Genesis vi. 4-7.

July 5, 2010

Now giants were upon the earth in those days. For after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these are the mighty men of old, men of renown.  And God seeing that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times,  it repented him that he had made man on the earth.  And being touched inwardly with sorrow of heart, he said: I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth, from man even to beasts, from the creeping thing even to the fowls of the air, for it repenteth me that I have made them.

4. “Now giants were upon the earth …”

St. Augustine: “We read that giants were born, not as if they were men of our race: as if in truth their bodies exceeded greatly the size of ours, as I mentioned above (ix.), and are not born in our times” (De civitate Dei, XV. xxiii. 2.).

St. Bede: “Giants means men with immense bodies and great power, of the sort that we read there have to been many of even after the flood, that is in the times of Moses or David, and who have their Greek name[1] from the fables of the poets who said the earth begot them.  Now they seem to have been born when Seth’s descendants chose wives for themselves from the race of Cain through the influence of their beauty, against the requirements of their own dignity.  It is to be noted that what we have here as giants is in Hebrew the falling ones (Lat. cadentes), that is, annasilim.  The sense is easy and clear, for men were falling to the earth in those days: that is, clinging to earthly desires, having lost the state of devout righteousness towards God” (In Principium Genesis II. col. 83-84).

St. Chrysostomus: “Here I think that Scripture uses the word giants to mean men strong of body.  From them, it says, their generation was increased … So that we may learn that after God’s anger and warnings, and so long a period of time He had given them for repentance, they not only accomplished nothing but persevered in the same behavior, therefore it says: After the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, and they brought forth children, these were giants, who of old were men of renown.  Did you see the greatness of their shamelessness? did you see their senseless souls, lacking all feeling of sorrow?  Neither the fear of punishment nor the time of tolerance warded them off from their evil deeds.  No, once thrown down the precipice, with their mind’s eyes blinded,they did not wish to return to themselves from their evil concupiscences, sunk, as it were, in some drunkenness.  For it is serious, beloved, it is serious to be captured by the snares of the devil” (xxii. 4.).

St. Ambrose: “The author of divine Scripture does not wish these giants to be understood, according to the custom of poets, as children of the earth, but rather it asserts that they were begotten of angels[2] and women, and calls them by this name to express the size of their bodies.  And let us consider whether perhaps there is a similarity to giants in men diligent in caring for their flesh, but who have no regard for their souls: just like those who, according to the poetic fable, rose from the earth[3] and trusted on the bulk of their bodies, and are said to have had contempt for their gods.  Or are they to be considered dissimilar who,  although they consist of soul and body, turn away from vigor of mind, than which the soul holds nothing more precious, and show themselves as imitators of this flesh, like the heirs of their senseless mother the earth?  And so they work in vain, usurping heaven by proud vows, brooding over earthly works, sharers of lower election and contempt for their rulers, and are condemned with greater severity as though guilty of voluntary sins” (De Noe et Arca iv. 8.).

Cornelius: “It is certain that these giants were men of monstrous stature and strength, distinguished in robbery and tyranny.  Whence the giants, by their wicked deeds, were the greatest and principal cause of the flood, as is evident from Sap. xiv. 6;[4] Job xxvi. 5.[5] Moses suggests the same here: for when he is about to write of the cause of the flood, he first mentions the giants, as though they were the cause of the flood.  This is the common teaching of the interpreters” (Commentaria, p 134).

5-6. God sees the wickedness of man and “repents.”

St. Chrysostom: “What does this mean, When God saw?  Did the Lord not know?  Of course He knew; but because of our weakness holy Scripture tells us all this, to teach us that even after such tolerance by God they remained in the same evils, or even threw themselves into worse ones” (xxii. 4.).

