Genesis ii. 7.

June 25, 2010

And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life: and man became a living soul.

7. The creation of man.

i. The Biblical text.

St. Chrysostom: “Let us see now what else this blessed prophet wishes to teach us.  For while he said, These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, he moves on and describes again, in more detail, the creation of man.  [For] earlier[1] he had spoken briefly” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xii. 4.).

St. Bede: “And so here the creation of man is more extensively described; he was made on the sixth day, but there the mention of his creation was brief, and is more fully explained here: that he was made into a substance of body and soul, of which the body was formed from the slime of the earth, but the soul created from nothing by the breath of God” (In Principium Genesis I col. 42.).

St. Thomas: “Some have understood the body of man to have been formed first, and God afterwards to have poured the soul into the already formed body.  But it is against the plan of perfection of the first institution of things, that God should make either the body without the soul, or the soul without the body, because each is a part of human nature.  And this is even more unfitting of the body, which depends on the soul, and not the reverse.  And therefore to exclude this, some have stated that, when it is said, God formed man, this means the production of the body together with the soul; and that what is added, and breathed into his face the breath of life, refers to the Holy Ghost, just as the Lord breathed on the Apostles, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.[2] But as Augustine says,[3] this is ruled out by the words of Scripture.  For the passage continues, and man became a living soul, which the Apostle[4] applies, not to spiritual life, but to animal life.  Therefore, by breath is understood the soul of life, in such a way that God breathed into his face the breath of life is like an explanation of what had preceded; for the soul is the form of the body” (ST. Ia q. xci. a. iv. ad 3.).

“The first creation of the human body could not have been through any created power, but was immediately from God … Because no human body had been formed, by whose power another of the same species might be formed through generation, it was necessary that the first human body be immediately formed by God” (ibid., a. ii.).

b. “of the slime of the earth”

St. Chrysostom: “What did you say?  Do I accept that man was made from the dust[5] of the earth?  Yes, I say, and not simply that: it does not say simply earth in general, but dust: as if one were to say, the weakest, vilest thing on the earth … If we wish to know it,  we learn not a little here about lowliness.  For when we think of whence our nature took its origin – even if we are dripping with arrogance six hundred times over, we are restrained, we are humiliated, and, weighing carefully the nature of our being, we learn modesty.  For this reason, therefore, God, who has such care for our salvation, directed in this way his prophet’s tongue for our instruction.  For when divine Scripture said earlier, And God made man to his own image: to the image of God he created him,[6] it gave man power over every visible thing; consequently, so that no one, from ignorance of his origin, might suppose erroneously and transgress the limits prescribed for him, Scripture goes back and teaches us the origin of man’s formation, and whence and how the first man was created … And I ask – if, even knowing this, he who was formed from the earth imagined, through the serpent’s deception, that he was equal in some way to God: if this blessed prophet had been content with the first description, and unless he had repeated everything and taught us with great care, into what insanity would we not have fallen?” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xii. 4.).

St. Thomas: “Slime is earth mixed with water.  And so man is called a little world, because all the creatures of the world are in some way found in him” (ST. Ia q. xci. a. i.).

c. Mystical interpretation.

St. Bede: “Mystically, however, God formed man from the slime of the earth: Christ was formed of the seed of David, according to the flesh,[7] as if from the slime of the earth.  And he breathed into his face the breath of life: this is certainly the infusion of the Holy Ghost, who formed Christ as man.  And man became a living soul: so that he who was perfect God, might also be believed to be perfect man” (In Pentateuchum, col. 206.  Cf. St. Isidore, Quæstiones in VT, iii. 1.).

ii. Concerning man’s condition at his creation.

RC: “God formed man from the slime of the earth, made and constituted in such a way as to be immortal and impassible; not indeed by the power of his own nature, but by the divine goodness.  With regard to the soul, He formed him to His image and likeness, and granted to him free will: furthermore, He tempered all the movements and appetites of the soul, so that they might never disobey the command of reason.  Then He added the wondrous gift of original justice, and willed him to preside over the other animals, which will certainly be easy for the pastor to learn for the instruction of the faithful from the sacred history of Genesis” (I. ii. 18.).

a. Created in grace.

St. Thomas: “That man was in grace from his very creation seems to be required by the very rectitude of his primitive state, in which God made him, following Eccli. vii. 30: God made man right.  For this rectitude was in this: that reason was subordinated to God, and the lower powers to reason, and the body to the soul.  And the first subjection was the cause of the other two, as Augustine says.[8] But it is manifest that the subjection of body to soul, and of the lower powers to reason, was not natural; otherwise it would have remained after sin, for even the natural gifts of the demons remained in them after sin, as Dionysius says.[9] Whence it is manifest that that first subjection, by which the reason was subordinated to God, was not from nature, but from the supernatural gift of grace” (ST. Ia q. xcv. a. i.).

