Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Early Church Mariology: Mary as the New Eve

Why do Catholics today talk so much about Mary?

I'm not sure that Catholics actually talk about Mary as much as evangelicals have been told that Catholics do, but Catholics certainly talk about Mary more than evangelicals (although evangelical interest in Mary seems to be growing). As with many things Catholic, many evangelicals assume that Catholic things like Mariology are "extra things", later medieval corruptions of the faith, whereas evangelicals follow the faith of the early Church.

Such an assumption is of course untrue.

Among the early Christians you find the beliefs that Mary was without sin, that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and that she is properly called the Mother of God (see Theotokos) to name a few. But one of the most widespread insights about Mary's place in God's plan of salvation was her role as the New Eve (which was greatly linked to the above beliefs). Just as Jesus was a recapitulation of Adam (1 Cor 15), Mary was a recapitulation of Eve.

Below is a sample of what early Christians had to say about Mary as the New Eve. Included are quotes from many of the early greats that some evangelicals hold in high esteem, like Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Jerome, and of course Augustine.

I offer the same challenge to evangelicals as was given by Taylor Marshall a few months ago at his blog: if you were present and heard these Christians teach as they do below, "would you rejoice and say 'Amen' or would you walk out? The way you answer this question will reveal whether you conform to the early Church or not."

St Justin the Martyr, Christian convert, philosopher, and martyr, 2nd century
Dialogue with Trypho, 100, ~A.D. 160:
[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.'

St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, 2nd century
Against Heresies, III.22.4, ~A.D. 180:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.

And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what 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, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been cancelled.

For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first. And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, instead of fathers, children have been born unto you. For the Lord, having been born the First-begotten of the dead, and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. 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.

Against Heresies, V.19.1, ~A.D. 180:
That the Lord then was manifestly coming to His own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation which is supported by Himself, and was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree, [the effects] also of that deception being done away with, by which that virgin Eve, who was already espoused to a man, was unhappily misled—was happily announced, through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to the Virgin Mary, who was [also espoused] to a man. For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) 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 (advocata) 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. For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

Tertullian, 2nd-3rd century
The Flesh of Christ, 17, ~A.D. 210
[W]hy is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil. 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.

St Jerome, presbyter, Doctor of the Church, 4th century
Epistle 22.21:
Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.

St Ephrem, deacon, Doctor of the Church, 4th century
Homily on Our Lord, 3:
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...

Hymns on the Nativity 15:
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 honour. [...] 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.

St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church, 4th-5th century
Christian Combat 22:24, A.D. 396 (quote taken from Catholic Answers):
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.

NOTE: Unless noted otherwise, all of the quotes have been take from the texts themselves as they appear on New Advent. Of great help in finding quotes was www.churchfathers.org/.

11 comments:

  1. You'll probably like the art here:

    http://attheturnofthetide.blogspot.com/2010/12/new-eve.html

    I used it last Christmas to discuss the New Eve with my Catechism class.

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  2. As always, thank you for the great evidence/ information

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  3. I'm a Protestant, and I have no problem with the quotes you posted. But I would disagree with you about how much Catholics talk about Mary. I listen to Catholic radio pretty much everyday and get mailings from Catholic charities often and they talk about Mary ALL the freaking time! I get it, she was obedient -- so was Joseph but you don't hear about him hardly at all.

    Anyway, I see no reason to believe Mary was a perpetual virgin -- I believe she was a virgin when she carried Jesus, but then after that we just don't know.

    And, I don't get this whole without sin thing. How do we know Mary was without sin? We don't. And I don't believe it because she isn't God. How is it so horrible to believe only Jesus was without sin? How could you possibly equate the two?

    Also, when Catholics "pray to Mary" how does she hear you???

    I just don't get it. I love the Catholic Church for a lot of things, but I do not understand their Mary obsession. It should be a Jesus obsession.

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  4. Hey Anon,

    I obviously haven't listened to the Catholic radio that you have, so it's hard for me to respond to that. All I can say is that the Church clearly doesn't teach that we should worship Mary, and in normal Catholic practice we do not. Attend a Mass and it's very very clear who we worship.

