From the earliest centuries of the Church, Christians have believed that as the first Adam had a female helper named Eve, so Jesus the New Adam (I Corinthians 15:45) had a "New Eve" associated with Him: His Mother Mary.
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
It is based on and reaffirms the fact that Jesus is the New Adam, come to undo the Fall of the first Adam.
The New Eve is a theme which runs through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. God first foretold the coming of the second Adam and Eve in the same prophesy: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise they head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Genesis 3:15). Now the "seed" here is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the New Adam. Since God calls Jesus the "seed (or offspring) of the woman", this woman must be the mother of the Messiah - the Virgin Mary! Christ is truly the Seed of the Woman because He was born of a virgin (without the seed of a man), and Mary is that Virgin Mother.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Eve is foreshadowed in the figure of Daughter Zion, Israel personified as YHWH's beloved Bride. In the New Testament, the Virgin Mary comes to embody Daughter Zion. The angel Gabriel's words to Mary at the Annunciation parallel the prophet Zephaniah's words to Daughter Zion (compare Luke 1:28, 30-32 with Zephaniah 3:14-17). This humble Jewish maiden is the personification of Zion, God's faithful bride.
Early Christians taught that the Annunciation marks the reversal of the temptation of the first Eve (see below for quotations). In the Garden, Eve believed the lies of a fallen angel, disobeyed God and so became the cause of Adam's Fall (Genesis 3:1-7). At the Annunciation, Mary believed the words spoken by a holy angel, obeyed God and so became the Mother of the One who would save us from Adam's Fall! Mary's obedience reversed Eve's disobedience; thus Mary is the New Eve for the New Creation in Christ.
In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus the New Adam calls Mary "Woman" (John 2:3), even as the first Adam called the first Eve "woman": "She shall be called "woman", because she was taken out of man" (Gen. 2:23). Some of Mary's detractors actually believe that Jesus was disrespectful to His Mother here (as though He would break His own Commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother"!). In reality, His words have deep significance: Jesus identifies Mary with the Woman of Genesis 3:15, and Himself with her Seed who will crush the head of the serpent.
St. John's depiction of Calvary clearly parallels the Garden of Eden: there is a tree (the Cross - see Galatians 3:13), a man (Jesus) and a woman (Mary). The New Adam again calls the New Eve "Woman" and declares her to be the Mother of his beloved disciple (and, by extension, of all Christians). As Eve was the "mother of the living" (Gen. 3:21), so Mary is the Mother of all who have eternal life in Christ (see the article on Mary's Spiritual Motherhood for an in-depth discussion.
So John 19:25-27 clearly parallels Genesis 3:15, with Mary in the "Eve-role". But St. John does not stop there. In Revelation chapter 12, he provides yet another parallel to Genesis 3:15:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars...and behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads...stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron (1-5).Here, as in Genesis 3, we have a woman, a serpent/dragon and a male child who is born of (the seed of!) the woman. The dragon is Satan the "ancient serpent" (Rev 12:9), the woman's Seed/Son is Christ the New Adam, so the Woman is clearly the New Eve, the same Woman whose seed God foretold would crush the serpent's head. So this glorious Woman clearly signifies the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus the New Adam. Once again, Mary is clearly shown to be the New Eve.
Early Christian Witness
As stated above, early Christians taught that Mary's obedience at the Annunciation reversed Eve's disobedience in the Garden. In 150, Saint Justin the Martyr wrote:
Christ became man by the Virgin that the disobedience which issued from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. Eve was still an undefiled virgin when she conceived the word of the serpent and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin received faith and joy, at the announcement of the angel Gabriel...and she replied, "Be it done to me according you your word". So through the mediation of the Virgin he came into the world, through whom God would crush the serpent (Apologia, ch. 100; 150 AD).Later that same century, Irenaeus of Lyons wrote:
The seduction of a fallen angel drew Eve, a virgin espoused to a man, while the glad tidings of the holy angel drew Mary, a Virgin already espoused, to begin the plan which would dissolve the bonds of that first snare...For as the former was lead astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had disobeyed his word, so did the latter, by and angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should bear God, and obeyed his word. If the former disobeyed God, the latter obeyed, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. Thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience is balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience (Against Heresies, Book 3, ch XXII, par. 4; 189 AD).Later quotes:
"Likewise, through a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus, what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex, was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight." (Tertullian, The Flesh of Christ 17:4; 210 AD)Objections
"(The Lord) was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, Life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both" (Augustine Christian Combat 22:24; 396 AD).
Scripture has many senses; the literal sense is only one. This passage has both a literal/historical sense and a prophetic/messianic sense. The Church has always believed that Genesis 3:15 had a deeper, messianic significance beyond what may seem to be the literal sense. Most Protestants acknowledge this, calling Jesus the Seed of the woman and using this passage to prove His virginal conception.
When God first spoke these words in the Garden of Eden, those present may have thought that He was only referring to Eve, since she was the only woman at that time. But God was more truly referring to a later woman who would conceive and bear the Savior while remaining a virgin. This of course is Mary, and her association here with the first Eve indicates that she would be a "new" Eve, a replacement for the original mother of the race.
As for Ludwig van Ott, he does not deny this messianic significance of Genesis 3:15. In fact, he goes on to say: "The seed of the woman was understood to refer to the Redeemer...and thus the Mother of the Redeemer came to be seen as the woman. Since the second century this direct messianic-marian interpretation has been expounded by individual Fathers" (2). So Ott also points out the deeper significance of this verse. Selectively quoting him does novt prove your point!
This interpretation of this passage not only contradicts the early Christian interpretation as represented by the Fathers, but also that of many Protestants! It effectively throws away the messianic significance of Genesis 3:15 by arguing that the "seed of the woman" is just Eve's general posterity, not the Messiah!
Is this how far some Protestants are willing to go to cut down Mary? They are willing to cut down Jesus in the process?
Here is St. Irenaeus of Lyons explanation of Gen 3:15:
'As thou canst perceive in Genesis that God said to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed...". For from that time, He who should be born of a woman, [namely] from the Virgin, after the likeness of Adam, was preached as keeping watch for the head of the serpent' (Against Heresies, 4:XXI:1).Irenaeus wrote this in 189 AD! He was the disciple of a Christian named Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John the Apostle himself! We can safely trust his interpretation.
The Woman clothed with the sun is a composite image of Israel, Mary and the Church, and hence the totality of the New Eve. Her celestial garments and "birth pangs" relate to Israel (see Gen. 37:9-10), her giving birth to Christ identifies her with Mary (compare Rev 12:5 with Luke 2:7) and her later persecution by the Devil associates her with the Church (Rev. 12:13-17). All three of these feminine entities are combined in the image of the New Eve.
Consider this: there are three in this sign -- the dragon, the child, and the woman. The dragon signifies a person, namely Satan; the child is Jesus Christ, another Person, so consistent exegesis would demand that the woman also be an individual person. Israel and the Church are not individual persons, but Mary is. So this must be Mary. As we saw above, Mary is the personification of Daughter Zion. She is also the Image and Model of Mother Church. So in this vision she stands in for both of them.
Yes, Mother Church is the New Eve, and Mary is the Image and Model of the Church, as well as her pre-eminent member. So she is the "personal" New Eve, as the Church is the "corporate" New Eve. We parallel Jesus and Mary because both are "persons"; Jesus Christ is not a corporate entity but a Divine Person, and Mary is a human person. Therefore Mary-as-New Eve parallels Jesus-as-New Adam more precisely than does the Church. Yet the Church is not excluded from being the New Eve, the Mother of redeemed humanity.
I Corinthians 11:12 says "As the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God". That means that in the beginning the first woman was formed from the first man, but ever since then all men have been born of woman. If that is the current, divinely ordained order of things, it is fitting that the New Adam should be born of the New Eve.
Besides, all members of the Church make up the "Bride of Christ". Since Mary is a member of the Church, she is also the "bride of Christ" in a spiritual sense.
Mary does not "help" Jesus save the world, nor does Jesus need her help. His death is sufficient to redeem everyone. Yet though He did not need her, He chooses to include a woman in His work because the original Fall involved a man and a woman. So now a Man and a woman are involved in bringing about the Redemption; the Man directly, the woman indirectly and subordinate to Him. Jesus does not need Mary, He freely chose her out of His infinite generosity.
Because in God's original plan, life - both physical and spiritual - must be transmitted by a man and a woman. Had Adam and Eve not fallen, they would have transmitted spiritual life to their children along with their physical existence. When they fell they lost their spiritual life and so could not give it to their offspring.
Since God had ordained that all life must come from both a man and a woman, he ordained that the restoration of spiritual life to humanity must also occur by a man and a woman. The Man is Jesus Christ, and the woman is the Virgin Mary.
The Church does not teach that Mary is our savior. Though Adam and Eve both sinned, they did not sin equally. The Bible says "in Adam all die" (I Corinthians 15:22), not "in Adam and Eve all die". It also says "by one man sin entered into the world" (Romans 5:12), not "by one man and one woman"! Eve's sin was not equal to that of Adam. Hers was the first human sin, and the impetus for his disobedience, but his sin actually caused the Fall since he was the first human being and thus the head of the human race.
Because the man's sin caused the Fall, the Savior had to be a man - a "New Adam" to be the head of a new, redeemed humanity. This is why St. Paul writes "As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive" (I Cor 15:22) and "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). The first man sinned, the Man Jesus saves us from sin. Paul never mentions Eve in any of the First Adam/Second Adam passages.
The first woman's sin did not directly cause the Fall, but it was the first act of disobedience against God. So God chose to have another woman--Mary--undo that first act of disobedience. As Eve disobeyed God and became the indirect cause of the Fall by giving Adam the fruit (Genesis 3:6), so Mary obeyed God (Lk 1:38) and so became the indirect cause of our salvation by bringing the Savior into the world.
Mary is the indirect cause of the Redemption, not the direct cause. Even as Eve was the indirect, not direct, cause of the Fall. Jesus is the direct cause of our salvation, Who saves us by His Death and Resurrection. Yet He could not have died or risen had he not assumed a human nature, which He got from Mary. Thus she did play a part in bringing about our Redemption, but her role was not equal to that of Jesus, even as Eve's sin was not equal to Adam's. Thus Jesus is our Savior, not Mary.
Those who use that Marian title (which has not been officially defined by the Church) do use the New Eve concept to support it. Like the title New Eve, Coredemptrix does not mean that Mary is equal to Jesus or redeems the world with Him. The suffix "co" comes from the Latin word cum, meaning "with". So Coredemptrix literally means "Woman with the Redeemer", not "fellow-Redeemer" (as some non-Catholics falsely interpret it). It simply signifies that Mary is the Woman associated with Jesus our Redeemer, not "another Savior" apart from Him.
As stated above, however, the title has not been declared an article of faith, so one does not have to use it. (For a more thorough treatment of the Coredemptrix concept, see Is Mary the Coredemptrix?).
As we saw above, this is a very ancient Christian teaching, based on the Bible and taught by second century Christians. Mary-as-New Eve is not a later concept; it is one of the earliest Christian portrayals of Mary! We Catholics believe it because we are the same Church that existed and taught it in the early centuries.
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