What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
But when the Council of Trent stated that we are to follow the consensus of the Fathers, it didn’t say we had to do so only if the Fathers based their arguments on Scripture. If the Fathers had a consensus, it became a matter of faith, regardless what mixture there was between natural philosophy and Scripture in the consensus (Robert Sungenis, “Debunking David Palm, Phase 5“; emphasis mine).
The popes and councils were resolute in teaching that regardless of how the Fathers arrived at their consensus, they HAD a consensus, and thus the information they held in consensus was part of the deposit of faith (Robert Sungenis, “How Do We Regard the Fathers’ Consensus on Geocentrism“; emphasis mine).
“According to Lumen Gentium 12, this consensus makes the belief in geocentrism “infallible” by virtue of the fact that the Holy Spirit led all these people, century after century, to believe in this very doctrine. If that is the case, then any departure from it is not another movement of the Holy Spirit (for we cannot make the Holy Spirit tell a falsehood in one era and tell the truth in another) but a movement of the devil seeking to bring the Church into apostasy, which Scripture, the saints and our 1994 Catechism affirm (see paras. 676-677)” (Robert Sungenis, Letter from Patron 12/18/2010; emphasis mine.)
Standing at ground level, it can be difficult to see if the foundation of a building is off. But the error will become increasingly visible to the eye the higher the building climbs. Eventually, if the error is significant enough, the whole edifice will topple over.
So it is with the assertions of Bob Sungenis in relation to geocentrism. On the surface, they can initially seem sound, as if they are in harmony with the official teaching of the Catholic Church. But when one examines Sungenis’s arguments more closely and takes them to their logical conclusions – as we’re about to do here – it becomes apparent that his edifice leans more than the Tower of Pisa and, in fact, cannot stand.
A number of people have been taken in by the claim of the new geocentrists that because many of the Fathers of the Church held to geocentrism, this makes it a doctrine of the Catholic faith and something binding on all Catholics to believe. What hasn’t been made clear to these same people is just what else the Fathers held to that, according to Sungenis’s version of the faith, they are now also logically obliged to believe.
In my article Geocentrism and the Unanimous Consent of the Fathers, I demonstrated that the Church teaches that any alleged binding consensus of the Fathers must be on a matter of faith and morals. What’s more, I demonstrated that it’s clear from various decrees and actions of the Magisterium of the Church that the Church does not teach geocentrism as a matter of faith or morals (see The Magisterium Rules: The Debate is Over).
But the new geocentrists hold that this represents a massive breakdown in the Church’s teaching office. For, as we see in the quotes at the top of this article, Sungenis holds that any matter on which the Fathers are in consensus is automatically a matter of faith for Catholics.
I already anticipated this argument and had pointed out that Pope Leo XIII, when speaking of the unanimous consensus of the Fathers, says that, “we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith-what they are unanimous in”. As such, merely being unanimous is not enough. They must “lay down” the matter “as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith”. We have already seen in Geocentrism and the Unanimous Consent of the Fathers that the Fathers do not lay down geocentrism as a matter of faith or even intimately connected to faith (and this is especially true regarding a motionless earth, about which they have virtually nothing to say: see The Fathers Don’t Support an Immobile Earth). Rather, they simply assume it as a matter of course, as the best science of their day (see Geocentrism in the Fathers: A Matter of Natural Philosophy, Not Theology).
But interestingly, there are at least two concrete examples of views of natural philosophy (i.e. science) that the Fathers do, in fact, hold in consensus. The first is the ancient view that the entire material universe is comprised of just four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The second is that the health of the human body is governed by the balance of the four humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. We’ll deal with the former presently and the latter in part two of this essay.
It’s clear that the Catholic Church does not teach either of these beliefs as matters of faith. But it is equally clear that geocentrists like Sungenis are logically bound to hold these things as matters of faith according to their own stated principles. Indeed, if they are to be consistent, they should be urging the the Pope and the bishops to embrace these long-lost doctrines and teach once again to the faithful the Catholic faith in all its completeness and purity. And if they take the same approach on this issue as they have taken on geocentrism, they should also be forcefully denouncing the heresies of modern science, with its periodic table of elements and its germ theory of disease. After all, in these cases, we’re talking about the fundamental nature of the material universe and the human person. In comparison, geocentrism is arguably small potatoes.
Regarding the entire universe being made up of just four elements—fire, air, water, and earth—there exists a consensus of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that, if anything, far surpasses what Sungenis has advanced in support of geocentrism. Please read the quotations that I have compiled at the end of this article. Notice that these witnesses appear from the earliest times and span at least a millennium and a half. They span geographically from East to West. The patristic witness is extremely solid—after a fairly casual search, I have been able to find no fewer than thirty six patristic witnesses and I would not be surprised if there are others. The medieval theologians are no less consistent. All told, I have so far discovered a total of twenty two Doctors of the Church holding this view. And two additional witnesses are ecumenical Councils, the Second Council of Nicea (787) and the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215).
If you accept the new geocentrists’ argument concerning the Fathers and geocentrism, then logically you must accept also, as a matter of faith, that the physical universe is made of four and only four elements: air, fire, water, and earth.
And, lo and behold, it turns out that Sungenis is ready to argue that the universe really is made up of the four elements and that this is perfectly compatible with modern scientific discoveries. But note, there is a marked difference in how he treats this vs. how he treats geocentrism. On the matter of geocentrism, he is adamant and uncompromising in his assertion that the earth is the no-fooling, literal and motionless center of the universe and he insists that Scripture and the Fathers must be taken literally on the matter.
