And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren outside.
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Ambrose of Milan
When we read that he was blessed who was blessed by his father and that he was cursed who was cursed by his father, we learn above all else what great reverence to show our parents. And God gave this privilege to parents so as to arouse respect in the children. The formation of the children is, then, the prerogative of the parents. Therefore honor your father that he may bless you.
When subjection came, it was merely a condition deservedly imposed on sinful man. So, in Scripture, there is no mention of the word slave until holy Noah used it in connection with the curse on his son’s wrongdoing.
Why did Ham sin and yet vengeance was declared against his son Canaan? Why was the son of Solomon punished by the breaking up of the kingdom? Why was the sin of Ahab, king of Israel, visited upon his posterity? How do we read in the sacred books, “Returning the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them” and “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation?” The number here can be taken for all the descendants. Are these statements false? Who would say this but the most open enemy of the divine words? Then carnal generation even of the people of God of the Old Testament binds children for the sins of their parents. .
Noah cursed Canaan, saying, “Cursed be Canaan. A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” But what sin could Canaan have committed even if he had been right behind his father when Ham observed the nakedness of Noah? Some say that because Ham had been blessed along with those who entered the ark and came out of it, Noah did not curse Ham himself, even though his son, who was cursed, grieved him greatly. Others, however, say from the fact that Scripture says, “Noah knew everything that his youngest son had done to him,” it is clear that it was not Ham who observed his nakedness, for Ham was the middle son and not the youngest. For this reason they say that Canaan, the youngest, told of the nakedness of the old man. Then Ham went out and jokingly told his brothers. For this reason then, even though it might be thought that Canaan was cursed unjustly in that he did what he did in his youth, still he was cursed justly for he was not cursed in the place of another. Noah knew that Canaan...
To be sure, some will say, this shows that the reason he did not curse Ham was that he had enjoyed blessing from God. Nevertheless, why is it that though Ham was the sinner, Canaan had to pay the penalty? This does not happen idly either. Ham did not endure less punishment than his son. He too felt its effects. You know well, of course, how in many cases fathers have begged to endure punishment in place of their children. Seeing their children bearing punishment proves a more grievous form of chastisement for the fathers than being subject to it themselves. Accordingly, this incident occurred so that Ham should endure greater anguish on account of his natural affection, so that God’s blessing should continue without impairment and so that his son in being the object of the curse should atone for his own sins. You see, even if in the present instance he bears the curse on account of his father’s sin, nevertheless it was likely that he was atoning for his own failings. In other words, it...
In the blessings with which Noah blesses his two sons, he also curses his son’s son. For the prophetic Spirit would not curse that son himself, since he had already been blessed by God, together with the other sons of Noah. But, since the punishment of the sin was to be transmitted down to all the posterity of the son who laughed at his father’s nudity, he made the curse begin with the son’s son.