If we don’t begin these talks with a prayer, it’s because we just arrived from evening Mass, and after this talk we’ll pray a Rosary. Anyway, in the monastic tradition, meditation on divine things (lectio divina) is a form of prayer. I can’t tell you how many times when I was studying (not bent over old parchments but over a keyboard and monitor) and I would come across some new insight and my eyes would stream with tears at the beauty of mysteries unveiled. Tonight I hope your eyes will overflow with the beauty of the Original Eve.
Last week I said that the treatises on Mary over the centuries were sporadic and superficial. If I was to understand Mary’s special vocation, I would need to go to the revealed word of God and study carefully the old Eve. In the monastic tradition, stemming from the Greek Fathers, everyone is supposed to be a mystical theologian. True lovers of God (Theos in Greek, Deos in Latin) seek to understand his words (Logos) Theo-logy. We should all be striving to know the Beloved. And God Himself declares that He wishes to be sought and discovered. “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here am I, here am I”. [Isa 65:1] “Seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” [Lk 11:9]
St. Justin died about ad 130 and he testifies that Christians had already been identifying Mary as the new Eve. Of course, St. Paul had called Christ the new Adam. If the first Eve had cooperated with her sublime vocation how would God’s original plan for the human race have developed? I had no idea that I was treading into totally uncharted territory. Did you know that for centuries this was a forbidden question. It could not be asked in seminaries or discussed in public by theologians. Why? It was because in the middle ages the topic had led to heated and disedifying debates. So it was mandated as a forbidden topic on the premise that it was a matter of sheer (even idle) speculation, a desire to know “more than it is licit to know.” Theologians were told to concentrate on the effects of Original Sin because that’s more practical since we are living in a fallen world. I learned that in a book by the papal preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (The Mystery of Christmas, 1987). Fortunately for me, as I’ll tell you in a moment, the prohibition had recently been lifted.
It wasn’t only academia in the Church that sometimes tried to impose limits on study for the sake of peace. Science has done it also. In the early part of the last century it was assumed that matter was ageless, that it had no beginning, and therefore students were told not to inquire into the origin of matter. But knowledge is difficult to restrain. Physicists, chemists, mathematicians, and biologists, progressed in their separate disciplines and without deliberately transgressing into the “forbidden question” they happened to discover that radioactive elements have a lifespan. Hence matter does have an end, and therefore a beginning. American astronomer Edwin Hubble studied the night, and he developed a method for measuring distances in space. The studies of a Belgian priest physicist, Fr. Georges Lemaitre, had led him to see reasons for the probability of an expanding universe but his work was deliberately left untranslated because it touched upon the “forbidden question”. Yet only two years later, in 1929, Hubble was able to demonstrate that the universe was indeed expanding. Finally, the prohibition was lifted. Very soon, physicist George Gamow formulated his “Big Bang” theory on condition that a certain level of low background radiation would be discovered. It took three decades to find a way to measure a level that low, but it was duly discovered in 1966. And in this manner our knowledge of outer space grew exponentially.
A parallel occurred in theology. In the last century, it too kept advancing in its respective “fields” of study: ecclesiology, anthropology, Biblical exegesis, and so on. And like Hubble, one theologian was busy studying the night. Young Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, having been introduced to the works of St. John of the Cross by a friend, became enchanted by the beauty of the light shining in the “Dark Night” of faith. In occupied Poland he was living in the darkness of totalitarian ideologies which made man an object, a consumer, an eater. Like Hubble he devised ways to measure the vast distance between created ideologies and the uncreated “ideal”. Materialistic philosophies objectified man, but the seminarian and doctoral student found that some Church philosophies, like Neo-Scholasticism, tended to objectify God. Sent to Rome by his bishop, to do his doctoral work under the great scholastic Dominican, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, Father Wojtyla boldly argued with him that God must be studied as a “subject,” persons cannot be an object; man comes to know God as he comes to know any another person, namely through a relationship of mutual self-giving. Marriage was the great paradigm. The early lectures and first book of Fr. Wojtyla celebrated human sexuality as a means of genuine sanctification. (George Weigel gives an excellent synopsis in Witness to Hope.)
Meanwhile the young priest’s personal relationship with the Holy Trinity was expanding, as surely as Fr. Lemaitre’s universe, and he realized that it was not only possible, but necessary to determine the origin of man’s relationship with God. What should have happened in the Garden? While preaching a retreat at the Vatican in the Lent of 1976, Cardinal Wojtyla openly declared before Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia that “careful study of human origins–which seems particularly important today if we are to understand the crucial problems of anthropology and ethics—enables us . . . to understand the Love, the uncreated gift, lying at the root of all created gifts.” (Sign. p.56) Eighteen months later he was elected to the pontificate. During the general audiences of his initial two years, Pope John Paul concentrated his ample powers of exegesis on such New Testament passages as Mt. 19:13—“Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so”. The pope said plainly: “We wish to raise the question what this word “beginning” means. We also wish to clarify why Christ referred to the beginning . . . ” After that proclamation the papal preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa let it be known that the “Forbidden Question” was no longer forbidden. The gates to the Garden were unlocked! [see Gen Audience 9/1/79] This was an immense relief to me.
Eve of Eden
The name Eden pre-dates the Hebrew language. Eden is a Sumerian word meaning “fertile plain.” According to Genesis, Eden was located in northern Sumeria and the city of Ur was farther down the river. In Ur, Abram felt the call. Arriving in the land of Canaan Abram learned Hebrew. When the account of Genesis was eventually committed to writing it so happened that the Hebrew language had an “eden” in its vocabulary also, and that word meant “pleasant” or “delightful”. Eventually, Greek-speaking Jews combined the two ancient meanings of eden as pleasure-park, “paradeisos” in the Septuagint, (hence our English word “paradise”). Was the Garden of Eden really a paradise? Or was it just a fertile garden with some agricultural advantages in which man and woman could begin their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”? Adam and Eve didn’t need to engage in the pursuit of pleasure. They were inhabiting it.
Perfect health, perfect climate, perfect leisure, no wild animals, no deadlines to meet, no bills to pay, nothing to do but relax and enjoy one another’s company. They could even walk with God! But pleasure isn’t a bond. Whether two or twenty are enjoying the same sunrise they are individually enjoying it. Certainly at the sense level there was gratification in the Garden, but man is more than an animal; man is a social and spiritual being. Joy or happiness is not complete, as St. Paul and St. John asserted, without unity of mind in love. [Php 2:2; 1 Jn 4, 2; Jn 12] I will now proceed to demonstrate that it was Eve’s vocation to foster union in the Garden.
The most striking feature about Eve is her culminating position. She is the last to be created, the pinnacle, the capstone. Angels, stars, insects, birds, beasts and Adam himself all arrived before her. Yet Adam named her “mother of all the living”. [Gn 3:20] Is a mother born after her offspring? Had Eve given birth to every living creature?
Eve is utterly unique in the universe. She was the one and only being to be created within the garden. Adam was placed in the flowery garden only after he had been formed from the earth. Their first son would be born outside of Eden “east of the garden”. [Gn 3:24]
Eve’s very origins are in beauty and life. She is the only “item” in the seven-day story to emerge directly from a living being. She is not exactly born from Adam, but she proceeds from his side, close to his palpitating heart.
Both of them are immaculate, conceived in the mind of God, free of any state of sin, created in a state of grace. They can hear God’s voice as they walk together in the peaceful garden.
The creation narrative is a symphony of life, until the “mother of the living” chooses to eat, not from the Tree of Life, but the deadly fruit from a different tree and, she who is the newest life of all, withers all too quickly from the scene. Who was she? Who was she supposed to be?
Companion of Adam
During the first five days, as God created one life form after another, “He saw that it was good.” But on the sixth day He created a man in his own image and likeness, yet Yahweh declared that it was “not good”. Had God created something evil? Not evil, but incomplete.
