The Second Eve: Mary's Part in the Redemption

Chapter 10 of Mother of God by Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali O.C.D.

Read the other chapters here.

She preserved him, that was first formed by God, the father of the world, when he was created alone, and she brought him out of his sin, and gave him power to govern all things.” (Wis. X, 1, 2.)

There is no parallelism in the Scriptures so pronounced and so perfect as between the drama of the fall of man and that of his restoration. St. Paul has emphasised the essential and central point of that contrasting parallel: “Therefore, as by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation; so also by the justice of one, unto all men to justification of life. For as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners: so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.”[1] But the Biblical picture itself centres not so much round the man as the woman. Take the picture of the fall. The man is in the background. There is a fallen angel, the serpent, crouching on a tree and talking to the first woman, seducing her. The gradual steps by which she fell are minutely described: her straying near the forbidden tree, her dialogue with the devil, her looking at the fruit and finding it good, and finally her stretching forth her hand to pluck and eat it. The fall of man is merely alluded to in passing as almost a natural consequence, a foregone conclusion. Woman deserts God and Man submissively follows her. The process of the fall is complete. There is the other picture parallel but opposite. Here again a Woman is the central figure. An Angel from heaven kneels in reverence before her and conveys a message to her. Her reply is awaited in anxious suspense and when at last she pronounces her “fiat” God lovingly descends to her. The work of Redemption is begun.

In the great promise of God, again, the Second Eve stands out prominent. After meting out the punishment to the first woman for succumbing to the serpent, God promises another Woman who with her Seed would crush the serpent’s head and “for whose heel the serpent shall lie in wait”. There is no doubt about who that woman and her Seed are. The same picture of the woman and her Son with the serpent lying in wait recurs in the Apocalypse where St. John describes the perennial war between the kingdom of Heaven and that of hell: “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. … And there was seen another sign in Heaven. And behold a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and on his head seven diadems. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of Heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered: that, when she should be delivered he might devour her son.”[2] It is true the Church is also signified under the image of this woman. But as Cardinal Newman observes: “The holy Apostle would not have spoken of the Church under this particular image unless there had existed a Blessed Virgin Mary.”[3] The image fits the Church merely because it primarily and literally fits Our Lady and she is the type and prototype, the source and heart, of the church. And there are portions of it which fit only her, for we read: “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her son was taken up to God and to His throne.”[4] If this son is undoubtedly Christ who can doubt who the woman is? The dragon is the same old serpent of Genesis, for St. John remarks: “And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world.”[5]

The inescapable conclusion is this: God has undone the work of the devil and turned the devil’s own weapons against him. Thus the devil seduced the first woman and brought about the fall of mankind; God in His turn will raise up another woman to bring about man’s restoration. The first parents doomed their progeny to death; He will provide another father and mother who will regenerate them. God worked out this parallel so completely that for the tree which the serpent climbed to seduce mankind there is the tree Christ will ascend to save mankind. “By the very same steps,” says St. Augustine, “by which human nature fell, has it been repaired by Christ. Adam was proud, Christ was humble; death came by a woman, life by another woman; ruin through Eve, salvation through Mary. The former corrupted followed the seducer; the latter incorrupt brought forth the Saviour. The former freely accepted the potion held out by the serpent and offered it to the man, whereby both of them deserved death; the latter receiving the influx of heavenly grace brought forth life, whereby dead flesh may be raised to life.”[6] The economy of the Redemption, therefore, is a perfect parallel and contrast to the order of the fall, and a new Adam and a new Eve are the central figures in it. Cardinal Newman searched the writings of the earliest Fathers to see what was the most characteristic and basic idea they held about Mary, and he came upon the idea of the Second Eve. Nothing is more conspicuous in their writings. This is how Tertullian explains the parallel: “By a rival operation God recovered His image and likeness, seized by the devil. For a word causing death had stolen into Eve, until then a virgin. In like manner, the Word of God, imparting life was to be introduced into a virgin; so that what by this sex had gone to perdition, He might, by the same sex, bring back to salvation. Eve had believed the serpent, Mary believed Gabriel. The wrong done by the credulity of the former was obliterated by the faith of the latter.”[7] Another testimony from the earliest days is that of Irenaeus: “And so the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened by Mary’s obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound up by her infidelity, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith. … As Eve is seduced by the words of a fallen angel to flee from God when she was untrue to His word; so to Mary are brought the glad tidings, so that she might bear God by being obedient to His word. If Eve had disobeyed God, Mary was persuaded to obey Him, so that the Virgin Mary should become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And, therefore, as the human race is made subject to death by a virgin, so is it saved by a Virgin. The scale is put to an equal balance, that is, virginal disobedience is offset by virginal obedience.”[8] St. Augustine thinks that the plan of Redemption would not have been so arrestingly beautiful if it were not such a perfect contrast to our fall. “It is a great sacrament,” he says, “that, as death came to us by a woman, life was born to us by a woman; so that in both sexes, feminine and masculine, the devil, being conquered, might be tormented, as he had gloried in the downfall of both. He would not have been adequately punished, had both sexes been freed indeed, but not by both.”[9]

