Saturday, July 24, 2010

Adding Woman to the Narrative

One of my favorite icons depicts the Ancient of Days bringing Adam to life in the upper right portion, while Adam is naming the animals with God by his side in the lower, major portion of the work. The former work preceded the latter; God’s single work of breathing life into the clay that would become Adam is prior to Adam’s given work of naming the animals. Adam’s features are evocative of those of Christ’s own in other icons. This is to signify that Adam is God’s own son as Luke names him in Chapter 3 of his Gospel. 1Cor 15:45 makes the connection between Adam and the Last Adam. Christ took on Adam’s image for our sakes, as this icon makes clear for us to see. This is an icon of Adam before the fall, of Adam in his purest state. It is not a depiction of Adam when God declared that all was “Very good.”

For that a woman was required. And for that Adam was put into a deep sleep. This icon demonstrates Christ as the Agent of Creation, taking the woman from Adam’s side as he sleeps. After this was accomplished, God would say that His created world was “Very good,” and rest.

Now, feminists are not happy with this tale and even accuse Christianity of “not touching” the woman’s side of the story in this. In the first, Adam not only names the animals, he also, after the fall, names his wife. In their eyes, this reduces the woman to the same status as the animals because she isn’t allowed to choose her own name—ignoring the fact that Adam didn’t choose his own name either. That name was given him by God. The headship progression is already established: God names Adam, husband names wife. It’s Trinitarian. Jesus’ Head is His Father (as is demonstrated abundantly by the Gospel John; the husband’s head is Christ; the wife’s head is her husband. Paul lays this out for us in Ephesians 5:

23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Even Peter, speaking to the baptized, gives witness to this when he writes of Sarah.

1 Peter 3:5 For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, 6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

However, 1 Corinthians 11:4 makes the case the clearest, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.”

When we speak of the work of God’s creating and of either man’s or woman’s part in it, we are also speaking of the work of the Trinity behind them. Therefore, when we speak of Creation prior to the fall, we may also look at God’s work as a view of paradise. There is no reason to call anything God does in His act of creation either on His own or through His agent, the man Adam, as evil, inappropriate or improper. What God calls “Good” and “Very good” is beyond our standards of those labels.

Far from never examining the role of the woman in this narrative (as Aileen Kraditor claims), the church went forward from the time of the fall and built herself around the story of Eve. It was the woman who was deceived in the fall (Ge 3:13). Yet, it was upon Adam, as head of the race, that the burden for the sin fell. This did not relieve the woman of her sin. Adam, as the first of all mankind, pointed to Christ, who would bear his image to rescue all of mankind in by taking on all mankind's sin in His flesh. He would not be deceived as the woman was. He would protect His wife, as Adam ought to have done (Mt 4; Mk 1).

Having been found in sin, Adam blamed God for “the woman whom you gave to be with me” (Ge 3:12). As for the woman, the serpent was to blame. She was deceived into not being able to keep to God’s word. Now, an easy solution would have been to place each in a hemisphere and let them go their separate ways. The world was large enough. Adam was essentially asking for separation from the woman anyway. It was her fault, and none of his own. He wanted out. The woman might have agreed.

God would have none of it. Married they were, married they’d remain. Their lives would be hard, but He gave them hope. He gave them a promise. One day His own Son would be born, and that One would crush the head of the serpent, their enemy (Ge 3:15). It is at that time Adam names his wife Eve, Mother of all living. This is a play on words. Sin has not taken everything from them. They will still have the blessing of children. Not only that, one of those children will save them from their sins. Eve is the prototype of the Church, even taken from her husband’s side while he slept.

That Adam and Eve trusted in God’s Promise is indicated by the fact that they came together as husband and wife. Eve rejoiced in the birth of her firstborn, even thinking he was the Promised One, exclaiming (as the Hebrew makes clearer), “I have gotten a man, the Lord!” (Ge 4:1). It wouldn’t take long before Adam and Eve knew that Cain was not the Promised One. One of the remarkable things of Ge 5 is the constant refrain “and he died,” reinforcing the fact Paul makes clear in Ro 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.”

Eve, the Mother of all Living, is the mother of Mary, who bore the Second Adam, the Son of God. The Second Adam is the sinless Son of God, just as Adam, the created son of God was sinless before he fell in the Garden. However, the Son Mary bore was not created, but existed from eternity, conceived of the Holy Spirit, not by any human father. The God of Creation becomes our Father also when the Second Person of the Trinity takes on human flesh and becomes a Son whose sole purpose is to take on our sins and lead us back to His Father as sons (Jo 14:6). This is the Son of Mary’s womb, the one before whom John leapt inside his own mother’s womb.

Eve is the prototype, the foreshadow, of the church. Mary, as the Theotokos, is the Christbearer, the type. In Mary we see Christ within her, just as Christ is within the church. It is in the womb of the church that Christians are born by water and Word, and sustained by Christ's own Body and Blood in the bread and wine and the Word He serves us through His agents through preaching and Absolution. We can speak of Mary in a way that is healthy, without it becoming Mariolatry, and we should. Tying the threads of scripture unites the One Voice by which it was written. Eve leads to Mary, and there are a lot of women along the path that serve as a part of the story, too.

Far from women being the neglected or untouchable as feminists are wont to claim, God knew that Man needed a helper. His creation was incomplete without a woman. God built one for Adam in the Garden while he slept. While Christ, the WOrd of God, slept a tomb in another garden, the Church was being built from the blood and water that flowed from His side. The Christbearer, as the one who bore the Last Adam into the world, makes that proclamation of “Very good” ring even more joyfully now. The angels sang it so when Jesus was born, “Peace on earth, good will to men!” It is so even now when the chosen agents of Christ speak His word of Peace to us in the liturgy from the womb that is the church where Christ is present in His Word and Sacraments.


David Garner said...

I think in the first paragraph you meant "the former preceded the latter," no?

Dcs. Emily Carder said...

I did! Thanks for the correction, which has been made.