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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 2]

WHEN God created man, He said: “Let Us make man to Our image and likeness, and give him dominion over all animals and over the whole earth.” He then formed a human body of the slime of the earth, breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. At the same moment God added to the nature of man many favours, and, especially, sanctifying grace, whereby He raised man to a higher likeness of Himself. Thus was made the first man, who was named Adam, that is to say, man taken from the earth. By his nature, man was the image of God: by grace, he was the likeness of God.

By a special effect of His goodness the Lord God created expressly for man a garden of pleasure, called Paradise. There were in it all sorts of beautiful trees, covered with delicious fruit; and in the middle of the garden stood the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. A river, divided into four branches, watered the whole garden. It was in this garden of delights that God placed man, that he might cultivate it for his own pleasure and occupation. God then commanded man, saying: “Of every tree of Paradise thou shalt eat, but of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death.”


Fig. 1. Assyrian representation of the Tree of Life. Relief from Nimrud. London, British Museum. (Phot. Mansell.)

Adam was still alone on the earth. Hence God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; let Us make him a help like unto himself.” Then, God caused all the animals to come before Adam, that he might give to each its name. But for Adam there was not found a help like to himself; therefore, casting a deep sleep upon Adam, God took one of his ribs and formed of it a woman. When Adam awoke, God brought to him his wife; and Adam rejoiced to see another being like himself. He called her Eve, that is, the mother of the living.

God is good. To know this, you have only to count up the benefits and graces which He conferred upon Adam and Eve.

The twofold likeness of God. Man is the first among all God’s creatures on earth, because he was created to the image of God, and is, therefore, like unto Him. This likeness is, however, a twofold one, a natural and a supernatural one, for which reason the two words, image and likeness, are used. For something to be the image of a person or of some other thing, it must be, to a certain degree, like that person or thing; but “likeness” signifies a still closer degree of resemblance. If one person is almost the same as another, we say they are alike. Thus the word “image” applies to the natural, and “likeness” to the supernatural resemblance of man to God. The natural likeness of man to God consists in this, that man has a spiritual soul, which not only makes his body live, but is also immortal, reasonable, and gifted with free-will. By these three qualities, it is, in a measure, like unto God, who is eternal, whose intelligence is supreme, and whose will is infinitely free.

These gifts are called natural gifts, because they belong to the nature of the human soul, and cannot be lost by it, though they can be marred and disfigured. The first man’s supernatural likeness to God consisted in those gifts which do not belong to the nature of man, but soar far above it, for which reason they are called supernatural gifts. The chief among these gifts was sanctifying grace, whereby the Holy Ghost dwelt in the soul of the first man, and made him a child of God and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost carried with it many other gifts, such as the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, as well as the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost; the gifts also of freedom from ignorance, sorrow, and concupiscence or evil desires and inclinations. The body also of the first man possessed supernatural gifts. The natural body is frail and subject to sickness and death, because it is made from the earth, and, like every other earthly thing, is perishable. But so long as the first man remained in a state of grace, his body was immortal, and free from all sickness and need of labour. If our first parents had remained in a state of grace, they would not have died, but would have been translated, body and soul, from the earthly to the heavenly paradise.

The body of man, indeed, bears no likeness to God, for God has no body; but all the same it has high prerogatives. It is the dwelling-place and instrument of an immortal soul. It is more delicate and beautiful, more complete and better adapted to every kind of work than the bodies of any of the beasts. It stands erect, and raises its eyes to the heaven for which man was created. It is the masterpiece of the visible creation. Man should, therefore, hold his body in honour and not pollute it by sin. “Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Man is made to rule over the beasts and over the whole earth. The earth belongs to God. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof, the world and all they that dwell therein” (Ps. 23:1). But He has made it over to man that he may use its good things according to God’s will. The rivers and mountains, the fields and woods, the plants and beasts, were made for the use of man, to preserve and gladden his life. We must therefore use the good things of this earth such as gold, silver, meat, drink etc., for a good end, and not abuse them. We should rule over the things of this world, and not make ourselves their slaves, like, for instance, the miser, who is not master of his possessions, but is their slave. Our thoughts and aspirations should soar beyond this world towards those things which are supernatural and eternal. We must make such use of earthly treasures, as not by their abuse to lose everlasting treasures. It is, moreover, God’s will that man should have dominion over the beasts, but it is not God’s will that he should be cruel to them. “The just regardeth the lives of his beasts, but the bowels of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. 12:10). Therefore, be on your guard against cruelty to animals!

