Reflecting the Mind of the
Vatican Since 1850

The Beginning of the Universe and the Question of God
The Old Testament view of the universe is greatly influenced by the fact that the Jewish people were heirs to Semitic culture. For this reason we cannot separate the vision of the cosmos of the Old Testament from that of the surrounding Semitic cultures.

That conception saw the earth as flat. The sky that overlooked it was the “natural” place where God was. However, in a close parallel to the foundations of human dwellings it needed foundations on which to stand, and the columns of heaven were raised on these foundations, situated at the edge of the flat earth. Beneath them were all the stars, the sun, the planets and clouds you can see in the sky. Above the firmament, and separated from it by the columns of the sky, was water. In fact, there had to be a place to contain the water that spilled onto the earth during rain. Beyond it was the heaven of heaven, and above it was God.

This vision was not shared by classical Greek culture, in which the dominant cosmology was that of Aristotle. The philosopher from Stagira took up ideas of natural philosophers before him and elaborated the theory of the natural elements. He thought that there were five natural elements: earth, water, air, fire and ether (which was an incorruptible element).

The motions, according to Aristotle, occur in such a way that the elements move to their natural places: earth goes toward the earth; water toward water, which is higher than the earth; the air toward the air, which is higher than the water; and the fire toward the fire, which is higher than the air. Then there are the “violent” movements, in which the elements can move under the influence of a force toward places that are not necessarily “natural”; for example, the earth toward the air, etc..
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