“When they come to us with the story of declaring her this or making that dogma, let’s not get lost in foolishness.” — Pope Francis
In the book of Genesis we read about the creation of Adam and Eve. We also read there about their perfect home, how they were tempted by the devil and how Adam and Eve lost not only the Garden of Eden but also their perfection. After their fall the entire world was sent into disorder and death. God, in his unfathomable love and mercy, decided to judge the world, that is to rule it and guard it, returning it to its original perfect condition. That is what we call Redemption. Before redemption occurred, sin had to produce the fullness of its fruits: the death of mankind and also the death of mankind’s home, planet Earth.
The creation of Eve
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:18-23)
We know that Adam was alone in the Garden for a long time, perhaps many years. The story revisits the time when Adam is asked to name the living creatures. Adam saw that every male of every species had a female counterpart but he had none. Before receiving the grace of a companion and helper, Adam had to be made aware of his need.
In a state of physical and spiritual perfection, Adam’s emotions and motivations were perfectly ordered to reason. He had to wait patiently for something he could not even imagine but he knew it was going to be a perfect gift of God. When the moment comes, Adam falls into a deep sleep which many have interpreted as a foreboding of the death of Christ. Yes, the destiny of Adam was also the Cross, the end. In the Hebrew alphabet the last letter is tav, the predecessor of our letter t that has also the shape of a cross. The first letter aleph represents a man plowing, fit to represent Adam and his sons. A man works, sacrifices the fruit of his work until the day of his reward at the end of his life.
A hint: when the Scriptures were later translated into Greek, the word used to represent the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, was xylon. That is the same word used in the New Testament for the Cross of Christ. Adam was later to find death on the xylon from whence he stole the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.
Notice that many times throughout Sacred History the older son’s destiny is to serve or to be subject to the younger son. Jacob and Esau are a good example but there are many more. (See Romans 9:12) That is the principle behind the service of our angelic brothers who humbly serve mankind although we were created after them. In that way God teaches us to be like Him. God is good and the greatest benefactor there is, lovingly serving His creation from the beginning. (See Matthew 20:28)
Woman was created as a helper of man but man (her elder) was created to serve woman. The top of God’s creation in the Garden of Eden is Eve, Ava, the mother, the nurturer of life. In Eve we find an early model of Mary of Nazareth, the spiritual Mother of all the souls written in the Book of Life, the summa summarum of perfection, the pinnacle of God’s creation forever. To be a woman is to hold the privilege of motherhood, the place of highest honor in a family, to be the focus and center of everyone’s love including God’s love. (Luke 1:30)
Adam is in awe of Eve and receives her with an exultant song, “this is at last … this will be the mother of my offspring!” Adam is the High Priest of human creation while Eve is his family, the altar where Adam will serve until he is called to God at the end of his days. His sacrifice will follow the model of God: Adam is called to be good and beneficent with his family just as God is. His seed, his work, his love, all his attention will be for Eve and her children. His perseverance in that service will gain him his entry in the Book of Life and a place in Heaven. A glorious place replacing one of the many fallen angels that rebelled against God. He is to go to Heaven first to continue serving his family, preparing for them a heavenly abode. (See John 14:2)
Was Eve a fully developed woman when Adam saw her for the first time? I do not know. I imagine Eve was born about the age Mary was when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. It is a figure convenient to my view of the counterpoints we often find in Scripture. Adam received this girl-woman and she was to him a daughter-sister-bride. That is a mysterious echo of Our Blessed Mother who is the daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Bride of the Holy Spirit.
Eve was growing happily in the Garden, learning from Adam about God and Creation, visited by God “at the airy hour of the day” full of grace and innocence but also revealing to Adam the godly mystery of femininity. Our minds cannot imagine the joy of Adam’s heart, his love for Eve growing daily as he discovered the grace of that gift from God. Adam’s sentiments bloomed perfectly ordered to reason, never obscured by sin, maturing under the benevolent gaze of God, their Father and friend. But someone else was watching, the cunning enemy of God.
Counterpoints, types and anti-types
Let us quickly define the concepts that will help us understand what happened and why it happened. I will limit myself to a few examples: Just as Eve was tricked by a fallen angel into giving birth to a sinful, mortal race … Mary of Nazareth was invited by a holy angel to give birth to Jesus first and then to a perfect, immortal race. The story of mankind’s redemption counterpoints perfectly the story of our fall into sin and death.
From the tree of the forbidden fruit to the fruit of the Cross, the Eucharist. From the Garden of Delights where Adam knew perfect joy … to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Our Redeemer knew the agony of his Passion. Counterpoints abound and form a perfect image teaching us about God’s love, power, justice, and wisdom. From the beginning of time He knew. From the depths of history he loved us and sacrificed for us. (see Isaiah 46: 9-10) Every counterpoint is a response of His perfect love to the hateful actions of our enemy.
The need for redemption
Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. (Genesis 3:1-7)
That is how Eve, the first woman was deceived into joining the devil’s rebellion against God. Sin and death entered the world as a result of Eve’s disobedience. Eve became the mother of a dying race but from that moment, God began to work to redeem mankind.
