First Saturday
November 6, 2004
vol 15, no. 181

Ten Early Church Fathers on Mary/Eve
    Editor's Note: With today being the First Saturday of the month, a day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we share with you Jacob Michael's research for his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? on what the Fathers of the Early Church stated on Our Lady.

      "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word."

      Luke 1: 38

    Here are quotes from ten Fathers of the Early Church, each of whom give their witness to the Church's understanding of the Virgin Mary as the parallel to and fulfillment of the First Eve. What St. John only hints at in his Gospel, these Fathers (in different eras and representing a wide geographical range) make explicit: Mary is the New Eve, just as Our Lord is the New Adam. Here and there, I have interspersed commentary from John Cardinal Newman, a convert from Anglicanism in the 1800s.

I. St. Justin Martyr (160 AD)

    ... since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will ... and that He 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 Thy word." (Dialogue with Trypho, 100)

II. Tertullian (180-200 AD)

    And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil. 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)

III. St. Irenaeus (180-190 AD)

    In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word." But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin ... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race ... And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, "instead of fathers, children have been born unto thee." For the Lord, having been born "the First-begotten of the dead," and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Against Heresies, Book III, cap. 22, 4)

    For just as the former 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, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should [bear] (portaret) 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 [advocate] (advocata) 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; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. (ibid., Book V, cap. 19, 1)

    Commentary

        Now, what is especially noticeable in these three writers is that they do not speak of the Blessed Virgin merely as the physical instrument of our Lord's taking flesh, but as an intelligent, responsible cause of it ... [the Three Fathers] unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered ... it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good. (Newman, The Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman, p. 212-3)

       For a moment put aside St. Irenaeus, and put together St. Justin in the East with Tertullian in the West. I think I may assume that the doctrine of these two Fathers about the Blessed Virgin, was the received doctrine of their own respective times and places ... the coincidence of doctrine which they exhibit, and again, the antithetical completeness of it, show that they themselves did not originate it ... we must inquire, what length of time would it take for such a doctrine to have extended, and to be received, in the second century over so wide an area; that is, to be received before the year 200 in Palestine, Africa, and Rome. Can we refer the common source of these local traditions to a date much later than that of the Apostles, since St. John died within twenty years of St. Justin's conversion and sixty of Tertullian's birth? ... add to the concordant testimony of these two Fathers the evidence of St. Irenaeus, which is so close upon that of the School of St. John himself in Asia Minor ... supposing three such witnesses could be brought to the fact that a consistory of elders governed the local churches, or that each local congregation was an independent Church, or that the Christian community was without priests, could Anglicans maintain their doctrine that the rule of Episcopal succession is necessary to constitute a Church? (Newman, p. 214-5)

IV. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386)

    Through Eve yet virgin came death; through a virgin, or rather from a virgin, must the Life appear: that as the serpent beguiled the one, so to the other Gabriel might bring good tidings. (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XII, 15)

V. St. Ephrem Syrus (died 378)

"is a witness for the Syrians proper and the neighbouring Orientals" (Newman, p. 216)

    Through Eve, the beautiful and desirable glory of men was extinguished; but it has revived through Mary. (Opera omnia in sex tomos distributa, II, p. 318, quoted in Newman, p. 217)

    In the beginning, by the sin of our first parents, death passed upon all men; today, through Mary we are translated from death unto life. In the beginning, the serpent filled the ears of Eve, and the poison spread thence over the whole body; today, Mary from her ears received the champion of eternal happiness: what, therefore, was an instrument of death, was an instrument of life also. (ibid., III, p. 607, quoted in Newman, p. 217)

VI. St. Epiphanius (320-400)

"speaks for Egypt, Palestine, and Cyprus" (Newman, p. 217)

