Genesis iv. 3-5.

June 28, 2010

3-5. The offerings of Cain and Abel.

And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord.  Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings.  But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell.

a. “After many days”

Bl. Anne Emmerich: “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”[1] (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

b. The offerings.

St. Ambrose: “He offered, it says, of the fruits of the earth: not the choicest from his first fruits to God.  This means that he first claimed the choicest for himself, and gave God the rest … Abel offered these gifts, and therefore God had respect to his offerings, because he offered from the very best: as it says, of the firstlings of his sheep, and of their fat.  Consider also that he offered, not insensible things, but living creatures.  For the animal is greater than the fruit of the earth, since the animal is close to the spiritual” (De Cain et Abel, I. x. 41-42.).

St. Chrysostom: “And he offered, it says, of the firstborn of his sheep, and of their fat.[2] See how his most pious mind is shown to us, and how he did not merely offer sheep, but of the firstborn: that is, of the most precious and the most excellent: and then, of these firstborn the most precious parts: and of their fat, it says: that is, of the fattest and best.  Nothing of the sort is recorded of Cain: he offered sacrifice from the fruits of the earth: as though to say, whatever he came across, taking no labor or pains to choose among them.  Again I say, and I will not cease to say it: it is not because God has need of our possessions that He receives our offerings, but because He wishes to be shown through them that our souls are grateful” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 5.).

St. Bede: “It is manifestly shown that both brothers had faith in God; both knew, either naturally or through their parents’ instruction, that they should offer gifts to God, and by their sacrifices wash away the guilt of their father’s transgression; but because they did not offer with equal minds, their offerings were not accepted equally.  For I do not think Cain sinned by working the land, or by offering God gifts from the fruits of the earth, but by working with less perfect piety in the tasks of the flesh, and approaching with less perfect devotion to offer God gifts.  For indeed Noe was a husbandman, and tilled the ground, and planted a vineyard;[3] and Melchisedech, the priest of the most high God, offered bread and wine, fruits of the earth.[4] So Cain was not rejected as worthless because of the sort of sacrifice he offered.  For he offered to God from what he had been accustomed to live on; but because he offered with an impious mind, he himself was rejected along with his offerings by Him Who examines hearts – as the text makes manifest … For it does not say: ‘And the Lord had respect to the offerings of Abel, and to Abel himself; but to the offerings of Cain, and to Cain himself, He had no respect’: first is stated whether the person of the offerer was pleasing to God or not, and then it is said whether the offerings were given respect or not.  Now men are often placated by the gifts of those by whom they had been offended; but God, who is the discerner of thoughts and of the heart’s intentions, is placated more by the holy devotion of the offerer: when He sees that our minds are pure, consequently he also receives our prayers or works” (In Principium Genesis, II. col. 63-64).

St. Chrysostom: “Scripture teaches us that God seeks not for brute animals to be led to Him, or for the fruits of the earth to be offered to Him, but that He seeks only for the mind’s love.  Whence here, the one is accepted with his gifts because of the love in his mind, and was pleasing to God; the other was rejected, along with his sacrifice” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 5.).

St. Augustine: “ST. JOHN says, speaking of this passage, Not as Cain, who was of the wicked one, and killed his brother.  And wherefore did he kill him?  Because his own works were wicked: and his brother’s just:[5] this gives us to understand that God did not have respect to his offering, because he had divided it badly, giving God something of his own, but keeping his self for himself.  And all do this who follow, not God’s will, but their own; that is, living with a perverse, not a righteous heart, they nevertheless offer a gift to God, by which they think to buy Him off, so that He will not help them to cure their depraved desires, but to fulfill them” (De civitate Dei, XV. vii. 1.).

c. God sent fire to consume Abel’s sacrifice.

