Sunday, 29 April 2018

I Will Put Enmities Between Thee and the Woman

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Genesis 3, 15 (DRB)

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.
Revelation 12, 1

The Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in the Book of Genesis is the first Messianic prophecy recorded in sacred Scripture, and it is pronounced by God Himself to the serpent in the wake of the fall of Adam and Eve. The prophecy does not speak of only the Divine Messiah, but also includes the free Woman of Promise whose fulfilment is ultimately reached in the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Divine Lord and Saviour. In view of Eve’s transgression and her moral involvement in the fall of Adam (אָדָם “mankind”), God declares to the serpent, in allusion to Mary, that He will put her (the woman) in complete opposition and hostility with it. This enmity between Mary and Satan shall be in the same likeness with that of her Divine Son’s with the devil’s offspring: wicked humanity.

The woman’s offspring shall not be a descendant of Adam by the seed of man, but rather by the seed of the woman. He shall be of divine origin, and his conception and birth will be supernatural, but not to the preclusion of his full humanity. Thus, we may believe in faith that this verse implies Mary’s total lack of affinity with Satan together with her Son and thereby her exemption from all stain of sin, both original and personal. There is no surer way to be in complete hostility with the devil or serpent than to be constantly in the state of God’s sanctifying grace. God ordered Mary and Satan to be in a total state of “opposition” to each other so that they should be “hostile” enemies with “hatred” for one another, which the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) denotes. This was because Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Divine Messiah (Lk. 1:31-33, 35).

It was all part of God’s perfect plan that the Son of Man be “made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4), but not so much as for becoming a man in the likeness of Adam. The Serpent, which was envious of Adam and Eve and all God’s creation, sought to destroy it. In its malevolence and shrewdness (‘aruvum), the Serpent targeted Adam to accomplish what it was bent on destroying, for our primordial father was the head of the two covenants God had established: the one between God and Adam and his female Helpmate, and the marital one between Adam and the Woman. Adam was the human representative of both covenants which were rooted in faith and trust. However, in its craftiness, the Serpent targeted Adam indirectly through his helpmate the Woman. For its plan to succeed, the Serpent relied on her to co-operate with it. And this it could manage by enticing and deceiving the Woman with a lie, as to form a false friendship and dark alliance.

As we know, the Serpent did succeed in gaining the Woman’s trust by appearing to have her best interests at heart, which allowed it to get the upper hand over her. The Woman rebelled against God in her misplaced faith and, as a result, her friendship with God turned into enmity. Helping to bring about the fall of Adam as the Serpent’s instrument by offering her husband the forbidden fruit, the Woman made herself out to be an enemy of God. Thus, the Virgin Mary was chosen to be the Divine instrument to help reconcile mankind to God. It was imperative that she be at enmity with the fallen angel by co-operating with the angel Gabriel in faith and with complete trust in God, so that her offspring could undo the fall accomplished by Adam.

“What a grand and most wise strategy against the devil! The world, which had once fallen under the power of sin because of a virgin, is now restored to freedom because of a Virgin. Through the virginal birth, a great multitude of invisible demons has been cast down to Tartarus.”
Amphilochius of Iconium, In natalitia Domini, 1
(ante A.D. 394)

Mary would have been a friend of Satan if at any moment in her life she sinned against God and fell from His grace like Eve, which would have rendered her unworthy to be the mother of her divine Son, who was like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15), with whom she was intimately associated to undo the evil that the Devil had worked to the spiritual detriment of mankind. Eve was at enmity with God along with Adam, for they both did what was hateful in God’s sight and pleasing to the Serpent by partaking of the forbidden fruit.

We have only to ask ourselves why it was that Jesus addressed his mother by calling her “Woman”. The answer lies in the Book of Genesis. Originally, Adam had referred to his wife as “woman” (Gen. 2:23). It wasn’t until Eve had mortally sinned and fallen from grace that she was named Eve, which means “mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:13-20). It is in this context that we can see what our Lord’s intention was by calling his mother “Woman” at both the beginning and end of his public ministry (Jn. 2:3-5; 19:26-27). The Evangelist understood that Jesus was drawing a parallel between his mother and Eve. He saw that Mary was much more than the biological mother of her Son; she was the woman of faith who God promised would be intimately associated with him in his redemptive work, and by being so she would become the spiritual mother of all those who are alive in Christ and bear witness to him while observing God’s commandments (Rev. 12:17). And what God willed with necessity was that she should be preserved free from all stain of sin.

Sacred Scripture confirms the ancient Catholic tradition of Mary being the spiritual mother of all the living: The new Eve who never once fell from grace (Lk. 1:28), God’s re-creation of our universal biological mother. Both Eve and Mary were daughters of a covenant with God. Eve was the daughter of the first covenant between God and Adam: ‘The Lord commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for on the day you shall eat from it you will surely die.”‘(Gen. 2:16-17). The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die'” (Gen. 3:2-3).

