Genesis iv. 6-7

June 28, 2010

And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it.

6-7. The Lord’s response to Cain.

a. translation

LXX: καὶ εἶπε Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς τῷ Κάϊν· ἵνα τί περίλυπος ἐγένου, καὶ ἵνα τί συνέπεσε τὸ πρόσωπόν σου;  οὐκ ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκῃς, ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς, ἥμαρτες; ἡσύχασον· πρὸς σὲ ἡ ἀποστροφὴ αὐτοῦ, καὶ σὺ ἄρξεις αὐτοῦ. (“And the Lord God said to Cain: Why are you deeply sad, and why is your face fallen?  If you offer rightly, but do not {divide/select} rightly, have you not sinned?  Be at rest; its turn [ ] towards you, and you will rule over it.”)

Hebrew interlinear: “Then-he-said YHWH to Cain why? is-he-angry to-you and-why? are-they-downcast faces-of-you?  Not? if you-do-right to-be-accepted but-if not you-do-right at-the-door sin crouching and-for-you desire-of-him but-you you-must-master over-him.”

Vulgate (source of DR, above): Dixitque Dominus ad eum: Quare iratus es? et cur concidis facies tua? nonne si bene egeris, recipies: sin autem male, statim in foribus peccatum aderit? sed sub te erit appetitus ejus, et tu dominaberis illius.

New Vulgate (translated): If you do well, shall you not raise your face?  But if ill, sin will lie in wait at the door, and its lust shall be toward you, but you shall have dominion over it.

b. commentary

St. Jerome: “And the Lord said to Cain: Why is your countenance fallen?  If you offer rightly, but do not divide rightly: have you not sinned?  Rest; its turn is to you, and you will have dominion over it.[1] We are compelled by necessity to stop and discuss certain things here.  Certainly there is now a very different sense in the Hebrew than in the Septuagint translation: The Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry, and why is your countenance fallen?  If you do well, shall it not be forgiven you; and if you do not well, shall your sin not sit at the door? and its society will be to you; but do you rather have dominion over it.  That is to say: ‘Why are you angry?  Why are you tormented by envy of your brother, and why do you cast your face to the ground?  If you do well, will not your whole guilt be forgiven you?’  Or, as Theodotion says, ‘will be acceptable’; that is, ‘I will receive your gift, as I received your brother’s.’  ‘If you do badly, then immediately sin will sit before your door, and you will associate yourself with such a doorkeeper.  True, you have free will: I am warning you so that sin will not rule over you, but you will rule over sin.’  The error that the Septuagint translators made is this: sin is masculine in Hebrew (attath), but feminine in Greek, and the translators have translated it as masculine, as it was in the Hebrew” (LHQG).

St. Ambrose: “Let us now consider what this is that the Lord says, If you offer rightly, but do not divide rightly, you have sinned; rest. This is an indication that God is not to be pleased with the offered gifts, but with the disposition of the offerer.  And so he understood by the condemnation of his offerings that his sacrifice was not acceptable to God, and he became sad.  For when the mind is conscious of being right with itself, it rejoices, and by a spiritual infusion the soul is filled with joy, because its desires or works are accepted by God.  The sadness of Cain, therefore, is the testimony of his conscience to his rejection.  He did offer a gift; but because he did not divide rightly and justly, he incurred guilt” (De Cain et Abel, II. vi. 18.).

“God teaches all things.  First, that you should not sin, as He warned in Adam; second, if you have sinned, be still, as you are taught in Cain.  For we ought to blush with shame, and condemn our sin, not defend it” (ibid., II. vii. 24.).

