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Group Title: Virgin Mary as the "Second Eve"
Title: The Virgin Mary as the "Second Eve"
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Title: The Virgin Mary as the "Second Eve" a modern feminist perspective
Physical Description: vii, 81 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Turcotte, Florence M
Publication Date: 1990
Copyright Date: 1990
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
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Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--Georgetown University, 1990.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Statement of Responsibility: by Florence M. Turcotte.
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Full Text



A Thesis
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies


Florence M. Turcotte

School for Summer and Continuing Education
Georgetown University
Washington, DC
December 4, 1990



The Virgin Mary as the "Second Eve":
A Modern Feminist Perspective

Just as the Jesus Christ of the Gospels was considered

the fulfillment of the New Covenant and the consummation of

Old Testament prophesies, so was Mary, the most perfect of all

females, a fulfillment of the promises embodied by Old

Testament women. The concept of Mary as the Second Eve arose

from this correlation, and influenced Christian theology and

art almost from the very beginning. The visual imaging of

Mary as the Second Eve both affected and reflected this


This thesis examines the relationship of Mary and Eve

from an iconographic perspective, and concludes that such

images exalt the Virgin Mary at Eve's expense. Ordinary

women, the daughters of Eve, have inherited the guilt of their

ancestor through original sin. Attributes of the Virgin Mary,

virgin motherhood, for instance, are beyond the ken of mortal

females, making Mary an unapproachable ideal. Depicting the

Virgin Mary as the "Anti-Eve" polarizes the two

characterizations and highlights the inadequacies of human


A new approach to this iconographic dilemma must be

undertaken therefore, one which begins by rejecting the



patristic interpretation of the Fall of Man with its value-

laden sexual/gender significance. A stronger, yet more

approachable image of the Second Eve will result, along with

an opportunity for a redefinition of the role of women in the

Church community and hierarchy.

Florence M. Turcotte
Georgetown University
December 4, 1990



I would like to thank my mentor Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

for the inspiration and unflagging support she provided

throughout the research and writing of this work. I would

also like to thank the staff of Lauinger Library at Georgetown

University, specifically Louis Reith of Special Collections,

David Hagen of the Photography Lab, and Gail Flatness and her

staff in the Reference Department, for their technical

assistance. Ann Ridder of the Liberal Studies Program was

very helpful, providing administrative support and advice.

Lastly, I would like to thank my fiance, C. David Hickey,

for providing assistance in all of the above categories.

in memory of my grandmother

Yvette Raymond



1. Jan van Eyck, Annunciation. (c. 1434-36: National
Gallery of Art, Washington DC).

2.. Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece (c.1432:
Church of St. Bavo, Ghent).

3. Sandro Botticelli, The Annunciation. (c.1490: Uffizi
Gallery, Florence).

4. Michelangelo, Pieta (c.1498-99: St. Peter's Basilica,

5. Philippe de Champaigne, The Lamentation over the Death
of Abel. (c.1650: The Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna).

6. Michelangelo, The Temptation and the Fall. (c.1512:
Sistine Chapel, Rome).

7. Master of Seeon, Enthroned Madonna and Child (c.1412-
1433: Bayerischen Nationalmuseum, Munich).

8. Stephan Lochner, The Mother of God in the Rose Garden
(c.1448: Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne).

9. Gottfried Bernhard Goz, Madonna Platytera Maria
Sapientia, ceiling fresco. (c.1749: Wallfahrtskirche,
Birnau am Bodensee).

10. Elvira Bach, Untitled. (1984: Raab Gallery, Berlin).

11. Portal of the Madonna, bas-relief. (c. 1450: Abbey of
Misericordia, Venice).

12. Eve with Child, and Mary with the Child Jesus. (1033:
Bernwardstur, Hildensheim).

13. Carlo da Camerino, The Madonna of Humility with the
Temptation of Eve. (late 14th century: Cleveland Museum
of Art).

14. Michele di Matteo, Dream of a Saint, (15th c.: Civic
Museum, Pesaro).

15. Giovanni di Paolo. The Annunciation, detail. (c.1445:
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).



I. INTRODUCTION . . . . .. . .. 1




V. ILLUSTRATIONS . . . . . . . 64

VI. BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . .. .79

I: Introduction

"Love gave her a thousand names."

This observation about the Virgin Mary from a popular

Flemish hymn by Augustus Cuppens refers to the appellations

intoned in the litany of Mary. Countless other compliments

and exalted references to the Blessed Virgin included

"Mother of God", "Tower of Ivory", "Queen of Heaven", and

"Bride of Christ". One of the most interesting, multi-

faceted, and meaningful of these names is "Second Eve."

This name links the Mother of God with her Old Testament

prototype, the genealogical "mother of all the living,"

(Gen.3:20). The use of this term evolved from the parallels

originally drawn by St. Paul between Adam and Christ, the

second Adam:

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also
the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all
die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1

The first man Adam became a living being; the last
Adam became a life-giving spirit... The first man
was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man
is from heaven (1 Cor.15:45-48).

Therefore as sin came into the world through one
man and death through sin, and so death spread to
all men because all men sinned sin was indeed in
the world before the law was given... Yet death
reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose
sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who
was a type of the one who was to come (Rom.5:12-

As one man's trespass led to condemnation for all
men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to
acquittal and life for all men. For as by one
man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by



one man's obedience many will be made righteous
(Rom. 5:18-19).

This parallel was an important and powerful one for

Paul whose goal was to integrate and relate events from the

life of Jesus of Nazareth into the history of the Jewish

people and their covenant with God. He was anxious to

polarize Jesus Christ and Adam since he believed that the

end of history was imminent. He refers to Christ not only

as the "second Adam," but as the "last Adam," the

eschatological culmination of humankind which had originated

in the first man. Adam was the antetype, Christ the type.

Adam was the prophecy, Christ the fulfillment.

Although Paul is explicit in his use of exclusively

masculine pronouns, the idea of Mary as the New Testament

counterpart of Eve seemed to evolve naturally from the

Christ-Adam analogy. In fact, John Phillips claimed that

judging from the parallels in Luke 1:26-56, the idea of Mary

as the second Eve could not have been very far from Luke's


The idea of Old Testament heroines as antetypes for

Mary was very popular in the early Christian period. For

newly-converted Christians, such parallels served a purpose

similar to those between Christ and Adam; they established a

link between contemporary religious events and scriptural

canon. Both visual symbols and literary devices were used

to develop these links. For example, Susanna, whose name

means "lily" or "purity" in Hebrew, served as an Old


Testament antetype of Mary. Several parallels in the

stories of the two women were developed. Susanna's

steadfast defense of her chastity against the lecherous

advances of the elders prefigured Mary's own disavowal of

her traditional role as a Hebrew wife and mother.

Additionally, both women were silent in their own defense

when accused of violating their chastity. In the case of

Mary, the Lord sent an angel to Joseph to dissuade him from

divorcing Mary, when she was found to be pregnant before

cohabitating with him (Mt. 2:18-21). Similarly, when

Susanna was wrongly accused of adultery, the Lord sent

Daniel to come to her defense against the elders (Dan.

13:47-60). As a result of these links, Susanna's lily has

become symbolic of the Virgin Annunciate, and is often

pictured in the hand of the angel Gabriel.

Once a typological link between the Old and New

Testament had been established, it was important to develop

as many parallels as possible between the two events or

characters, in order to tie them together neatly. Irenaeus

(d. c.202), one of the earliest Fathers of the Church, even

brought the animals of the Fall of Man and Annunciation

stories into the analogy:

...the guile of the serpent was overcome by the
simplicity of the dove and we are set free from
those chains by which we had been bound to death.2

These correspondences were not just poetic analogies which

captured the imagination and helped believers to understand


the significance of images and events in the life of Christ.

They also demonstrated the continuity between the Old

Testament and the New, and showed how Jesus's life was the

fulfillment of God's will working through the history of the

Jewish people and the Jewish race.

Of Sacred Scripture, Augustine said: "Its prophetic

announcement has never failed from the very beginning of the

human race, and we now see the prophecy fulfilled in every

detail."3 This concept is foreign to modern scholarship,

for whom the tradition of the New Testament itself is well

established. Jane Dillenberger states:

It is difficult for those who inhabit 20th century
space and time to understand the significance, the
power and the comfort which this kind of symbolic
allusion had for late medieval man... In searching
the Old Testament the Christian saw analogies to
the events in the life of Christ. The events of
the Old Testament thus had a special relevance and
a kind of poignancy for the Christian believer.4

Thus every possible link between Mary and Eve had to be

particularized, especially when these corresponded to the

Pauline link between Christ and Adam. John Phillips, in his

book entitled Eve: The History of an Idea, points out that:

...as the first Adam gives birth to Eve not
through human agency but divine intervention, Mary
gives birth to the Second Adam not through human
agency, but divine intervention.5

The image of Mary as the Second Eve not only evoked

similarities between the two, but readily illuminated the

antithetical aspects of their relationship. Marina Warner

acknowledges the beauty of this analogy, especially for the


early Christians:

The fundamental idea that the Incarnation of the
godhead had overturned the Old Covenant of sin and
death found one of its loveliest images in the
concept of the Virgin who gives birth to the
redeemer. She is the second Eve, mother of all
the living in a new, spiritual sense.6

The same image was imaginatively expressed by the 16th-

century Jesuit martyr Robert Southwell when he observed

that: "tangle by tangle, Our Lady unknotted all that Eve had

knotted, and in every particular reversed her history".7 He

further developed the apposition of roles in this poem,

making use of a very popular pun on the greeting of the

angel of the Annunciation and the name of the first woman:

Spell Eva back and Ave shall you find;
The first began, the last reversed our harms:
An angel's witching words did Eva blind;
An angel's Ave disenchants the charms:
Death first by woman's weakness entered in;
In woman's virtue life doth now begin.8

Thus the "Ave" greeting of the angel symmetrically inverts

the curse of Eve.

