Genesis iv. 8.

June 28, 2010

And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him.

8. Cain kills Abel in the field.

a. “Let us go forth abroad.”[1]

Cornelius: “These words have been cut out of the Hebrew text [MT]; Aquila, Symmachus and Theodotion neither read nor translate them.  But it is clear that they were once in the Hebrew, because they are found in the Septuagint and in the Targum of Jerusalem” (Commentaria, p 117).

St. Ambrose: “Warned, therefore, to be at rest, his insolence grows; his outrage sharpens.  What therefore does this mean, Let us go out to the plain, except that the fratricide chooses a place barren of life?  For where could his brother be killed, except where there was no fruit?  Nature, as though presaging so great an evil, had denied shoots to this place: for it was not fitting that the same soil should both receive the contagion of his brother’s blood contrary to nature, and bring forth fruit according to nature.  Rightly does he say: Let us go out to the plain.  He does not say: ‘Let us go to paradise, where there are fruits and flowers’; he does not say to go to any cultivated and fruit-bearing place” (De Cain et Abel, II. viii. 26.).

Bl. Anna Emmerich: “I saw that Cain conceived the attempt to kill Abel on the Mount of Olives” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

St. Chrysostom: “The words are those of a brother; the mind, that of a murderer.  What are you doing, Cain?  Do you not know to whom you speak?  Do you not think to yourself that you are talking to your brother?  Do you not reflect that he was born from the same womb as you?  Do you not understand in your soul that you have sought for abominable things?  Do you not fear the judge who cannot be deceived?  Does this crime not horrify your mind?  Why do you call your brother out to the plain,  and lead him out, away from his father’s arms?  Why do you deprive him of his father’s help?  What new thing has happened, that you now drag your brother out to the plain, and you now try to do what you did not do at first, and, showing with a pretext of friendship your fraternal benevolence, you resolve to perpetrate the crimes of an enemy?  What is this insanity?  What is this madness?  Let it be so: your mind is blinded of brotherly love; you have no reason, you know not nature: why do you prepare yourself for battle against him who has done you no injury?  What is it that you are presenting to your parents, whom you resolve to afflict with such sadness, and to be the author of this terrible tragedy, so that you first can show this violent death to them?  Is this the reward you give them for your upbringing?  What art of the devil drove you to this outrage?” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 1.).

b. “Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him.”

“Horrendous crime, threatening audacity, abominable deed, unpardonable sin, the deed of a savage soul.  He rose up, it says, against Abel his brother, and killed him.  O abominable hand!  Wretched right arm!  Nay, we should not call the hand abominable and wretched, but rather the mind that the member served.  Let us therefore call you such, audacious mind: abominable and wretched!  And whatever can possibly be said, not enough will be said.  How did his hand not grow numb?  How was it able to hold the sword and inflict the wound?  How did his soul not fly away from his body?  How did it have the strength to carry out such an unspeakable crime?  How did it not turn aside; how did Cain not change his feeling?  How did he not think of the deed’s nature?  How did he not consider the end of the deed before it happened?  How was it that, after the crime, he could bear to see his brother’s body breathing out its soul and trembling upon the earth?  How could he see him dead and thrown down on the ground, and not at once melt away at the sight?  For if, so many years later, when we see men dying every day, even a natural death, and who are joined to us by no ties of blood, we are deprived of our strength; and if the dying man be our enemy, we make an end of the enmity: how much more was it right for him to be destroyed, and at once send out his soul, when he saw his brother, who was speaking a short while before, who was born of the same mother, begotten of the same father, brought forth from the same womb, received by God with singular benevolence – when he saw him, I say, suddenly lying and trembling on the ground, with his spirit and power of movement gone?” (ibid.).

“Abel was the first one ever to die.  The first death in the history of all creation was a murder, and the first one to die was a saint” (Saints to Remember, January 2).

