Eve and Mary

Virgin in Prayer by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (b. ca. 140-60) in his book Adversus haereses (Against Heresies) extends St. Justin’s parallel between Eve the mother of the human race and Mary the mother of Jesus Christ. (see “A New Eve”) In Book Five, Chapter Nineteen, St. Irenaeus shows how Mary’s obedience counteracted Eve’s disobedience; and he concludes that Mary is the true Eve, that is, the true mother of the living.

First, he notes that both Eve and Mary are connected with trees: Eve with the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2), and Mary with her Son’s Cross on Calvary. Secondly, both were virgins espoused to their men: Eve to Adam, and Mary to Joseph. Thirdly, both were spoken to by an angel: a fallen angel in the form of a serpent deceived Eve (Gen 3), and the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the Mother of God (Luke 1).

St. Irenaeus continues with the comparison: “Just as the former [Eve] 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 [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should [bear] 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 [helper] 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.” And this parallel is like that of Adam and Christ the Second Adam: “For in the same way the sin of the first created man receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten.”

Quotations from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1867).

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