(57) Why does God say, “Every creeping thing which lives shall be to you for food?” (#Ge 9:3). Creeping things are of a twofold nature; some being venomous, and others domestic. The venomous ones are serpents, which, instead of feet, use their bellies and breasts, creeping upon the earth; but the domestic ones are those which have legs above their feet. This is the literal meaning of the statement. But if we look to the inward sense of it, then the creeping things represent the foul vices, but the clean ones represent joy; for in connexion with the passion of concupiscence there will exist joy and pleasure; and in connexion with desire there will be will and counsel, and in connexion with sorrow goading and compunction, and in connexion with avidity there will be fear. Therefore such disordered perturbations of the passions threaten souls with death and destruction; but the joys do really live, as he himself has warned us in an allegory; and they also give life to those who possess them.
(58) What is the meaning of the expression, “As the green herb I have given you all things?” (#Ge 9:3). Some persons say that by this expression, “As the green herb I have given you all things,” the eating of flesh was permitted. But I say that even though God had intended to give that permission, still that before all things he must have intended to establish by law the necessary use of herbs, that is to say of vegetables. And under the general name of herb he includes all the other additional descriptions of green food, without mentioning them expressly in the law. But now the power of this command is adapted not to one nation alone among all the select nations of the earth which are desirous of wisdom, among which religious continence is honoured, but to all mankind, who cannot possibly be universally prohibited from eating flesh. Nevertheless, perhaps the present expression has no reference to eating food, but rather to the possession of the power to do so; for in fact every herb is not necessarily good to eat, nor again is it the uniform and invariable food of all uniform living animals; since God said that some herbs were poisonous and deadly, and yet they are included in the number all. Perhaps therefore, I say, he means to express this, that all brute beasts are subjected to the power of man, as we sow herbs and take care of them by the cultivation of the land.