Sunday, December 8, 2013

“Ecce ancilla Domini …”

From Genesis 3:9-15, 20:

After the man, Adam, had eaten of the tree, the Lord God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.” The Lord God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; on your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”

The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.

Blessed John Paul tells us that the story of Genesis contains not only the story of the first sin and Man’s fall but also “the first foretelling of victory over evil, over sin” (Mulieris Dignitatem 11, emphasis in original). Our enmity with Satan stems not from our being children of Adam but rather from our being children of Eve, the Progenetrix; and it is her remote offspring, the Son of Man, who will crush the serpent in retribution for his deception.

The first Church Fathers we know of who directly compared Mary with Eve are St. Justin Martyr and Tertullian. Said St. Justin:

… [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.” (Dialogue with Trypho 100)

To which Tertullian adds this:

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. (On the Flesh of Christ 17)

This typology creates for us an equation, in which the reality of virginity becomes a metaphor for purity, stainlessness. Eve was immaculate prior to the Fall due to her direct creation by God; it isn’t the act of procreation which stains us but rather the wound in our nature, created by original sin, which stains Man in all his actions. “Thus we have in the first five centuries such epithets applied to [Mary] as ‘in every respect holy’, ‘in all things unstained’, ‘super-innocent’ and ‘singularly holy’; she is compared to Eve before the fall, as ancestress of a redeemed people; she is ‘the earth before it was accursed’” (Wikipedia).

The Church Father St. Augustine deliberately excepted Mary from the ranks of sinners, “for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?” (On Nature and Grace 42).[*] But we do know what abundance she received. In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel called Mary kecharitōmenē, a word full of portent. As the late “Father Mateo” explains:

… Luke 1:28 uses the perfect passive particle …. The perfect stem of a Greek particle denotes “continuance of a completed action”; “completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem.” On morphological grounds, therefore, it is correct to paraphrase kecharitōmenē as “completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.” (Refuting the Attack on Mary [San Diego: Catholic Answers, 1999], p. 21)

Eve, formed without sin, yet surrendered to temptation; thus we can intuit that the absence of the stain of original sin did not deprive Eve of her free will. Rather, formed in a state of original justice, her will had no inherent bias towards concupiscence. Put differently, she had a greater degree of free will, and thus both she and Adam were blamable for their sin than any of their multitudinous, multifarious progeny.

Thus, the new Eve, bestowed with perfect, perpetual grace, was still not a “designated yes-sayer” pre-programmed to give her fiat from all eternity. Rather, the freedom of her will was perfected, unbiased by the demands of her id. And so the submission of the Theotókos — Idou hē doulē Kyriou, “Behold the slave of the Lord” — was perfect, and in perfect contrast to the disobedience of the Progenetrix.

For the languages of the Mediterranean did not admit of a distinction between the hired servant, the one who sold himself into bondage, and the war captive sold to fill the governor’s coffer: each belonged to a master corpus animusque, body and soul, and could not act outside his dictates. The metaphor of slavery runs throughout the New Testament: “We know that the law is spiritual,” Paul, who called himself “a slave of Christ Jesus”, tells the Romans, “but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin” (Romans 7:14 NAB); “… when you have done all that is commanded you,” Christ teaches, “say, ‘We are unworthy servants [douloi]; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10 RSV).

We too are slaves — once slaves of sin, now slaves of God (cf. Romans 6:16-23; 1 Peter 2:16), for we were bought with a price (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23). However, we are also baptized into adoption as children of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), into whose hearts He has sent the Spirit crying “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). So as the Theotókos, the God-Bearer and New Eve, Mary becomes our Genetrix, our universal mother, (Revelation 12:17) known as Maria Immaculata, whose purity of heart stands in conquest of the Venus Genetrix of the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome.

And all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1:48). For “blessed are those who hear the word of the Lord and keep it” (Luke 11:28).


[*] The linked page translates the passage a little differently: “for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.”