One common feature in many New Testament texts is the use of Old Testament figures as representatives and illustrations of doctrinal themes. So, for instance, in Hebrews 5-7 the rather shadowy priest from Genesis, Melchizedek, is used as a type and foreshadowing of the priesthood of Christ. Abraham is for Saint Paul the great type and example of faith which precedes and contrasts with the Old Testament law and works of the law. So, also, for Paul, notably in I Corinthians 15, Christ is the new Adam, a new beginning and origin for humanity. From the idea of Christ as the new Adam, it was probably inevitable that Mary would come in Christian piety to be seen as a new Eve. If Eve was the channel through which sin entered the world, then the Lord’s mother was the channel through which the reversal of sin began to flow.
This idea, however, does not depend only on post-New Testament development from Paul and I Corinthians 15, because it is also present in the theology of Saint John’s gospel. John never uses Mary’s proper name. She is ‘the mother of Jesus’ in John or, when the Lord himself addresses her, he does so either as ‘you’ or as ‘Woman’ (2:4; 19:26, 27; this is an address of respect – ‘Madam’ approximates its sense). The uses of ‘woman’ at the very beginning and the very end of John’s gospel seem deliberate and related to the very strong Genesis theme that runs throughout John. This connection is strengthened internally by the Lord’s reference in John 2:4 to ‘my hour’, which elsewhere in the gospel the reader learns is the crucifixion – which is the occasion for the other uses of ‘woman’. John, therefore, is subtly, but also very clearly and definitely, holding up Mary as the paradigmatic Woman, the new and Christian Eve. This intention adds meaning to the mutual entrusting of Mary and the beloved disciple into one another’s care in 19:26-7. John himself, the beloved disciple, is a figure for all the beloved followers and disciples of Christ, who become sons of the new Eve (the new ‘mother of all living’).
After the New Testament’s hints, we find the new Eve theme in several of the earliest Christian writings. In fact, Mary is seldom mentioned in the earliest Fathers of the Church except in contrast with Eve. The Epistle to Diognetus (perhaps late 2nd century) encourages the reader to pluck the fruit of Christian truth, ‘which the serpent does not touch, and deceit does not infect….Eve is not corrupted but a Virgin is trusted, and salvation is set forth’ (xii.8-9). So also in the 2nd century Saint Justin Martyr and Saint Irenaeus contrast the disobedience of Eve and Mary’s obedience.
This theme of the new Eve became a standard element of later Christian piety and Marian devotion. The Marian hymn, Ave, maris stella (‘Hail, star of the sea’) has an example in its second verse:
Ave was the token Sumens illud ‘Ave’
By the angel spoken! Gabrielis ore,
Peace on earth it telleth, funda nos in pace,
Eva’s name re-spelleth. Mutans Evae nomen.
The 17th century Non-Juring English bishop, Thomas Ken, author of the famous ‘Doxology’ (‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’), provides another example of this theme in his hymn ‘Her Virgin eyes’:
As Eve when she her fontal sin reviewed, / Wept for herself and all she should include,
Blest Mary with man’s Saviour in embrace / Joyed for herself and for all human race.
It is a fortunate fact that this theme of Mary as the new Eve is one of the most fruitful for Christian reflection and devotion and yet also is one that is firmly Biblical and involves no theological dispute among Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, or Protestant Christians.