Mary's Conception, Eve's Sin and Sanger's Feminism: How they impact women was originally posted as Out of Eve's Shadow. This post is renamed in honor of the great feast day of the Immaculate Conception. It is a lengthy post, one my longer ones. But I hope you can read a little at time so that with a better grasp of biblical history behind women's plight in the world, a deeper appreciation for just how important Mary is to, not only humankind in general, but to women in particular.
“Against the State, against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.”
“But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it.”
Preface: Eve, Mary and Margaret
Against the Church, against men, against motherhood and against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, today’s voice of progressive feminism rails! Such was the message, such was the attitude and such was the spirit of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. And let there be no doubt, to varying degrees she was remarkably successful at transmitting envy and defiance against the institution of marriage, the family and the Church. The idea that women were and continue to be suppressed by the Catholic Church can be credited in no small part to Sanger’s propaganda.
Since history and sound theology enjoy little esteem in Western Civilization, pitting the Gospel against women has been advanced in our universities and public schools with relative ease. Nevertheless, there is a different story to tell. The plight of women begins with the real “First Lady,” that is, Eve, wife of Adam and mother of the human race. Because she yielded to the Serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, she merited a divine punishment that would not only burden her but it would cast a long shadow over her female descendants.
But when the Blessed Virgin was conceived in the womb of St. Anne a brighter day dawned. From that moment on the ancient pagan bonds, so oppressive to women, began to loosen. To be sure, Christ redeemed humanity at large but he used his own Mother in a particular way to elevate the status of women and in doing so, led them out of Eve’s shadow.
Part I: What Eve’s sin portended for women
1. Unending Tutelage:
In his book, Our Christian Heritage, published in 1889- just twenty five years before Margaret Sanger career got underway - James Cardinal Gibbons reminded Catholics of the Church’s role in elevating the status of women. He said, “In Ancient Greece, women were in an unending tutelage, slavery, instrument of man’s passion.” Mind you, ancient Greece was indeed representative of women’s suppression in the pagan world. Gibbons continues: “Every impartial student of history is forced to admit that women are indebted to the Catholic religion for the elevated station she enjoys today in family and social life.”
Now, it is not the point of this post to elaborate on what is an overlooked historical fact: Women were second class citizens and were counted as having less dignity than men before the coming of Christ. Furthermore, during the Christian era, under the auspices of the Catholic Church, the social status of women significantly increased. This is why, during the first centuries of the Christianity, new converts were comprised mostly of women as opposed to men. Oh yes! Women came running to the Mother Church.
2. Her New Name:
After Eve, the social status of women rested in large part on her husband and her ability to produce children. Her dignity as an individual was overshadowed by Eve’s sin and the punishment due to that sin. As indicated, man in his fallen human nature exploited this to the max. Especially before the coming of Christ, Margaret Sanger’s antipathy toward men would have been understandable. No doubt, the female sex did not fare well. But no amount of protesting could have stopped the centuries of this exploitation. The remedy had to come from God himself. “For he wounds, but he binds up; he smites, but his hands give healing.” (Job 5:18)
Eve was immaculately created. The name given to her before she offered the forbidden fruit to Adam was “Woman.” Adam said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman,' for out of 'her man' this one has been taken." (Genesis 2:23) That’s right. Eve was originally given the name of “Woman.” At this point equality with Adam was hers. Indeed, she stood on equal footing with Adam. And as his companion, she was called to make up for his limitations by leading him closer to God. But this was not to be. Instead, she became an occasion of sin for him; thus leading him away from God and closer to the Serpent.
God often punishes us with the very things by which we sin. To make a long story short, the Serpent offered the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This, of course, was forbidden by God. The Woman consumed the fruit and then offered to Adam. As such, she became a mediator (or mediatrix) between the Evil One and mankind. Instead of building up and perfecting her husband she became a source of sin and untold evil. As for Adam, he had plenty to account for. But as a consequence of her role in introducing sin into the world the Woman was renamed. New names given by God, Adam or Jesus himself always carry with it a new status. The Woman was then renamed “Eve” by Adam. “The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.” (Genesis 3:20) With this, it was a man Eve enticed to sin and it was a man that was God’s instrument in punishing her.
3. He Shall Be Your Master:
After the Sin, God lined up Adam, Eve and the Serpent in order to mete out their respective punishments. Adam received his punishment as well as the Serpent. “To the woman he said: ‘I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.’” (Genesis 3:16) Eve was the first causality of her own sin; this, among a very long lineage of females. What began as a spiritual and moral tragedy in the Garden of Eden developed into a social and political burden for women all over the world. The Old Testament world (here, I mean world history before Christ) was a man’s world. As Cardinal Gibbons suggested, women were in an unending tutelage, slavery, and instrument under man’s dominion. In virtually every and nation in every era women were second class citizens. To a large degree, her worth was dependent upon his choosing and whim.
4. The Curse of Motherhood:
The curse of motherhood? I thought being a mother is a blessing in the eyes of God! It certain is! However, being defined exclusively by what we do or by the role we play can be a curse. Eve was first given the name of “Woman,” the stress being on her individuality and one who was on equal footing with Adam. The name of “Eve,” on the other hand, stresses her maternal vocation. Now, being identified as a mother is a blessing if it is one of many characteristics she possesses i.e. daughter of God, individual, spouse, worker etc. However, to emphasize one characteristic or role at the expense of all the rest is a curse. In the Old Testament, due to the absence of the Holy Spirit, there was an imbalance and a disproportionate emphasis on a woman's duty to produce children.
Do you remember what Jesus said? He taught that in heaven we are not going to be spouses and parents so much as we are brothers and sisters. In eternity, many of our roles will cease to exist. And as for our earthly existence, the maternal of role of mother is indeed active while her children are young. But this function eventually takes a back seat to other roles for her as they get old and move out of the house. When she becomes an empty-nester, her individuality comes to the fore and other roles can be more easily expressed.
With that said, the name “Eve” suggests that her main identity was that of a mother. Indeed, the relationship that defined her was that with her children and not with her husband. To emphasize once again, no longer was her name “Woman,” the wife of Adam but rather “Eve” the mother of Cain, Abel, Seth as well as the rest of her children. Imagine if a man always introduced his wife as the mother of his children and not his wife or “other half.” No doubt, she would feel chagrined. Although her love for her children may not be questioned there would still be a rebellion aroused in her soul at the suggestion that she is a mother first and a wife second. Or imagine if women were primarily valued as mothers and their importance was determined by the number of children she had. Such a value system does not fare well for barren women, widows or even little girls (girls would only have the potential of worth).
Widows in the ancient world were quite often abandoned, barren women disgraced and female infants aborted or killed through infanticide. A letter written by Hilarion to his pregnant to his wife Alis in the year 1 B.C. included this admonition: “If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it!”
“He shall be your master” are words that marked that left deep wounds upon the female gender. This was the world before Christ.
In brief, we cannot forget childbearing pains. “The man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have produced a man with the help of the LORD.’" (Genesis 4:1) But for every new life that comes into this world the mother will have to suffer. The words, “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing” have echoed throughout time. Sex would come at a higher price for women than for men. Perhaps, this is why for women sex is more personal and more integrated with life than for a man. Men can afford to compartmentalize sex. But women cannot.
However, men got theirs (i.e. pay back) when God required Abraham and every male of the Old Covenant to be circumcised. Mind you, for grown men this was a painful procedure which resulted in a flu-like sickness for two or three days. The Lord has his way of evening the score.
5. Plight of Women Symbolized
The Law of Moses required parents to present their new born child with an animal sacrifice to God forty days after his or her birth. But the prescribed ritual was different for female infants than for male infants. He said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites: When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be unclean for seven days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period. On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and then she shall spend thirty-three days more in becoming purified of her blood; she shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled. If she gives birth to a girl, for fourteen days she shall be as unclean as at her menstruation, after which she shall spend sixty-six days in becoming purified of her blood." (Leviticus 12:1-5) The mother was to be unclean and was to purify herself twice as long for a female infant than for a male infant. Now, does this suggest that God loves female infants any less than male infants? Certainly not! It was to symbolize the plight of females before the New Covenant.
