Genesis iii. 6.

June 26, 2010

And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold: and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.

6. The sin.

(i) The Biblical text.

a. The woman sees the tree is beautiful.

St. Chrysostom: “Now why is it that before the diabolic counsel entered her mind, she neither considered the tree, nor saw its beauty?  Because she feared God’s command, and the punishment that would immediately follow the disobedient eating: but once she had been deceived by the wicked beast, so that she believed, not only that they would suffer no condemnation from the transgression, but also that they would be equal to God, the hope of this promise drove her to take the fruit: she was not content to stay within her limits, but had greater faith in the enemy and adversary of our salvation than in the words of God: after only a short time she learned from experience how destructive was the serpent’s counsel, and how great a calamity was to fall upon her and her husband.  For she thought to herself, perhaps by the devil’s deceit, conveyed through the serpent: ‘If the tree is good to eat, and if it can delight the eyes so greatly, and has been given indescribable beauty, and if the taking from it will result in the highest honor for us, and we will have the same dignity as the Creator: why should we not take from it?’  Do you see how the devil has taken her captive, and has alluringly corrupted her reasoning, and caused her to dare to taste of things above her dignity, and, thereby inflated by a false hope, to be deprived of those things that had actually been granted to her?” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 3-4.).

St. Bernard: “Keep what is entrusted to you, Eve, wait for what is promised; shun what is forbidden, lest you lose what is granted.  Why do you look so intently at your death?  Why do you throw your wandering eyes at it so often?  Why is it pleasing to look at it, when it is not lawful to eat it?  ‘I am not reaching with my hand,’ you say, ‘only with my eyes: it is not forbidden for me to look, only to eat.’  But even if this is not a fault, it is yet the evidence of a fault; for while you look at it, the serpent meanwhile slides into your heart; it speaks to you coaxingly; it stifles your reason with seductions, your fear of God with lies: ‘No,’ it says, ‘you shall not die the death’; it increases your attention while it incites your appetite; it sharpens your curiosity while it suggests to you desire; finally it gives to you what was forbidden, and takes away what was granted; it offers you fruit, and steals away paradise; it readies its poison to ruin you, and the human race with you” (De Gradibus humilitatis; Cornelius, p 102).

b. The woman takes the fruit.

St. Augustine: “Then, not content with the words of the serpent, she considered the tree; and, since she did not believe it possible that she could die from it, I think she thought God had said the words If you eat, you shall die the death to indicate something else; and so accordingly she took of its fruit, and ate, and also gave to her husband with her; perhaps also with a seductive word, which Scripture silently leaves to be understood.  Or perhaps already it was no great task for the man to be persuaded, since he could not perceive that she was dead from the fruit?” (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxx. 39.).

St. Ambrose: “With good reason Adam’s deception is passed over; because the fall came about not by his fault, but by his wife’s vice” (De Paradiso, xiii. 62.).

ST. PAUL, 1 Tim. ii. 14: Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced, was in the transgression.

St. Chrysostom: “O woman, what have you done?  Not only did you listen to pernicious counsel: you trampled underfoot the law given by God; you despised His command, and fell into such intemperance, that you were not content with the enjoyment of so many wonderful things, but dared to take even from that one tree from which God had commanded you not to eat; you placed your faith in what the serpent had said to you, considering his counsel more trustworthy than the command given by your Creator; and were deceived so greatly, that you are certainly unworthy of any indulgence?  Was the one who advised you to do this of the same nature as yourself?  No: he was of a servile and subordinate nature, and was under your power.  Why have you thus befouled yourself; why have you left him for whose sake you were formed, for whose help you were made, whose dignity you share, and with whom you share your substance and expression, and suffered yourself to enter into the serpent’s familiarity, so that you might receive through this beast, from the devil, counsel manifestly opposed to what God had enjoined: why did you not turn away from him, instead of hoping in his promises and daring to take the fruit?  Let it be so; throw yourself into such an abyss, and be deprived of the highest honor: but why make your husband a companion in such great destruction?  You were supposed to be his helper; have you become his betrayer?  Are you separating him with you from the grace of God, for the sake of a tiny amount of food?  What immense insanity led you to such recklessness?  Was it not enough for you to live this blessed life, and have need neither of clothes for your body nor of any other corporeal thing?  Was not enough to enjoy everything in paradise, except this single tree?  For all visible things to be under your power, to be mistress over all?  No; instead, deceived by empty promises, you hoped also to reach the highest peak of honor?  For that reason you will learn, not only that you will not attain it, but that you are to be deprived of all the things that God has already given to you: both you, and your husband: that you will come into great repentance, that your future sorrow will come too late, and the malignant demon, who suggested this damnable counsel to you, will laugh at you, and insult you, as you lie in ruin, and suffer the same fate as him.  For just as he thought higher of himself than was fitting, and was deprived of the dignity granted to him, and thrown down from the heavens to earth: he wanted to do the same thing to you, and by the transgression of the command make you come under the sentence of death, and so satisfy his envy: for as a wise man said: By the envy of the devil, death came into the world[1] (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 4.).

