ABOUT THE CULTIVATION OF THE EARTH
(66) What is the meaning of the statement, “Noah began to be a cultivator of the earth?” (Genesis 9:20). He is here comparing Noah to the first created man who was formed out of the earth; for in that manner also does he speak of him when he came forth out of the ark; since both then and now there took place a first beginning of the cultivation of the land, each being after a deluge. For also, at the time of the original creation of the world the earth was, as it were, a lake, being covered by an inundation of water, for the sacred historian could not tell us that God said, “Let the waters be gathered together into one body, and let the dry land appear,” unless it had previously been inundated with waters which now returned into certain depths of the earth. Nor again is the expression a purposeless one, “He began to be a tiller of the earth,” for in the second generation he was himself the beginning of men, and also of seed, and of the cultivation of the land, and of the life of all other things. This is the literal meaning of the words. But if we look to their inner sense, a distinction is made between being a cultivator of the earth and a tiller of it; as the murderer of his brother is represented as tilling the earth, but not as cultivating it. For by the earth our body is symbolically represented, which is by its nature earthly, and which the unjust and wicked man tills like a lazy hireling, but which the man endued with virtue cultivates like a skilful manager of plants and an agriculturist of good works appointed to superintend it. Because the workman of the body, the mind, as being carnal, procures carnal pleasures; but the cultivator of the earth is careful to produce useful fruits, those, namely, which are to be obtained by the study of continence, and modesty, and sound wisdom; and he prunes away all superfluous excesses and bad habits which spring up around, like the thin and misplaced branches of trees.