Dear Father Angelo,
Why does the Lord curse the snake in the Book of Genesis?
It’s something I do not understand.
In fact Adam and Eve give in to temptation and commit a grave fault, precisely the original sin. Now, if the Father allowed our ancestors to be tempted by the devil, once the sin has been committed, why does God curse Satan? Didn’t the Lord allow temptation to exist? Reading Genesis, I have the feeling that the Lord was unaware of what happened, but this is practically impossible, since God knows everything about everyone in every moment. Still, I cannot find an explanation about this fact. By contrast, in the book of Job, it seems there is even a sort of bet between God and Satan: why does the Lord, in this case, converse with an entity He himself has cursed?
I always read the website with great interest.
1. I went to see what Augustine says, in his monumental commentary to Genesis (too bad he commented only the first three chapters)
This Saint Doctor takes for granted that the events happened just like the sacred text reports them.
But this only interests us up to a point.
Of greater interest is the explanation he gives, and which makes us understand, between other things, why he is given the appellation of “Eagle from Hippo”.
2. Before answering your question I would like to report what he says about the serpent’s cunning:
“What kind of cunning was the serpent’s and where it came from.
There was the serpent, the most astute, it’s true, but only among the animals made by the LORD God.
Now, it is in a metaphorical sense that the serpent is called the most astute or, according to many Latin manuscripts, the wisest, not in a proper sense like the word “wisdom” is normally intended when referred to God, an angel or a rational soul, but in the sense in which also the bees and the ants could be called “wise”, since their deeds manifest a sort of wisdom.
This serpent, moreover, could be called “the wisest” among the animals not because of its irrational soul, but because of another being’s spirit, namely the evil spirit.
Since however low the rebel angels were precipitated from their heavenly abode because of their perversity and their pride, still they are, by nature, superior to all the animals because of the excellence of their intellect.
What would be so strange if the devil, entering the serpent and subduing it to his suggestion, communicating to it its spirit in the same way in which the demons’ prophets used to be possessed, had turned it into the “wisest” among all the beasts, that live by virtue of a living but irrational soul?
But it is in an improper sense that we talk about “wisdom” about an evil person, in the same way that we talk about “astuteness” about a good person.
Because in a proper sense and more commonly, at least in the Latin language, the praiseworthy people are called “wise”, while “astute” is used for those who use their reason for evil. This is why some have translated, according to what the Latin language required, not the word itself, but rather the idea, and so they have preferred calling the serpent “the wisest” instead of “the most astute” among all animals.
Regarding which is the proper sense of this word in the Hebrew language, namely if in this language someone could be called “wise” in relation to evil not in an improper but in a proper sense, we will leave this to the specialists of this language.
However we can read clearly in another passage of Scripture about some people called “wise” with regard to evil and not to good; and the Lord says that this world’s children are wiser than the Light’s children in providing for their future, although in a fraudulent way and not according to justice.” (De genesi ad litteram book XI).
3. Going back to your question, we give for granted that the serpent is the image of the man’s enemy, and thus the devil.
You ask why God has cursed it after he gave it permission to tempt man.
First we should ask ourselves in which sense God curses.
Granted this expression resounds in the Scripture. But clearly we are dealing with an anthropomorphic language.
And in our case it means this: yes, the devil tempts man because of envy.
But his temptation and the apparent victory he gains will only cause him to be humiliated even more and to manifest in a greater way the glory of God and the sanctification of man.
4. In fact, the devil will see his kingdom destroyed.
Moreover man, after being dragged into rebellion towards God, will be redeemed by the Blood of Jesus Christ.
And he will sit triumphantly at God’s right, with a glory and an eternal power even greater than what he would have had if he had remained in the state of innocence.
Finally, God Himself receives a greater eternal glory, since He manifests how great is His love for men, earning for them a redemption so great and powerful.
5. For the benefit of our guests, I would like to highlight a detail that you did not miss: while in the book of Genesis God does not converse with the devil, while He converses with Adam and Eve, in the book of Job instead this dialogue is present.
When God sees the devil he asks him “Whence do you come?” (Job 1,7)
And Satan replies: “From roaming the earth and patrolling it.” (Ib.)
But actually, it is the devil that goes and tempts God, like after all it is still the devil who goes and tempts Jesus in the desert.
Here in Job, God questions him not because he does not know what Satan has done, but to force him to say with his own mouth what he does to men: “roaming the earth and patrolling it”.
Here, the reason why he is roaming the earth is made clear. Saint Peter says it clearly: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5,8-9)
6. God forces Satan to speak with his own mouth in the same way in which, after the original sin, he asks Adam “Where are you?” (Genesis 3,9)
Of course God knows what Adam has done and where he is, but for our instruction he forces him to say how he is feeling after the sin.
And he must declare that he is naked, since he has lost that most precious garment which is supernatural and thus invisible: grace.
With that garment he felt in communion with God, with Eve and with all creation.
After the sin, instead, he feels he has lost the most precious good, and that he has become poor: he has no more the communion with God and neither the one with Eve. Even the creation feels hostile to him.
In thanking you for your question, I entrust you to God and I bless you.