Genesis ii. 9.

June 25, 2010

And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

9. The trees of paradise.

a. Produced on the third day, with the other plants.

St. Thomas: “Following the other saints [besides Augustine], it is necessary to say that all plants were brought forth in act on the third day, including the trees of paradise; and what is said of the planting of the trees of paradise after the work of the six days, is understood to be said by way of recapitulation.  Whence our text has, The Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning” (ST. Ia q. cii. a. i. ad 5.).

St. Bede: “It is understood that this occurred on the same day on which the earth produced the other fruit-bearing trees at God’s command.  But here it is of necessity repeated, that we might be able to know the nature of paradise, and most of all because it was necessary to make special mention of the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (In Principium Genesis I col. 44.).

b. The tree of life; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

St. Bede: “In one was the sign of that obedience for man that he owed; in the other was the mystery of eternal life, which he might merit by that very obedience.  And the one is called the tree of life, because, as we have said, it received this power from God, that if one were to eat of it, his body would be strengthened in steadfast health, and would never be changed for the worse by any weakness or age, nor even so much as slip and fall; but this was done corporeally in such a way that it might also be the spiritual figure of a mystery, that is, of our God and Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is said in praise of wisdom, It is a tree of life to them that lay hold on it.[1] And in the Apocalypse of St. John: To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.[2] Which is to say: To him that overcometh the temptation of the ancient serpent, by which Adam was conquered, I will give what I would have given Adam if he had overcome, that he may be restored for eternity in the presence of the glory of Christ, and so he cannot be touched by any assault of death, for Christ the Lord is the power and wisdom of God the Father in the paradise of the heavenly kingdom, which he deigned to promise on the cross to the thief, and to the other saints who would confess him” (In Principium Genesis I col. 44.  Cf. Strabus, Glossa ordinaria, col. 86.).

St. Augustine: “I have considered again and again, and I cannot express how much the opinion pleases me that that tree was not harmful as food.  For He who created all things very good, had not instituted in paradise anything bad: no, the evil for man was the transgression of the command.  For it was necessary that man, placed under the Lord God, should be prohibited from something, so that by deserving well of his Lord he might achieve the virtue of obedience, which I can most truly say is the only virtue for every rational creature under the power of God; for a creature to wish to work by its own power is the first and greatest of all inflamed vices, the name of which vice is disobedience.  Therefore there would not be any reason for man to think or perceive that he possessed a Lord, unless something was commanded to him.  And so this tree was not evil, but was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because if after the prohibition man were to eat of it, in that act was the future transgression of the command, by which man might learn by the experience of punishment the difference between the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience.  Hence this is not said as a figure, but is to be taken as a real tree of some kind, named not for some fruit it produced, but from the very thing that would happen if it were touched contrary to God’s prohibition” (De Genesi ad litteram, VIII. vi.  Quoted in full, St. Bede, Hexæmeron I. col. 44-45; cf. St. Thomas, immed. infra; Strabus, Glossa ordinaria, col. 87.).

St. Thomas: “The tree of life is a specific, material tree, so called because its fruit had the power of preserving life, as was said above.  And yet it also signifies something spiritually,[3] just as the rock in the desert[4] was something material, and yet also signified Christ.[5] Similarly the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was also a material tree, so named because of a future event; for after eating of it, man learned by the experience of punishment, the difference between the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience.  And nevertheless it can also signify free will, as some say” (ST. Ia q. cii. a. i. ad 4.  Cf. St. Isidore, immed. infra {c.}).

Cf. infra, {16-17, b.}, {iii. 7.}.

c. Mystical interpretation.

St. Isidore: “The fruit-bearing trees are all the saints; their fruits are their good works; the tree of life, the Holy of holies, Christ, to whom if someone stretch out his hand, he shall live forever.  The tree of the knowledge of good and evil properly is free will, placed in our midst to distinguish between good and evil.  If someone should taste of it, abandoning the grace of God, he shall die the death” (Quæstiones in VT, iii. 4.).

d. Other interpretations.

Cornelius: “Allegorically, the tree of life is Christ, Who said: I am the vine, you the branches.[6] And: I am the way, and the truth, and the life.[7] Again, the tree of life is the cross of Christ, which, raised in the middle of paradise, that is, of the Church, gives life to the world: eagerly wishing to climb this tree the Bride says in Cant. vii. 8: I will go up into the palm tree, and will take hold of the fruit thereof.[8] Finally the tree of life is the Eucharist, which gives life to soul and body: for by its power we shall rise again to life everlasting, as Christ says: He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.[9]

“Tropologically, the tree of life is the Blessed Virgin, from whom was born life, God and man, Christ Jesus; and the Virgin herself, as Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople, says, is the spirit and life of Christians … Anagogically, the tree of life is beatitude and the vision of God, which bestows eternal life: To him, that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.[10]


[1] Prov. iii. 18.

[2] Apoc. ii. 7.

[3] namely wisdom: “For it is said of wisdom, Prov. iii. 18., that it is the tree of life to them that lay hold on it” (ibid., ob. 4.).

[4] Num. xx.

[5] This spiritual meaning is given by St. Paul, 1 Cor. x. 4.

[6] John xv. 5.

[7] John xiv. 6.

[8] This is actually spoken by the Bridegroom.

[9] John vi. 59.

[10] Apoc. ii. 7; cf. ibid. xxii. 2.

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