Tag Archives: serpent

The Woman and the Two – 27 March 2018

There has been a lot of discussion recently about women, from the “Weinstein Effect” to #MeToo. Misogyny in our culture is on notice, and the idea of womanhood has come to the forefront. In many respects, we have never before seen a moment like this focused on the dignity of women.

Perhaps it is time the modern world should look towards an older idea of womanhood, that which permeates our Catholic faith.

From the very beginning of scripture to the very end we find ‘the woman.’ Christians often quote lines from the Old Testament and the prophets regarding the Savior to come. This is all true, but it is not the whole story. The prophetic announcements tell of two intertwined together on behalf of our salvation. In the first moments in Genesis after the fall, God declares to the wicked serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.”

There is some dispute how to best translate the next line in the passage, specifically if it should be “he” and “his” or “she” and “her.” But, St. Jerome in translating this from the ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts chose to translate it as “she” and “her” as the most accurate. The Douay-Rheims translation based on the Latin Vulgate into English renders it “she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This was reaffirmed by other Church Fathers and in Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception as “unmistakable evidence that she crushed the poisonous head of the serpent.”

The effect is the same. The woman through her seed shall crush the head of the serpent. That is, the Virgin Mary through Jesus Christ shall crush the head of Satan. Jesus is the divine Redeemer, and Mary the creature, but the two together crush Satan, and bring hope of eternal life. This is downplayed in our protestantized modern Christianity. The prophet Isaiah talks of the two as well, a virgin who will bear a son. The fall came at the hands of two, and in God’s beautiful symmetry, the restoration also comes at the hands of two.

The Virgin Mary is the masterpiece of God’s creation. She is conceived without sin, the sanctifying grace of her Son applied to her by way of anticipation, but to the rest of humanity by deliverance. She is unique in all of creation. Mary told St. Bernadette at Lourdes “I am the Immaculate Conception.” In the heavenly vision to St. Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac, later forged into the miraculous medal, Mary is standing on the head of the serpent, seemingly answering the question of pronouns in the protoevangelium.

We find ‘the woman’ again at a wedding feast in Cana. The two together, Jesus and Mary, co-launch Jesus’ first miracle and his public ministry. When the wedding party ran out of wine, Mary looks knowingly at Jesus saying, “They have no wine.” In that one short sublime sentence Mary asks Jesus to perform his first open miracle, and begin his public work of salvation. This is Mary’s first act of motherly mediation too for her spiritual children. Jesus knows what she is asking but answers, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” He addresses his mother as the archetype ‘woman’ acknowledging her prophetic role. Yet, Mary continues to direct the servants to “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus is the Son of God, he is in charge, but he defers out of respect and love for his mother.

At last, at the final stroke of the salvific drama, Jesus addresses ‘the woman,’ this time from the Cross, saying “woman, behold your son,” and to John, “behold your mother.” Mary, ‘the woman,’ became, by order of grace, the spiritual mother of all the living. And, Mary is still our mother. Is it any wonder that our Lady still comes to us at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima to remind us over the centuries “do whatever he tells you”?

St. Louis de Montfort called the Incarnation the “greatest event in the whole history of the world.” It is ‘the woman’ who is central to the Annunciation, which leads to the Incarnation and the Redemption. At that critical moment, God sends the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, and he greets her with the Angelic Salutation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” and “blessed are you among women.” In ‘the woman,’ who alone is full of grace, the inherited link of sin is broken. The serpent can only lie in wait of her heel, and only enmity remains between them.

It was not until Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord,” that God became man. God made his Incarnation dependent upon the woman. This set in motion the whole drama of the Redemption. This greatest moment in the history of the world, the Incarnation, is memorialized in the prayer of the Rosary. Every time we pray the words of the Rosary, which are the words of the Angelic Salutation, we are greeting and honoring Mary again, just as the heavenly ambassador did. We are praying over and over again the words of the Incarnation. In it, we are reliving and honoring that unique theandric event, when the Word became flesh in the woman. In short, the Rosary is the Incarnation in prayer form.

