Athanasius sees a marvelous unity and order in creation that is held together and orchestrated by the divine word. He uses the metaphor of harmony in music to describe the magnificent unity found among the magnificent diversity of the world’s creatures.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. (John 1:1)
In these words John the theologian teaches that nothing exists or remains in being except in and through the Word.
Harmony in the Music of Creation
Think of a musician tuning his lyre. By his skill he adjusts high notes to low and intermediate notes to the rest, and produces a series of harmonies. So too the wisdom of God holds the world like a lyre and joins things in the air to those on earth, and things in heaven to those in the air, and brings each part into harmony with the whole.
By his decree and will he regulates them all to produce the beauty and harmony of a single, well-ordered universe. While remaining unchanged with his Father, he moves all creation by his unchanging nature, according to the Father’s will. To everything he gives existence and life in accordance with its nature, and so creates a wonderful and truly divine harmony.
The Word as the Conductor
To illustrate this profound mystery, let us take the example of a choir of many singers. A choir is composed of a variety of men, women and children, of both old and young. Under the direction of one conductor, each sings in the way that is natural for him: men with men’s voices, boys with boys’ voices, old people with old voices, young people with young voices. Yet all of them produce a single harmony.
The Soul – Unity in Diversity
Or consider the example of our soul. It moves our senses according to their several functions so that in the presence of a single object they all act simultaneously: the eye sees, the ear hears, the hand touches, the nose smells, the tongue tastes, and often the other parts of the body act as well as, for example, the feet may walk.
Although this is only a poor comparison, it gives some idea of how the whole universe is governed. The Word of God has but to give a gesture of command and everything falls into place; each creature performs its own proper function, and all together constitute one single harmonious order.
This post shows how the fathers of the church saw creation as one harmonious order with the Word like the divine conductor of a choir’s music. This insight into the harmony & unity of the world & the soul comes from St. Athanasius. It is an excerpt from a discourse Against the Pagans (nn. 42-43: PG 25, 83-87). It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Friday in the 1st week of Ordinary time. The accompanying biblical reading is taken from Sirach 43:13-35.
For more from St. Athanasius, see the ST. ATHANASIUS section of the Crossroads Initiative Library.