Mary and Eve in the Early Church

We've already looked at parallels between Mary and Eve HERE. Let's look again through the eyes of the early Church.

1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat of any tree of the garden'?" 2 And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" 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." 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. (Gn 3:1-6)

The very earliest Christian exegesis on Mary was a comparison of this passage to the Annunciation story of Mary in Luke:

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. 28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 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. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Lk 1:26-38)

In the second century, St. Justin Martyr put two and two together and wrote this:

[The Son of God] became man through a Virgin, so that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it had begun. For Eve, who was virgin and undefiled, gave birth to disobedience and death after listening to the serpent’s words. But the Virgin Mary conceived faith and joy; for when the angel Gabriel brought her the glad tidings that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, so that the Holy One born of her would be the Son of God, she answered, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Thus was born of her the [Child] about whom so many Scriptures speak, as we have shown. Through Him, God crushed the serpent, along with those angels and men who had become like the serpent.” (“Dialogue with Trypho 100, PG 6, 709-12)

Here St. Justin notes that the devil (serpent) spoke to Eve, just as the angel spoke to Mary. The words of the serpent led Eve to disobey God, just as the words of the angel led Mary to obey God. Eve’s disobedience “gave birth to” sin and death for humanity, while Mary’s obedience gave birth to the Son of God, who is Life itself. The Son of Mary freed humanity from the bondage of sin and death. In short, what was done by Eve was undone by Mary.

Likewise, the second century bishop, St. Irenaeus of Lyon, wrote:

Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ, so that death might be swallowed up in immorality, and Eve [had to be recapitulated] in Mary, so that the Virgin, having become another virgin;s advocate, might destroy and abolish one virgin’s disobedience by the obedience of another virgin. (Proof of the Apostolic Preaching 33, SC 62, pp 83)

Again, the core idea is that Mary undid what Eve had done. But Irenaeus goes further, to point out that the Mary-Eve connection is aligned with the Jesus-Adam connection. As the sin of Adam was initiated by the disobedience of Eve, so the redemption of Jesus was initiated by the obedience of Mary. Adam & Eve, Jesus & Mary are paired in salvation history. This is the source of some Catholic theology referring to her as Co-Redemptrix or Co-Mediatrix (cf. Vatican II: Lumen Gentium 62).

The fourth century deacon, St. Ephraim the Syrian, wrote many theological works in beautiful poetic form. Of Mary, he wrote:

Behold the world! To it were given two eyes:
Eve was the left eye, the blind eye; the right eye, the luminous eye of Mary.
Because of the eye that grew dark, the whole world became dark.
Then men, groping in the shadows,
will consider every stone on which they stumble
to be a god.
They have called lies the truth.
But when the world once more begins to shine, by the other eye
and the light of heaven taking up a dwelling in the cavity of this eye,
then men will rediscover unity, perceiving that what they had found
was the downfall of their lives.
(Hymns on the Church 37, 5-7, CSCO 199, 90)

In this poetic analogy, Eve is the source of spiritual darkness and blindness, while Mary is the source of spiritual light. Note he refers to Eve and Mary as eyes, those organs that direct light into the body. That is, he is not calling Mary the light, for all Christians know the light is Christ. Rather, Eve and Mary are the eyesway to Jesus. “To Jesus through Mary,” as St. Louis de Montfort said.

Taking that sweet Ave, erst by Gabriel spoken, Eva’s name reversing, Be of peace the token (hymn Ave Maris Stella)