Considering his no holds barred, take no prisoners approach to geocentrism, why are Sungenis and his band of “magisterial fundies” (as they call themselves), not standing defiantly against such scientists (many of them non-Catholics or even atheists)? In regard to geocentrism, he’s been willing to publicly denounce anyone – even priests, bishops and popes – if they fail to teach and uphold this supposed “truth” of the Catholic faith. But, oddly, on the four elements, he’s willing to cozy up to modern scientific views and make all sorts of compromises and accommodations. He’s a veritable liberal the likes of Raymond Brown and perhaps even John Dominic Crossan. Are these not the very same scientists who, since at least the mid-1600s, have been advancing the notion – clearly heretical, by his standards – that there are many more than four elements? Indeed, Sungenis has not one word against the idea that man can actually create new elements beyond the God-given four, an idea that he should denounce as positively blasphemous. And where are the denunciations of the laxity of the modern popes and bishops, who have allowed the People of God to lose their faith in these doctrines without even one word of warning?
Yet, it’s not as if Sungenis is unaware of this teaching. Drawing on the mystical writings of the medieval writer St. Hildegard of Brigen (as he does in support of geocentrism), Sungenis very clearly embraces the idea of the four elements. However, instead of treating this in a strictly literal way, as he does with geocentrism, he instead deploys a modernistic spin to accommodate the ancient belief with modern science: “In Hildegard’s terminology, ‘fire’ represents many things, and we moderns have to accommodate her language to what we know scientifically.”
He bends over backwards to “harmonize” the ancient view with the modern discovery that there are at least 118 unique chemical elements. This is clearly and completely incompatible with what he himself has to hold as a revealed truth, a matter of faith – that there are four and only four elements. What has happened to Sungenis’s literalism? What happened to his uncompromising defense of the faith against the incredible onslaught and godless hubris of scientism? Do the Fathers and Doctors speak of four elements, or do they make room for over a hundred? Where in any of the writings of the Fathers, Doctors, or the ecumenical Councils is there any hint that there could possibly be more than the God-given four? And where is there any room in their writings for something so heretical as man-made elements?
Sungenis’s specific attempt to address this problem is equally lame when seen either from the vantage of modern science or even from his own hermeneutics. What does he do? Does he stand up to modern science and insist on a literal view of the four elements? No, instead he arbitrarily assigns the original “four elements” to various parts of an atom:
We find that the four also correspond to the fundamental building blocks of nature that we moderns have assigned such names as protons, neutrons and electrons. The “fire” is the energy of the atom, otherwise known as the electron, whereas the protons and neutrons, known as a nucleon, are the “earth” (proton) and “water” (neutron). As we will see later, the atom is also comprised of “air,” which occupies the space between the “fire” of the electron and the “earth” and “water” of the nucleon.
But this is just an arbitrary and completely unsubstantiated ploy that Sungenis literally concocted out of thin air. One might reply that the positively charged proton would more logically be seen as the “fire” of the atom. And the “air”, which in the ancient view was something substantial, literally nothing in Sungenis’s view (it’s just “the space between…the electron and the…nucleon”, which in any event the ancients would be more likely to call aether than air.) What neutrons have to do with water is anybody’s guess (and Sungenis hazards none), but when one can simply make these things up as one goes along, it’s probably too much to expect any real connection. Such is the “science” of Robert Sungenis.
Remarkably, Sungenis then takes his personally concocted assignments of the four elements to various parts of the atom as now-established fact and insists:
Another important relationship among the four elements is the affinity, on the one hand, of fire and earth, and, on the other hand, air and water. As we noted earlier, one example of the former relationship is that as “fire” represents the electron, the “earth” represents the proton. These two substances each carry a charge and thus relate to each other electrically or electromagnetically. All communication flows from positive to negative and back again. In another way, light is invisible unless it reacts with matter. We cannot see a light beam until some solid object impedes it, and this is one reason why the night sky is so dark. It is different for air and water. The communication between their domains consists largely of mechanical waves, incorporating pressure and temperature and other motions.
And muddying the distinctions yet again, he writes:
For example, to varying degrees, fire (energy) permeates the other three elements: water, air and earth. The very formula we moderns use, E = mc2, is, in Hildegardian terms, little more than the permeation of the element fire (energy) into earth (matter).
So now it’s only earth that is matter—apparently water and air get left out of the equation completely. Sungenis goes on to assert that this elemental view really corresponds well to the whole universe too:
In a very similar way, Hildegard’s visions show the universe is constructed with the energy zones in the outer layers; the air/water layers in the middle zones; and the earth material in the center.
But he seems not to realize that, by this argument, he’s shattered the connection he tried to create with the atom. At the atomic level, the earth and water are at the center, but in the universe it’s all fire in the outer layers, air and water in the middle, and only earth at the center. And in the real universe is it really just fire in the “outer layers”, with air and water in between? What of the earth, air, and water of our own planet? He doesn’t address any of these difficulties. But he does insist that the view of the four elements holds great promise for modern science:
The cosmic spheres of fire, air, water and earth are in constant communication and exchange in order to produce the proper balance required for the universe’s stability. This, we might say, is the Ultimate Unified Field Theory.
In the end, Sungenis insists that it’s all “really quite simple” to harmonize all this with modern science:
Upon these four elements and their communicative principles is based the workings of the whole universe. It is really quite simple. Modern science assigns various values and proportions to these entities and their relationships, such as Planck’s constant, Boltzmann’s constant, Avogadro’s constant, the Gravitational constant, the electron charge value, etc., but they are all essentially describing the four basic elements of Aristotelian science and how they interact with one another.
No doubt it is “really quite simple” when you can make up and then disregard physical relationships on the fly, blend and confuse categories at will, and treat your arbitrary and unsupported musings as established fact.
The bottom line is that those who buy into Sungenis’s personal version of what constitutes a binding consensus of the Church Fathers must also logically hold that the physical universe is comprised of four and only four elements. What’s more, they must hold that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has been absolutely derelict in its duty to inform Catholics that the modern view that there are 118 elements (some of them man-made; heresy!) is directly contrary to a matter of revealed truth that must be held by divine faith. Perhaps they can also admonish Sungenis for going soft, cozying up to and compromising with such damnable, liberal, Modernist heresies.
But let’s be serious. The Catholic Church does not teach that geocentrism, or the four elements, or the four humours (see part II) are matters of divine faith. The consensus of the Fathers binds in matters of faith and morals, not in matters of natural philosophy which the Fathers assumed and held simply because it was the best science of their day.
Those who are influenced by Sungenis have to ask themselves whether they are ready to ride that train all the way with him and his personal opinion on the Fathers of the Church? That track, quite frankly, leads right out of the Catholic Church.
And now see The Geocentrists Have No Sense of Humour.
The Patristic and Medieval Witness on the Four Elements[The following citation are by no means exhaustive, but represent a good sampling of the patristic and medieval witness on the four elements. These were located via simple Internet searches and I am fairly certain that additional witnesses could be added – if anybody locates any additional witnesses, please e-mail (geocentrismdebunked at gmail dot com) with the citation(s) and they can be added to this article.]
Ignatius of Antioch (pseudo): “Be not ashamed of servants, for we possess the same nature in common with them. Do not hold women in abomination, for they have given you birth, and brought you up. It is fitting, therefore, to love those that were the authors of our birth (but only in the Lord), inasmuch as a man can produce no children without a woman. It is right, therefore, that we should honour those who have had a part in giving us birth. Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, 1 Corinthians 11:11 except in the case of those who were first formed. For the body of Adam was made out of the four elements, and that of Eve out of the side of Adam. And, indeed, the altogether peculiar birth of the Lord was of a virgin alone. [This took place] not as if the lawful union [of man and wife] were abominable, but such a kind of birth was fitting to God. For it became the Creator not to make use of the ordinary method of generation, but of one that was singular and strange, as being the Creator” (Epistle to Hero 4 (not genuinely Ignatian, but certainly an early witness).
Shepherd of Hermas: “Now, in the third vision, you saw her still younger, and she was noble and joyful, and her shape was beautiful. For, just as when some good news comes suddenly to one who is sad, immediately he forgets his former sorrows, and looks for nothing else than the good news which he has heard, and for the future is made strong for good, and his spirit is renewed on account of the joy which he has received; so you also have received the renewal of your spirits by seeing these good things. As to your seeing her sitting on a seat, that means that her position is one of strength, for a seat has four feet and stands firmly. For the world also is kept together by means of four elements. Those, therefore, who repent completely and with the whole heart, will become young and firmly established. You now have the revelation completely given you. Make no further demands for revelations. If anything ought to be revealed, it will be revealed to you” (Vision 3; Chapter 13).
Apostolic Constitutions: “For as He was not unable to produce different kinds, so neither has He disdained to exercise a different providence towards every one. And at the conclusion of the creation You gave direction to Your Wisdom, and formed a reasonable creature as the citizen of the world, saying, Let us make man after our image, and after our likeness; and hast exhibited him as the ornament of the world, and formed him a body out of the four elements, those primary bodies, but had prepared a soul out of nothing, and bestowed upon him his five senses, and set over his sensations a mind as the conductor of the soul” (XXXIV).
Clementine Recognitions: “And, indeed, I know that several of the philosophers were rather of this opinion, that God the Creator made divisions and distinctions from one body, which they call Matter, which yet consisted of four elements, mingled into one by a certain tempering of divine providence. For I think that what some have said is vain, that the body of the world is simple, that is, without any conjunction; since it is evident that what is simple can neither be a body, nor can be mixed, or propagated, or dissolved; all which, we see, happen to the bodies of the world. For how could it be dissolved if it were simple, and had not within it that from which it might be resolved and divided? But if bodies seem to be composed of two, or three, or even of four elements,— who that has even a small portion of sense does not perceive that there must have been some one who collected several into one, and preserving the measure of tempering, made a solid body out of diverse parts? This some one, therefore, we call God, the Creator of the world, and acknowledge Him as the author of the universe” (Book VIII; Chapter 16).
“But since our inquiry at present is concerning the method of the world and its substance, which, it is agreed, is compounded of four elements, to which all those ten differences belong which we have mentioned above, let us begin at these lower steps, and come to the higher” (Book VIII, Chapter 9).
Clementine Homilies: “And first, then, the four original elements cannot be God, because they have a cause. Nor can that mixing be God, nor that compounding, nor that generating, nor that globe which surrounds the visible universe; nor the dregs which flow together in Hades, nor the water which floats over them; nor the fiery substance, nor the air which extends from it to our earth. For the four elements, if they lay outside one another, could not have been mixed together so as to generate animal life without some great artificer” (Chapter XXIV).
Justin Martyr: “But according to the Stoics even, the body being produced by the mixture of the four elementary substances, when this body has been dissolved into the four elements, these remaining indestructible, it is possible that they receive a second time the same fusion and composition, from God pervading them, and so re-make the body which they formerly made” (On the Resurrection, Chapter 6).
