Monday, July 18, 2016

Genesis Study — The Woman: Full of Grace

The Annunciation - Luke 1:26-38
The Visitation - Luke 1:39-56
The Presentation in the Temple - Luke 2:22-35
The Wedding at Cana - John 2:1-11
The Crucifixion - John 19:25-27
A Vision of Heaven - Revelation 12:1-7

This is where Genesis: God and His Creation breaks away from what would typically be considered a study of the book of Genesis. They take the time to examine the answer to the promise that the woman and her seed would defeat God's enemy.

This section concentrates on Mary as "the woman" and it is perfect timing when you consider that we also are in the count-down to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Veneration of Mary is one of the most Catholic of beliefs and is arguably the one most non-Catholics have problems with. Perhaps these snippets of the Catholic Scripture Study will aid in understanding. Certainly they opened my eyes even further to the fact that God had Mary in His plan from the beginning.

When Catholics study the Bible they recognize that the Old Testament holds truths that lead to the New Testament. This acknowledges that Scripture has many levels of meaning and often "types" of people shown early on are "types" that foreshadow the revelations of the New Testament. Two people who we see "types" of again and again are Mary and Jesus and never more than when studying "the woman and her seed." I found this whole concept really fascinating when I discovered it.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898
The Annunciation - Luke 1:26-38
"Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" shows why Catholics venerate Mary. She gave herself entirely over to God and with her humble obedience made it possible for Our Savior to be born. I remember being astounded by the idea that Mary was the New Eve but the logic made impeccable sense.
Mary's humble obedience in her fiat made possible the Incarnation. No one has described it more beautifully than St. Iraenaeus (c. 140/160-202 A.D.), who was Bishop of Lyons:
Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin... By disobeying, she became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way, Mary, though she also had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race... The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience. What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith. (from Adversus haereses, quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero; Ignatius, 1999, pg. 52).
Just as Eve's participation in the fall of man was real, although the sin was charged to Adam, so Mary's participation in our redemption was quite real, although the victory was won by her Son.

It seems entirely logical and reasonable that if God created a male and a female to preside as the first parents over all creation, He would also place a male and female in special roles over re-created humanity. In addition, the very fact that God promised to defeat the serpent through a "woman" and her "seed" proves that He wants a male and female to begin the restoration. To see Mary as the New Eve was a very natural development in early Christianity. In fact, we have evidence of it in the writings of the very first great Christian apologist, Justin Martyr (c. 110-165 A.D.). In his defense of the faith in Dialogue with Trypho, he writes this way:
[The Son of God] became man through a Virgin, so that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it had begun. For Eve, who was virgin and undefiled, gave birth to disobedience and death after listening to the serpent's words. But the Virgin Mary conceived faith and joy; for when the angel Gabriel brought her the glad tidings that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, so that the Holy One born of her would be the Son of God, she answered, "Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). Thus was born of her the [Child] about whom so many Scriptures speak, as we have shown. Through him, God crushed the serpent, along with those angels and men who had become like serpents. (Quoted from Mary and the Fathers of the Church, by Luigi Gambero, Ignatius, p. 47)
It is important to understand that Justin Martyr was writing a defense of the Christian faith against attacks from the Jews and pagans. He was not developing new theological insight, since he was actually a layman. He was only defending what the Church believed and taught at that early time in her history. The development of Marian thought was as early as the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is another example of a truth which is only implicit in Scripture (since the word "Trinity" never appears) being made explicit over time. Time is not the enemy of truth. The question is not whether a doctrine took time to develop but whether the seed of that doctrine was contained in the gospel preached and taught by the apostles.
This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

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