Sarah, wife of Abraham, Rachael, wife of Jacob, Hannah, mother of Samuel and so many women lamented to the Lord about the disgrace of being barren. Indeed, they cried out to heaven. Even St. Elizabeth, after she conceived St. John the Baptist, expressed her relief. She said, "So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others." (Luke 1:25) Where did this disgrace come from? We can trace it back to Eve.
The answer to the four thousand year suppression of women would not come from political or social measures. The protest of angry women, much like Margaret Sanger’s feminist movement, would prove quite insufficient. Before the Light of Christ would shine the Morning Star, as St. Louis de Montfort called her, would shimmer in the darkness. Centuries before Christmas night, the following passage from the book of Wisdom pointed to a new beginning: “Yes, blessed is she who, childless and undefiled, knew not transgression of the marriage bed; she shall bear fruit at the visitation of souls.” (Wisdom 3:13)
“If you are delivered of a child [before I come home], if it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it!”
-Letter from Hilarion to his to his wife Alis. 1 B.C.
“The most merciful thing that a family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
Part II: What Mary Meant for Women
1. Mary: The New Beginning
At the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, there is a long lineage of our Lord’s ancestors. Among all of the fathers and sons listed, the names of five women appear: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) and Mary. The four women that precede Mary all have been marked by some imperfection. Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes, Ruth was a Gentile and Bathsheba was an adulteress. Out of the five women, only the Blessed Virgin Mary was found to be “full of grace,” that is, without any mark of imperfection. Implied in Matthew’s Gospel genealogy is that with Mary there would be a new beginning; not just for humanity at large but for women in particular.
As God, Jesus Christ would have the opportunity to create his own mother. Taken on her flesh and dwelling within her womb, it is Catholic teaching that he created immaculately as he did Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Scripture, there are allusions to this effect. When God pronounced his sentence upon the Serpent, he included this promise: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The woman refers to Mary and God had put enmity between her and Satan. Enmity, of course, means having nothing to do with; a total separation. Hence, a chasm would exist between the Blessed Virgin and all contagion of evil.. Indeed, she would be the first person, the first woman conceived outside of Eve’s shadow. In her Immaculate Conception it was if God had taken the womb of St. Anne, Mary’s mother, outside of Eve’s shadow so as to create Mary, the Mother of God, in the brightest of lights. Perhaps, this is why the angel Gabriel declared her to be “full of grace.” Perhaps, this is why St. John, author of the book of Revelation, saw her as being “clothed with the sun.”
The Son of God would use this special creation of his to not only save souls but to restore dignity and status of women. Immediately after having conceived Jesus, Mary went in haste to assist her relative St. Elizabeth in her last three months of pregnancy. Through her greeting, the first graces of the New Covenant given and inspired by the Holy Spirit “Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Luke 1:42) Isn’t it interesting that St. Elizabeth did not say, “Blessed are you among all people?” This would have been a true statement. But she said “blessed are you among women.” This is as if to say, “Blessed are you among Eve and all of her descendants. Yes, among all women who toiled under Eve’s shadow.”
Isn’t it also interesting that St. Elizabeth added, “…and blessed is the fruit of your womb. She could have said, “…and blessed is baby Jesus” or “…and blessed be the child in your womb.” But no, she referred to the unborn Messiah as the “fruit” of her womb. Kind of an odd thing to say! As far as I know, it is not a common expression of among the ancient Jews. The term “fruit,” however, hearkens back to the fruit Eve gave Adam. With the Incarnation, it is Mary who offers the fruit to the Son of God in that she gave him her flesh. She also offers it to the world. The flesh and blood of Christ would be like grapes crushed in the wine-press of suffering. The fruit of the vine, namely wine, would then be consecrated into the blood of Christ at every altar throughout the world.
Jesus referred to his Mother as Woman. This was not out of any disrespect at all. After all, he fulfilled the fourth commandment perfectly. But his mother Mary was to fulfill what Eve lost and that is the dignity and status of being a daughter of God the Father as well as his exclusive possession. Mary was not only the daughter of God but she was a Mother and Virgin at the same time. In Genesis 3: 15, when God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers,” there are some translations which render “offspring” as seed. This was a common translation up until recently. As you know, women do not have seeds. Men do. The seed of Mary seems to prefigure the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. She would be fruitful without the intervention of a man. A kind of independence from man is communicated here. Whereas before men bestowed dignity and social worth to women in the Old Testament. With the Blessed Virgin, it is God taking that initiative. Indeed, what seems so theological and dogmatic, at times unrelated to the real world, had social and political implications for women.
