On the second day God said: Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
The firmament in the midst of the waters is Baptism, separating the upper waters from the lower waters; that is to say, separating the faithful from the unfaithful, who are rightly called ‘lower waters’ because they seek the things that are below and daily fall short by their defects. ‘The waters above’, however, stand for the faithful who, according to the Apostle, should seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. [Col 3.1]
Note too that we refer to ‘crystal’ waters. A crystal, when it is touched by the rays of the sun, emits brilliant sparks. Likewise the faithful man, enlightened by the rays of the sun, should give forth sparks of true preaching and of good works, to set his neighbour on fire. But alas, alas! When the firmament is cracked the waters flow to waste in the dead sea, and they flow in with what is dead. So Ezekiel says:
These waters that issue forth from the mound of sand to the east, go down to the plains of the desert, and shall enter the sea. [Ezek 47.8]
The mound stands for contemplation, in which as in a tomb the dead are buried and hidden. The contemplative, being dead to the world and hidden from the hurly-burly of men, is as it were buried. And so Job says: Thou shalt enter into the grave in abundance, as a heap of wheat is brought in its season. [Job 5.26]
The just man enters the grave of the contemplative life in the abundance of the grace conferred upon him, just as a heap of grain is carried into the barn at harvest-time. The chaff of temporal things has been winnowed away, and his mind rests in the barn of heavenly fulness. Being at rest, it is filled with the sweetness of heaven.
Note too that the mound is said to be of sand to the east. By the sand, penance is indicated. So you find in Exodus that Moses hid the Egyptian he had slain in the sand [Ex 2.12], because the just man ought to strike down mortal sin in confession, and hide it with the satisfaction of penance; and that penance should always look towards that East of which Zacharias speaks: Behold a man, the Orient is his name. [Zech 6.12]
We read, then, of those waters which issue forth from the mound of sand towards the east.
Alas! How much water, and how many religious, issue forth from the mound of the contemplative life, from the sand of penance, from the east of grace! They issue forth, I say, with Dinah and Esau from their father’s house [cf. Gen 34.1; 28.9], that is they go out with the devil and with Cain from the face of God, and with Judas the traitor, who held the purse, from the school of Christ. They go down to the level of the desert, to the plain of the wilderness of Jericho, in which, as Jeremiah tells, Zedekiah was blinded by Nebuchadnezzar (the devil) in the full extent of his temporal possessions (the sinner is deprived of the light of reason); and his own sons (his works) were slain by the devil. In this plain Cain (whose name means ‘possession’) killed Abel (whose name means ‘struggle’). The possession of transitory abundance kills the struggle of penance.
And so the waters go down to the level of the desert; wherefore it is said in Genesis: When they went forth from the east into the west, they found a plain in the land of Sennaar. [cf. Gen 11.2]
The sons of Adam go forth from the east of grace into the west of sin, and when they have found the plain of worldly pleasure they dwell in the land of Sennaar (which means ‘a stench’). In the stench of gluttony and lust they build a house in which to dwell, not like christians but like pagans who take the name of their God in vain.
The Lord says in Exodus: Thou shalt not take the name of thy God in vain. [Ex 20.7]
He who uses the name of God without its meaning, instead of respecting the meaning of the name, takes it in vain. And so they enter the sea, which is the bitterness of sin, in order to pass from this to the bitterness of torment.
God made the firmament of Baptism in the midst of the waters, to divide the waters from the waters; but these sinners, as Isaiah says, have transgressed the laws, they have changed the ordinance, they have broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore shall a curse devour the earth; and the inhabitants thereof shall sin, and therefore they that dwell therein shall grow mad. [Is 25.5-6] The written law and the law of grace are transgressed, because they are not willing to keep the written law like slaves, or the law of grace like sons. They alter the natural law, which is: “Whatever you do not want done to you, do not do to others.” They break the everlasting covenant which they made in Baptism. Therefore the curse of pride shall devour the earth (that is, earthly folk), and those who dwell in it shall sin with the sin of avarice, those to whom is said in the Apocalypse, Woe to you who dwell upon the earth; and those who cultivate it shall grow mad with the sin of lust, which is weakness and derangement of mind.
[Source: THE SERMONS OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA , Translated into English by Paul Spilsbury from the Critical Latin Edition of the Centro Studi Antoniani, Padova, Italia (1979)
Copyright: Copyright in this translation belongs to the author, Revd. Dr. S.R.P.Spilsbury, 10 Woodside Grove, Henbury, Bristol, BS10 7RF. (firstname.lastname@example.org)]