“As Augustine says in the same place, it is not denied that the Holy Ghost was in Adam in some way, as in all other just men; but He was not present in him as He now is in the faithful, who immediately after death are admitted to the securing of their eternal inheritance” (ibid., ad 2.).

b. Possessed of all the virtues.

“In the state of innocence man possessed all the virtues in some way.  And this can be shown to be manifest from what has been said.  For it was said above that the rectitude of the primitive state was such that reason was subject to God, and the lower powers to reason.  The virtues however are nothing other than certain perfections by which reason is ordered to God, and the lower passions are disposed according to the rule of reason.  Whence the rectitude of the primitive state demanded that man should in some way have all the virtues.  But it is to be considered that there are some virtues that of their nature convey no imperfection, as charity and justice.  And virtues of this sort were in the state of innocence simply, both with regard to habit and with regard to act.  There are others, however, which by reason of their nature convey imperfection, either on the part of act or on the part of matter.  And if an imperfection of this sort is not incompatible with the perfection of the primitive state, virtues of this sort were nevertheless able to exist in the primitive state; as faith, which is of things which are not seen, and hope, which is of things which are not possessed.  For the perfection of the primitive state did not extend to this, that man might see God in His essence, and possess Him with the enjoyment of final beatitude: whence faith and hope were able to exist in the primitive state, both in habit and in act.  But if the imperfection in the nature of the virtue is incompatible with the perfection of the primitive state, a virtue of this sort was able to exist there in habit, but not in act; as is clear of penance, which is sorrow over committed sin, and of mercy, which is sorrow over another’s suffering; for sorrow, guilt and suffering are incompatible with the perfection of the primitive state.  Whence virtues of this sort were in the first man with regard to habit, but not with regard to act; for the first man was so disposed, that if sin were to exist, he would sorrow over it; and similarly if he were to see another’s suffering, he would drive it away in so far as he was able” (ibid., a. iv.).

c. Immortal.

By sin death entered into the world.[10] Therefore, before sin, man was immortal.

“It is to be said that something may be called incorruptible in three ways.  The first way is on the part of matter: namely that it either does not have matter, as the Angel; or has matter that is not in potentiality except to one form, as the heavenly body.  And this is called incorruptibility of nature.  Another way something may be called incorruptible is on the part of the form: namely that there endures in a thing by nature corruptible, some disposition by which it is completely prevented from corruption.  And this is called incorruptibility of glory, because, as Augustine says in his letter to Dioscorus, ‘God made the soul in so powerful a nature, that from its beatitude the fulness of health might overflow into the body,’ that is, the vigor of incorruption.  The third way something is called incorruptible is on the part of the efficient cause.  And in this way man was incorruptible and immortal in the state of innocence.  For, as Augustine says in the book of questions on the Old and New Testaments, ‘God made man so that, as long as he did not sin, he might flourish in immortality, so that he might be for himself the author either of life or of death.’  For his body was not indissoluble by some vigor of immortality naturally existing in it; rather, there was in the soul a certain force, supernaturally and divinely given, by which the body was able to be preserved from all corruption, as long as it remained subject to God.  And this was reasonable.  For the rational soul exceeds the proportion of corporal matter.  Therefore it was fitting that in the beginning power might be given to the body, by which it might be preserved above the nature of corporal matter” (ibid., q. xcvii. a. i.  Cf. SG. IV. l. iii., infra, 16-17. c.).

“This force preserving the body from corruption was not natural to the human soul, but was a gift of grace” (ibid., ad 3.).

“The immortality in which man existed in the state of innocence, differs from the immortality of glory that is promised as a reward” (ibid., ad 4.).

d. Impassible (unable to suffer).

“The word ‘passion,’ or suffering, is used in two ways.  The first way is its proper sense, and in this way something is said to suffer because it is removed from its natural disposition.  For passion is an effect of action; in natural things contrary principles act and suffer with regard to one another, and one of these removes the other from its natural disposition.  In the other way, its general sense, passion is some sort of change, even if it pertains to the perfection of nature; as to understand or to perceive can in a certain way be called ‘passions.’  Therefore in this second way, man was passible in the state of innocence, and experienced passion, in both soul and body.  But in the first-mentioned sense of passion, he was impassible in both soul and body, just as he was immortal; for he was able to prevent passion, or suffering, just as he could death, if he had stood firm without sin” (ibid., a. ii.).

“In the state of innocence man’s body was able to be preserved from suffering injury from anything hard, partly through man’s own reason, by which he could evade harmful things; and partly also through divine providence, which so protected him, that nothing might happen to him unexpectedly by which he might be injured” (ibid., ad 4.).

e. Possessed of all human knowledge.

“All who see God in His essence are made so firm in the love of God that they are unable to sin for all eternity.  Since therefore Adam sinned, it is manifest that he did not see God in His essence.  He did, however, know God with a certain higher knowledge than that with which we know Him, and thus in a certain sense his knowledge held the middle place between the knowledge of our present state, and the knowledge of our native country, in which God is seen in His essence … The first man was not impeded by external things from the clear and firm contemplation of intelligible effects, which he perceived from the radiation of the First Truth, whether by natural knowledge or by grace” (ibid., q. xciv. a. i.).

“Adam gave names to all the animals, as is said in Gen. ii. 19.  But names ought to match the natures of the things themselves.  Therefore Adam knew the natures of all the animals, and for the same reason, had knowledge of all other natures.

“It is to be said that in the natural order the perfect precedes the imperfect, just as act precedes potentiality, since those things that are in potentiality are not reduced to act except by something existing in act.  And because the first things were instituted by God, not only that they might exist in themselves, but also that they might be the principles of other things; therefore they were produced in a perfect state, in which they were able to be principles of other things.  Now man was able to be the principle of another not only by corporeal generation, but also by instruction and direction.  And therefore, just as the first man was created in a state of perfection with regard to the body, so that he was able to generate immediately, so also was he created in a state of perfection with regard to the soul, so that he was able to instruct and direct others immediately.  Now no one can instruct others, unless he himself has knowledge.  And therefore the first man was created by God, in order that he might have knowledge of all things in which man is born to be instructed.  And these are all those things which exist virtually, in self-evident first principles: that is, whatever men are naturally able to know.  But for the direction of his own life and that of others, he required knowledge, not only of those things which can be known naturally, but also  of those things that exceed natural knowledge; just as for us, in order to direct our own lives, it is necessary to know the things that are of faith.  Whence the first man received such a knowledge of these supernatural things as was necessary for the direction of human life in that state.  Other things, however, which neither can be known by the natural effort of man, nor are necessary to the direction of human life, were not known by the first man; such as the thoughts of men, future contingencies, and various individual things, such as how many pebbles there are in a river, and other things of this sort” (ibid., a. iii.).

f. Unable to be deceived.

“Augustine says, ‘to regard true things as false, is not natural to man, but is a punishment of judgment.’

“It is to be said that some have said that in the word ‘deception’ two things may be understood, namely some unfounded opinion, by which one adheres to the false as if it were true, without the assent of belief; and again firm belief.  With regard therefore to the things of which Adam had knowledge, man before sin could not have been deceived in either of these two ways.  But, with regard to those things of which he did not have knowledge, he was able to be deceived, mainly by taking a deception as an opinion without the assent  of belief.  Those who maintain this say that to hold a false opinion in such things is not harmful to man, and because assent is not given rashly, it is not culpable.  But this opinion is incompatible with the integrity of the primitive state, because, as Augustine says, ‘in that state was tranquil avoidance of sin; and as long as it lasted, no evil whatsoever was able to exist.’[11] But it is manifest that, just as what is true is the good of the intellect, in the same way what is false is its evil.  Whence it was impossible that, in the state of innocence, man’s intellect could assent to some falsehood as if it were true” (ibid., a. iv.).

“If something had been represented to the sense or mind of the first man other than as it is in the nature of things, he nevertheless would not have been deceived, because by reason he would have discerned the truth” (ibid., ad 3.).

“It may be said that, lest he be deceived in those things of which he did not have knowledge, divine assistance would have been given to him” (ibid., ad 5.).


[1] Gen. i. 27.

[2] John xx. 22.

[3] De Civitate Dei, XIII. xxiv.

[4] 1 Cor. xv. 45.  The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a life-giving spirit.

[5] Vulgata limo, DR slime.  This does not affect the saint’s argument.

[6] Gen. i. 27.

[7] Rom. i. 3.

[8] De Civitate Dei, XIII. xiii.

[9] Div. Nom. iv.

[10] Rom. v. 12.

[11] De civitate Dei, XIII; infra, 25e.

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