Genesis iv. 11-16

June 28, 2010

Now, therefore, cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand.  When thou shalt till it, it shall not yield to thee its fruit: a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.  And Cain said to the Lord: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me.  And the Lord said to him: No, it shall not be so: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold.  And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him.  And Cain went out from the face of the Lord, and dwelt as a fugitive on the earth, at the east side of Eden.

11-12. The curse on Cain.

St. Chrysostom: “Do you see the difference in this curse, beloved?  Do not therefore pass on without considering, but rather judge the fearsome brutality of the outrage from the greatness of the curse.  For it can be learned how much greater this sin is than the transgression of the first man, from the difference in the curses.  For there it was said: Cursed is the earth in thy work: the curse was applied to the earth, and its relevance for man was shown; but here, because his deed was wicked, his crime iniquitous, the outrage inexpiable, he himself receives the curse: And now cursed art thou, it says, from the earth.[1] For he did almost the same thing as the serpent, and served the devil’s will as an instrument; and just as by the first deception the possibility of death was led in, so here, Cain deceives his brother, leads him into the field, and with his hand armed against him, kills him.  Accordingly, as it was said to the serpent: Cursed art thou among all beasts of the earth: the same is said to Cain, who had carried out the same deed as the serpent.  For just as the devil, moved by hatred and envy, could not bear the indescribable goodness bestowed on man from the beginning, and was stung by envy to the deception that brought in death: so here, Cain saw the great benevolence of God toward his brother, and out of envy burst forth to murder him.  Concerning this it says: And now cursed art thou from the earth.  You shall be cursed, it says, and cursed to that earth, that endured to be inundated with your brother’s blood, poured out so detestably from so wicked a hand” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 3.).

12. “A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.”

Cornelius: “That is, fearful from a bad conscience, and, as LXX translate, moaning and trembling:[2] ‘you will wander here and there, in soul and in body.’  For they see the Greek τρέμων, that is, trembling, as referring to a bodily trembling in Cain, an indication of his fear and of the confusion of his soul” (Commentaria, p 119).

13-14. Cain’s response.

St. Ambrose: “My cause is greater, than that it may be forgiven me.  If thou shalt abandon me today, I shall hide myself from thy face.[3] For nothing is more grave than to wander, abandoned by God, such that one cannot revive himself.  The sinner’s death brings an end of sinning; but a life destitute of divine governance is cast headlong, and slips into graver faults.  If the shepherd leaves his flock, the beasts attack: so when God abandons man, the devil advances.  It is especially serious for the foolish not to have a ruler.  Malice creeps in; the wound grows, where medicine is lacking.  Now he hides himself who wishes to conceal his guilt, and cover his sin.  For he who does evil hates the light, and seeks the darkness and its den of pleasures.  But the just man is not accustomed to hide himself from the Lord his God, but rather to offer himself, saying: ‘See, here I am; I have no guilty conscience I fear may be discovered’” (De Cain et Abel, II. 32.).

St. Chrysostom: “And Cain said: My cause is greater, than that I may be forgiven. Look, a complete confession.  ‘Such and so great,’ he says, ‘is the sin I have committed, that I am unable to receive pardon.’  Someone will say, ‘Look, he has confessed, and with great accuracy’ – but it profits him nothing, beloved: for the confession is ill-timed.  For he ought to have made it at the right time, when he was still able to obtain mercy from his Judge.  Now remember what I said a little while ago: on that terrible day, in the tribunal, in which there is no accepting of persons, it will be that each of us will be ruled by penance for his sins, seeing before his eyes those terrible torments, and the inescapable punishments; but it will be of no use to him, he will have no time left” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 3.).

Challoner: “Every one that findeth me, shall kill me. His guilty conscience made him fear his own brothers, and nephews; of whom, by this time, there might be a good number upon the earth: which had now endured near 130 years; as may be gathered from Gen. v. 3, compared with Chap. iv. 25” (HB).[4]

Cornelius: “Everyone, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me.  This is the sign of a bad conscience; this is the fear it produces.  Thus St. Ambrose.  The just man, however, has the confidence of a lion, and says: Though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me[5] (Commentaria, p 120.  Cf. St. Ambrose, De Cain et Abel, II. ix. 33.).

Bl. Anne Emmerich: “God also showed him a region to which he should flee.  And when Cain said, ‘So you will let me starve, because the earth is cursed to me,’ God said, no! he would eat the flesh of animals, and a people would arise from him and good would come from him.  Before this men did not eat meat” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

15. The mark on Cain.

St. Chrysostom: “’You were afraid,’ God says, ‘that you would be killed?  Take heart; this will not be.  For whoever shall try to do this will render himself liable to sevenfold punishment; and therefore I am placing a sign on you, so that no one will kill you in ignorance and render himself liable to those punishments’” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 4.).

Challoner: “The more common opinion of the interpreters of holy writ, supposes this mark to have been a trembling of the body; or a horror and consternation in his countenance” (HB; cf. Cornelius, Commentaria, p 120).

St. Ambrose: “God placed a sign on Cain so that no one would kill him, because He wanted to turn back the wanderer, and for his own benefit invite him to correction.  For we are more easily accustomed to entrust ourselves to those whose favor we possess.  But nevertheless what He grants Cain is nothing great: for he punishes himself with his own foolish imprudence.  He is liable to eternal punishments, but does not ask for his penalty to be remitted; he thinks rather that he should beg for this bodily life, which has more trouble in it than pleasure.  For death is one in the revolt of soul and body, and in the end of this life; as soon as it comes, it is its custom, not to increase, but to take away all the pains of the body.  And in truth the fears that so often attack those living this life – sorrows, pains, moans, varied sufferings, the wounds of burdens and sicknesses – also bring countless deaths to the human race, so that true death seems a remedy, not a punishment.  For it does not destroy us; it does not deprive us of life, but brings us to a better one.  For if the guilty die, not wishing to call back their steps from their sins, they, albeit unwillingly, gain the end, not of nature, but of guilt, lest injustice be done to them, for whom life is a steady growth of crimes.  But if they who die possess good hope, they are to be believed to depart rather than to fall away.

“Here we see the doctrine of the incorruption of the soul: that the true and blessed life is that much more pure and blessed life led by every man of good conscience when his soul puts aside the wrapping of this flesh, and becomes free of the prison of the body …

“And so in this passage are refuted those who think that the only life is that in this world, in which all things are full of falls, full of sorrows; and they are refuted simply by the sequence of events that occur.  For look: the just, innocent, pious man, by the favor given to his devotion, incurred the hatred of his brother, and was removed from this world before his time by parricide; while the unjust, the wicked, the impious man, polluted with the slaughter of his brother, lived long, married, left children, founded cities, and merited this by the divine permission.  Does the voice of God not cry out openly in these events?  You err, who think that the only life is found here; do you not understand, do you not observe that this ripe age is but a long procession of miseries, its wages merely the troubles of this world; that we are, so to speak, surrounded by the echoes of Scylla’s[6] daily shipwrecks, battered by the waves as we bide our time in rocky habitations, and that we delight in these things, just as though our souls were not meant for eternal life but were simply a neverending evil?  So here the longevity granted to Cain is vengeful; for he lived in fear, and ran the long distance of his life in arduous and fruitless labor, in which no punishment was heavier than that he brought upon himself greater punishments.  Do you see, then, that the life of the just is everlasting, and that of the wicked is nothing?  The just man’s blood cries out even when he is dead; but the sinner’s life is seen no more” (De Cain et Abel, II. x. 35-37.).

16. “He dwelt as a fugitive on the earth”

St. Chrysostom: “Cain went out, it says, from the face of God.  What does that mean, he went out from the face of God?  It means, he was stripped of God’s special protection and help, because of his loathsome and pernicious crime” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xx (a). 1.).

St. Bede: “The face of the Lord is usually understood to mean His recognition or knowledge, by which He manifests Himself and is recognized … The LXX translators in this place have translated: Now Cain went out from the face of the Lord God, and dwelt in the land Naid opposite Eden.[7] Now Naid is translated ‘fugitive,’ or, as we find in the book of Hebrew names, ‘unstable movement,’ ‘fluctuation’; not a few, with whom Josephus agrees, say that this is the place in which Cain lived.  Our translator, however, has understood it not as the name of a place, but as indicating the condition itself: for Cain henceforth would always be unstable and fluctuating, that is, unsettled in his residence” (In Principium Genesis, II. col. 72).

St. Jerome: “What the Septuaginta have translated as Naid is Nod in Hebrew, and means σαλευόμενος, that is, unstable and fluctuating, and of unsettled residence.  Therefore Naid is not a country, as is commonly thought; rather, it fulfills the decree of God, in that Cain wandered here and there as a vagabond and fugitive” (LHQG).

[1] LXX, καὶ νῦν ἐπικατάρατος σὺ ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς.  Vulgate/DR: Now therefore cursed shalt thou be upon the earth. Hebrew interlinear: “And-now being-cursed you from the-ground.”  NV: Now therefore cursed shalt thou be, far from the field.

[2] στένων καὶ τρέμων

[3] St. Ambrose’s text is closest to the LXX: μείζων ἡ αἰτία μου τοῦ ἀφεθῆναί με· εἰ ἐκβάλλεις με σήμερον ἀπὸ προσώπου τῆς γῆς καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ προσώπου σου κρυβήσομαι (“Greater [is] my guilt than to be forgiven me.  If you cast me out today from the face of the earth, I shall also be hidden from your face”).  Vulgate/DR: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face I shall be hid.  Hebrew interlinear: “More punishment-of-me than-to-bear.  See! you-drive me today from-on face-of the-land and-from-presence-of-you I-will-be-hidden.”  NV: My punishment is greater than that I may bear it.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the field, and from thy face I shall be hid.

[4] Cf. Bl. Anne Emmerich: “Then Cain said that he would certainly be killed.  There were already many people on the earth.  Cain was already very old and had children, and Abel as well, and there were also other brothers and sisters there” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

[5] Ps. xxii. 4.

[6] Latin: “et scylleo quodam usu circumsonari nos quotidianis naufragiis …” Ferdinando Ughelli (1595-1670, Cistercian historian, Italia sacra): “Now the town Scylla is on the promontory Scylleum […] the town and promontory are named from the monster Scylla of the Greek and Latin poets.”

[7] ἐξῆλθε δὲ Κάϊν ἀπὸ προσώπου τοῦ Θεοῦ καὶ ᾤκησεν ἐν γῇ Ναὶδ κατέναντι ᾿Εδέμ.  NV reads Nod, retaining the rest of the Vulgate translation.


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