In his public ministry, Jesus had women disciples. His healing and defense of women, both the infirmed and sinners alike, was but an expression and continuation of Mary’s conception outside of Eve’s shadow. It was becoming more evident that the chains had been broken.
2. Women’s New Status:
In the Christian era, women were no longer deemed worthy only through their maternity and dependence on men. Keep in mind that even within Judaism women could be divorced on whim, widows were often left to fend for themselves and women not allowed to those inner precincts of the Jewish Temple. Even up to the time of Christ’s birth, as we have seen, social disgrace was associated with being barren; but not so for a man.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church in those early years inspired vocations for consecrated virgins; now better known as Sisters and Nuns. In fact, St. Paul encouraged women to belong fully to God outside of marriage. He said, “Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do… An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit…She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is…”
St. Paul mentions Christian women, spouses of Christ, who made “their first pledge.” (I Timothy 5:3) This was a pledge of total dedication to the Lord. And as for widows, they were to be given special honor. Both St. James and St. Paul exhort the early Christians to take care of widows. This was the mark of “true religion.” “Honor widows who are truly widows,” said St. Paul, “…Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years old, married only once…”
And as for married women, husbands were to look upon them as Christ did for his Church. Married men were to love their wives as his own flesh. The two, in Christ’s covenant, would become one. Such a union could not be dispensed with on whim. To be sure, the indissolubility of marriage would serve as a benefactor for women for centuries to come. Leaving his wife out in the cold, as was common place in the pagan world, the husband would to have to answer for it: first to the Church and then to God. As a Christian man it was his sacred obligation to protect, cherish and even die for his wife if need be.
As for motherhood, St. Paul taught that what once was a curse, namely, labor pangs and being valued exclusively as a mother would be an instrument of her sanctification, perfection and salvation. As the Apostle wrote to St. Timothy: “She will be saved through motherhood…” (I Timothy 2:15) All of this was made possible by Christ through the instrumentation of Mary.
3. The Real Benefactor of Women:
So there you have it! Eve, the mother of the living, had cast a long shadow over women for centuries to come. The creation of Mary, the Mother of God, was God’s way of binding up and healing the wounds of womanhood.
As for today, modern day feminism claims to be for women. But it is not. It is for liberal or secular women if only they are politically useful. As for the woman or female as such, the feminist ideology has little to offer and its followers have proven to be quite selective as to who they help. More often than not, feminism champions the liberal politician or celebrity. But females in the womb and women who do not subscribe to the feminist ideology have to fend for themselves. No doubt, the campaign for women’s equality had yield good results in the last century. For instance, a woman getting the same pay as a man for the same work has been a worthy goal. The playing field is still not as equitable as it can be.
Nevertheless, what Margaret Sanger’s feminism did was to promise women political and social liberation at the expense of her marriage, her family and her faith. “Against the State,” she exclaimed, “against the Church, against the silence of the medical profession, against the whole machinery of dead institutions of the past, the woman of today arises.” She declared war on those “dead” institutions that elevated her station in society and protected her against the lustful and political whims of men. The women of today, like those under Eve’s shadow, bear a heavy burden. Being a stay-at-home mother is frowned upon. Fidelity to husbands and persevering through difficult marriages is both undermined in our entertainment, in our education and in our courtrooms. But relationships make up for a good part of a woman’s life. If this is not saved, nothing is saved for her.
Who is the real benefactor of women in our world? The fact is that the Catholic Church celebrates saintly women throughout the liturgical calendar. Catholics celebrate and remember female heroine in their worship, readings and imitation. What other religion, ideology or institution does this? Devotion to the Blessed Virgin is among the greatest devotions of the Church. Second to God, second to Christ, she is given honor. And it is through her maternal love that women are conformed into the image of Christ.
Margaret Sanger’s feminism has given women the illusion of power but has left her female followers destitute. This ideology has led them right back into Eve’s shadow, which still exists. With that said, Mary, also known as our Lady of Fatima, said that her Immaculate Heart will triumph. Eve’s shadow will be forever dispelled and with Christ, Mary will win.