In time, God prepared a perfect woman who was to give birth of a perfect man to counter the effects of Adam’s error.
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man called Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary, and [the angel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.’ But she was troubled by his words and pondered what manner of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be since I know no man?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. […] And Mary said: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1:26-38)
By disobedience, Eve gave birth to a race condemned to sin and death. By obedience, Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was born to liberate mankind from the bounds of sin and death. Through Mary, God is undoing the error of Eve. Through Jesus, God is undoing the sin of Adam.
The role of Eve in condemning mankind
Everything Eve knew up to the moment of her temptation she had learned from Adam. By educating Eve as a younger sister, Adam was preparing her to be the mother of mankind. One day she was going to be the Sedes Sapientiae, the seat of wisdom. She was destined to teach her children who would learn about God’s wisdom while sitting on Eve’s knees. Imagine the honor of being the first mother of mankind!
The serpent, the devil, knew about that glorious mission of Eve and he planned to destroy her to thwart the loving plans of God. The serpent tricked Eve into desiring some wisdom of her own. Then, Eve began to covet the fruit of knowledge as a shortcut to the wisdom of God. Little did she know that she was plunging all of her descendants into ages of darkness and ignorance.
In taking the forbidden fruit, Eve implicitly called God a liar. God was not lying, of course. Adam and Eve began to die the moment they disobeyed. Unwittingly, they joined God’s accuser and enrolled all of us on the losing side of the universal battle between Good and Evil.
Saint Paul explains the importance of Eve’s transgression, and the crucial responsibility of Adam who failed on all fronts: as an fully formed man, elder brother, and husband. Saint Paul also explains how Eve and her daughters would be sanctified through bearing children and nurturing godly virtues in them. One day, one of her daughters, a perfect one would come and give birth to a redeemer, thus crushing the head of the serpent and liberating mankind forever.
For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty. (1 Timothy 2:13-15)
The role of Mary in redeeming mankind
“When Mary of Nazareth received the angel and learned that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah, she obediently accepted her mission without hesitation. With perfect humility, she consented to be the instrument of God for the sanctification of the world. From that very moment, she declared her belief in the truthfulness of God. In that instant, the world began imperceptibly to return to God’s perfect order. And yet, Mary did not know that she was going to lead the fight for the liberation of all mankind. Several decades later, Mary was at Calvary, standing at the foot of the Cross.
Since the day when Jesus was presented to St Simeon at the Temple in Jerusalem, she had lived in dread of that terrible moment. The Church failed at that first horrific crisis: Peter, the leader of Christ’s apostles, denied him three times and fled. Judas committed suicide. The other nine apostles went into hiding. Only John remained next to Mary. Her physical and spiritual perfection only helped to make her pain grow more acute. The view of the brutalized body of her Son pierced her heart like a thousand arrows. Within her, the pain grew unabated. The years of murmurs and shame at her untimely pregnancy, the accusations of the Pharisees, and the ungratefulness of her own people were nothing compared to the sight of Jesus crucified. At one point, her motherly heart desired so strongly to be crucified in his place. So many times he had told his disciples that it was necessary for him to suffer but no one quite understood the meaning of his words. Now she wanted to trade places with him with every fiber of her body, she wanted the Cross all for herself. If she had been God at that very moment, she would have exchanged places with her Son, but she was not God, she was just Mary, the carpenter’s widow contemplating how the Roman Empire, and the religious leaders of Israel, were killing her only Son. He, that once rested safely in the crossing of her arms.
In the darkness of that unspeakable pain, Mary alone, little Mary of Nazareth undid the snare of the serpent and rescued humankind from the consequences of Eve’s envy. The fate of the entire universe came to bear on Mary’s heart. She was Christ’s helper and she proved to be up to the task. Alone and bereft of any help, she discovered the wisdom of the Cross, she understood the prophecy of Simeon—“And thy own soul a sword shall pierce”—and she did what no one in the whole world could do as she could—she desired the Cross with perfect intensity, and in doing so, she obtained a measure of the wisdom of God that was commensurate with her title of Kecharitomene. The One Full of Grace was now also filled with divine sapience.
Thus the curse of the serpent was broken and Mary entered history working with her Son to liberate the world.” (Guadalupe: A River of Light: The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe From the First Century to Our Days, c. VIII, pp. 107-109)
The musings of a fool
For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than [the wisdom of] men, and the weakness of God is stronger than [the strength of] men. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
I do not know if these arguments qualify as a defense of the Fifth Dogma of Mary as Co-Redemptrix of the human race. It seems to me that since the wounds of Christ are five, and each one of them pierced the heart of Mary with indescribable pain, five should be the dogmas with which we honor her. But I am only a fool. I am not a theologian, I am not even a learned man. I only repeat what I heard from many wiser men and women that preceded me in the long history of our faith. So, let me be a fool one more time, let me praise the Mother of my Redeemer and find in her the indispensable channel bestowing the unfathomable grace of God on all mankind. Bless this foolish son of yours, Mother of Life.
Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.
On the Feast of St Adelaide of Burgundy