One of the most prominent bits of typological thinking in the Church Fathers is the concept of Mary as the New Eve. For example, St. Irenaeus declared that “[W]hat the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” This comparison crops up over and over in the Fathers.
While the subject often comes up in Catholic/Protestant discussions of Mary, Catholics often don’t do a very good job of presenting it’s scriptural roots. So for the next few posts, I’m going to attempt to illustrate just where this typology comes from.
Genesis 3:15 (RSV)
I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
While there are many significant parallels between Eve and Mary, Genesis 3:15 is the heart of the connection. And this makes sense, for it is a fundamentally Christological text. The Tradition of the Church has always seen this text as a prophetic foreshadowing of Christ, the enemy of “that ancient serpent.” Christ’s heel is bruised on the Cross, but it is also in the Cross that the serpent’s head is bruised/crushed. That is why it has been called the protoevangelium or “first gospel.”
But there are three figures in this passage, not just two. The woman: who is she? Well, on one level the woman is Eve. Yet the text seems to point beyond this to another woman. How? Well, it is a bit odd to speak of a woman as having “seed.” After all, in the ancient usage, only men have seed. Except, perhaps, one woman. And this woman turns out to be the mother of the very same seed that was promised!
Eve is the type, Mary the antitype. Eve received the promise; Mary received the fulfillment. Mary, therefore, is the New Eve, not just the mother of the living (Gen 3:20), but the mother of the Life!