She Shall Crush Thy Head

 New Eve

inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem
et semen tuum et semen illius
ipsa conteret caput tuum
et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius

God said to the serpent:
‘I will put enmities between thee and the woman,
and thy seed and her seed:
she shall crush thy head,
and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.’
Genesis 3, 15 {DRB}

Initially, a Hebrew epicene personal pronoun may have been used in the Protoevangelium (First Gospel) in Genesis 3:15. [1] This pronoun (hūʾ) has only one form to denote either male (hû) or female ( hî ) in the singular: He or She shall crush thy head, and thou shall lie in wait for his or her heel. In the Catholic tradition, the woman and her offspring are associated. It is not only the woman but also her child who is at enmity or opposition with the serpent and its offspring: sinful and wicked humanity. Thus, from different theological perspectives, the woman or her offspring can be seen striking at the head of the serpent in collaboration with each other in their respective roles. [2]

St. Luke presents both Mary and Jesus to be equally “blessed” (euologemene /eulogemenos) by having absolutely nothing in common with Satan and his works: sin and the corruption of death (Luke 1:42). For this reason, Mary is elevated above all women, including Eve, by her association with Jesus in undoing the consequences of the fall of Adam and Eve. The Mother and the Son are equally blessed by having been set apart by God and consecrated to Him for undoing what the serpent started at the beginning (Gen 3:14).

Then Uzziah said to her, “Blessed are you, daughter, by the
Most High God, above all the women on earth, and blessed be the
Lord God, who guided your blow at the head of the chief of our enemies.”
Judith 13, 18

Since the Protoevangelium has a dual subject (He-She) in the original Hebrew text, the male or female or even the plural rendering of the epicene pronoun is acceptable according to one’s theological perspective. The Latin translation of the Hebrew female pronoun (ipsa) espoused by St. Jerome in his composition of the Latin Vulgate points to the vital role God granted Mary in His plan of salvation, brought to complete fruition by the final victory of her Son over the serpent and its seed: sin and death. The female rendering of the neuter pronoun does not denote a final victory attributed to the woman. It was God who directed Judith’s blow against Holofernes, which saved her people from imminent slavery and destruction, just as it was God’s grace that preceded and prompted Mary to pronounce her Fiat at the Annunciation and fulfill her commitment to the Divine work of salvation by giving birth to the Messiah and enduring sorrow at the foot of the Cross to temporally appease God for mankind’s sins.

In like manner, Mary victoriously crushes the head of the serpent by collaborating with God in bringing the Messiah into the world through her act of faith in charity and grace so that He may save humanity from the ravages of sin and impending death: eternal separation from God. The woman God refers to in His exchange with the serpent is not Eve, but a woman whom He promises will vindicate our fallen primordial mother by her act of faith.

That the early Church interpreted Genesis 3:15 this way and perceived Mary to be a second Eve is evident in the apologetic writings of St. Irenaeus (189 AD). The Bishop of Lyons bears testimony to the Apostolic Catholic faith: “So, if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God, in this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve” (Against Heresies, 5:19:1). This interpretation of the woman in the Proto gospel makes more sense in Christian thought, seeing that Jesus is the Son of Mary, who vindicates our fallen primordial mother by her obedient act of faith in charity and grace.

In classical Jewish theology, the woman is seen to be Daughter Zion and her offspring: the righteous remnant of Israel, including the Messiah, through whom people of all nations shall come to know and accept God and be redeemed of their sins upon his appearance at the end of this age. [3] At any rate, the Latin reading ipse (he) would directly announce the final victory the woman’s offspring achieved without necessarily excluding the essential part she had to play in humanity’s redemption in collaboration with him.

St. Paul tells us that all members of the Church crush the Devil’s head by their perseverance in faith: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). In the order of grace, Mary is the pre-eminent member and prototype of the Church, for it was by her salutary act of faith in charity and grace that her Divine offspring came into the world to save humanity from its sins and restore it to the preternatural life of grace. All who are baptized can strike Satan’s head each time they resist his temptations and observe the will of God with the help of His grace (Jas 4:17). As the Blessed Virgin Mary is a moral channel of grace, she is united with all her Son’s disciples in their battles with the dragon through her prayerful intercession in Heaven (Rev 12:17).

