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Death from Eve, Life from Mary

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This is she who was prefigured by Eve and who symbolically received the title of mother of the living (cf. Gen 3:20). For Eve was called mother of the living after she had heard the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), in other words, after the fall. It seems odd that she should receive such a grand title after having sinned. Looking at the matter from the outside, one notices that Eve is the one from whom the entire human race took its origin on this earth. Mary, on the contrary, truly introduced life itself into the world by giving birth to the Living One, so that Mary has become the Mother of the living.

Indeed the words: “Who gave woman wisdom and skill in embroidery?” (Job 38:36), refer to two women: one is the first Eve, who skillfully wove the visible garments of Adam, whom she herself had reduced to nakedness. To this toil, then, she had been destined. Just as nakedness was discovered because of her, so to her was given the task of reclothing the sensible body against visible nakedness.

To Mary, instead, God entrusted the task of giving birth, for our sakes, to him who is the lamb and the sheep; from his glory, as from a veil, by the power of his immortality, a garment is skillfully woven for us.

But we must consider another marvelous aspect of the comparison between Eve and Mary. Eve became for men the cause of death, because through her death entered the world. Mary, however, was the cause of life, because life has come to us through her. For this reason, the Son of God came into the world, and, “where sin abounded, grace superabounded” (Rom 5:20). Whence death had its origin, thence came forth life, so that life would succeed death. If death came from woman, then death was shut out by him who, by means of the woman, became our life.

And as in paradise Eve, still a virgin, fell into the sin of disobedience, once more through the Virgin came the obedience of grace, when the joyful announcement was given that eternal life in the flesh was descending from heaven. For God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and hers” (Gen 3:15). Woman’s seed is found nowhere; and so it is in a figurative sense that this enmity is applied to Eve in relation to her and the Serpent and to that which was represented by the serpent, namely, the devil and envy.

But all this cannot be perfectly fulfilled in her. Instead, it will be realized truly in the holy, elect, and unique seed, which comes from Mary alone and not from relations with man. This seed came to destroy the power of the dragon, that is, the tortuous and fleeting serpent, who boasted of holding possession of the whole world.

For this reason, the Only-begotten was born of a woman for the ruin of the serpent, that is to say, the ruin of false doctrine, of corruption, of deceit, error, and lawlessness. He is the one who truly opened the womb of his Mother (cf. Ex 13:12). For all the other firstborn sons who preceded him were not able—to speak with decency—to realize a condition of that sort. Only the Only-begotten opened the virginal womb. That happened to him alone and to nobody else.

– St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Adversus haereses 78, 17-19; PG 42, 728 B-729 C, as found in Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, Ignatius, 1999.


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