To paraphrase Monty Python, “Let’s not bicker and argue about who tempted whom.” Given our brief space here, suffice it to say that Adam and Eve lost their gift of communion with God through pride and disobedience, and all of their offspring would suffer the effects of original sin. Much ink has been shed to parse the details, but regardless of the theological nuances, the end result is pain, sorrow and death.
The good news buried in this sad tale is called the proto-evangelium, which foretold that God would send a redeemer to restore the breach. An essential detail about the restoration is that the previous collaboration in sin (involving both Adam and Eve) would be offset by a collaboration in grace—between the “new Adam,” or Christ, and the “new Eve” who is the woman Mary. A longing for this Messiah sustained the Chosen People for centuries, but Mary’s crucial part in his mission was unexpected, to say the very least.
The nuptial theme of collaboration is an ever present backdrop to the story of God as Bridegroom and “Daughter Zion,” to whom He was espoused. The fidelity of Israel as a nation waxed and waned, but God was steadfast in His promises. “In the fullness of time” the Holy One of Israel was born of a woman—the woman, whose fidelity would never waver. Preserved by God’s special favor, Mary would act with the same freedom as Eve, and yet her response engendered communion, rather than dissolution, and harmony at odds with the discord mankind knew until then.
John Paul II elaborates on this theme that has such an important bearing on contemporary women who struggle with the very essence of femininity. If the analogy holds that Mary is the “new Eve,” then she is the fullness of revelation relating to the word “woman,” used in both the first and last books of Sacred Scripture. Indeed, he writes that she is the paradigm of woman “as she was intended to be in creation, and therefore in the eternal mind of God: in the bosom of the Most Holy Trinity. Mary is the ‘new beginning’ of the dignity and vocation of women, of each and every woman” (MD, 11).
Now surely women will throw up their hands and protest that she was too sublime to imitate, that she was without sin and thus incomparable, that she has so few words that it’s impossible to ever really know her. I did my share of protesting upon my conversion to the faith, but must now beg women to trust: there is a wealth of information in her few words, in her decisive actions, and in her very presence in salvation history.
Mary—immaculate and sublime—is our most important signpost to the truth about the deposit of faith. Mariology (the scholarly study of Our Lady) is in fact intimately entwined with our understanding of Jesus (Christology) and the Church (Ecclesiology), and one cannot study one effectively without simultaneously studying all three.
Benedict sums it up, “The Pope’s fundamental claim is that the originality of Mary’s role of mediation consists in its maternal character, which aligns it with Christ’s being born ever anew in the world.” Just as gestation takes time, and just as all relationships take time, finding the meaning of Mary—immaculate and sublime—can often take years to understand. But eventually, the hours spent meditating on her humility, her receptivity, her joy, her courage, and her faith will reveal how we are all are called to collaborate in the nuptial love story about God and His creation.