My wife owns one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen. I describe it so not only for the aesthetic pleasure it gives, but because the scene it depicts is profound and sweet and sad and joyful all at once, and it requires true beauty to hold all of these together simultaneously.
In the center of a vertical frame stand two women, totally opposite each other. On the left is a woman covered only by her long brown hair, her head turned down and a look of sad regret on her face. A snake’s tail wraps around her foot.
On the right is a woman dressed in white and blue, quite pregnant, a kind smile on her face. She has her hand on the chin of the other woman, tilting her head up. And she stands on the snake’s head. The reader would not need too many guesses to discover that the women are Eve and Mary, brought together out of time to stand together as the two poles of salvation history.
Eve, together with her husband Adam, disobeyed God by eating of the forbidden tree and thus lost the gift of friendship and justice that God had originally given to them and intended for all their progeny. Deceived by the promises of the Satanic serpent, Eve discovers her nakedness, or rather, she discovers shame in her nakedness, a symptom of the disunity between reason, desire, and will that had been introduced by her act–her body, representing her desires, becomes a potential source of temptation.
Her children are doomed to undergo the same sufferings she is now discovering, namely pain and death. Yet God makes a promise that it will not always be so, and that one of her seed will destroy the cunning serpent.
Mary obeyed God by accepting the most incredible invitation ever offered to any person: to be the mother of God Himself. Mary’s body and soul are preserved from the sin that was the inheritance of all the children of Adam and Eve, being conceived immaculately (free of stain). Yet Mary willingly underwent suffering, the piercing of her heart with the sword of sadness, that she might be united with her Divine Son, who took upon himself all the suffering and sin of humanity and redeemed it, conquering death and the demon who was its author.
The Fathers of the Church were fond of calling Mary “the New Eve,” and here we can see why: where Eve disobeyed, Mary obeyed; where Eve brings about original sin, Mary is preserved from it and brings forth its cure in her Son; where Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary is the mother of all those reborn in Christ.
Though it is pure speculation, one could see and appreciate the fittingness of Adam and Eve entering paradise after being freed by Christ and being greeted first by Mary (though she would still have been alive at this time, time is no object to God). One could see this picture being Mary welcoming Eve into the garden of paradise. May we all have Eve’s penitence, and Mary’s faithfulness, and receive such an end ourselves.