(63) What is the meaning of the words, “There shall not again be a deluge to destroy all the earth?” (#Ge 9:11). By his last saying he declares sufficiently that there may be various inundations, but that there shall never be one of such a character as to be able to change the whole earth into a lake or sea. This is the literal meaning of this saying. But if we look to its inward sense, there a divine kindness is intimated, according to which, although it is not every part of the soul which is allowed to make proficiency in every virtue, still some are adorned in a considerable degree. So that, supposing any one is not able to display excellence in his whole body, he still may labour with all diligence to acquire all the means in his power to display excellence; and that exertion is within his reach. And it does not follow that if any one is less highly endowed, or is unable to make every portion of his life altogether perfect, that he is on that account to despair of those things which he is able to do and to attain to. Since as there is power in every individual, he who does not exert himself in accordance with it is both idle and ungrateful; idle because of his laziness, and ungrateful because, though he has received most excellent means, he still sets himself in opposition to the essential qualities of things.
(64) Why does God say that, as a sign that he will never again bring a deluge over the whole earth, he will place his bow in the clouds? (#Ge 9:13). Some persons imagine that by the bow he means that thing which by some is called Jupiter’s belt, from its figure, dwelling on its continual similitude to the rainbow; but I do not perceive that that has been positively asserted. In the first place, because the bow aforesaid ought to have a peculiar and essential nature of its own, because it is called the bow of God; for he says, “I will set my bow in the clouds.” But that which belongs to God and is said to have been set in any place as his, indicates plainly that it is not devoid of essence or of substance. But the belt of Jupiter has not, properly speaking, any separate nature of its own, but is merely an appearance of the solar rays on a wet cloud, all the phaenomena of which are non-existent and incorporeal. And moreover, this is a further proof of that, that it is never seen at night, though clouds exist by night as well as by day. In the second place, we must also say that even in the day-time, when clouds obscure the whole face of heaven, the belt of Jupiter is never at all seen in them. But what remains may also be affirmed without any falsehood, when the Maker of the law says, “I will set my bow in the clouds;” for, behold, while clouds are present there is no appearance of the belt of Jupiter visible. But he said, “Where there is a collection of clouds let there be a bow seen in the clouds.” Still it often happens, when the clouds are collected and when the air is obscured and thickened, that no appearance of a rainbow is seen anywhere. We must consider, therefore, whether haply the sacred historian indicates something else by this mention of the bow, namely, that in the very exercise of the mercy of God, and also in the moment of his bitterness towards men on earth, there still shall not be any ultimate destruction of them, in the fashion of a bow, which is too soft and unfit for such a purpose, nor shall there be any violence added, so as to cause a rapid destruction, but there shall be a moderate determination, each attribute being carefully measured; for the great deluge took place with a breaking asunder and disruption of the clouds and of all things; as he himself asserts, when he says, “The fountains of the deep were broken up.” And yet it was not an unmeasured vehemence. Moreover, a bow is not itself a weapon, but only an instrument for the use of weapons, namely, for the arrow which strikes; and the arrow being sent forth by means of the bow strikes a part which is at a distance, while the parts which are nearest to it remain unhurt. And this is given as a proof that the whole earth shall never for the future suffer any deluge, since no one arrow ever hits all places, but only those which are at a distance. Therefore the divine virtue, being invisible, is symbolically indicated by the bow in the cloud; being in truth dissolved according to the figure of tranquillity, and condensed in accordance with a cloud; so that it does not permit all the clouds to be altogether dissolved into water, so that the earth may not be made a lake by an inundation, which it carefully forbids, and arranges the condensation of air, checking it as by a bridle, though it is at that time the more accustomed to exhibit itself as rebellious by reason of its excessive fulness. For by reason of the clouds it also shows itself to be replenished, dripping, and saturated.