Twofold death. By the words: “What day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death”, Almighty God threatened man with a twofold death, the death of the soul and the death of the body. This last did not take place immediately after the sin was committed, for Adam lived on earth till he was 930 years old; but all the same, from the moment he sinned, his body became liable to death. The death of the soul, on the contrary, took place the very instant the sin was committed. A distinction must, of course, be made between the natural and the supernatural life of the soul. It cannot lose its natural life, because it is an immortal spirit; but it loses its supernatural life, founded on sanctifying grace and friendship with God, the moment it commits a grievous sin. The loss of grace is the soul’s spiritual death, and leads to its eternal death, on which account grievous sins are called mortal or deadly sins.

The Blessed Trinity. The words: “Let Us make &c.”, imply that there are more persons than one in God.

The unity of the human race. Why did God form Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs? Firstly, because all mankind, even Eve, was to proceed from Adam. Secondly, because husband and wife ought to belong to one another, and to be but one heart and soul by their love and unity.

The happiness of Heaven. The life of our first parents in the earthly paradise was a type of the life of the blessed in heaven. They were perfectly happy in paradise. Peace reigned within and around them, because they were at peace with God. They had abundance of everything; they knew no pain, no want, no vexation, and lived in undisturbed joy and friendship with God and with each other. So also the life of the blessed in heaven is one of supreme happiness: there is no complaint nor sorrow there, nothing but peace, joy and glory. In the earthly paradise God held intercourse with our first parents, as a father does with his children. In heaven the blessed gaze on God face to face, and are united to Him by the closest love. But now comes the difference: the happiness of the earthly paradise could be lost, but the happiness of the blessed in heaven must be theirs for ever.

The probation of man. Man, like the angels, was gifted with free-will, and like them he had to undergo a probation. God gave him a command, by means of which he could freely choose either to side with Him or against Him. Adam being the representative and father of the human race, there rested on his decision not only his own fate, but the fate of all his posterity. An illustration of this we see in the case of a father who by gambling away his fortune makes his children losers as well as himself.

Marriage. When God gave Eve to Adam to be his companion, and pronounced His blessing on both, He instituted marriage. Being instituted by God, it is in any case a holy state, but Jesus Christ sanctified it still more and raised it to the dignity of a Sacrament. God Himself joins together man and wife. “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mat. 19:6). Marriage, therefore, is indissoluble, i. e. a man and his wife must remain joined together till death. Divorce is a crime.

The man is the head of the family. God Himself named Adam, but it was Adam who gave Eve her name. Why did God ordain this so? Because the husband is the head of the wife, and the wife is to obey her husband.

The Tree of Knowledge a type of the Cross of Christ. As by the Tree of Knowledge it was to be decided whether man would choose good or evil, so is Christ the Crucified “set for the fall and for the resurrection of many” (Luke 2:34). They who believe in Him crucified, and follow Him, will obtain eternal life; but those who will not believe in the crucified Saviour, and will not follow Him, will be eternally lost. The devil conquered by means of the Tree of Knowledge; but by the Cross he was conquered. With the one, sin began; with the other, redemption and salvation.

The Tree of Life a type of the Blessed Sacrament. Even as the life of the body was preserved by this tree, so by the Blessed Sacrament grace, the supernatural life of the soul, is increased and preserved in it, and the soul made worthy of everlasting life. “If any man eat of this bread he shall live for ever”, said our Lord (New Test. XXXIV). (About the Tree of Life in the paradise of heaven, see Chapter XCIX. New Testament.)

APPLICATION. God’s goodness to man is infinitely great. Just think how He has raised and elevated him! He created him to His own image, and gave him the whole earth for his use. He gave him an immortal soul and sanctifying grace, placed him in the beautiful garden of paradise, and in addition to this gave him the promise of eternal happiness in heaven; for man was intended to occupy those thrones in heaven which the fallen angels had lost. And all this was destined not only for the first man, but for all his posterity. Just think, then, how loving were God’s intentions towards man! “Praise the Lord, for He is good, for his mercy endureth for ever!” (Ps. 117:1.) “Let us, therefore, love God, because God first hath loved us” (1 John 4:19). Whatever you may be doing to-day, say: “I do it for love of Thee, O my God!”

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