In Dormitione Beatæ Mariæ Virginis
[Sexta die infra Octavam S. Laurentii]
Today we celebrate the “Dormition of the Mother of God”, or the “Falling asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary” older titles for the feast more commonly known now as “the Assumption”. Fortunately our recent reflections may help us to understand the significance of this feast and that other title of Mary, the “new Eve”.
The ultimate benefit of our salvation in Christ is the restoration of creation with God – the regaining of our corporeal immortality as God had originally intended “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” [Gen 1:26; Wisdom of Solomon 2:23] i.e. originally we were intended to enjoy the eternal nature of God with Him as created corporeal beings. Indeed, God created us intending us to be family to/with Him [cf Isaiah 43:7] to share His glory. Through Adam and Eve’s fall, humanity lost its corporeal immortality, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” [Gen 3:19] How did this happen?
God told Adam and Eve; “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” [Gen 2:16-17] However, after they ate the forbidden fruit, they did not immediately fall dead! Many Christians interpret this seeming discrepancy i.e. that Adam and Eve did not immediately die, to mean that they died ‘spiritually’ that day, or that having been originally immortal, became mortal at that point. However, the text suggests that when they committed the original sin [Gen 3:6], God exacted an indirect penalty of death upon Adam and Eve. If the garden of Eden story is representative of history, humans were created to live forever in a physical body, but God removed their source of immortality on the day they sinned against Him…
In addition to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, God also placed a tree in the garden called the Tree of Life [Gen 2:9]. If Adam and Eve had eaten of this tree before they sinned, they would’ve realise the immortality God desired for humanity. Upon eating of the Tree of Good and Evil, God immediately removed Adam and Eve from the garden, and placed a flaming sword to guard the tree so they could not eat from it [Gen 1:22], “…therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden”, clearly indicating that Adam was removed from the garden before he would have the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life and become immortal. This suggests that God didn’t want them to be sinful and immortal!
On the day Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge they missed out on the opportunity of immortality because God removed their access to the Tree of Life which had been placed there for them, and without the essential elements the fruit was to provide we likewise all die, “For as in Adam all die,…” [1 Cor 15:22] So it was through disobedience that the knowledge of good and evil was wrought. Eve was deceived by the serpent who contradicted what God had said, the serpent said, “You will not certainly die,” [Gen 3:4] where God had said, “…you will certainly die.” [Gen 2:16-17] Clearly the deceptive serpent was lying; the serpent of course being the Devil – the first among the angels who turned away from God [topic for another post].
Now, some erroneously suggest that “the blame” or “guilt” was all Eve’s i.e. the woman’s; afterall, she it was who was gave in first to the Devil’s temptation and disobeyed God’s command and tempted Adam to the same. However, St Paul says, “For as in Adam all die…” because through their cooperation in disobedience, the fault was shared. Indeed, the curse spoken by God to the woman included subjugation to man, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” [Gen 3:16] The egalitarianism of contemporary society of course would probably take exception to this notion! However, notice that actually there is parity, even complementarity for the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is shared by them both, man and woman and man is equally cursed, to toil and labour for food [cf Gen 3:17-19] and what is more, it is upon the man that the ultimate curse is placed for all of mankind “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” The curse of mortality is borne by Adam through it being born of Eve.
Now “Eve” was the name given by Adam to woman, “Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.” [Gen 3:20] Before the Fall she was known simply as “woman” (ishah אשה); when they were expelled he called her, Eve which as is common with most names has a meaning, “life” (chavah חַוָּה, “live [giving]”) as indeed Adam means “the man” i.e. humanity (ha-adam אָדָם “the earthling”). As humanity, together they were condemned, “And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” [Gen 3:22] Here the text makes plain that, had they not disobeyed God they might have eaten of the Tree of Life which fruit had not been forbidden them and God’s original desire might have been fulfilled.
So how is Our Lady the “new Eve”? Let’s not focus straight away on the element of sin, but of life. Just as Eve became the mother of humanity through the circumstances of the Fall, so Mary became the mother of salvation for humanity through the circumstances of the Incarnation. For as the mother of Christ the “new Adam” [1 Cor. 15.45], she became herself the “new Eve”. Before the Fall, Adam simply referred to Eve as “Woman”. However, after the Fall, Adam names his wife Eve, because she is the “mother of all living.” Notice that Our Lord never refers to Our Lady as “Mary” or even “Mother,” but always refers to her as “Woman” [John 2:1]. The most significant occasion on which He calls her “Woman” was during His crucifixion when He gives her to John (the Church) as “Mother” [John 19:26, 27].
Notice that Christ refers relationally to His Mother as “Woman,” which recalls Adam’s pre-Fall title for Eve, but when He refers to the Apostle’s relationship with Our Lady He uses the title “Mother.” Tradition tells us that John took Our Lady into his home in Ephesus and cared for her until her dormition (falling asleep). Christ called the disciples “brothers,” he told them that God was their “Father,” and he gave Mary to them as their “Mother.”
So as Eve was the mother of mortal life, so Mary as the “new Eve” is mother of immortal life… Just as through Adam came death, so in Christ the “new Adam” comes eternal life, reconciliation with God forever; the fruit of the Tree of the Cross is the fruit of the Tree of Life… (more to follow)…
Sancta Dei Genitrix, Mater omnium credentium, ora pro nobis!