Now let us study Mary’s function as the Second Eve. To put it in general terms. Mary has in our Redemption the same part that Eve had in our fall. And Eve’s part in our fall is a very paradoxical one. We know it was essentially the sin of Adam that ruined mankind, and yet the fact remains that it was in the power of Eve to bring it about or avert it. And she brought it about. As it was, her sin constituted the total occasion and cause without which the fall actually would not have taken place. “She took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat.”[10] Eve therefore brought about the sin of Adam which caused our fall. By Eve Adam fell and through Eve he propagates the consequences of his fall. She is at once the cause and complement of the sin of Adam. The parallel holds good here. It is the merit of Christ that saves us. But the infinite goodness of God has planned it all in such a way that the whole redemptive work of Christ was so conditioned by Mary’s will and complemented by her merits that it has become her doing as well in a marvellous manner. So that, though it is Christ who Redeems us and her, she truly works redemption with Him. The Church has of late repeatedly emphasised Mary’s title of Co-redemptrix. Thus in 1908 the Sacred Congregation of Rites mentioned her as “the merciful Co-redemptrix of the human race”.[11] In 1914 Pope Pius X granted an indulgence to a prayer in which she is addressed “Co-redemptrix of the human kind”.[12] Benedict XV in his letter Inter Sodalitia of 1918 asserts that “it may truly be said that she with Christ redeemed the human race.”[13] Pius XI wrote in 1923: “The sorrowful Virgin took part with Jesus Christ in the work of redemption.”[14] And again in April, 1935, he expressed the same idea in the prayer he sent to Lourdes for the closing ceremony of the Jubilee. The appropriateness of this merciful disposition of God is thus explained by St. Bernard: “One man and one woman harmed us grievously. Thanks to God, all things are restored by one man and one woman, and that with interest. It is true that Christ would have been adequate, since all our sufficiency is from Him, but it was not good for us that it should be a man alone. It was more appropriate that both sexes should take part in our reparation, since both had wrought our ruin. Jesus Christ as man is obviously the trustworthy and powerful mediator between God and man, but mankind honours in Him His divine majesty. Not only His mercy but also His judgment is sung. There is thus need of a mediator with that mediator, and none could be more fitting than Mary. Why should human frailty hesitate to approach Mary? There is nothing severe, nothing terrible about her; she is all sweet, offering to all milk and wool.”[15]

Now, Mary’s share in our redemption incomparably exceeds the part played by Eve in our fall. Eve’s co-operation in our fall was only indirect, for even if she foresaw the consequences of her sin she did not directly intend them; whereas Mary’s co-operation was full and formal directly intending the salvation of mankind. As the consort and complement of Adam, Eve had great influence over him. But the Second Eve has a far more intimate and comprehensive relation with the Second Adam and her influence is proportionately all-embracing. She is at once the mother of the Incarnate Word, the spouse of the Second Adam; and the dynamic and authoritative organ of the Holy Ghost. In all of which respects her share in the work of Redemption is stupendous. While the first Eve received her material substance and being from Adam, it is the Second Eve who gives all these to the Second Adam. “In this respect,” says Scheeben, “to the exclusion of all other creatures, Mary alone co-operates in this most sublime and supernatural work of God, and she does this in a manner superlatively more prefect than the co-operation of any other creature in the supernatural works of God, as, e.g., the dispensers of the sacraments. For, in union with the Holy Ghost, Mary exercises an intrinsic influence upon the substance of the supernatural product by her own natural strength. She communicates the supernatural gift of God to the world as a gift which is given to her first, or co-produced by her. Thus in this work and this gift of God she participates not as a mere bearer of the divine strength or as a mere delegate from God.”[16] Her maternal co-operation means much more than this. It implies a true dependence of the whole work of Redemption on her will, because God willed it to be conditioned by her consent. In that sense Redemption in its entirety is her work also, and for that reason alone she deserves to be called Co-redemptrix.

But this general and remote co-operation is not all we attribute to the Second Eve. As the spouse of the Incarnate Word, she takes part, as it were by right, in every detail of His redemptive work. Here again the parallel of the first Eve holds good. “She gave to her husband who did eat.”[17] The inducement to sin came from Eve. Similarly Mary has the initiative at every step in the great process of Redemption. The details are not revealed in the Scriptures but indications are not wanting. From the day on which she formally commenced the great sacrifice by offering the Divine Infant in the Temple, to the day on which like a High Priestess and co-victim she stood on Calvary to consummate that supreme immolation, every step that Christ took was in a way guided and influenced by Mary. The Scriptures tell us that thirty out of His thirty-three years were spent in submission to her. But even the remaining three were not outside her influence as is clear from the incident at Cana. The miracle with which He opened His Messianic mission was performed at her bidding “even though His time had not yet come”. And this first miracle of changing water into wine is intimately related to His last miracle of changing wine into His blood at the close of His mission. And Marian theologians have not been slow to recognise Mary’s active and almost authoritative part in this last miracle as well. The insistence of Christ in the case of the first miracle that He was doing it for His Mother “even though His time had not yet come”, is sufficient indication that He would perform the last miracle, of which the other was only a type, only at His Mother’s bidding, even when His time had arrived. And between these two landmarks of His public ministry nothing important could have taken place without a decisive move from her. This was particularly true about His final immolation, at which she had to be what Eve was at that fatal act of Adam, – cause, companion and complement. We need not be surprised if He who did not enter the world without her “fiat” would not leave it without her consent. Mary had to effect it by giving her consent. She had to support it by being the co-offerer, she had to complement it by being the co-victim. “Take away Mary, and the Cross falls” exclaimed St. Cyril at the Council of Ephesus. It is not by accident that she, who kept in the background all the time of Christ’s public ministry, suddenly emerges at this last hour and stands beside the Cross on that mountain top. It is her hour; at this supreme moment only she can help Him. Only her arms can lift up the Immaculate Lamb to heaven, only her heart can provide the golden altar on which He is to be offered, only her burning love can provide the sacred fire in which He is to be consumed. On that very spot where Abraham was ordered to immolate his son, but was spared the agony at the last moment, she had to sacrifice her only Son and God.

At this world sacrifice she represent the whole of humanity like a great High Priestess. In her, mankind receives such an elevation and a participation in this sublime act that St. Peter could confidently tell all the faithful: “You are a royal priesthood”.[18] Of course we do not speak about priesthood here in the same sense as we speak about priesthood in the ministers of Christ. In the latter it is a special character imprinted by Ordination by which they act as intelligent instruments of Christ. When they sacrifice it is Christ who acts, their co-operation merely consisting in performing in a human way the sacramental symbol by which the power of Christ is brought to play. This representative priesthood is a “gratia gratis data” which of itself does not affect the intrinsic merit or worth of the instrument assumed. But the priesthood we attribute to Mary by analogy is not such an instrumental character that is independent of the personal worth of the recipient and which produces its effects almost in spite of it, but a “gratia gratum faciens” which so lifts her being and action to the plane of the Divinity that her personal actions are accepted by God as a complementary and integral part of the sacrifice of Christ. Not that her co-operation added anything to the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ, but that His condescension communicated to her action the divine efficacy of His own sacrifice. In this sense her priesthood is infinitely more meritorious and more personal than the priesthood of the ordained ministers of Christ, for while the latter co-operate instrumentally in the sacrifice of Christ without any personal efficacy regarding the contents of it, she without that instrumental function nevertheless enters into the heart of the sacrifice as co-principle with Christ. In his Mariology Scheeben explains this extraordinary position of Mary, which he compares to the diaconate in relation to the priesthood of Christ, in this way: “To emphasise the outstanding loftiness of Marys hieratical dignity and power, we must further explain the fact that, in connection with Christ’s personal sacrifice, her diaconate contains a higher dignity and a closer union with Him than does the representative priesthood in the renewal of His sacrifice.”[19] St. Albert the Great was the first to call Mary a Priestess. From him St. Antonine borrowed the expression. In his theology we read: “Though the most Blessed Virgin did not receive the Sacrament of Priesthood, whatever dignity or grace is conferred by it was granted her in full measure.”[20] The same words are found in the works of St. Albert the Great.

But all this co-operation may be said to be external to the sacrifice itself. Has she a place within it? She has, and it is this that makes her almost indistinguishable from Christ. She is co-victim with Christ. She is the precious wood which burning consumes the victim and is itself consumed with it. In the Old Law a sacrifice would not be consumed in profane fire. In the New Law God would not allow the Immaculate Lamb to be consumed by the wrath of His executioners; He must be immolated in the burning love of an Immaculate Virgin heart. She stood there by the Cross, her whole being on fire with love for Him, the flames busting forth from her agonising heart encircling and enveloping the divine victim and in the intensity of their ardour wafting it heavenward. Thus the great sacrifice of the New Law is not without its golden altar, its precious wood and its sacred fire. And Mary is all that. She prepares the offering, consumes and completes the sacrifice of Christ. And this is the reason for her superhuman sufferings. If every human suffering, even though brought about by sin or necessitated by imperfections, may still be united to the sufferings of Christ and so sanctified as to be accounted a complement of His sacrifice, as St. Paul says: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His body, which is the Church,”[21] what should be said of the sufferings of the purest of beings who had absolutely no need to suffer for herself, and yet endured more than all other creatures put together, both men and angels in via, and bore it all for the purest love of God? She was the most exquisite incense which, burning with the Immaculate Lamb, rose in sweet odour to the throne of God. In the Old Law there were two sacrifices continually offered in the Holy of Holies. One was the Bread of Proposition offered daily on the table set for it on one side, and the other the incense burnt on the little golden altar set on the other side. This figure is fulfilled in the New Law where the incessant offering of the Bread of Life is complemented with the rich incense of the burning love of an Immaculate Heart.

If Eve was condemned to share in the curse of Adam, Mary is privileged to partake of the Passion of Christ. And Mary’s sufferings, like her dignity, were only next to those of Christ. The holy Prophet contemplated her in her type and lamented: “To what shall I compare thee, or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O Virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea is thy destruction; who shall heal thee?”[22]

Her sorrow is best compared to the ocean by reason of its vastness, its depth and the bitterness of its content. No creature can ever form the remotest idea of it. As God alone knows the measure of her greatness, so He alone has measured the depth of her sorrow. “Such was the sorrow of the Virgin,” says St. Bernardine of Sienna, “that if it were divided among all creatures capable of suffering, they would all die that instant.”[23] But even apart from its vastness and intensity, the very nature of Mary’s sufferings must remain unintelligible to us fallen creatures, for her case was altogether singular. She was a solitary rose forced into a forest of thorns, a lone lily left in a wretched wilderness, the brightest star of heaven hidden in a dark valley of tears. Gifted with perfect use of reason from the first moment of her existence and all aflame with the love of God, she could not but suffer agonies at the sight of the infinite majesty of God offended on all sides, and the vast army of souls carried away by the deluge of sin covering the face of the earth. The very incarnation of purity that she was, this oppressive sense of sin pervading the whole world must have been a veritable hell to her sensitive soul.

