- Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons
Against Heresies, Book III (180-199 A.D.)
I have meant to write this post since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec.8th). The readings at Mass that day contrasted humanity's disobedience in the Garden of Eden with Mary's obedience at the Annunciation.
In both stories an angel spoke to a woman, a sinless woman fresh from the hands of God. In the first, it is a fallen angel speaking in his own name, but in the second an archangel speaking in God's.
In the first, Eve gave her husband fruit to eat from the forbidden tree. Mary offers us fruit as well, the fruit of her womb, Jesus (Lk.2:42), given to us as "real food" in the Eucharist (Jn.6:55). But we must join her at the tree of the Cross to receive Him.
Eve did not believe God's word, that the fruit of the tree would bring death. She did not trust in His love for her or her spouse, and was willing to believe that He was keeping them from true fulfillment. She wished to put herself in the place of God.
In the sharpest contrast imaginable, Mary took God completely at His word - believing that even a virgin could conceive a child. And Mary placed herself completely at God's service, "I am the handmaid [literally "slave girl"] of the Lord; let it be to me, according to your word.
Both women became Mothers of the Human Race but in different ways. Eve became mother of the fallen human race, but Mary the mother of the redeemed human race (Rev.12:17), redeemed by its union with her Son .
Mary, "blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus!"