St. Augustine: “The wrath of God is not a disturbance of the soul, but a judgment by which punishment is inflicted for sin.  His “thinking” and “reflection” is the unchanging reason for the changes in things.  For God does not, as if he were a man, repent of any of His deeds, Whose judgment of absolutely everything is as fixed as his foreknowledge is certain.  But if Scripture did not use such words, it would not in a certain intimate way suggest this to the whole race of men, which He wished to advise, to terrify the proud, arouse the negligent, cultivate the seeking, and nourish the understanding: which He would not do, if He did not first bend down and in some way descend to those lying on the earth” (De civitate Dei XV. xxv.).

St. Bede: “[We] are accustomed to change something we have begun into something else only through repentance: therefore, although divine providence appears, to those who look on it with serene heart, to direct all things in a most certain order, it was nevertheless fitting for Scripture to adapt itself to the humble intelligence of the slower thinkers, whose number is much greater, and say that those things beginning to be were taken away as though by the repentance of God, and that they did not persist as much as they hoped they were to persist” (In Principium Genesis II. col. 84).

St. Chrysostom: “See again, a coarse passage, but fitting to our smallness.  It is not that God repented, by no means; rather, holy Scripture speaks to us according to our human custom, to teach us that their immense sins provoked the clement God into anger.  ‘Did I bring forth man for this,’ He says, ‘that he might fall into such wickedness and become the author of his own destruction?  Was it for this reason that I marked him with such honor from the beginning, and declared myself to have such care for him, so that he might abandon virtue and become a stranger to me in his ruin?  Because he has abused my clemency, after this it will try instead to impede his evils’” (xxii. 5.).

6-7. “I will destroy man, whom I have created”

“’I have,’ He says, ‘shown all the things that were my duty.  I brought man forth from nothing, that he might be; I gave his nature knowledge of what was to be done and what not to be done; I bestowed on him free will; I treated him with indescribable tolerance; and after this long time, and after the anger and warnings I uttered, I determined another period of time for him, wishing that he might realize his sin and be recalled by my wrath: but because even thus I profit nothing, I accomplish nothing, necessity compels that I fulfill my warnings with deeds, and take care that they be destroyed in all ways, and wipe out their whole race like some evil leavening, so that they will not become teachers of sin for later generations’” (ibid.).

7. “… even to beasts”

“Now perhaps someone might say: Why, with man fallen into evil, must even the brute animals sustain the same punishment?  But truly this is right.  Were the brute animals created for their own use?  They were made for man.  Therefore when he is taken from their midst, who would there be to make use of them?  Accordingly they too bear the same punishment, so that you may learn the severity of God’s wrath.  And just as from the beginning when the first man sinned, the earth received a curse, even so now, when man is to be destroyed, the animals become sharers in his ruin.  For just as when man was pleasing to God, creation also shared in man’s happiness, as St. Paul says: The creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God:[6] so now, when man is to be punished for his multitude of sins, and handed over to universal destruction, the beasts, and reptiles, and birds of the sky likewise perish in the flood that was to cover the whole globe.  And just as at home, when the overseer falls into the wrath of the master, it is usual for his fellow servants to suffer with him: so here, as though in a house, it was necessary that, with men perishing, all the things in the house and that were under his rule fall into the same punishment” (ibid.).

St. Ambrose: “Why had He harmed the irrational creatures?  But because they had been made for man, certainly with him destroyed for whom they were made, it followed that they also would be destroyed, for there was no one to make use of them.  This is also manifested in a higher sense, because a man is a mind capable of reason; for a man defined as a living, mortal, rational animal.  Therefore with the principle destroyed, all sense is also destroyed; because nothing is left over to be saved, when virtue, the foundation of salvation, has fallen away” (De Noe et Arca iv. 10.).

[1] οἱ γίγαντες (Latin gigantes).

[2] i.e., the sons of God; misleading LXX translation of vi. 2.

[3] Cornelius: “In Greek they are called γίγαντες, like γηγενεῖς, that is, born from the earth, as though sons of the womb and of the earth, say St. Ambrose and Philo” (Commentaria, p 134).

[4] And from the beginning also when the proud giants perished …

[5] Behold the giants groan under the waters, and they that dwell with them.

[6] Rom. viii. 21.


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