Genesis iii. 8.

June 26, 2010

And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise.

8a. “the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air”

St. Jerome: “In very many Latin texts, what we have just cited as at evening is given as after noon, because the LXX Greek, τὸ δειλινὸν, cannot be translated.[1] In the Hebrew is written larue aiom, which Aquila has translated ἐν τῷ ἀνέμῳ τῆς ἡμέρας, that is, ‘in the {wind/breeze} of the day.’  Symmachus has διὰ πνεύματος ἡμέρας, that is, ‘through the {wind/breath/spirit} of the day.’  Finally Theodotion translates more specifically, ἐν τῷ πνεύματι προς κατάψυξιν τῆς ἡμέρας [in the {wind/breath/spirit} {towards/at} the cool of the day], to indicate the refreshing breeze after the heat of midday has past” (LHQG).

Note: GELS gives the adjective’s possible meanings as “of the afternoon, of the evening”; in the form τὸ δειλινὸν, only as “the evening, at evening.”  It is derived from the noun δείλη, which according to LS originally meant strictly “the time when the day is hottest, i.e. just after noon” but by the time of the LXX would have usually meant “late afternoon, early evening.”  PL follows the strict meaning, translating it from St. Chrysostom’s text as in meridie and ad meridiem.  St. Ambrose’s and St. Augustine’s texts have ad vesperam. The common modern translation of the Hebrew is “at the cool of the day.”  St. Jerome renders this phrase in the Vulgate as ad aurem post meridiem, which is the most comprehensive translation.

Cornelius: “At the afternoon air – think of the declining day, when light breezes blow, and men tired by the heat of the day long for the cool air.  Cf. Cant. ii. 17: till the day breathe, and the shadows fall.[2] In the eastern regions a wind rises a few hours before sunset” (Commentaria, p 103).

St. Bede: “’It was fitting for them to be visited’ in the afternoon, ‘as they had fallen away from the light of truth.’  And so it was also fitting that the Lord ascended the cross at midday, and, after promising a dwelling place in paradise to the thief, gave up the ghost in the afternoon; that is, at the ninth hour; so that at the same hour at which the first man had touched the tree of disobedience, the second man ascended the tree of redemption; and in the hour when the transgressors had been banished from paradise, He led the confessor into paradise” (In Principium Genesis I col. 36.  Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxiii. 43.; Glossa col. 93.).

St. Ambrose: “What does it mean to say that God, who is always in every place, is walking about [deambulatio]?  I think this walking about of God is through a series of passages in the Scriptures, in which a certain presence of God dwells; we hear that he observes everything,[3] and that the eyes of the Lord are upon the just:[4] we read that Jesus knew men’s thoughts: Why do you think evil in your hearts?[5] Therefore when we examine these passages, we can recognize God ‘walking about’ in a certain way” (De Paradiso, xiv. 68.).

St. Chrysostom: “What did you say?  God walks?  Are we to attribute feet to Him, and bring Him down to our level?  God does not walk; do not think that.  For how would He walk, who is present everywhere and fills everything?  Shall He whose throne is heaven, and whose footstool is earth, be contained in a garden?  What man of prudence would say this?  Then what is this: They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden at midday?  The devil wanted to lead them into the experience of evil, so that they would be thrown into the greatest mental anguish; and this is what happened.  Accordingly, affected by such an experience, they tried to hide themselves when God arrived.  For as soon as sin entered, transgression, modesty and shame also invaded them” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 1.).

St. Ambrose: “How does God speak?  With a physical voice?  By no means; He pours forth his utterances with a more immediate power than a physical voice can.  His prophets heard this voice; this voice is heard by the faithful; it is incomprehensible to the impious.  And so in the Gospel we read that the Evangelist heard the Father saying: I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again;[6] but the Jews did not hear it: they said, It has thundered.  Therefore, as you have read, it says that they perceived God, who does not walk, walking; in the same way, they heard God, who does not speak, speaking” (De Paradiso, xiv. 69.).

St. Augustine: “When they heard the voice of God walking in paradise at evening, this did not happen except visibly through a creature, lest it be thought that the invisible and omnipresent substance of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost had appeared to their corporeal senses in movement of time and place” (De Genesi ad litteram, XI. xxxiii. 43.).