Mary was a daughter of the Sinai covenant between God and Israel: “Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully… I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me … For I, the Lord, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing loving kindness to thousands to those who love me and keep my commandments” (Deut. 5:1-10). Both Eve and Mary were under a pledge of obedience in their covenants with God, since God had given each of them a free will to choose between life and death by either accepting or rejecting His will for them.

Eve’s disobedience, therefore, ultimately resulted in the fall of “mankind” (Adam/אָדָם). Because of the fall, all human beings are conceived and born deprived of the original justice and sanctity which Adam forfeited for his descendants by his sin. The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:12-13). Mary, on the other hand, observed God’s will, and so, she brought forth the living Font of all grace who would reconcile mankind to God. Mary said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).

“You have heard that it deals with this, that man would return 
to life by the same route by which he fell into death.”
Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 142
(ante. A.D. 450)

By her act of faith working through love, Mary untied the tight knot of Eve’s grave transgression. Mary’s soul “magnified the Lord”, whereas Eve’s soul was affected by her own vanity and curiosity which rendered her vulnerable to the Serpent’s deception and temptation. She knew that God had forbidden her and Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit. But, nonetheless, she decided to experience and judge for herself what was good and evil for them, despite God’s will for what was best for the couple. Adam and Eve raised their own will above God’s will by acting upon the Serpent’s devious suggestion, making themselves out to be like God, but apart from God and before Him.

Fortunately, for both herself and all humanity, Mary chose “life and prosperity” rather than “death and adversity” after hearing the words of the angel Gabriel. She heard and observed the word of God as a true servant of Israel in the spirit because it was “very near to her and in her heart.” In the spirit of Daughter Zion, Yahweh’s loving and faithful spouse, our Blessed Lady humbly refused to bow down to any idol which the ancient serpent may have presented to her in his jealous hostility with the woman. (cf. Deut. 30:11-12). Thus, because of her fidelity to God and desire to please Him in her covenant with Him, by her salutary consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour, Mary helped destroy the ravages of sin that the Serpent had managed to work in the beginning. Because she welcomed the will of God with outstretched arms in faith and love, our Redeemer chose to come into the world (Rev. 3:20). Peter Chrysologus assures us “without Mary neither death could be done away with, nor life restored” (Sermon 64).

“Think not, O man, that this is a birth to be ashamed of, since it was made the cause of our salvation. For if He had not been born of woman, He had not died; and if, in the flesh, He had not died, neither would He have destroyed him through death, who had the empire of death, that is, the devil.”
St. Proclus of Constantinople, Oratio 1, Laudatio Dei genitricis mariea
(ante. A.D. 446)

“You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy,
and have separated you from the peoples,
that you should be mine.”
Leviticus 20:26

Evidently, the nascent Church perceived Mary to be the exemplary personification of Daughter Zion. The faithful saw the culmination of Israel’s steadfast love and trust in God embodied in her person. St. Luke bears witness to this early Marian tradition in our Blessed Lady’s Canticle of Praise (Lk.1:46-49; cf. Isa.61:10; Zech.9:9; Zeph.3:14-15, 20; Ps.102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). The connection between the election of Israel and the election of Mary in God’s plan of redemption was clear to them. As Israel was elected to be the people from whom the Messiah would come, so Mary was chosen to bring Him to birth as Saviour of the world. Both Israel and Mary had the divine privilege of bringing the Messiah into the world. And because of their common vocations, both had to be specially prepared by God.

If the people of Israel were to receive God Incarnate in their midst as one of them, they would have to be made exclusively worthy by means of a special holiness imparted by the Old Covenant. Far more was expected from the Israelites than from the people of the surrounding nations because of the holiness that was required of them in anticipation of the Incarnation. If that were true of the people of Israel, it would be even truer of Mary in whose maternal womb the holy Son of God became incarnate. How becoming it would be if she in some way received a means of a singular holiness that would separate her from sinful humanity by a special grace through God’s intervention. Mary was the living personification of faithful Daughter Zion, and not just a metaphor: “clothed in the garments of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” (Isa. 61:10).

You have seen what I have done to the Egyptians, 
how I have carried you upon the wings of eagles,
and have taken you to myself.
Exodus 19, 4

As we have seen, the Hebrew word for enmity (ebah/אֵיבָה) is derived from the verb ayab or אָיַב which means to be hostile to. This prim root assumes the form of the noun “enemy” ( אוֹיֵֽב ) . In Exodus 15:6, for instance, we read: Thy right hand, O Lord, is magnified in strength: thy right hand, O Lord, hath slain the enemy. This verse is part of the Song of Moses and the Hebrew people who joyfully and gratefully praise God for having caused the Red Sea to swallow up Pharaoh’s chariots of men in their pursuit of the Israelites after their liberation from slavery and departure from Egypt. The fall of the Egyptian army is celebrated in song, for it has resulted from Pharaoh’s obstinate pride and arrogance in his opposition against God. In her Canticle of Praise, Mary proclaims: “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour; for he has looked with favour on the lowliness (humility) of his handmaid” (Lk. 1:47-48). The lord raises the lowly and casts down the mighty from their thrones (Lk. 1:52; Ps. 147:6). The Annunciation happened because of Mary’s humility and purity of heart. She was a friend of God.

