2:7 And God formed the man of dust of the earth, and breathed upon his face the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.
ALCUIN OF YORK. (Gen. 2:7).WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT GOD BREATHED INTO ADAM’S FACE THE BREATH OF LIFE? — Answer. God’s breathing into the face of man is the giving of the rational soul. [Question 8]
“AND THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN OF THE SLIME OF THE EARTH.” WHY “AND”? DO WE NOT READ THAT MAN WAS CREATED BEFORE, ON THE SIXTH DAY? — Answer. He has already, by anticipation, spoken summarily of man’s creation, which he has now undertaken to expound more fully by recapitulation. [Question 49]
WHAT IS MEANT BY “AND THE LORD GOD FORMED MAN OF THE SLIME OF THE EARTH: AND BREATHED INTO HIS FACE THE BREATH OF LIFE”? — Answer. It means that man was made as a substance of body and soul, of which the body was formed of the slime of the earth, and the soul was created from nothing when God breathed into man’s face. [Questions and Answers on Genesis, 50]
AMBROSIASTER. DO SOULS COME BY WAY OF PROPAGATION LIKE BODIES? — It seems to me unseemly to say that souls are engendered simultaneously with bodies, and that the soul gives birth to the soul, a property which God has not given to the soul. If each of the celestial powers has been given the power to give existence to all others in creation, one might admit that all souls derive from the one soul of Adam. But this feeling is not admissible, because the generation of a simple being is a privilege which God has exclusively reserved for himself. This generation, considered in the person of the Savior, is so mysterious that not only pagans and Jews, but even those who call themselves Christians, regard it as an incredible thing. Indeed, the Photinians and the Arians reject this article of faith and refuse to believe that God has begotten. Will it be said that at the moment when the germ of the body is sown, the soul begets the soul? But we read that God drew a rib of Adam without the sacred writer adding that the soul gave birth to the soul. If a soul were joined to this seed, it cannot be said that this soul was born, it is a part detached from another soul.
Nor does Scripture say anything about this circumstance. We read, on the contrary, in the prophet Zechariah: “God who has formed in man the spirit of man (Zech. 12:1).” He speaks the same truth when he says, “This is what the Lord has said to you who created you, who formed you in your mother’s womb (Is. 44:2).” If the soul is formed in the womb of the mother, it is united to a body which has already received its form. As it extends its action to all the members of the body, it is said of the soul that it is formed in the body. Thus, just as water, which has no particular form, receives one from the vessel that contains it, the soul, incorporeal and simple substance, receives as its form in the body by communicating life to all its members. This is what Moses expresses even more clearly in these words: “If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award” (Exod. 21:22), words which prove that the soul is not united to the body before it is formed. If to the seed of the body is joined with the incorporeal seed of the soul, a great number of souls perish daily, when the seed is lost without being followed by birth. But if we look at it more closely, we will see the feeling that we need to adopt. Consider the creation of Adam.
In the person of Adam we have an example which makes us understand that the body was already formed when it received its soul. God could doubtless mix the soul with the silt of the earth and thus form the body. But a sovereign reason presided over his formation; it was necessary first to construct and assemble the different parts of the house before introducing the one which was to inhabit it. The soul being a spirit cannot dwell in a solid element; it is for this reason that it is said to be shed in the blood. When, then, the lineaments of the body are not yet formed, where can the soul be? Shall it go abroad, until it be united? But reason teaches us that it exists only to animate the body, and not to wander without fulfilling any function. Now let those who think differently tell us from whom the soul comes. Is it man or woman? Will they say of the woman? We cannot accept this thought because the example in question is contrary to it. For they say that the soul was given to the woman with the seed that was drawn from man, this thought is debated, as we have seen, for a great number of reasons. Perhaps one will be tempted to say that the soul is given by woman, especially because of the Savior, who was born of woman by the operation of the Holy Spirit, apart from any carnal union. But this thought gives too much to woman by attributing to her a right and an authority which belongs to man. Moreover, they assert that it is from man that the origin of the body and the soul originates, and now, changing their minds, they attribute to woman the origin of the most excellent nature, of the soul, and to man the origin of the less perfect nature, that is to say of the body, whereas it is manifest that one cannot change the order that God followed in the example he gave us.