‘The woman’ is at Eden; she is at Cana; and she is at Golgotha. And, ‘the woman’ appears again at the very end of time, with the great unveiling of the apocalypse, the final bookend to salvation history: “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.” Our spiritual Mother appears as Queen of heaven, offering intercession for her children even to the last moment.

St. Pope John Paul II highlights this in Redemptoris Mater. He declares that the Virgin Mary was “not only the ‘nursing mother’ of the Son of Man but also the ‘associate of unique nobility.'” One of the great modern errors is that Mary was just a human vessel to birth Jesus. Mary did provide Jesus with his physical flesh and blood, hence the profound link between the devotions to the Virgin Mary and the Eucharist. But, Mary’s maternal mediation was much more in the order of grace. She was, and is, a collaborator with her Son in the work of salvation, as the encyclical states: “Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation” with “‘burning charity,’ which sought to achieve, in union with Christ, the restoration of ‘supernatural life to souls.'”

In this time of women, let us remember ‘the woman.’ The Virgin Mary is the fulfillment of that original dignity in our preternatural past. She offers us the example par excellence of holiness and virtue. Mary is the Theotokos, and based on that unique grace of who she is, her intercession for us is most efficacious. Through our devotion to her, she will crush the head of Satan in our lives. She is the Queen mediating on behalf of our salvation before the throne of the King.

This is why we pray: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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Genesis 1-11:

The Bible Overview:
The Hebrew Bible (the Torah, the prophets and the other books) is unique in the history of the world. It was the first book and religion to establish monotheism and a code of ethics around the world. It was divinely unique in a number of ways, with concepts unheard-of in the ancient world, and which transformed us into the modern world we know now and accept: (1) It proclaimed a universal God. (2) It posited an invisible, incorporeal God. (3) It declared a moral God, not capricious like the pagan gods and the deities of myth. (4) It presupposed a God outside of nature and beyond nature, unlike the pagan who worshipped nature and natural beings. (5) It suggested a God Who loves and wants to be loved, again unique from the selfish and capricious pagan gods. (6) It declared a universal human worth that all humans are “made in the image of God,” and therefore, of immense value and dignity. This was a world-changing concept never seen before in the history of the world. (7) Due to each individual human’s dignity, there are universal human rights that cannot be lawfully taken away by man.

All of the horrible atrocities and evil ideologies, such as human sacrifice, wanton disregard for human life, savage warfare, slavery, incest, idolatry, nature worship and superstition, all begin to fade away as the light of divine revelation is manifested to the world in successive revelations. God reached down from Heaven to guide us through the childhood and adolescence of human formation of conscience and morality. From the Garden to Eden, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and the Ten Commandments, to the Israelites becoming God’s Jewish nation, to the Temple, and the prophets, and then, at long last, to the revelation of the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. God came into the world to undo the destructive power of Original Sin and free mankind to become Children of God. The Bible stands alone in revelation, in law, in prophecy, in internal coherence, and truth. It is the most widely read book and the most important book in the history of the world. It forever altered the arc of human history. It introduced earth-shattering ideas into the course of human civilization, and singularly prepared the world for that most important moment ever to happen, the Incarnation of the Son of God. The world has never been the same since.

Genesis 1-11:
The Creation of Man:
The Hebrew Bible is a conversation that lasted more than a millennium.   The Bible begins with two creation accounts or myths. This time period is “prehistory.” After creating all living things, which is “good,” then Yahweh creates man, which is termed “very good.” Adam is created from the ground (“adamah”). The only living thing not created from the ground is “woman.” Only in seeing woman, is man completed and in their complementarity does he fully understands himself. The man and the woman together bear the image of God. This is manifested in the pro-creative nature of the husband and wife, creating new life in likeness of their creator. The first man and woman were naked and not ashamed. They bore a primordial innocence, and preternatural life in the Garden of Eden (the original harmony of Creation).

