And the LORD God commanded the man, saying,
Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:
Read Chapter 2
Ambrose of Milan
Why did He use the singular 'thou shalt eat' when He bade them eat of every tree, and, again, when He bade them eat of the tree of good and evil, why did He use the plural 'You shall not eat'? This is no trifling question. This problem can, in fact, be solved by the authority of the Scriptures if you study them carefully. Scripture refers to something good and something that should be done. What is good is naturally associated with what should be done. On the other hand, what is base is separate and unrelated to what should be done. And so the Lord, aiming always at oneness, gave orders in accordance with this principle. Hence He achieves oneness who 'has made both one' [ Eph 2:14 ] -He not only made both one, for He bade us to be 'one body and one Spirit.' [ Eph 4:4 ] 'The firstborn of every creature,' [ Col 1:15 ] since He is in union with the faith, is always closely joined to the Father, because 'the Word was with God.' [ John 1:1 ] Wherefore He says: 'I and the Father are one,' ...
Knowing once more how the will of man could sway to either side, in anticipation God secured the grace given them by a command and by the place where he put them. For he brought them into his own garden and gave them a law so that, if they kept the grace and remained good, they might still keep the life in paradise without sorrow or pain or care, besides having the promise of incorruption in heaven. But if they transgressed and turned back and became evil, they might know that they were incurring that corruption in death that was theirs by nature, no longer to live in paradise but cast out of it from that time forth to die and abide in death and corruption.
God, referring to the forbidden fruit, said to the first man whom he had established in paradise: “In the day that you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.” His threat included not only the first part of the first death, that is, the soul’s deprivation of God; not only the second part of the first death, that is, the body’s deprivation of the soul; not only the whole of the first death in which the soul, separated from both God and the body, is punished; but whatever of death is up to and including that absolutely final and socalled second death … in which the soul, deprived of God but united to the body, suffers eternal punishment.
Without good reason certain writers are deeply puzzled when they seek to discover how the tree of the knowledge of good and evil could have been so called before man broke God’s commandment by touching it and from experience discerning the difference between the good that he lost and the evil that he committed. Now, this tree was given this name so that our first parents might observe the prohibition and not touch it, taking care to avoid suffering the consequences of touching it against the prohibition. It was not because they subsequently went against the commandment and ate the fruit that the tree became the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Even if they had remained obedient and had taken nothing against that commandment, it would be correctly called by what would happen to them there if they had taken the fruit. .
Although to Adam it was said “For the day you eat of it, you must die,” today you have been faithful. Today will bring you salvation. The tree brought ruin to Adam; the tree [of life] shall bring you into paradise. Fear not the serpent; he shall not cast you out, for he has fallen from heaven. I say not to you, “This day you shall depart,” but “This day you shall be with me.”
In the very midst he planted; the Tree of Knowledge, endowing it with wonder, hedging it in with dread, so that it might straightway serve as a boundary to the inner region of paradise. Two things did Adam hear; in that single decree: that they should not eat of it and that, by shrinking from it, they should perceive that it was not lawful to penetrate; further, beyond that tree.
[God gave Adam] a law as a material for his free will to act on. This law was a commandment as to what plants he might partake of and which one he might not touch. This latter was the tree of knowledge; not, however, because it was evil from the beginning when planted, nor was it forbidden because God grudged it to us—let not the enemies of God wag their tongues in that direction or imitate the serpent. But it would have been good if partaken of at the proper time. The tree was, according to my theory, contemplation, which is safe only for those who have reached maturity of habit to enter upon, but which is not good for those who are still somewhat simple and greedy, just as neither is solid food good for those who are yet tender and have need of milk.
So he conferred such favors on this creature, first bringing him from nonbeing to being, then deeming it proper to shape his body from dust, and after that as the supreme gesture bestowing on him his incorporeal soul through the action of breathing, then bidding the garden be created and directing him to spend his life there, later, like a loving father who prevents his young child from being unsettled by great relaxation and freedom from care by devising some slight responsibility appropriate to the situation, the Lord God in like manner ordered the task of tilling and guarding for Adam so that along with all those delights, relaxation and freedom from care he might have, by way of a stabilizing influence, those two tasks to prevent him from overstepping the limit. So these things had already happened to the newly created being, whereas what happened in addition makes clear to us again the great and unsurpassed love for him, as well as the considerateness he displays on account of his...
Some have imagined paradise to have been material, while others have imagined it to have been spiritual. However, it seems to me that just as man was created both sensitive and intellectual, so did this most sacred domain of his have the twofold aspect of being perceptible both to the senses and to the mind. For while in his body he dwelt in this most sacred and superbly beautiful place, as we have related, spiritually he resided in a loftier and far more beautiful place. There he had the indwelling God as a dwelling place and wore him as a glorious garment. He was wrapped about with his grace, and like some one of the angels he rejoiced in the enjoyment of that one most sweet fruit which is the contemplation of God, and by this he was nourished. Now this is indeed what is fittingly called the tree of life, for the sweetness of divine contemplation communicates a life uninterrupted by death to them that partake of it.
The tree of knowledge of good and evil is the power of discernment by multidimensional vision. This is the complete knowing of one’s own nature. Of itself it manifests the magnificence of the Creator, and it is good for them that are fullgrown and have walked in the contemplation of God—for them that have no fear of changing, because in the course of time they have acquired a certain habit of such contemplation. It is not good, however, for such as are still young and are more greedy in their appetites, who, because of the uncertainty of their perseverance in the true good and because of their not yet being solidly established in their application to the only good, are naturally inclined to be drawn away and distracted by their solicitude for their own bodies.
For God says, “Of every tree of paradise you shall eat,” meaning, I think, by means of all created things you will be drawn up to me, their Creator, and from them reap the one fruit which is myself, who am the true life. Let all things be fruitful life to you, and make participation in me to be the substance of your own existence, for thus you shall be immortal.
The Tree of Life stood in the middle of paradise like a trophy. The Tree of Knowledge stood as a contest. If you keep the commandment of this tree, you will receive a prize. So consider this marvelous thought: Every tree in paradise was in bloom, and fruit was in abundance everywhere. Only in the center are the duo of competition and struggle.
For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die. Which law had continued enough for them, had it been kept. For in this law given to Adam we recognise in embryo all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, You shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart and out of your whole soul; You shall love your neighbour as yourself; You shall not kill; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; False witness you shall not utter; Honour your father and mother; and, That which is another's, shall you not covet. For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise, as the womb of all the precepts of God. In short, if they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves—they wou...