When the Anglican scholar Edward B. Pusey wrote his Eirenicon, St. John Henry Newman felt compelled to reply by letter to his old friend’s polemics concerning Marian doctrine and piety. He conceded that many Marian devotionals of the era contained imprecise expressions of that restless and emotional love of the faithful for the mother of their Savior. Still one doctrine he firmly defended in its strict sense: the Immaculate Conception. To Newman, it seemed undeniable that the doctrine was “bound up in the doctrine of the Fathers, that Mary is the second Eve.”
Newman finds the use of this title from among some of the earliest Fathers, especially St. Justin Martyr (100-165), St. Irenaeus (130-202), and Tertullian (155-220). By the fourth century, the contrast between Eve and Mary is almost treated as a proverb: “Mors per Evam, vita per Mariam,” as St. Jerome says, “Death through Eve, life through Mary.” In one of his hymns, St. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) sings: “Both (Mary and Eve) were established in the same purity and simplicity, but Eve became the cause of our death, Mary the cause of our life.” The innocence that Eve possessed before her fall is the same that Mary possessed to fulfill her role in untying the knot of Eve’s disobedience. She who cooperated in the redemptive work of the Second Adam was given no less grace than she who cooperated with the first Adam in his sin.
Yet just as the first Eve received her life and being from the side of Adam, the second Eve was given the prevenient grace of her integrity from the graces poured out of the Second Adam’s side.The Blessed Virgin, a child of our fallen first parents, was redeemed in anticipation of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ. She was preserved from the debt of sin and infused with grace in the very first moment of her existence in order to prepare her for her singular role as the second Eve. She heard and believed the message, not of a serpent, but of an angel of God. By her sorrowful consent, she saw the fruit of her womb hang from the tree of the cross. Even so, the Cross, the tree of death, has become the tree of life and Mary’s children live by its fruit in the most Holy Eucharist. Whereas Eve was the mother of all the living, Mary is the mother of Life Himself.
The Blessed Virgin’s whole life, from the first moment of her existence, is a participation in Christ’s saving mission. But her participation began with a free, unmerited, and utterly unique grace which not only cleansed her but preserved her from the stain of original sin. Every honor that is given to Our Lady begins and ends with Our Savior, the New Adam. And He began His saving work in the Immaculate Conception of the New Eve.
Rev Br. Andrew Thomas Kang, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE