Genesis iii. 16-20.

June 26, 2010

To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.  And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.  Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth.  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.  And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living.

16. The woman’s punishment.

a. Translation.

St. Jerome: “Multiplying I will multiply your griefs and your groans.[1] For ‘griefs and groans,’ the Hebrew has ‘sorrows and conceptions’” (LHQG).

Cornelius: “Sorrows and conceptions – That is, ‘the sorrows of your conceptions’; hendiadys is common among the Hebrews” (Commentaria, p 107).

b. The punishment.

St. Chrysostom: “Indeed I wanted you,’ He says, ‘to live without pain and affliction, free from every trouble and sadness, and to be filled with every pleasure, and, although clothed with a body, not to be moved by its senses: but as you have not used such good fortune as was fitting, and instead have sought overflowing abundances of honors for yourself, therefore I am placing a harness on you, so that you will no longer be lascivious, condemning yourself to sorrows and groans’” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 7.).

St. Thomas: “[Obj.] What would exist even without sin ought not to be assigned as punishment for sin.  But there would be pain in childbirth, as it seems, even without sin, for the nature of the female sex requires that children cannot be born without the woman experiencing pain.  Likewise the woman’s subjection to man is a consequence of the perfection of the male sex and the imperfection of the female sex … I reply … In the state of innocence childbirth would have been without pain.  For Augustine says, ‘thus in childbirth the woman’s body would not be widened by a groan of pain, but by the impulse of natural ripeness, just as in conception the man and woman would be joined, not by the appetite of lust, but by voluntary use.’[2] And woman’s subjection to man is to be understood to have been established as a punishment, not with regard to authority, for even before sin the man was the head of the woman and her governor, but in that the woman now must obey the man’s will against her own” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxiv. a. ii. obj. 1, ad 1.).

St. Augustine: “One should not think that woman had been made differently before sin; then, too, the man ruled her, and she turned to him in service.  But the servitude indicated now can rightly be taken as that of a certain agreement only, rather than one of love, so that likewise the servitude by which men afterward began to serve as slaves to other men, may be known to have arisen from the punishment of sin.  The Apostle certainly said: By charity serve one another;[3] but he would never say, ‘rule each other.’  So spouses can serve each other by charity; but the Apostle does not permit woman to use authority over man.[4] Rather, the judgment of God delivered this to man, and the woman deserved to have her husband as her ruler, not by her nature, but by her fault; but yet if this condition is not kept, her nature will grow more depraved, and her guilt will be increased” (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxvii.  St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 59; Glossa ordinaria).

Cornelius: “Thou shalt be under thy husband’s power – Not as before, voluntarily, gladly, with wondrous sweetness and harmony, but often against her will, with the greatest annoyance and opposition” (Commentaria, p 107).[5]

17-19. Adam’s punishment.

St. Chrysostom: “’You forgot my commands, [He says,] and submitted to the woman: therefore you shall learn from the deed itself what evil you have done’” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 9.).

17a. “Cursed is the earth in thy work.”

St. Jerome: “Cursed is the earth in thy works.[6] ‘Works’ signifies here not cultivation of the land, as many think, but sins; as it is in the Hebrew.  Aquila does not differ, giving: Cursed is the soil because of you.  And Theodotion: Cursed is the ‘adama’ in your transgression” (LHQG).

St. Chrysostom: “See the goodness of God: how he punishes the serpent, and how he punishes the rational creature.  For to the one he says: Cursed are you from the earth: but not thus here.  What does he say?  Cursed is the earth in your works.  And rightfully.  For it was created for man, for him to enjoy the things that rose out of it: and so because man sinned a curse is placed on it” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 9.).

17b. “With labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof.”

“Observe how after disobedience all things turn out contrary to the first state of life.  ‘When I brought you into this world,’ He says, ‘I certainly wanted you to live without pain, labor, sweat, and affliction, and to enjoy every happiness; I wanted you not to be vulnerable through corporeal necessities, but to live without all these things in every freedom.  But because such security did not benefit you, I will curse the earth, so that it will not bring forth its fruits without sowing and plowing, as it did before: and I will afflict you with much labor, troubles, toils, pains, and continuous weariness: I will make it so that you cannot benefit yourself without sweat, so that, trained by these trials, you will have a perpetual teaching for living with discipline, and of coming to know the limitations of your nature’” (ibid.).

18. “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.”

St. Thomas: “[Obj.] Also, the production of thorns and thistles belongs to the nature of the earth, and would have been so even without sin … I reply … The earth would have brought forth thorns and thistles if man had not sinned, as food for animals, but not as a punishment of man, because by there appearance no labor or pain would have been given to man working the land, as Augustine says” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxiv. a. ii. ad 1.).

St. Augustine: “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee: this is understood thus: that the earth also brought forth these things before; not, however, for man’s labor, but for appropriate food for certain types of animals; for there are some that comfortably and pleasantly feed on both tender and dry plants: the earth began to bring forth these things for man’s toilsome labor, when he began to work the land after sin.  It is not that before they arose in other places, and afterwards arose in the fields that man tended for crops; rather, they were present both before and after in the same places: but before, not for man; afterwards, though, for man; as this addition, for thee, shows: for it is not said: ‘Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth,’ but, bring forth to thee; that is, they will now begin to arise to cause you labor, whereas before they arose only as pasture for other animals” (De Genesi ad litteram, III. xviii. 28.).

19a. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.”

“Who does not know that these are the labors of the human race on the land?  And it is certainly not to be doubted that they would not have existed, if the happiness that there was in paradise had been retained” (ibid., XI. xxxviii.).

St. Bede: “Mystically, the earth that is held accursed in the work of Adam’s transgression, is taken better in no way than as our flesh.  For it now brings forth thorns and thistles for us, because, propagated by the concupiscence of the flesh, we suffer the punctures and incentives to vice from the flesh itself.

“Here, understand that bread Who said: I am the bread of life which came down from heaven;[7] on Whom we feed in the sweat of our face, for we cannot ascend to the contemplation of the divine heights except by the labor and toil of necessary pain” (Hexæmeron, col. 60).

19b. “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

St. Chrysostom: “Although they lived for many more years, nevertheless they were mortal from the time they heard: Earth thou art, and into earth thou shalt go away, and received the sentence of death” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 9.).[8]

St. Thomas: “All men shall rise again from the ashes in the general resurrection … For just as Sacred Scripture foretells the resurrection, so it also foretells the new formation of the body, in Philippians iii.; and so it is necessary that just as all men die, so that they can all truly rise again, so also the bodies of all men disintegrate, so that the bodies of all men can be made anew: for just as death was inflicted on man as punishment by the divine justice, so also was the disintegration of the body, as is clear from Gen. iii.: Earth thou art, and into earth thou shalt go” (ST. suppl. q. lxxviii. a. ii.).

20. The naming of Eve.

St. Jerome: “And Adam called his wife’s name, life, because she is the mother of all the living.[9] He shows why she is called Eve, that is, life, because she is the mother of all the living.  For Eve is translated as life” (LHQG).

St. Augustine: “Nor was it vain that Adam himself, by some wonderful instinct then called his wife’s name Life, also adding, because she is the mother of all the living.  For these are to be understood, not as the words of the writer, describing or affirming, but of the first man himself; as if he were to say, because she is the mother of all the living, thereby advancing the reason for the name he had imposed on her: why he had called her Life”[10] (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxviii.  Glossa.).

St. Bede: “It is clear that Adam gave this name to his wife by a divine impulse, because it is perfectly fitting for Holy Church, in whose unity alone, which is called Catholic, the doors of life stand open to all” (Hexæmeron, col. 60).

Cornelius: “Here Eve was a type of Blessed Mary, who is the mother of all those living, not with a temporal life, but with a spiritual and eternal life in heaven.  Thus St. Epiphanius, hæresi 78” (Commentaria, p 109).


[1] LXX, πληθύνων πληθυνῶ τὰς λύπας σου καὶ τὸν στεναγμόν σου.  Vulgate: I will multiply your distresses and your conceptions (‘distresses’: ærumnas; DR gives ‘sorrows’).

[2] De civitate Dei, XIV. xxvi.

[3] Gal. v. 13.

[4] 1 Tim. ii. 12.

[5] St. Chrysostom, in opposition to the three writers quoted here, believes man and woman were equal in every way before the fall, even though she was formed for him (cf. supra, {ii. 18a.}): “’From the beginning,’ He says, ‘I made you equal to him in honor … but because you have abused the dignity of this honor, I am subjecting you to the man” (xvii. 8.).

[6] LXX, ἐπικατάρατος ἡ γῆ ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις σου.  Vulgate/DR: Cursed is the earth in thy work.

[7] John vi. 48, 51.

[8] LXX, γῆ εἶ καὶ εἰς γῆν ἀπελεύσῃ.

[9] LXX gives Ζωή for the woman’s name: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν ᾿Αδὰμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή, ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.  Vulgate/DR: And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living.

[10] The grammar of the Vulgate/DR makes this interpretation slightly less plausible; it can be retained as follows: … the name of his wife “Eve,” because she was “the mother of all the living.”

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