This, the second week of Advent, is quite the Marian celebration. Monday was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Tuesday was the Optional Memorial of St. Juan Diego. This Friday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The heart of the week is the Solemnity. After all, Our Lady of Guadalupe revealed herself to St. Juan Diego as the Immaculate Conception, the woman who crushes the head of the serpent. It is fitting then that we should turn our attention this week to the sinlessness of Mary.
Most people are surprised to find that there is Scriptural evidence that points to Mary as a sinless human being. I would like to provide this evidence. There is really no more fitting tribute to the Immaculate Conception then what the inspired Word itself provides.
Since the evidence is rich and nuanced, a somewhat lengthy presentation of it is in order. As such, I will need to break this up into several parts. This, Part 1, will start in the very beginning with what we see about Mary in the Book of Genesis.
First, I must acknowledge that there is no explicit verse that directly settles this issue. At the same time, I don’t think that an explicit verse is necessary to prove that something is scriptural. I think that if a doctrine is implied in Scripture or logically follows from what we find in Scripture, and if there is nothing in Scripture that directly refutes it, then that belief can be considered scriptural.
I think most people agree with me on that point, but it bears repeating, especially when considering the Marian dogmas. When it comes to Catholic beliefs about Mary, people tend to place demands on the evidence they will accept that are more stringent and unyielding than the demands that they place on their own beliefs.
The Devil and the Woman
That said, on to the evidence. The best place to start is at the very beginning, with the words of God to the serpent after it has been exiled from the Garden of Eden:
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
This passage is called the Protoevangelium (or “first gospel”) because it is the first time in Scripture where we see the promise of a Savior for mankind. While, literally, the woman in question is Eve, many scholars admit that Mary fulfills this prophecy. After all, it is her seed, Jesus Christ, who will crush the head of the serpent, defeating Satan with His own Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
But, this passage also says something about the woman. It says that God will place “enmity” between her and the serpent. Enmity is a state of animosity and direct opposition. The woman and the serpent are utterly at odds with each other. They are mutual enemies. What’s more, the serpent cannot conquer her, no matter how hard he tries. We see this enmity played out in the Book of Revelation where, again, the woman and the serpent (this time, a full-fledged dragon) are at odds with each other:
“And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.” (Revelation 12:13-17)
As much as the devil wants her, he cannot have her. Why? Because the woman has been spared by God. When I see all this play out, I am left to wonder: If the “woman” is in fact Mary, how has enmity been placed between her and Satan? How has Mary been spared by God? Could it be that God preserved her from the stain of original sin? Could it be that she is “the woman” who the devil could not have?
Beyond the plain fact that she is the mother of the offspring that will crush the head of the serpent, further support for identifying Mary with this “woman” is seen in Elizabeth’s words to Mary in Luke 1:42 and Jesus’ own way of addressing Mary in John’s Gospel. I would like to take each one in turn.
In Luke 1:42, Elizabeth addresses Mary with words once spoken to Jael and Judith in the Old Testament. Compare this verse with Judges 5:24 and Judith 13:18:
“… [A]nd she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!'” (Luke 1:42)
“Most blessed of women be Ja’el, the wife of Heber the Ken’ite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed.” (Judges 5:24)
“And Uzziah said to her, ‘O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to strike the head of the leader of our enemies.'” (Judith 13:18)
What’s interesting about Jael and Judith is that both women are declared the most blessed above of all women. Why is this? Because in faith and courage they warded off enemy armies hostile to Israel. How did they do this? By literally dealing a mortal blow to the head of the commander of each army. Jael “put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sis’era a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple” (Judges 5:26). Judith, as we have just seen, was guided by the Lord to “strike the head of the leader of our enemies” (Judith 13:18).
Now, Elizabeth is declaring Mary to be “blessed among women.” Yet how can Mary stand in line with Jael and Judith, of whom similar statements were made, unless she too dealt a crushing blow to the enemy? If Mary is the “woman” from Genesis 3:15, then we know exactly how she did this: by bringing forth the offspring that would bruise the head of the serpent.
Jesus’ own words of address to His mother are important here, too. In John’s gospel, Jesus only refers to Mary as “woman.” At the beginning of His ministry (cf. John 2:4), He says to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me?” (or, more literally, “Woman, what is that to me and to thee?” [DRB] or “Woman, what does that have to do with us?” [NAS]). On the Cross, upon the culmination of His saving work, He addresses her again: “Woman, behold, your son!” (John 19:26). In this, interesting parallels emerge between the “woman” who is the mother of Jesus and the “woman” of Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12:
- Just as the “woman” appears in the books of Genesis and Revelation, at the beginning and the end of “the Word” (the written Divine Revelation of God), so too does Mary, the “woman”, appear at the beginning and end of “the Word” Jesus Christ, the final word of the Father.
- The apostle John, a symbol of the Church, becomes the son of the “woman” Mary just as all those who “keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” are the offspring of the “woman” from Revelation 12 (cf. vs. 17).
It is easy then, based on this and on Jesus’ clear identity as the “offspring of woman” who will “bruise the head of the serpent” in His destruction of the works of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:8), that Mary is the “woman” from Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12, of whom the sting of death could not take hold and the poison of the serpent could not infect.
In Part 2, I will present Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant” and explain how this relates to her sinlessness.