    Regarding Mary being a perpetual virgin, it was the belief of the early Church. Actually, not only did all Christians right from the beginning believe it, the Protestant Reformers (Luther, Calvin, even the later Wesley) all defended the perpetual virginity of Mary. It's a fairly recent development among a small percentage of the Christian population to deny it.

    Regarding Mary being without sin by God's grace, there are many reasons that I can't explain in a comment box. It was a belief of the early Church as well.

    You twice now have made the assumption that because something isn't explicitly in the Bible, therefore we can't know it, which of course absurd. Truth is passed on in other ways. We can know lots of things that aren't in the Bible (e.g. there are moons around Jupiter, Julius Caesar was the emperor of Rome, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the USA).

    When Catholic pray to any saint, they are asking for their prayers. God enables the saints to hear our requests for their prayers.

    The Catholic Church is not obsessed with Mary. Protestants who don't like the Catholic Church are obsessed with thinking that the Catholic Church is obsessed with Mary. It's an absurd attack that only those who are either (1) ignorant of actual Catholic belief or (2) are simply anti-Catholic level against Catholics. It's honestly something that evangelicals need to get passed so that Catholics and evangelicals can talk about the real issues that separate us (apostolic succession, Tradition, etc).

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  5. Mary is never mentioned in the New Testament in the writings of Peter & Paul, nor the letters of John, nor Jesus's Revelation, nor James. She is not even found in the book of Acts, except in a list in Acts 1:14. This trumps anything you or any extra-biblical writer cared to say about her.

    Hear this and heed it: In the one place where Mary exaltation/worship seems to have an attempted introduction, there seems to be a mild rebuke by Jesus, and certainly a redirection--

    Luke 11:27-28 ESV

    As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

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  6. Hey Scott,
    Hear this and heed it: Read the whole Bible.

    In the Luke 11 passage, Jesus is saying that faith trumps blood bonds, which is true for Mary and for anyone. Mary is more blessed because of her faith than simply because she birthed Jesus. This is in line with what Elizabeth, *moved by the Holy Spirit*, exclaims to Mary (notice her last line; Lk 1.41-45, ESV):

    "And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was *filled with the Holy Spirit*, and she *exclaimed with a loud cry*, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.""

    Also, we must taken in account Gabriel's greeting to Mary (keep in mind that when Gabriel met Joseph and Zachariah, he calls them by their names, but calls Mary 'kecharitomene', which means 'one who is highly favored' or 'one who is full of grace'; Lk 1.28-30, ESV):

    "And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."

    Obviously in both passages we see that Mary is highly honored by God. We as Catholics do nothing more.

    You wrote: "[Lack of mention of Mary in some of the NT books] trumps anything you or any extra-biblical writer cared to say about her"
    Nothing that any of these writers wrote contradicts the Bible, so I'm not sure what the Bible would be trumping.

    I would say that the unanimous interpretation of the deposit of faith by the early Church Fathers certainly trumps your own.

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  7. Brantley, thanks for sharing. Mary is certainly a blessed woman, and highly favored to have the Savior of the world conceived in her by the Holy Spirit and birthed through her. It was highly appropriate that she be give great praise for that. But I believe there is great denial when it comes to facing the fact that the word of God, ie, the instructional letters of those apostles who saw Jesus after his resurrection, never say a SINGLE word about Mary. Not one! The letters Paul and Peter and James and John wrote are in a class by themselves for authoritatively instructing the Church on doctrine and practice. And they avoid Mary entirely! Nada. Ninguna palabra! This void in scripture seems to me to be a staggering endictment on the RCC for its preoccupation with Mary. Certainly if the Holy Spirit had intended the Church to obsess on Mary He would have had Peter or Paul say SOMETHING to that effect! Yet.....crickets. Nothing. This is, in fact, why hundreds of millions of born again people wordwide thrive in Christianity without the RCC focus on Mary. And make no mistake, it is not an accident that Luke records Jesus silencing that woman's exaltation of Mary and redirecting her to focus on hearing and obeying the word of God. That is still His advice today!