DID ADAM HAVE THE HOLY SPIRIT? — I discovered that some of our brethren who have not made a thorough study of the Scriptures, claim with a certain simplicity that Adam as soon as he was created, received the Holy Spirit as it is now given to the faithful, and that he lost the Spirit by his sin. They rely on a feeling supported by a great number that the reparation of man has taken place by faith which has restored him to his former state, and restored to him all that Adam had received from his creation. Moreover, they say, man has been created perfect, which can only be admitted as much as he has received the Holy Spirit. For me, I declare that not only man, but all things that God has made, he has created them in a state of perfection, although it cannot be said that they have received the Holy Spirit. All species of animals are perfect in their kind to complete the end of their creation, so man is perfect in his kind, in that he can discern the evil of good, the error of truth. He is an intelligent animal, perfect for the purpose God has created by creating him. He is endowed at the same time with speech, thought, and action, and accomplishes by intelligence what he cannot do by his power. How, then, have we dared to say that man must be born perfect with the absolute knowledge of all things, while it is evident that he knows nothing but what he learns?
What he does not learn, he does not know. Thus, he does not know what he is, because it is not the object of his study here below, but he who does not know what he is, how can he know everything, although it is less difficult to know oneself than to know all the other things? But as his mind turns to these things, instead of studying himself, he acquires knowledge of what is outside of him, without knowing himself, without knowing whether he existed before or after his body. If man had been created in a state of perfection which would have excluded all need, it would not have been a man, but a god, and he would not have yielded to the seduction which was the cause of his sin. But to have the Holy Spirit in oneself is a privilege above the natural perfection of man and which gives him the power to do the things of God. Did the ass who spoke to Balaam not do an action superior to his nature? (Num. 22:28) It was given the faculty to do what was not in its nature. but in ours. But because man is of a nature superior to that of animals, does it follow that animals are imperfect? The holy angels are not what God is; will it be said that they are imperfect?The planets and the stars are inferior to the angels of heaven; clouds often come to cover the sun and the moon like a veil; are these stars less perfect?
The members of the body have a mutual need of each other (because the feet cannot do what the hands do); is it a reason to say that they are imperfect? No, no doubt. All created beings have a perfection in relation to the place and rank they occupy and the end for which they are created. They are therefore all perfect because their Creator is perfect, yet compared to the Creator, they are obviously imperfect. The perfection of God extends to everything, because he is the source and the origin of all things. The created beings are perfect, no doubt, but for the end that God has given them by creating them. Considered in another respect, they no longer have this perfection because they need each other. They are perfect in so far as they are sufficient for themselves, and not as they need a foreign aid; they are therefore a mixture of perfection and imperfection. The hands claim the accord of the feet, because if the feet refuse to walk, the hands are without action. The feet in their turn need the hands, because they can neither fit themselves nor take from them the care they demand. The body is therefore perfect in its limbs, however it can neither fly nor carry such heavy loads as the mule. These animals are themselves perfect, yet they can neither govern themselves nor administer the remedies they need. What made the Psalmist say: “Do not be like the horse and the mule, animals without intelligence.” (Ps. 31:9) Water and fire are two incompatible elements, but they are perfect in their kind because they fulfill the purpose for which they are created. The fire cooks and consumes the objects on which it expels its activity, it purifies and warms; water washes, refreshes, sprinkles and quenches thirst. All created objects are therefore perfect in their kind, yet they cannot do anything without man, just as man, though more perfect, cannot do without their help. This is why the Apostle declares that we are imperfect and perfect at the same time. In comparison with the faithful, we are perfect, because we know God, but we are imperfect because we do not have sufficient knowledge of the promises made to us, because as long as we are in this life, we cannot understand in all their extent the truths that are the object of our faith. Now, since there are some who think that the faithful come into possession of the perfection of Adam, let us see if the reparation of man does not open to him a source of graces more abundant than those given to Adam.
