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Part 3: The New Eve and a New Lease on Life
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (May 28, 2015)
The following is the third part of our Mary 101 series.
In North America, when children are playing games together and they want a second opportunity to score a goal or hit a home run, they ask their companions for a "do-over," a second chance.
The first thing that the early Church teaches about Mary is that she is an integral part of the "do-over" that God gave to the world, through Jesus Christ. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the "Second Adam," in other words, the beginning of a "do-over" for the whole fallen race of Adam (e.g., Rom 5:12-21). As Adam was the head of fallen humanity, so Jesus becomes the Head of a new, redeemed and sanctified humanity. At the same time, the Blessed Virgin Mary is clearly shown in Scripture to be the Second Eve. Remember that the first Eve, as mother of all the living, ushered in the age of sin by succumbing to the temptation of the fallen angel, the serpent, in the Garden of Eden. Mary is the New Eve because she reversed Eve's sin by her obedience to a good angel, Gabriel, at the Annunciation in Nazareth (Lk 1:26-28).
The Faith of the Early Christians
That Mary is rightly seen as the New Eve in God's plan of salvation for the human race was the common teaching of the earliest "Fathers" of the Church (the greatest writers of the early centuries of Christianity). In the mid-second century, for example, only about 100 years after the Ddeath and Rresurrection of Jesus, St. Justin Martyr tells us in his Dialogue with Tryphon (section 100):
Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied: "Be it done unto me according to thy word."
In the same century we find a similar teaching in the works of Tertullian of Carthage in North Africa (De Carn. Christ. 17):
What by that [female] sex had gone into perdition, by that same sex might be brought back to salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel; the fault which the one committed by believing, the other by believing has blotted out.
Again, we find a similar teaching echoed in the writings of the great second century church Father, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in his main work Against Heresies (III. 22. 34). It should be noted that St. Irenaeus had learned the Catholic Faith from St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, who in turn had learned the Faith from St. John the Apostle himself. Saintt. Irenaeus wrote:
Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race ... . And so it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by Mary's obedience. For what the virgin bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief.
Thus, according to St. Irenaeus, the human race was "all tied-up-in-knots" as a result of Eve's fall from grace, but those knots were untangled by the Blessed Virgin. [Perhaps now we can see why Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to turn to "Mary Our Lady, Un-tierdoer of Knots" in the troubled times in which we live today!]. Again, in the same work, St. Irenaeus wrote (V.19):
As Eve by the speech of an angel was seduced so as to flee God, transgressing His word, so also Mary received the good tidings by means of the angel's speech, so as to bear God within her, being obedient to His word. And, though one had disobeyed God, yet the other was drawn to obey God; that of the Virgin Eve, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate. And as by a virgin the human race had been bound by death, by a virgin it is saved, the balance being preserved, a virgin's disobedience by a virgin's obedience.
In short, according to St. Irenaeus, Mary's obedience to God set in motion the liberation of humanity from the bondage to sin and death that Eve's disobedience to God had initially caused.
This doctrine of Mary as the New Eve in God's plan of salvation also can be found in numerous places in the writings of the later Cchurch Fathers. In the fourth century, for example, St. Epiphanius of Cyprus wrote: "Eve became a cause of death to men ... and Mary a cause of life" (Haer. 78.18); St. Jerome's slogan was "Death by Eve, life by Mary" (Ep. Ad Eustoch. 22.21); St. Peter Chrysologous (d. 450 A.D.) echoes the same teaching: "Woman now is truly made through grace Mother of the living, who had been by nature mother of the dying."
These reflections by the Cchurch Fathers provide an answer to those who claim today that Catholicism somehow sees women as second-class citizens in the Church. "If in the Bible Eve is blamed for the fall of man long ago, and women cannot be priests today," it is said, "then women are hardly seen as equal to men in the eyes of the Catholic Church." On the contrary, women are in some respects even greater than men in the eyes of the Church, for Mary reversed Eve's sin in the Garden by her obedience to Gabriel, and of all the creatures who have ever lived, the greatest is the New Eve, the Mother of the divine Savior, who alone among created human beings was called by an angel "full of grace" (Lk 1:28). As we shall see later in this online series, Mary reigns now with her son as Queen of Heaven, above all the angels and saints.
Notice also that while the early Cchurch Fathers were teaching these things about Mary as the New Eve, none of them believed that these teachings in any way distracted Christians from their fundamental belief that Jesus alone is Lord and Savior. On the contrary, they called Mary the New Eve precisely because she cooperated in a unique way with the saving work of the Son of God.
Read more articles in our Mary 101 series.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.