Gregory of Nyssa: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil Tuesday, Oct 20 2015 

Gregory_of_NyssaAnd out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9).

The majority of men judge the good to lie in that which gratifies the senses, and there is a certain identity of name between that which is, and that which appears to be “good.”

For this reason that desire which arises towards what is evil, as though towards good, is called by Scripture “the knowledge of good and evil,” with “knowledge,” as we have said, expressing a certain mixed disposition.

It speaks of the fruit of the forbidden tree not as a thing absolutely evil (because it is decked with good), nor as a thing purely good (because evil is latent in it), but as compounded of both, and declares that the tasting of it brings to death those who touch it.

It almost proclaims aloud the doctrine that the very actual good is in its nature simple and uniform, alien from all duplicity or conjunction with its opposite, while evil is many-coloured and fairly adorned, being esteemed to be one thing and revealed by experience as another, the knowledge of which (that is, its reception by experience) is the beginning and antecedent of death and destruction.

It was because he saw this that the serpent points out the evil fruit of sin, not showing the evil manifestly in its own nature (for man would not have been deceived by manifest evil), but giving to what the woman beheld the glamour of a certain beauty, and conjuring into its taste the spell of a sensual pleasure, he appeared to her to speak convincingly:

“And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to behold, and fair to see; and she took of the fruit thereof and did eat” (Gen. 3:5-6). And that eating became the mother of death to men.

This, then, is that fruit-bearing of mixed character, where the passage clearly expresses the sense in which the tree was called “capable of the knowledge of good and evil,” because, like the evil nature of poisons that are prepared with honey, it appears to be good in so far as it affects the senses with sweetness: but in so far as it destroys him who touches it, it is the worst of all evil.

Thus when the evil poison worked its effect against man’s life, then man, that noble thing and name, the image of God’s nature, was made, as the prophet says, “like unto vanity” (Ps. 143:4 [LXX]).

The image, therefore, properly belongs to the better part of our attributes; but all in our life that is painful and miserable is far removed from the likeness to the Divine.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On the Making of Man, 20 (slightly adapted).

John Damascene: The Tree of Life Saturday, Mar 1 2014 

John-of-Damascus_01Continued from here….

The tree of life, on the other hand, was a tree having the energy that is the cause of life, or to be eaten only by those who deserve to live and are not subject to death.

Some, indeed, have pictured Paradise as a realm of sense, and others as a realm of mind.

But it seems to me, that, just as man is a creature, in whom we find both sense and mind blended together, in like manner also man’s most holy temple [i.e. Paradise] combines the properties of sense and mind, and has this twofold expression.

For, as we said, the life in the body [in Paradise] is spent in the most divine and lovely region, while the life in the soul is passed in a place far more sublime and of more surpassing beauty.

There God makes His home, and there He wraps man about as with a glorious garment, and robes him in His grace, and delights and sustains him like an angel with the sweetest of all fruits, the contemplation of Himself.

Verily it has been fitly named the tree of life. For since the life is not cut short by death, the sweetness of the divine participation is imparted to those who share it.

And this is, in truth, what God meant by every tree, saying, Of every tree in Paradise thou mayest freely eat (Gen. 2:16).

For the ‘every’ is just Himself in Whom and through Whom the universe is maintained.

But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was for the distinguishing between the many divisions of contemplation, and this is just the knowledge of one’s own nature.

This, indeed, is a good thing for those who are mature and advanced in divine contemplation (which is of itself a proclamation of the magnificence of God).

And it is a good thing for those who have no fear of falling, because they have through time come to have the habit of such contemplation.

[…] But it is an evil thing to those still young and with stronger appetites, who…are not firmly established in the seat of the one and only good, are apt to be torn and dragged away from this to the care of their own body.

[…] Such knowledge was dangerous for Adam who had been so lately created.

The tree of life too may be understood as that more divine thought that has its origin in the world of sense, and the ascent through that to the originating and constructive cause of all.

And this was the name He gave to every tree, implying fulness and indivisibility, and conveying only participation in what is good.

But by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we are to understand that sensible and pleasurable food which, sweet though it seems, in reality brings him who partakes of it into communion with evil.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 2, 11.

John Damascene: The Tree of Knowledge Friday, Feb 21 2014 

John-of-Damascus_01Now when God was about to fashion man out of the visible and invisible creation in His own image and likeness to reign as king and ruler over all the earth and all that it contains, He first made for him, so to speak, a kingdom in which he should live a life of happiness and prosperity.

And this is the divine paradise, planted in Eden by the hands of God, a very storehouse of joy and gladness of heart (for “Eden” means luxuriousness).

[…] It is flooded with light, and in sensuous freshness and beauty it transcends imagination: in truth the place is divine, a meet home for him who was created in God’s image: no creature lacking reason made its dwelling there but man alone, the work of God’s own hands.

In its midst God planted the tree of life and the tree of knowledge (Gen. 2:9).

The tree of knowledge was for trial, and proof, and exercise of man’s obedience and disobedience: and hence it was named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else it was because to those who partook of it was given power to know their own nature.

Now this is a good thing for those who are mature, but an evil thing for the immature and those whose appetites are too strong, being like solid food to tender babes still in need of milk.

For our Creator, God, did not intend us to be burdened with care and troubled about many things, nor to take thought about, or make provision for, our own life.

But this at length was Adam’s fate: for he tasted and knew that he was naked and made a girdle round about him: for he took fig-leaves and girded himself about. But before they took of the fruit, They were both naked, Adam and Eve, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25).

For God meant that we should be thus free from passion, and this is indeed the mark of a mind absolutely void of passion.

Yea, He meant us further to be free from care and to have but one work to perform, to sing as do the angels, without ceasing or intermission, the praises of the Creator, and to delight in contemplation of Him and to cast all our care on Him.

[…] So to Martha Christ said, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41, 42), meaning, clearly, sitting at His feet and listening to His words.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 2, 11.