Origen: “The number six he connects with matter, that is, the image, and the number forty, which he says is the tetrad, not admitting of combination, he connects with the inspiration and the seed in the inspiration. Consider if the forty cannot be taken as due to the four elements of the world arranged in the building of the temple at the points at issue, and the six to the fact that man was created on the sixth day” (Commentary on John, Book X, Chapter 22).
“For the faith of the Church does not admit the view of certain Grecian philosophers, that there is besides the body, composed of four elements, another fifth body, which is different in all its parts, and diverse from this our present body; since neither out of sacred Scripture can any produce the slightest suspicion of evidence for such an opinion, nor can any rational inference from things allow the reception of it, especially when the holy apostle manifestly declares, that it is not new bodies which are given to those who rise from the dead, but that they receive those identical ones which they had possessed when living, transformed from an inferior into a better condition” (De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 6:6).
“Heracleon pays no attention to the history, but says that in that he was forty-six years preparing the temple, Solomon was an image of the Saviour. The number six he connects with matter, that is, the image, and the number forty, which he says is the tetrad, not admitting of combination, he connects with the inspiration and the seed in the inspiration. Consider if the forty cannot be taken as due to the four elements of the world arranged in the building of the temple at the points at issue, and the six to the fact that man was created on the sixth day” (Commentary on John)
Tertullian: “For at the first there were two horses only, white and red. . . . But afterwards, when luxury as well as superstition had advanced in growth, some consecrated the red to Mars, others the white to the Zephyrs, and a green one moreover to the Mother Earth or to the Spring, an azure one to the Heaven and the Sea or to the Autumn. But seeing that every sort of idolatry is condemned of God, surely this also is condemned, which is the unhallowed offering to the elements of the universe” (Of Public Shows VIII).
Aristides: “And those who believed of the men of the past, that some of them were gods, they too were much mistaken. For as you yourself allow, O King, man is constituted of the four elements and of a soul and a spirit (and hence he is called a microcosm), and without anyone of these parts he could not consist” (Apology 7).
Lactantius: “When, therefore, He had first formed the male after His own likeness, then He also fashioned woman after the image of the man himself, that the two by their union might be able to perpetuate their race, and to fill the whole earth with a multitude. But in the making of man himself He concluded and completed the nature of those two materials which we have spoken of as contrary to each other, fire and water. For having made the body, He breathed into it a soul from the vital source of His own Spirit, which is everlasting, that it might bear the similitude of the world itself, which is composed of opposing elements. For he consists of soul and body, that is, as it were, of heaven and earth: since the soul by which we live, has its origin, as it were, out of heaven from God, the body out of the earth, of the dust of which we have said that it was formed. Empedocles— whom you cannot tell whether to reckon among poets or philosophers, for he wrote in verse respecting the nature of things, as did Lucretius and Varro among the Romans— determined that there were four elements, that is, fire, air, water, and earth; perhaps following Trismegistus, who said that our bodies were composed of these four elements by God, for he said that they contained in themselves something of fire, something of air, something of water, and something of earth, and yet that they were neither fire, nor air, nor water, nor earth. And these things indeed are not false; for the nature of earth is contained in the flesh, that of moisture in the blood, that of air in the breath, that of fire in the vital heat” (Divine Institutes II, Chapter 13)
Arnobius: “And yet, that I may not seem to have no opinion on subjects of this kind, that I may not appear when asked to have nothing to offer, I may say, What if the primal matter which has been diffused through the four elements of the universe, contains the causes of all miseries inherent in its own constitution?” (Against the Heathen, Book I:8)
Methodius: “Consider, he says, whether too the blessed John, when he says, And the sea gave up the dead which were in it: and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them, does not mean the parts which are given up by the elements for the reconstruction of each one? By the sea is meant the moist element; by hell, the air, derived from ἀειδε’ς, because it is invisible, as was said by Origen; and by death, the earth, because those who die are laid in it; whence also it is called in the Psalms the dust of death, Christ saying that He is brought into the dust of death. For, he says, whatever is composed and consists of pure air and pure fire, and is of like substance with the angelic beings, cannot have the nature of earth and water; since it would then be earthy. And of such nature, and consisting of such things, Origen has shown that the body of man shall be which shall rise, which he also said would be spiritual” (On the Resurrection).
“To paraphrase the words which Methodius puts into the mouth of Proclus (1.14-15), the body is composed of the four elements, fire, earth, air, and water; and from each of these God took what was required in order to make up the body” (link).
Victorinus: “Now is manifested the reason of the truth why the fourth day is called the Tetras, why we fast even to the ninth hour, or even to the evening, or why there should be a passing over even to the next day. Therefore this world of ours is composed of four elements— fire, water, heaven, earth. These four elements, therefore, form the quaternion of times or seasons. The sun, also, and the moon constitute throughout the space of the year four seasons— of spring, summer, autumn, winter; and these seasons make a quaternion. And to proceed further still from that principle, lo, there are four living creatures before God’s throne, four Gospels, four rivers flowing in paradise; four generations of people from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ the Lord, the Son of God; and four living creatures, viz., a man, a calf, a lion, an eagle; and four rivers, the Pison, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The man Christ Jesus, the originator of these things whereof we have above spoken, was taken prisoner by wicked hands, by a quaternion of soldiers . Therefore on account of His captivity by a quaternion, on account of the majesty of His works—that the seasons also, wholesome to humanity, joyful for the harvests, tranquil for the tempests, may roll on—therefore we make the fourth day a station or a supernumerary fast” (On the Creation of the World).