Thus, the reading “she” (ipsa) does not equate Mary with Jesus by coordinating her merits with his. Indeed, the final victory over Satan and what he has managed to work for humanity exclusively belongs to her Son in strict justice (meritum perfecta condigno) because of his divine nature and equality with the Father. His work of salvation was a theandric act. Yet, theologically, the female reading is acceptable from a correct point of view. Depending on what one wishes to emphasize, either the woman or her seed can be said to crush the serpent’s head. This isn’t an either-or but a both-and proposition. Mary crushes the serpent’s head by her supernatural merits (meritum de congruo) or right of friendship with God in cooperation with divine grace in and through the merits of her divine Son, who is the principal source of all saving grace.

God chose to become incarnate to reconcile the world to Himself. Still, it was by Mary’s meritorious free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour in alignment with God’s will that the Incarnation happened according to His righteous design. In their respective roles, Jesus (hu, ipse) and Mary (hi, ipsa) crushed the serpent’s head together in accord with the Divine initiative. Christ redeemed the world in his humanity by serving as a ransom for sin paid by his blood, which he should receive with divine necessity only by Mary’s act of faith working through love in collaboration with the Holy Spirit.

Although our Blessed Lady was only a finite created being, unlike God, who is infinite and uncreated, she could merit the Incarnation for her and humanity. This was because she acted in a state of sanctifying grace. In this state of grace, she partook of the divine life of God, sealed with the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:4; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:13; Phil 2:13; 1 Jn 3:7,10, etc.). Raised and transformed in her human nature, by which she could merit nothing from God apart from His efficacious grace and sharing in the supernatural life of God in His grace, God honored her Fiat. Mary acted understanding and seeing with God’s own supernatural vision, and she loved with His own infinite and burning supernatural love in the depths of her soul, which was infused with His sanctifying grace (Lk 1:46).

In Elizabeth’s declaration of praise, “Blessed (eulogemene) are you among women,” the perfect passive participle is a Hebraism meaning “most blessed among women” or “blessed above all women” or Eve (Lk 1:42). We have an example in the following passage from the Hebrew Old Testament.

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

“Blessed of women shall Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed above women shall she be in the tent.”
– Judges 5, 24

The second clause qualifies the first clause. The expression “blessed of women” implies Jael is blessed above all other women because of her singular deed in collaboration with YAHWEH. And how is it that Jael is supremely blessed?

She put her hand to the nail and her right hand to the workman’s hammer,
and with the hammer, she smote Sisera; she smote off his head
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
– Judges 5, 25-26

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Catholic scholars and apologists in favor of Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Old Testament inform us that the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo (c. AD 40) preferred the hi, ipsa reading, having argued from the Hebrew poetic technique known as parallel poetry (chiasmus). This form of poetry comprises three-quarters of the OT, mainly in the Book of Proverbs and the Psalms. Genesis 1:1-2:3 is chiastic in its structure as well. Although the Book of Genesis is a historical narrative written in prose, parallel poetry (expressing one idea in two or more different ways or the idea of one line following the concept of another) is a literary technique used when recording a spoken prophecy. Genesis 3:15 is the first Messianic prophecy found in the Bible, and it was pronounced by God Himself. Let us examine some examples of this literary device in the OT to see how concepts and ideas are structured to parallel each other in single passages. The verses below are taken from Hebrew Parallelism by Jeff A. Benner. [4]

Here, Psalm 15:1-3 and Isaiah 6:10 are broken down into their poetic sequences. Each thought is represented by the letters A-D. Each expression of thought is defined by the numbers 1 and 2.

A1. Lord, who may [dwell] in your [sanctuary]?
A2. Who may [live] on your [holy hill]?
B1. He whose [walk] is [blameless]
B2. and who [does] what is [righteous]
C1. who [speaks the truth] from his [heart]
C2. and has [no slander] on his [tongue]
D1. Who does his [neighbor] no wrong
D2. and casts no slur on his [fellow man]
[does no wrong – casts no slur]

A. Make the [heart] of these people [fat]
B. and make their [ears] [heavy]
C. and [shut] their [eyes]
C1. lest they [see] with their [eyes]
B1. and [hear] with their [ears]
A1. and [understand] with their [heart],
and return and be healed.

Now, in Genesis 3:15, a couplet (distich) parallels the following couplet:

A1. I shall put enmities between [thee] and the [woman]
B1. and between [thy seed] and [her seed]
A2. [She] shall crush [thy head]
B2. and [thou] shalt lie in wait for [her heel]

We see that line A1 corresponds with line A2 and B1 with B2. The “woman” in line A1 refers to “she” in A2. Thus, to make the subject of line A2 “he” (ipse) or “it” (ipsum) and to say it relates to the seed in line B1 is obviously bad Hebrew poetry. Clearly, the “he” or “it” readings ruin the synonymous parallelism of this verse, and so are more likely to be at variance with the author’s intention. Jerome consulted with eminent Jewish scholars while translating Hebrew into Latin in a monastery he had founded in Bethlehem. So, he could have considered this literary device when choosing pronouns.

The following pattern disrupts the rhythm of the verse by making an abrupt switch of focus between subjects:

Your seed/her seed
He (It) shall crush your head/you lie in wait for his (its) heel.

In the sacred text, it is the woman who is in enmity with the serpent, while the woman’s seed is in enmity with the serpent’s seed: wicked humanity. If we accurately observe the parallelism here, we should reasonably conclude from the first enmity announced between the woman and the serpent that the subsequent pronouns refer to the first protagonist, the woman, and the first antagonist, the serpent. The pronoun ipsa thereby refers to the female protagonist who, because of the serpent’s antagonism and her opposition against it, victoriously crushes its head by her obedience to the will of God and in collaboration with Him as His “fellow worker” (1 Cor 3:9).

A radical shift to the woman’s seed certainly does violence to the rhythm of the passage from a literary perspective, though theologically, there is no conflict. As previously pointed out, the woman could be said to have crushed the serpent’s head by her act of faith since it resulted in her giving birth to the offspring who would achieve the final victory over it by destroying its dominion on earth. Mary crushed the serpent’s head in collaboration with her divine Son in concurrence with the graces he merited for her by his passion and death. And the merit of the temporal satisfaction our Blessed Lady made to God for the world's sins received its worth from the eternal satisfaction our Lord had made to his heavenly Father.

Still, our Lord’s eternal expiation should be completed by the obedience of a promised woman and virgin who, not unlike Eve in the fulness of grace and the state of innocence, vindicates the primordial mother of all the living by untying the knot of her disobedience while never having fallen from his grace (Lk 1:28). Eve received her name after her fall from grace. She was no longer called “Woman” once she lost her innocence. Jesus addressed his immaculate mother, Mary, as “Woman” in allusion to the enmity his heavenly Father had put between her and the serpent in the wake of Eve’s transgression.

And the dragon was angry against the woman:
and went to make war with the rest of her seed,
who keep the commandments of God,
and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 12, 17

In Genesis 3:15, God is speaking to the serpent about Eve’s transgression, which draws our attention to her moral contribution to the fall of mankind (Adam). It’s only reasonable, therefore, that our focus should be kept on the female protagonists in this drama and how it unfolds in the restoration of mankind through the moral contribution of the woman whom God promises will undo what the serpent started by tempting Eve. The serpent aimed to ruin all that was good in God’s creation by targeting Adam, but it was through his helpmate, the Woman, that it brought about Adam’s fall from grace. The serpent did not speak to Adam and tempt him directly but allied with his wife to entice and join her in their rebellion against God.

The Woman, therefore, must vindicate herself by opposing the serpent. Still, this can only be accomplished by the woman whom God has promised shall conceive and bear the Messiah by her act of faith so that he may restore what Adam brought about by his sin. The Fall of mankind from God’s grace was accomplished by Adam alone. So, the Blessed Virgin Mary opposes the serpent in her covenant with God, while her offspring, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is in enmity with the serpent’s works: fallen mankind or Adam and creation. Christ (the second Adam) accomplished redemption and mankind’s reconciliation to God more than enough but with his faithful and obedient “helpmate” who remained true to God in her covenant with Him. 

The Woman and her Offspring allied themselves against the serpent to undo the sins of Adam and Eve, who were created to give spiritual life to their offspring before the Fall. And ever since our Lord rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven to take his seat at the right hand of God, the serpent or dragon has been at enmity with the Virgin Mary and her spiritual offspring in their daily spiritual combat with him. The actual graces her children receive through her prayerful intercession are the armor they must wear in their battle with the foe.