Bl. Anne Emmerich: “Abel was slain in the valley of Josaphat[2] across from Mt. Calvary.  Afterwards much death and unhappiness occurred in this region.  Cain slew Abel with a sort of cudgel, which he used to break soft stones and earth while he was planting.  It must have been made of hard stone, and the haft of wood, for it was crooked like a hook[3]” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

c. Allegorical and historical importance.

St. Ambrose: “By Cain is understood the parricidal Jewish people, who sought the blood of their Lord and creator and, so to speak, their brother by His birth of the Virgin Mary.  By Abel is understood the Christian adhering to God, as David says: But it is good for me to adhere to my God,[4] so as to join himself to heavenly things, and separate himself from earthly” (De Cain et Abel, I. ii. 5.).

St. Augustine: “But [the Jews], ignorant of God’s justice, wishing to establish their own,[5] exalted with pride in the works of the Law, not humiliated by their sins, did not rest: with sin reigning in their mortal body for them to obey its lusts,[6] they stumbled at the stumbling-stone;[7] they burned with hatred against him, whose works they saw were acceptable to God, and grieved over Him; as the man born blind had already seen, and said to himself: We know that God does not hear sinners; but if one worships him, and does his will, him he hears:[8] as though he were to say this to them: ‘He had no respect on Cain’s sacrifice, but he had respect on Abel’s sacrifice.’  And so Abel, the younger brother, is killed by his older brother: Christ, the head of the younger people is killed by the older Jewish people: the one on a plain, the other at Calvary” (Contra Faustum, XII. 9.).

St. Bede: “Cain was the firstborn, Abel the second.  The Jewish people was God’s first possession, as He said to Moses: Israel is my son, my firstborn;[9] the second is the people of the nations, for whose life it chiefly was that the Son of God deigned to be born in the flesh and to die.  Abel was a shepherd, and the Lord says: I am the good shepherd.[10] But Cain was a husbandman, because the Jewish people persevered with earthly and temporal affairs: either seeking only these, or serving the Lord with regard to them … The Jewish people led the Lord out of their city Jerusalem, and crucified Him at Calvary” (In Principium Genesis II. col. 69-70.).

“In the New Testament Abel is often mentioned.  His pastoral life, his sacrifice, his holiness, his tragic death made him a striking type of Our Divine Savior.  His just works are referred to in 1 Joann. iii. 12. [supra, {3-5. b.}]; he is canonized by Christ Himself[11] as the first of the long line of prophets martyred for justice’s sake.  He prophesied not by word, but by his sacrifice, of which he knew by revelation the typical meaning (Vigoroux); and also by his death (St. Augustine:  ‘For in these two men, Abel, which means “grief,” and his brother Seth, which means “resurrection,” Christ’s death and His life from the dead are prefigured’[12]).  In Hebr. xii. 24, his death is mentioned, and the contrast between his blood and that of Christ is shown.  The latter calls not for vengeance [Gen iv. 10], but for mercy and pardon.  Abel, though dead, speaketh (Hebr. xi. 4.), Deo per merita, hominibus per exemplum (Piconio, 1633-1709), i.e. to God by his merits, to men by his example.  The Fathers place him among the martyrs.  In the canon of the Mass his sacrifice is mentioned with those of Melchisedech and Abraham, and his name is placed at the head of the list of saints invoked to aid the dying” (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Abel”).

[1] Vulgata: Egrediamur foras.  LXX: διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πεδίον.

[2] Cf. Joel iii. 2, 12.

[3] German Haken; Hacken=pickax, as translated in the English edition.

[4] Ps. lxxii. 28.

[5] Cf. Rom. x. 3.

[6] Cf. Rom. vi. 12.

[7] Cf. Rom. ix. 32, Is. viii. 14.

[8] John ix. 31.

[9] Ex. iv. 22.

[10] John x. 11.

[11] Therefore behold I send to you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar (Matt. xxiii. 34-35.).

[12] De civitate Dei, XV. xviii.  Cf. LNH.


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