Hippolytus: “Ocellus, however, the Lucanian, and Aristotle, derive the universe from five principles; for, along with the four elements, they have assumed the existence of a fifth, and (that this is) a body with a circular motion; and they say that from this, things celestial have their being” (Refutation of All Heresies )
“There is also, however, a more natural relation of a different number to the monad, according to the arrangement of the orbit of six days’ duration, (that is), of the duad, according to the position and division of even numbers. But the kindred number is 4 and 8. These, however, taking from the monad of the numbers anidea of virtue, progressed up to the four elements; (I allude), of course, to spirit [air], and fire, and water, and earth. And out of these having made the world, (God) framed it an hermaphrodite, and allocated two elements for the upper hemisphere, namely spirit and fire; and this is styled the hemisphere of the monad, (a hemisphere) beneficent, and ascending, and masculine” (Refutation of All Heresies; Book IV, Chapter 43).
Eusebius: ‘Empedocles, son of Meton, of Agrigentum, says that there are four elements, fire, air, water, earth, and, two original forces, love and hate, of which the one tends to unite, and the other to separate. And this is how he speaks:
“Learn first four roots of all things that exist:
Bright Zeus, life-giving Hera, and the god
Of realms unseen, and Nestis, who with tears
Bedews the fountain-head of mortal life.” (Preparation of the Gospel)
St. Clement of Alexandria: “Very useful, then, is the mode of symbolic interpretation for many purposes; and it is helpful to the right theology, and to piety, and to the display of intelligence, and the practice of brevity, and the exhibition of wisdom. For the use of symbolic speech is characteristic of the wise man, appositely remarks the grammarian Didymus, and the explanation of what is signified by it. And indeed the most elementary instruction of children embraces the interpretation of the four element . . .” (Stromata, Book V, Chapter 13).
“And as without the four elements it is not possible to live, so neither can knowledge be attained without faith. It is then the support of truth” (Stromata, Book II, Chapter 6).
St. Anthony the Great: “Since God is not Himself in need of any good thing, it was for man that He created heaven, earth and the four elements, freely granting to him the enjoyment of every blessing” (On the Character of Man and on the Virtuous Life).
St. Ambrose: “Moreover (to complete our interpretation of these types), it is certain that by refined gold and silver are designated the oracles of the Lord, whereby our faith stands firm. The oracles of the Lord are pure oracles, silver tried in the fire, refined of dross, purified seven times. Now blue is like the air we breathe and draw in; purple, again, represents the appearance of water; scarlet signifies fire; and white linen, earth, for its origin is in the earth. Of these four elements, again, the human body is composed” (Exposition of the Christian Faith, Book II, Intro 12).
“If you have confessed at the call of Christ the bars will be broken, and every chain loosed, even the stench of the bodily corruption be grievous. For he had been dead four days and his flesh stank in the tomb; but He Whose flesh saw no corruption was three days in the sepulchre, for He knew no evils of the flesh, which consists of the substances of the four elements.” (Concerning Repentence, Book II, Chapter 7:58).
“For Solomon made himself a bed of wood from Lebanon, its pillars were of silver, its bottom of gold, its back strewn with gems. What is that bed but the fashion of our body? For by gems is set forth the splendour of the brightness of the air, fire is set forth by the gold, water by silver, and earth by wood, of which four elements the human body consists, in which our soul rests, if it do not exist deprived of rest by the roughness of hills or the damp ground, but raised on high, above vices, supported by the wood.” (Concerning Virginity, Book III, Chapter 5)
St. Athanasius: “For as to the four elements of which the nature of bodies is composed, heat, that is, and cold, wet and dry, who is so perverted in his understanding as not to know that these things exist indeed in combination, but if separated and taken alone they tend to destroy even one another according to the prevailing power of the more abundant element? For heat is destroyed by cold if it be present in greater quantity, and cold again is put away by the power of heat, and what is dry, again, is moistened by wet, and the latter dried by the former” (Against the Heathen, Part 1, 27).
St. Jerome: “Origen himself is dissatisfied with both opinions. He says that he shuns both errors, that of the flesh, which our party maintain, and that of the phantoms, maintained by the heretics, because both sides go to the opposite extremes, some wishing to be the same that they have been, others denying altogether the resurrection of the body. There are four elements, he says, known to philosophers and physicians: earth, water, air, and fire, and out of these all things and human bodies are compacted. We find earth in flesh, air in the breath, water in the moisture of the body, fire in its heat. When, then, the soul, at the command of God, lets go this perishing and feeble body, little by little all things return to their parent substances: flesh is again absorbed into the earth, the breath is mingled with the air, the moisture returns to the depths, the heat escapes to the ether. And as if you throw into the sea a pint of milk and wine, and wish again to separate what is mixed together, although the wine and milk which you threw in is not lost, and yet it is impossible to keep separate what was poured out; so the substance of flesh and blood does not perish, indeed, so far as concerns the original matter, yet they cannot again become the former structure, nor can they be altogether the same that they were. Observe that when such things are said, the firmness of the flesh, the fluidity of the blood, the density of the sinews, the interlacing of the veins, and the hardness of the bones is denied” (To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem).