Adam was placed in a garden to cultivate it and to be its faithful guardian, that is to say, to cultivate the earth and keep the commandments of God which taught him that by receiving the empire over all created objects he lived, however, under the control of his Creator, and that this empire did not owe all pride and make him forget who had created him, he was therefore placed in this garden to support his existence by the food he needs. But by virtue of the grace that Jesus Christ gave to men, after their resurrection, they will no longer need to eat or drink, because that which is mortal in man will then be absorbed by life. Adam was created to dwell on the earth, but faith gives us the singular hope of living one day in heaven. Here is the testimony of Scripture itself: “Adam the first man was created with a living soul; and the second has been filled with a vivifying spirit. The first man is the terrestrial formed of the earth, the second is the heavenly who comes from heaven. As the first man was earthly, his children are also earthly; and as the second is heavenly, his children are also heavenly.” (1 Cor. 15:45) Is it not evident from these words that Adam did not receive the Holy Spirit? He has received a living soul, but through Jesus Christ we receive a life-giving spirit, which in a way renders man like the Creator in whom he believes.
Indeed, the mystery of the faith that man must believe to be saved is the mystery of God in three persons, and in man we also see these three things, the body, the soul, and the Holy Spirit, by which we deserve to be called the children of God, a title which was not given to Adam, for he was earthly and formed of the earth. But it is the children of God whose birth is wholly spiritual and not carnal, who deserve to be called heavenly. It is, therefore, well established that God has given to men at the advent of the Savior much greater blessings than Adam had received. Man was not only restored to his former state, he was raised to a more excellent condition; he was restored to his first state, because he was cleansed of his sins; but for all the rest he was raised to a much higher perfection. In fact, justice and reason demanded that the goodness of God should be more abundant in his benefits, while he deigned to reveal to his creature the mystery of his divinity. Men having known what had remained hidden for centuries and generations before, the mystery of God in three persons, it was fitting, to consecrate this new revelation, that with the remission of their sins and justification, they still receive the adoption of the children of God and the Holy Spirit who imprints in them the sign of this adoption. The adoption that comes from God must bear the sign of God the Father so that we may be called justly the children of God. The prophets themselves had predicted that this favor would be given to men when the mystery of God would fail in his triumph over death, so that every creature would recognize that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were one and the same God. That is why the Evangelist says: “The Spirit was not given yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This glorification took place when the manifestation of his power made him recognize for what he was, according to the testimony he had given of himself, because this glorification was the source of the grace promised by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, etc.” (Joel 2:28, etc.) And the Apostle on his side: “When the blessing and the tenderness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of the works of righteousness that we have done, but by his mercy, by making us reborn by baptism and renewing us by the Holy Spirit whom he has shed abundantly upon us by Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, being justified by His grace, we are heirs, according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4)
The Apostle confirms the prophet Joel’s prediction, a prediction that God accomplishes after Jesus was glorified, spreading the Holy Spirit on those who believe in Jesus Christ. However, to receive the Holy Spirit is to become heirs of eternal life, for the Holy Spirit is eternal, and he who receives it receives eternal life and immortality whose Holy Spirit is the pledge. He who receives it and perseveres in his love after this life enters the heavens to be eternally united with him whose Spirit he has, for it would be neither right nor just that whoever comes out of this life having in him the Holy Spirit, was held in hell. Indeed, the sign in the man of the victory that Jesus Christ has won over death is his Spirit, and he in whom this Spirit finds himself cannot be held captive in the underworld. So the Holy Spirit was not in the saints of the old law as it is today in the faithful. These righteous, at the end of this life, dwelt in hell, and it cannot be said that because of the sin of Adam, which was transmitted by generation to all his descendants, condemned them to this captivity, the Holy Spirit himself even was subject to the sentence of ruling pronounced against Adam.
Without a doubt, the Holy Spirit was with the prophets and righteous of the old law; with the prophets for the fulfillment of their ministry; with the righteous because of their holiness, as we read of old Simeon, whose saying is, “The Holy Spirit was in him,” (Luke 2:25) not as a sign of divine adoption, but as a principle and as a reward for his merits. The sons of God by faith began only when the Son of God made himself known to all creatures by his triumph over death. If we wish to maintain that the Holy Spirit was in Adam or the other righteous ones of the old law, as he is now in the faithful, what are the new ones in which God made us when he inaugurated among us the kingdom of his Son? And how can one call, blessed and prosperous above all others, the time when the Savior appeared on earth, if he did not pour out upon others other graces than those they had already received? And what do these words of the Savior himself mean to his disciples? “Many prophets and righteous have desired to see what you see and have not seen, hear what you hear and have not heard it?” (Matt. 13:17) By what reason, then, can one say that this blessed time has given men nothing more than what has been granted to the ancients? Such a feeling is injurious to the Savior who would not have given men any new thanks to those who received him to consecrate the birth of his empire. Do the rich of the earth not seek, and at great cost, to give to their guests, on the anniversary of their birth, selected and distinguished presents? It is therefore an insult to God to think that he has made no new and extraordinary grace to those whom he has invited to this great and new solemnity worthy of all the praises of men.
Where would be the truth of these words of the Gospel “He came into his domain, and his people did not receive it? As for those who received him, he gave them the power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, born neither of the blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of the Lord, but who are born of God?” (Jn. 1:11, etc.) How, then, would not God have showered extraordinary graces on those who believed in Jesus Christ, since He gave them the power to become children of God, that is, to say the brethren of his own Son, not from the will of the flesh, nor from man, but from God Himself. If it is claimed that men had already received this precious gift, then the advent of Jesus Christ on earth was for men the principle of no new grace. Adam’s creation was carnal and earthly, not spiritual. He was not born of God without the help of flesh and blood, since God made him of earth; He could not, therefore, receive the Holy Spirit, because he was not spiritual, and had not been given to call God his father in prayer. On the contrary, those who have received the Holy Spirit receive at the same time the inseparable power of the Holy Spirit who is in them, to call God in their prayers the father of the Christians. Now, as the righteous of the old law did not have this privilege, they had not received the Holy Spirit either. So those who claim that Adam or the righteous have had the Holy Spirit, do not know the price of the grace that God has given them, and they are unable to render him worthy deeds of grace, since they are filled with his the most precious gifts they say have received nothing more than those who lived under the old law.
CAN IT BE SAID THAT ADAM RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AFTER GOD HAD GIVEN HIM BEING AND LIFE, BECAUSE IT IS WRITTEN, “GOD BREATHED ON HIS FACE A BREATH OF LIFE?” — It was not in order that Adam received the Holy Spirit; it was a reserved grace for the end times, and that God was to give to believers in the days when the mystery of one God in three persons was to be announced to men. The Trinity had been preached from the beginning, but the intelligence remained as veiled. The person of the Father was first announced and manifested with complete clarity and without figure, because he is the principle of all things. As for the persons of his Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they were neither the object of absolute silence nor of complete manifestation. The unbelievers raise reckless questions about Our Lord and the Holy Spirit. There are even those who push the absurdity to the point of maintaining that the Holy Spirit is the same as the Father, just as Sabellius confuses in one person the Father and the Son. There is no doubt against the person of the Father. So when the Trinity manifests itself, the Holy Spirit is given to the faithful, so that the existence of this divine person remains well established, and those who receive it bear in themselves the sign that they are the children of God.
God, by the very fact that they have the Spirit of God in them. It is a mark of perfection to know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is this perfection that gets us this gift. And then, the Son of God coming to the earth to reveal and discover these truths, had to pour out more abundant graces on men, and it was right that he gives this perfection to the souls who believed in him, for this not in the Son or in the Father, considered in isolation, is salvation, but in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is what makes St. John the Evangelist say: “And we have all received of his fullness, and grace for grace: for the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came from Jesus Christ.” (Jn. 1:16) It is certain that at the advent of the Savior, the truth has come to its fullness. This fullness of truth was produced by the revelation of all the hidden mysteries that God had promised to manifest to men. It was then that the faithful became the children of God through the reception of the Holy Spirit, and the inspiration of God over Adam is to be understood from the soul he gave him because in Scripture the mind is frequently used for the soul, especially in this passage of the Gospel: “And her spirit returned to her,” (Luke 8:55) and in the Psalm: “God does not despise a spirit broken by pain and a contrite and humiliated heart.” (Ps. 50:19) frequently found in some manuscripts, instead of God inspired, this other variant: “God poured on his face a breath of life, and the man had a living soul.” The spirit of life in the thought of the sacred author is therefore not synonymous with the Holy Spirit, for he says also in speaking of animals: “Who had the spirit of life.” (Gen. 7:22) But it is called the spirit of life, because it is for the bodies a principle of life. [Questions on the Old and New Testaments]
AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO. “And God made the man of the dirt of the earth, and breathed on his face a breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” The first question that arises is to see if the scripture takes again her story, to explain, the formation of the man whose creation she told on the sixth day, or if God did not make the man in principle, when he created all at once, as he did the grass of the earth before it had sprung up: in this case, man does as in germ in the depths of nature, so that, all beings created together at the moment when the day was born, would have taken over time these forms under which today he spends his life in the practice of good or evil, in the same way that the grass, made before having grown on the earth, developed with time and under the influence of the waters of source.
