In his “Hymns on the Nativity”, Ephrem presents ample content for the contrast between Mary and Eve. Particularly, in Ephrem’s hymns we see the element of Mary’s gratitude. In hymn 15, for instance, Mary’s portrayal as praising God for His choice of her as the mother of His son is one of thanksgiving. Also in hymn 15, Ephrem has Mary describing herself as the ‘lyre’ who sings the truth of the incarnation in spite of the slanders against her, thus glorifying God (str. 4-5). In this sense, Mary turns to God in her praise. In Genesis, however, we find Eve shamefully turning away from God. One could argue that Eve’s ingratitude and lack of faith is manifest in the fact that, though she had everything in the Garden of Eden, she doubted God’s word when the word of the serpent entered her. Eve is thus the figure who turns away from God in disobedience and ingratitude—and therefore the medium through which sin enters the world. On the other hand, Mary’s gratitude and humility is demonstrated in her immense faith in a single word of God despite the slanders spoken of her. In the same hymn, the contrast of characters is even starker, for Mary, though slandered and oppressed, sings “it is a small matter how much I shall endure for a single word of consolation from You is able to chase away myriads of grief” (str. 7-8). Thus we can see the contrasts of gratitude and ingratitude, and faith and lack thereof, and obedience and disobedience between the two figures.
In Against Heresies V, chapter 19, Ireneus lays out a point of similarity between Mary and Eve—namely, Mary and Eve are both recipients of angelic communication. However, the angelic message each receives is distinct. Eve is led astray by the serpent’s treachery that God is asking her to be obedient (and not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) because He does not want to let her and Adam know that, if they eat of it, they will be as gods (Genesis, Ch. 3). Mary, on the other hand, receives glad tidings from the angel Gabriel that she is to bear the Son of the Most High (Luke, Ch. 1). There is both parallelism and contrast in the respective angelic messages that each of the two figures receives.
This brings us to another important contrast between Eve and the Virgin Mary—that of the different spaces they each represent. In hymns 16 (str. 16) and 17 (str. 5-6), Ephrem presents the two women as opposing dwelling places. Eve “became a cave and grave for the accursed serpent” and thus becomes a dwelling place for the evil word of Satan. Mary, on the other hand, is compared to the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament; she is also referred to as “the King’s castle.” These likenesses attributed to Mary echo other Old Testament symbols, such as Ezekiel’s “closed portal” and the “enclosed garden” in the Song of Songs. These titles give Mary, as opposed to Eve, the connotation as a space into which no foul word may enter. Moreover, Mary can thus be taken to be the culmination of these different scriptural symbols in the fact that, God’s physical presence is within her womb through the incarnation, and—as we discussed in class—there is immense interest in the theme of God, in His totality, being contained, so to speak, in a human body.
A bit should be said regarding Mary’s relation to the larger theme of Christian salvation. As mentioned in the first paragraph, Christ’s role as the new Adam necessitates the role of Mary as the new Eve. In Against Heresies (Ch. 21, par. 10), Ireneus lays out a logic of the plan of salvation through the incarnation. He points, to begin with, to the argument that, since Adam (the 1st man) was made from “untilled and as yet virgin soil”, and Christ was to recapitulate Adam into himself, Christ needed to have been born from virgin flesh, so to speak. Moreover, he highlights the fact that God did not “again take dust” and form Christ out of it so that the “very same formation” (i.e. of the human race) that had existed in Adam “should be summed up” in Christ and redeemed.
Theologically speaking, therefore, in order for the incarnation to have taken place, two conditions needed to be met: 1) that God take the form of the human race; and 2) that the flesh of which he took the form be as the soil of which Adam was formed, namely, of a virginal ‘untilled’ nature. This requirement finds its solution in Mary, whose contrast to Eve and the different scriptural connotations attributed to her have already been mentioned. From the previous paragraphs, we can see that Mary is permeated by God through her obedience, while Eve repels the Divine Presence through her disobedience. Mankind thus falls into the bondage of death but is also rescued, both through the medium of a virgin. This marks a parallelism to Christ’s as the new Adam, namely in the sense that the sin of the first created man is amended by the correction of the first begotten.