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

THE FALL OF OUR FIRST PARENTS

[Gen. 3:1–13]

OF all the animals that God had placed upon the earth, none was more cunning than the serpent. Hence the devil, who was envious of the happiness of our first parents, made use of him in order to seduce them. Eve, prompted by curiosity, approaching the forbidden tree, saw a serpent near it. He began to speak, and said to her: “Why has God commanded you that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” Eve answered: “Of the fruit of the trees of paradise we do eat; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of paradise, God has commanded us that we should not eat, and that we should not touch it, lest, perhaps, we die.” The serpent said to the woman: “No, surely, you shall not die if you eat of the fruit of the tree; but, rather, your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Hearing this, Eve gave way to pride, and she saw that the fruit was good and pleasant to behold. She took and ate of the fruit, and gave to her husband, and he also ate. Thus was the first sin committed.

By this first sin they lost sanctifying grace, which was the life of their soul; they lost the immortality of their body; their eyes were opened, and they saw with shame that they were naked. In their shame and confusion they began to sew fig-leaves together, in order to cover their nakedness. But soon they heard the voice of God calling them, and they hid themselves among the trees. And God said: “Adam, where art thou?” And Adam answered: “I heard Thy voice, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” And God said: “Who has told thee that thou art naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat?” Adam replied: “The woman whom Thou gavest me to be my companion, gave me of the fruit, and I did eat.” And the Lord said to the woman: “Why hast thou done this?” She replied: “The serpent deceived me, and I did eat.”

Sin. Adam and Eve transgressed the law of God. It is true that they were persuaded to do so, but still the devil did not force Eve to eat of the forbidden tree, nor did Eve oblige Adam to do so. It was of their own free-will that they sinned.

The manifold sin of Eve, its origin and process. She first sinned by thought, in a twofold way: she doubted of God’s love, “why has He forbidden us” without any apparent reason? and next she doubted of His veracity, “lest perhaps” we shall die. Then she sinned by desire, a desire of pride wishing to be like God, and a desire of the flesh wishing to eat of the fruit, because it looked tempting. Lastly she sinned by deed. Eating of the fruit she boldly and proudly disobeyed God’s commandment, and then inveigled Adam into the same grave sin of disobedience.

Was their sin a grievous sin? Our first parents undoubtedly transgressed the law of God in an important matter, for the prohibition to eat of the fruit was the only positive law which God had given them. Moreover, on its observance depended their own happiness and that of their descendants, for Almighty God had threatened them with death if they disobeyed Him. They also transgressed the command wilfully, as explained above. Their sin was, therefore, a mortal sin, and a very grievous one. It was not only one sin, but many. It was a sin of proud revolt, of unbelief, of lust, of disobedience, and of ingratitude. God had shown them so much love and had given them so much that they owed Him the greatest gratitude; instead of which they repaid Him with the grossest ingratitude. Moreover, the command was one which they could easily have kept; for they were possessed of greater knowledge than we are, and knew God’s infinite love, holiness, and justice much better than we do.

The consequences of their sin were very grave. Satan had pretended that by their disobedience they would be raised, and become as God; but the very opposite took place. They were now cast down from their former high position, and were less like God than they had been, because they had lost sanctifying grace and all other supernatural gifts. Having renounced God by their sin, they were no longer His children and heirs of heaven, but had become children of the devil and heirs of hell! They still retained the natural gifts which made them like to God, but even these gifts were marred. Their reason was obscured, so that they could no longer recognize the truth as they had done, as was proved by the foolish way in which they tried to hide themselves from God. Their hearts and wills were now infected by evil; sinful inclinations were kindled in their hearts, of which they felt ashamed, and which made them hide themselves. Their happiness was gone. They were still in paradise, and paradise was as beautiful as ever, but they felt miserable, because their consciences were guilty and their hearts were full of fear and unrest. “Tribulation and anguish is on every soul of man that worketh evil” (Rom. 2:9). Those only are happy who have a good conscience, and the peace of God in their hearts. All the possessions in the world cannot make a man happy if he has not got inward peace. But there is no peace for the wicked.

