Genesis ii. 15.

June 25, 2010

And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise for pleasure, to dress it, and keep it.

15. “ut operaretur et custodiret illum” [“to dress it, and keep it”]

St. Augustine: “Although above Scripture said briefly that God had planted paradise, and had placed there the man he had formed, it has gone back to this again to narrate in what way paradise was disposed.  Now therefore this also recalls, by way of repetition, how God placed there man, whom he had made.  And so let us see what this is that is said, to work and to guard.  What is to work, and what is to guard?  Did God perhaps want the first man to work at agriculture?  Or is it not credible that he condemned him to work even before sin?  We would reasonably think so, unless we see how great the spiritual pleasure is that farming gives to some, such that for them it is a great punishment to be called away from it to something else.  Therefore whatever delights agriculture has now, were at that time greater by far, when nothing bad occurred, either on earth or in heaven.  For there was no suffering in work, but only exhilaration of the will, as the things that God had created came forth more lushly and fruitfully by the help of man’s work; whence the Creator himself might be more abundantly praised, who had given the skill of working to a soul established in an animal body, and the ability, as much as was sufficient to the willing soul, not as though compelling unwillingly the neediness of the body” (De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. viii. 15.  Cf. St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 47; St. Thomas, ST. Ia q. cii. a. iii.).

St. Bede (St. Augustine): “To work, it says, and guard it, that is, man was ‘to guard paradise with the object of keeping it for himself, and to allow nothing into it by reason of which he himself might be banished from it.  In fact he also received a command regarding what it meant to guard paradise; that is, if he obeyed the command, he would not be thrown out of paradise.  For someone is rightly said not to have guarded his possession, if he lost it through his own actions – even if it was preserved for another, who either found it or deserved to receive it.  There is another meaning in these words, which I consider worthy to be put forward: that it was not man who was to work, but that he himself was to be worked and guarded by God; for just as a man works the earth, not to make it become earth, but to render it cultivated and fruitful, so God would have done in a far greater degree with the man whom he himself had created that he might be man, since he himself works and is just, if man did not withdraw from him through pride.’  Therefore God placed the man in the paradise of pleasure, that He might work and guard him. Work, that is, in order that man might be good and blessed; guard, in order that man might be wholly and humbly obedient to God’s rule and protection”[1] (St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col 47.  Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. x. 22-23; St. Thomas, ST. Ia q. cii. a. iii.).


[1] It seems that this second interpretation cannot be supported by the Hebrew MT.  The Latin illum, as well as the LXX αὐτὸν, can refer either to man or to paradise, but the corresponding Hebrew pronoun is feminine.

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