Genesis ii. 18-20.

June 25, 2010

[18-24. The creation of woman.]

And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.  And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature, the same is its name.  And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself.

18a. “Let us make him a help like unto himself”

St. Chrysostom: “Look, here again God says, ‘Let us make.’  Just as when forming man at the beginning he said, Let us make man to our image and likeness:[1] so now, when about to form woman, he says the same thing: Let us make … And in order that Adam might know that another creature was to be formed having equal dignity with himself, for this reason, just as when God said of Adam himself, Let us make, so he says now: Let us make a help like unto him. Both have much weight: he says a help, and adds like unto himself.  I do not want, he says, man to be alone, but to have some consolation from companionship; and not only this, but the companion is to be a helper like unto him – hinting at woman.  For this reason he adds, like unto himself, so that when at once you see the beasts led to him, you do not think this was said of them.  For although many irrational animals help man in his labors, nevertheless none of them is equal to the rational woman” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xiv. 4.).

b. To be a help with regard to generation

St. Ambrose: “We understand the help to be for the generation of the human race.  And truly this is a good help.  For since you receive a help for the better, a very great task for woman in the cause of generation is discovered: just as the task of this earth, which first keeps back the seeds it has received, and then little by little makes them grow by its nurturing, and brings them forth as crops.  In this therefore is the good help of woman, though she also be called a lower helper; as we also discover in human experience, that those greater in dignity impart much help to those of lower merit” (De Paradiso, x. 48.).

St. Augustine: “Now if it is asked for what purpose it was necessary this help be made, nothing more probable suggests itself than for the procreating of children, just as the earth is a help for seed: so that offspring might be born from each” (De Genesi ad litteram, IX. iii. 5.  Quoted in St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 48-49.).

St. Thomas: “It is said that woman was made to be a help for man.  But she is not a help for him except in generation through intercourse, because for any other task, a man would be helped more fittingly by a man than by a woman” (ST. Ia q. xcviii. a. ii.  Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, IX. v.).

19-20. The naming of the animals.

a. “Adam”

St. Jerome: “Adam: ‘man,’ or ‘inhabitor of earth’; or else ‘indigenous’ or ‘red earth’” (LNH).[2]

“It seems that the first language of the human race was Hebrew, because the names that we read up to the confusion of tongues in Genesis are evidently of that language” (Strabus, Glossa ordinaria; cf. St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 50.).[3]

b. The animals are brought to Adam to be named.

(i) How the animals were brought.

St. Augustine: “It is not to believed that this was done in the way that hunters or fowlers track down and drive their quarry into their nets; nor that some voice of command came to them from the clouds, which rational souls are accustomed to understand and obey when they hear it.  For this was not possible for the beasts, or the birds: yet in their own way they are obedient to God; not with the choice of free will, but just as he moves everything at the proper time, without himself being moved temporally, through the service of angels, who grasp by his word what ought to be brought about, and at what time: and although God is not moved temporally, the things themselves are, so that in those things in which they are subject to him, they may carry out his commands.

“For if God gave such gifts to man, created him in such a way, that even carrying the flesh of sin, he is able not only to subdue cattle and beasts of burden to his own use; he is able, not only to capture domestic birds, but also those flying freely and even wild beasts, and to tame them, and wondrously rule over them by the power of reason, not of the body; and if it peasants, taking seizing on the beasts’ appetites and pains, guiding them little by little by enticing, disciplining and rewarding them, strip them of their habits and clothe them with almost human behavior – how much more are the Angels able to do this, who have observed the command of God, which they unceasingly consider in its immutable truth, and move themselves through time, and bodies subject to them through time and place, with wonderful agility, and having seen the things by which it is moved, and lacking carnal appetites, are able to bring it about for every living soul, that where there is need for them to come, they might be led without knowing it?” (De Genesi ad litteram, IX. xiv. 24, 25.)

St. Thomas: “A higher power is able to do many things to its subjects, that a lower power is not able to do.  Now an Angel is naturally higher than a man.  Whence it was possible for some effects to come about with regard to animals through angelic power, which could not occur by human power; such as for all animals immediately to be gathered together” (ST. Ia q. xcvi. a. i. ad 1.).

(ii) The significance of the action.

St. Bede: “Now the reason for which all the beasts of the earth and fowls of the air were brought to Adam to see what he would call them, is this: that in this way, God might show man how much better he is than all irrational animals.  For from this it is evident that by reason itself man is better than the beasts, because it is not possible to distinguish them and set them apart by name except by reason, which is better” (In Principium Genesis I col. 50-51.).

