Asleep in the Garden

Creation of Eve. Byzantine mosaic in Monreale, 12th century.

5th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year I)

Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128

The creation story of cosmic and human origins in Genesis is shrouded in mystery, enigma, and impenetrable conundrums. The first chapter poetically captures the goodness, beauty and delight taken by the Creator God in the heavens and the earth, culminating in his “rest” (shabath) on the seventh day as in a temple. The second chapter develops the story of human origins in particular and also sets up the conflict and plot to follow. As soon as the two trees of life and knowledge are pointed out to Adam, the possibility of death is introduced.

You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.

Genesis 2:16-17

The tree of knowledge of good and evil is enigmatic at this point, for “evil” would have been meaningless in a world fresh from the Creator’s hand. A limitation set on human freedom did not detract from the goodness of creation, for it was a gift to exercise Adam’s trust and love and bring him to maturity. 

Will Adam pass the test? At this point, God observes something wanting in Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). 

After Adam names the animals, none of whom are “a helper suited” to him, God casts him into a deep sleep, “and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21). 

The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:

“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”

Genesis 2:22-23

Adam, who was one, is now physically two. Yet “male and female” were already in the single nature of Adam before Eve was taken out of his side. 

St. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. 363-373) writes:

God then brought her to Adam, who was both one and two. He was one in that he was Adam, and he was two because he had been created male and female.1

St. Ephrem’s intuition is confirmed by Christology, the apex of Christian anthropology. John’s Prologue states that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Greek word for flesh (sarx) translates the Hebrew word for flesh (basar) in Genesis 2:24 of the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates basar as “body,” but offers the alternative “flesh” in its footnote.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (flesh).

Genesis 2:24

The implication is that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in assuming “flesh,” assumed both halves of humankind at once, plus all living beings, which are encompassed in the idea of sarx

The text of Genesis does not elaborate on why it was “not good” for Adam to remain as he was, but the task of cultivating the garden and securing the fruit of the tree of life now became the joint vocation of Adam and Eve. 

Psalm 128:3 evokes garden imagery to express the goodness of the home and family, a sacred space like Eden:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

Jesus Christ (second Adam) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (second Eve) are the ultimate answers given in the course of salvation history, for together they overcame evil and gained access to the tree of life for all living beings. The vocation of Adam and Eve to become “one flesh” and integrate the cosmos in their humanity was accomplished by Jesus and Mary virginally. Ultimately, the story is “good” because freedom, love, trust and obedience were perfected in our humanity.

Within the cosmic temple, Adam is a microcosmic temple—a dwelling place for God, the temple’s essence. Temple imagery appears in the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib,” for the Hebrew word for rib (tsela) also refers to the side chambers of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 41:5), and the side of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:20). 

Jesus referred to himself as God’s temple (John 2:19-21).2

As Adam and Eve compose the temple of God, Christ and the Church compose the temple of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Many patristic commentators reflect that as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Church came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross.

St. Augustine (354-430):

Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up. “Built” is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: “He built the rib into a woman.” …So too St. Paul speaks of “building up the body of Christ,” which is his Church. Therefore woman is as much the creation of God as man is. If she was made from the man, this was to show her oneness with him; and if she was made in the way she was, this was to prefigure the oneness of Christ and the Church.3

Quodvultdeus (fl. 430):

The great mystery is that Adam hopes after receiving the promise. He sees that the spouse in whom he believed is now united to him. Therefore he symbolically announces to us that through faith the Church will be the mother of humankind. It is evident that since Eve had been created from the side of the sleeping Adam, he has foreseen that from the side of Christ hanging on the cross the Church, which is in truth the mother of the whole new humankind, must be created.4

St. Ambrose (c. 333-397):

If the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s body, bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.5

If all Scripture speaks of Christ,6 Psalm 128:3 is the voice of the Bridegroom about his Bride, “the wife of the Lamb.”7 The poem evokes the children of God the Father around the Eucharistic table:

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table. 

The resurrection of Christ and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reclothed Adam and Eve in their robe of glory at their “wedding.”

The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.

Genesis 2:25

They were not ashamed because of the glory with which they were clothed.

St. Ephrem the Syrian8

Asleep in the garden,
Eve emerged from Adam’s side—
His perfect companion,
Most beloved friend and bride.

Awake in Gethsemane,
Prayed Adam for his wife.
In a grove of olive trees,
His life pledged for her life. 

Asleep on the Tree of Life,
The Church flowed from Jesus’ side—
Blood and water from the temple,
Divine life to save his Bride.

-GMC

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.12. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 69.

The Ancient Christian Commentary footnote explains: “Before Eve, Adam was two in that Eve was already implicitly within him. After Eve was created, he was two because he had been created male and female. Yet in all this duality he did not cease to be a single person, hence one.”

There is ambiguity in this explanation concerning the notions of “person” and “nature.” Based on Trinitarian anthropology, the nature of the universal Adam is one, but persons are multiple. Neither St. Ephrem nor the Ancient Christian Commentary footnote addresses whether Adam and Eve are unique “persons.” Current theological anthropology is still ambiguous on distinctions between person, nature and individual. Since humankind is materially divisible yet metaphysically one, the conundrum is magnified. In the case of Adam’s division, St. Ephrem intuits the simultaneity of duality and unity, but has not hardened them into concepts.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote for other references.

3 St. Augustine, City of God 22.17. From Ibid., 71.

4 Quodvultdeus, Book of Promises and Predictions of God 1.3. From Ibid.

5 St. Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 85. From Ibid.

6 “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” From Catechism of the Catholic Church 134, quoting Hugh of St. Victor. 

7 Revelation 21:9.

8 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.14.2. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 72.

2 thoughts on “Asleep in the Garden

  1. fdan

    Dear GMC, thank you for another magical reflection. Magical in its content and to where it leads me. Today, it’s to Teilhard de Chardin and the Cosmic Christ. And the Bridegroom and his bride, with enlightened prayers. With a full circle back to reverence scripture and the Word of the day. And to reverently pray also with the tome of prayers Father Victor gave us, and, among other things, to thank God for the scourge of love he strikes us with that heals us. And, of course, say a little prayer for you and Father Victor and the bloggers out there. Christ ever greater! May the passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. GMC Post author

    Whatever good that comes forth from each of us, is on account of the prayers of the whole Body of Christ. Thank you for your prayers!

    Like

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