Genesis iii. 22-24.

June 26, 2010

And He said: Behold Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil: now, therefore, lest perhaps he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.  And the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth from which he was taken.  And he cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubim, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

22a. “Behold Adam is become as one of us”

St. Augustine: “Because, by whatever means or in whatever way it may have been said, God nevertheless said it, this one of us is not to be understood in any way except as referring to the plurality of the Trinity; as it was said, Let us make man, and as the Lord said of Himself and the Father: We will come to him, and will make our abode with him[1] (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxix. 53.).

“But in what way is he become as one of us?  In the knowledge of distinguishing good and evil, as he learned from experience when he felt evil, but which God knew by His wisdom; and that power of the Almighty, which he did not wish to endure blessedly and consentingly, was taught to him by his punishment to be inevitable” (De Genesi contra Manichæos, II. xxii. 33.).

St. Thomas: “[Obj.] To insult a wretched man seems repugnant to mercy and clemency, which are most highly attributed to God in Scripture, as in this passage from the Psalms, his tender mercies are over all His works.[2] Therefore it is unfittingly said that the Lord insulted our first parents when they had already been led into misery by sin, where it is said, Behold, Adam is become as one of us, knowing good and evil … I reply … that it is to be said that, as Augustine says,[3] ‘the words of God are not said to insult our first parents, but to deter others from sinning likewise by pride.  For their sake these things are written; namely that not only did Adam not become what he wished to, but that he also lost what he had already become’” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxiv. a. ii. obj. 7, ad 7).

St. Chrysostom: “God wishes by these words to recall to their minds how they were deceived by the devil through the serpent.  For he said to them, If you eat, you shall be as gods, and in the hope of gaining equality with God they dared to take this fruit.  And so for this reason God, wishing again to warn them, that they might perceive how gravely they have fallen by disobedience and deception, says: Behold, Adam is become as one of us.  This utterance causes such shame that He is able to touch the transgressor more gravely.  ‘So,’ He says, ‘you have despised my command, thinking you were going to become like God?  Look, you have been made what you awaited; no: not what you awaited, but what you were worthy to become” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 2.).

22b-23. The banishment from paradise.

St. Augustine: “The words above [v. 22b] are spoken by God; that which was done because of the words follows [v. 23].  Adam, having lost not only the life he would have received, with the Angels, if he had kept the command, but also that which he had led in paradise, certainly ought to be separated from the tree of life: whether from it he maintained that happy state of his body, by invisible power from a visible thing, or whether there was in it a visible sacrament of invisible wisdom – indeed he was to lose it, either as one about to die, or even like one excommunicated: just as in this paradise the Church, men are removed from the visible altars of the Sacraments by ecclesiastical discipline” (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xl. 54.  St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col.  61.  Glossa).

St. Thomas: “[Obj.] Paradise had been made for the sake of man.  But nothing ought to be in vain in the order of things.  Therefore it seems that it was not fitting for man to be banished from paradise as a punishment … I reply … it is to be said that the terrestrial paradise, although it would not longer serve him for his use of it, would still serve him as a lesson, teaching him that he had been deprived of such a place because of his sin; and the memory of the things in the earthly paradise would instruct him concerning those in the heavenly paradise, the entrance to which would be prepared for man by Christ” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxiv. a. ii. obj. 2, ad 2).

St. Chrysostom: “For this is the nature of our Lord; He makes known to us his providence towards us not less when punishing than when rewarding us” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 3.).

St. Rupert: “Lest he eat of the tree of life, and having done such a thing, be made miserable, and live forever.  For what would he gain if, having eaten, he were to live forever?  Nothing but eternal evil.  He has already become miserable; if he were also to be eternal, what would he have but eternal misery?  Let us spare him, lest he be as one of us in this evil way; lest he be eternal as we are eternal (for the Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, the Holy Ghost is eternal), and on that account the wicked devil see him as such, and laugh at him, because he promised him the likeness of God.  Certainly it is a certain evil for him to be mortal, but it would be most evil for him to be eternal.  Such a likeness of God would be completely wicked and false.  It is much better for him to be completely unlike God.  How?  Since he is already miserable, let him be also mortal, that is, completely unlike God.  For God is eternal, and happy, and his eternity is happy, and his happiness eternal.  Of these, the devil lost the second, that is, his happiness; but he did not lose his eternity; his eternity is unhappy, and his unhappiness eternal.  Let us spare man, I say; and because he lost his happiness, let us also order that the unhappy man lose eternity, so that in neither will he be as one of us.  Our eternity is happy, our happiness eternal; let him have mortal misery, or miserable mortality; so that his eternity may be restored when he has recovered his happiness.  So in his great anger, God remembered his great mercy, precisely in that he did not grant the tree of life to the wretched man: He wanted him to be unlike Himself, so that he would not be like the devil in both ways: that is, lest man live, just like the devil, until the last judgment, and, just like him, without temporal death, pass into the eternal fire” (in Glossa; Cornelius, p 111).

23. “To till the earth from which he was taken”

St. Chrysostom: “Again, I pray you, observe the diligence of holy Scripture.  Look, the sentence is followed immediately by the punishment itself; and man is banished from paradise and ordered to till the earth from which he was taken.  Nor did it say, from which he was taken, without reason: it was so that he might always be reminded of his lowliness as he went about his tasks, and that he might know that he was created from it, and that from the beginning the substance of his body came from the earth; to till, it says, the very earth from which he was made.  And what it said in sentence, In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread: it repeats now, when it says, to till the earth from which he was taken” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 3.).

