The Catholic Church teaches “The principal purpose to which the plan of the old covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy, and to indicate its meaning through various types.” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum). We see the apostles begin to unfold this understanding of “types” of Christ from the Old Testament. They recognized Christ as the fulfillment of the Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7), as the Rock that had followed the Israelites in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:4), as the mysterious priest Melchizedek (Hebrews 6:20, 7:15), and many other examples.
Yet not all the typologies from the Old Testament that foreshadow Christ were specifically identified in the writings of the New Testament. An example of this would be the story of Isaac, the faithful son who carried the wood for his own sacrifice to the top of Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:1-19). This passage foreshadows Christ carrying his cross to be sacrificed on our behalf and is identified in the writings of church fathers as early as the second century.
We also see in the second century the early church fathers identify Eve as a “type” of Mary. This is not a random occurrence but a consensus and is present so early in the Church it predates the usage of the word “Trinity” in any writings and is present across three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe). For perspective, this is over 200 years before we have a uniform canon of Scripture that was adopted by the Church. We should also recognize that the date a belief first appears in a document that survived tells us this understanding existed at least by that time, not that it was only first believed at that time. There is no debate or discussion among the early church fathers on this concept but rather a uniform understanding of its truth.
We see the roots of this understanding of Mary as the new Eve in the New Testament. St. Paul clearly identifies Christ as being the “new Adam” when he writes in Romans 5:12-14 “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned— sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” He also stated “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.’” (1 Corinthians 15:45)
Yet while St. Paul recognized sin and death entered the world through Adam, he doesn’t completely ignore the role of Eve. He writes to Timothy “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:13-14). When we read the story in Genesis of the fall of man (Genesis 3:1-24), we see the serpent approached Eve with his lie – God had forbidden them to eat the fruit from the tree in the midst of the garden because it would make them like God. But according to most translations including the KJV and the Catholic NABRE, Adam was there with her and watched the scene unfold. Even in those translations that don’t explicitly say Adam was there, it is clear she did not have to go find him in order to share the fruit. Adam listened to what the serpent said, and instead of going to battle for his bride it seems he allowed her to eat the fruit first to see if she would die as God had said. And when she did not immediately die, he willingly took the fruit and ate. Therefore St. Paul made it clear while Eve was deceived by the serpent Adam was not – he clearly understood yet chose to disobey God. And it’s only when Adam ate both of their eyes were opened, and the fall of mankind occurred (Genesis 3:6-7).
While St. Paul recorded sin came into the world through one man, that does not mean Eve’s contribution to the sin of Adam was unimportant or inconsequential. And understanding the role of Eve in the fall of man is key to understanding the role of Mary in our redemption. Just as Eve by her disobedience had contributed to the fall of man, Mary by the obedience of her fiat (“let it be done to me according to thy word”) contributed to Christ’s redemptive work by agreeing to give birth to Christ and accepting all the personal consequences of that decision into her life. St. Irenaeus wrote in the second century “And thus also it 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.”
One of the primary objections I’ve heard to the idea of Mary as the new Eve is that Eve was Adam’s wife, not his mother, so therefore Mary could not be the “new Eve.” This is a failure to realize how typology works. The parallels between the Old and New are striking but not absolute. For example, while Christ is clearly defined as the new Adam, he is not married as Adam was. Adam was a new creation formed from the soil of the earth while Christ was instead born of a woman. These differences do not keep Adam from being a “type” of Christ.
The primary point of Mary being the new Eve is because with her and Christ, we see the onset of the “reversal” of the fall of man. St. Paul alludes to this when he writes in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” If we “fill in the blanks”, when St. Paul says “as woman was made from man” can only be a reference to Adam and Eve. The woman (Eve) was made from man (Adam). But Christ the new Adam (man) is born of a woman (Mary). These represent the only two times in human history a person receives flesh from a single individual. The reversal of the fall is set in motion.
The church fathers also found many other parallels that point to Mary as the fulfillment of Eve. Eve and Mary were both approached by an angel – Eve the angel of darkness (Satan) and Mary the angel Gabriel. They both received news and had a decision to make that would have monumental consequences not just for their own lives but the lives of all people for all time. They each accepted the word given to them from the angel – Eve accepted a lie (Genesis 3:4-5), and Mary accepted the news she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:38).
Both accepted and received the “fruit” of their decision. Eve accepted the fruit of the tree forbidden by God (Genesis 3:6). Mary accepted the fruit of the Incarnation which caused Elizabeth to exclaim to her “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42).
Eve received her fruit from the tree; Mary’s “fruit” was also taken from the tree – the cross (Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:29, 1 Peter 2:24). This recognition led St. John Chrysostom to reflect “A virgin, the wood, and death were symbols of our defeat. The virgin was Eve, for she had not yet known her husband; the wood was the tree….And behold a second time, a virgin, the wood and death; the symbols of defeat have become the symbols of victory. For Mary is in the place of Eve.”
There is yet another parallel that is striking, and it’s Jesus’ reference to Mary as “woman” in the Gospel of John (John 2:4, 19:26). Some have tried to indicate this was Christ “distancing” himself from Mary by refusing to even call her “mother.” There are many reasons that position is indefensible. Are we really to believe as Jesus was dying on the cross and Mary stood faithfully at his side and he told her “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26) he had distanced himself from her?
Another reason this view is most problematic is Scripture refers to Mary as the mother of Jesus quite often – more than 25 times. If inspired, inerrant Scripture acknowledges Mary as the mother of Jesus, how can we believe Jesus refused to acknowledge her as his mother? This would put him at odds with the written word of God.
And are we really to believe Jesus would fail to obey the commandment to “honor your mother,” by refusing to even acknowledge that is who she was? It is a commandment he cited more than once and seemed to take quite seriously (Matthew 15:4-5, 19:19, Mark 7:10, 10:19, Luke 18:20)
Rather, in this distinctive parallel Jesus refers to Mary as “woman” because that is the name by which Eve was known at the time of her encounter with the fallen angel. In Genesis 3, Eve is called “woman” eight times in sixteen verses as she engaged with the angel of darkness (Genesis 3:1-16). She did not receive her name until after the fall (Genesis 3:20). We’re told she’s named Eve because she’s the “mother of all the living.” In a future post I’ll explore how Catholics understand the woman identified in Revelation 12 is Mary, and she becomes the mother of all of those who live in Christ — “those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Revelation 12:17).
When we read the encounter of the fall and the consequences that ensue, we see a promise made by God that the devil will one day be destroyed. In Genesis 3:15 God tells the serpent “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” While both before and after God had addressed the “woman” that is clearly Eve, in this future promise the early church fathers recognized that the woman whose seed would crush the head of Satan is Mary. For it is Christ who will do battle with the ancient enemy on behalf of humanity, and he is the seed of Mary (John 7:42 KJV, Romans 1:3 KJV, 2 Timothy 2:8 KJV).
We can be certain it’s Mary for one very clear reason. The future enmity described by God is not just between the serpent and Christ. It is also between the serpent and the woman. The serpent and the woman will also be mortal enemies. The “woman and her seed” in Genesis 3:15 are placed in a separate category from the devil and his “seed” and are in opposition to him. Eve had already sinned and is no longer in “enmity” with Satan – by her sin she is “of the devil” (1 John 3:8). God made a promise that salvation would come to His people through a woman and her seed who will oppose Satan and stand firmly against him, unlike Adam and Eve.
In my next post I’ll review the first time in John’s Gospel we hear Jesus refer to Mary as “woman” and what we should learn from that encounter.