Cornelius: “You wish to know how God declared that He was pleased with Abel’s offerings, but not Cain’s?  I reply: the Fathers relate in common that God declared this through fire sent from heaven onto the Abel’s sacrifice, but not onto Cain’s … Luther and Calvin ridicule this as a Jewish fable.  That it is true is asserted and related by SS. Jerome, Procopius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Theophylactus, Oecumenius and Cyprianus” (Commentaria, p 115).

St. Jerome: “How was Cain able to know that God had received his brother’s offerings and rejected his own, unless the interpretation that Theodotion gave is true: And the Lord came in fire [inflammavit, ἐνεπύρισεν] upon Abel, and upon his sacrifice: but on Cain, and on his sacrifice He did not come in fire.  We read that fire often comes from heaven to consume a sacrifice: as in the dedication of the temple under Solomon,[6] and when Elias built the altar on Mt. Carmel”[7] (LHQG).

St. Bede: “That is, He received Abel’s victim by fire sent from heaven, which we read happened very often when holy men made sacrifice.  But as for Cain, he ought himself to have consumed his own sacrifice with fire.  For this is what the APOSTLE seems to signify, when he says: By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice exceeding that of Cain, by which he obtained a testimony that he was just, God giving testimony to his gifts.[8] So God gave testimony to the gifts of Abel by fire, receiving the gifts from heaven, which we are taught by the Apostle’s testimony, because Abel’s victims were made acceptable to God by the devotion of his faith; and, conversely, we ought to understand that Cain was rejected because he did not keep intact his faith in his Creator” (In Principium Genesis, II. col. 64).

5. Cain’s anger.

St. Chrysostom: “What is the sorrow[9] that afflicts him?  He was greatly upset, both that the Lord had not looked on his own sacrifice, and that his brother’s gift had been acceptable to Him” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xviii. 5.).

St. Augustine: “Cain was saddened, and his countenance fell.  God charges him with this sin, sadness at another’s goodness, and his brother’s, at that” (De civitate Dei, XV. vii. 1.).

St. Bernard: “Do not wonder that Cain rose up against his brother, when he had already killed his faith.  Why do you wonder, o Cain, that He does not have respect to your offerings when He regards you with contempt?  Nor should you wonder that he does not have respect to you, since you are so divided within yourself.  If you have the hand of devotion, why do you also have envy in your soul?  You do not win God over to you, you are conflicted; you do not please Him, you sin against Him: not yet indeed by any heinous deed, but it is nevertheless not right that you are divided.  Even if you are not yet held by the killing of your brother, your are nevertheless already held by the killing of your faith.  Is it right, that when you stretch your hand out to God, your heart is dragged to the ground by envy and hatred of your brother?  How can he be right, whose faith is dead, whose work is death, who has no devotion but is full of bitterness?  Certainly there was some faith in your offering, but there was no love in your faith: the offering was right, but your division is cruel.  The death of faith is its separation from charity” (Sermo xxiv in Cantica Canticorum, 7-8).


[1] As Challoner observes, a rough estimate for the time of this event can be gathered from a comparison of Gen. v. 3. with iv. 25: the birth of Seth, when Adam is 130 years old, is seen as a replacement for the death of Abel.  Sister Emmerich’s seeming implication that Abel had children should not be given greater weight than the common teaching of the Fathers to the contrary (see 1-2).

[2] LXX, ἤνεγκε Κάϊν ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν τῆς γῆς θυσίαν τῷ Κυρίῳ, καὶ ῎Αβελ ἤνεγκε καὶ αὐτὸς ἀπὸ τῶν πρωτοτόκων τῶν προβάτων αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν στεάτων αὐτῶν.  Vulgate/DR: Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord.  Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat.

[3] Gen. ix. 20.

[4] Gen xiv. 18.

[5] 1 John iii. 12.

[6] 2 Par. viii. 1.

[7] 3 Reg. xviii. 38.

[8] Hebr. xi. 4.

[9] LXX, καὶ ἐλυπήθη Κάϊν λίαν.  Vulgate/DR: And Cain was exceedingly angry.

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