The True Eve

We marvel as we read the extraordinary words used by the Fathers of the Church when speaking of the most holy Virgin. From St. Irenaeus: “Condemned to death by a virgin, the human race was saved by a Virgin.” Tertullian: “What was led astray into perdition by this sex was restored to salvation by this sex.” And the incomparable Augustine: “By a woman, death; by a woman, life. By Eve, ruin; by Mary, salvation.”

We must not think that such faithful servants of Jesus Christ wanted to lessen the honor due to their Master by associating Mary with him in this way. Truly, we misunderstand God if we think that his glory would be diminished by being shared with his creatures. God is not like us: in giving away a part, he retains the whole. If this seems strange, consider that God is the only one who can give without loss. He does not act as we do, for we divide our cares among many so that the burden on each may be less. It is not so with the living God. When he joins his creatures to his work, it is not to unburden himself, but to honor them, and so all of the glory remains his. When the Fathers taught us that Mary was associated in a singular way with the great work of the Son of God, they in no way diminished the Savior’s glory.

To understand why it was fitting for the Blessed Virgin to have had such a role in the work of our salvation, we must look back to the origin of all things. There we see just how considerate God is: in the work of regenerating our nature, he employed all that had once contributed to its ruin. It is certain that God could have delivered mankind
without becoming a man. Yet it pleased him to redeem us by becoming a man so that the same nature that had been enslaved by the demon could win the victory over him and his overbold companions. Even when the Son of God had resolved to come to earth and to clothe himself in human flesh, he could have made himself a body and a soul without the assistance of his creatures and thus been spared the shame of belonging to a criminal line. Nevertheless, his incomprehensible providence disposed otherwise. It pleased him that grace and blessing should find its origin in this accursed race. Our Lord wanted to be the son of Adam so that his blessed birth would forever
sanctify the race that had been infected by sin.

Since both man and woman participated in the despoiling of our nature, they would also participate in its restoration. If the corruption of sin had dishonored both sexes, it was necessary that the Redeemer of man should honor them both. That is why, as St. Augustine tells us, Jesus Christ, a man, was born of a woman. And because mankind was cast into eternal damnation by a man and a woman, it was fitting that God should have predestined a new Eve as well as a new Adam, so as to replace the old line that had been condemned with a new line sanctified by grace. We may, therefore, conclude that just as the first Eve was the mother of all those condemned to die, so the new Eve, Mary, is the mother of all the living—that is, the faithful.

Let us compare Eve and Mary. The work of our corruption began with Eve; the work of our regeneration began with Mary. An angel of darkness spoke to Eve; an angel of light spoke to Mary. The angel of darkness wished to raise Eve to the false dignity of pretending to be divine, saying to her, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). The angel of light identified Mary’s true dignity as her friendship with God, saying, “The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The angel of darkness, speaking to Eve, sought to incite her to rebellion: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?” (Gen. 3:1). The angel of light, speaking to Mary, persuaded her to be obedient: “Do not be afraid, Mary…. [W]ith God, nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:30, 37). The word of death was spoken to Eve, the word of life to the Blessed Virgin. Eve believed the serpent, Mary the angel. Thus, as Tertullian said, “A pious faith erased the fault of an audacious credulity, and Mary repaired by her belief in God what Eve had ruined by believing the devil.” Eve, led astray by the demon, was forced to flee the presence of God, whereas Mary, instructed by the angel, was made worthy to bear God, so that, as the holy martyr Irenaeus said, “The Virgin Mary became the advocate for the virgin Eve.”

It cannot be doubted that Mary was the Eve of the new covenant and consequently the Mother of a new people. And Mary will be your Mother, if you live in our Lord Jesus Christ. She will be Eve—that is, in the Hebrew tongue, the living one. Adam gave this name to his wife because she was the mother of all the living. Yet it is not Eve who is the mother of all the living; she is, rather, the mother of those who will die. In fact, the first Eve received her name as a prefigurement of the Blessed Virgin, whose dignity she represents. The Blessed Virgin is the true Eve, the true Mother of all the living. Live, then, and Mary will be your Mother. But live in and through Jesus, because Mary herself has no life except in and through Jesus.

Photo by Jonathan Dick, OSFS on Unsplash

Editor’s note: the above excerpt is taken from Meditations on Mary, available from Sophia Institute Press.

Avatar photo


Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627–1704) was a theologian and French bishop. With a great knowledge of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, he devoted himself to writing in a way that was approachable to every person. Though lionized by the great English converts such as Waugh, Belloc, and Knox, his writing has only recently been made available in English. His Meditations for Advent is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage