And now are you cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand;
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Ambrose of Milan
Like a slave, Cain received a mark and he could not escape death. Thus is the sinner a slave to fear, a slave to desire, a slave to greed, a slave to lust, a slave to sin, a slave to anger. Though such a man appears to himself free, he is more a slave than if he were under tyrants.
Indeed, it was not without reason that the mark was set upon Cain, that no one might kill him. Thus it was indicated that evil is not destroyed or removed from the earth. Cain was afraid that he might be killed, because he did not know how to flee. For evil is augmented and amassed by the practice of evil, and it exists without moderation or limit, fights through guile and deceit and is revealed by its deeds and by the blood of the slain, even as Cain also was revealed.
Do you, who have but lately come to the catechesis, wish to see the loving kindness of God? Would you want to behold the loving kindness of God and the extent of his forbearance? Listen to the story of [Cain]…. Cain, the firstborn man, became a fratricide, from whose wicked designings first stemmed murder and envy. Yet consider his sentence for slaying his brother. “Groaning and trembling shall you be upon the earth.” Though the sin was great, the sentence was light.
You see, since Cain perpetrated practically the same evil as the serpent, which like an instrument served the devil’s purposes, and as the serpent introduced mortality by means of deceit, in like manner Cain deceived his brother, led him out into open country, raised his hand in armed assault against him and committed murder. Hence, as God said to the serpent, “Cursed are you beyond all the wild animals of the earth,” so to Cain too when he committed the same evil as the serpent.
Someone may say, “Behold he has confessed, and confessed with great precision”—but all to no avail, dearly beloved: the confession comes too late. You see, he should have done this at the right time when he was in a position to find mercy from the judge.
The punishment of which God spoke seems to be excessively harsh, but rightly understood it gives us a glimpse of his great solicitude. God wanted men of later times to exercise selfcontrol. Therefore, he designed the kind of punishment that was capable of setting Cain free from his sin. If God had immediately destroyed him, Cain would have disappeared, his sin would have stayed concealed, and he would have remained unknown to men of later times. But as it is, God let him live a long time with that bodily tremor of his. The sight of Cain’s palsied limbs was a lesson for all he met. It served to teach all men and exhort them never to dare do what he had done, so that they might not suffer the same punishment. And Cain himself became a better man again. His trembling, his fear, the mental torment that never left him, his physical paralysis kept him, as it were, shackled. They kept him from leaping again to any other like deed of bold folly. They constantly reminded him of his former crime...