Protoevanglium. It’s not a kind of octopus or jellyfish. The Protoevangelium is the first announcement of the Gospel, the promise that sin would not have the last word. It reminds us that without woman, the whole economy of salvation becomes unintelligible. From the “mother of all living” to the mother of God, Mary, all of history is the story of God at work in both sexes, especially the female sex. And this is why the Catholic Church is the real women’s liberation movement.
You see, the first Eve tangled human nature into a big knot. But the second Eve, Mary, untangled that knot. And this getting untangled, this liberation, was foretold in the Protoevangelium. God says to the serpent:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your offspring and hers; they will crush your head, and you will strike their heel” (Gen. 3:15).
This is so much more than a curse. This is the first announcement—the Protoevangelium—of the Gospel. Sin will not have the last word. The Messiah will be born of the daughter of Eve, and he will be the Last Man and the Last Word.
In the curse of Genesis 3, God is not merely describing the natural hostility that exists between people and snakes. He is pointing forward to the defeat of the serpent, Satan, by the future descendant of “the woman” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). The motif of Eve’s “offspring” is picked up in Genesis 4:25 with Seth and traces the single line of “Seth’s descendants” through Noah and Abraham, noting that it will eventually produce a King through whom all the nations will be blessed—the eternal Son of God incarnate of the Virgin Mary.
So it is prophetic that Adam names Eve “the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20). Although the woman’s punishment is pain in bearing children and a broken relationship with Adam (3:16), women play an essential role in continuing the unique family line, and Genesis highlights how through family people enjoy a special relationship with God and are a source of blessing to a world that lies under the curse. God graciously proclaims that the woman’s offspring will redeem humanity from sin’s tyranny. The remedy to sin, then, will come to us through child-bearing, through woman.
The Last Man
This seed of hope, this early proclamation of the gospel, this Protoevangelium, comes to fruition in Jesus Christ. “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). St. Luke tracks Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam (Luke 3:23-38). And Christ is not only a descendant of Adam and Abraham. He is the Son of God. This is amazing news because when we are baptized into Jesus we are united to him and thereby become “Abraham’s offspring” (Gal. 3:29), and heirs to the promises of God. The God-Man has overcome Satan while at the same time being bruised. Thus, Christ is not only the “offspring” of Abraham, but the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). Like Adam, he represents all who belong to him. Jesus Christ reverses the effects of Adam’s fall.
Here is the strange logic of the Bible: even though Eve ate the fruit first, it is in Adam that human nature became sinful. Why? Because Adam was the source and head of human nature. So it was in Adam that all of humanity fell, but “as by the one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s [Christ’s] obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
Was the first Adam’s sin for real? Did his disobedience have far-reaching consequences? We all know it did. It was catastrophic. But the obedience of Christ, the last Adam, was even greater: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
In the Protoevangelium, we hear the promise of Christ as “the new Adam.” In Adam all have sinned, but in Christ we are a new creation. As Adam was the source and head of the human race in whom all have sinned, Christ the new Adam is the new Source and Head in whom we are made sons of God! In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins: “I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am.”
The Last Woman
But what about Eve? Does the woman have a role to play in salvation history? The only answer is a resounding Yes!
Notice that Genesis 3:15 reads, “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” and not, “between you and the man.” Many ancient Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen in “the woman” the Mother of Christ, Mary. As the Mother of Christ, Mary is the new Eve—just as Christ is the new Adam. As Eve was the cause of sin by her disobedience, Mary is the cause of salvation by her obedience in cooperating with Christ in his mission. As Eve is the “the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20), Mary is the Mother of Christ, who is the life (John 14:6).
In a sense, then, and always in subordination to Christ, we can say that in Mary and through Mary the curse has been reversed. As the Mother of the Church, she began the Church’s mission: to join Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in spreading the Gospel for the glory of God the Father.
The eternal Son of God became the new Adam so that we can be the new Eve drawn from his side, a bride re-created from his own flesh. By our physical birth we are descendants of the old, fallen creation. By our new birth in Christ, we are part of the new, restored creation, which is the Church, the new Eve born from the new Adam side as he slept in death on the cross, the mother of all living, the bride of the Lamb who was slain. But without the liberation of Mary’s “Yes!”— without the woman—this Gospel story falls apart.
Jesus started the real women’s liberation movement, and he started it with Mary. Through Baptism, women—and men!—have been discovering the wondrous reality of the new Eve ever since.
In Heaven, the whole body of Christ will gaze upon the face of the Father through the eyes of Jesus, who is our head, our source, our Adam, the one “who has gone into Heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him” (1 Pet. 3:22). The whole life of the Church is a lived prayer to the Father through the eyes of her glorified head, Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Col. 3:3). One body. One bride.
The freedom of being Christ’s bride—that’s what the real women’s liberation is all about.
Get Ready for a Wedding!
Sexual polarity is a symbol given to help us understand this story. It was fashioned by God to help us understand the Lamb and his bride. Bottom line: male-and-female creation is about the worship of the Trinity. But without Eve, the whole story becomes unintelligible. From the “mother of all living” to the “mother of the Church,” the ever blessed virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven, all of history is the story of God at work in both sexes.
I wore out two Sharpies worth of ink writing in the margins of my Bible. Chapter after chapter, I was rebuked and encouraged to better understand what the juxtaposition of the sexes means for the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Bible teaches that men and women have different roles in relationship to one another, it does not base this relationship on cultural norms but on God’s original creation (1 Cor. 11:3-16; 1 Tim. 2:11-14). The curse is real. But the Gospel promise, even in the curse, is more real. And the Gospel promise is that a Savior would be born of a woman.
The Protoevangelium reminds us that Catholicism is the real women’s liberation movement. It reminds us that there is no real feminism apart from the Mother of the Church, Mary, the handmaiden of the Lord, the Queen of Heaven.
The goal of Adam and Eve is the worldwide praise of the Lamb by his redeemed bride: “Let us exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready…blessed are those invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev.19:7-9). The final outcome of the real women’s liberation movement is everyone delighting in the “new Adam,” Jesus Christ, as the “new Eve,” the Church. From creation to consummation, our being male and female is grounded in the universal honor of the Father in the worldwide celebration of the Son in a wedding.