Notwithstanding, I will demonstrate how devotion to

Mary as the second Eve did not necessarily improve the

legacy of Eve (or that of her "daughters", for that matter),

but vilified it instead. Mary was in fact the "Anti-Eve",

and Marian devotion was, and is indeed compatible with a

very low view of ordinary women. "Banished children of

Eve", women prayed to Mary in the Salve Regina, "To thee we

sigh, groaning and weeping in this vale of tears. So...

turn thy merciful eyes upon us."9 Mary Daly explains that


the greater the devotion to Mary, the more misogynist the


...her [Eve's] role as temptress in the story of
the Fall, supposedly established beyond doubt
woman's immutable inferiority which was not merely
physical but also intellectual and moral. So
persuasive was this interpretation that through
the ages the anti-feminist tradition had justified
itself on the basis of the origin and activities
of the "first mother" of all mankind.10

Mary came to be depicted not just as the "Second" Eve, but

as Eve perfected, with all her faults erased. Intact and

incorruptible, she became an impossible ideal for all

believers. Augustine's bridge between the Old and New

Testaments, linking the stories of the genealogical and the

spiritual "mothers of all the living" was destroyed. Or was


Some theologians of the 0 felix culpa school pointed

out that the role of the woman in the Fall of Man was the

necessary antecedent to her role in the plan of redemption.

In this scenario, Eve was the required sacrifice on the

altar of salvation. The hymn "0 Gloriosa Virginum" sung at

lauds on Marian feasts extolled the Heavenly Eve:

0 glorious Virgin ever blest
Sublime above the starry sky,
Who nurture from thy spotless breast
To thy creator did supply.
What we had lost through hapless Eve
The Blossom sprung from thee restores
And, granting bliss to those that grieve,
Unbars the everlasting doors.

Mary's role in the redemptive process is difficult to

characterize. If Eve was but an accessory to the Fall of


Man, then to complete the analogy, Mary can only facilitate

the process of redemption, not bring it about. In a comment

attributed to St. Augustine, Matthias Scheeben described


A woman handed the poison to the man who was to be
deceived. A woman hands salvation to the man to
be restored. A woman, by bringing forth Christ,
compensates for the sin of the man deceived by a
woman. Hence women were the first to announce to
the apostles that Christ had risen.12

In this scenario, Eve and Mary were no more than

subservient, subordinated female figures projected into a

patriarchal drama written for a male audience.

After pronouncing curses on Adam and Eve and expelling

them from Paradise, the Lord said to the Serpent: "I will

plant enmity between you and the woman and between your

offspring and hers; they shall strike at your head, and you

shall strike at their heel"(Gen.3:15). An error in

translation in the Vulgate Bible yielded "she shall strike

at your head and you shall strike at her heel," which was

taken to prophesy that a daughter of Eve would come to

conquer Satan. Mary seemed the logical candidate for this

position, since her offspring was the Word Incarnate, Jesus

Christ. Mary was consequently pictured as trampling on the

head of the serpent in many devotional images. Although

this interpretative solecism was corrected at the Council of

Trent, the scriptural justification for Mary's role in human

redemption came in large part from this idea, and the image

remained a popular one.


In his book, Mary's Part in our Redemption, George

Smith demonstrated the far-reaching consequences of this

interpretation of the Genesis text:

With regard to our blessed Lady, we have the
highest authority short of an infallible
definition for interpreting the divine promise of
redemption, related in the book of Genesis as
referring to our blessed Lady who, side by side
with Christ, is represented as overcoming Satan in
the struggle for man's salvation. And here again,
Christian tradition has followed the lead of the
Scriptures as hailing Mary as the Second Eve. It
would be a serious error, therefore to regard the
analogy as a fanciful embroidery worked upon the
fringe of revealed doctrine by the imagination of
rhetorical writers and preachers. We shall
rightly expect it to throw an important light upon
the part which Mary plays in our redemption, and
it will serve as our guide in investigating the
extent and nature of her co-redemptive function.13

Mary thus received not only the auxiliary attributes of

the new Eve, but as the first human redeemed in Christ, she

became the prototype of every redeemed life, the symbol of

God's Church. Overall, the changing roles of women in

history were reflected in the substance and intensity of

Marian devotions. As Phillips indicated: "The

characterizations of Eve, Mary, and the Christian life all

dealt with the questions of what woman is, and what may be

expected of her."14

When a typological interpretation of an Old Testament

figure like Eve is applied to Mary, the antetype may evolve

into a symbol of the person of the type, or it may become

antithetical to it, or in this case, both may occur at the

same time. The word symbol, from the Greek "fallen


together", signifies the falling together of an idea and its

representation. The symbolism of Mary as the Second Eve is

important because in some respects Mary "falls" with Eve,

and in others she is elevated at the cost of Eve's


Christian faith, and Catholic faith in particular, has

fairly consistently recognized the power of the visual

modality in the devotional practices of its believers. The

visual arts have played a threefold role in the Christian

tradition: didactic, liturgical, and symbolic. Many

different facets of the relationship of Eve and Mary have

been emphasized and developed in the visual mode, with an

impact in each of these areas. These images have both

resulted from and shaped the theology they reflected. If

indeed, as Augustine taught, pictures are the "libri

idiotarum", the books of the ignorant, then we can use these

images to read about their faith. St. Ephraem of Syria

(d.373) described the relationship of Mary and Eve in a

vivid and mystical vision:

It is clear that Mary was the Gate to Christ's
heaven, by whose presence our hope revived, when
by her the light revisited the world and its
inhabitants, which light Eve, as origin of all
evil, had banished. And if you wish to become
acquainted with the mystery of each, consider the
two eyes of a body, one of which lost its light by
being accidentally blinded, making the other shine
with a brighter light and causing the eye to take
in everything. Now, take a look at the world. It
received two eyes: Eve, the left eye, became
plainly blinded; Mary, the right eye, became by
that calamity most bright.5


Figures and events from the Old Testament as artistic

subject matter were of particular importance in the early

Christian period when New Testament canon had not yet been

established and the letter of the Second commandment "thou

shall have no other Gods before me" was being observed. In

order to communicate their ideas, artists represented

characters and incidents from the Gospels by their Old

Testament antetypes.1

John Dixon defines the icon as "the point of agreed

encounter between man and God"17. If this is so, then the

Incarnation is itself an icon. Yrjo Him points out that

"it is by this doctrine of a mystic union between the

visible and the invisible that the Catholic cult achieves

its characteristic quality"18. Art as expression of

Catholic faith, then, is a multi-layered vision of the

human-divine encounter, a microcosm of the Incarnation:

By disguising traditional religious symbols as the
scrupulously observed objects of the artists own
world and time, by treating the very space and
light of the pictures as symbols, these painters
were able to create a world that was intimate and
immediate and yet saturated with divine presence
and sacred significance, a world in which the
physical and spiritual interpenetrated, just as
God and man coexist in the person of Jesus

It may be said, therefore., that as an example of this

multi-layered symbolism, representations of Mary as the

Second Eve give expression to particular experiences of

faith. These images will be examined first from the

standpoint of the theological beliefs which they reflect.


The cultural and moral implications of these beliefs, and

their underlying values will be discussed. Next, some

examples of the different artistic representations of Mary

as the Second Eve will be analyzed in the context of these

underlying beliefs. In conclusion, the significance of this

imagery for the present day believer will be examined. In

the process, another way of seeing Mary as the second Eve

which transcends patriarchal limitations and is compatible

with the feminist outlook and values will be proposed.


1. John A. Phillips, Eve, the History of an Idea, (San
Francisco: Harper and Row, 1984), p.132. Phillips refers to
parallels extant in Luke's Annunciation and Visitation scenes.
See also John de Satge, Mary and the Christian Gospel, (London:
SPCK, 1976).

2. Irenaeus (d. c.202), Adversus Haereses 5,19,I, quoted in
Marina Warner, Alone of All her Sex. the Myth and Cult of the
Virgin Mary, (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), p.60.

3. St. Augustine, City of God, Bk. XVI, 2. quoted in Carol J.
Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck, (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1982), p.94.

4. Jane Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, 2nd
Ed., (New York: Crossroad, 1988), p.133.

5. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, (San Francisco: Harper
and Row), p.133.

6. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.59.

7. Robert Southwell (16th century), quoted in Elizabeth
Rothenstein, ed., The Virgin and the Child, an Anthology of
paintings and poems, (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951),

8. Idem, from a poem entitled "The Virgin's Salutation", quoted
in Ibid., p.60.

9. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.115.

10. Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 2nd Ed., (New York:
Harper and Row, 1975), p.76.

11. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck, ff.p.7.

12. Rev. M.J. Scheeben, Mariology, Vol. 2. Translated by Rev.
T.L.M.J. Geukers, (St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Co.,
1947), p.205.

13. George D. Smith, Mary's Part in our Redemption, (New York:
P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1938), p. 45. Note that in 1938, Smith was
still using the Vulgate translation of Gen. 3:14-15 as scriptural
prooftext for his belief in Mary's victory over Satan.

14. Phillips, Eve: the History of an Idea, p.135.


15. St. Ephraem of Syria (d.373), Sermones execetici, quoted in
Scheeben, Mariology, vol.2, pp.69-70.

16. Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, p.30.

17. John W. Dixon, Jr. "Painting as Theological Thought: The
Issues in Tuscan Theology", in Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, ed.
Art, Creativity and the Sacred, (New York: Crossroad, 1986),

18. Yrj6 Him, The Sacred Shrine, (London: Faber and Faber,
1958), p.21.

19. John Ward, "Hidden Symbolism in Jan van Eyck's
Annunciations", Art Bulletin 57 (1975): 196.

II: A Discussion of the Concept of Mary as the Second Eve

An examination of the theological grounding for Mary as

the Second Eve falls short of grasping the actual significance

of the analogy, since such an examination ignores the

influence of devotional practice. Edvard Schillebeeckx

pointed out that the gap between a theological precept and

popular devotion may be wide indeed:

Theology has to be critical in its attitude towards
the thousand names bestowed upon the Virgin Mother
by popular devotion. But theology lives and draws
its sustenance from the life of faith led by the
members of the Church community, and theologians
should realize that this life is more powerful than
all the feeble efforts made by theology.1

John Henry Cardinal Newman (d.1890) made a similar distinction

between theology and devotion. He claimed that although the

actual creeds and beliefs about Mary had not changed since the

Early Church, devotion to Mary had varied from "scanty" in one

time and place, to "overflowing" in another.2

The magisterium of the Church with regard to Mary may be

considered the veritable tip of the iceberg, compared with

the enormous body of popular lore and private devotions

propagated by Christians, particularly Roman Catholics, on her

behalf. The Golden Legend of Jacopus de Varagine (d.1298) and

the apocryphal Proto-Gospel of Mary, which chronicled her

childhood, adolescence, and ministry after the death of Jesus,

as well as the popularity of the rosary were but a few

examples of the Roman Catholic love affair with Mary.

An examination of the writings of the Fathers of the



early Church will provide the distinction between

ecclesiastical dogma and popular piety on the subject of Mary

as the Second Eve. Examples of correspondences and

contradistinctions between the two will establish the nature

of their relationship. The thoughts and words of those who

believe in the necessity of the Fall in God's plan of

redemption will help to illuminate the issues raised by Eve

which were considered resolved by Mary. An examination of the

importance of virginity and/or motherhood in the life of the

Christian woman, and an explanation of the role of Mary/Eve

as "mother of all the living" and as prototype of the Church

will address the possibility of one or both as a role model

for modern women.

An understanding of the characterization of Eve and of

the legacy of her story are prerequisites for comprehending

the concept of Mary as the Second Eve. Rarely was Eve

depicted as an advocate for the liberated woman, except

perhaps in reference to her defiance of patriarchal law. Like

Pandora, she was credited for the introduction of sin into the

world. Also like Pandora, she was portrayed as gullible,

disobedient, and rather slow-witted. Both were the first

mortal females as depicted by males in a patriarchal society,

and both have come to represent stereotypical female

characterizations. Simone de Beauvoir summarized this

outlook: "In the legends of Eve and Pandora, men have taken

up arms against women."3 The question must be asked then, is

the vilification of women the moral of the story of the Fall?

Marina Warner proposes an alternate interpretation:

To the Christians of the New Covenant, who believed
in a God who was all love, the story of the Fall
provided a rich explanation for the painful
discrepancy between the benevolent and omnipotent
deity and the misery, disorder, and pain visible
everywhere in his creation. It was man, through the
precious gift of free will, who unceasingly turned
against his maker from the beginning and caused evil
and suffering.4

However, the more popular notion was that it was woman

who led man to his abuse of free will. Warner admitted that

for the Fathers of the Church after Augustine, it was woman

who played the part of temptress, woman who was the accomplice

of Satan, and woman who "drags man's soul down the spiritual

ladder".5 She quoted Tertullian, one of these Fathers of the

Church, who reproached Eve:

Do you not realize, Eve, that it is you? The curse
God pronounced on your sex weighs still on the
world. Guilty, you must bear its hardships. You
are the devil's gateway, you desecrated the fatal
tree, you first betrayed the law of God, you
softened up with your cajoling words the man against
whom the devil could not prevail by force. The
image of God, Adam, you broke him as if he were a
plaything. You deserved death, and it was the son
of God who had to die.6

An old Irish poem from an anonymous source agreed, and had Eve

pronounce her own culpability:

I am Eve, the wife of noble Adam;
It was I who violated Jesus in the past;
It was I who robbed my children of Heaven;
It is I by right who should have been crucified...
It was I who plucked the apple;...
As long as they live in daylight women will not cease
from folly on account of that.7

The ignominy of Eve, the original cause of all evil, had


descended onto all other women. One of the most notable

results of this disgrace were the pains and labor of

motherhood, and subordination to the male. For Eve's eternal

penance was pronounced by the Lord God: "I will greatly

multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring

forth children, your desire shall be for your husband, and he

shall rule over you." (Gen.3:16)

The curse of Adam was external, environmental: a life of

hard labor and expulsion from Paradise. The curse of Eve,

however, was directly related to her interiority, i.e. her

reproductive function. In The City of God, Augustine noted

that after they had partaken of the forbidden fruit of the

tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve did not cover their mouths or

their hands in shame, but rather they covered their genitals.8

This indicated that the Fall was a sexual event rather than

one of hubris, as described by Warner, and implied the loss

of virginity, particularly for Eve. As Phillips pointed out:

It is also important to note that the crime of the
first virgin is seen to be sexual in nature, and to
go hand in hand with her defloration.9

Augustine introduced the idea that coitus was the means

by which the stain of original sin was transmitted.

Apparently, this sin was not carried in the male seed, but

rather in the womb itself; it was transmitted from the mother

even before birth took place. St. Jean Eudes (17th century)


It is a subject of humiliation of all mothers of the
children of Adam to know that while they are with


child, they carry within them an infant... who is
the enemy of God, the object of his hatred and
malediction, and the shrine of the demon.10

There were attempts to mitigate the guilty condition of

the female gender, but this did not take the form of a sharing

of guilt between the sexes. Instead, Eve was "compensated

for" by Mary. This tradeoff yielded the glorification of

Mary, but with the qualification of her uniqueness among

women. Mary Daly, in her book entitled The Church and the

Second Sex, indicated that:

The sort of polemic, therefore, which attempts to
cover the antifeminism of the Fathers by pointing
to their glorification of Mary ignores the important
point that this did not improve their doctrine about
concrete, living women. In fact there is every
reason to suspect that this compensation
unconsciously served as a means to relieve any
possible guilt feelings about injustice to the other

The fact that Eve did not have as her birthright dominion

over paradise as did Adam was demonstrated by the fact that

it was Adam who gave names to all that he saw, including Eve

herself, whom he named "mother of all the living" (Gen. 3:20).

According to Warner:

The female was perceived to be a vehicle of
attributed meaning at the very beginning of the
world, according to myths that lie at the foundation
of our lives, ever since she was made in all her
allure as man's fatal partner. Eve did not have the
power of naming in the garden; if she had been
granted such a power, then Adam might himself have
become matter and the form on to which Eve could
have projected meanings as she wanted.12

Even as "mother of all the living", Eve's reproductive

power had to be brought under patriarchal control. What


better way than to curse her with her own femininity?

Phillips stated: "Sin, sexuality, and death were thus woven

into the tapestry depicting Eve; obedience, virginity and

eternal life became the shining attributes of Mary."13 He

summarizes Eve's legacy of subjugation:

And it is the Natural Law of the Church, based on
Eve's sentence rather than Mary's victory over it,
that governs female life. As Christian wife and
mother, a woman is defined in terms of her
subjection to her husband...Her marriage may be
fulfilling, but if it is not, she may only call to
mind the obedience, humility, gentleness and
forbearance of the Virgin Mother.1

Thus the example of the Virgin Mary could only be used

as a reason to endure the curse of Eve which had not been

lifted at all. George Smith's attempt at reversal regarding

Eve's guilt exonerated God from malicious intent, but again

locked women into the role of accessory, this time by

emphasizing gender-based roles.

Wherefore, that we might not with just indignation
detest in woman the source of our death, and deem
her to be lost beyond redemption, the Lord, who came
to save that which was lost, willed to honour and
render dear to us both sexes, as both sexes had been
lost. In neither sex, therefore, can we find
complaint against the Creator. The birth of our
Lord gives them both the hope of salvation. The
honour of the male sex is in the humanity of Christ,
the honor of womankind is in his mother.'5

The logical inference from this statement was that Christ

was born, suffered and died not for all, but in order to

dignify the male sex, a view which even the Church did not

espouse. The key to deciphering Smith's comments involves

understanding their context in his perception of the role

played by Mary in the redemptive process:

Mary's function in regard to our salvation is
conscious, active and universal, as was the function
of Eve in regard to our fall. But again like that
of Eve, it is secondary and completely

Rev. M.J. Scheeben had a more synergistic outlook on the


The fall of the human race was effected by the devil
with the help of a man and a woman. The woman as
well as the man, although each in a different way,
can and must be regarded as the cause of the Fall.
Hence the redemption had to be effected not by the
new Adam alone, but with the cooperation of the new
Eve, and thus a woman must become a cause of the
redemption, since a woman had been a cause of the
Fall. As in the cause of the Fall a woman had the
initiative, so in the redemption a woman must
prepare the way by her activity...Both sexes are
united in grace and glory.17

Schillebeeckx echoed this more balance and egalitarian view;

summarizing the views of the ordinary magisterium on the


The various statements concerning our redemption by
Christ as the New Adam together with Mary as the
New Eve are borne out in the whole of the
traditional teaching of the Church, though only on
condition that Mary's co-operation be regarded as
active spiritual and physical receptivity, and not
as an additional principle in some way making up
for a deficiency in Christ's redemption.18

When comparing Mary and Eve, many have contrasted the

obedience of the former with the disobedience of the latter.

While accomplishing this, St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 120-165)

sidesteps the issue of Eve's accountability by blaming Satan:

We know that before all creatures, He [Jesus Christ]
came forth from the Father by His power and will...
and He became man, being born of the Virgin, so that
the disobedience caused by the serpent might be


brought to an end in the same way that it was
started. For Eve, till then an incorrupt virgin,
conceived the word spoken by the serpent, and gave
birth to disobedience and death; but the Virgin
Mary, being filled with faith and joy (when the
angel brought the good news to her, telling her that
the spirit of the Lord should come upon her, and the
power of the highest overshadow her, that therefore
the Holy One that was born of her was the Son of
God), answered, "Be it me according to thy Word".19

Like St. Justin, a number of sources, especially the

earlier ones, stressed virginity as the gift lost by the first

Eve. They also point out that Mary's obedience is reflected

in the preservation of her virginity:

Now that a virgin has conceived in the womb and
borne to us a child... now the chain of the curse
has been broken. Death came through Eve, but life
has come through Mary. And thus the gift of
virginity has been bestowed most richly upon women
seeing that it has had its beginning from a woman.

The notion of Mary's virginity was linked to her special

exemption from the curse of Eve. Mary, as virgin and mother,

experienced an ideal female life cycle, freed from the

constraints of female physicality, i.e. lust and labor pains.

Of Mary's immunity from concupiscence, Scheeben remarked:

The result of this immunity must inevitably be, that
sin not only had no dominion over her, but also that
it could neither exist nor operate in her... Mary
excels not only all fallen humanity but also Eve
before her fall...2

At the scene of the Visitation, she bore her child with joy,

in contrast to the first Eve who had to bear her children in

pain.22 Mary was also exempt from the stain of original sin.

The proof of this was her freedom from concupiscence: "The

presence of the movements of concupiscence is always a sign


of contracted original sin, or in the justified person, it is

a remnant of it."23

Thus as Virgin and Mother, Mary participated in two

aspects of the characteristic female life cycle, but did not

share in the physical experience of human women. According

to Miles, this encapsulated the "medieval ambivalence" about

women: "Women were at once insistently idealized and

systematically deprived of the physical ground of female

experience.24 This followed that since sexual knowledge had

become associated with the Fall of Man, sexual abstinence

became associated with purity and sinlessness. In other

words, as the new "mother of all the living", Mary had

eclipsed Eve by assuming this title as a virgin. The new race

which she engendered was redeemed.

