Genesis ii. 16-17.

June 25, 2010

And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat.  For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.

16-17.  The command regarding the trees of paradise.

a. “Thou shalt eat”

St. Thomas: “In the state of innocence man had an animal life in need of food; but after the resurrection he will have a spiritual life in no need of food” (ST. Ia q. xcvii. a. iii.).

b. “Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat”

St. Bede (St. Augustine): “It is not to be believed that there was anything evil in that tree naturally, as we have taught above; rather, ‘this tree, which was not evil, was forbidden to man, that by the very keeping of God’s command the tree might be good for him; and by its transgression, evil.  Indeed nothing else is desired by the sinner except not to be under God’s authority, when that is admitted which, to keep away, it was necessary only to attend to the command; and if the command alone had been attended to, what other than God’s will would be loved? what other than God’s will would be set above human will?  Nor is it possible for man’s own will not to fall upon him with the weight of catastrophe, if he lifts it up and sets it above the will of his superior.  Man experienced this when he disregarded the command of God; and by this experience he learned the difference between good and evil; that is between the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience: which is the evil of pride, of defiance, of perverse imitation of God, of poisonous freedom.  So the tree took its name, as was said above, from the very thing that could happen regarding it’” (In Principium Genesis I col. 48: St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. xiii-xiv.).

St. Augustine: “Not a few have bludgeoned themselves with useless keenness, in asking how it could be called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, before man had transgressed the command and by that very experience come to know the difference between the good he had lost, and the evil he had gained.  For the tree received such a name so that the evil that would be experienced if it were touched against the restriction, might be avoided by not touching it, in obedience to the restriction.  Nor is it because they disobeyed the command and ate that the tree was named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for certainly even if they had obeyed, and had not seized that which the commandment forbade, the tree would have been named rightly – because of what would have happened to them, had they disobeyed.  Likewise, if one were to call a certain tree the tree of plenitude, because from it men are able to eat their fill, would the name be unfitting if no one ate from it?  For if anyone had in fact eaten and taken his fill from it, he would then have seen that the tree was rightly named” (De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. xv.).

c. “Thou shalt die the death”

St. Chrysostom: “On what day soever you shall eat, you shall die the death:[1] that is, you shall receive the sentence that from now on you shall be mortal” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 9.).

St. Thomas: “For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. But because Adam did not die in act on the day on which he ate, it is necessary  to understand thou shalt die the death to mean, ‘you will be sentenced to the necessitaty of death.’  And this would have been said without reason if from the institution of his nature man had possessed the necessity of dying.  Therefore it is necessary to say that death, and the necessity of dying, is a punishments inflicted on man because of sin”[2] (SG. IV. l. iii.).

Cornelius: “Thou shalt die the death: that is, you will incur the sentence and necessity of certain death.  Whence Symmachus translates, θνητὸς ἔσῃ, that is ‘you will be mortal’; thus St. Jerome, Augustine, Theodoretus.

“Take note: God here warns Adam that the death of inobedience is not only of the body, and temporal, but also of the soul, and spiritual and eternal, in hell; and that it is certain and infallible.  This is what this doubling, die the death, means: ‘most certainly you shall die’” (Commentaria, p 90).

St. Bede: “It does not say, ‘if thou eat thou shalt be mortal,’[3] but thou shalt die the death.  For man is dead in his soul when he has sinned, because God, the life of the soul, has withdrawn from him; and the soul’s death was deservedly followed by the death of the body, when the soul, which is the life of the body, withdraws from it in turn.  And this death occurred for the first man, when he received the end of his earthly life many years after eating the forbidden fruit” (In Principium Genesis I col. 48.; cf. S. Augustinus, De civitate Dei, XIII. xv.; Strabus, Glossa ordinaria, col. 89.).

d. How God spoke to man.

St. Augustine: “It can be asked how God spoke to the man he had made, who was certainly already gifted with his senses and mind, so that he could hear and understand someone talking.  For he could not have received a command whose trangression would make him guilty, unless he was able to understand the command.  So how did God speak to him?  In the mind within, to the intellect?  That is, in such a way that man might more wisely understand the will and command of God without any physical sounds or likenesses of corporeal things?  I do not think God spoke in this way to the first man.  For Scripture describes things that lead us rather to believe that God spoke to man in paradise in the same way as he spoke afterwards to the Patriarchs, as to Abraham, as to Moses: that is, in some corporeal appearance.  Hence it is that they heard his voice as he walked in paradise toward evening, and hid themselves[4] (De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. xviii.).

[1] The LXX ii. 17. is plural, referring in advance to Eve as well: ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ ξύλου τοῦ γινώσκειν καλὸν καὶ πονηρόν, οὐ φάγεσθε ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ· ᾗ δ᾿ ἂν ἡμέρᾳ φάγητε ἀπ᾿ αὐτοῦ, θανάτῳ ἀποθανεῖσθε.

[2] Cf. St. Chrysostom, Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 5: “Therefore before the transgression they were immortal; otherwise, after they had eaten, God would not have imposed on them death as a punishment.”

[3] The other three writers nevertheless take it in this sense, and St. Jerome in fact thinks that this is a better translation (LHQG): but he did not change this in the Vulgate (which St. Bede was using), perhaps out of respect for tradition.  The passage can in any case obviously be taken in the literal sense in which St. Bede takes it.

[4] Gen. iii. 8.  Vulgate/DR differs slightly.


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