6. (ii) The theology of the temptation and sin.

a. How the devil tempted.

St. Thomas: “Man is composed of a twofold nature: that of the intellect and that of the senses.  And therefore in the temptation of man the devil made use of a twofold incentive to sin.  In the first way, on the part of the intellect, in so far as he promised likeness to God through the obtainment of knowledge, which man naturally desires.  In the other way, on the part of the senses.  And in this way he made use of sensible things that have the greatest affinity to man: partly in the same species, tempting the man through the woman; partly in the same genus, tempting the woman through the serpent; and partly in a closely related genus, setting before them the fruit of the forbidden tree for them to eat” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxv. a. ii.).

“In the act of temptation the devil was the primary agent, but he selected the woman as the instrument of temptation to bring about the man’s downfall.  For one reason, because the woman was weaker than the man, and therefore could be seduced to a greater extent.  For another, it was easiest for the devil to seduce the man through the woman, because of her union with the man” (ibid., ad 1.).

b. The sin was of pride.

Pride is the beginning of all sin.[2] But the sin of the first man is the beginning of all sin: By one man sin entered into this world.[3] Therefore the first sin of man was pride … Man was so constituted in the state of innocence that there could be no rebellion of the flesh against the spirit.  Whence it was not possible for the first inordinate appetite of man to be in desiring some sensible good, to which the concupiscence of the flesh tends, apart from the ordering of reason.  It therefore remains that the first inordinate appetite of man was in desiring inordinately some spiritual good.  But he would not have inordinately desired, if he had desired according to the measure determined for him by the divine law.  Whence it remains that his first sin was in desiring some spiritual good beyond his measure.  This pertains to pride.  Whence it is manifest that the first sin of man was pride” (ibid., q. clxiii. a. i.).

c. Secondarily, the sin was of gluttony.

“In the sin of our first parents gluttony also had a place; for it is said, the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold, and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.  However, the goodness and beauty of the fruit was not itself the first motive to sin, but rather the seduction of the serpent, who said, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil; and in desiring this, the woman was overtaken by pride.  And therefore the sin of gluttony was derived from the sin of pride” (ibid., ad 2.  Cf. St. Chrysostom, supra, 6. (i) a.).

d. Our first parents inordinately coveted likeness to the divine nature.

Augustine says, ‘Adam and Eve wished to seize divinity for themselves, and so they lost their happiness.’[4] Now likeness is twofold.  First, complete likeness in every way.  And our first parents did not desire this likeness to God, because such likeness to God cannot be contemplated, least of all by the wise.  Different from this, however, is the likeness of imitation, which is possible for a creature with respect to God, in as much as the creature in some way participates in God’s likeness, according to its mode … And therefore from the fact that man desired some spiritual good beyond his measure, as was said, it follows that he inordinately desired the divine likeness … The first man sinned principally in desiring the likeness of God with respect to knowledge of good and evil, as the serpent suggested to him; that is, so that he might determine by the power of his own nature what deeds were good and evil; or also that he might have foreknowledge by his own power of future good or evil that might befall him.  And secondarily he sinned in desiring the likeness of God with respect to laboring by his own power; that is, so that he might labor to obtain beatitude by the power of his own nature; whence Augustine says that ‘in the woman’s mind there clung a love of her own power.’[5] The devil, however, sinned by desiring the likeness of God with respect to power, whence Augustine says that ‘he wished to enjoy his own power more than God’s.’[6] However, both the devil and our first parents desired to rival God, inasmuch as they both desired to be supported by themselves alone, despising the ordering of divine law” (ibid., a. ii.).

