Genesis iv. 9-10

June 28, 2010

And the Lord said to Cain: Where is thy brother Abel?  And he answered, I know not: am I my brother’s keeper?  And he said to him: What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.

9a. The Lord questions Cain.

Bl. Anne Ammerich: “I saw that after the deed Cain wandered around here [on the Mount of Olives], dazed and anxious.  He planted trees and tore them up again.  Then I saw the appearance of a grave and shining man, who asked: ‘Cain, where is your brother Abel?’  At first Cain did not see him” (Die Sünde und ihre Folgen: 5. Kain).

St. Chrysostom: “The patience of God is great and and immeasurable.  For He does not ask as if He did not know; He does the same thing here as He had done to Cain’s father [Gen. iii. 9.]: for nothing hinders that the same words be said again.  The kind Lord pretends ignorance, preparing by this question him who had committed such great evil to be led to the confession of his sin, so that he could perhaps acquire forgiveness and mercy” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 2.).

9b. Cain’s reply.

St. Ambrose: “Weigh now the response of the parricide: I know not, he says, am I my brother’s keeper? Even though proud defiance brought forth this reply, it nevertheless shows that if he had considered his good brother, he ought to have been the keeper of his piety.  For whom ought he to have guarded more than his brother?  But how could he keep guard over his brother when he did not recognize the love of such a relation?  And who could it be that he would offer obedience to nature, when he showed no reverence to God?  First he denies as though to one who is ignorant; he refuses the office of his brother’s guardianship, as though cut off from nature; he avoids the judge, as though free of will.  How can you wonder that he does not recognize holiness, if he did not recognize its Author?” (De Cain et Abel, II. ix. 28.  Cornelius p. 118).

St. Chrysostom: “And he said, I know not.  Consider the impudence of this reply.  Do you speak to a man, whom you might be able to deceive?  Do you not know, unhappy wretch, who it is who speaks to you?  Do you not see that He is questioning you because of his great goodness, longing to find some chance to show you his love, and that when afterwards He will test you in all things, you will have no defense, because you rendered yourself open to punishment?

“Consider here the accusation of his conscience, and how his conscience, so to speak, impelled him not to end after he said, I know not, but causes him to add: Am I my brother’s keeper? doing nothing but convicting himself.  All the same, if that which follows from you is considered, according to the laws of nature you should have been the guardian of your brother’s safety.  For nature decreed this, and it is fitting for those who are born from the same womb to be each other’s guardian.  If you did not wish this, and did not want to be your brother’s keeper, then why were you made his slayer?  Why did you kill him who had done you no harm, and why did you think that no one would blame you for it?  But wait, and you will see him who lies prostrate and lifeless become your accusor, and accuse you, still living and walking, with a clarion voice” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 2.).

10. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.”

St. Ambrose: “It is well said: The voice of your brother’s blood cries, not ‘your brother cries.’  This preserves the innocence and grace of brotherhood even in death itself.  Abel your brother does not accuse you, lest he appear a parricide.  It is not his voice that accuses you, not his soul, but the voice of his blood accuses you, the blood that you spilled.  Therefore it is your crime, not your brother, that accuses you … And well is it said: The voice of your brother’s blood cries from the earth: it did not say ‘cries from your brother’s body,’ but cries from the earth.  Even if your brother spares you, the earth does not spare you.  If your brother is silent, the earth condemns you.

“It is not a trivial teaching, The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me: for God hears his just ones even in their death, because they live for God.  And deservedly are they considered to be alive; for even if they have tasted the corporeal death, they still take hold of incorporeal life, and are illuminated with the splendor of their merits, and enjoy eternal light.  Therefore He hears the blood of the just: but He turns away from the prayers of the wicked; for even if they seem to live, they are still more miserable than all the dead; they carry their flesh around like a grave, in which they have buried their unhappy soul.  For what other than a tomb is that which is enveloped in dirt, and is shut in by the desires of earthly avarice and other vices, so that it is unable to breath the air of heavenly grace?  In this way the sinner is cursed by the earth, which is the lowest and last part of the world.  Certainly heaven is higher, and the things that are in heaven: sun, moon and stars; Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers, Cherubim and Seraphim.  Therefore there is no doubt that the higher things also condemn him: for the lower things condemn him.  For how could the pure decree of heaven acquit him whom the earth could not acquit?  And so he is ordered to live on the earth, moaning and trembling” (De Cain et Abel, II. ix. 30, 31.).

St. Chrysostom: “‘Am I a man,’ He says, ‘who shall hear only that voice that is brought forth by the tongue?  I am God, Who am able to hear also the voice crying out through blood, of one prostrate on the ground.  See, the voice of this man’s blood takes wing, until it ascends from earth to heaven, and running past heaven and the highest powers in heaven, it stands before the royal throne, and cries forth a lament against your murder, and brings a charge against your infamous wickedness.  The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth to me from the earth.  Is he,’ He says, ‘a stranger and a guest, he whom you have killed?  You raged against your own brother, who had never done you any harm’” (Homiliæ in Genesin, xix. 2.).

St. Bede: “The APOSTLE says: You are come to Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel.[1] The blood of Christ speaks better than that of Abel: for the latter cried out to the Lord in condemnation of fratricide; but the former raises its voice to heaven unto the salvation of the faithful brothers of Christ” (In Principio Genesis, II. col. 71).


[1] Hebr. xii. 24.

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