THE VIRGIN MARY AS THE "SECOND EVE":
A MODERN FEMINIST PERSPECTIVE
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies
Florence M. Turcotte
School for Summer and Continuing Education
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
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
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
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
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
12. Eve with Child, and Mary with the Child Jesus. (1033:
13. Carlo da Camerino, The Madonna of Humility with the
Temptation of Eve. (late 14th century: Cleveland Museum
14. Michele di Matteo, Dream of a Saint, (15th c.: Civic
15. Giovanni di Paolo. The Annunciation, detail. (c.1445:
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).
I. INTRODUCTION . . . . .. . .. 1
II. A DISCUSSION OF THE CONCEPT OF
MARY AS THE SECOND EVE . . . . . 14
III. ICONOGRAPHIC ANALYSIS . . . . . 30
IV. CONCLUSION: A FEMINIST REINTERPRETATION OF
MARY AS THE SECOND EVE . . . . . 50
V. ILLUSTRATIONS . . . . . . . 64
VI. BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . .. .79
"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
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
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
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
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:
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.,
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
7. Anonymous, Old Irish, quoted in Ibid., p.50.
8. St. Augustine, City of God, quoted in Warner, Alone of all her
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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