Another parallel which developed in the visual arts was

the auditory theme in both the narrative of the Fall and that

of the Annunciation. As Eve was tempted by listening to the

words of the serpent, so Mary conceived Christ through the

same orifice, the ear, by listening to the words of the angel.

For Mary, this avenue of impregnation had the added advantage

of keeping her physical virginity intact. As St. Justin

pointed out: "Eve conceived the word spoken by the Serpent,"25

and Mary that of the Angel. As we shall see, this link

between the two was articulated vividly in the visual media.

The contrast between Eve's violability and Mary's purity

was developed by St. Fulgentius (468-533):


The wife of the first man was depraved in her erring
mind by the devil's wickedness. But the mother of
the Second Man was preserved by the grace of God
whole and perfect in mind and body... And because
man was miserably damned on account of sin, for this
reason the God-Man was marvelously born, without

In the interest of reinforcing the bond between the Old

and New Covenants, the Church undertook to complete the

parallels between Eve and Mary. The way to do this was to

extol the virtues of sexual self-denial.

The story of the Fall and its outcome enabled the
Church-indeed, required the Church-to complete the
history of Mary at those points where the New
Testament falls silent or appears to contradict the
perfection and beatitudes of her virginity. If Eve
forfeited paradise by losing her virginity, Mary as
the Second Eve must secure her victory by having her
virginity preserved inviolate.26

Warner pointed out that these links also testified to the

truth of the doctrine of the miracle of the Incarnation:

Her [Mary's] virginity was the proof that the
child's father was divine, not human, and its
symbolic function was quickly interpreted by the
Fathers of the early Church as the endorsement of
the moral value of bodily sexual abstinence,
especially for women.2

Another striking link between Eve and Mary was the

element of grief. Each lived to see the death of her beloved

son. Clara Clement maintained: "The Bible story of Eve, brief

as it is, presents her as the most grievously afflicted woman

of the scriptures, with the sole exception of the Mother of

Jesus. ,28

Eve, though characterized as one of the most

reprehensible of Biblical figures, had a life almost as woeful

as Mary. Clement elaborated:

Poets and artists have emphasized the temptation and
too rarely pictured the sorrows of the woman who was
the mother of the first murderer and of his victim;
the first woman to see death in the most awful
aspect, and bear such burdens as cannot be imagined
by those to whom Jesus has revealed his Father.2

Mary's role as Mater Dolorosa was prefigured when Jesus was

40 days old. The prophet Simeon told Mary: "Behold this child

is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in

Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy

own soul a sword shall pierce" (Lk. 2:34-5). This prediction

was validated as Mary stood at the foot of the cross,

experiencing the heart-breaking contradiction of her faith,

as her son's side was pierced by the sword of a Roman soldier.

By sacrificing her son, however, Mary became the new

"mother of all the living". Of her, the crucified Jesus says

to his friend John: "Behold thy Mother" (Jn.19:27). "Mors per

Evam; vita per Mariam" declared St. Jerome; death from Eve,

life from Mary.30 Schillebeeckx claimed that from a doctrinal

point of view, the Fathers of the Church before the fifth-

century Nestorian heresy were primarily interested in Mary's

role as the new Eve and as prototype of the Church. The

substance of the Nestorian heresy was the fundamental denial

of the divine motherhood of Mary. Therefore, the mystery of

Mary's motherhood became paramount and had to be defined more

precisely. This dispute was settled by ecumenical doctrine

in 431 when Mary was declared "Theotokos" or "God-bearer" at

the Council of Ephesus. As a consequence, the image of Mary

as the new "mother of all the living" was deliberated at

length. St. Epiphanius (320-400) wanted to transfer the title

from Eve to Mary:

It is she (Mary) whom Eve represents-Eve who,
strangely, was named "Mother of all the living"...
And the wonder was that after the Fall she received
this title. So far as the body is concerned, Eve
was certainly the mother of every man on earth; but
from Mary the life itself was born in the world, so
that she could bear living things, and become their
mother. And so, curiously, she is called the "Mother
of all the living"...But there is another marvel
about these two, which must be considered; Eve
became the cause of man's death.. but Mary the cause
of his life... so that life might be born in place
of death, life eliminating the death which came from
the woman. That life is none other than He who,
through the woman, has become our life.31

St. Peter Chrysologus (400-c.450), Bishop of Ravenna, and

one of the chief authorities of the Fourth General Council


Blessed art thou among women; because though Eve,
under a curse, had brought punishment upon woman's
womb, Mary, being blessed, rejoices and is honoured
and revered. And now, through grace, woman does
truly become "mother of all the living" woman who
had been by nature mother of the dying.

George Smith gave yet another twist to this concept:

As Eve by her consent to Satan's suggestion gave
birth to the sin of Adam, which is the sin of us
all, and may thus rightly be called the mother of
sin, so Mary by her consent to God's will as
announced by the Angel Gabriel gave birth to Christ,
the source of all grace, and may truly be called the
Mother of grace.

The mother of grace was entrusted with the role of intercessor

on behalf of sinners (including Eve) at the Last Judgement.

St. Irenaeus (120-200) explained:

Though the one disobeyed God, yet the other was


drawn to obey Him, and thus the Virgin Mary became
the Virgin Eve's advocate. 3

Interestingly, the author quoting Irenaeus in this case

pointed out that the Greek word for advocate in the original

was "paraclete" which became the special name and office

reserved for the Holy Ghost.35

In her role of advocate, Mary's faith completed the cycle

of divine salvation begun by Eve's credulousness. Tertullian

(A.D.160-240) wrote:

God won back His image and likeness, which the devil
had seized, by an action that rivalled the devil's.
The word which had established death found its way
into Eve, while she was still a virgin. And this
was done so that what the female sex had sent to
destruction, should be brought back to salvation by
the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary
believed Gabriel. The fault which the one committed
by her belief, the other by her belief blotted

Thus without Eve's misstep, the Redeemer would have never

come. St Ambrose's (d.397) felix culpa was reinterpreted by

a 15th-century poet:

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne hadde never our Lady
a been heaven's queen.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was!
Therefore we may singen
"Deo Gratias!"37

The happy fault of Eve enabled God's plan of redemption to be

completed, with Mary as the earthly vessel of the Redeemer.

Scheeben summarizes the richest and most mystical aspect

of the Eve/Mary metaphor; that of Mary as the Heavenly Eve:


The second traditional thought is the character of
Mary as the heavenly Eve. She, the bride of the
divine Adam and the heavenly mother of mankind,
forms with Christ the beginning foundations, and the
root of a new and higher creation of God, whereby
the first was to be renewed and completed. Hence,
in an analogous relation of resemblance and
contradistinction, she stands to Eve as Christ to
Adam. Obviously this thought necessarily implies
that Mary, although daughter of the fallen Eve,
could neither resemble her nor in any way be
dependent on her. The divine action which granted
her personal existence, placed her in opposition to
the fallen Eve, and consequently she must be created
in that state of holiness and innocence in which the
first Eve was created. Otherwise the parallel would
be incomplete and unnatural, and the heavenly Eve
would seem less richly endowed than the first.38

Without a doubt, despite exclamations to the contrary of

Eve's Felix Culpa, the status of the Second Eve increased only

if that of the first decreased. Furthermore, as Henry Kraus

points out: "In the doctrinal opposition of Mary and Eve,

common woman was uncompromisingly associated with the

latter."39 Phillips further claimed that:

In the Christian discipline, however impressive a
believer may find the character of the Virgin
Mother, emulation of her involves an acceptance of
a view of women that regards certain aspects of
womanliness as highly undesirable.40

Clearly, one of the most unsavory of these aspects was

female sexuality. Given the accepted, sexually-oriented

interpretation of the Fall, the exacting standard of virginity

became a doctrine of the Church, and remained the cornerstone

of the Eve-Mary correspondence.



1. E. Schillebeeckx, O.P. Mary. Mother of Redemption, translated
by N.D.Smith, (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1964), p.xv.

2. John Henry Newman, The New Eve, (Westminster, Maryland: Newman
Press, 1952), p.10.

3. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, Trans. by H.M. Parshley,
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1953), p.xxii.

4. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.53.

5. Ibid., p.58.

6. Ibid.

7. Anonymous, Old Irish, quoted in Ibid., p.50.

8. St. Augustine, City of God, quoted in Warner, Alone of all her
Sex, p.54.

9. Phillips, Eve: the History of an Idea. p.133.

10. St. Jean Eudes, quoted in Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.57.

11. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, p.88.

12. Marina Warner, Monuments and Maidens, the Allegory of the
Female Form, (New York: Atheneum, 1985), p.225.

13. Phillips, Eve: the History of an Idea, p.139.

14. Ibid., p.147.

15. Smith, Mary's Part in our Redemption, p.40.

16. Ibid., p.41.

17. Ibid., p.200.

18. Schillebeeckx, Mary. Mother of Redemption, p.93.

19. St. Justin (120-165), from "Dialogue with Trypho", sect.100 p.6
col.709, quoted in Newman, The New Eve, p.14.

20. St. Jerome, quoted in Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, pp.54-55.

21. Scheeben, Mariolovy, vol. 2, pp.114-115.

22. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, p.133.

23. Scheeben, Mariology, vol. 2, p.115.

24. Miles, Image as Insight. Visual Understanding in Western
Christianity and Secular Culture, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989),

25. St. Justin (120-165), from "Dialogue with Trypho", sect.100
p.6 col.709, quoted in Newman, The New Eve, p.14.

26. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, p.135-6.

27. Warner, Monuments and Maidens, p.124.

28. Clara Erskine Clement, Heroines of the Bible in Art, (Boston:
L.C. Page & Company, 1900), p.28.

29. Ibid., p.29.

30. St. Jerome, quoted in Anna Brownwell Jameson, Legends of the
Madonna, as Represented in the Fine Arts, (London: Hutchinson &
Co., n.d.), p.40.

31. St. Epiphanius (320-400) Haereses, 78,18. quoted in Newman, The
New Eve, p.19.

32. St. Peter Chrysologus (400-c.450), quoted in Ibid., pp.20-21.

33. Smith, Mary's Part in our Redemption, p.114.

34. St. Irenaeus (120-200), Adversus Haereses, bk. 3,ch.22, sect.4
(pg.7, col. 958) and bk. 5, ch. 19, sect.l (pg. 7, col. 1175)
quoted in Newman, The New Eve, p.15.

35. Ibid., p.17.

36. Tertullian (160-240), De Carne Christi, ch. 17 p.12, col. 827.,
quoted in Ibid., p.15.

37. Anonymous, 15th century, quoted in Marina Warner, Alone of All
Her Sex, pp. 60-61.

38. Scheeben, Marioloqy, vol.2, p.69.

39. Henry Kraus, "Eve and Mary: Conflicting Images of Medieval
Woman," in Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany, eds.
Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (New York: Harper and Row, 1982),

40. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, p.146.

III: Iconographic Analysis

Modern photographers and other visual artists are well

aware of the interpretive component of the visual experience.

These "ways of seeing"' apply not only to works of art, but

to.everyday experience as well. In her discussion of the role

of the visual during the medieval period, Margaret Miles

points out that people of the fourteenth century, unlike us,

did not need to be reminded of the subjective aspect of the

visual experience.2 Modern viewers are less inclined to

actively engage or question what they see, and instead tend

to categorize and literalize the objects of vision. When a

modern person beholds Jan Van Eyck's Annunciation (fig.l), for

instance, she may see only a re-enactment of an antiquated

gospel story, wherein an angel appeared to Mary and told her

of the conception of her child by the Holy Spirit. To do so

greatly undermines the ability of this painting in particular

and much of religious art in general to communicate

symbolically on different levels. In fact, the very tiles on

the floor of the church depicted on this canvas have a message

for the observant viewer. For example, David's victory over

Goliath, depicted on a tile in the foreground, was thought to

prefigure Christ's victory over sin and death.3

A modern feminist might dismiss this painting as

misogynist, pointing out Mary's that submissiveness to the

Angel portrays her as yet another object, merely a "figure in

a male discourse, rather than a female subject."4 However, a



case could be made as well for alternative interpretations,

such as the one wherein Mary is depicted as the prototype of

the Christian Church, justifying her role as intercessor on

behalf of sinners. In this particular work, the artist tried

to do visually what the theologians of the Early Church had

done rhetorically; he developed the prophetic analogies

between the Old and New Testaments in such a way as to show

events in the Christian stories as the fulfillment of the

prophecies of the Jewish scripture. Carol Purtle comments

on this approach to Van Eyck's painting:

The events alluded to in the narrative iconography
on the walls and floor of the church were considered
historically prophetic of the Annunciation event
pictured within the architectural structure. The
parallel suggested within that structure could be
clearly documented through the writings of medieval
exegetes. The fundamental orientation to this type
of prophetic exegesis, however, reaches farther back
than the medieval period. It reflects a time when
such writers as Ambrose and Augustine were forming
attitudes toward the basic purpose and meaning
contained in the Scriptures.5

According to Purtle, Van Eyck distinguished himself by using

symbols not only for their hidden meaning, but for their

"multi-level significance."6

What causes artists and their patrons to opt for a

particular iconographic focus? Jane Dillenberger offers one

explanation of the theological reasoning behind the choice of

theme in a religious work of art:

The choice of subject matter by the artists and
their patrons of any one period is an interesting
index to the particular focus of that particular
age. In the early Christian period the oft-repeated


subjects have to do with deliverance from sin and
death... In the statues of the Gothic Madonnas, the
natural and the supernatural blend into each other.
The realms of nature and grace are not shown in
contradiction to each other, but rather are

She concurs with Emile Male's comments on the

transcendent quality of early 13th-century art: unskillfull

in rendering individual character, [it] gave noble expression

to all that there is of universal or external in the human

form."8 It was not that the skills of draftsmanship and

perspective were unknown in this period, it was that these

skills were employed to convey symbolic meaning rather than

graphic realism. With the advent of humanism during the

Renaissance, however, worldly objects, human beings and

emotions found new significance, and as a consequence their

life-like representation became more important. Margaret

Miles analyzes the transition in this statement:

Prior to the Renaissance the full humanity of Christ
had been demonstrated and supported by reference to
his birth from a human mother, the "Second Eve" who
gave her flesh to the redeemer of the first Eve and
her descendants. By the Renaissance the pivotal
role of Mary in the Incarnation had repeatedly been
visually articulated. The bare feet of the infant
Christ also signified his human vulnerability....9

During the Renaissance, the naked body of Jesus with his

genitals exposed replaced the symbol of human motherhood with

the heroic male symbol of strength in weakness, while

emphasizing his true humanity.10

There are three possible formats in which the concept of

Mary as the Second Eve was illustrated. The first approach


was to depict Eve alone, or with Adam, introducing a reference

to the Mother of Jesus, and establishing a link between the

two women. The second was to visually develop the parallel

with Eve in images of Mary, alone or with Jesus. The third

was to represent the two together in the same work, explicitly

expressing the concept of Mary as the Second Eve, and

commenting on it.

Eve alone or with Adam: Reference to the Virgin Mary

One of the primordial links between Eve and Mary is their

common role as "Mother of all the Living". Mary's maternity

is an oft-celebrated subject in art, but depictions of Eve

most often focus on the temptation or expulsion scenes. As

a consequence, illustrations of Eve stress her fallen state

rather than her primary role as the first Mother of all human

beings. However, an example of this latter role can be found

in the interior of the Ghent Altarpiece of Hubert and Jan van

Eyck (fig.2), where Adam and Eve are pictured on two of the

side panels. Eve's arm outlines and calls attention to her

elongated and swollen belly. This emphasis on the womb from

which all humans were descended prefigures the one whose womb

will bear the redeemer of all humanity. In the case of Eve,

however, this reference to fecundity brings with it an

association with sexual desire and death. The inscription

under her panel reads: "Eve by succumbing betrayed us." The


Adam and Eve panels are juxtaposed with the scenes of

Annunciation on the exterior of the altarpiece, completing the

parallel between the two Eves.

In the Eve of Hans Memling, she is again shown with an

emphasis on her ovoid waistline,and in this case, her left ear

is illuminated and painted in greater detail than are her

other features. This refers to the means by which Eve

encountered the occasion of sin, i.e. listening to the words

of the serpent. In the same way, the medieval theological

notion of "conceptio aurea" emphasized Mary's ear as the very

avenue of divine conception." In Van Eyck's Annunciation

(fig.l), for example, the Virgin Annunciate was shown with

her ear exposed through the break in her hair, and the rays

of the Holy Ghost (depicted as a descending dove) are directed

towards her exposed ear. St. Ephrem of Syria (d.378) develops

this particular analogy:

In the beginning, by the sin of our first parents,
death gained access to all men; but today, through
Mary, we have been transported from death to life.
In the beginning, the serpent infected Eve's ears,
and the poison spread over the whole body. Today,
Mary received through her ears the champion of our
eternal happiness, and so the ears that were the
instrument of death, were also the instrument of

In Sandro Botticelli's Annunciation (fig.3), Mary

inclines her head so that her ear is the highest point of her

body, the point closest to heaven, and although her ear is not

exposed it is covered with a white piece of cloth which

contrasts with her head covering and symbolizes her purity.


Note that the angel in this work holds a lily, the flower

symbolic of Susanna, another Old Testament reference which

emphasizes Mary's perpetual virginity.

With his Vatican Pieta (fig.4), Michelangelo immortalized

the image of the Virgin Mary grieving over the dead body of

Jesus. More than any other image it conveys the despair felt

by Mary when she witnessed the humiliating end of her son's

life. Perhaps equally poignant, though less popular as a

subject of art, is the depiction of Eve's grief over the death

at his brother's hand of her second son Abel in the painting

by Philippe de Champaigne entitled The Lamentation over the

Death of Abel (fig.5).

In de Champaigne's painting, Eve disconsolately hides her

face in her hand and leans heavily against a rock. The head

of the lifeless and bleeding Abel rests in her lap, outlining

her womb. His body lies on the ground in almost exactly the

same position as Michelangelo's Jesus, whose weight, in

contrast, is completely supported by his mother. Abel's body

is uncovered except for a piece of cloth the color of Eve's

dress lying across his loins. His shepherd's crook lies in

a pool of blood at his feet. The lamenting figure of Adam

raises his eyes and his clasped hands toward heaven, as the

fleeing figure of Cain is pictured in the background.

Though the figures of Eve and Mary have the common sorrow

of a mother grieving for her son, their bodies convey

different messages in the two paintings. Eve is self-


absorbed, her emotions interiorized, as she turns away from

her son's body and draws her legs up underneath her. Her

clothing is disheveled and her hair uncombed and straggling.

Her upraised left arm blocks her vision of the grieving Adam.

With her right hand, Eve brushes away a blond cherubic

youngster who appears to be reaching for her breast. It

appears she cannot escape the painful demands of childbearing,

even as she grieves.

Michelangelo's Mary, on the other hand, communicates with

her body a quiet resignation, full of pathos, but in no way

self-pitying. It is as if she grieves for all humanity. Her

feet are pressed firmly against the ground as she supports the

weight of her son. If she were to stand, the viewer would see

that her legs and lower torso were much larger in proportion

to the rest of her body. Her knees are spread and her left

palm is open in a gesture of assent. She looks down directly

at Jesus' body, making no attempt to turn away. Her right

hand supports her son's right side, the folds of his lifeless

flesh yielding to her firm grasp. Mary is dressed in royal

robes, and her hair is completely covered by her head cloth,

which falls gracefully over her shoulders.

It is obvious that de Champaigne wished to draw visual

parallels between his work and that of Michelangelo. However,

in comparison to the Pieta, his subject matter required much

more detail in the narrative of the painting to convey the

same message. In addition, the corresponding figures of Eve


and Mary convey the concept that one woman's tragedy was a

significant, though singular loss, while the other's was


Another iconographic device used to link the story of Eve

with that of Mary is the Tree of Life/ Tree of Jesse parallel.

The Tree of Life figures prominently in most artistic

depictions of the Fall. It is unusual, however, for such an

image to make reference to Mary. Michelangelo's version of

The Temptation and the Fall (fig.6) is an exception, since

pictorial reference to the Incarnation is accomplished in a

symbolic way. To the right of the figure of Eve and

immediately behind her, a tree stump with a pronged branch

coming out of it is outlined against the sky. Jane

Dillenberger suggests one possible interpretation:

It is also likely that we see here an allusion to
a messianic passage in Isaiah 11:1-2, "There shall
come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a
branch shall grow out of his roots. And the spirit
of the Lord shall rest upon him."....The presence
in Eden of a stump with a shoot is a reference to
the branch, Jesus Christ which shall grow out of its

Michelangelo's genius is revealed in this reference to the

tree of Jesse in his depiction of the Fall of Mankind, which

is thereby paralleled with the Redemption of Mankind. Another

interesting feature of Michelangelo's work is the depiction

of the serpent as female. Warner suggests that:

Because of the curse of Eve in Eden, the idea of
woman's subjection was bound up in Christian thought
with her role as mother and as temptress. In
iconography, Satan is often female.14


In writing about Satan, St. Ignatius (d.1556) stated:

The enemy conducts himself as a woman. He is a
weakling before a show of strength, and a tyrant if
he has his will.15

The depiction of the serpent as female or with female

characteristics conflated the image of Eve with that of the

serpent, further associating the first woman and her

genealogical daughters with the presence of evil in the world.

Mary Alone or with Jesus: Allusion to Eve

Many artists have found subtle and not-so-subtle ways to

introduce Eve symbolically into a work which has Mary as its

principal subject. Jan van Eyck, for instance, painted the

story of Adam and Eve into the pier structures and capitals

of the rooms in which his Madonnas stand, in the paintings

Madonna with the Chancellor Rolin and the Madonna with the

Canon van der Paele.16

In other cases, the reference to Eve is indirect, taking

the symbolic form of an apple placed in the hand of Mary, or

Jesus, or somewhere in the room. In her book entitled Sacred

Symbols in Art, Elizabeth Goldsmith states that the apple in

the hands of the infant Jesus symbolizes the Fall of Man, and

in the hands of the Virgin it indicates that she is the Second

Eve.17 Ironically, in terms of symbolic content, the

interpretation of the apple is generalized in the case of the

male bearer, while it is specific in the case of the female.


In the medieval wooden sculpture by the Master of Seeon

(1412-1433) (fig.7), Mary appears to contemplate a bright red

apple which she holds in her right hand, while Jesus leans

away from the apple, and holds a copy of Scripture up to the

viewer. He simultaneously points to a passage in the book

and to his exposed genitals. The gestures of Mary and Jesus

refer symbolically to the meaning of the Incarnation as the

fulfillment of the scriptural prophecies, emphasizing the full

humanity of Jesus and the role of Mary as the New Eve. The

plethora of imagery of Mary depicted in a paradisiacal garden,

or with the Tree of Life, testifies to the existence of

another link between her image and that of Eve. In Stephan

Lochner's The Mother of God in the Rose Garden (fig.8), Mary

and Jesus are surrounded by angelic musicians, and are framed

by a border of flowering plants and roses climbing on a

trellis. One of the honorifics for Mary, "the Rose without

Thorn", is another reference to her virginity and immunity

from original and personal sin. According to legend, the

roses in the Garden of Eden were thornless until after the


In Lochner's work, Jesus holds an apple in his hand, and

Mary as the heavenly Eve, is crowned, bejewelled, and robed

in royal blue. The background is gold, giving the impression

that this scene takes place not on earth but in heaven. The

presence of God the Father and the Holy Ghost surveying the

scene from above, and the attendance of hovering angels add


to this impression. This idealized garden could also

represent the "Enclosed Garden" of the Bride from the Song of

Songs, another metaphor for Mary's virginity. Carol Purtle,

in referring to a similar image in which Jesus again holds an

apple, indicates that:

According to common medieval usage, the Child's
apple would probably have come from one of two
biblical gardens: the original paradise of the Book
of Genesis, where Eve offered the fruit to Adam, or
the enclosed garden of the Canticle of Canticles,
where the bride offers an apple to her beloved
(Canticles 5:1).18

The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden can also be

linked with the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the Tree of

Jesse, cited above in the analysis of the ceiling imagery of

the Sistine Chapel. In the stained glass window program of

Chartres cathedral, Mary and Jesus are depicted as the

culmination of growth of the Tree. The figure of Jesus

springs directly from the head of his mother, crowning this

monumental work which begins at the base with the trunk

growing from the flank of the recumbent Jesse.

As stated earlier, the legends of Mary and Eve were also

linked when the curse of Eve was misinterpreted as a prophecy

of the Mother of God. The image of Mary as victor over Satan

persisted, even after the translation error in the Vulgate was

rectified. Jesus told his disciples,: "Behold, I have given

you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over

all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you" (Luke

10:19). Mary as the first disciple takes on this capacity in


the ceiling fresco by Gottfried Bernhard Goz, located in the

Wallfahrtskirche in Southern Germany (fig.9). With the child

Jesus still in the womb and illuminated by golden rays of

divine light, Mary's right foot crushes the head of a

serpent/dragon which is encircling the globe. The image also

found a scriptural foundation in St. John's apocalyptic vision

described in the Book of Revelation:

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman
clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was
with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth,
in anguish for delivery. And another portent
appeared in heaven; behold, a red dragon, with seven
heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his
heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of
heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon
stood before the woman who was about to bear a
child, that he might devour her child when she
brought it forth; she brought forth a male child,
one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of
iron, but her child was caught up to God and his
throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness,
where she has a place prepared by God, in which to
be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty
days (Rev.12:1-6).

As Cardinal Newman observed, the word in Greek for dragon

(phylla) is the same word used for serpent, establishing a

link between this and the Genesis story. Newman makes this

observation with regard to this eschalotological apparition:

"Such a meeting of man, woman and serpent has not been found

since the beginning of Scripture, and now it is found at its

end. "19

This image of Mary crushing the head of the serpent may

be compared to the real affection shown by Eve towards the

creature in the 15th-century sculptural program at Rheims


cathedral, where a smiling Eve gently strokes the head of the

snake. In the more modern version by Elvira Bach (fig.10),

the lines of Eve's figure are echoed in the coils of the

serpent around her body, and the two are merged into a single

creature. Whereas the Second Eve is empowered to destroy

evil, the First Eve was not only overcome by it, but in fact

made a malevolent pact with the serpent, presumably in order

to victimize Adam.

The paucity of "Mother of All the Living" images of Eve,

that is, when she is depicted as visibly pregnant, offer a

sharp contrast to the abundance of images of Mary in this

role. Such an images most often depicts the Christ Child

visible in Mary's womb (fig.9). Another popular imaging of

this idea is the inclusion of all humanity under the cloak of

redemption worn by the Mother of God (fig.1l). In the case

of this sculpture found on a capital in a portal of the Abbey

of Misericordia in Venice, Mary's robe is held together by the

body of Christ. She strides forward, gathering both sinners

and justified into her protective care, as they show their

devotion to her. Mary's neck is exposed and prominent in this

sculpture, emphasizing her role as intercessor, the

intermediary between the Church and its head, Jesus Christ.

In addition, tree imagery is again introduced in this work,

with leafy branches appearing to grow from the limbs and head

of Mary.


Eve with Mary: Error and Atonement

Before examining some images of Eve with Mary, a comment

on the topic of anachronism is necessary. It is not

"realistic" to place Eve and Mary together on the same

painting or sculpture. However, the very assumption of

temporal realism in this case belongs to a patriarchal linear

view of history. The association of Mary and Eve is more the

product of a feminine cyclical paradigm, under which it is

quite natural for the two to be depicted together, since they

embody parallel concepts. Jane Dillenberger has indicated

that anachronism in religious art

is the artist's way of expressing that all time lies
within the hand of God and the time of eternity is
not the time we experience in the chronological
progress from cradle to grave.20

On the Virgin's Portal of the facade of the Cathedral of

Notre Dame in Paris, a crowned Madonna holds her diminutive

charge on her hip. She stands atop a pillar with an arched

roof over her head, a sword in her right hand. Directly

underneath her left foot, a miniaturized depiction of the Fall

of Man is taking place, with Adam and Eve picking the fruit

from the tree in one scene, and exiting Paradise in shame in

the next. In this sculpture, Mary, with her foot on top of

the Tree of Life, is literally trampling out the sin

introduced into the world by the first couple.

On the portal of Bernvardstur, in Hildensheim (fig.12),

Eve and Mary are portrayed on opposite panels of the same


door. On the left, Eve tends to her child, presumably Abel,

who straddles her hips and grasps at her breasts

enthusiastically. Mary, on the other hand, rises stiffly from

the other panel, her child resting across her knees. In a

typical medieval iconographic pattern, she appears to be

offering him to the viewer as a sacrifice, and their

unrealistic posture contrasts sharply with their earthly

counterparts, who appear to be interacting in a more human


Behind the altar of the Bordesholmer Altar, the Madonna

and Child take center stage. This time they are flanked by

the figures of Adam and Eve. With downcast eyes they hold

their fig leaves in front of their genitalia. Eve holds an

apple against her left breast. Other supplicants kneel beside

them, with hands raised towards Mary, invoking her

intercession on their behalf and that of Adam and Eve.

Juxtaposed in this manner with Adam and Eve, Christ and Mary

are exalted versions of their Old Testament counterparts.

In Carlo da Camerino's The Madonna of Humility with the

Temptation of Eve (fig.13) the association of the two women

is undisguised. A ponderous Madonna miraculously floats above

a platform, cradling an oversized Jesus. He clutches at an

unrealistic breast which appears to be coming out of Mary's

right shoulder. In a pit below the platform a recumbent Eve

strains to peer up at the Mother and Child. In her right hand

she holds a tiny apple, and from her genital area a coiled


snake with a female head rises to peer at her, her tail

encircling Eve's shapely thigh. Eve's wavy tresses are her

only covering, and her well-formed right breast is silhouetted

against the dark background.

The women have virtually identical facial features, and

again they both have conspicuously exposed ears. Yet in every

other way, they could not be more dissimilar. Mary's heavy

mantle de-emphasizes her corporeal presence and emphasizes

the gravity of her mission and the power of the Church she

represents. Eve's nakedness and physical smallness stress her

insignificance and her association with corporeality.