24. The Cherubim and the flaming sword.

St. Jerome: “And he cast out Adam, and made him dwell opposite the paradise of pleasure.  And he stationed Cherubim and a flaming sword that turned, to guard the way of the tree of life.[4] There is a very different sense in the Hebrew from what is understood here.  The Hebrew says: And he – that is, doubtless, the Lord – cast out Adam, and he made Cherubim dwell before the paradise of pleasure, and a flaming sword, which turned, and that {he/it} might guard the way of the tree of life. It is not Adam himself, whom God had cast out, whom he makes dwell opposite the paradise of pleasure; rather, after he is cast out, God placed Cherubim and a flaming sword before the gates of paradise, to guard the entrance, lest anyone be able to enter” (LHQG).

Cornelius: “Truly I say, all these things are to be taken precisely as they sound: without doubt, angels from the order of the Cherubim were placed in front of paradise, to forbid the approach to it by Adam or other men, but also by the demons, to prevent them from entering paradise, picking fruit from the tree of life, and offering it to men, promising them immortality, that by this plan they might win them over to their own love and worship.  Thus SS. Chrysostom, Augustine, Rupert and others.

“The figures made of Cherubim, composed of elements from humans, oxen, lions and eagles (vid. Ezech. i. 10.), seem to have been a symbol of the divine nature, etc., so that by the lion is signified the strength, the nobility, the majesty of God; by the ox, His constancy and firmness; by the man, His human kindness, goodness, φιλανθροπία; by the eagle, the vigor and sublimity of the heavenly nature.

“Note first: custody of paradise is entrusted to the Cherubim, rather than to the Thrones, Virtues or Principalities; for Cherubim are extremely vigilant and extremely observant; their name Cherubim is derived from ‘knowledge,’ and therefore they are most fitting protectors of the omniscience of God, which had encompassed Adam.

“Note second: These Cherubim seem to have been clothed in human form; for they hold and brandish the flaming sword, revolving in every direction, to slay any who might wish to enter paradise.

“Note third: The Hebrew for flaming sword is lahat hachereb, that is, ‘flame of a sword.’  Whence it is uncertain whether this sword was a flame having the form and appearance of a sword, or whether it actually was a sword, but glowing with fire, gleaming and discharging flames” (Commentaria, p 111).

St. Augustine: “This should certainly be believed to have been done by heavenly powers in the visible paradise, so that by the angelic ministry there might be there a fiery guard; however, that it also signifies something of the spiritual paradise should by no means be doubted” (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xl. 55.).

St. Bede: “It is well asserted that this guard was revolving, because whenever the right time came, it could also be removed.  For it was removed when Enoch was carried away from sinners; it was removed when Elias was snatched up in the fiery chariot; it was removed for all the elect when the Lord was baptized and the heavens opened for Him; again, it is removed for each of the elect, when they are washed in the font of baptism; it is more perfectly removed for them, when, released from their bonds, they ascend, each in his own time, to the glory of the heavenly paradise.  Now because the name Cherubim means ‘multitude of wisdom,’ or ‘multiplied wisdom,’[5] well was it ordained that the Cherubim and the flaming sword should be placed to guard the way of the tree of life: because it is certain that it is by the discipline of heavenly wisdom, and by the suffering of temporal afflictions, that we return to our heavenly native country, and from which we withdraw by the folly of transgression, and by the appetite for carnal pleasures.  Again, it is well that not simply a flame, but a flaming sword is said to be placed before paradise; this suggests we must kill our temporal enticements of concupiscence,  by the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God,[6] if we desire to reach the tree of life, which is Christ the Lord.  And well is it said that the sword was revolving, to indicate mystically that this sword is not always necessary for us, but, as it is written, there is a time of war, and a time of peace:[7] of war, when in the arena of this life we strive against the powers of the air, or even the vices of our own minds and bodies; but of peace, when we are crowned with perfect victory, and are satisfied everlastingly, without being overfilled, with the fruit of the tree of life.  Now the adversary of the law and prophets seeks, but saying these things: for whose profit was the tree that bore the fruit of life in paradise?  To whom St. Augustine replies: At first, none other than the first human beings who were established in paradise.  Then, when they were banished from paradise by reason of their iniquity, it remained to signify the memory of the spiritual tree of life, which is the wisdom of the blessed, the food of immortal souls.  Whether anyone now eats of the fruit of the physical tree, except perhaps Enoch and Elias, I do not think is to be rashly asserted.  But as for that tree of life that is in the spiritual paradise, we know that it nourishes the souls of the blessed; for we read that it was granted as a reward that very day to the soul of the thief who piously and most faithfully confessed and believed in Christ.  Amen, He said, I say to you, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.[8] To be there with Christ: this is to be with the tree of life; for He is that Wisdom of which it was written: It is the tree of life for all who lay hold of it.[9] Amen” (In Principium Genesis I. ad fin, col. 62.  Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesis contra Manichæos, II. xxiii.).


[1] John xiv. 23.

[2] Ps. cxliv. 9.

[3] De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxix. 53.  Also quoted by St. Bede, In Principium Genesis I col. 61.

[4] LXX, καὶ ἐξέβαλε τὸν ᾿Αδὰμ καὶ κατῴκισεν αὐτὸν ἀπέναντι τοῦ παραδείσου τῆς τρυφῆς καὶ ἔταξε τὰ Χερουβὶμ καὶ τὴν φλογίνην ρομφαίαν τὴν στρεφομένην φυλάσσειν τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς.  Vulgate/DR: And he cast out Adam; and placed before the paradise of pleasure Cherubim, and a flaming sword, turning every way, to guard the way of the tree of life [DR keep the way].

[5] St. Jerome, LNH: “multiplied wisdom, or as though many” [vel quasi plures].  Cf. St. Thomas, supra, {i. 4c.}.

[6] Eph. vi. 17.

[7] Eccl. iii. 8.

[8] Luke xxiii. 43.

[9] Prov. iii. 18.

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