Mary, the New Eve

In the past few days, we’ve seen how Scripture depicts Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, and Mary as the Temple Gate, surrounding Jesus Christ, our perfect Temple.  Today’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, so it’s the perfect time to add a third Scriptural depiction of Mary: Mary as the New Eve.

I. The Fall

Let’s talk first a little bit about the Fall, and put all of the necessary elements in place.  First, Genesis describes the dawn of Creation in seven “days,” leading up to the account of the Fall (Gen. 1:1-2:3).  In the Garden of Eden, God creates a man, “Adam” (Gen. 2:20) and a woman, who Adam just names “Woman” at this point (Gen. 2:23).  They’re both sinless and virgins in the Garden.  Their fall from grace occurs when Woman is tempted by the serpent (Gen. 3:1), and eats the fruit of the forbidden tree (Gen. 3:6).  She then brings the fruit from the tree to Adam (Gen. 3:6, Gen. 3:12).  As a result of their disobedience, sin enters the world.

God punishes Adam, Woman, and the serpent.  To the serpent, He says, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:14-15).  Already, God is reassuring us that though the Fall has occurred, there’s hope — that Someone in the future will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, and free us from the slavery of sin.

The Explusion in the Caedmon manuscript (c. 1000 A.D.)

Right in the middle of the Fall, after God announces His punishment for their sins, as they’re being kicked out of the Garden, Adam renames his wife Eve, “because she would become the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20).  This timing is pretty weird (after all, she’s not a mother yet, and they’re apparently still virgins until Gen. 4:1), but it’ll make sense later. For now, just notice how gloomy it is.  Yes, Eve will become the mother of all the living, but because of her sins and Adam’s, these children will suffer from a world now filled with pain and sin.

So mentally, the things to recall from the Fall are these: there are seven days, a garden, a man called “Adam,” a woman called “Woman,” a serpent, a tree, sinful fruit, and a “mother of all the living.” Watch for each of these elements to make a reappearance in the New Testament.

II. The Redemption

The first thing we see in John’s Gospel is that his first chapter is that it’s an obvious and intentional parallel to Genesis 1. Genesis 1-2 starts like this:

  • In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
  • the first day” (Genesis 1:1-5)
  • the second day” (Genesis 1:6-8)
  • the third day” (Genesis 1:9-13)
  • the fourth day” (Genesis 1:14-19)
  • the fifth day” (Genesis 1:20-23)
  • the sixth day” (Genesis 1:24-31)
  • Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3).

John 1-2 starts like this:

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1).
  • the next day” (John 1:29-1:34)
  • the next day” (John 1:35-1:42)
  • the next day” (John 1:43-51)
  • on the third day,” that is, three days later (John 2:1)
Giotto, The Wedding at Cana (14th c.)

So both begin with a description of God “In the beginning,” that is, at the dawn of time, before presenting a series of seven days. On the seventh day in Genesis, God rests. The seventh day in John’s Gospel prefigures the Resurrection.  This phrase, “on the third dayalways hints at the Resurrection in the New Testament (Matt. 16:21, Matt. 17:23, Matt. 20:19, Matt. 27:64, Luke 9:22, Luke 13:32, Luke 18:33, Luke 24:7, Luke 24:21, Luke 24:46, Acts 10:40, Acts 27:19, and 1 Cor. 15:4).  And what’s Jesus doing on this seventh day?  He’s celebrating the wedding at Cana.

It’s here, at the wedding at Cana, that St. John first introduces us to Mary.  And what does Jesus call her there?  “Woman” (John 2:4).  That is, He refers to her by the name that Eve bore before the Fall, when she was free from all stain of original sin.  So we’ve got our seven days, and our Woman.

But if Mary is the New Eve, the New “Woman,” who is the New Adam?  St. Paul tells us that specifically, in 1 Corinthians 15:20-22:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

And a little later, 1 Cor. 15:45,

So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 

So Paul just outright calls Christ the new Adam. No beating around the bush here.  And what about the tree? St. Paul again (Galatians 3:13),

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

So the “Tree” is the Cross. And the Resurrected Christ is the “firstfruits” of this Tree (1 Cor. 15:20-22, above).  And Elizabeth refers to Jesus as “the fruit of your womb” to Mary (Luke 1:42).  Just as the first fruit brought sin into the world from the tree, the second Fruit brings sin out of the world through the Tree.

And how did the Fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ, get to the Tree?  The new Woman, Mary, started Him along His way, at the wedding of Cana.  When Mary first seeks Jesus’ intervention, He replies: “O Woman, what have you to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4).  This is a reference to His Passion, which is why He says in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners” (Mt. 26:45).  In other words, He’s warning Mary that if He grants her this request, it will start His public ministry, which only ends one way: His Death.  She persists, and He obliges  (John 2:5-11).  In other words, Mary helps lead Jesus to the Cross.  When the hour arrives, and the Passion of Christ begins in full, it’s in, as I said above, the Garden of Gethsemane, the fulfillment of the Garden of Eden (Mt. 26:36).