Mary's breast appears unnatural because in the Middle

Ages it was considered indecorous to portray the breast of the

Mother of God realistically. From this breast, the new Adam

draws life and the promise of redemption in the milk of Mother

Church, in contrast to the first Adam, who extracted nothing

but the curse of death from the sustenance offered by the

first Eve.

Eve, on the other hand, is no more than a patristic sex

symbol. She represents the evil of the female sex and the

lure of concupiscence, a reminder of the fate of the

unredeemed sinner: death and entombment. While Mary is

crowned with the twelve stars of heaven from St. John's

apocalyptic vision, Eve is associated with the earth on which

she lies. "Look to Our Lady, and live forever", the artist

seems to say, and leave the world of Eve behind.


In Michele di Matteo's Dream of a Saint (fig.14), all the

characters in this analogical drama are present. Mary

reclines on a huge sofa to the left, covering more than half

the canvas. From the foot of her bed, in the center of the

painting, rises a large fruit-bearing tree, on which hangs

Christ crucified. From under his feet springs the female head

of a serpent, who is coiled around the trunk of the tree.

She is staring straight into the eyes of Eve, who gestures to

her. Adam hangs his head disconsolately behind Eve, rubbing

an apple against his cheek.

From the title, one may presume that Mary is dreaming,

or otherwise envisioning this entire scene, foreseeing her

role as the Second Eve, and the fate that she and her son will

endure. Christ hangs from the same Tree of Knowledge which

figured in the demise of his Old Testament counterpart.

According to medieval legend, the wood of his cross came from

that very tree in Eden. On the other side of the tree, Mary

sees the reason for which her son, the Second Adam has died,

to abolish the sin of the first man and woman, and to usher

in the new paradise of redemption.

Giovanni di Paolo's Annunciation (fig.15) is perhaps the

most explicit artistic expression of the popular belief of

Mary as the Second Eve. In the painting, Mary sits inside a

gazebo in a prayerful pose as the angel with folded arms

speaks to her. On the right, Joseph, pictured as a bald-

headed old man, warms himself by the fire in the next room.


On the far left, God the Father looks down from the sun as his

angel expels the naked Adam and Eve from the garden, and they

look furtively back over their shoulders at the paradise they

have forfeited. Medieval viewers of art, even the illiterate,

knew that this painting was meant to be read from left to

right, like a book. On the left, Adam and Eve are hounded

from their earthly paradise, the frisky rabbits at their feet

underlining the sexual nature of their sin. As a result of

the Fall, the messenger of God appears to the Second Eve,

announcing the advent of the Second Adam. Mary is seated

while the angel and the first couple are standing, symbolizing

her exalted rank. In the next room, a chaste marriage to the

aged Joseph symbolically awaits her. With her hands opened

and crossed over her heart, she humbly assents to her role in

the redemptive process.



1. My understanding of the concept of "ways of seeing" is
influenced by John Berger, Ways of Seeing, (London: British
Broadcasting Corporation, 1972).

2. Miles, Image as Insight, p.65.

3. Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, p.133.

4. Miles, Image as Insight, p.141.

5. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Evck, p.73.

6. Ibid., p.171.

7. Jane Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, p.17-18.

8. Emile Male, The Gothic Image, (New York: Harper Torchbooks,
1958), p.152, quoted in Dillenberger, Style and Content in
Christian Art, p.67.

9. Miles, Carnal Knowing, p.143.

10. Ibid., p.143.

11. See Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.37, for several poetic
illustrations of this concept.

12. St. Ephrem of Syria (d.378), from Divers Sermons, No. 3, on the
Praises of Mary the Mother, Vol.3, p.607, as quoted in Newman, The
New Eve, p.19.

13. Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, p.122.

14. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.58.

15. St. Ignatius (d.1556), Spiritual Exercises, "Rules for the
Discernment of Spirits, First week, rule 12, as quoted in Ibid.,

16. Detail photographs of these appear in Purtle, The Marian
Paintings of Jan van Eyck, fig.39 and fig.41.

17. Elizabeth E. Goldsmith, Sacred Symbols in Art, (New York: G.P.
Putnam's Sons, 1911), p. 87.

18. Purtle, The Marian Paintings of Jan van Eyck, p.104.

19. Newman, The New Eve, p.31.


20. Dillenberger, Style and Content in Christian Art, p.43.


A Feminist Reinterpretation of Mary as the Second Eve

The popularity of an image means that it carries, either

literally or symbolically, significance and insight for the

lives and experiences of those exposed to it. Given this

assertion, the phenomenal popularity of the image of the

Virgin Mary belies her unapproachable perfection for the

average human female. As Bruce Malina points out:

The popes can say Mary is the ideal mother, thus
urging contemporary females to stay within the role
of mother. They do not say Mary is the ideal
business woman, chief executive, career person,
athlete, stockbroker, priest or bishop.1

In all cases the images discussed herein, and virtually

all available images of Mary, were created and distributed for

and by men. As powerful as she may seem in certain contexts,

Mary's power was bestowed on her by a patriarchal institution,

and images of her are, almost without exception, examples of

objectified male preconceptions. Additionally, these images

are the product of the patriarchal culture surrounding both

the artist and the subject matter.

John Pilch describes the images of Mary as circumscribed

by her patriarchal Mediterranean culture:

Yet no matter what image of Mary is chosen for one's
spirituality or popular devotion, it is important
(1) to respect the cultural distinctiveness of Mary
before attempting to universalize her virtues for
world-wide imitation, and (2) to resist encultur-
ating her in a given culture so deeply that she is
no longer the Mediterranean maiden.

Malina claims that despite a paucity of scriptural



justification, the cult of Mary and the plethora of

traditional discourse about Mary thrived mostly in response

to the needs and values of a gender-based Mediterranean

culture. This culture was characterized by clearly delineated

roles for men and women in a patriarchal society. Internal

domestic and child-rearing decisions were made by the mother

of the family, while the father was responsible for all

external decisions, and took little or no part in the lives

of his children.3

Although virginity does not seem to be the ideal

liberating lifestyle for the modern feminist, this was not

necessarily the case for the female members of this

Mediterranean culture, as Margaret Miles suggests:

An image that to many modern women has come to carry
a repressive context may have meant something very
different to medieval women. The idealization of
the virginal woman, for example, may have symbolized
to medieval women freedom from the burden of
frequent childbearing and nursing in an age in which
these natural processes were highly dangerous. The
power of the virgin came from her virginity as
surely as it came from her motherhood.4

Pierre Abelard, himself a member of early 12th-century

androcentrist society, made this concession to the female

gender in his sermon in honor of the feast of the Assumption

of Mary:

Let women consider carefully with how much glory the
Lord elevated their inferior sex and how natural it
must seem that both the heavenly and the earthly
paradise pertain to them.5

This somewhat paradoxical statement reflects Abelard's

belief that Mary, assumed bodily into heaven having bypassed


mortal suffering and death, reopened the gates of Paradise

for humanity.

One of the scriptural foundations of a modern feminist

Mariology is the element of volition implied in Mary's fiat

of the Annunciation. Her statement "let it be done to me"

(Lk.l:38) indicates that Mary freely consented to her role in

the Incarnation and consequently in God's plan of redemption.

This is further interpreted to indicate that without Mary's

consent, God's plan of salvation would not have gone forth.

Mary's statement, I believe, is more a testament of her faith

than one of her empowerment. Given that the first part of the

same verse reads: "Behold the handmaiden of the Lord", this

fiat signifies no more than a scriptural account of Mary's

acceptance of her ancillary role in the Incarnation.

The visual images examined in the preceding chapter

illustrated how artists interpreted Mary as the Second Eve,

contraposing ordinary women and Eve against Mary, their

idealized counterpart. This polarization was accomplished by

vilifying Eve and her daughters as the bearers of sin, and

exalting Mary as the spotless Mother of Redemption. At first

glance, the appropriation of such images would imply

acceptance of a polarized view of female humanity, a view

which is unacceptable to a modern feminist. How can the image

of Mary as The Second Eve be integrated into a late 20th-

century, postchristian culture? Should progressives and

feminists simply dismiss the entire concept, relegating it to


the irrelevant, midrashic, obsolete texts from which it came?

Surely the story of Eve has little to redeem itself in the

eyes of feminists, its concern being more with the libertine

than the liberating.

Obviously, the authors of Genesis did not have Mary in

mind when they wrote the story of Eve. The concept of the

Second Eve was the result of Christians trying to understand

and justify their faith with images which had withstood the

test of time. The early Christians believed that "the final

part of God's plan sheds light on all that preceded"6, and

that they were living in this final time. Eve and Mary were

female gatekeepers, who along with their male counterparts,

ushered in new ages. The first was the age of original sin

and mortality, and the second of redemption and eternal life.

As circumstances changed, the same parallels were reexamined

and reinterpreted, and given other expression. Perhaps the

most prevalent and damaging of these reinterpretations is the

transition in the view of the Fall from a mythic illustration

of human hubris to the approbation of human sexuality as evil.

Marina Warner is struck by the power which this symbol

has wielded in history:

It is almost impossible to overestimate the effect
that the characteristic Christian association of sex
and sin and death has had on the attitudes of our
civilization. Since the learned Saints Jerome and
Augustine (d.430) tackled the problem of man's
tendency to evil, the three separate concepts have
been bound together tightly in a web that traps
every Christian.7

We cannot see into the minds and hearts of the Genesis


authors with enough clarity to understand the intended meaning

of the story. Given the traditional interpretation extant

since at least the 5th century, however, the outlook for a

progressive reinterpretation is bleak. Mary Daly is concerned


as long as theology is obsessed with a conception
of human nature as fallen from a state of original
integrity, and considers that state to have actually
existed in the past, it must be pessimistic about
the present and the future. It tends to see human
life chiefly in terms of reparation and expiation.8

The trap referred to by Warner snared Mary the mother of

Jesus in the role of expiator for Eve her predecessor. Given

the sexual implications of her antetype's blunder, it became

necessary for Mary to transcend the sexual aspects of human


In fact, most of the iniquities of human existence were,

in the end, spared Mary: the disgrace of birth into original

sin, the humiliation of sexuality, and the ignominy of

suffering and death. Her threefold exemption from these

mortal burdens took shape in the three great doctrines of

Mary: the Immaculate Conception, the Perpetual Virginity, and

the Assumption. Mary's transcendence was so complete,

however, that in comparison, Eve's misstep as described in

Genesis seemed insignificant. Thus my hypothesis that the

exaltation of Mary was what really engendered the unredeemable

vilification of Eve.

Could an Eve compatible with the feminist worldview be

found beneath the role of the "anti-Mary" assigned to her?


Perhaps not in the Christian context. Her only hope of

positive imagery came in the form of her role as the Mother

of all the Living. In Christianity, especially Roman

Catholicism, this role had been totally and irrevocably

preempted by Mary. Eve's role was reduced to that of

Pandora's. The genealogical importance of the first woman in

the Judeo-Christian and ancient Greek traditions was

completely subordinated to the primary role of explaining the

presence of evil in a world ruled by an omnipotent,

benevolent, male God. Even if she managed to bring Adam down

with her, Eve was still left to shoulder this burden of guilt

and could not be exonerated.

Anthony Tambasco, in his book entitled What are they

saying about Mary?, provided a plausible explanation for Eve's

pitiable lot. He traced the development of patriarchal values

of Christianity back to the male awe of the power of the

female reproductive capacity.

Because of this fear man, probably from the very
beginning of civilization, sought to control these
forces that could so easily overwhelm him. Sex came
to be seem as evil, and woman, who was identified
with the power of sex, came to be treated as
inferior to the controlling and rational powers of
the male.9

As a result of this need, the interpretation of the Fall

as illustrative of human pride was subordinated to its new

misogynist message. In contrast, therefore, the virginity of

Mary became one of her preeminent features, since it

disassociated her from negativized female sexuality. In the


process, however, it alienated her from human women. The

mother goddess could not fall victim to temptation, pride,

and especially seduction. Hence the Second Eve, and the

polarization of her image with that of the First Eve.

Consequently, Christian women were asked to eschew their

genealogical roots and abandon Eve in favor of Mary, her

greatly improved but unapproachable replacement. Even though

the curse of Eve governed her physical existence, the

embracing of Mary as a role model became necessary, with its

implied rejection of female corporeality.

Women were, and are, left with an untenable choice

between virgin and whore, since Mary's example for humanity

was characterized by a celebration of sexual abstinence

without sexual freedom. According to Phillips:

It is fascinating to note that the notion of virgin
motherhood remains as the mythical backdrop for the
modern moral battles of feminists. The Roman
Catholic belief is that if women have control over
their own bodies and are therefore free to abort
potential offspring, they have reversed the triumph
of the Virgin Mary over the ancient goddess; sexual
freedom is a threat to life. Mary refuses sexual
freedom and is said to be truly free in her
domesticity: this is the model she holds out to
believers for emulation.10

The resolution of this dilemma lies in the search for

transcendence, the need to overcome, accommodate, even

celebrate the curse of Eve, while incorporating faith in Mary

as an example of this transcendence. The question remains

then, what kind of Second Eve would provide an appropriate

synthesis of physicality and transcendence? Tambasco broached


the question, but fell short of resolving the matter of

corporeality; at least from the perspective of the feminist:

The use of the Mary-Eve typology enables one to
combine Mary's role as mother and at the same time
believer of the Word. It also leads to a Mary-
Church typology, for the Church is seen as the
virginal mother, bringing forth Christ in her
members in the new creation, while she is at the
same time the faithful and obedient spouse of Christ
who receives the gift of his love and his very

This statement defined the role of Mary as prototype of the

Church, an idealized community of believers, but what of the

individual Christian female herself? Tambasco chose to leave

Eve and her daughters behind in this analogy.

In order to arrive at a feminist characterization of Mary

as the Second Eve, we need to redefine this concept as a

synthesis of the images of Mary and Eve, one which goes beyond

the virgin-whore polarization. In this paradigm, Mary retains

her status as Mother of Redemption, but is also a daughter of

Eve, the Mother of All the Living, and not the Anti-Eve.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither
slave nor free, there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28)

I believe that in order to arrive at a Mariology

acceptable from a feminist point of view, the issue of gender

differentiation must be de-emphasized in matters of theology.

A new Mary must be forged, outside of the Second Eve role cast

for her by her gender-based Mediterranean culture. Just as

it is a mistake to give prior importance to the maleness of

Christ over and above his humanity, so Mary's gender should


not overshadow or impact her role as prototype of the Church.

Too much emphasis has been placed on Jesus as role model for

the male and Mary for the female. Tambasco maintained that

both Jesus and Mary should be models for all of humanity.12

Just as Christ's role as the redeemer did not depend on his

gender, nor should Mary's femininity impact her role as the

prototype of the ideal Christian. This follows from the fact

that Christians are not included or excluded from the

dispensation of grace based on their gender. The tendency to

polarize on the basis of female or male demonstrated by the

Fathers of the Church clouded the issue with regard to the

relationship of the New Adam to the New Eve.

The fact that Mary transcended her physicality is witness

to her proactive subjectivity. The fact that she was chosen

for this role is witness to the grace of God functioning in

human existence. According to the medieval exegetes, Eve

allowed her physicality to rule her, thus her curse was to be

objectified. The Fall of Mankind was brought about under

human initiative, but the first gesture of reconciliation was

made by God in the form of the Incarnation, with Mary playing

an integral role.

"Behold your mother" (Jn.19:27), Jesus said to his friend

and disciple, John. In doing so, Jesus made possible the role

of Mary as the New Mother of the Church, a title formally

assigned to her by Pope Paul VI in 1964. If Mary was the

mother of Jesus of Nazareth, then should she not also be the


mother of the resurrected Christ, and the community of

believers he established? Tambasco maintained that Mary's

divine maternity can be understood as the "highest expression

of Mary as a woman of faith, the paradigm of the perfect

Christian". 13 He claimed that Luke considered Mary the first

disciple, since she was the first to believe, even before

Jesus performed his first miracle at Cana in fact, she was

the first to suggest it.14

Tambasco did not propose to eradicate the gender-based

roles assigned to Jesus and Mary. Instead, he preferred to

incorporate then into a Jungian model of reciprocal qualities

to be found in both men and women, qualities which complement

and complete the person of the ideal Christian.

Mary can remind us that God is not just masculine
as a power over creation, but also feminine as a
ground of being and as the foundation of each unique

Further, Tambasco indicated that Mary can teach receptivity

to men and women:

This receptivity is not to imply powerlessness or
self-negation, nor is it simply a passive trait.
It is rather the ability to listen to and to help
others. By the same token, Mary's fiat shows that
woman's receptivity includes an active element.16

This eclectic model seems to be a sound approach, as long

as one does not cloud the issue by stereotyping and

generalizing characteristics of each sex. For example, not

all women are prone to listen to and help others, and not all

men are disinclined to do so. Mary is not predisposed to

intercede on behalf of sinners because she is female, nor is

Christ prone to judge them more harshly because he is male.

Hence the role of the Holy Spirit, according to Tambasco.

The Spirit is also perceived as a source of
communion within the Church, so that there is
neither male nor female, but a unity in Christ
Jesus. The theology of Mary and the spirit leads
us to another new direction for Mariology, i.e., its
development within a movement which raises
consciousness of the subordination of women in both
society and the Church, and which seeks to redress
that situation.17

Ironically, the mitigating action of the Holy Spirit enables

Mariology to transcend the gender barrier, while

simultaneously illuminating the gender injustices of the


The artistic depiction of such a synthesizing image would

in some ways resemble Michele di Matteo's Dream of a Saint,

in that it would portray both the Old and New Adam and Eve,

and the parallels in the lives of the two pairs would be

developed. However, unlike Matteo's work, evil would not be

represented as a serpent with the head of a woman, and the New

Eve would take a more active role in the proceedings. For

instance, Michelangelo's Mary in the Vatican Pieta is not

active in the sense of physical movement, but her presence is

an integral part of the message which the artist wished to

convey. She physically supports the slain redeemer of the

world with her own body, and represents the hope of humankind

in the community of believers.

In the new image of Mary as the Second Eve, the Fall

would not be portrayed as sexual in nature, nor would one of


the two persons involved carry more of the burden of blame

than the other. The gender of the individuals involved would

not be over-emphasized, unless this somehow exposed a past or

present iniquity. This image of Mary would pave the way for

a new emphasis on the role of women in all areas of Church

activity, from local ministry to centralized decision making.

If Mary is prototype of the Church, why is it not possible for

this same Church to be headed by a female? Tambasco's Jungian

paradigm renters at this point:

If Mary is a model of all persons, then her role is
not to distinguish women from male, hierarchical,
priestly ministry, but to show the feminine
dimensions of ministry in the Church as a shared
responsibility of all, men and women.18

In the post-Christian era the role of each Christian,

male or female, must expand to fill the void created by the

retreat of the Church as world-wide authority. Christians can

ill afford to relegate more than half their numbers to an

ancillary task and a role dependent on patriarchal deference.

Those aspects of the Eve/Mary relationship which

emphasize their shared characteristics, along with those of

Adam and Christ, rather than their antithetical ones, are more

likely to bring about a liberating perspective for Christian

women. If the legacy of the First Eve is not redefined, then

Mary as the Second Eve will never be compatible with the

feminist worldview. In order to be compelling, this

reinterpretation must find expression not only in the

theological milieu, but in the devotional and artistic


modalities as well.



1. Bruce J. Malina, "Mother and Son," Biblical Theology Bulletin
20, no.2 (1990) :57.

2. John Pilch, "Marian Devotion and Wellness Spirituality:
Bridging Cultures," Biblical Theology Bulletin 20, no.2 (1990) :93.

3. Malina, "Mother and Son," p. 57.

4. Miles, Image as Insight, p.89.

5. Pierre Abelard, "Patrologiae cursus completus: series latina,"
p.543, quoted in Gold, The Lady and the Virgin: Image. Attitude and
Experience in Twelfth-Century France, (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1985), p.59.

6. Anthony Tambasco, What are they saying about Mary?, p.51.

7. Warner, Alone of All Her Sex, p.5.

8. Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, p.186.

9. Tambasco, What are they saving about Mary?, p.79.

10. Phillips, Eve: The History of an Idea, p.145.

11. Tambasco, What are they saying about Mary?, p.42.

12. Ibid., p.82.

13. Ibid., p.43.

14. Ibid., p.16.

15. Ibid., p.81.

16. Ibid., p.81.

17. Ibid., p.77.

18. Ibid., p.82.



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