This is precisely why the earliest theologians called the girl from Nazareth the second Eve. The myth of the innocent first Mother projects an image of Woman in all her primal power and radiant beauty. Eve was at once imperious and innocent, stupendous and simple. She was the Queen of Eden and the girl next door. If we were to meet Eve we would meet a woman who held in herself the monumental innocence of nature—as majestic as a mountain and as tender as a rose; as splendid and fragrant as the snows of the Himalayas and as joyful and free as a month old lamb.
When the theologians of the second century called the Virgin Mary the second Eve they were implying that by a special act of God she had been created without the usual tendency to choose evil. This freedom of choice gave humanity a second chance. In the primal myth the first innocent woman said “No” to God and “yes” to herself. The girl of Nazareth was a new chance for humanity to say “no” to itself and “yes” to God. Mary’s innocence and purity were of the same order as Eve’s. In her, virginity is not just a physical fact, but a metaphysical truth. In her, creation was fresh and new again, and because of this seed of innocence the opportunity was given for every morsel of creation to one day be born again.
You might imagine that such total innocence and goodness would make Mary a sort of Galilean wonderwoman. It’s true that her innocence was extraordinary, but it was also very ordinary. That is to say that while it was momentous it did not seem remarkable at the time. There is a curious twist to real innocence. It is summed up by the observation that what is natural is not unusual. If a person is innocent, then they are as they should be. There is nothing bizarre or eccentric about them. There is therefore nothing that calls attention to them. Innocent people are at home with themselves, and no one is out of place when they are at home. In the countryside Mother Nature is invisible. In the same way Mary was not noticed in Nazareth. Because she was totally natural she did not stand out. Mary fit in because she was simply and wholly who she was created to be. Because she was perfectly natural she was perfectly ordinary. Therefore she was both as marvelous and as unremarkable as a morning in May. Meeting Mary may have been like seeing that Raphael Madonna. On the surface it is a charming picture of a Mother and child. Look more closely and those who have eyes to see may just glimpse the magnitude and the mystery of God becoming man through the womb of a woman. Likewise meeting Mary may have been like meeting any other woman, and only those with the vision of a mystic would have sensed the extraordinary truth expressed in this ordinary girl. This secret lies at the heart of Mary’s purity, and it is this purity which makes her both invisible and invincible. Like a spy who “sleeps” in an enemy land, Mary fit in. This simple naturalness is the secret of her purity that proves such a powerful secret weapon against the pride of the world.
Locked in that small Cowper Madonna is the natural innocence of Mary, and this simple innocence enabled her to be submissive to God’s will. This is the little point of the fulcrum on which the world turns, and it is the point at which we can turn our world upside down. Can you see the revolutionary principle locked in this young woman’s decision to be submissive to God? In our day we howl at the mere idea that we ought to be submissive to anyone, and to suggest that a woman be submissive is to express a heresy that makes you ripe for burning. But let us stand that on its head. We assume that it is natural to be willful and to assert ourselves, but if there is a creator, then surely the natural thing is for all things to fit into their proper place in the natural order. To do this one must find one’s rightful place and be submissive to the natural order. Therefore, if Mary was as natural and innocent as a morning in May then she must have been submissive to God because submission to God is the natural, wholesome and ordinary state for a human being. It is pride and self-will which is strange and twisted—not submission.
Thus Mary’s response was revolutionary; for in a world of rebels, the one who submits is subversive. Mary’s total acceptance of God’s will turns the world upside-down and points to a new way forward for humanity: a way in which purity replaces pride. This kind of purity is actually power because it aligns its own limited power in perfect harmony and co-operation with the One unlimited Power of the Universe. Mary’s pure submission to the Divine Will points to possibilities for us. If we align ourselves to the greatest power that exists we become agents of that power in the world in ways we could never expect. To say “Thy will be done” therefore, is an exercise both in weakness and ultimate power. In admitting our weakness we open the door to God’s power. When Mary heard the words, “With God nothing is impossible” she plunged into a concept with everlasting and portentous potential. She embraced the exciting and frightening reality that she lived in an open universe; a universe where it is possible to align oneself with a Will that is forever surprising and subversive; a Will that is itself a magnificent and mighty blend of purity and power.
C.S.Lewis observed that at the end there will only be two kinds of people—those who say, “Thy will be done” and those who say “my will be done.” With Eve we may say “My will be done” or with Mary we may say “Thy will be done.” As it was in Eden so it was in Nazareth, and as it was then, is now and ever shall be. We have a choice between our will or God’s will. We can choose all that is twisted and tiny and tainted or we can choose all that is natural, enormous and innocent. Like Eve and like Mary we have been given free will. We can choose freedom or we can use that free will to choose slavery. We can limit ourselves to our own ever-narrowing will and so choose a downward spiral of impurity and impotence; or we can align our will to the Divine Will and be caught up in an upward spiral of purity and power that has no boundaries and no natural end.