Discuss the first hypothesis first. It would be possible for man to have been made on the sixth day, following the same law as the primitive day, the firmament, the earth, and the sea. It can not be said that these works were formed in power in some primordial creation. And that having developed with time, they appeared to compose the edifice of the universe: it was at the beginning of time, when it was born, that the world was created and at that time were deposited in its elements, the germs whose plants or animals were to emerge in the course of time. For we must not believe that the stars themselves were at first virtually created in the elements of the universe, to compose themselves with time, and finally to appear as they shine in the heavens: everything was created together in the period marked by the perfect number six, when the day came. Was man created like them in his natural size, as he lives, and does good or evil? Or would it have been formed in power, like the grass of the field, to be born later and become with time the being that was formed of dust?
Let us admit as true that man was formed on the sixth day of the mud of the earth in his natural perfection, and that Scripture fills this gap by taking up his story. Let’s see if there is an agreement between her and our opinion. In the account of the sixth day she says, “And God said, Let us make man in our image and likeness; and let him rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and the domestic animals, and all the earth, and every reptile that crawls on the earth. And God created man: he created him in the image of God; he created him male and female. And God blessed them and said to them, “Grow and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fishes of the sea, the birds of the sky, the domestic animals, the earth, and all the creeping reptiles on the earth (Gen. I, 26-28).
Therefore the man was already made of dust, the woman had already been formed of one of his ribs during his sleep; but these works were not then described in Scripture, and she returns to her narrative to complete it. On the sixth day indeed, God, far from creating man, leaving to woman the necessary time to be born, “created man and created him male and female: and he blessed them. But how was the woman created for him when he had already been placed in Paradise? Would there still be an omission that repairs Scripture? It is the same sixth day, indeed, that Paradise was planted, that man was established there, then asleep so that his wife was formed, finally that he woke up and gave him the name of Eve. Now all this can be done only successively; these works are therefore distinct from the creation where everything was simultaneous…
“And God made the man of the mud of the earth, and breathed on his face a breath of life: and the man was made a living soul.” These are the words of Scripture that at the beginning of the previous book we proposed to comment: we have exposed the formation of man in general and his body in particular, with all the development that we seemed necessary and in keeping with the spirit of holy books. As the human soul raises a question of the highest, we thought of making it the subject of a special book. We did not know to what extent the Lord would second our ardent desire to speak of it justly; what was not a secret to us was that his help was indispensable to us in keeping this language. Now the correctness here consists in avoiding with sincerity and in measure every chance refutation, like every reckless assertion, on the true or false points, which Christian faith or science have not yet fixed; it consists at the same time in affirming without hesitation the truths demonstrated by the very evidence or supported by the infallible authority of Scripture.
Let us first examine the text: “Flavit vel sufflavit in faciem ejus (He blew or blew in his face). Some manuscripts bear spiravit or inspiravit (He breathed or breathed in). The version of the Septuagint giving enephusesen (to breathe into or upon) , the exact expression must be flavit or sufflavit (blew or blew). We saw in the previous book what was meant by the hands of God, when he formed the man of the loam of the earth: is it not equally clear that God, to blow on the face of the man did not use his throat or lips?
However, this expression of Scripture will serve us as much as I can believe, to study such a complicated problem.
But, it is said, on what account is it written that God breathed on the face of man of him a living soul, if the soul is not a parcel of God or an absolutely identical substance? This is a mistake, and the very expression of Scripture suffices to make it fully felt. In the act of breathing, the soul sets in motion the body which is submitted to it, and draws from it, instead of borrowing it from its own substance, the air which it expels. Would one be so little educated as to ignore the fact that, in the phenomenon of respiration, one absorbs and drives out the surrounding air in turn, and that it is enough for the will to produce wind by the same operation? Even if we do not borrow from the outside air, but from the body’s own substance, the fluid that blows out the breath, the nature of the soul would not be identical to that of the body: it is a point on which our opponents agree with us. Therefore, the soul, the driving and driving force, is essentially distinct from the breath it produces by putting the organs into play and drawing not from its substance, but from the body that is subjected to it. Now God governs the creature as the soul governs the body, though in an infinitely superior way; why then would it not be admitted that God, in the act of insufflation (an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) of which Scripture speaks, drew a soul from the creature subject to his will, since the human soul is powerful enough to produce a breath through play organs, without borrowing it from its substance, although it exercises on the body an empire less absolute than God over the universal nature?
We could have said that the divine breath is not the soul, and that God by an act of insufflation(an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) created the soul in man: but as one could imagine that God made by his word works more perfect than with his breath, for the reason that speech in man is more excellent than breath; we will recognize that we can confuse the soul with the divine breath, without abandoning the reasoning which precedes it, on the condition of seeing in the insufflation(an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in), not an emanation of the divine substance, but the production of a breath; and in the production of a breath, that of a soul. This opinion is in accordance with the word that God has spoken through the mouth of Isaiah: “The spirit will come out of me; it is I who created all breath. That there is no question here of a material breath, the following makes him see enough. The prophet adds: “And because of sin, I afflicted him, and I smote him.” What does he mean by breath, if not the afflicted soul; struck because of sin? The expression: “I have created all breath,” does not it mean to say: I have created all souls?
If God were to us the soul of the physical world, and if the physical world were like his body we would have to admit that he formed, by blowing, a material soul, composed of the outside air, by expiration; Nevertheless, the substance produced by this insufflation(an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) should be seen not as an emanation of soli, but as a compound of the air diffused into its body, similar to the breath which the soul produces with the ambient air by the play of organs without pulling it on its own. But as God, according to us, does not command only a physical nature, and rising infinitely above all bodies as of all created spirits, we must admit that the soul which he has created by insufflation (an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) is neither a flow of its substance, nor a compound of material elements.
Now, has the soul been drawn from nothingness, or is it coming from an immaterial principle that has been created without being itself? This question deserves to be examined. Now, if we believe that God draws nothing from nothingness, since he has created everything at once, if we admit that he has rested, after having completed in principle the works from which he was henceforth to draw all the beings he would produce, I do not see how one could explain that today he creates the souls of nothing. Must we admit, on the contrary, that in creating the works of the six primitive days he made this mysterious day, and according to a more probable opinion, the world of minds and intelligences; that is to say the society of Angels, then the universe, that is to say, heaven and earth? Must we believe that in these substances and create the principles, not the very substances of all beings to come, for the reason that if they had been created as they were to exist one day, they would not have needed any more to be born? Then one must recognize that the soul did not yet exist substantially in the divine works, and that its birth dates from the moment when God made it by a human act of insufflation (an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) and associated it with the body of the man.
The question is far from being solved: one wants to know if God has drawn from nothing the substance called soul and until then pure nothing, if I say, the act of insufflation(an act or the action of blowing on, into, or in) having not taken place with the help of a foreign element, like that which the soul accomplishes by expelling the air from the body, has not operated on any principle, and has produced, when God willed it, the human soul; or Lien, if there was a spiritual principle which, without being the substance of the soul, pre-existed it, and which under the divine breath was to form the human soul, just as the human body was not realized before God had formed him of the mud or dust of the earth. In fact, dust or silt did not have the properties of human flesh; and yet it was the matter from which flesh, which had no existence of its own, was to be formed. [Literal Commentary on Genesis]
JOHN CHRYSOSTOM OF CONSTANTINOPLE. (Gen. 2:7) But I do not know how I deviated from my subject. I return to it, and I approach the various instructions contained in the story of the sacred writer. After saying: This is the book of the creation of heaven and earth, he tells us in detail the formation of man; no doubt he had already told us that God had made man, and that he had done it in his image; but here he expresses himself more explicitly: God, he says, formed the man of the mud of the earth, and poured a breath of life on his face, and the man had a living soul. (Gen. II, 7.) How great and admirable are these words! And how much they surpass our intelligence! And God formed the man of the mud of the earth. Speaking of all visible creatures, I told you that often the Creator, to show his omnipotence, acted contrary to the laws of nature, and we find the same conduct in the creation of man. This is how he established the earth above the waters, which apart from faith our reason can not conceive. Thus, even at his command, all the elements produce effects opposed to their nature. Scripture teaches us something similar in the formation of man, telling us that God formed him of the mud of the earth.