Original sin. The sin of our first parents injured not only themselves but also all their posterity. Their supernatural gifts were given to them not for themselves alone, but for all those who were to come after them. If Adam and Eve had preserved these gifts, their children would have inherited them, and would have come into the world in a state of grace. But our first parents having sinned, and being no longer in a state of grace, their sinfulness has passed down to their children, so that men are now born into the world in a state of sin. The loss of grace with all its supernatural gifts in the children born of Adam is a matter of great displeasure and wrath to God, because contrary to His divine will and institution. Thus they are children of wrath.

APPLICATION. The devil induced Adam and Eve to sin by means of lies. Therefore our Lord says: “The devil is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is the father, i. e. the origin of lies. Have you never imitated him? Hate lies, for they come from the devil! Have nothing to do with them, or you will be a child of the devil. God is truth, and desires and loves only what is true. Stick to the truth if you wish to be a child of God.

Perhaps you think that, if you had been in Eve’s place, you would not have allowed yourself to be overcome by temptation. Have you never then taken anything which you have been forbidden to take, such as sugar, fruit &c.? Has not God forbidden you to pilfer or to be greedy, quite as much as He forbade Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge? Further, did not God give you sanctifying grace in holy Baptism? Has He not placed you in the paradise of His holy Church, in order that you may live a holy life, and attain to the heavenly paradise? Have you not by means of your religious instruction acquired great knowledge, so that you know perfectly well what is right and what is wrong? Therefore, when you offend against the law of God, you have quite as little excuse as Eve. Guard against sin, and firmly resolve never again to offend God wilfully.

Eve’s first temptation came from without. We too, as long as we live, shall have to encounter various temptations. They come partly from without, such as those arising from bad companions or other external occasions of sin, and partly from within, from our own bad inclinations, such as anger, sloth, self-will &c. They can also come from the direct suggestions of the evil one. Eve’s fall should be a warning to us not to allow ourselves to be seduced by temptations to sin. Had Eve kept away from the forbidden tree, she would not have fallen. Keep away, therefore, from all occasions of sin, or else you are meeting sin half-way. If a bad thought occurs to you, do not dwell on it, but drive it from you, or bad desires will follow bad thoughts. If the Tempter or your own passions whisper to you; “Such and such a thing would not be a great sin! God would not treat it severely!” turn your thoughts at once to the just and holy God who would be outraged by that sin, and remind yourself that sin is the greatest of all evils! Above all things, beware of sinful curiosity. He who wishes to see and hear everything, and who does not shut his eyes and ears when he sees or hears anything evil, will soon have his heart corrupted, and will lose his innocence. Say often and devoutly: “Lead us not into temptation. Defend me, my God, against temptations to evil. Give me the grace to resist them steadfastly!”

PART II GOD’S PUNISHMENT AND CURSE.—PROMISE OF A REDEEMER

[Gen. 3:14–24]

THEN God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all the beasts of the earth. Upon thy breast shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”

To Eve He said: “In sorrow and pain shalt thou bring forth thy children. Thou shalt be subject to thy husband, and he shall have dominion over thee.” And to Adam He said: “Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee, that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work, with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee. In the sweat of thy face thou shalt eat bread, till thou shalt return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

Then “the Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin and clothed them.… And He cast Adam out of the paradise of pleasure and placed before it Cherubim and a flaming sword, turning every way to keep the way of the tree of life”.

God is the very Truth. He had threatened Adam and Eve with death if they ate of the forbidden fruit, and what He threatened was brought to pass. Of His mercy, Almighty God did not make our first parents die immediately, for they were not hardened in sin, and were capable of amendment; but, all the same, from that moment their bodies lost the supernatural gift of immortality, and their souls lost that grace which was their life.

The Justice of God. The punishment of Adam and Eve reveals to us the infinite justice of God. Their sin is the sin of the whole human race; therefore, the evil consequences of their sin have passed down to all mankind. We are by birth “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). The image of God is defaced in each one of us. Our reason is obscured, our will is weakened, and the lusts of the flesh refuse to obey the spirit. We are all subject to suffering and death, and no one could attain to heaven, if our divine Redeemer had not died for us.—Think of the many passions which hold sway over man! Think of the countless diseases to which he is prone; the countless tears which are shed by him! Think of the bitter pangs of the dying; and of the terrible disasters by fire, water and earthquake! All this is the consequence of sin. How terrible, then, is the justice of Almighty God!

Sin is the greatest of all evils, for all other evils came into the world by sin.