Jesus Declares Two Genders – Male and Female; and Heterosexual Marriage:
Jesus, when he was challenged by the Pharisees on the teaching of marriage and divorce, referenced that it “was not so from the beginning.” Jesus taught a radical indissolubility of marriage between one man and one woman: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.” (Matt. 19:4-5)

The Fall:
That all changes with the Fall from innocence. The devil, mythologized as a serpent, tempts them to disobey Yahweh. Eve listens to the devil, and persuades her husband Adam to disobey as well. With that, humanity is brought into “the human condition” we know today: birthing pain, patriarchal societies, hard work toiling the land, disease and death.

Protoevangelium:
Yahweh then offers the first prophecy of a future Savior and “the woman” who will crush the head of the serpent. Eve fell to the serpent, but the second Eve will crush the serpent’s head. “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen. 3:15) It is through the Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ is born, God becomes man. With the Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception, the stain of sin and the line of inherited corruption is broken. She alone is the Ark worthy of bearing God. In the woman, God the Son becomes flesh to take away the sins of the world.

Enoch:
In the generations from Adam to Noah, was Enoch. Genesis 5:12 reads: “Then Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him.” The implication, much like what happens later with the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), Enoch does not die, but is taken alive to heaven. Enoch and Elijah are perhaps the two great prophets sent back at the End of the World to confront the Antichrist. (Revelation 11)

Noah and The Flood:
Chapter 6 of Genesis also deals with the origin of the Nephilim (ie, the Giants). It says: “the sons of heaven saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, and so they took for their wives as many of them as they chose. . . At that time the Nephilim appeared on earth (as well as later), after the sons of heaven had intercourse with the daughters of man, who bore them sons. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.” This episode directly precedes the flood. The wickedness of man also leads Yahweh to limit man’s lifespan to 120 years (as opposed the hundreds of years lifespans previously, such as Adam who lived to 930 years old). Yahweh warns Noah that He is about to destroy the world because of its “corruption” and “lawlessness.” The Biblical account of the flood is similar to other flood stories from Mesopotamia, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh. Yet, the Biblical account is strikingly different in the way in which God preserves Noah, as opposed to the opposition of the deities in the Mesopotamian traditions.

Rainbow:
After God destroys most of the known world in the flood, he gives a sign of his promise never to do so again, the rainbow. The rainbow is the “sign of the everlasting covenant” God establishes between himself and all mortal creatures. Those who misuse the sign of the rainbow today again mock God with brazen disregard for his laws.

Sacramental View:
The waters of the Flood are analogous to the waters of Baptism. Just as the waters of Baptism wash away Original sin, so too did the waters of the Flood wash away the sinful world. Universal humanity (i.e., the world) seems to follow the path of Christian initiation. Just as the infant world is baptized in water, the later adolescent world is baptized in fire. At the End, the world is consumed and transformed by fire (2 Pt. 3:7), just as the fire of the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and all believers at Pentecost and Confirmation (Acts 2:3) making them a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This final conflagration ushers in a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).

Carnivores:
Another interesting note is that after the flood Yahweh tells Noah, “Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants.” (Gen. 9:3) The Antediluvian world is depicted as strict vegetarians. It is only after the flood, that animals, including man, become carnivorous. God grants a concession to humanity in its propensity towards violence, so that they are now allowed to eat meat (but must observe certain restrictions regarding the handling of animal blood. Gen.9: 2-4; Lev. 17:11)

The Tower of Babel:
The last story in this section is the Tower of Babel. “The whole world spoke the same language, using the same words.” (Gen. 11:1) This story highlights human arrogance attempting to trespass into the realm of God. They do this by trying to build a tower that reaches up to God. In Babylonian times, this probably refers to the Babylonian ziggurats, a sort-of original skyscraper. It was then that the Lord came down to see what they built and decided to “go down and there confuse their language” and then he, “scattered them from there all over the earth.” (Gen 11:8-9)