What do you say? What! God has taken a little earth, and formed the man! Yes, it is so; Moses assures us; and even he does not content himself with saying that God took earth, but silt, that is to say all that is basest and most despicable. Truly, one would be tempted to tax this story with fable and paradox; but as soon as we remember who is the author of these wonders, we easily believe them, and we humbly adore the power of the Creator. For if you wish to measure the divine works to the weakness of your thoughts, and scrutinize them curiously, it will seem to you far more natural that a clay or a vase be formed from the mud of the earth than the body of man. You see, then, to understand all the sublimity of the language of Moses, we must meditate carefully, and repress the infirmity of reason. For the eye of faith alone can discover these wonders, although the sacred historian has proportioned his word to the weakness of our intelligence. And indeed, when he tells us that God formed man, and that he poured out on him a spirit of life, does not he seem to descend into a detail unworthy of divine majesty? But Scripture thus expresses condescendingly for our weakness, and it descends to the smallness of our mind, and then raises it to the sublimity of its revelations.
And God, taking silt, formed the man. Certainly, if we want to understand it, here is a great lesson of humility. For if we reflect on the origin of man the most superb pride suddenly falls, and the thought of our nothingness teaches us modesty and humility. Also, it is by an effect of his providence with respect to our salvation that God inspired this style and language to Moses. For he had already said that God had formed man in his image, and that he had given him dominion over all visible creatures. But here, fearing that this same man would burst into pride, and that he would transgress the limits of a humble dependence, if he knew nothing of his origin, the Scripture recounts the story of his creation, and describes in detail the way he was trained. She tells him, therefore, that he was formed of the earth and of the same matter as plants and animals, above which he rose only by the soul, a simple and immaterial substance. But he held this soul of divine goodness, and it was in him the principle of reason and that of his empire over all other creatures. In spite of this knowledge so explicit of its origin, the first man was deceived by the serpent, and he imagined that he, who had been formed of the mud of the earth, could become like God. But if Moses had not added to his first story such precise details, in what extravagances would we not have fallen!
This is how the history of our origin is for us a great lesson of humility. And God, says the Scripture, formed the man of the mud of the earth; and he poured on his face a breath of life. Moses spoke to men who could not understand him, if he had not used such a simple and crude language. He tells us, then, that this man, made of the mud of the earth, received from the divine liberality a soul which was essentially reasonable, and that he thus became a perfect being. And God, he said, poured a breath of life on the face of man. This is how he refers to the soul that is in man, formed of the mud of the earth, the principle of life, action and movement. So, he adds immediately: And man became alive and animated; this man, he said, formed of the mud of the earth, received a spirit of life, and became alive and animated. What to say, alive and animated? That is to say, man was master of his actions, and in him the members of the body were subject to the will of the soul.
But I do not know how we reversed this beautiful order. Alas! Our malice is so great that we force our soul to obey the passions of concupiscence (a strong tendency or desire or attraction to sin). This soul, born to reign and to command, is thus dethroned with our own hands, and we bow under the slavery of the pleasures of the flesh, thus disregarding its nobility and eminent dignity. Because, please, remember your memories of the formation of the man, and ask yourself what he was before God had poured out on him a spirit of life, and had become alive and animated. He was an inert body, heavy and useless. It is therefore only this breath of life that God poured upon him, which raised him to the honor of becoming a living and animated being. For the rest, it is easy to understand it, and by this account of Genesis, and by what happens every day before our eyes. As soon as the soul is separated from the body, it becomes a hideous and repulsive object. What am I saying, hideous and repulsive? He is frightening, fetid (putrid) and deformed. And yet, when the soul resides there, this same body is beautiful, pleasant, and lovable. Moreover, he participates in the prudence of the soul, and executes his orders with rare dexterity.
