Mary as the New Eve – Irenaeus

This excerpt from St. Irenaeus shows that the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly a new Eve, just as her son Jesus Christ is a new Adam.  He contrasts Eve’s disobedience with Mary’s obedience.

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to Mary, a virgin subject to a husband, undid the evil lie that seduced Eve, a virgin espoused to a husband.

As Eve was seduced by the word of an angel and so fled from God after disobeying his word, Mary in her turn was given the good news by the word of an angel, and bore God in obedience to his word. As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.

mary new eve irenaeus obedient disobedient

Christ gathered all things into one, by gathering them into himself. He declared war against our enemy, crushed him who at the beginning had taken us captive in Adam, and trampled on his head, in accordance with God’s words to the serpent in Genesis: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall lie in wait for your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.

The one lying in wait for the serpent’s head is the one who was born in the likeness of Adam from the woman, the Virgin. This is the seed spoken of by Paul in the letter to the Galatians: The law of works was in force until the seed should come to whom the- promise was made.

He shows this even more clearly in the same letter when he says: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman. The enemy would not have been defeated fairly if his vanquisher had not been born of a woman, because it was through a woman that he had gained mastery over man in the beginning, and set himself up as man’s adversary.

That is why the Lord proclaims himself the Son of Man, the one who renews in himself that first man from whom the race born of woman was formed; as by a man’s defeat our race fell into the bondage of death, so by a man’s victory we were to rise again to life.

This excerpt from St. Irenaeus’ classic second century work Against Heresies (Lib. 5, 19, 1; 20, 2; 21,1: SC 153, 248-250. 260-264) ponders the Blessed Virgin Mary as a new Eve. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Friday in the Second Week of Advent.

Irenaeus of Lyons, St.

Born about AD 130, St. Irenaeus was one of the most important of the Early Church Fathers of the 2nd Century. His life reveals the cosmopolitan nature of the Roman Empire at the height of its power.  Though Irenaeus ultimately became bishop of what is now Lyons, in Southern France, he grew up and was educated in Smyrna, located in modern-day Turkey.  There Irenaeus had personal contact with St. Polycarp, one of the Apostolic Fathers who in turn knew the Apostle John, son of Zebedee. Before becoming bishop, Saint Irenaeus apparently studied in Rome where he was influenced by St. Justin Martyr. His major work, Against Heresies, which appeared around the year 185 AD, exposed the absurdities of the Gnostic cults of the day and included a strong presentation and defense of Catholic Christianity. It is the earliest compendium of Christian theology surviving from ancient times and is the first work that cites virtually every book of the Christian writings that we now call the New Testament.  Irenaeus is said to have won the crown of martyrdom around the year 200 AD. He is honored in the Roman liturgy on June 28.   (bio by Dr. Italy)  For an overview of the Early Church Fathers, click here.