Not unlike Moses, who humbled himself before God to be His servant and instrument of salvation, our Blessed Lady joyfully and thankfully praises God for having saved her from the clutches of the enemy, viz., the Serpent or Dragon which is Pharaoh’s proto-type. It was the angel Lucifer who fell from heaven because of his pride and arrogance (Isa. 14:12-17). And because he opposed God in his vanity and was cast out from heaven, he wished to rally mankind against Him; whereby humanity, in its rebellion against God in league with Satan, would fall, too, from His grace and end up under the Devil’s dominion as his captives together with all the other fallen angels, enslaved to sin and subject to death in its sinful condition.

Mary rejoices in God her saviour because He has mercifully redeemed her by a singular grace, having been chosen to be the mother of our Lord and humanity’s Saviour, who shall redeem mankind and deliver it from the clutches of the Dragon and man’s enslavement to sin. (Rev. 12:10). She knows, that together with God, she has been chosen to stand in opposition to Satan to help undo his works. It is by her act of faith and love that our Blessed Lady helps turn the Devil’s proud and arrogant opposition to God into his humiliating defeat. Mary’s humble state is a means by which God becomes incarnate and dashes Satan’s pride into pieces along with his rule over humanity. In her humility, Mary stands opposed to the devil’s pride in his opposition to God. She stands with God as His faithful helpmate in His opposition to the inimical Serpent.

The free Woman of Promise becomes the Mother of the Son only because she refuses to do what is hateful to God and pleasing to the serpent out of pride, unlike Eve who submitted to the will of God’s adversary and was cast out from paradise because of that same pride which cast the Devil out from heaven. Eve made herself out to be an enemy of God and His “adversary” by her rebellion in collaboration with the serpent in his revolt (Ex. 23:22; Isa. 63:10). Mary made herself out to be a friend of God and a disciple of the Son who she would bear by faithfully assenting to the Divine knowledge that was made known to her through the message of the angel (Jn. 15:15).

What God reveals to us in Mary’s canticle, therefore, is that He has put His handmaid in hostile opposition to the Serpent by preventing her from being born into slavery to sin and subject to death in its dominion through the grace of her Immaculate Conception. God ordained that the enemy Satan should have no power and rule over Mary’s soul because of her election to the Divine Maternity, which carried with it a vital co-redemptive role. For her collaboration with God in His redemptive work to be perfect, God raised Mary above Eve’s low estate and that of all her biological descendants who are conceived in sin and born in guilt (Lk. 1:42). Never should our Blessed Lady ever be an adversary of God. Moses, too, was providentially saved from being enslaved and drowned at birth by Pharaoh’s decree, so that one day he could serve God as His covenantal mediator in opposition to Pharaoh for the liberation of the Hebrew people from their bondage in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10).

“Truly elect, and superior to all, not by the altitude of 
lofty structures, but as excelling all in the greatness and 
purity of sublime and divine virtues, and having 
no affinity with sin whatever.”
St. Germanus of Constantinople
Marracci in S. Germani Mariali
(ante A.D. 733)

Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days…. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. And the dragon cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
Revelation 12, 4-6, 14-15

There are basically four prevailing themes pertaining to wilderness in the Hebrew Old Testament. To begin, the imagery of wilderness may signify a place where one has a very close encounter with God, notably when they are called for an important task during a time of crisis. Also, for the Jewish people who were delivered from slavery in Egypt by God’s intervention, the wilderness was where they received the Torah (the Divine instructions) so that they could be set apart from all the surrounding nations to become God’s very own and be prepared as a holy nation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

The Talmud says:

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…
The azure sky encompasses the parched and barren land:
an untouched, silent vacuum devoid of mortal ploys.
No stamp of human grandeur
imprints the endless sand;
no thoroughfares are chiselled
through the undulating dunes.
Standing in the wilderness
we wait with open hearts:
we may yet tend the desert
and find our way to Eden.
(B’midbar 1:1)

The Talmud says further: “One should be as open as a wilderness to receive the Torah” (Nedarim 55a). Some Jewish commentators understand this statement to mean that God’s chosen people have been called to open themselves to God’s moral demand of living an entirely new way of life that differs from that of the pagans who do not know God, regardless of how intimidating it might be to the Israelites. In preparation for the coming Messiah, God established a covenant with His people through Moses at Sinai so that they would be a moral and godly people, unlike His adversaries. For this purpose, God gave the Israelites the Torah or moral Law. Only those who conducted their lives in accord with the moral precepts of the Divine law reached the promised land after their sojourn in the desert. The unfaithful Jews who failed to “tend the desert” or persevere in faith in the wake of many hardships and trials never found their “way to Eden”.

