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Plato, in the fourteenth section of his Symposium, relates the history of the formation of man and woman in the beginning of creation. He tells how originally they were but one being, possessed of two heads, four arms and so forth, and endowed with wondrous strength; how this powerful creature in the pride of its life, attempted to scale the heavens, threatening to invade the stronghold of the gods; how Jupiter thereupon resolved to weaken the power of his creature by cutting it in twain, thus forming two beings very like each other and partly dependent upon one another for help.
No intelligent student of Holy Writ can fail to recognize in this story of the Greek philosopher the distorted record of a tradition which had lost its original likeness in being coupled with the extravagant myths of pagan superstition. Compared with Plato's account, whose cynicism is easily understood, how different in motive and tone is the Mosaic record of man's first creation. “And the Lord God said,” we read in Gen. ii, 18 ff., “it is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself. And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name. And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam; and when he was fast asleep, He took one of his ribs and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which He took from Adam into a woman, and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman because she is taken out of man.”
In place of the flippant cynicism of the philosopher, we have here the sober earnestness of the inspired writer; in place of the supreme egotism of the heathen gods—it is not good for them that man is one—the scriptural writer indicates the loving care of the Lord God over His creatures—“it is not good for man to be alone.” According to Plato, the division of the one man into two is a punishment: “but if they shall think fit to behave licentiously, and are not willing to keep quiet,” said Jupiter, “I will again divide them, each into two, so that they shall go upon one leg, hopping.” According to Moses, Eve's formation is only the execution of the decree: “let us make him a help like unto himself.” The Greek philosopher tells of Jupiter's ordering Apollo “to turn the face and half of the neck [of every man cut into two] to that part where the section had taken place, in order that seeing the cutting man might be better behaved than before.” The inspired writer knows of no such distortion of man following Eve's formation; all he tells us is that God took one of Adam's ribs and built it into a woman. It is true that Plato's gods heal the wounds resulting from the bisecting operation: Apollo “pulling the skin together on every side like a contracted purse over that which is now called the belly . . . tied it up at the middle of the belly, now called the navel. He then smoothed the greater part of the remainder of the skin and jointed the breast, having an instrument such as shoemakers use when they smooth wrinkles of the leather on the last. But he left a few wrinkles on the belly and navel as a memorial of their original suffering.” Moses knows nothing of all these philosophic dreams; he soberly tells us that the Lord God took one of Adam’s ribs, and filled up flesh for it. According to Plato's account, men after their bisection died of famine and idleness, because “they had a great desire to grow together,” even as Narcissus died by constantly viewing in the water the reflection of his body, with which he had fallen in love. The inspired idea of love differs widely from the pagan.
“This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” And in post-Mosaic times, this will be a great sacrament, but “in Christ and in the Church.” What Plato adds about man's original locomotion after the manner of tumblers, and about his turning in a circle on his eight limbs, is so flippant and manifestly absurd that it cannot bear comparison with Moses' account of man's primeval dignity.
Considering all these striking discrepancies between Moses and Plato, their agreement about the one fact that woman has been formed out of man becomes the more remarkable. Whether Plato learned this truth from an ancient tradition, or from his intercourse with the Jews and his perusal of their sacred books, is a question beyond the present scope of the writer. All we desire to point out, is that the inspired record of Eve's production, understood in its literal sense, involves none of the absurdities which are at times ascribed to it. Even Voltaire has been obliged to confess that the Mosaic record, regarded as an allegory, contains a most beautiful and instructive lesson concerning the unalterable peace and love which ought to exist in married life, where the souls of the consorts ought to be one, even as their bodies are one. We might reply, that if Moses’ account, taken allegorically, is so eminently instructive, why should it lose this characteristic in its literal sense? At least, it ought to be granted that from this point of view the real occurrence of events, narrated in the Mosaic account, is not opposed to sound reason.
But Voltaire has not even the merit of being the first to view Moses’ report of Eve's formation as an allegory. Philo says: “What has been said about this, is a fable. For how can one admit that a woman, or a human being in general, has been made out of the rib of a man? And what can prevent God from forming woman out of the earth, as He has formed man? There is the same agent in both cases, and the material is almost infinite.” And further on, Philo reasons as so many of the later rationalists have reasoned after him: Was it the right or the left rib out of which Eve was made? Why could not Eve be formed out of the organic or inorganic bodies which existed in Paradise in abundance? Origen's love for Philo's allegorical explanation of the Old Testament history is too well known to need special mention here. But even the later writers, explaining the history of Eve's production from a Christian point of view, have given it an allegorical meaning. Cajetan, among others, has acquired special notoriety on account of the reasons he gives for the allegorical interpretation, reasons which are taken both from the text of Moses’ account and from its context.
1.—The text, Cajetan argues, taken literally, involves an absurdity. For the rib taken from Adam, was either one of the ordinary number, or it was an extraordinary, supernumerary one. If it was one of the ordinary number, Adam after Eve's formation was a cripple. If the rib out of which Eve was formed, was a supernumerary one, Adam had been created a monster. Now both of these consequences contradict sound reason.
Moreover, the argument of the text's literal meaning, based on God's pronouncing the words “it is not good for man to be alone” after Adam's creation, and on Eve's formation subsequent to these words, is met in the marginal notes of Cajetan.” The phrase, we are told, is nothing but an expression of the divine decree regulating God’s general economy concerning man. Chronologically speaking, therefore, Eve was not formed after Adam's creation, but both were produced simultaneously.
2.–In the second place, the Cardinal argues for the allegorical meaning of the history of Eve's formation from its context.
a.—According to the literal meaning of the context, the author says, God seeks among all the beasts of the earth and the fowls of the air for a help like to Adam. Only when He cannot find what He seeks, God proceeds to the formation of Eve. Hence, the context's literal meaning is not in keeping with the divine dignity.
b.—Again, the real production of Eve had taken place on the sixth day of creation, for we read in Gen. i, 27: “And God created man to His own image; to the image of God He created him, male and female He created them.” Consequently, we cannot suppose that the account of the second chapter of Genesis according to which Eve is built later out of the rib of Adam, must be taken in a literal sense.
c.—This view is confirmed by God's command: “Increase and multiply, and fill the earth,” a command which would have been unintelligible had not Eve existed at the time of its utterance. And how could Jesus Christ appeal to the same words as indicating marriage, if they were spoken to Adam alone? Hence, the account of Eve's formation as set forth in the second chapter of Genesis is nothing but an allegory.
On the other hand, we must keep in mind the words of St. Paul:” “For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man.” If this verse is taken allegorically, and it is an allegory, if Cajetan’s interpretation is correct, how can the Apostle infer from it: “Therefore ought the woman have a power over her head,” i.e., ought to be subject to man? Surely, such a weighty conclusion, which affects the most vital interests of human society, cannot be drawn from a mere allegory of conjugal love and peace.
There is another passage in the writings of St. Paul, in which the Apostle again insists on the fact of Adam and Eve not being formed simultaneously: “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to use authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” What logical value can this argument of the Apostle claim, if its premises are metaphors, if the biblical history of Eve's formation is an allegory?
St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Bernard, St. Thomas see in the formation of Eve out of Adam’s rib a type of the formation of the Church out of the side of the crucified Redeemer. Had these great writers regarded the history of Eve's formation as Cardinal Cajetan views it, they would have hardly found such a type in a mere allegory. St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. Thomas, Pererius and many others believe that Eve was formed in Paradise, while Adam had been created outside of Paradise. And, though this opinion does not of itself exclude the allegorical meaning of the Mosaic account, it certainly destroys an integral portion of the Allegorists theory, i.e., the simultaneous creation of Adam and Eve. Origen, St. Chrysostom, Eucherius, St. Thomas, Catharini and others go so far as to place Eve's formation after the sixth day of creation. Their principal reason seems to be the fact that God is twice introduced as speaking in forming Adam and Eve,” while generally a creation-day includes only one divine word. On looking over the Mosaic record, we see that this last principle is not fully correct; the third creation-day comprises two divine words, the first gathering the waters in one place, the second producing herbs and plants, and even on the sixth day God had spoken more than once before Eve's formation, first making the beasts of the earth and then forming Adam out of the slime of the earth. But whether the above authors’ reasoning be correct or not, in any case they repudiate the allegorists thesis that Adam and Eve were created simultaneously.
It is hardly necessary to state the reasons which induced the earlier commentators to explain the Mosaic account of Eve's formation literally. Several are enumerated by St. Thomas' in his customary lucid way.
1.—Adam’s dignity as head and father of the whole human race is thus clearly brought before us; hence St. Paul' in his discourse to the Athenians, loudly proclaimed: “He hath made of one all mankind.”
2.—Again, man loves more ardently a companion formed from his very bones and flesh, than another created independently of him. And this result was the more securely to be obtained, since man and wife must live together all their lives, while the male and female of animals spend only part of their time together.
3.—Them, man and wife do not merely form one principle of generation, but they constitute also a domestic society, of which man is the head. Hence, Eve has not been formed out of the head of Adam, that she might be subject to him; nor out of the feet of Adam, that she might not be despised by him; but out of the side of Adam, that she might be loved and esteemed by him as his equal and his natural companion.
4.—Finally, woman’s formation out of man must signify the formation of the Church out of the side of Christ. For the conjugal love and union is repeatedly used by St. Paul as the symbol of the union and love which links Christ to His Church.
Since then the allegorical interpretation of Eve's formation out of the rib of Adam is not in harmony with the view of many Fathers, nor with the supposition on which St. Paul argues, it is incidently certain that the reasons alleged to support it are defective. We recollect that they were taken from two sources, the text containing the report of Eve's formation and its context. But on reading the whole chapter carefully, both text and context seem to require rather a literal interpretation.
The inference that the account of Eve's formation contained in the second chapter must be allegorical, because the account of the same event contained in the first chapter is literal, logically excludes all mention of the fact, even an allegorical one. For if an allegory may be introduced in order to illustrate thereby Adam's relation to Eve, why may not a more detailed description of the event itself be given for the same purpose? And this the more easily, since the report of the first chapter is extremely scanty, being summed up in the words: “male and female He created them.”
The supposition that the second chapter of Genesis gives a literal, but more minute description of Eve's formation than is given in the opening chapter of the book, gains great probability from the fact that all the other parts of the same second chapter are nothing else than more detailed accounts of events contained in the first chapter. Thus Moses more fully describes the manner in which Adam had been formed out of the slime of the earth and how man was constituted lord of the animal creation. Even the most advanced interpreters who make Adam's formation consist in a mere evolution of the lower organism do not deny the literal meaning of the Mosaic account of the event. For them, Adam is formed out of the slime of the earth not immediately, but mediately and literally.
But even supposing that the account of Eve's formation can, from the analysis of the chapter, be proved to be an exception to the literal meaning of the preceding and the succeeding parts of the same chapter—which is an entirely false supposition—we know that we may admit the theory of Moses having used pre-existing documents in the composition of Genesis. What can prevent us, then, from regarding the source of Moses' second account of Eve's formation as entirely different from the source of his first account of the event? The common manner of Oriental historians, who merely string their sources together without fusing them into one organic whole, justifies us in adopting this mode of interpretation. Moses had an additional reason why he should not mix his sources, since the first narrates merely the natural relation of creature to Creator, while the second indicates the supernatural relations of the human race to God. Consequently, the second act of Eve's formation must be taken in its literal meaning if the first account is so explained. As the theory involved in this answer was unknown to Philo, Origen, Cajetan and the ancient writers in general, the recent allegorists ought to be careful not to base their theory on those foundations of their predecessors which have lost their scientific solidity in our days.
We agree with Cajetan as to the principle on which he bases his second argument for the allegorical interpretation of Eve's formation. God did not bring the beasts of the earth before Adam in order to seek among them a help like to Adam. Much less did God institute such an investigation among the birds of the air. If this were the only possible meaning of the context, we, too, would willingly agree with the interpretation of the allegorists. But now the phrase “God . . . brought them to Adam to see what he would call them,” is at best ambiguous. It is not clear from the words whether Adam was to see what he would call them, or whether God wished to make that experiment. The view that Adam himself was to investigate the nature of the beasts, and thus find their names, fits better into the context and fully undermines the argument which the allegorists base on the passage.
Another way of solving the difficulty of the allegorists may be drawn from the series of divine actions performed on the sixth creation-day, according to the Mosaic record. The following may be regarded as the most probable order: (1) God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle and everything that creepeth on the earth after its kind. (2) God created man to His own image, to the image of God He created him. (3) The Lord God planted a paradise of pleasure, wherein He placed man whom He had formed. (4) God 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. (5) The Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone. (6) God brought all the beasts of the earth and all the fowls before Adam. Adam called the beasts by their names, but did not find a help like unto himself. (7) Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam, and took one of his ribs, and formed Eve, and brought her to Adam. (8) God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply . . . and rule over the fishes of the sea; I have given you every herb . . . (9) And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.
For our purpose, the question why the sixth event separates the fifth from the seventh, i. e., why God brought the beasts before Adam after announcing his decree to create Eve, but before putting it into execution, is of supreme importance. Perhaps the recent criticism, with its innumerable documents and “redactors.” may explain the passage of God's bringing the animals before Adam, as the fragment of a source different from the sources of what precedes and follows. For such a commentator, the connection would be: “God said: It is not good for man to be alone. . . . Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam.” Thus the episode of the naming of the animals is omitted, as interrupting the narrative. This manner of exegesis may be easy and convenient; but it reminds us of the school-girl’s account of man's creation: “God formed Adam out of the slime of the earth; but looking at him, He said: ‘I guess I can do better than that.' Forthwith He formed Eve, and He saw all the things He had made, and they were very good.”
The true connection, then, between the above three sections, seems to be the following: God’s prohibition contained in the fourth section, is not to concern Adam alone, but his posterity too. Hence, it is not good for man to be alone. But in the economy of sanctification God usually employs willing and freely consenting instruments. Thus Christ dies willingly as the Redeemer of the human race; the Virgin Mary freely consents to become Mother of God; Isaiah offers himself for his supernatural mission; Moses and Jonas, and Jeremias too, must consent, however reluctantly, before they are charged with their special mission. It is therefore but fitting that the first Adam and the first prophet too should consent before being constituted the moral head of the human race.
But to effect this, Adam must first learn how he may become the father of the race he is to represent in his trial. Consequently, the beasts of the earth are brought before him, that by seeing them he may learn his own incompleteness, and thus conceive the desire of a help like unto himself. Does not St. Thomas allude to this explanation, when he maintains that men in their innocency did not need the animal creation for their bodily necessities, but required it as a source of experimental knowledge?
After gaining a full knowledge of the animal nature, and thus becoming desirous of a help like unto himself, Adam is merged into a deep sleep from which he wakes only to see his wish realized. But why this deep sleep? The pain resulting from the removal of one of Adam's ribs God might have otherwise prevented, especially since the whole action is of a miraculous character. Nor can it be said that thus God wished to indicate the blindness and partial unreasonableness of those who enter the state of matrimony. If this were true, what would be the meaning of the express words: It is not good for man to be alone; and of the blessing which God gave to the first parents at their first meeting? Nor again, can God have cast the deep sleep upon Adam merely to typify the deep sleep of the second Adam, at the time of the Church’s coming forth from His pierced side. For had the sleep of the first Adam not had its own proper end and purpose, it could be hardly called a type of the second Adam's sleep.
Many theologians are of opinion that Adam in his mysterious sleep received special divine revelations, some speak even of his seeing the Divine Essence. Be this as it may, we have a right to suppose that in his ecstasy Adam saw, at least, his own supernatural end and the supernatural destiny of the human race. He must have learned also the particular conditions on which alone man can attain his supernatural end, and the way in which he may lose the gifts and graces of his supernatural state. With this clear insight into all the mysteries of the supernatural economy, he must have consented to represent in his trial all those whose father, according to the flesh, he had desired to become."
Thus far it has been shown that Cajetan's argument for the allegorical interpretation of Eve's formation out of Adam's rib, based upon the context of the Mosaic record, does not bear a critical examination. The same may be shown in regard to the argument based upon the words of the Mosaic text. A number of suggestions have been made by interpreters, every one of which sufficiently destroys Cajetan’s argument. Catharini and others after him have pointed out that God took from the side of the sleeping Adam not a bare rib, but also a certain quantity of flesh. How else could Adam have said: “This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh?” Notwithstanding this fact, the inspired writer only tells us that God took one of Adam’s ribs, omitting the mention of the flesh. Therefore, when the same inspired writer says that God filled up flesh for it, we reasonably suppose that he omits the mention of the bone which too was restored. Hence Adam was not a cripple after Eve's formation, though one of his ordinary ribs had been used in the process.
Some commentators prefer the version of the Hebrew text: “He took some [flesh] of his side,” thus leaving Cajetan's objection without any foundation. Grotius suggests the translation: “He took a part of Adam's body,” as avoiding all exegetical difficulties. Others again are of the opinion that God took a rib from both sides of Adam, while some think that he took a rib from one side, and a quantity of flesh from the other. But both these views rather augment than explain the difficulty.
St. Thomas suggests the solution that Adam had before Eve's formation a supernumerary rib, without being on that account a monster. For as it is not a monstrosity in the male to have his proper organs, though they are different from those of the female, so it was not unnatural in Adam to have a thirteenth rib, destined, as Adam was, to become by its means the origin of Eve. For Adam was as much and as really destined to become the head of the whole human race, Eve included, as the male and the female are destined to become respectively the parents of their offspring.
The divine formation of Eve out of a single rib of Adam seems at times objectionable by reason of the small amount of matter. But could not God add other material to the bone and the flesh obtained from Adam as the first man had been formed out of the slime of the earth, so might the first woman be formed out of the rib of Adam and the dust of Paradise. Or again, could not God increase the material taken from Adam, even as our Lord and Saviour multiplied the loaves and fishes? Surely even the phenomena of condensation and rarefaction, if they are admitted to affect the substance itself, and not merely its constituent parts, imply the mysterious principle that the same matter may receive a greater and a less quantity. The Arabic version beautifully expresses the divine action as far as it regards the bulk of the matter: “And the Lord God caused the rib which He took from Adam to grow into a woman.”
Thus far we have seen that the allegorical interpretation of the Mosaic account concerning Eve's formation does not harmonize with the mind of the Apostle, nor with the teaching of the Fathers and the great theologians, and that the text and the context upon which the allegory theory is based, require rather the literal than the allegorical meaning. For the whole context is a literal amplification of the preceding chapter, so that the passage referring to Eve's production cannot be explained allegorically unless weighty reasons necessitate such an explanation. Again, the context shows that Adam was constituted moral head of the human race, and analogy requires that his consent should be obtained before the burden be imposed; the allegorical sense does not sufficiently represent this. Had the text itself been a mere allegory, why should the inspired writer have been so careful to note that God filled up flesh for the rib This detail has in the theory of the allegorists no further end than to complete the deception of the reader.
What is thus evident from the text and the context preceding our passage, is still more confirmed by the context following the same. There are first of all Adam's clear words: “This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” We know that the Rabbinic writers have assigned a special meaning to these words. The Talmudists, and Abulensis too, fable that before Eve Adam had another wife, Lilith, formed out of the slime of the earth, with whom he had lived a hundred and thirty years. During this whole period he remained in the state of excommunication incurred by eating the forbidden fruit. Accordingly, the offspring of Adam and Lilith during the whole time consisted of demons. After Eve's formation out of his rib, Adam had therefore sufficient reason to exclaim with joy: This, at last, is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.
The allegorists, always afraid of fable, would be the first to discard the Rabbinic fiction of Eve's predecessor. But even if they should be inconsistent enough not to do so, the whole setting of the story necessitates the literal meaning of Adam’s exclamation. For else Adam would have no sufficient reason to oppose Eve, as formed out of his own bones, to Lilith, as formed out of the slime of the earth.
But making abstraction from Rabbinic exegesis, the words of Sacred Scripture themselves require a literal acceptation. The beasts of the earth and the birds of the air have been brought before Adam; but he has not found a helper like unto himself among their number. Then the Lord God brings Eve before him, whereupon he exclaims: “This is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Adam opposes, therefore, Eve to all the beasts that had been brought before him in order to be named. Nor can it be maintained that Adam intended to express merely an opposition of kind, but not of origin. For, naming Eve as he had named the animals, Adam adds: “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” Had Adam intended to express opposition of species between Eve and the beasts of the earth, he ought to have said: “She shall be called woman, because she is like man in kind.”
It is not the purpose of the present paper to show how the Mosaic account of woman's formation agrees with the most recent theories of woman's formation in the process of generation or in the course of sexual evolution. But as science has nothing but theories to offer us in this regard, at least in its present condition, the inspired truth of the Mosaic record has nothing to fear from its attacks. And besides all this, the words of Eccles. will always remain true: “He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work, which God hath made from the beginning to the end.”
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