If her tender heart had been from the first instant of her being such an agonising victim to God’s love and justice, what must it not have become when at the Incarnation she was called upon to share the responsibility for the sins of all the world. How often must she not have shared in the agony of the God-Man who shuddered at the sight of the invading army of sins, sweated blood and cried to His Father for help.

But the peculiar incomprehensibility of Mary’s agony arises from its being entirely spiritual and ultra-spiritual. “And thy own soul a sword shall pierce,” prophesied Simeon.[24] We shall never fathom the depths to which that sword reached. “Whatever torture was inflicted on the bodies of martyrs,” says St. Anselm to the sorrowful Mother, “was light, or nothing at all, compared with thy suffering which by its immensity penetrated thy whole interior being.”[25] Even the pains of sense are really felt only when they reach some central point within the living organism. The more interior the pain the more intense it becomes. And we know all physical pain, even the most intense, can be eclipsed by mental anguish which is far more interior to us than mere bodily pain. But souls that have passed through the penetrating pains of the spiritual order tell us that there is nothing comparable to the agony caused by the darts of God that rend the inmost core of the soul as it passes through the dark night of passive purification. Perhaps these privileged souls experience in those rare moments of their trial a shadow of what the Mother of God had to bear all through her long life. We can picture to ourselves one side at least of Our Lord’s sufferings. But we can adequately picture nothing of Our Lady’s sorrows. They are entirely of the ultra-spiritual order. Everything that Jesus suffered whether in body or in souls was reflected in her soul, sublimated and sharpened into a spiritual dagger buried in the heart of her soul. The transfixion of her heart is thus explained by St. Bernard: “Truly O Blessed Mother, a sword has pierced thy heart. For it could never have pierced the body of thy Son, without first passing through thy soul. Truly, after thy Jesus had given up His soul, the cruel lance which opened His side could not really reach His soul, but thy soul it did transpierce. For His soul was no longer there, but thine could not for a moment withdraw from there.”[26] Her spiritual sorrows belong to a plane far beyond our ken and they are of an intensity we can never gauge. On that giddy peak of suffering, when the sun turned his face away in fright and all nature trembled, she stood alone with her Son sharing in the sufferings of an agonising God as only a Mother of God can do. “Weeping she hath wept in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks. There is none to comfort her among all them that were dear to her: all her friends have despised her and are become her enemies.”[27]

We do not propose to go through the harrowing details of the Passion of Christ and their repercussions on the delicate heart-strings of His Mother. They are a never-ending story. But we cannot leave unmentioned one mysterious and frightening detail which stands out in the sufferings of both the Mother and the Son. At the close of a three hours’ agony a cry was heard from the Cross that must have frozen the heart of heaven and earth: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”[28] A God crying as if He were no longer God! Many years before, the echo of this pitiable cry was forecast in His Mother’s responsive heart. At the close of a three days’ agonising search for her God she burst forth: “Son, why hast Thou done so to us?”[29] As if the Son and Mother were strangers to each other! Mystics again tell us that the greatest suffering of the soul nearest to God is a sense of the loss of God, and that this apparent loss of God is nearly as painful to the loving soul as the real loss of God is to the damned. We dare not comment on this mystery.

There is yet one more characteristic of the dolours of Our Lady that make her absolutely inconsolable. “Who can console thee?” laments the Prophet. And with good reason. For the divine balm that soothes all grief-stricken hearts was the very thing which caused her pain. The thought of the Passion of Christ brings consolation to every aching heart. But that precisely was the cause of Mary’s sorrow. The sight of Jesus brought heavenly joy to every one. Mary was the only one who could not look upon that divine beauty without a pang in her heart. To nurture her Baby, knowing all the time that she was rearing the victim for the sacrifice; to see Him always silhouetted against the dark shadow of the Cross, that was her continual agony. She never could embrace her little one without thinking that the cruel arms of the cross will one day snatch Him away from her maternal arms. The continual presence of the Divine Child and her ever increasing love for Him were her tormentors. What escape could she have? Every token of love and tenderness from Him twisted the sword in her heart and sent it deeper. And this continued all through the life of Our Lord. But in those last days when what had been feared actually befell her Divine Son, how her sufferings must have multiplied infinite-fold till it required a continued miracle of God’s Omnipotence to keep Her in life. “When she saw Christ hanging on the Cross, she became more than a martyr,” says St. Ildefonsus.[30] She became the Queen of Martyrs. But her sufferings did not end even with the Resurrection of Christ. For her Son departed from this life only after giving her innumerable children in His place, and her mother-heart could find no respite from sorrow. Henceforth she has to suffer with and for all these countless children and, what is even more painful, suffer from them. How true of her these words of the Psalmist: “My life has languished in grief and my years in sighs!”[31] Hers is the most spiritual, the most pure, the most selfless, the most intense, incomprehensible suffering ever known. One solitary creature suffering with God and for God, suffering for all mankind and from them – that is the price of becoming Co-redemptrix, that is the meaning of being the Second Eve.

The consequence of it all may be summed up in the words of Pope St. Pius X as follows: “Mary merited for us de congruo whatever Christ merited de condigno.”[32] Christ has merited our salvation, but His merits will not be applied to us unless she by her merits make them hers first and then pass them on to us. Between Christ and us His Mother’s merits must intervene. Here again the parallel between her and Eve is conspicuous. Adam communicates the fruits of his sin to his progeny only through Eve. Christ communicated the fruits of His Passion to mankind only through Mary. Hence her great office of Mediatrix of all Graces, of which we shall speak in another chapter. We conclude with the thrilling words spoken by St. Cyril of Alexandria a the Council of Ephesus: “Hail, Mary Mother of God, who is to be venerated as the treasure of the whole world, the inextinguishable lamp, the crown of virginity, the sceptre of orthodoxy, the indissoluble temple…by whom the Blessed Trinity is adored and glorified, the glorious cross is commemorated and venerated in the whole world, by whom the angels and archangels rejoice, the devils take to flight, the diabolical tempter falls from heaven, by whom the fallen are taken into heaven, by whom every creature is brought to the knowledge of the truth, by whom holy baptism and the oil of exultation reach the faithful, by whom churches are established the world over, by whom nations are brought to penance; what more shall I say, by whom the only-begotten Son of God enlightened those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death…through the Blessed Trinity.”[33]



[1] Rom. V, 18, 19.

[2] Apoc. XII, 1, 3, 4.

[3] Sermons on the Glories of Mary.

[4] Apoc. XII, 5.

[5] Ibid. 9.

[6] De Symb. ad Catech. Sermo alius, c. 4.

[7] De Carne Christi, cap. 17; PL, II, 782.

[8] Advers, haereses, iii, 22; v, 19; PG, vii, 959, 1175

[9] Contra Julianum: De agone Christi, cap. 22; PL, XL. 303.

[10] Gen. III, 6.

[11] Acta Ap. Sed., xli, 409.

[12] Ibid. vi, 108.

[13] Ibid. x, 182.

[14] Ibid. xv, 104.

[15] Sermo de 12 praerog., no. 1; PL, clxxxii, 429.

[16] Mariology, vol. ii, chap. ix.

[17] Gen. iii, 6.

[18] Ep. I, ii, 9.

[19] Mariology, vol. ii, chap. xi.

[20] Summa, p. iv, tit. 15, cap. 16.

[21] Coloss. I, 24.

[22] Jer. Lam. ii, 13.

[23] Sermo 61.

[24] Luke ii, 35.

[25] Sermo de Excell. Virg.

[26] Sermo de 12 stellis.

[27] Jer. Lam., I, 2.

[28] Matth. xxvii, 46.

[29] Luke ii, 48.

[30] Serm II de Assump.

[31] Ps xxx, 11.

[32] Encycl. “Ad illum diem”, 2 Febr. 1904.

[33] Homilia 4; PG, lxxvii, 992.