Moreover, the wilderness can be described as a place untouched by human developments and settlement. In the form of imagery, it represents a moral haven. For the Israelites, the wilderness contrasted with Egypt which was polluted with the vain grandeur of this world and the many false idols that alienated the Egyptian captors from God and even corrupted many of Abraham’s descendants while living there. The Exodus happened so that the Hebrew people would be free to worship the God of their fathers as He desired they righteously should in the land that He had initially promised to Abraham (Gen. 17:7). The wilderness was where God’s emancipated people could be spiritually refined and come to know God, as to walk in his ways without any worldly distractions that might hinder them. The wilderness provided the straight path that would help enable them to become a holy nation set apart by God and consecrated to Him as worthy of begetting the promised Messiah.

Indeed, in sacred Scripture, the wilderness is portrayed as the site of the dispensation of divine grace where God disciplines, purifies, and transforms His chosen people by imparting a singular holiness to them through His covenant. It was at the outset of the Israelites’ forty-year sojourn in the desert that God assured Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Ex. 33:14). On this occasion, God didn’t simply offer his chosen people guidance, but promised to guide them to the promised land Himself. The wilderness was where the Israelite’s had to learn to place their undivided trust in Divine providence. Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden for their failure in trusting God and placing all their hope in Him. The Jews who lost their trust in God and their trial of faith never made it to the promised land.

Here it was where God came down from His heavenly domain to dwell among His people and instruct them in His ways by physically manifesting His presence through the Ark of the Covenant which also served as a channel of His grace (Ex. 25:8, 22; Josh. 3:5-17; 6:2-5). Outside of Egypt, the Israelites could encounter a personal God who related to them in a loving and caring way and who sought nothing other than their true happiness, albeit the physical hardships they had to endure to prove themselves worthy of being in His favour. ‘The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend’ (Ex. 33:11). Through Moses, God would speak to all His people by His theophanies.

Finally, there are many passages in the Old Testament which present the wilderness as an aspect of the goodness of God’s creation which inspires awe because of its sublimity. For instance, the prophet Isaiah creates an allegory that pertains to the spiritual condition of the Hebrew nation. The language in the text expresses a moral and spiritual desolation in the life of the Jews. Such was the condition of the Judeans before God allowed the Babylonians to Still, the prophet anticipates the time that will come when the moral and spiritual wasteland the Jews had created for themselves will be restored to its former beauty which God intended, like “the glory of Lebanon” with its plush cedar trees and fertile land. The “glory of God” shall be manifested in the rejuvenation of His chosen people by His grace which restores them to a new life in the spirit (Cf. Ezek. 36:26-27). A “crocus” (rose) shall beautifully blossom out of what was a desolate wasteland, now that God’s judgement against His people is past and the nation redeemed of its sins through its suffering and subsequent change of heart by the means of discipline (cf. Ezek. 20:36-38).

Still, the prophet anticipates the time that will come when the moral and spiritual wasteland the Jews had created for themselves will be restored to its former beauty which God intended, like “the glory of Lebanon” with its plush cedar trees and fertile land. The “glory of God” shall be manifested in the rejuvenation of His chosen people by His grace which restores them to a new life in the spirit (Cf. Ezek. 36:26-27). A “crocus” (rose) shall beautifully blossom out of what was a desolate wasteland, now that God’s judgement against His people is past and the nation redeemed of its sins through its suffering and subsequent change of heart by the means of discipline (cf. Ezek. 20:36-38).

The majesty of Zion that once was will be restored, now that God’s chosen people have left that pathless desert of alienation from God and spiritual desolation which they had stumbled upon through their infidelity. The excellency of Carmel and the fertility of Sharon will now be restored by God’s grace and renewed blessings in the wasteland that Zion created for herself to her own spiritual ruin. By God’s merciful grace of forgiveness and salvation, His people will now set themselves on the right path in a land fertile with reinvigorated piety in the knowledge of God and His covenant with them (Isa. 35:1-4).

We can imagine the normal characteristics of a desert: a solitary and dry place (ציה or tsı̂yâh), without springs and streams of water which doesnt produce any verdure and cannot sustain life. But only in this desolate state can it blossom forth to new life by being restored to its original plush condition as God’s re-creation by His regenerating grace. Anagogically, the spiritual plight of the ancient Hebrews points to mankind’s need of baptism and reconciliation to God by means of sanctification or justification.

Hence, when God fashioned Mary’s soul and sanctified it at the first instant of her conception in the haven of her mother’s womb, He put her at enmity with the serpent. All it had wrought at the creation of the world did not affect Mary. God preserved her from being subjected to the spiritual desolation of humanity because of original sin. Mary was God’s re-creation of mankind before the fall. She was untouched by the spiritual ruin Adam had brought upon himself and all his descendants by nature. The majesty of Eve that once was had been restored in Mary. Our Blessed Lady did not set foot upon a pathless desert of alienation from God when she was born. She did not enter this world as a “wandering daughter”. Her soul was fertile and plush in its sanctified state, as she blossomed like a rose by the power of God’s grace, which restored her to the original state of justice and holiness that Adam had forfeited for all his offspring because of his idolatry and infidelity to God.

God set Mary apart from all the descendants of Adam and Eve who would be born in exile and slavery to sin, as to be holy and consecrated to Him in preparation for the Divine Maternity, just as He freed the Israelites from slavery and separated them from the surrounding pagan nations to be His very own people, holy and consecrated to Him, from whom would come the Divine Messiah. “Thus, shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto to the Egyptians, and how I bear you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Ex. 19:3-4). God bore Mary on the wings of His grace when He kept her from being taken captive with the rest of humanity and morally subjected to having to dwell enslaved in the dominion of God’s ancient adversary. God looked with favour on the lowliness of His handmaid when he removed her from the rest of sinful humanity by bearing her away on His wings of grace to be His very own virgin bride and the mother of the Son- “clothed in the robes of salvation” and “wrapped in a mantle of justice” - a woman clothed with the sun (Isa. 61:10; Rev. 12:1). The flood water could not reach and engulf our Blessed Lady Zion as it had sinful humanity at the time of Noah (Gen. 6:17-18) and Pharaoh’s army of chariots.

In the spirit of the faithful remnant of the Israelites, as the historical personification of Daughter Zion, Mary received the Divine commands and kept them in the depths of her heart and soul. She personified the renewal of Israel after having been liberated from bondage and exile. There was no place for the vain idols of this world in her soul. How she conducted herself throughout her entire life was impeccable by the plenitudes of grace God bestowed on her. Mary observed the word of God and kept it (Lk. 11:28). Not once did she profane God’s holy name by thought, word, or deed. Our Blessed Lady embodied in her person the ideal of a redeemed and resurrected people of God.

When God sanctified Mary’s soul and preserved her free from the stain of original sin and all its ill moral effects, He intended, by His almighty power, to keep her from ever stumbling and falling from His grace (Jude 1:24-25). God clothed His handmaid in the radiance of the light of His justice. She was enrobed with the sun of His justice. What paled in comparison within the soul of humanity lay under her feet like a waning moon. Our Blessed Lady had crushed the head of the serpent. The Blessed Virgin Mary blossomed like a crocus among thorns and thistles in the desolate wasteland of fallen man.

God “tilled the land that was desolate” and had it “become like the garden of Eden” by restoring in Mary what Adam and Eve had reduced to a wasteland. God replanted in her what was uprooted from humanity by their transgression (cf. B’midbar 1:1; Nedarim, 55a). God put His spirit within our Blessed Lady and a heart of flesh that would never turn to stone. And by the efficacious influence of His grace, God caused Mary, without violating her free will, to observe all His commandments and to walk in His statutes free from all abomination that infests sinful humanity (Ezek. 36: 16:37). Mary was indeed the creation of God’s sublime handiwork, His greatest masterpiece of grace in all creation, who in awe all generations shall pronounce blessed. The Lord had done great things to her, for holy is His name (Lk. 1:48-49).

Therefore, brethren, because we know and have seen from the beginning it was through woman that the adversary had gained access unto men, and to the end he will accomplish it by her [Eve] - for she is the weapon of Satan... For because of her, the curse of the law was established, and because of her the promise unto death was made. For with pangs she bears children and delivers them to death. Because of her, the earth was cursed, that it should bring forth thorns and tares. Accordingly, [on the contrary] by the coming of the offspring of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the thorns are uprooted, the sweat wiped away, the fig tree cursed... the dust made salt... the curse nailed to the cross... the edge of the sword removed from before the tree of life and it given as food for the faithful, and Paradise promised to the blessed, and to virgins and to the saints.”
Aphraates, Demonstrations 6, 6
(ante A.D. 367)

And I passed by thee, and saw thee: and behold the time was the time of lovers: and I spread my garment over thee, and covered thy ignominy. And I swore to thee, and I entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God: and thou becamest mine. And I washed thee with water, and cleansed away thy blood from thee: and I anointed thee with oil. And I clothed thee with embroidery, and shod thee with violet coloured shoes: and I girded thee about with fine linen, and clothed thee with fine garments.
Ezekiel 16, 8-10

Sunday, 22 April 2018

She Shall Crush Thy Head

inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius ipsa conteret caput tuum et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius

God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.’
Genesis 3, 15 {DRB}

A Hebrew epicene personal pronoun was originally used in the Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in Genesis 3:15. This pronoun has only one form to denote either male (hu) or female (hi) in the singular or the two taken together in a gender-neutral way (hem): He/She/They shall crush thy head, and thou shall lie in wait for his/her/their heel.  In the Catholic tradition, both the woman and her offspring are taken in association with each other. It is not only the woman, but also her child who is at enmity or opposition with the serpent and its offspring: sinful and wicked humanity.  Thus, from different theological perspectives, either the woman or her offspring can be seen striking at the head of the serpent in collaboration with each other in their respective roles.

St. Luke presents both Mary and her divine Son Jesus  equally “blessed” (euologomene - eulogemenos) by having absolutely nothing in common with Satan and what he has worked: sin and death (Lk 1:42). For this reason, Mary is elevated above all women, including Eve, by her association with Jesus in undoing the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve. Both the Mother and the Son are equally blessed (eulogeo) by having been set apart by God and consecrated to Him for undoing what the serpent started in the beginning (Gen 3:14).

Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you daughter, by the Highest God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies.”
Judith 13, 18

Since in the original Hebrew text the Protoevangelium has a dual subject (He-She), either the male or female, or even the plural rendering, of the epicene pronoun is acceptable according to one’s proper theological perspective. The Latin translation of the Hebrew female pronoun (ipsa) espoused by St. Jerome in his composition of the Latin Vulgate points to the vital role God granted Mary in His plan of salvation, brought to complete fruition by the final victory of her Son over the Serpent and its seed: sin and death. The female rendering of the neuter pronoun in no way serves to denote a final victory attributed to the woman. It was God who directed Judith’s blow against Holofernes which saved her people from imminent slavery and destruction, just as it was God’s grace that preceded and prompted Mary to pronounce her Fiat at the Annunciation and fulfill her commitment in the Divine work of salvation by enduring sorrow at the foot of the Cross to temporally appease God for mankind's sins.

That the early Church interpreted Genesis 3:15 this way and perceived Mary to be a second Eve is evident to begin with in the apologetic writings of St. Irenaeus (189 A.D.). The Bishop of Lyons bears testimony to the Apostolic faith: “So, if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God, in this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1). This interpretation of who the woman in the Proto-gospel is makes more sense in Christian thought, seeing that Jesus is the Son of Mary, who vindicates our fallen primordial mother by her obedient act of faith in charity and grace. After all, it was the woman in the garden whom the Serpent deceived and a woman whom God put at enmity with it to undo its triumph over her gender to fully restore humanity to His grace. Both Adam and Eve were created to provide spiritual life with God to their offspring in one flesh. This life in God's grace which they forfeited had been restored by the New Adam with the help of the New Eve. 

In classical Jewish theology, the promised woman is seen to be Daughter Zion and her offspring: the righteous remnant of Israel, including the Messiah, through whom people of all nations shall come to know and accept God and be redeemed of their sins upon his appearance at the end of this age. As early as Apostolic time, Christians perceived the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the anti-type and historical personification of this Hebrew matriarchal symbol. At any rate, a Latin reading ipse (he) would directly announce the final victory achieved by the woman’s offspring without necessarily excluding the essential part she had to play in humanity’s redemption in collaboration with him.

St. Paul tells us that all members of the Church crush the devil’s head by their perseverance in faith: ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20). In the order of grace, Mary is the pre-eminent member and proto-type of the Church, for it was by her salutary act of faith in charity and grace that her Divine offspring came into the world to save humanity from its sins and restore it to the preternatural life of grace.  All who are baptized can strike Satan’s head each time they resist his temptations and observe the will of God with the help of His grace (Jas 4:17). As the Blessed Virgin Mary is a moral channel of grace, she is united with all her Son's disciples in their battles with the dragon through her prayerful intercession in Heaven (Rev 12:17).

Thus, the reading “she” (ipsa) is not meant to equate Mary with Jesus by coordinating her merits with his. Surely, the final victory over Satan and what he has managed to work for humanity exclusively belongs to her Son in strict justice (meritum perfecta condigno) because of his divine nature and equality with the Father. Yet, theologically, the female reading is acceptable from a correct point of view. Depending on what one wishes to emphasize, both the woman and her seed can be said to crush the serpent’s head. This isn’t an either-or, but a both-and proposition. Mary crushes the serpent’s head by her supernatural merits (meritum de congruo) or right of friendship with God in co-operation with divine grace in and through the merits of her divine Son who is the principal source of all saving grace.

God chose to become incarnate to reconcile the world to Himself, but it was by Mary’s meritorious free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour in alignment with God’s will that the Incarnation happened according to His righteous design. In their respective roles, both Jesus (hu/ispse) and Mary (hi/ipsa) crushed the serpent’s head together in accord with the Divine initiative. Christ redeemed the world in his humanity by serving as a ransom for sin paid by his blood, which he should receive with divine necessity only by Mary’s act of faith working through love in collaboration with the Holy Spirit.

Although our Blessed Lady was only a finite created being, unlike God who is infinite and uncreated, she could merit for both herself and humanity the Incarnation. This was because she acted in the state of sanctifying grace. In this state of grace, she partook of the divine life of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Pet.1:4; 2 Cor.5:17; Eph.1:13; Phil. 2:13; 1 Jn.3:7,10, etc.). Transformed in her human nature, by which she could merit nothing from God apart from His grace and sharing in the supernatural life of God in His grace, God honoured her Fiat. Mary acted understanding and seeing with God’s own supernatural vision, and she loved with His own infinite and burning supernatural love in the depths of her soul which was infused with His sanctifying grace (Lk 1:46). In Elizabeth’s declaration of praise, "Blessed (eulogmene) are you among women,” the perfect passive participle is a Hebraism meaning "most blessed among women” or “blessed above all women” (Lk 1:42).

We have an example in the following passage from the Hebrew Old Testament.

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

“Blessed of women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed above women shall she be in the tent.”
Judges 5, 24

The second clause qualifies the first clause. The expression "blessed of women" implies Jael is blessed above all other women because of her singular deed in collaboration with YHWH. And how is it that Jael is supremely blessed?

She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer, and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
Judges 5, 25-26

Catholic scholars and apologists in favour of Jerome's translation of the Hebrew Old Testament inform us that the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo (c. A.D. 40) preferred the hi/ ipsa reading, having argued from the Hebrew poetic technique known as parallel poetry (chiasmus). This form of poetry comprises three-quarters of the OT, mostly in the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms. Genesis 1:1-2:3 is chiastic in its structure as well. Although the Book of Genesis is a historical narrative written in prose, parallel poetry (the expression of one idea in two or more different ways, or the idea of one line following the idea of another line) is a literary technique that is also used when recording a spoken prophecy. Genesis 3:15 is the first Messianic prophecy found in the Bible, and it was pronounced by God Himself. Let us examine some examples of this literary device in the OT to see how concepts and ideas are structured to parallel each other in single passages. The verses below are taken from Hebrew Parallelism, by Jeff A. Benner.

Here Psalm 15:1-3 and Isaiah 6:10 are broken down into their poetic sequences. Each thought is represented by the letters A-D. Each expression of a thought is represented by the numbers 1 and 2.

A1. Lord, who may [dwell] in your [sanctuary]?
A2. Who may [live] on your [holy hill]?
B1. He whose [walk] is [blameless]
B2. and who [does] what is [righteous]
C1. who [speaks the truth] from his [heart]
C2. and has [no slander] on his [tongue]
D1. who does his [neighbour] no wrong
D2. and casts no slur on his [fellow man]
[does no wrong - casts no slur]

A. Make the [heart] of this people [fat]
B. and make their [ears] [heavy]
C. and [shut] their [eyes]
C1. lest they [see] with their [eyes]
B1. and [hear] with their [ears]
A1. and [understand] with their [heart], and return, and be healed.

Now in Genesis 3:15, a couplet (distich) parallel a following couplet:

We see that line A1 corresponds with line A2, and line B1 with B2. The "woman" in line A1 refers to "she" in A2. Thus, to make the subject of line A2 “he” (ipse) or “it” (ipsum) and to say it relates to the seed in line B1, is obviously bad Hebrew poetry. Clearly, the "he" or "it" readings ruin the synonymous parallelism of this verse and so are more likely to be at variance with the author's intention. Jerome consulted with eminent Jewish scholars while he translated the Hebrew into Latin in Bethlehem. So, he could have taken this literary device into account in his choice of pronouns.

In the sacred text, it is the woman who is at enmity with the serpent, while the woman's seed is at enmity with the serpent's seed: sinful humanity. If we accurately observe the parallelism here, we should reasonably conclude from the first enmity announced between the woman and the serpent that the subsequent pronouns refer to the first protagonist, the woman, and the first antagonist, the serpent. The pronoun ipsa thereby refers to the female protagonist who, because of the serpent's antagonism and her opposition against it, victoriously crushes its head by her obedience to the will of God and in collaboration with Him as His "fellow worker" (1 Cor 3:9) or "helpmate" being the New Eve.

A radical shift to the woman's seed certainly does violence to the rhythm of the passage from a literary perspective, though theologically there is no conflict. As previously pointed out, the woman could be said to have crushed the serpent's head by her act of faith, for it resulted in her giving birth to the offspring who would achieve the final victory over it by destroying its dominion on earth. Mary crushed the serpent's head in collaboration with her divine Son in concurrence with the graces he merited for her by his passion and death. And the merit of the temporal satisfaction our Blessed Lady made to God for the sins of the world received its worth from the eternal satisfaction our Lord had made to his heavenly Father. Yet our Lord's eternal expiation should be completed by the obedience of a promised woman and virgin who, not unlike Eve in the fullness of grace and the state of innocence, vindicates the primordial mother of all the living by untying the knot of her disobedience while never having fallen from his grace (Lk 1:28).

And the dragon was angry against the woman:
and went to make war with the rest of her seed,
who keep the commandments of God,
and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 12, 17

Hence, in Genesis 3:15, God is speaking to the Serpent about Eve’s transgression, which draws our attention to her moral contribution in the fall of mankind (Adam). It is only reasonable, therefore, that our focus should be kept on the female protagonists in this drama and how it unfolds in the restoration of mankind through the moral contribution of the Woman who God promises will undo what the Serpent started by tempting her. The crafty Serpent aimed to ruin all that was good in God's creation by targeting Adam, but it was through his helpmate the Woman that it brought about Adam's fall from grace.

The Serpent did not speak to Adam and tempt him directly but allied with his wife to entice him and join with her in their rebellion against God. Since Mary was chosen to undo the Serpent's victory over the woman Eve, it is she who is at "war" with it. And because she is the spiritual mother of all the living, by having provided the fruit of her womb to mankind, her righteous offspring who have been redeemed and regenerated by the merits of her seed, are at war with the Serpent or Dragon together with her. To be at war with an enemy is to be at enmity with him.

