21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; 22 and the rib which the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Gen 2:21-22)
34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness--his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth--that you also may believe. (Jn 19:34-35)
Today's post is by a great exegete, Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. He, in turn, is commenting on the work of another noted theologian, Fr. Jean Danielou, S.J. who is, in turn, commenting on the Fathers.
Adam and especially the sleep of Adam - that is, the sleep during which Eve was drawn from the side of our protoparent, the first man. Saint Hilary of Poitiers, sometimes called "the Athanasius of the West," writing in the fourth century, in his Tractate on the Mysteries says that all the outstanding persons and leading events of Scripture can be considered both stages preparing the mystery and also rough outlines prefiguring the mystery that is one day to be fulfilled in Christ. He calls them sacramenta, signs, as the sacraments of the Church are signs. And of these, he goes on, the very first to be mentioned is "the sleep of Adam." The thinking is that, just as Eve, Mother of all the living, was drawn by God from Adam's side, so the Church, the Mother of all the supernaturally living came forth from the side of Christ as he slept on the cross - namely, through the blood and water that flowed from his opened heart when he died, according to the testimony of Saint John’s Gospel (19:34-35)
The Letters of Saint Paul, and especially the Letter to the Romans, already make the point that Adam, the Head of the old humanity, is a type of Jesus Christ, who is Head of the new. (“Lovely Like Jerusalem,” Aidan Nichols, O.P., Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2007, pp 176-7)
Fr. Nichols here introduces us to a typology where Jesus’ death is a kind of sleep, similar to when Adam slept. The opening of Christ’s side by the lance was prefigured by the opening of Adam’s side by God. In both instances, something came out, something we recognize as a maternal source of life. The former was the mother of biological life (Greek: bios); the later the mother of supernatural life (Greek: zoe).
What the Fathers do, then, is to take this Adam-Christ typology, with its combined likeness and difference, one step – or more than one step – further. Here is how Danielou presents the key text from Saint Hilary. “Eve, born of Adam’s flesh [is a type of] the Church born of the Word made flesh, since it is first from the pierced side of Christ, sleeping on the cross, as from the pierced side of Adam, that blood and water flowed out, symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist, giving birth and life to the Church – and this continuation of life is continued by the sacramental life, through which the flesh of Christ received in communion continues to sanctify the Church.” “This theme,” explains Danielou, “is at once Christological and sacramental:” here we have “the mystery of Christ himself, prefiguring the mysterious bond between his passion and the birth of the Church.” (1) Danielou emphasizes that this is not simply an imaginative insight on the part of some individual – and therefore possibly isolated – theologian. It is found in Tertullian, in North Africa; in Saint Methodius of Olympus, in Greece; in Gregory of Elvira (near Grenada), in Spain; in Saint Zeno of Verona in Northern Italy: four writers who between them span the whole of the period from the subapostolic age to the Council of Nicaea and the entire Mediterranean world where the Church came to birth.
Saint Zeno’s account is especially rich because it brings “the sleep of Christ” theme into connection with other aspects of the Adam-Christ, Eve-Church typology. He writes: