Genesis iv. 1-2.

June 28, 2010

Chapter IV.  The impious Cain killed his pious brother Abel; and, punished by God and living as an exile, begot Henoch: Adam also begot Seth, to whom was born Enos.

And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God.  And again she brought forth his brother Abel.  And Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman.

1-2a. The conception and birth of Cain; the birth of Abel.  The meaning of their names.

St. Bede: “From this point forward, after the delights of paradise and the guilt of the first sin, the history of this world and this mortal life are told, as our first parents, who had been created immortal, after they became subject to mortality, begin to generate mortal offspring, all of them conceived in iniquity,[1] and coming forth in sin from their mother’s womb” (In Principium Genesis, II. col. 63).

St. Jerome: “And she conceived and brought forth Cain, and said, I have acquired or gotten a man through God.  ‘Cain’ is translated ‘acquisition’ or ‘gain,’ [acquisitio, possessio, κτῆσις], whence she says, expressing the etymology, canithi, that is, I have gotten a man through God” (LHQG).

St. Chrysostom: “Consider when this came about.  It is after disobedience, after the loss of paradise that the first use of venery begins.  For before their disobedience they imitated the angelic life, and there was no word of the venereal act.

“And she said, I have gotten a man through God.  See how He has emended the woman by the punishment inflicted, and caused her to become better.  For she gives thanks for her boy, not to nature, but to God, and declares her soul grateful.  Do you see how the punishment served as a warning to them?  ‘It was nature,’ she says, ‘that granted me this little boy, but divine grace.’

And He added that she bring forth his brother Abel.[2] Because she was grateful for the first child, and recognized the goodness of the gift, she acquired another.  For such is our Lord: when we first of all declare our soul grateful, and recognize our benefactor, He gives out his gifts more lavishly to us.  And so because the woman credited the birth to God, for this reason she received another little boy.  For after mortality entered the world, the highest consolation was the succession of children.  And accordingly the kind God at once diminished the severity of His punishing, and took away the terrible character of death, and granted the succession of children, in a way indicating by this a likeness of resurrection, granting that for the ones fallen others would arise” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 4.).

St. Bede: “Abel is translated ‘grief’ or ‘miserable’:[3] by which name was presaged from the beginning that he would suffer an early and painful death” (In Principium Genesis, II., col. 63).

Cornelius: “Josephus and Eusebius translate Abel as ‘grief,’ as if the Hebrew Hebel, that is Abel, were the same as Ebel, with the he replacing the aleph; because Abel, the first of mortals, brought immense grief to his parents, says Eusebius, lib. XI De Præpar. cap. iv.  But really Abel, or as in Hebrew Hebel, signifies ‘vanity.’  Whence Ecclesiastes says: hebel habalim col hebel: Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.[4] It seems that Abel’s mother Eve had a presentiment of his early death, or, certainly remembering him with their family a little after he was doomed to death, called him Abel, that is vanity[5] (Commentaria, p 114).

St. Ambrose: “Indeed Cain is called ‘acquisition,’ because he acquired all things for himself; Abel referred all things to God with a holy and devout attention of the mind: arrogating nothing to himself, like his older brother, but attribuiting everything that he had received to the Creator from Whom he had received it” (De Cain et Abel, I. i. 3.).

Adam’s family.

Bl. Anne Emmerich: “Once I saw about twelve people: Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and two sisters and some smaller children … They looked very beautiful and noble in their attire.  There were huts there, somewhat sunken in the earth and decorated on top with plants.  The household’s means of living was very orderly.  I saw fields with short but quite strong fruit trees; there was also grain, and corns of wheat, which God had given to Adam to sow.

“God had taught Adam about sacrifice, and he was priest in his family.  Cain and Abel were also priests,[6] and I saw that the preparations actually happened in a separate hut … Meat was not eaten before Abel’s death” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 4. Die Familie Adams).

2b. “Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman.”

St. Ambrose: “It is not idly that, although Cain was born first, as the passage teaches, Abel is mentioned first here; the order of names is not the same as the order of nature.  What is the meaning of this change of order, such that the younger is mentioned first where their state of life and use of work is described?  Let us investigate the difference between these offices, so that we may gather the reason for this change.  To work the land is prior in use, and lower in grace, than to tend sheep … The younger displays newer things, that bring forth no thorns or thistles, are not open to any criticism.  Indeed Adam, guilty of sin, was banished from the paradise of pleasure to work the land.  Rightly therefore is the order of nature observed in Scripture where the brothers are born; but where their ways of living are shown, the younger is put before the older; because even if he is younger in age, he is more eminent in virtue” (De Cain et Abel, I. iii. 11.).

Cornelius: “The Fathers teach in common, against Calvin, that Abel remained and died a virgin; they gather this from the fact that Scripture does not mention his wife and children, as it mentions the wife and children of Cain.  Thus SS. Jerome, Basil, Ambrose and others” (Commentaria, p 114).


[1] Psalm l. 7.

[2] LXX, καὶ προσέθηκε τεκεῖν τὸ ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ, τὸν ῎Αβελ.  Vulgate/DR: And again she brought forth his brother Abel.

[3] St. Jerome, LNH: “Abel: ‘grief,’ or ‘vanity,’ or ‘exhalation, cry,’ or ‘miserable.’”

[4] Eccl. i. 2.

[5] On the question of the translation and initial aspiration, an (editorial) note to LNH: “Indeed Josephus translates πένθος, grief; Abel’s name, as he writes it, is found in the Greek texts without aspiration, although it is nevertheless aspirated by the usage of the Hebrew tongue, Habel or Hebel.  Accordingly, those who translate ‘grief,’ attend more to the sound of the name than to the letters themselves by which Moses wrote the name: he wrote ‘vanity’ [vanitas, ματαιότης] or ‘exhalation, cry’ [vapor, ἀτμός]: not ‘grief.’

[6] Cf. Cornelius p 114-115: “St. Athanasius teaches in Omnia mihi tradita sunt that Cain and Abel learned religion and the rite of sacrifice from their father Adam; whence it follows that Adam was the first to offer sacrifice.”

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