7 Church Fathers on that Profound Insight of Mary as the New Eve

Missal of Bernhard von Rohr, Archbishop of Salzburg ca.1481 / http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/meditations/neweve.html

In his 1st letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul teaches that Jesus is the “last Adam” who fixed the problems caused by Adam’s sin:

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15.21-22)

But we also know from Genesis that Eve played an important role in the Fall. If Jesus took the place of Adam, who took the place of Eve?

The earliest Christians believed that Jesus’ mother Mary played that role. They pointed out a number of similarities between the situations of Mary and Eve: both were virgins, pledged to a man, visited by an angel (in Eve’s case, a fallen one), and made an important decision in response to the angel which helped bring about the actions of the man: Eve believed the serpent and led Adam into sin; Mary believed the angel Gabriel and helped bring our Savior into the world.

Here are just 7 examples of early Church fathers meditating on these fascinating connections:

1) St. Justin Martyr, 2nd century

[Jesus] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death.

But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’ (Dialogue with Trypho, 100, A.D. 160)

2) St. Irenaeus of Lyon, 2nd century

[W]hat is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter… […] [I]t was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Against Heresies, III.22.4, A.D. 180)

For just as [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness of the virgin Eve.

And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. (Against Heresies, V.19.1, A.D. 180)

Mary, Untier of Knots, by Johann Georg Schmidtner, 1700 / Public Domain
Mary, Untier of Knots, by Johann Georg Schmidtner, 1700 / Public Domain

3) Tertullian, 2nd-3rd century

For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin’s soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced.

But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil’s word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil’s word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself.

God therefore sent down into the virgin’s womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation. (The Flesh of Christ, 17, A.D. 210)

4) St. Gregory the Wonder-worker, 3rd century

When I remember the disobedience of Eve, I weep. But when I view the fruit of Mary, I am again renewed. Deathless by descent, invisible through beauty, before the ages light of light; of God the Father wast Thou begotten; being Word and Son of God, Thou didst take on flesh from Mary Virgin, in order that Thou mightest renew afresh Adam fashioned by Thy holy hand. (Homily Concerning the Holy Mother of God Ever-Virgin, 1)

Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O
Eve and Mary by Sr. Grace Remington, O.C.S.O

5) St. Jerome, 4th century

Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. (Epistle 22, 21)

6) St. Ephrem, 4th century

With the body then that [was] from the Virgin, [Jesus] entered Sheol and plundered its storehouses and emptied its treasures. He came then to Eve the Mother of all living. This is the vine whose fence Death laid open by her own hands, and caused her to taste of his fruits. So Eve the Mother of all living became the well-spring of death to all living. But Mary budded forth, a new shoot from Eve the ancient vine; and new life dwelt in her, that when Death should come confidently after his custom to feed upon mortal fruits, the life that is slayer of death might be stored up [therein] against him… (Homily on Our Lord, 3)

Let women praise Her, the pure Mary — that as in Eve their mother, great was their reproach — lo! In Mary their sister, greatly magnified was their honor. […] Of him the Lord said, that he had fallen from Heaven.— The Abhorred One had exalted himself; from his uplifting he has fallen. The foot of Mary has trod him down, who bruised Eve with his heel. (Hymns on the Nativity, 15)

Eve and Mary, by Ferdinand Max Bredt, before 1921 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
Eve and Mary, by Ferdinand Max Bredt, before 1921 / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

7) St. Augustine, 4th-5th century

Our 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. (Christian Combat 22.24, A.D. 396)

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