Mary and Eve

21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive... 45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Cor 15:21-22, 45-49)

As this Pauline text states, Jesus is a new Adam. The first Adam brought sin and death into the world. Our new Adam corrected that mistake and restored grace and life to the world. This comparison between Jesus and Adam has been a subject of theological meditation since the beginning of Christianity.

The story of Adam's transgression in the Garden of Eden included another character, though: the woman. The devil, in the guise of a serpent, speaks to her and tempts her. She commits the first act of disobedience, and then invites Adam to join her. (NB: We call her Eve, but that name was not given to her until after the Fall; until that name change, she was called the woman. More on this later.)

6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Gen 3:6)

It is clear that the woman is the subject of the temptation and the first to engage in sin. Adam followed. This woman is a critical actor in the drama of the Fall; yet according to St. Paul, sin and death came through Adam, not through her. Why? The answer lies in the ancients’ understanding of animal procreation, which reflected agriculture: life is transmitted through the male seed. The Fall was through Adam, in order to pass on this sinful nature to his progeny. So we speak of Adam’s fall, and Christ’s redemption from the Fall. We do not speak of the woman.

Actually, yes we do. She is an integral part of the story, both the Fall and the Redemption. The devil spoke to Eve, not to Adam. (Please remember that the devil was a fallen angel.) He lied to her and promised that should she disobey God, she would become godlike herself.

4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Gen 3:4-5)

The temptation, as spoken, was that the woman could become like a god herself. As we move to the New Testament story, we should find another woman who counterbalances the drama of the serpent and the woman.

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. (Lk 1:26-27)

Here we see another angel visiting another virgin. Please remember that we know Mary to have been conceived without original sin, and likewise we know she never committed any actual sins – in this she is the same as the woman of Genesis, also a sinless virgin.

The angel speaks, but not a temptation to become godlike; rather he offers her the opportunity to be a God-bearer.

30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Lk 1:30-33)

Instead of offering this woman the opportunity to become like a god, to be on the same level as God Himself, the angel offers her the opportunity to participate in the coming of the Son of God. Instead of pride, she is offered humility. Like the woman of Genesis, Mary has a decision to make: obey or disobey. Her decision is famous.

38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:38)

She submits as a servant. As Christ’s redemption was the remedy for Adam’s sin, so Mary’s humble obedience was the remedy for Eve’s disobedience. As Jesus is the new Adam, so Mary is the new Eve.

Let’s look at a few elements from these comparative texts. First, we note the angel Gabriel visited Mary in the sixth month, that is, the sixth month after he visited Zechariah. We see our number six, the day of the week on which Adam and Eve were created. It calls our mind to the events of Adam and Eve and the Fall.

Next, we remember that among those events was the creation of the woman from Adam’s rib; that is, she was physically created from Adam’s flesh. This helps us understand that in our spiritual account of the New Covenant, Mary was full of grace (as the angel called her), her grace given her by her new Adam, Jesus Christ.

Next, let’s note an obscure detail.

20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Gen 3:20)

The woman now has a new name: Eve. The Hebrew word for Eve is Chavah, translated into English as “mother of the living.” She has not yet borne children, yet her name is now mother. The events of the Fall are still occurring, yet for some reason Adam finds the time ripe to change her name. During the events of the Redemption, the new Adam, Jesus, finds the time ripe to remember that Adamic name change, even as He hung from the cross:

26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (Jn 19:26-27)

Our new Eve, Mary, had been consistently called woman by Jesus. Here, even as He hung from the cross, He calls her mother. The new Adam did as the old Adam had done.

Our Blessed Mother played a part in the Redemption of her Son. Unlike her Son, who redeemed us by His divine nature, by what He was, Mary participated in redemption by her role associated with Jesus. Likewise, Eve was not the downfall of humanity, but Adam was, by his nature: his was the originating seed of humanity. Eve participated in the Fall only by her association with Adam.

In our next essay, we’ll look closer at why the Fall was a problem of Adam, rather than of Eve.