Yahweh God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” [Gn 2:18]
So Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while He slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which Yahweh God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man. [Gn 2:21-22]
. . . male and female he created them. . . . and God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was [not only good, but] very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished. [Gn 1:27, 31, 2:1]
The sacred writer (who Pope John Paul dubs “the witness”) doesn’t bother to mention that the other nephesh (living breathers) had also been created male and female. But with the creation of Adam the account dwells at length on the problem of Adam’s aloneness, even helplessness, in a world now teeming with living creatures. The troubled strains of the symphony rise in intensity until at last God creates the woman. Yahweh “brought her to the man.” Yahweh had brought other creatures to Adam, green plants and fruit for his sustenance, and many animals “to see what he would call them” but the woman was for the man, a very personal gift of God who had promised: “I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Gn 2:18)
How eloquently does the “witness” of Genesis relate that Eve was created from a bone in Adam’s side. Excluding the oblique plates of the skull the rib is the only distinctly curved bone in the human body. Compared to the male, the female’s entire figure is curved. The design of her body is symbolically expressive of her surrounding, embracing nature.
These “embracive” qualities are not superficial in the woman as if they rest only in emotional display or outward bodily appearance. Already as an embryo there is more electrical activity or “communication” between the two lobes of a female brain than in the male brain. The feminine mind is extraordinarily receptive. She is subject to vast amounts of the sensory data coming to her from her immediate environment and so her knowledge can be described as “comprehensive”. The male, on the contrary, is not alert to this constant stream of data being communicated. His brain lobes are more isolated. His knowledge is necessarily “particular” and “positive”. He is obliged to positively focus his attention on the subject of his choice in order to know it. Obviously each of these modes of knowing has a particular advantage which makes the two modes naturally complementary.
The male finds it easier to specialize in some field and “master” it because he is not naturally distracted by extra unwanted data. But his thought processes will be necessarily analytical, that is, he sees things in “parts”, one section at a time. There is obviously a real handicap for any man in this type of mental apprehension because it is easy for him to lose the perspective of the relation of that part to the whole. For the woman, however, she grasps relationships so naturally that at times her knowledge seems to be acquired from some higher source, a sixth sense, sheer “intuition”. But it’s not any magical power but the natural speed of that constant transmission of data between the two lobes of the brain. Dove-like, her senses, as it were, hover constantly about her environment informing her of continuous details. For example, a couple enters the home of friends and the woman “senses” that something is wrong and she becomes agitated. But the man does not share in this perception because no sufficient amount of particular data has come to his attention by which he could reach this conclusion by way of rational processes. Nor can the woman explain her conviction because what she “sensed” was a lightening-like accumulation of minuscule data: the children were unusually quiet, the carpet littered just slightly, some dishes not yet washed, a look, the aspect of someone’s complexion, a particular piece of jewelry not suited to the occasion, and so on. Did the man notice any of it? Do any of these amount to rational conclusive evidence? Yet he is usually right to trust his wife’s intuition, and so they adjust the conversation or entertainment to assuage any tension.
Sacred Scripture did not say that the man and woman should be a helper to each other but only that the woman should help the man. The woman is able to emulate the man’s mode of knowing and become a “specialist” by focusing her attention on any object she desires, even though it is admittedly more stressful for her than for a man because she is unable to “turn off” all the distracting data which continues to assail her. But the man, on the contrary, is not able to emulate the woman by focusing on everything. Such a feat is a contradiction in terms. His mind is not “receptive” by nature, but “positive” and he cannot change the electrical processes of his brain to broaden or accelerate its data intake. There is no question here of a level of intelligence but of the intake of sense data which is the basic knowledge with which the intellect works. Chesterton saw all humanity divided into parts:
specialism and universalism . . . It is not difficult to see why . . . the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior . . . Shall all mankind be specialist surgeons or peculiar plumbers; shall all humanity be monomaniac? Tradition has decided that only half of humanity shall be monomaniac. It has decided that in every home there shall be a tradesman and a Jack-of-all-trades. But it has also decided, among other things, that the Jack of-all-trades shall be a Jill-of-all-trades. (G.K. Chesterton: Everlasting Man? or Orthodoxy? III:2-5)
The “helper” careers (e.g., secretaries, nurses) require that dove-like ability to be alert to many-things-at-once and most males in their “executive” careers feel the need for a feminine helper in order to succeed in their specialty. This is already present in early childhood. Little boys are attracted by toys that move, often disassembling them to the consternation of their mothers! They will spend hours building things or taking them apart, fascinated by the principles of gravity, energy, light, etc. But little girls are not so interested in building the house as in “playing house,” filling the house with dolls. Rare is the girl who would ever dream of taking apart her doll to see how it was made. She does not analyze her doll. She clasps it, accepting it in its totality, receiving it just the way it is. And when the girls grow up, Isaiah notes how rare it is for “a woman to forget her suckling child, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb?” (Isa 49:15) But . . .
