Eve and Mary

Todays’ Office of Readings is one of my favorite from St. Irenaeus’ Treatise Against Heresies, although today’s reading stops a little short of my favorite line, about how Mary became the cause of our salvation.  That single line has opened up not a few closed doors in my heart.  Anyway, today’s reading, entitled Eve and Mary, contains the following remarks.
Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed him who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, and trampled on his head, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall lie in wait for your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.  The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the woman, the Virgin.  This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the- promise was made.  He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if his vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that he had gained mastery over man in the beginning, and set himself up as man’s adversary.
It is a frequent point of contention that if Mary had been all that, meaning who the Church says she is, surely the Apostle Paul would have said more about her.  As it is, he only mentions her once, in passing, without even using her name.  Heck, he even uses the term “woman”, which we all know Jesus used to rebuke her at the Wedding of Cana.  St. Irenaeus here shows the fallacy of this argument, and it is something I had not caught before.  It is a little harder to notice this in the RSV which, annoyingly, translates the word semen (in the NT and Septuagint) 3 different ways: seed, descendants, offsprings.  C’mon guys.  But anyway, it cannot be denied that Paul says precious little about our Blessed Lady, what he does say is significant.
His epistle to the Galatians is the book where he especially addresses our freedom from the Mosaic Law, in the context of a letter written to Christians who were beginning to doubt this freedom, specifically in the form of mandatory circumcision for entrance into the Covenant People.  And he lays out a case for faith in Christ being the determinative act for entrance into this people, open to both Jews and Gentiles.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree” –that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  Gal 3:13-14
The blessing of Abraham of which he speaks is this:
I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants [i.e., seed] as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore.  And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants [i.e., seed] shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”  Gen 22:17-18
He goes on:
To give a human example, brethren: no one annuls even a man’s will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified.  Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring [i.e., seed]. I t does not say, “And to offsprings [i.e., seeds],” referring to many; but, referring to one, “And to your offspring [i.e., seed],” which is Christ.  This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.  Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring [i.e., seed] should come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained by angels through an intermediary.  Gal 3:15-19
His argument is, inheritance of God’s promise of blessing is not through the Mosaic Law because it was promised to Abraham and his seed prior to the Law.  The Law was a guardian to show us our need for salvation until the time when the Seed would come to deliver us.  If we belong to the Seed, then we are Abraham’s seeds, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29).
After all this talk of semen, Paul then goes on to speak of the act of our redemption through the Son, born under the law (to redeem us from the Law), born of woman:
[W]hen the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  Gal 4:4-5
I had always assumed that his emphasis that the Son was born of woman was just a reinforcement of the fact that he came in the flesh, as a man, to redeem man.  And that is, no doubt, part of his purpose.  But in light of all the talk of seed to this point, I think he is also pointing out another Old Covenant reference to the Seed:
I will put enmity between you (the Serpent) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.  Gen 3:15
To Paul, Jesus is the Seed.  To Paul, the woman of Genesis 3:15 is the woman from whom Jesus was born, Mary.  This makes more sense than my previous assumption that the woman of Genesis 3:15 was Eve.  After all, the relationship between Eve and the Serpent could not particularly be characterized as enmity, given that she had so recently assented to his temptations.  But according to the teaching of the Church, Mary can be described as at enmity with Satan, for indeed, she is the Immaculate Conception, free from all satanic influence, at war with all that is evil.  This is not “proved” from the text, but sheds light on the text, makes more sense of it.
To St. Paul, Mary was the foretold Woman from whom should come the Deliverer.  According to Genesis, Mary was (is) at enmity with Satan.  From this identification of the Woman with Mary, several (very early) Church Fathers draw the conclusion that Mary is the New Eve, as Jesus is the New Adam.  In fact, just a little further on from this quoted text, St. Irenaeus makes the claim that it was necessary that the Fall, occasioned by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, be remedied by the obedience of the New Adam and the New Eve.  And the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of the New Eve, and that, through her obedience, she became the cause of salvation for the world.

~ by Rob on December 11, 2009.

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