So we’ve got the seven days, our new Adam, our new Woman, our Tree, our Fruit, and our Garden.  That still leaves the serpent, and the Mother of the living.  By now, you can probably figure out how each of those are fulfilled.  The serpent is Satan, and the Mother of the living is Mary.  But Mary is the mother of the spiritually living.  Check out this passage from Rev. 12:13-17,

When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the Male Child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. 16 But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

Now remember that bit about God said to the serpent, about how He would put “enmity between you and the woman” from Genesis 3:15? Turns out, that Woman is Mary. And He promised further to put enmity “between your seed and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). Who’s the Seed of Mary? Well, the firstfruits is Jesus — He’s uniquely qualified to be described as her Seed, because of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth (“seed” was normally measured through the biological father, as the term suggests). But Rev. 12:17 tells us that Mary’s the mother of all of “those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”  That is, she’s the Mother of all those living in Christ.

But where does Mary go from being simply the sinless Woman, to becoming the new Mother of all the living? At the exact moment when Christ is undoing the curse, from the Cross (John 19:25-27):

But standing by the cross of Jesus were His Mother, and His Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His Mother, and the Disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His Mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the Disciple, “Behold, your Mother!” And from that hour the Disciple took her to his own home.

It’s right there, right in the very midst of the Redemption! Suddenly, Adam’s name change, from Woman to Eve (Gen. 3:20) seems less like awkward chronology, and more like a beautiful prefigurement of Christ giving us the Woman, Mary, as His Mother from the Cross.

There are probably plenty of parallels that I’ve missed, but my point is this.  In the Redemption, God restores, through Mary (the Woman) and Christ (the Seed of the Woman), what He promised would be restored.  All of the many pieces are put back together in the most incredible way: seemingly every detail, no matter how small, from the Genesis account is brought back and glorified through Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

III. Conclusion

So in the story of the Fall,  we’ve got a sinless virgin called Woman (Gen. 2:23) taking a sinful fruit from the tree (Gen. 3:6), bringing it to a sinless man called Adam (Gen. 2:20) in a garden (Gen. 2:8).  That’s how Genesis depicts sin entering the world.

In the story of the Redemption, we’ve got a sinless virgin (Isa. 7:14) called Woman (John 2:4; John 19:25-27) bringing the fruit of her womb (Luke 1:42), a sinless Man called Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), to the Tree (Gal. 3:13), via a Garden (Mt. 26:46).  That’s how we become freed from the curse of the Fall.

This wasn’t lost on the early Church Fathers. Irenaeus points out basically everything I’ve said, back in 180 A.D., in his book Against Heresies.  This is a long and sometimes wordy passage, but it’s worth reading carefully:

Wherefore Luke points out that the pedigree which traces the generation of our Lord back to Adam contains seventy-two generations, connecting the end with the beginning, and implying that it is He who has summed up in Himself all nations dispersed from Adam downwards, and all languages and generations of men, together with Adam himself. 
Hence also was Adam himself termed by Paul the “figure of Him that was to come,” [Romans 5:14] because the Word, the Maker of all things, had formed beforehand for Himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God; God having predestined that the first man should be of an animal nature, with this view, that he might be saved by the spiritual One. For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain.

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” [Luke 1:38] But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise “they were both naked, and were not ashamed,” [Genesis 2:25] inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. 

And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been cancelled. 

For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first. [Matthew 19:30, Matthew 20:16] And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, “instead of fathers, children have been born unto you.” For the Lord, having been born “the First-begotten of the dead,” [Revelation 1:5] and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. [1 Corinthians 15:20-22] Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

All of this makes sense if the Immaculate Conception of Mary is true: if she was, in fact, free from all original sin.  Through a supernatural application of the merits of Christ, She’s restored to the pure and sinless state that  Eve enjoyed.  This is symbolized by her Virginity, and is made possible by the eternal nature of Christ’s Atoning Death (that is, just as He’s able to atone for sins past, present, and future, and just as the graces He won for us are sufficient to keep up out of sins today, and tomorrow, so were the Graces He won sufficient to keep Mary out of sin even before His Advent).

And the Church Fathers tell us so. The clearest Church Father in developing the doctrine of original sin was St. Augustine. In the midst of  On Nature and Grace, written against the Pelagians, Augustine is talking about the reality of original and actual sin, but caveats: “We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins.” And again, in denying that a list of supposedly sinless Saints were, in fact, sinless, Augustine again caveats, “with this exception of the Virgin.”  In other words, even the most adamantly anti-Pelagian of Saints acknowledged that Mary wasn’t to be treated simply as a sinner, or even as an ordinary Saint.  Something special and unique happened with her, as part of God’s design for Redemption, something planned back in Genesis, and in fact, all the way back to “In the beginning.”  That’s what we celebrate today.

4 Comments

  1. Eve does not “hear the word of God and observe it” and causes Adam to fall from grace along with her, staining us all in original sin.

    Mary, the New Eve, created without stain (as Eve was before the fall) “hears the word of God and observes it”, is filled with Grace, bringing Redemption to us through the New Adam, Jesus Christ.

  2. “Check out this passage from Rev. 12:13-17,…”
    Problem is, when is this idenfication of the Holy Theotokos with the woman of Rev. 12 first appear? It would seem that Rev. 12:2, in view of Gen. 3:16 and Isa. 66:7, and the patristic understanding thereof, precludes such an identification. And any use as a prooftext for the IC (or, for that matter, the Assumption).

    Btw, Isa. 7:14 says nothing about a sinless mother.

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