Many an honest man has sat in a ring of his five best friends under heaven and forgotten who was in the room while he explained some system. This is not peculiar to intellectual men; men are all theoretical, whether they are talking about God or about golf. Men are all impersonal . . . No one remembers after a really good talk who has said the good things. Every man speaks to a visionary multitude; a mystical cloud, that is called the club . . . The chaos of habits that always goes with males when left entirely to themselves has only one honorable cure; and that is the strict discipline of a monastery [or military]. . . . if men were to live without women, they must not live without rules. (Chesterton II:2)
You, like me, have probably heard the old adage that “women are better patients for enduring minor illnesses but men are more patient with grave illnesses”. Why? A woman can tolerate minor pain more easily than the man because for her it is just one more sense datum among many. But for the male, the pain is necessarily a new and annoying datum so he is not “distracted” by other data, hence the pain seems serious to him and in fact he suffers more because it’s more unmitigated and burdensome. The situation reverses once a threshold is crossed. When an illness becomes grave and the throbbing pain increases, it diminishes all other sense awareness just as loud music drowns out lesser noises. The woman finds herself in a state of sense-isolation which is new, unnatural and even frightening for her and so she actually suffers more than a man who is afflicted with an identically grave disease.
These different approaches in apprehending reality are complementary, like the right and left hand or as two feet which make walking possible. When Eve was created as a helper to Adam she was a free and separate individual with a command to bear her share of responsibilities of dominion over the earth, by contributing her particular gifts.
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”(Gn 1:26-27)
All authority comes from the author of creation. God could have retained dominion over the animals, or bestowed it on the angels, or delegated it one angel or to the man and not to the woman. The handing on of authority is the arbitrary act of the one who holds the power. The man and woman were given permission to name and classify the animals, to fence them off if certain animals were treading on their flowers, to foster the reproduction of some species more than others. Adam and Eve could make all decisions together or they could agree to take their authority and divide it between themselves. That power was now theirs.
But God had bigger plans for them. He intended to give them dominion over their descendants. But this was a much more important responsibility, so God would test them first to see if they really desired this gift. “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” [Gn 2:16-17]
Self or Self-giving?
The dominion which God intended to grant the first parents was much greater than authority over their children during the years when they would be too young to act responsibly. During those early years, for their own protection, the children would need to be fenced in at times like the animals, so God had already virtually granted that parental power when he said “over the cattle, and over all the earth.”
But the greater gift that God had in mind was a royal authority. All children of future generations would be the descendants of the first couple. In their naturally immortal condition they would be alive for succeeding generations to exercise a unique role of primacy. Adam was to be the father of many nations and Eve was to be the mother of the vast assembly. Through Adam’s guidance, each member would enjoy a distinct identity, and through Eve each member would enjoy a sense of belonging to all the rest. Even physiologically this is plainly expressed: the male seeds individuals, while the woman receives each and all the children into her one same womb without discrimination. These children would, in their turn, build up families of their own, unique and separate, but not to be divided from one another, because they all descend from the one same couple whose authority they would recognize. Eve would reign at Adam’s side, helping him make decisions for the benefit of all with the insights of her particular feminine gifts.
Yahweh discerned the moment when Adam and Eve had reached the time for love. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, [Gn 1:28] but there was added a thought-provoking clause: “A man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” [Gn 2:24]
They pondered the matter. No inordinate sexual lust or base animal instinct was precipitating them. “To become one flesh” was not a case of mating, but a deliberate and radical choice to transcend the pleasure of a relationship of friendship and move into a covenantal union of self-emptying and other-receiving. Yet, how can two persons become one flesh? And when children are born from this union they would leave father and mother and have children of their own and perhaps go their own way. So it was easy to foresee that with child-bearing there emerges the possibility that the peace of the garden could be disturbed. Is this not the beginning of sorrow?
Yet somehow Yahweh envisioned unity. “Be one flesh . . .fill the earth and subdue it.” How could Adam and Eve subordinate the earth in a peaceful unity unless the descendants were of one mind and one heart?
Here the particular mission of Eve manifests its unique challenge. God and Adam could provide external rules and even enforce them with physical means, but, without a universal bond of union, the Pleasure Park would deteriorate into a multitude of separate existences. People could drift apart in time and distance, each small group living in its own “domain” rather than under the dominion of one single couple. A bond would be needed to transcend all individual persons, families and nations, and simultaneously allow each person to remain a free and unique individual. To be the Mother of all the Living is only a natural accomplishment of birthing children. Yes, she can pass her DNA to the whole human race. But to be the Mother of an Assembly would be a supernatural accomplishment. This was in fact a spiritual task.
For Eve it was not merely a question of obedience to God and love for Adam, but of fulfilling her feminine identity as helper and receiver of the man. It was the moment for her to realize that God was asking something so great from her that she could not accomplish it without his divine assistance. And it is precisely at this moment of a critical decision, when God had spoken of becoming one flesh, that the Genesis witness records in the very next verse that the serpent enters the garden. The tempter wants to speak, not to the man, but to Eve. A mighty self-emptying love was being asked of her by God. In St. John’s mind, love was the primordial commandment. “For this is the word which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” [1Jn 3:11] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” [Jn. 1:1]
The serpent tempts her to the antithesis of union. If she would eat of the fruit of the “tree of good and evil” she and Adam would become “as gods”. As person-god she would be autonomous, a universe unto herself. Her children could eat of the same tree too. They would all be gods. What a wonderful bequest to their offspring! She wouldn’t have to feel responsible for them. They could all fend for themselves. Self-fulfillment, to be filled with herself, not with others. That’s what the First Lady wanted. It was her free decision, made in full knowledge.
Adam realized that it would be an impossible task to keep their offspring united when he saw that his own wife was not interested in co-ruling, preferring instead the path of independence. He could have let Eve go her own way, and ask God to take another rib and give him another queen. But Adam was also lacking in heroic sacrificial love, and quite in agreement with Eve about listening to the serpent.
Couldn’t God have appointed better leaders to be the “founding fathers” of the human race? We all fell when our heads of state sinned on that fateful day at the dawn of history. And why didn’t God let them stay there? Why were we punished too by not being able to be born in paradise in that pristine state of grace and peace? Why did He banish them?
How many times have we felt frustrated with our elected officials? They are supposed to represent the whole nation. They are the heads acting on behalf of the body. But they often harm the body by leading us into war, or economic hardship. The body of the nation might complain, but the body is ultimately responsible for having allowed those leaders to be elected, or to remain in office after their incompetence was discovered. In the end, the head really does represent the body.
As a child when I read the story of Adam and Eve, I was appalled at their ingratitude. But as I advanced in years I learned that gratitude is not a common virtue. Jesus once healed ten lepers, but only one in ten returned to thank him. Is that the statistic for humanity, about ten percent counting their blessings, and the other ninety percent feeling that they deserve more than what life has dished out? Even if they had been given paradise on a platter, they would spurn all they have to reach out for the golden apple of self-exultation.
God gave the human race the leaders that represented the majority of mankind. He did it for our own good. He let us be born in a state of independence, far from his provident support, where we can experience the folly of imagining ourselves to be gods, and learning what it is to live in a society where everyone puts self before the other.
Adam learned the good lesson. In chapter ten, the Book of Wisdom comforts us by saying he repented. Unfortunately, we don’t hear anything about Eve. But since they hadn’t been confirmed in their authority, having spurned the royal anointing, Adam and Eve had no authority to repent on behalf of the human race. They could only repent as individuals.
Repentance or not, God’s original plan was not destroyed by original sin. The performance in the Garden was only a trial-run, a rehearsal with understudy actors. The script would be re-performed. There would be a new creation. Mary was waiting in the wings and She would not just reject the serpent, but crush his head. We’ll have to continue the story next week.