St. Chrysostom: “Observe here, beloved, the indescribable kindness of God’s providence.  Because He saw him assaulted, so to speak, by the disease of envy, see how He offers fitting remedies according to His goodness, so that he may be instructed at once, and not be covered by the waters.  ‘Why are you sad? and why is your countenance fallen? Why are you held by such sadness that you are revealed even by the great grief on your face?  Why is your countenace fallen? Why are you disturbed by this?  Why did you not consider what you yourself ought to have done?  Have you offered sacrifice to a man, who can be deceived?  Do you not know, that the offering itself matters not to Me, but that it is the sound mind of the offerer that I wish?  What you have led into your soul to be offered is worthy of praise; but because you do not divide rightly, your offering becomes rejected.  For you should have shown great diligence in selecting what was to be offered to God; as great as is the difference between him who offers and Him who receives, so great also the difference in choosing what is to be done.  But you thought of none of these things, and instead simply offered what happened to be at hand.  And so for that reason they could not be accepted.  For just as your soul, by which you made offering, thought there was no intermediary and caused your offerings to be rejected: in the same way the soul of your brother, who was righteous, and took great care in selecting his offerings, made his gifts acceptable.  Nevertheless, I do not thus recall the penalty of your guilt, but I show you only so far as this guilt, and offer you counsel; if you wish to accept it, you will both make amends for your sin, and prevent yourself from being entangled in graver evils.  What, therefore?  You have sinned, and sinned gravely; but I do not punish you for this guilt: for I am kind, and do not desire the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live.[2] So because you have sinned: Rest, calm your thoughts, and free your mind from the surge of waves besieging it; restrain your disturbance, lest you add something graver to the first sin, and seize hold of some incurable counsel.  Do not hand yourself over as captive to the malignant demon’” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 6.).

Cornelius: “Lest it be thought that it could be shown from this passage that free will can rule over sin and concupiscence, Calvin judged the pronoun thereof [ejus] to refer to Abel, not to sin; thus the sense would be: ‘Cain, do not envy your younger brother Abel; for he will remain in your power, and you, as the firstborn, will have dominion over him’ … But I say the word thereof refers to sin, not to Abel, and that the sense is: ‘Cain, by free will and the grace I have prepared for you, you are able to have dominion over your desire and appetite of envy, as over a slave.’  What could be more clearly said for free will?  Thus is this passage explained by St. Ambrose and St. Augustine; by St. Jerome, Rabanus, Rupertus, Hugo, Bede, Alcuin and Eucherius; St. Chrysostom also clearly teaches that Cain was able to have dominion over his concupiscence” (Commentaria, p 116-117).

St. Augustine: “Rest, it says; for {its/his} turn [is] to you, and you [will have] dominion over {it/him}.  Is this referring to his brother?  By no means.  To what, then, except sin?  For it had said: You have sinned; and then it added, Rest; for its turn is to you, and you will have dominion over it.  This can indeed be understood so that the turn of sin ought to be toward man himself, that that which sins might know that it ought to yield only to man.  For this is a salutary medicine of penance, and a not unfitting offering of forgiveness, so that where it says, for its turn [ ] to you, the verb implied is not indicative but subjunctive; that is, commanding rather than foretelling.  For a man has dominion over sin, not when he defends it and places it before himself, but rather subjects it by penance; otherwise, if he invites it as his protection, he will serve its rule.  But in order that sin might be understood as that carnal concupiscence, of which the Apostle said, The flesh lusteth against the spirit;[3] among whose carnal fruits he mentions envy, by which Cain was provoked, and enkindled to the destruction of his brother, the verb is well understood as will be: For its turn will be to you, and you will have dominion over it … God commanded this to Cain, who burned with the torches of envy against his brother, and desired to have him removed whose example he ought to have followed.  Rest, it says: restrain your hand from evil; do not let sin reign in your mortal body by obeying its desires, and do not make your members the arms of iniquity by sin … But Cain received this command of God as a transgressor.  For his vice of envy grew stronger, and he laid in wait for his brother, and killed him.  Such was the founder of the earthly city” (De civitate Dei, XV. vii. 2.).

Fr. Haydock: “Luther wrote a book against free-will, and Calvin would not admit the very name.  But we, with all antiquity, must cry out with St. Jerome: ‘God made us with free-will, neither are we drawn by necessity to virtue or vice; else where there is necessity, there is neither damnation nor reward’[4].”


[1] This is the Old Latin reading, from LXX.

[2] Ezech. xviii. 23.  DR/Vulgate: I desire not the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, return ye and live.

[3] Gal. v. 17.

[4] Adversus Jovinian, II. iii. col. 299.

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