Pride comes before the fall. Adam and Eve having sinned through pride, were humbled by the degrading sentence: “Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

The first promise of the Messias. Before Almighty God drove our first parents out of paradise into the misery of the outside world, He gave them the promise of a Redeemer. The thought that by their sin they had condemned themselves to misery in this world and eternal ruin in the next, would have driven them to despair, had not God awakened in their hearts the hope of a coming Saviour. The curse pronounced on the infernal serpent contained a consolation for fallen man. The words: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman &c.”, told Adam and Eve that sin and the devil would be overcome some day, and that the gates of the heavenly paradise would be thrown open to them. We can see by this how merciful God was even to fallen man. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, patient and plenteous in mercy” (Ps. 144:8). God punishes man in mercy, and imposes temporal punishments on him, so as to save his soul and make him eternally happy.

The penalties of sin are also its remedies. Work, whether mental or physical, keeps evil desires and passions at bay. If men were not obliged to work, they would live more in accordance with their bad passions, and evil would be rampant. “Idleness hath taught much evil” (Ecclus. 33:29). Furthermore, if there were no pain or death, men would sink into mere sensuality, would not trouble themselves about eternity, and would quite forget their higher destiny. Sickness and death are always preaching thus to us: “All earthly things pass away; take heed for the affairs of your soul!” On Ash-Wednesday the Church reminds us in an especial manner that we are but dust and ashes, and that we shall surely die.

Adam, a type of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:14). Adam is the father of all men according to the flesh; Jesus Christ is the spiritual Father of the faithful, for through Him alone do they receive life. Through Adam sin and death came to all men; through Jesus Christ we have received grace and eternal life. Sin and misery came into the world by Adam’s disobedience; but our redemption has been wrought by Jesus Christ, who became obedient even unto the death of the Cross.

Eve, a type of our Lady. Eve consented to sin; Mary consented to redemption, by consenting to become the mother of the Redeemer. Eve, by her sin, brought misery on mankind; Mary, through her Son, has brought salvation. Eve was, in a natural sense, the mother of the living; Mary is so in a supernatural sense.

The Immaculate Conception. Mary trampled under foot the infernal serpent, not only by giving birth to the divine Saviour, but also by this, that she was always free from the stain of sin, even of original sin. Had she, like the rest of mankind, come into the world with the stain of original sin on her, she would have been, for a time, under the dominion of Satan, and her victory over him would not have been complete. Therefore God, by a special grace, and in view of the merits of her divine Son, preserved her whom He had chosen to be that Son’s mother from the taint of original sin.

Why did not God cast Adam and Eve straight into hell, as he did the fallen angels? Because, firstly, their sin, grievous as it was, was not so great as that of the rebellious angels, the angels being richer in grace and knowledge than were Adam and Eve; and moreover, the fact of the fall of these last having been caused by the deception of Satan, was in some measure an excuse for them. Secondly, our first parents were not hardened in sin, but confessed their guilt and repented of it.

Adam and Eve not eternally lost. They received pardon on account of their belief in the future Saviour; and, on account of their repentance and long life of expiation, were delivered from Limbo by our Lord, and taken by Him to heaven. In the Book of Wisdom (10:2) it is expressly said that the divine wisdom “drew him (Adam) out of sin”.

The curse which, as a consequence of sin, rests on irrational creatures, is removed by the blessing which the Church, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, bestows on natural objects.

Unworthy Communion. Adam and Eve, being in a state of sin, did not dare to eat of the fruit of the tree of life; for, had they done so, they would have been eternally damned. He who receives the Blessed Sacrament (which is prefigured by the tree of life) in a state of sin, draws damnation on himself.

APPLICATION. Sin is the greatest of all evils, and the source of all other evils. You are afraid of lesser evils, such as sickness, danger, or death; why are you so little afraid of the greatest of all evils? Guard against sin, for it leads to sorrow and misery. If you do right, you will have a joyful spirit, a good conscience, and peace and happiness in your innocent heart. But if you do wrong, your heart will be unhappy and uneasy, and the pains of remorse and fear will pursue you, as they pursued Adam and Eve after the fall. Therefore, set enmity between yourself and sin; detest it and flee from it. And often pray devoutly thus: “Deliver us from evil, from the greatest of all evils, sin!”








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