“When it is written in Genesis that God spoke with the man whom He had formed from slime, if we leave aside the figurative meaning and take the narrative literally, it is apparent that God spoke to man under the appearance of a man.  This is not expressly stated in the text, but it resonates greatly with the surrounding passages: that Adam heard the voice of God walking in paradise at evening and hid himself in the middle of the wood that was in paradise, and that when God said, Adam, where art thou? he replied: I heard thy voice and I hid myself from your face because I am naked.  For I do not see how it is possible to understand the walking and conversing of God literally, except by understanding it to have been under a human appearance.  Neither can it be said that the voice only sounded where God is said to have walked, or that He was not visible while walking in that place, for it says that Adam hid himself from the face of God.  Who was it then?  Was it the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Ghost?  Or did the whole God, the undivided Trinity, speak to man in the form of a man? … It was possible that Scripture indicated that now it was the Son speaking to the first man – not explicitly stating this, but suggesting it to those who could understand it” (De Trinitate, II. x. 17.).[7]

Note: St. Augustine’s interpretation of this passage is to be preferred to that of SS. Chrysostom and Ambrose, who reject the obvious interpretation of God’s appearance and conversation.  Their wariness of anthroporphisms seems to exclude the possibility that the incorporeal God could have manifested Himself under a corporeal form.  Compare this passage with Gen. xviii, where in a similar divine address corporeal figures are clearly present, three of them, but sometimes they are described as God, sometimes as Angels, and sometimes as men.  The most evident conclusion is that in some unspecified way God was speaking through some corporeal appearance.  Cf. St. Augustine supra {ii. 16-17d.}.  Finally, this interpretation has the powerful support of the Catholic principle that the literal interpretation should only be abandoned when absolutely necessary, and of the testimony of Bl. Anne Emmerich, who reports that “a radiant, shining Figure, like that of a grave man with shining white hair,” whom she refers to as “the Lord,” spoke to Adam both before and after the fall (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 1. Der Sündenfall; 3. Verweisung aus dem Paradiese).  St. Augustine’s identification of this figure with the Second Person of the Trinity is less conclusive, although it is attractive and cannot be disproven.

8b. “Adam and his wife hid themselves”

St. Peter Damian: “Because the midday heat had already passed from him, the breeze, daughter of cold, was approaching, because it had already stipped him naked of his vanished innocence.  What else does this all mean, except that a chill had choked his loveless heart, and that for this reason the voice of the Lord sounded harsh in his ears?  Clearly Abraham stood apart from this cold, as Scripture says of him: The Lord appeared to him in the very heat of  the day;[8] as does the heavenly Bridegroom, as we read in the Song of Songs: he feeds and lies in the midday[9] (Opusc. lx., ix.).

St. Chrysostom: “How foolish is this, that they tried to hide themselves from God, Who is present everywhere; from the Creator, Who brought forth things from nothing so that they might exist, Who knows what is hidden, Who hath made the hearts of every one of them, who understandeth all their works,[10] Who searches the hearts and reins,[11] Who knows even the very movements of the heart?[12] But do not marvel, beloved; for such is the custom of sinners: although they cannot hide themselves, they nevertheless wish to hide, and try to hide” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xvii. 2.).

St. Ambrose: “So when dread of the divine power returns sense to our souls, then we are ashamed; then we long to hide, then, immersed in thoughts of our sins, we are caught in the midst of the trees of paradise, where we have sinned; we desire to hide, and think that God does not seek out what is hidden.  But He Who searches souls and thoughts, penetrating to the division of the soul, says: Adam, where art thou?” (De Paradiso, xiv. 68.).


[1] See Note following.

[2] Vulgate: donec aspiret dies et inclinentur umbræ.  DR has, inexplicably, the exact opposite, till the day break, and the shadows retire.

[3] cf. Ps. xxxii. 13: The Lord hath looked from heaven; he hath beheld all the sons of men.

[4] Ps. xxxiii. 16.

[5] Matt. ix. 4.

[6] John xii. 28.

[7] See Note following.

[8] Gen xviii. 1.

[9] Cant. i. 6.

[10] Ps. xxxii. 15.

[11] Ps. vii. 10.

[12] Cf. Ps. xliii. 22.

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