Genesis iii. 7.

June 26, 2010

And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons.

7. The immediate effects of the sin.  The reason for the tree’s name becomes apparent.

St. Chrysostom: “An important question arises here for us: for someone might rightly ask what power was possessed by this tree, whose fruit opened the eyes of Adam and Eve; and why it is called the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 5.).

St. Augustine: “It is written: They were naked, and were not ashamed: not because their nakedness was unknown to them, but because nakedness was not yet shameful … Nor were they created blind, as the ignorant rabble thinks: the man certainly saw the animals to whom he gave names, and of the woman we read: The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold.  So it is clear their eyes were already open; but they were not ‘open,’ that is, not attentive, in such a way as for them to know what their garment of grace supplied to them, at the time when their members did not know how to fight their will.  When this grace was removed from them, there stood forth in the motion of the body, as a reciprocal punishment for disobedience, a new shamelessness, whence nakedness became indecent, and which made them attentive and rendered them ashamed.  And the eyes of them both, it says, were opened: not to see, for they already could see, but to distinguish between the good they had lost and the evil into which they had fallen.  Whence the tree itself, because it would cause this distinguishing if food were taken from it against the command, took its name from that very fact; and so it was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  For experience of the trouble of sickness makes the happiness of health more evident” (De civitate Dei, XIV. xvii.  Cf. De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxi.).

St. Chrysostom: “Now the eating from the tree did not open their eyes: for they could see before they ate; but because the eating was the proof of their disobedience, and the transgression of the command given to them by God, for this reason they were afterwards stripped naked, as it were, by the removal of the glory that had surrounded them, because they had made themselves unworthy of such honor.  And they perceived themselves to be naked.  Stripped naked of their mantle of divine grace on account of their sin, they became aware of their physical nakedness, and so knew without any doubt, by the shame that attacked them, into how great a disaster their transgression of the Lord’s command had led them … And so because the enticement of food caused the transgression, Scripture says accordingly: And they ate, and their eyes were opened: speaking, not of physical eyes, but of those of the mind.  For because they had transgressed the command, the Lord wished them to feel those things which they had not felt before because of His singular benevolence.  Therefore when you hear, Their eyes were opened, understand it in this way: their eating made them perceive their nakedness and the deprivation of the glory they had enjoyed before eating” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 5.).

St. Augustine: “And they perceived, therefore, that they were naked; stripped naked, that is, of the grace by which it had been accomplished that the nakedness of the body did not dismay them, there being no law of sin to fight against their minds.[1] And so they became aware of that which they would more happily not have known, if they had trusted and obeyed God and had not committed the crime that compelled them to experience the harm of faithlessness and disobedience.  So then, dismayed by the disobedience of their flesh, a kind of punishment witnessing to their own disobedience, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons; that is, girdles to cover their genitals.  And so shame modestly covered what lust moved against their wills, which were condemned by the guilt of disobedience” (De civitate Dei, XIV. xvii.).

St. Chrysostom: “Consider, beloved, I beseech you, in what way and from how great a peak the devil’s counsel threw them into the depths of the abyss.  Only a little while ago they were surrounded with such glory; now they sew fig leaves together and make girdles for themselves.  This is the reward of the devil’s deceit, this is the trickery of his counsel: not only to not bestow the greater things they had hoped for, but also to strip them of what they had already gained, and show them to be destitute of what they had possessed” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 5.).

St. Ambrose: “Adam teaches me what leaves are; after he sinned, he made himself a girdle of the leaves of the fig tree, which he ought rather to have used for fruit to eat.  The just man chooses the fruit; the sinner, the leaves.  What is the fruit?  The fruit of the Spirit, says Scripture, is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, modesty, continence, love.[2] He did not have the fruit, because he did not have joy.  He did not have faith, because he had transgressed the command of God.  He did not have continence, because he had tasted the fruit of the tree forbidden to him.  Therefore whoever transgresses the command of God is likewise stripped naked, and is himself made shameful, lacking the fruit … Adam girded himself in that place where he ought rather to have girded himself with the fruit of chastity.  For seeds of generation can be said to be in the loins that we gird; and therefore Adam was badly girded with useless leaves, signifying, not the fruit that would come from future generations, but sins, which remained until the coming of the Lord, our Savior.  There is something else: after the Lord came, he found an uncultivated fig tree; and, asked to order it not to be cut down, He allowed it to be cultivated.[3] And so now we are girded, not with leaves, but with the divine word: for the Lord Himself said: Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands.[4] For which reason He forbids us even to carry money in our girdles; for they ought to guard, not the things of earth, but the things of heaven” (De Paradiso, xiii. 64, 65, 66.).

St. Chrysostom: “Why is it called the tree of knowledge of good and evil?  Indeed there are many obstinate people who dare to say that Adam learned to distinguish good and evil after eating from the tree: which would be the utmost madness.  For it was because we foresaw this that we dealt at such length with the wisdom given to man by God, showing it from the imposition of names that Adam distributed to all the wild animals, and the birds of the sky, and the brute animals; and showing that to this indescribable wisdom was added the gift of prophecy: precisely so that no one would dare to say such a thing.  Therefore, how can we say that he who gave names to all the animals, who uttered so wondrous a prophecy concerning the woman, was in any way ignorant of what was good, and what was evil?  If we accept this – God forbid – we shall shift the blame instead to the Creator.  For how could He give a command to someone who did not know that the breaking of the command would be evil?  But the truth is not thus; God forbid; he knew clearly.  For it was for this reason that God had wished this animal, man, to be gifted from the beginning with free will.  If he had not been given free will, it would have made no sense either to punish him for transgressing the command, or to praise him for keeping it.

“Who then will bear what they dare to say, that man acquired knowledge of good and evil after eating from the tree, when he was filled with great wisdom before eating, and dignified with knowledge by prophetic grace?  And how could it be possible for goats and sheep and all brute animals to know nature, know what plants are healthful, and can be used for food, and which are harmful, such that if they approach a harmful plant they flee at once – and yet man, the rational animal, not know what is good and what is evil?  ‘But look,’ someone will say.  ‘Scripture calls this tree the tree of knowledge of good and evil.’  This has not escaped me, either; but if you want to learn the special characteristics of sacred Scripture, you will understand why it gives the tree this name.  It is not called this because it gave man knowledge, but because through it the transgression of the command occurred, and from it entered the experience of sin, and shame: this is why it has that name.  For the custom of holy Scripture is to give names to places from the things that happen there.  And so holy Scripture named this tree the tree of knowledge of good and evil, because the transgression and keeping of the command pertained to it … After the eating of it, they were stripped of their divine glory and perceived their physical nudity: therefore it is called the tree of knowledge of good and evil: for it was, so to speak, the test of obedience” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvi. 5, 6.).

St. Thomas: “This tree was called the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not because it had any power to cause wisdom, but because of the event that followed, that man through eating from it learned by experience the difference between the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience” (CT. I. clxxxviii.).


[1] Cf. Rom. vii. 23.

[2] Gal. v. 22, 23.

[3] Luke xiii. 6-9.

[4] Luke xii. 35.

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