This is the fifth follow-up to the post, “Gagarin and the Seven Heavens“. The first follow-up post is here. The second follow-up post is here. The third follow-up post is here. The fourth follow-up post is here.
In the first English-language volume of his The Questions on the Octateuch, the early-fifth-century Christian Theodoret of Cyrus fields the question “Is there one heaven or two?” His reply is worth recording in full:
Since holy Scripture teaches, “In the beginning God made heaven and earth,” and then says that the firmament was made on the second day after the creation of light, the question betrays the foolishness of those who raise it. After all, from both the time and, indeed, the manner of creation one should grasp the difference. One heaven was created before the light, the other after; one from nothing else, the other from water. Scripture says, “Let a firmament be made in the midst of the water, and let it divide water from water.” Then, after saying that the word took effect, which is the meaning of, “And so it was,” he conveys also how it came to be: “God made the firmament, and God separated the water that was under the firmament from the water that was above the firmament. And God called the firmament heaven.”
Now, from the very beginning, the first heaven was not called “firmament,” but “heaven.” The second got its name from the act of creation itself. Since it was composed of the fluid substance of the waters, and this liquid nature became quite firm and dense, it was called “firmament.” Then, positioned on high, and meeting our need for the first heaven, it was given also the name “heaven.” The God of the universe made a twofold division in the nature of the waters: some he placed above the firmament, and some he left below, the purpose being that what was placed above with its moisture and coolness would not permit the firmament to be damaged by the fire of the luminous bodies, while what remained below would sustain with its mist the air parched and dried by the fire overhead.
Consequently, those who refuse to accept the existence of the second heaven stray from the right path, while those who venture to enumerate more follow mythological fables and spurn the teaching of the Holy Spirit. [Theodoret of Cyrus, The Questions on the Octateuch, vol. 1, On Genesis and Exodus (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2007), 29, 31]
Thus: ‘No seven heavens‘, it seems that Theodoret is saying. See also p.367 of his second volume of commentaries on the Psalms. There, in his commentary on Psalm 148, he writes: “He spoke of heavens in the plural, not from a knowledge of many of them, but following Hebrew usage […]”. I do not currently have access to Theodoret’s commentaries on Romans and 1 & 2 Corinthians, so I can’t see how Theodoret rationalizes (assuming that’s what he does) Paul’s statement: “I know a man who was taken up into the third heaven” (2 Cor 12).
In Theodoret’s commentary on Psalm 50, he does seem to indicate that the sky and the earth are not themselves “animate things”. [Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the Psalms 1-72 transl. Robert C. Hill (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 2000), 289] In this, he follows the broad tradition of educated Hellenistic thinking. This seems to depart from the apocalyptic forms of second-temple Jewish thinking (those found in the Bible, and those not there found) in which the stars are alive.
It seems that Theodoret thought that the firmament of the sky was luminous. Daniel 12:3 reads:
3 But they that are learned shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that instruct many to justice, as stars for all eternity. [Douay-Rheims]
In his Commentary on Daniel, Theodoret nearly reiterates this passage, connecting it with the synoptic and Paul:
The Lord in the sacred Gospels also says, “The righteous will then shine like the sun.” [Matt 13:43] And some of the many righteous ones like the stars forever and ever: those approved and chosen will be comparable with the brightness of the firmament and the light of the sun itself, while some who are inferior to them (an implication of the term many) will resemble the beams of the stars, emitting this ray forever. Blessed Paul likewise also differentiated between the ranks of the pious, “The sun’s glory is of one kind, the moon’s glory of another, the stars’ glory of another, star differing from star in glory.” [1 Cor 15:41] [Theodoret, Commentary on Daniel transl. Robert Hill (Boston: Brill, 2006), 319]
It is not clear, but it seems that Theodoret thinks that the firmament is naturally bright, whether illuminated by the regions above it, or else illuminated by the sun. It seems that “the brightness of the firmament” is taken by him to suggest, as it seems to have been intended in the original of the book of Daniel, that the hard firmament of the sky is naturally luminous.
It is also quite possible that Theodoret thought that the natural substance of the space above the heavens was a kind of fire, whether material or immaterial. (Theodoret may share this belief with the author of the book of Acts, for there, at the descent of the Spirit, it arrived as a rushing wind and settled over the disciples as tongues of fire [Acts 2:1-4]. Given the “rushing wind” in Acts, it appears that the author, there, thought that the fire of spirit was of the finest matter.)
If he did, he seems to have associated this with divine love. Theodoret, in the epilogue of his treatise A History of the Monks of Syria (titled “On Divine Love”), began by a lengthy treatise on what warms and does not warm the body. It reads almost as a medical treatise, with no hint of spiritual or theological things, or theological warfare. What warms the body? He thinks that bodily warmth comes from sustenance, with many breaks. He considers how this must work for shepherds and farmers and a number of other professions, and how they are nourished by many comforts when they eat meat and drink wine and return to their homes and their wives. Contrast this with the ascetics from Syria, and how it is impossible to think that they draw warmth from small scraps of vegetables, or from the renewal of hearth and home in their struggles against the flesh and their constant exposure to the elements:
Kindled by the firebrand from on high, they bear gladly the attack of the freezing cold, and it is by dew from there that they mitigate the burning heat of the sun’s rays. It is this desire that nourishes, waters, and clothes them, gives wings and teaches to fly, makes them transcend the heavens, reveals the Beloved in so far as it is possible, and through imagination inflames yearning for contemplation, stirs  up longing for it, and kindles the flame more fiercely. […] Just as fire, the more it is fed, displays greater activity –for it is increased, not dulled, by the addition of fuel–, so too love of God is kindled by contemplating the things of God, and derives therefrom an activity more intense and fervent. The more a man devotes himself to the things of God, the more does he kindle the fire of love. [Theodoret, History of the Monks of Syria transl. R. M. Price (Trappist, KY: Cistercian, 1985/2008), 192-193]
Theodoret repeats the image later in the same treatise:
the choir of the Apostles and the throngs of martyrs, on receiving this fire [of divine love], looked down on all things visible […]. [Theodoret, History of the Monks of Egypt, 202]
It is likely not a coincidence that this divine love is being compared to warmth and fire. There is almost a physics being suggested behind this passage, for the pages leading up to it did not almost sound like a small physics and anatomy lesson, but sounded exactly like a physics and anatomy lesson.
If this love “makes them transcend the heavens”, this could be referring to apocalyptic visions and experiences. The “through imagination” may refer to this; Theodoret’s seemingly apparitionalist stance regarding theophanies does not deprive them of value and some kind of knowledge (though it is unclear as to how they are knowledge), but does not make them empirical disclosures of a bounded being.
Header image found here.