    She it is, who is signified by Eve, enigmatically receiving the appellation of the Mother of living ... It was a wonder, that after the transgression she had this great epithet. And, according to what is material, from that Eve all the race of men on earth is generated. But thus in truth from Mary the Life itself was born in the world, that Mary might bear living things, and become the Mother of living things. Therefore, enigmatically, Mary is called the Mother of living things ... Also, there is another thing to consider as to these women, and wonderful, - as to Eve and Mary. Eve became a cause of death to man ... and Mary a cause of life ... that life might be instead of death, life excluding death which came from the woman, viz., He who through the woman has become our life. (Panarion, 78:18, quoted in Newman, p. 217-8)

VII. St. Jerome (331-420)

    Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. (Letter XXII, To Eustochium, 21)

VIII. St. Augustine (354-430)

    By a woman death, by a woman life. (Sermon 232, 2, quoted in Newman, p. 219)

    [Newman notes that this phrase, used by both Sts. Jerome and Augustine, seems to have already in the 4th-5th century developed into a kind of recognizable proverb.]

    It is a great sacrament that, whereas through woman death became our portion, so life was born to us by woman; that, in the case of both sexes, male and female, the baffled devil should be tormented, when on the overthrow of both sexes he was rejoicing; whose punishment had been small, if both sexes had been liberated in us, without our being liberated through both. (De Agone Christiano, 24, quoted in Newman, p. 219-20)

Latin Text: Huc accedit magnum sacramentum, ut quoniam per feminam nobis mors acciderat, vita nobis per feminam nasceretur: ut de utraque natura, id est feminina et masculina, victus diabolus cruciaretur, quoniam de ambarum subversione laetabatur; cui parum fuerat ad poenam si ambae naturae in nobis liberarentur, nisi etiam per ambas liberaremur.

IX. St. Peter Chrysologus (400-450)

    Blessed art thou among women; for among women, on whose womb Even, who was cursed, brought punishment, Mary, being blest, rejoices, is honoured, and is looked up to. And woman now is truly made through grace the Mother of the living, who had been by nature the mother of the dying ... Heaven feels the awe of God, Angels tremble at Him, the creature sustains Him not, nature sufficeth not; and yet one maiden so takes, receives, entertains Him, as a guest within her breast, that, for the very hire of her home, and as the price of her womb, she asks, she obtains peace for the earth, glory for the heavens, salvation for the lost, life for the dead, a heavenly parentage for the earthly, the union of God Himself with human flesh. (Sermon 140, quoted in Newman, p. 220)

X. St. Fulgentius, bishop in Africa (468-533)

    Come ye virgins to a Virgin, come ye who conceive to her who conceived, ye who bear to one who bore, mothers to a mother, ye that suckle to one who suckled, young girls to the young girl. It is for this reason that the Virgin Mary has taken on her in our Lord Jesus Christ all these divisions of nature, that to all women who have recourse to her, she may be a succour, and so restore the whole race of women who come to her, being the new Eve, by keeping virginity, as the New Adam the Lord Jesus Christ, recovers the whole race of men. (Sermon 36, quoted in Newman, p. 221)

    Commentary

       Such is the rudimental view, as I have called it, which the Fathers have given us of Mary, as the Second Eve, the Mother of the living: I have cited ten authors, I could cite more, were it necessary; except the two last, they write gravely and without any rhetoric. I allow that the two last write in a different style, since the extracts I have made are from their sermons; but I do not see that the colouring conceals the outline. And after all, men use oratory on great subjects, not on small; not would they, and other Fathers whom I might quote, have lavished their high language upon the Blessed Virgin, such as they gave to no one else, unless they knew well that no one else had such claims, as she had, on their love and veneration. (Newman, p. 222)

Et dixit Iesus: "Amen, amen, dico vobis: nisi manducaveritis carnem Filii hominis, et biberitis eius sanguinem, non habetis vitam in vobis."

Jacob Michael



If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at jacob.michael@gmail.com and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.

    First Saturday
    November 6, 2004
    vol 15, no. 181
    Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures?