CHAPTER II FIGURE OF THE THORNS AND THISTLES ADAM AND EVE
The history of Adam and Eve is well known. If deeply studied, it would afford an immense amount of useful knowledge. Bat we must not depart from our proposed brevity.
After the fall of our first parents God appeared to them in human form in the terrestrial Paradise. This we learn from the fact that "The Lord God made (on this occasion for) Adam and his wife garments of skin, and clothed them." (Gen. 2) In their state of original innocence the visible presence of God formed the purest joy and most perfect happiness of Adam and Eve; but now in their guilt the sight of Him is their keenest torment. Covered with shame and trembling with fear, they attempt to hide themselves behind the thickets of the desecrated Garden of Eden. But who can hide himself from the all-seeing eye of God? He appears to them and demands from them an account of their conduct. This was the first judicial trial of criminals upon earth. From its simple process it appears that Eve allowed herself to be first seduced by Satan under the form of a serpent. Adam was evidently absent from Eve, and was, in conformity with God's directions, engaged in some light employment in another part of the terrestrial Paradise; Eve was alone and idle. Idleness is the mother of curiosity and idle curiosity is the bait of temptation. The fallen angel perceived his opportunity, and promptly availed himself of it. Assuming the low condition of a serpent, he slyly glided to the feet of Eve, spoke to her of the admirable tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and excited in her youthful imagination an ardent desire of seeing it. She went at once to the spot, she looked with admiration at its beautiful fruit, she was delighted with its fragrance, she felt a longing for it. But she was deterred by God's prohibition. Satan, perceiving her hesitation, urged her to pluck one of the sweet smelling and ripe fruit and to eat it, promising an acquisition of extraordinary knowledge, and an elevation in power and dignity similar to that of God. "You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." (Gen. 3:5) Ambition prevailed; and Eve fell into the snare.
Woman will never remain alone, either in virtue or in vice. If truly virtuous, she will promote piety; if vicious, she will corrupt society. Eve, after her fall, went in search of Adam, and became his stumbling block. Adam fell through Eve. But she was the first to hear from God the sentence of her condemnation in the following words: "I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth thy children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee."(Gen. 3:6)
Consider the wisdom and justice of this divine sentence. Eve sought to enjoy happiness in idleness, which is the concentration of selfishness; she is punished by God with a multiplicity of sorrows. Sorrows mean cares, trials, crosses, sufferings, contradictions, anxieties. Woman has a large share of them, in whatever state, condition, or position of life she may be. As a wife and mother she is condemned to a multiplicity of conceptions. These conceptions are of two different kinds, namely, in her mind and in her body. As a wife she will have much to think of and to do to please her husband, and to secure his constant esteem and lasting affection. As a mother she will have more to think of and suffer than any man will be able to describe. This is the punishment of Eve's curiosity: because curiosity is a multiplicity of idle conceptions of the mind and of the imagination, which should be punished and cured by a multiplicity of sorrows, sufferings and cares. "I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions."
The principal crime of Eve, however, was her extravagant ambition. As pride is the natural temptation of man, so ambition is that of woman. Eve was aware of her husband's superior knowledge; she wished to know at least as much as he did; moreover, she aspired to the knowledge and to the dignity of a goddess. " You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," the serpent said to her. It was this impious presumption that prompted her disobedience. Eve wished to be like God, possessing His attribute of universal wisdom, and consequently all His divine perfections, because to aspire to one perfection of God is to aspire to all. "You shall be as gods." Now, as pride is punished by the abasement of humiliations, so ambition is punished by forced subjection to power and authority. "Thou shall be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee."
If this power and dominion of man over woman were regulated by sound reason and just laws, her subjection would be rendered comparatively easy and light; but because her ambition was contrary to reason and to law, so woman is condemned to feel the tyranny of man's whims and passions. Who will attempt to describe the sad consequences of this terrible tyranny? Who will be able or willing to write the history of woman's slavery and degradation, misery and multiplied sorrows during the four thousand years of her bondage before Christianity came to her ransom? ...
But what we learn from history, compared with woman's secret and manifold sorrows; is a drop of water in comparison to an ocean of bitterness; How terrible woman's condition should have been if Mary the blessed had not come to raise her from the slough of her degradation, and brought to her the blessings of the divine Redeemer with the charity and liberty of the gospel!
This glorious lady is the privileged woman intended and promised by God, when He cursed the infernal Serpent, and said: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman and thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head." Whilst the Immaculate Mother of the Redeemer crushes with her virginal foot the serpent's head, she mercifully extends her maternal hands to Eve's oppressed daughters; she frees them from their bondage, and restores them to their forfeited dignity and honor in the Catholic Church. St. Bernard says: "Eve was a thorn that pricked her husband unto death, and left her sting of sin to her posterity. Mary is a rose of heavenly love. Eve is the thorn of death. Mary is the rose of life." (St. Bernard, serm; de Beata Maria)
We are now in the presence of Adam. His fallen condition is worse than that of Eve. He possessed more knowledge, and a heavier responsibility rested upon his head. Adam was the father and the representative of mankind; the consequence of his fall extended to all men, without exception. His punishment will be severe. God said to him: "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; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee .... In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken. For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." (Gen. 3:7)
In these terrible words of divine justice we hear the sentence of God's punishment against Adam, and learn their historic, spiritual and prophetic meaning. Let us carefully and calmly consider them.
1. We will first consider the material and historic meaning of these divine words. On account of Adam's sin God cursed this earth, and rendered it sterile and barren. Hence man is forced to labor and toil in order to draw from it his scanty food to support life. Thus, in punishment of his prevarication, man is condemned by his offended Lord and God to a life of hard labor, and to manifold privations and sufferings. In aggravation of his labor and toil, this cursed earth, tilled by his hands and moistened by the sweat of his brow, shall bring forth to him thistles and thorns. "Cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil thou shalt eat thereof all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This malediction is a true historical fact, the painful effects of which we have to experience every day of our lives in this land of exile.
2. The worse effects of this curse, however, are not confined to the earth. They afflict the body of man, and penetrate deeply into his very soul. Let us remember that the body of man was taken from the earth outside the terrestrial Paradise. "The Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth." (Gen. 2:7) This earth being cursed by God, the body of man was also cursed with it. The thorns and thistles, produced by the earth in consequence of the malediction of God, are a figure of the manifold physical sufferings with which our body is afflicted. The countless maladies that worry and torment our body are the mystical thorns and thistles which spring forth from it, and which continually prick and irritate our physical constitution. St. Augustin says: "Spinae quid significant nisi peccatores, qui, quasi ericiis spinis peccatorum cooperti sunt." (In Ps. 10)
Moreover, as Adam is the head of the human family, and man is the head of the material creation, so these mystical thorns and thistles seem in a special manner to be applied to our head. Hence come the headaches and neuralgias which afflict and sadden such a large portion of mankind. Bushes of these thorns evidently grow within our brain, from which spring so many troublesome, painful, and distracting imaginations. These bodily sufferings, that are the punishment of original sin, are frightfully multiplied by the indulgence of sensual passions, and by the commission of actual sin. The more sins we commit, the thicker grow the bushes of thorns and thistles that prick our senses, disturb our imagination, and sadden our heart.
Sin, however, being principally committed by the soul through an abuse of our free will, so these mystical thorns more cruelly torment our conscience. For as the earth, on account of Adam's sin, has been condemned by God to produce thorns and thistles, which render the soil barren, increase the work of man, and prick the hand of the laborer, so sin renders the soul sterile, encumbers it with the spiritual thorns that torture his conscience, and with the thistles of evil passions, stifle the production and growth of virtuous deeds. Hence St. John Chrysostom, commenting upon the words, "Cursed is the earth in thy work,....thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to thee," says: "The conscience of the sinner shall never cease producing thorns and thistles that will continually afflict his guilty soul. Conscentia tua punctiones tibi et aculeos procreare non desinet." (Comment, in Mk. 14:17) Here we may deplore the fearful blindness of those sinners who, to stifle the remorse of their guilty conscience, plunge more deeply into the giddy vortex of vice. They are like the tired laborer who, to take rest, would throw his naked limbs upon a bed of prickly thorns. Better by far for them, had they imitated the example of the youthful and fervent Benedict, who, being strongly tempted to sins of lust, rolled his naked body upon a large heap of thorns and with his innocent blood extinguished the fire of concupiscence. Other saints and faithful servants of God have used with equal result the same remedy. Thus the thorns and thistles of sin were by Christian virtue changed into its antidote.
3. It is high time for us to pass to the consideration of the third and most important signification of the divine words: "Cursed is the earth in thy work... thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee." This is a remarkable prophecy of the Crown of Thorns of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Reflect that thorns are not only the effect and punishment of sin; but, as we have seen above, they are likewise its most striking and fittest emblem. Now, the incarnate Son of God, being eternal and essential holiness, being the primary source of all grace, virtue and blessing, could not assume the guilt of our sins. He could, however, take upon himself the exterior emblem of sin, as Jacob assumed the garments of his brother, Esau. He could, moreover, undertake to atone for our sins by consenting to undergo the punishment due to them, and demanded by divine justice. For this end our blessed Lord, in his love and mercy, consented to wear on his adorable head the crown of real thorns which the earth produced for our chastisement in consequence of the malediction pronounced by the offended majesty of God. Thus the Crown of Thorns of our Lord is intended by him to signify that he has undertaken to ransom us from our sin, and to bear on his sacred body, and especially upon his adorable head, the effect of God's awful malediction.
"Christ (St. Paul says) hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." (Gal. 3:13) We learn from these words that the malediction pronounced by God when he said, "Cursed is the earth in thy work:.... thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee," was directed, through our fault, and for our sake, against the innocent head of His most beloved Son. But it had to be done. No other remedy remained for our evils. The nature of Adam's sin, and the necessity of our redemption and salvation, demanded the painful and humiliating sacrifice of the divine Victim. "For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners (St. Paul says) so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just:... that as sin hath reigned unto death, so also grace might reign by justice unto everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 5:9)