And so, the Woman must vindicate herself by opposing the Serpent, but now this could only be accomplished by the woman who God promised shall conceive and bear the Messiah, so that he could restore what Adam brought about by his sin. The Fall of mankind from God's grace was accomplished by Adam alone. If he hadn't succumbed to his wife's suggestion, only she might have been banished from Eden and barred from the Tree of Life in her spiritual death. Meanwhile, God would have provided another female helpmate for Adam who would bear righteous offspring for her husband in the life of grace, if she proved to be faithful to him in their nuptial covenant, by believing him instead of the Serpent in what he told her about God's command of abstaining from eating the forbidden fruit on the Tree of Knowledge. The Blessed Virgin Mary is that new helpmate or Eve, but with the new Adam because of our primordial father's fall from grace.

Mary stands in opposition to the Serpent in her covenant with God, while her offspring, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is at enmity with the Serpent's works: wicked mankind and all the evil that has marred God's creation, which he has come into the world to restore by regeneration and re-creation.  And this, Christ (the second Adam) has accomplished more than sufficiently with the co-operation of his faithful and obedient helpmate who remained true to God's word in her nuptial covenant with Him. The Woman and her Offspring are thus in alliance together against the Serpent, unlike Adam and Eve who formed an alliance with it against God.

St. Luke does draw a parallel between the Virgin Mary and Daughter Zion in her Canticle of Praise (Lk 1:46-49) by referring to the prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah and the Psalms (Isa.61:10; Zech.9:9; Zeph.3:1415, 20; Ps.102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). It does appear, then, that the Ecclesia in apostolic time acknowledged Mary to be not only the new Eve, but also the anti-type of Daughter Zion (the new Eve in Judaic theology) because of her Divine Maternity which she acquired by her salutary obedient act of faith. Her divine motherhood would be redefined at the Cross to include redeemed humanity, but especially all her Son's disciples, her spiritual offspring, through the blood (justification) and water (regeneration) that flowed from his pierced side (Jn 19:26-27; 34).

Eve is the mother of all Adam's fallen descendants. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of all the new Adam's regenerated offspring restored to the life of grace with God. Mary crushed the Serpent's head by undoing Eve's disobedience through her obedience to the will of God. Thus, she is the mother of redeemed righteous offspring because of her righteousness in God's grace. Eve remains to be the mother of unrighteous offspring, her firstborn son Cain being a murderer, because of her transgression and fall from grace, which led to her expulsion from Eden along with her husband Adam who bore the responsibility of their transgression. The final responsibility to undo the sin of mankind, therefore, has lain with the seed of the Woman of Promise - our Divine Messiah.

So, then, who are the offspring of the serpent? We find the answer summed up in 1 John 3:10-12: 'By this the children of God and the children of the Devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain who was of the evil one and slew his brother Abel. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's righteous.' The seed of the serpent, therefore, are people who possess the disposition of the Devil. They are consumed by pride, jealousy, and malice towards their neighbour and loathe what is righteous. And not unlike their progenitor, they hate God and all his righteous children even to the point of persecuting and putting them to death because they bear witness to the truth against them.

In the apostolic age, Pope St. Clement l (A.D. 98) exhorts the faithful not to conduct themselves in the manner of the Serpent’s offspring: “Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. 'For God,' saith [the Scripture], 'resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.' Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words" (Epistle to the Corinthians, 30).

How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness, O wandering daughter?
for the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth:
Jeremiah 31, 22

Of all human creatures, the Blessed Virgin Mary was the most perfect “portion of the Holy One” clothed with “concord and humility”, graced with temperance and charity, and pure in heart. Rather than being proud, boastful, and judgmental, she was meek and poor in spirit. She “stood far off” from the prince and spirit of this world. The angel Gabriel came to Mary since she had “found grace with God” (Lk 1:30). The Annunciation wouldn’t have happened if she had possessed the disposition of the Serpent and heeded its words as Adam's wife and helpmate had. Mary had to have no affinity whatsoever with the Dragon and be completely unlike its offspring, if she were to crush its head in collaboration with God for the world's salvation in faith working through love (Gal 5:5-6).

The virgin spouse of the Holy Spirit was "a garden enclosed" and "a fountain sealed" (Songs 4:12). Not unlike the virgin bride of Christ, which is the Church, pure and unblemished in her faith, the Virgin Mary stood on a rock beyond the Devil's reach. The serpent could never slither into the garden of her soul, which proclaimed God's glory and thus through which the Messiah shone forth as the light of the world in its re-creation. Nor could the gates of Hell prevail against the blessed mother of our Lord.  Meanwhile, it wasn't the Devil whom Jesus and the prophets before him were at enmity with, at least not directly, but rather the Serpent's offspring - that “brood of vipers” who acted as its advocates (Mt 23:29-33).

And you, O tower of the flocK,
hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come,
the former dominion shall come,
kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
Micah 4, 8

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