Convinced of these truths and penetrated by the feeling of the dignity of our soul, let us avoid all that could dishonor it. Let us therefore fear to defile it with sin, and not reduce it under the slavery of the flesh. Ah! It would be too cruel and too inhuman to a creature so high in nobility and honor. It is through our soul that, despite the shackles of the body, we can, with a firm will and the help of grace, resemble celestial and immaterial virtues. Yes, although attached to the earth, we can live in a sort of heaven, equal these pure intelligences, and even surpass them. But how to achieve it? Here it is: when in a mortal body we realize a life entirely angelic, we rise before God to a degree of merit superior to that of the angels, because in the midst of the sad necessities of the body, we preserve intact the nobility of our soul. [Homilies on Genesis]
JOHN OF DAMASCUS. Just as man is a creature, in whom we find both sense and mind blended together, in like manner also man’s most holy temple combines the properties of sense and mind, and has this twofold expression: for, as we said, the life in the body is spent in the most divine and lovely region, while the life in the soul is passed in a place far more sublime and of more surpassing beauty, where God makes His home, and where He wraps man about as with a glorious garment, and robes him in His grace, and delights and sustains him like an angel with the sweetest of all fruits, the contemplation of Himself…The soul, accordingly, is a living essence, simple, incorporeal, invisible in its proper nature to bodily eyes, immortal, reasoning and intelligent, formless, making use of an organized body, and being the source of its powers of life, and growth, and sensation, and generation , mind being but its purest part and not in any wise alien to it; (for as the eye to the body, so is the mind to the soul); further it enjoys freedom and volition and energy, and is mutable, that is, it is given to change, because it is created. All these qualities according to nature it has received of the grace of the Creator, of which grace it has received both its being and this particular kind of nature. [Orth. Faith 2.11-12 NPNF s.2 v.9]
LEO I OF ROME. For the first man received the substance of flesh from the earth, and was quickened with a rational spirit by the in-breathing of his Creator, so that living after the image and likeness of his Maker, he might preserve the form of God’s goodness and righteousness as in a bright mirror. [Sermon 24.2, NPNF s.2 v.12]
PSEUDO BASIL. It was there, that God placed the man whom he had formed. In another part of the earth he formed him, and then translated him to paradise. As he made the luminaries of heaven, and then placed them in the firmament; so he formed man from collected particles of earth, and then placed him in paradise. Observe it is not said, “The man whom he had made,” but “The man whom he had formed.” (verse 8) When he made man, he made him after his own image. That is, his incorporeal nature: and what is incorporeal is uncircumscribed by place. For that which was made, followed that which had been formed. In other words, the creation of the soul was consequent on the formation of the body, and the union immediately took place. An abode is prepared previously to the formation of the body, and the soul is afterwards contained in a locality, by reason of the corporeal conjunction; for it cannot, from its intrinsic nature, be circumscribed in space. [De Paradiso, PG 30, cols. 61-72]
TERTULLIAN OF CARTHAGE. Since God forms us in the womb, He also breathes upon us, as He also did at the first creation, when “the Lord God formed man, and breathed into him the breath of life.” Genesis 2:7 Nor could God have known man in the womb, except in his entire nature: “And before you came forth out of the womb, I sanctified you.” Well, was it then a dead body at that early stage? Certainly not. For “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” [Treatise on the Soul 36]
Besides, what else is man than flesh, since no doubt it was the corporeal rather than the spiritual element from which the Author of man’s nature gave him his designation? “And the Lord God made man of the dust of the ground,” not of spiritual essence; this afterwards came from the divine afflatus (a divine impulse or inspiration): “and man became a living soul.” What, then, is man? Made, no doubt of it, of the dust; and God placed him in paradise, because He moulded him, not breathed him, into being—a fabric of flesh, not of spirit. [Against Marcion 1.24]
In fact, the Scripture, by expressly saying Genesis 2:7 that God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and that man became thereby a living soul, not a life-giving spirit, has distinguished that soul from the condition of the Creator. The work must necessarily be distinct from the workman, and it is inferior to him. The pitcher will not be the potter, although made by the potter; nor in like manner, will the afflatus, because made by the spirit, be on that account the spirit. The soul has often been called by the same name as the breath. [Against Marcion 2.9]
So that man was clay at first, and only afterwards man entire. I wish to impress this on your attention, with a view to your knowing, that whatever God has at all purposed or promised to man, is due not to the soul simply, but to the flesh also; if not arising out of any community in their origin, yet at all events by the privilege possessed by the latter in its name. [On the Resurrection 5]
THEOPHILUS OF ANTIOCH. man became a living soul. Whence also by most persons the soul is called immortal. [To Autolycus 2.19 ANF v.2]
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