“None of these answers will you give us. You turn to other things, and by your tricks and show of words prevent us from paying close attention to the question. What! You will say, was not the question about the resurrection of the flesh and the punishment of the devil? True; and therefore I ask for a brief and sincere answer. I raise no question as to your declaration that it is this very flesh in which we live which rises again, without the loss of a single member, and without any part of the body being cut off (for these are your own words). But I want to know whether you hold, what Origen denies, that the bodies rise with the same sex with which they died; and that Mary will still be Mary and John be John; or whether the sexes will be so mixed and confused that there will be neither man nor woman, but something which is both or neither; and also whether you hold that the bodies remain uncorrupt and immortal, and, as you acutely suggest after the Apostle, spiritual bodies forever; and not only the bodies, but the actual flesh, with blood infused into it, and passing by channels through the veins and bones—such flesh as Thomas touched; or that little by little they are dissolved into nothing, and reduced into the four elements of which they were compounded” (Against Rufinus, Book II, 5).
St. Gregory of Nyssa: “That which the fathers taught, and which our mind has received and assented to, is as follows:— We recognize four elements, of which the world is composed, which every one knows even if their names are not spoken; but if it is well, for the sake of the more simple, to tell you their names, they are fire and air, earth and water. Now our God and Saviour, in fulfilling the Dispensation for our sakes, went beneath the fourth of these, the earth, that He might raise up life from thence. And we in receiving Baptism, in imitation of our Lord and Teacher and Guide, are not indeed buried in the earth (for this is the shelter of the body that is entirely dead, covering the infirmity and decay of our nature), but coming to the element akin to earth, to water, we conceal ourselves in that as the Saviour did in the earth: and by doing this thrice we represent for ourselves that grace of the Resurrection which was wrought in three days: and this we do, not receiving the sacrament in silence, but while there are spoken over us the Names of the Three Sacred Persons on Whom we believed, in Whom we also hope, from Whom comes to us both the fact of our present and the fact of our future existence.” (On the Baptism of Christ)
“Let us now resume our consideration of the Divine word, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. How mean and how unworthy of the majesty of man are the fancies of some heathen writers, who magnify humanity, as they supposed, by their comparison of it to this world! For they say that man is a little world, composed of the same elements with the universe. Those who bestow on human nature such praise as this by a high-sounding name, forget that they are dignifying man with the attributes of the gnat and the mouse: for they too are composed of these four elements—because assuredly about the animated nature of every existing thing we behold a part, greater or less, of those elements without which it is not natural that any sensitive being should exist. What great thing is there, then, in man’s being accounted a representation and likeness of the world—of the heaven that passes away, of the earth that changes, of all things that they contain, which pass away with the departure of that which compasses them round?” (On the Making of Man, XVI:1).
St. Gregory Nazianzen: The article “Gregory of Nazianzen’s Theological Interpretation of the Philosophy of Nature in the Doctrine of the Four Elements” (in Studia Patristica, Vol. XXVII / Livingstone Elizabeth A. – Louvain-Paris : Peeters, 1993, pp. 3-8), certainly promises to add one more witness, another Doctor of the Church no less, but I have yet to secure this work.
St. Basil the Great: “We might say the same thing of the heavens. With what a noise of words the sages of this world have discussed their nature! Some have said that heaven is composed of four elements as being tangible and visible, and is made up of earth on account of its power of resistance, with fire because it is striking to the eye, with air and water on account of the mixture. Others have rejected this system as improbable, and introduced into the world, to form the heavens, a fifth element after their own fashioning. There exists, they say, an æthereal body which is neither fire, air, earth, nor water, nor in one word any simple body. These simple bodies have their own natural motion in a straight line, light bodies upwards and heavy bodies downwards; now this motion upwards and downwards is not the same as circular motion; there is the greatest possible difference between straight and circular motion. It therefore follows that bodies whose motion is so various must vary also in their essence. But, it is not even possible to suppose that the heavens should be formed of primitive bodies which we call elements, because the reunion of contrary forces could not produce an even and spontaneous motion, when each of the simple bodies is receiving a different impulse from nature” (Hexaemeron, Homily I, 11).
Evagrius Ponticus: “There is in common this, that all the worlds are constituted from the four elements, but in distinction this, that each of them has a variation of quality (III, 23). This is an important assertion by Evagrius of the unity of the whole order of creation. There are only four elements—curiously, he does not include the Aristotelian ether, and, as we have seen, he has the unusual doctrine of the living nature of fire—and each world is constituted from these four elements, the differences among them lying in variations of quality” (link).
“The flesh by itself cannot assume God; for our God is Wisdom (i.e. he can only be assumed spiritually). . . . No being composed of the four elements is capable of receiving him” (cited in Christ in Christian Tradition: From the Apostolic Age to Chalcedon (451), p. 379)
St. John Chrysostom: “Besides these things we said that this whole universe consists of four elements, these being adverse to and at strife with one another; yet one does not consume the other, although they are mutually destructive. Whence it is evident that some invisible power bridles them, and the will of God becomes their bond.” (Homily 10 on Statues)
St. Augustine: “In the first place, I ask whether there may not be some kind of body (formed, perchance, of one of the four elements, either air or ether) which does not depart from the incorporeal principle, that is, the substance properly called the soul, when it forsakes this earthly body” (Letter 158).
“The soul is neither earth, nor water, nor air, nor fire, of which four bodies, called the four elements, we see that this world is composed” (City of God; Book VIII, Chapter 5).
“For the Stoics thought that fire, that is, one of the four material elements of which this visible world is composed, was both living and intelligent, the maker of the world and of all things contained in it,-that it was in fact God. These and others like them have only been able to suppose that which their hearts enslaved to sense have vainly suggested to them” (City of God, Book 8, Chapter 5).
St. Cyril of Alexandria: “But our man has put Plato apart from the others, and he especially likes to linger over his doctrines. However I will say at once that Plato and Pythagoras offer more reasonable ideas about God and the cosmos than the others, because they collected their teaching or rather their knowledge during their stays in Egypt, where the very wise Moses is held in great regard, and where his doctrines are held in reverence and admiration. It is however claimed that Plato contradicted himself in his opinions, and that Aristotle, who was his disciple, not chose to adhere to the ideas of his Master, but to attack him thoroughly and to contradict him! Porphyry tells us that in expressing his ideas on the sky, Plato professed that the material part of it was composed of the four elements, the bond between them being a soul. “Also,” Porphyry continues, “it is still today of a mixed nature, and it has received its name by misuse of terminology”.
“Porphyry speaks here, I believe, as an etymologist, and affirms that the sky is called ‘ouranos’ because it is visible [in Greek: ‘oratos’]: i.e. the sky was so-called because it is ‘seen’. Aristotle had a different opinion on this subject —- and how could he not, since he does not regard the sky as a compound, still less containing four elements, but considers it like a fifth type of body, independent of the first four and without anything in common with them?” (Against Julian, Book 2).
St. Ephrem the Syrian: “And they saw that He took from the whole mass of the earth one grain of dust, and from the whole nature of water one drop of water, and from all the air which is above one puff of wind, and from the whole nature of fire a little of its heat and warmth. And the angels saw that when these four feeble (or inert) materials were placed in the palm of His right hand [Fol. 5a, Col I], that is to say, cold, and heat, and dryness, and moisture, God formed Adam. Now, for what reason did God make Adam out of these four materials unless it were [to show] that everything which is in the world should be in subordination to him through them? He took a grain from the earth in order that everything in nature which is formed of earth should be subject unto him; and a drop of water in order Mysteries of Heaven that everything which is in the seas and rivers should be his; and a puff of air so that all kinds [of creatures] which fly in the air might be given unto him; and the heat of fire so that all the beings that are fiery in nature, and the celestial hosts, might be his helpers” (link).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem: “If anyone wishes to know why grace is given through water and not through some other element, they will find the answer if they take up the Holy Scriptures. For water is an important thing, the noblest of the four elements we observe in the world” (link)
St. Gregory the Great: “The Creator of all things took no food whatever during forty days. We also, at the season of Lent as much as in us lies afflict our flesh by abstinence. The number forty is preserved, because the virtue of the decalogue is fulfilled in the books of the holy Gospel; and ten taken four times amounts to forty.
Or, because in this mortal body we consist of four elements ghts of which we go against the Lord’s precepts received by the decalogue. And as we transgress the decalogue through the lusts of this flesh, it is fitting that we afflict the flesh forty-fold” (Greg., Hom. in Ev., 16, 5; Catena Aurea).
St. Isidore of Seville (Doctor): “[The number forty also symbolizes this life] because the world is beaten on by the four winds and arises from the four elements and is varied by the changes of the four seasons” (De Ecclesiasticis Officiis, XXXVII:3).
“Just as there are four elements, so there are four humours, and each humor resembles its element: blood resembles air, bile fire, black bile earth, and phlegm water. And as there are four elements so there are four humors that maintain our bodies” (De medicina V)
St. Bede: “for God is a trinity, but man is made up of the number seven, i.e. of four on account of his body which comprises four elements, and of three on account of the threefold interior difference which holy scripture shows us when it bids us love God with our whole heart, our whole soul and our whole strength” (link).
Jacob of Edessa: “In the King’s Library at Paris, there is a ms. of Jacob of Edessa, in the hand-writing of Gabriel Sionita, on the work of the six days. In the first discourse he treats of creatures purely intellectual; in the second, on the creation of the heavenly bodies and the four elements; in the third, of the earth, ocean, and most celebrated mountains and rivers.” (The Syrian Churches: Their Early History, Liturgies, and Literature)
Anastasius of Sinai: “Around the year 700 Anastasius of Sinai, one of the most venerable ascetics of his age, put down in writing his believe that God had created human beings out of the four elements—air, water, fire, and earth” (link).
St. John Damascene: “Since, therefore, the Scripture speaks of heaven, and heaven of heaven , and heavens of heavens , and the blessed Paul says that he was snatched away to the third heaven, we say that in the cosmogony of the universe we accept the creation of a heaven which the foreign philosophers, appropriating the views of Moses, call a starless sphere. But further, God called the firmament also heaven, which He commanded to be in the midst of the waters, setting it to divide the waters that are above the firmament from the waters that are below the firmament. And its nature, according to the divine Basilius , who is versed in the mysteries of divine Scripture, is delicate as smoke. Others, however, hold that it is watery in nature, since it is set in the midst of the waters: others say it is composed of the four elements: and lastly, others speak of it as a fifth body, distinct from the four elements” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 2, Chapter 6).
St. Maximus the Confessor: The Confessor comments specifically on St Peter’s vision itself in Questions & Doubts 116, where he responds to the question of what is signified by the sheet and the beasts that were on it:
Since, according to the vision by the prophet Ezekiel, ‘their work was like a wheel within a wheel’, and through these a perceptible as well as an intelligible world are depicted as existing within one another—for the intelligible world is in the perceptible world by types, and the perceptible world is in the intelligible world by its logos—therefore, all of the perceptible world was shown to the Apostle. For the letting down by its four corners’ signifies the world composed of four elements, existing as clean in the intelligible world according to the logos that exists inherently in these things. And he heard, ‘rise up, kill, and eat,’ that is, ‘by (your) nous raise yourself up from that which is according sense, and “kill and eat”, which means by the distinction of reason divides sense perception,  and taking up these things spiritually make them your own’ (link).
St. Sophronios of Jerusalem: “For by your own will you brought the universe from non-existence into being, you hold creation together by your might, and by your providence you direct the world. You composed creation from four elements; with four seasons you crowned the circle of the year” (link).
Second Council of Nicea (ecumenical): “For, indeed, God alone is incorporeal and uncircumscribable, but intellectual creatures are not altogether incorporeal or invisible, as is the Deity; wherefore, as they are in particular places, they must also be circumscribable. Whenever, therefore, you find that Angels or devils or souls are styled incorporeal, understand it as meant to signify that they are not compounded of any of the four material elements…” (link).
Mar Moses bar Kipha: “A commentary on the Hexaemeron (Six Days) in five books, written after the commentary on the Gospels and the treatise on the soul, at the request of Ignatius, bishop of Qrontha. The first book is divided into fifty chapters in fifty-three pages, with Chapters 27, 28 and 29 wanting in some places. The record book consists of one hundred forty-five pages and contains the Biblical anecdote on the Creation. It is slightly imperfect at the end. The third book, in twenty-one chapters, is on the Sun, the moon, the stars, and the swimming, walking and flying birds. The fourth book, in twenty-four chapters on the four elements” (link).
Medieval Theologians and Doctors of the Church:
Fourth Lateran Council (ecumenical): “The number four agrees well with the prohibition concerning bodily union about which the Apostle says, that the husband does not rule over his body, but the wife does; and the wife does not rule over her body, but the husband does; for there are four humors in the body, which is composed of the four elements. ” (§50. On the Restriction of Prohibitions to Matrimony)
St. Bonaventure: “Let it be noted then that this world, which is called the “macrocosm,” enters our souls, which are called the “microcosm,” through the doors of the five senses, according to the apprehension, delectation, and judgment of sensible things themselves. This is apparent as follows: In the world some things are generating, some generated, some governing the former and the latter. The generating are simple bodies, celestial bodies, and the four elements” (link).
St. Thomas Aquinas: Reply to Objection 1. The power of the Divine Creator was manifested in man’s body when its matter was produced by creation. But it was fitting that the human body should be made of the four elements, that man might have something in common with the inferior bodies, as being something between spiritual and corporeal substances.
And others say that under the word, “earth,” Scripture is accustomed to include all the four elements as (Psalm 148:7-8) after the words, “Praise the Lord from the earth,” is added, “fire, hail, snow, and ice.”
For that part which was called the Holy of Holies signified the higher world, which is that of spiritual substances: while that part which is called the Holy Place signified the corporeal world. Hence the Holy Place was separated from the Holy of Holies by a veil, which was of four different colors (denoting the four elements), viz. of linen, signifying earth, because linen, i.e. flax, grows out of the earth; purple, signifying water, because the purple tint was made from certain shells found in the sea; violet, signifying air, because it has the color of the air; and scarlet twice dyed, signifying fire: and this because matter composed of the four elements is a veil between us and incorporeal substances. Hence the high-priest alone, and that once a year, entered into the inner tabernacle, i.e. the Holy of Holies: whereby we are taught that man’s final perfection consists in his entering into that (higher) world: whereas into the outward tabernacle, i.e. the Holy Place, the priests entered every day: whereas the people were only admitted to the court; because the people were able to perceived material things, the inner nature of which only wise men by dint of study are able to discover (link).
St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “But what are we to say about the seven seals? Are we perhaps to see the threefold soul—reason, memory, and will—and the four-part composition of the body—made from the four elements” (link).
St. Albert the Great: “Albert the Great’s On the Causes of the Properties of the Elements investigates such diverse natural events as the formation of volcanoes, thermal springs, and mountains among the earth’s topographical features. It examines the moon’s influence on ocean tides and the astronomical events that cause both the Noah flood recounted in the Bible and the regular flooding of the Nile. Albert explores the basic building blocks of the physical world, i.e., the four elements of earth, air, fire and water—and their mixtures that form the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms” (link).
St. Anselm: “First, then, it seems to me, we ought to inquire p. 49 whether that whole class of beings which exist through another derive existence from any material. But I do not doubt that all this solid world, with its parts, just as we see, consists of earth, water, fire, and air. These four elements, of course, can be conceived of without these forms which we see in actual objects, so that their formless, or even confused, nature appears to be the material of all bodies, distinguished by their own forms. ‑‑ I say that I do not doubt this. But I ask, whence this very material that I have mentioned, the material of the mundane mass, derives its existence. For, if there is some material of this material, then that is more truly the material of the physical universe” (link).
St. Peter Damian: “Now just as the Greeks call man a microcosm, that is to say a little world, because his body is comprised of the same four elements as the universe itself, so each of the faithful is a little Church, since without any violation of the mystery of her inward unity each man receives all the sacraments of human redemption which are divinely given to the whole Church. If one man, then, can be said to receive the sacraments which are common to the whole Church, why should he be prevented, when alone, from uttering the words common to the whole Church, for the sacraments are so much more important than any words” (link).
St. Robert Bellarmine: “The church is a compound body, in which faith is mixed and blended, as the four elements are in natural bodies; and therefore we can more easily know what a stone or a tree is, than see the four elements in it, fire and air, and water and earth, of which it is compounded, and which are so mixed together as to become invisible in their own natures” (link).