As part of my reading Advent in Lent, I am now working my way through the readings for Christmastide. As the readings for Lent intensify, it is interesting to pair them with the readings for Christmas: Jesus truly was born to die, and to rise again.
But as part of this, I stumbled upon an interesting quote from Saint John Chrysostom. As part of a reflection on the Feast of the Holy Family, I read,
Why was Christ born of a virgin, and her virginity preserved inviolate?! Because of old the devil had deceived the virgin Eve, Gabriel brought the Good News to the Virgin Mary. Having fallen into the trap, Eve spoke the word that led to death. Having received the Good News, Mary gave birth to the incarnate Word who has brought us eternal life. (Chrysostom, Homily for Christmas)
I must admit that I did a bit of a double-take when I saw the reference to “the virgin Eve.” I did a quick bit of searching, and discovered that in fact this expression was common among the Fathers, with usage at least as far back as St. Justin Martyr. (CatholicCulture.org has a nice list of quotations.) And in fact it gets a mention in the Catechism, which quotes St. Irenaeus:
The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith. (CCC 494)
It is clear reading all of these passages that they are part of a mariological argument: Mary is the new Eve, and they want to extend the parallel as far as possible. This leads to a post facto reading of the Old Testament: Mary was (explicitly) a virgin, and so, therefore, Eve must have been one as well. There is, of course, not a stitch of evidence for or against Eve being a virgin in Genesis, unless one wants to read Gen 2:25, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” as being a Hebraic euphemism for sexual activity. This seems a stretch, though as I have noted before, the Hebrew OT does have a number of very earthy passages. I got this reading from a random website I stumbled upon which was a discussion board for Reform tradition Christians. Read down a bit for their acerbic comments on “Romanism” and “Popish” ideas.
So how important is this reading? What would be lost or undermined by assuming Adam and Eve had a prelapasarian sex life? I think Augustine (or was it Thomas Aquinas) gave this some thought: didn’t he argue that before the fall, Adam only got an erection at will as he was not subject to concupiscence? Moreover, all of these readings take Genesis quite literally, so I wonder how this reading would fare given a more symbolic interpretation to deal with human evolution? Also, to what extent was this reading affected by the (in my view at times obsessive) importance that the Church fathers attached to virginity?
I have no answers, and I am sure that I will think of more questions, but I thought I would toss this out just to see what people thought.