St. Chrysostom: “Now this was done, not only that we might learn his wisdom, but also that a sign of his dominion might be recognized through the imposition of names.  For it is the custom among men to make this sign of dominion, that when they buy slaves, they give them new names.  Whence God also instructed Adam, so that he might give names to all the brute animals, as their lord.  So do not quickly pass over what is said here, beloved, but think what sort of wisdom it was that could give names to the different genuses, to the birds, the reptiles, the beasts, the cattle, the other brute, domestic and field animals, the creatures living in the water, and brought forth from the land; in short, what sort of wisdom it was that could give names to all creatures.  For whatsoever Adam called it, it says, the same is its name.  Do you see how great this power is?  Do you see the authority of his dominion?  For the names that he gave to them remain up to the present day: indeed God so confirmed them, that we might have an everlasting memorial of the honor that Adam received at the beginning from the Lord of all things, having the brute animals subject to himself, and that we might ascribe this to him, who mutilated this power by his sin” (Homiliæ in Genesi, xiv. 5.).

St. Augustine: “Let us now see why it was that all the beasts of the field, and all the birds of the sky, were led to Adam, for him to give names to them; and so something like a necessity arose of creating for him woman from his side, since a help like unto him was not found among these animals.  It seems to me to have been done with some prophetic meaning, but nevertheless done so that the interpretation of the figure might not affect the fact of the actual occurrence.  For did God not know that he had not created any animals that could be a help like unto man?  Or was it done so that man himself might also know this, and by learning this value the woman more highly, because he found nothing like unto himself in all the flesh under heaven and in the air, living like himself?  It would be amazing if he was not able to know this unless they were all led to him for him to look at.  So I do not think it is to be doubted that this was done by the grace of some prophetic sign – but nevertheless actually done” (De Genesi ad litteram, IX. xi. 20, 21.).[4]

c. Adam gives the animals their names.

St. Chrysostom: “Now consider here, beloved, the freedom given to Adam’s will, and the excellence of his wisdom; and do not say that he did know what was good and what was evil.  For how could he who was able to call the beasts of the field by their proper names, and the birds of the sky, and the other animals; how could he who did not confuse their rightful order, nor give to tame animals names more fitting to the wild, nor assign  to the wild names more congrous with the tame, but gave to all things their rightful name – how could he, I say, not be strong with all diligence and wisdom?” (Homiliæ in Genesi, xiv. 5.  Cf. St. Thomas, q. civ. a. iii., supra (verse 7), on Adam’s knowledge.).

St. Isidore: “This signifies the peoples that would become saved in the Church, and receive through  Christ the name of Christian, which they had not had before, as it is written: I will call my servants by another name” (Quæstiones in VT, iii. 6.; cf. Strabus, Glossa ordinaria.).[5]

20. “But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself”

St. Chrysostom: “It is as if Moses were teaching us in these words: ‘All these creatures were brought forth, and received their names from Adam, and yet none of them was found worthy to help him.’  Therefore, wishing to teach to us the formation of the animal that was to be brought forth, and to indicate that this animal was the same of whom was said, Let us make him a help like unto himself, it here says, like himself: that is, of his own substance, worthy of him, in no way lower than him: and for this reason Scripture said, But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself: showing to us how blessed he was – for whatever service the brute animals render to us, a far greater help is that which was granted to Adam in the person of the woman (Homiliæ in Genesi, xv. 1.).

St. Isidore: “It is certain that however faithful or just anyone be, he is nevertheless unable to be equal to Christ.  For who among the gods, says Moses, is like unto thee, O Lord?[6] And David says: Thou art beautiful above the sons of men.[7] And no one was able to free the race of men from death and conquer death itself, except Christ, as it is said in the Apocalypse: No one was found worthy, neither in heaven, nor on earth, nor under the earth, to open the book, except the lion of the tribe of Juda[8] (Quæstiones in VT, iii. 7.  Cf. St. Bede, In Pentateuchum col. 210; Strabus, Glossa ordinaria.).


[1] Gen. i. 26.

[2] This is the first occurrence in the Vulgate of the proper name Adam; as St. Jerome translates, the name Adam itself means man, so there is no change in the Hebrew text.  Perhaps the transition in the Vulgate is made here because of the naming of the animals.  The LXX uses the proper name earlier, in v. 17: καὶ ἐνετείλατο Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς τῷ ᾿Αδὰμ λέγων …

[3] It is also possible that this is because these names were later translated into Hebrew; Bl. Anne Emmerich states that Hebrew was given to Heber as a new, holy language immediately after the confusion of tongues at Babel, and that the original language of Adam, Sem and Noe was different, extant now only in isolated dialects; traces of it are found in the sacred language of India, and the language of the Bactrians (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen, 7. Turmbau zu Babel.).

[4] St. Augustine does not offer an explicit interpretation of the prophetical meaning, saying that it his not his purpose in this work to go into mystical interpretations.  The mystical interpretation of St. Isidore, infra, is (seemingly erroneously) attributed to Augustine in the Glossa ordinaria.

[5] Is. lxv. 15.  The Vulgate/DR text is in the third person.

[6] Ps. lxxxv. 8.  Vulgate/DR differs slightly.  The attribution to Moses seems to be a mistake.

[7] Ps. xliv. 3.

[8] Apoc. v. 3, 5.

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