In his Dialogue with Trypho, an apologetic ‘conversation’ between Saint Justin Martyr and a Jewish interlocutor Justin attempts to show both that Jesus really is the long-prophesied Messiah, and that Christianity is the fulfilment of the Law as well as the true philosophy. In the one hundredth chapter of this dialogue, Saint Justin turns his attention to the birth of Jesus, and compares the Blessed Virgin Mary to the first mother of life, Eve. In doing so, he was one of the first of the Church Fathers to conceive of Mary in this way, and, along with Saint Irenaeus, laid the typological grounds that would be the basis for much subsequent Marian doctrine:
‘…since we find it recorded in the memoirs of His apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him the Son, we have understood that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will (for He is addressed in the writings of the prophets in one way or another as Wisdom, and the Day, and the East, and a Sword, and a Stone, and a Rod, and Jacob, and Israel); and that He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him.’
Courtesy of Logos Virtual Library
Saint Justin here places the Blessed Mother in antithesis to Eve, drawing out a profound comparison of their actions. Eve is described as ‘conceiving’ the word of the serpent, so that her consent to his deceptions is seen as a reception into her very being, where the lie gestates within and produces ‘disobedience and death’. Thus the intricate cooperation between liar, the receiver of the lie, and the fruits of buying into that lie is presented in direct comparison to the Annunciation and Incarnation of Our Lord.
In this latter case, the ‘faith and joy’ delivered to Mary by Gabriel are what is in actual fact brought into the world at the Nativity, something witnessed to by the message brought to the shepherds by the angels that same night (c.f.; Luke 2:10,20). Through Eve’s contrast with Mary, we see clearly the importance of the operation of free will and consent, as well as of discernment. Two women were presented with two different announcements – it was how they discerned the character and truth of those announcements, and their free reception of them, that led to such remarkably different conclusions.
In the Blessed Virgin Mary then, we not only have a great example of how much God values our free will, but also an insightful lesson of the importance of personal character in discerning truth. Mary was chosen before all ages to be the Mother of Our Lord, because her mind and heart were perfectly in concord with the will of God, and unclouded by the conflicting claims and desires that sin introduces into our hearts and minds. In her we see perfectly the truth of Christ’s teaching that ‘blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8); and not only see Him, but bring Him forth into the world, so that others might know the fullness of faith and joy.