“…her offspring will crush your head and you will bite her offsprings’ heel.” (Gen 3:15)
I mentioned earlier in this series of talks that there is a literal and spiritual meaning to the text of the Scriptures. And in many instances there are connections between the Old Testament and God’s self-revelation in Christ as presented in the New Testament. And since salvation history has often presented us with both male and female characters working together to bring about God’s redeeming work, we also see that some of the women in the Old Testament were figures pointing to Mary who is to bring the promised Messiah into the world. One of these women figures is Eve, whom the Book of Genesis describes as “the mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20).
Saved by the Dame
Mary’s role in history makes no sense apart from ints context in salvation history; yet it is not incidental to God’s plan. God chose to make His redemptive act inconceivable without her. The Scriptures trace a consistent pattern from Creation through the Fall, Incarnation and Redemption, with her name woven into its rich tapestry. Mary was in God’s plan from the very beginning, chosen and foretold from the moment God created man and woman. In fact, the early Christians understood Mary and Jesus to be the reprise of God’s first creation. Saint Paul spoke of Adam as a type of Jesus (Rom 5:14) and of Jesus as the new Adam, or the “last Adam” (1Cor 15:21-22,45-49).
The early Christians considered the beginning of Genesis – with its story of creation and fall and its promise of redemption – to be christological (pointing to Christ) in its implication that they called it the Protoevangelium, or “First Gospel”. While this theme is explicit in Paul and the Church Fathers, it is implied throughout the New Testament. For example, like Adam, Jesus was tested in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-46, Jn 18:1). Like Adam, Jesus was led to a “tree,” where he was stripped naked (Mt 27:31). Like Adam, He fell into the deep sleep of death, so that from His side would come forth the New Eve (Jn 19:26-35; 1Jn 5:6-8), His bride, the Church.
A similar connection can be drawn between Mary and Eve as we have done with Jesus and Adam. Eve disobeyed God and brought sin and death (Gen 3:1-6), Mary chose to be God’s handmaiden and brought Christ the author of New Life (Lk 1:38). Eve spoke to, believed and obeyed a fallen angel, the Serpent (Gen 3:4-6). Mary spoke to, believed and obeyed a good angel, Gabriel (Lk 1:26-38). Eve is the mother of all the living (Gen 3:20). Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, is the mother of all the living and even of life itself (Gal 4:4; Jn 1:4, 14:6; Mt 1:16). From the earliest days of the Church, these biblical parallels were recognized as identifications of Mary as the new Eve, just as Christ is the new Adam.
From Genesis to John
The motif of the New Adam is nowhere so artfully developed as in the Gospel according to Saint John. John does not work out the ideas as a commentator would. Instead, he tells the story of Jesus Christ. Yet he begins the story by echoing the most primeval story of all: the story of creation in Genesis.
This most obvious echo comes “in the beginning.” Both books, Genesis and John’s gospel, in fact, begin with these words. The book of Genesis sets out with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). John follows closely, telling us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God” (Jn 1:1). In both cases, we are talking about a fresh start, a new creation.
The next echo comes soon afterward. In Genesis 1:3-5, we see that God created the light to shine in the darkness. In John 1:4-5, we see that the Word’s “life was the light of men” and it “shines in the darkness”. Genesis shows us, in the beginning, “the Spirit of God…moving over the face of the waters” (Gen 1:2). John, in turn, shows us the Spirit hovering above the waters of baptism (Jn 1:32-33). At that point, we begin to see the source of the new creation recounted by John. Material creation came about when God breathed His Spirit above the waters. The renewal of creation would come with the divine life given in the waters of baptism.
In the first two chapters of John’s gospel, he correlates the seven days of creation in Genesis, with the first seven days of Christ’s ministry. After the prologue (Jn 1:1-18), John’s story continues “the next day” (1:29) with the encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist. “The next day” (1:35), again, comes the story of the calling of the first disciiples. “The next day” (1:43), yet again, we find Jesus’ call of two more disciples. So, taking John’s first discussion of the Messiah as the first day, we now find ourselves on the fourth day. After this John introduces his next episode in stunning fashion, the story of the wedding feast at Cana, with the words, “On the third day.” He could not mean the third day from the beginning, since he already proceeded past that point in his narrative. He was more specifically referring to the third day from the fourth day, which brings us to the seventh day – and then John stops counting days.
We cannot help but notice the similarity. John’s story of the new creation takes place in seven days, just as the creation story in Genesis is completed on the sixth day and sanctified on the seventh, when God rests from His labour. The seventh day has come to be known as the Sabbath, the day of rest, the sign of the covenant (cf. Ex 31:16-17). We can be sure, then, that whatever happens on the seventhh day in John’s narrative will be significant.
It was on the seventh day that Jesus, his disciples and his mother Mary went to the wedding feast in Cana. When the wine ran out, Mary pointed out to her Son, “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3) and He calls her “Woman”. We have shown how this appellation was not a way of putting someone down but a word of respect and deference. But it is also indicative of something else. Jesus could have easily called Mary “Mama”, “Mother” but he chose to call her “Woman”. He will call her “Woman” again when he hangs dying on the cross. Jesus’ use of the word represents yet another echo of Genesis. “Woman” is the name Adam gives to Eve (Gen 2:23). Jesus, then, is addressing Mary as Eve to the New Adam. This heightens the significance of the wedding feast they are attending. Some may ask: “How can Mary be His bride if she is His mother?” We must consider Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming salvation of Israel: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken…but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices oover the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa 62:4-5). A lot is suggested in these two verses: Mary’s virginal motherhood, her miraculous conception, and her mystical marriage to God, who is at once her Father, her Spouse and her Son.
“Woman” redefines Mary’s relationship not only with Jesus but also with all believers. Like Eve, whom Genesis calls “mother of all the living,” Mary is mother to all who have new life in baptism. At Cana, then, the New Eve radically reverses the fatal decision of the first Eve. It was woman who led the old Adam to his first evil act in the garden. It was woman who led the New Adam to His first glorious work.
Victory is Hers
The figure of Eve reappears later in the New Testament, in the book of Revelation. There, in chapter 12, we encounter “a woman clothed with the sun” who confronts “the ancient serpent, who is called the devil” (vv. 1,9). These images hark back to Genesis, where Eve faces the demonic serpent in the garden of Eden and where God curses the serpent, promising to “put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed” (Gen 3:15). The images in Revelation also point to a New Eve, one who gave birth to a “male child” who would “rule all the nations” (12:5). That child could only be Jesus; and so the woman could only be His mother, Mary. In Revelation, the ancient serpent attacks the New Eve because the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 is fresh in his memory. The New Eve, however, prevails over evil, unlike her long-ago type in the garden of Eden.
God says that there will be enmity – hostility, division, opposition – between the Devil and “the woman.” In the same context we read of the seed of the woman, and the victory which will be granted through the woman and her seed. In the Bible, a man’s children and descendants are spoken of as his seed. The seed of the woman, therefore, is something unique. It refers to a child which is produced by a woman alone. This obviously refers to the virginal conception and birth from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother. The “seed” of the woman refers to Jesus Christ. The woman herein identified as having opposition or enmity with the serpent is clearly Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The woman is not Eve, who gave in to the serpent. It is Mary.
When the Saints Echo
Commenting on the passage where God foretells the defeat of the serpent, St Alphonsus Ligouri says, “Who could this woman be but Mary, who by her fair humility and holy life always conquered him and beat down his strength?” The statement “I will place enmity” and not “I place enmity…” indicates that the woman is someone else other than Eve. Some argue if the offspring referred to is the Woman (Mary) or her Son (Jesus). Ligouri adds that, “it is certain that either the Son by means of the Mother, or the Mother by means of the Son, has overcome Lucifer.” Saint Bernard remarks that “this proud spirit was beaten down and trampled under foot by this most Blessed Virgin; so that, as a slave conquered in war, he is forced always to obey the commands of this Queen. Beaten down and trampled under the feet of Mary, he endures a wretched slavery.” Saint Bruno says, “that Eve was the cause of death” by allowing herself to be overcome by the serpent. But Mary, by conquering the devil, “restored life to us.”
These saints were following a long tradition of the Church about Mary’s role in salvation history which we also see in Saint Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lyons. For Irenaeus, this teaching about Mary fits into what he called creation’s recapitulation in Christ. Building on Saint Paul, he wrote that when Christ “became incarnate and was made man, he recapitulated in Himself the long history of humanity, summing up and giving us salvation in order that we might receive again in Christ Jesus what we had lost in Adam – that is the image and likeness of God”. Mary has an important place as the New Eve in this recapitulation. “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. The knot which the virgin Eve tied by her unbelief”. Elsewhere he stated, “If the former (Eve) disobeyed God, the latter (Mary) was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. We are quick to add that whatever feat Mary achieved, she did by the power of the Trinity to whom she is always united as Daughter, Spouse and Mother. We must come to her to learn how to overcome the evil one.
The Immaculate one
God says that He will put enmity or opposition between the serpent and the woman. As a result, Mary must be completely preserved from sin . For when one sins, one does not have opposition to the Devil, but rather gives in to the Devil. The only way the woman could have complete and definitive opposition to the serpent is by preservation from sin and from the sin of Adam. The fact that Mary is this “woman,” and therefore completely free from the domination of sin and the Devil, is the reason that Jesus calls Mary “woman” throughout the New Testament.
The saints once more encourage us to call upon her. Saint Albert the Great remarks that Mary seems to say, “My children fly to me; cast your eyes on me and be of good heart; for as I am your defender, victory is assured to you.” St Bernadine of Sienna adds that She is even the Queen of hell since she tames and crushes them and brings them to submission. For this reason the sacred Canticle which we call the Catena refers to Mary as “terrible as an army set in battle array”. Only by aligning ourselves with her can we win the battle against the forces of evil.