the flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life, so He commanded the angels and the luminaries which revolve round the height of the firmament, to guard the way which is there that leads into the kingdom of heaven; |330 intending to signify that the mansions above are meanwhile inaccessible to men. At His Passion therefore the Lord Christ [315] carried with Him the soul of the thief into Paradise, having suspended the guardianship of the Cherubim and of the flaming sword, which turned every way. But after His resurrection, when He came to his ascension, He opened a passage through the host of the invisible Powers, and the luminaries and the firmament itself, and entered into the kingdom where immortality, and immutability, and blessedness reign. At the final consummation therefore, when the angels cease to make the luminaries revolve and when the stars fall, then the Cherubim and the flaming sword waving both ways no longer prevent men from entering into the true life, but the righteous, raised on high and traversing the new way and piercing the firmament with the Lord Christ, shall inherit the kingdom of life. Do Thou, who hast compassion and great pity, deem us also, along with Thy righteous, worthy of this life and inheritance.

[Footnotes moved to the end and renumbered]

1. 1 See Pl. 9 in the Appendix, depicting the celestial sphere of Ptolemy.

2. 2 See Pl. 15 in the Appendix.

3. 3 More exactly 59' 8 1/3".

4. 4 Gr. Τὸν δὲ κύκλον τη̃ς σελήνης, ἡ του̃ ἡλίου προτρέχει. As προτρέχει governs the genitive, the reading should be του̃ δὲ κύκλου, and ἡ should be ὁ. 

5. 5 More exactly 12° 11' 26 2/3". 

6. 6 29 1/2 + days.

7. 1 Gr. ̕Ει δέ τις ἐξ ἀντιστρόφου βουλειθείη νοει̃ν. Montfaucon translates this wrongly: Quod si quis facta comparatione rem considerare voluerit.

8. 2 Psalm ciii, 21, 22.

9. 3 Gr. ἐκδιαμέτρων δρόμων. Montfaucon renders: de diametralibus cursibus.

10. 1 Psalm lxv, 11.

11. 1 See Plates 9 and 22 in the Appendix.

12. 2 Heb. viii, 4, 5.

13. 1 Eccl. i, 5, 6.

14. 2 Rom. viii, 20.

15. 3 Matt, xxiv, 19.

16. 4 Heb. i, 14.

17. 1 II Cor. xii, 2.

18. 2 Ibid., 3.

19. 3 From this it would appear that Cosmas took the distance from the earth to the firmament to be double the distance from the firmament to the summit of heaven. But see note 3, p. 116, and its text.

20. 1 That is two-thirds of the height of heaven above the earth. See note 3, p. 116, and note 3, p. 326,

21. 2 Heb. i, 14.

22. 3 1 Cor xv, 50.

23. 1 According to the Greek text there should be a full stop after discipline; but it seems better to place it after the clause which follows.

24. 2 Gen. iii, 22.

Next: Book 10