    "As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"

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  8. Hey Scott,

    I already explained the Luke 11 passage. He doesn't silence anyone. He doesn't even say, 'Don't exalt my mother'. Don't add to the text. He says "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" That includes Mary, who's fiat resulted in the incarnation of Jesus. He's pointing out that faith is more important than blood relations, which is true of Mary. And remember, what Elizabeth says by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in praise of Mary is also in Luke's Gospel. Whatever Jesus meant, I don't think it's intended to contradict the Holy Spirit.

    You wrote: "Mary is certainly a blessed woman, and highly favored to have the Savior of the world conceived in her by the Holy Spirit and birthed through her. It was highly appropriate that she be give great praise for that."
    She's not only praised for the fact that Jesus was conceived in her, but for her faith, as Elizabeth, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says: "45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."" (Luke 1.45)
    Secondly, if you admit that she can be appropriately honored for her role there...then why do you have a problem with Catholics honoring her in her role? Why are evangelicals better for not following the Holy Spirit in giving her appropriate honor?

    Aside from the Luke 11 passage which is easily explained, your argument is that the *silence* of a particular doctrine in one part of the New Testament seems to trump what's taught in another part, which is poor reasoning. It's all God's Word, and if it's said anywhere, it's true. I don't prioritize Paul over Luke.

    I follow the Holy Spirit and the Archangel Gabriel in Luke 1, along with all Christians from the very beginning onward in giving Mary appropriate honor - not more, not less than is appropriate. The modern day Protestant allergic reaction to anything Mary is a a recent historical aberration, that has precedence only among a hand full of heretics in history (see my post here: http://youngevangelicalandcatholic.blogspot.com/2011/11/protestant-defense-of-marys-perpetual.html)

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  9. Two other things:
    1) If you want a good summary of what the Catholic Church teaches about Mary, read the 8th chapter (paragraphs 52-69) of Lumen Gentium from Vatican II which can be found here (http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html)
    You'll notice also that the section on Mary is a short subsection on a long document on the Church - certainly not indicative of any extreme preoccupation with Mary.

    2)In my experience there seems to be a pattern among evangelicals that if they ever here Catholics mention Mary at all, they immediately accuse Catholics of being obsessed. Look in the Catechism, how much of it is about Mary? A small number of paragraphs. How much of it is about Jesus? Pretty much the whole thing. Go to Mass: how much of it is about Mary? Mary is hardly mentioned in the vast majority of Masses. How much of it is about Jesus? The whole point of Mass is about Jesus. How many feast days does Mary have? A handful. How many does Jesus have? Every single Sunday celebrates his Resurrection, in addition to every Mass which is all about Jesus, with extra feast days too in his honor, including 4 weeks of Advent which prepare to celebrate his birth for 12 days, and 40 days of Lent to prepare to celebrate his Resurrection for 50 days. Walk into any Catholic Church, who's front and center? Jesus on the cross. Jesus is also on the walls in the stations of the cross. There is usually some representation of Mary and Joseph on the sides, maybe one each. Many Catholics churches (my own included) have 24/7 prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist - not Mary. In other words, this idea that Catholics are just obsessed with Mary is totally and completely unfounded.

    And as I said in an earlier comment to someone else: "The Catholic Church is not obsessed with Mary. Protestants who don't like the Catholic Church are obsessed with thinking that the Catholic Church is obsessed with Mary. It's an absurd attack that only those who are either (1) ignorant of actual Catholic belief or (2) are simply anti-Catholic level against Catholics. It's honestly something that evangelicals need to get passed so that Catholics and evangelicals can talk about the real issues that separate us (apostolic succession, Tradition, etc)."

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  10. I am Catholic, and lately I seem to think some Catholics are obsessed with Mary. Why don't they pray directly to Jesus without going through Mary? I have never really understood this. And many people in the church will tell me I am not really a Catholic for having this thought. Jesus Himself said, "no one comes to the Father except through me." Plain and simple.

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    1. Hey Anon, Great question. The vast majority of Catholic prayers are directly to God. We do, however, also often ask Saints to pray for us as well, just as we ask those on earth to pray for us. Asking another person to pray for you and with you to God doesn't diminish Christ's unique mediation, since all prayers must go through Christ.

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