“To desire the likeness of God with respect to knowledge, absolutely, is not a sin.  But to desire something of this sort inordinately, that is, beyond one’s measure, is a sin.  Whence Augustine comments on this passage from the Psalms, God, who is like to thee: ‘he who wishes of himself to be like God, wishes to be like God perversely, like the devil, who did not wish to be beneath Him, and like man, who did not wish to keep His commands as His servant’[7]” (ibid., ad 2.).

e. The gravity of the sin.

“The sin of the first man was not graver than all other human sins with regard to the type of sin.  But with regard to the condition of the persons sinning, that sin was of the greatest gravity, because of the perfection of their state.  And therefore it is to be said that that sin was in a way of the greatest gravity, but not simply” (ibid., a. iii.).

f. The respective sins of the woman and of the man.

“With regard to pride, the woman sinned more gravely than the man, for three reasons.  First, because the woman’s exaltation was greater than the man’s.  For the woman believed what the serpent insinuated to be true, namely that God prohibited them from eating of the tree to prevent them from attaining His likeness, and so, when she wished to obtain the likeness of God from the eating of the forbidden tree, her pride raised itself to such a degree that she wished to obtain something against God’s will.  But the man did not believe this to be true.  For which reason he did not wish to obtain the divine likeness against God’s will; but he was guilty of pride in that he wished to obtain it by his own power.  Second, because the woman did not only sin herself, but also prompted her husband to sin.  Whence she sinned both against God and against her neighbor.  Third, the man’s sin was diminished because he consented to sin ‘from a certain amicable good will, by which it happens that very many offend God rather than make an enemy from a friend; but that he should not have done this is indicated by his reception of divine punishment,’ as Augustine says.[8] And thus it is clear that the woman’s sin was graver than the man’s sin.  [And for this reason] the woman was more gravely punished than the man, as is clear from Gen. iii. 16-19.” (a. iv.).

St. Augustine: “It should be believed that the man was led to transgress God’s law by his wife – one by another, man by woman, spouse by spouse – not as though he believed her to be speaking truth, but by submitting to conjugal necessity.  For it was not without reason that the Apostle said: And Adam was not seduced; but the woman was seduced:[9] she received what the serpent said to her as though it were true, but he wished not to be separated from his only consort even in sin; and he is not therefore less guilty, having sinned knowingly and with awareness.  The Apostle does not say, ‘Adam did not sin,’ but: Adam was not seduced; for he certainly shows this where he says: By one man death entered into the world, and more openly a little later: in the similitude of the transgression of Adam.[10] Now he wished those to be understood as seduced, who did not consider what they did to be a sin; but Adam knew.  Otherwise how would it be true to say: Adam was not seduced?  But inexperience of the divine severity was able to deceive him into thinking that the crime was of little significance.  And he who seduced the woman did not seduce the man, he nevertheless deceived him, with respect to how he was to be judged when he would say: The woman, whom you gave to me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat.[11] What need to say more?  Even if they were not both deceived into believing, they both nevertheless sinned and were captured and entangled in the devil’s snares” (De civitate Dei, XIV. xi.  Cf. De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xlii.).

St. Thomas: “[Obj.] It thus appears that the woman’s sin proceeded from ignorance, but the man’s sin from certain knowledge, and therefore Adam sinned more gravely than Eve … I reply … that it is to be said that the seduction of the woman was a consequence of her preceding prideful exaltation.  And for this reason such ignorance does not excuse her sin, but rather makes it graver: inasmuch as it was by her ignorance that she was raised in greater pride” (ST. IIa-IIae q. clxiii. a. iv. obj. 1, ad 1.).


[1] Sap. ii. 24.

[2] Eccli. x. 15.

[3] Rom. v. 12.

[4] Enarr. in Ps. lxviii.

[5] Supra, {4-5.}.

[6] De vera relig. xiii.

[7] Enarr. in Ps. lxx.

[8] De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xlii. 59.

[9] 1 Tim. ii. 14.

[10] Rom. v. 12, 14.

[11] Gen. iii. 12.

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