St. Luke does draw a parallel between the Virgin Mary and Daughter Zion in her Canticle of Praise (Luke 1:46-49) by referring to the prophets Isaiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah and the Psalms (Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 9:9; Zephaniah 3:1415, 20; Psalm 102:13; 126:1-3; 147:12-13). The Ecclesia in apostolic time acknowledged Mary as the new Eve and the anti-type of Daughter Zion because of her Divine Maternity, which she acquired through her salutary obedient act of faith. Her divine motherhood would be redefined at the Cross to include redeemed humanity, especially all her Son’s faithful disciples, her spiritual offspring (Jn 19:26-27).

Eve is the mother of all Adam’s fallen descendants. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of all the new Adam’s regenerated offspring restored to the life of grace with God. Mary crushed the serpent’s head by undoing Eve’s disobedience through her obedience to the will of God. Thus, she is the mother of righteous offspring because of her righteousness in God’s grace. Eve remains the mother of unrighteous offspring, her firstborn son Cain being a murderer, because of her transgression and fall from grace, which led to her expulsion from Eden.

So, then, who are the offspring of the serpent? We find the answer summed up in 1 John 3:10-12: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. This is the message you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another, not like Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother Abel. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” The seeds of the serpent, therefore, are people who possess the disposition of the Devil. They are consumed by pride, jealousy, and malice towards their neighbor and loathe what is righteous. And not unlike their progenitor, they hate God and all his righteous children, even to the point of persecuting and putting them to death because they bear witness to the truth against them.

In the apostolic age, [Pope] St. Clement l (AD 98) exhorts the faithful not to conduct themselves in the manner of the serpent’s offspring: “Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil speaking, all abominable and impure embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable adultery, and execrable pride. ‘For God,’ saith [the Scripture], ‘resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.’ Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words” (Epistle to the Corinthians, 30).

How long wilt thou be dissolute in deliciousness,
O wandering daughter?
For the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth:
A woman shall compass a man.
Jeremiah 31, 22

Of all human creatures, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most perfect “portion of the Holy One” clothed with “concord and humility,” graced with temperance and charity, and pure in heart. Rather than being proud, boastful, and judgmental, she was meek and poor in spirit. She “stood far off” from the prince and spirit of this world. The angel Gabriel came to Mary since she had “found grace with God” (Lk 1:30). The Annunciation wouldn’t have happened if she had possessed the disposition of the serpent and heeded its words as Adam’s wife and helpmate had. Mary had to have no affinity whatsoever with the dragon and be completely unlike its offspring if she were to crush its head in collaboration with God for the world’s salvation.

The virgin spouse of the Holy Spirit was “a garden enclosed” and “a fountain sealed” (Songs 4:12). Not unlike the virgin bride of Christ, which is the Church, pure and unblemished in her faith by the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary stood on a rock beyond the Devil’s reach. The serpent could never slither into the garden of her soul, which proclaimed God’s glory and through which the Messiah shone forth as the world's light. The gates of Hell could not prevail against the blessed mother of our Lord. Meanwhile, it wasn’t the Devil whom Jesus and the prophets before him were at enmity with, at least not directly, but rather the serpent’s offspring – that “brood of vipers” who acted as his advocates (Mt 23:29-33).

Finally, John envisions the dragon waiting for the Woman to give birth to her Son. But he is snatched up to his throne in Heaven before it can devour him, as the Woman keeps waging war against the dragon with her other offspring – those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus Christ. It is she, the Virgin Mary and spiritual mother of all the living, whom Satan is in enmity with because of her dual maternity. By her faith working through love, she gave birth to the Messiah and, from the same womb, regenerated humanity for persevering in faith beneath the Cross, thereby crushing his head. In other words, the serpent could no longer boast before God because of its victory over Eve. Mary’s moral participation perfected and completed God’s plan.

Yet our Blessed Mother’s pierced Immaculate Heart shall finally triumph at the end of time, leaving the Devil to carry the weight of his humiliation for all eternity. Only an innocent woman who never fell from grace could shatter his pride once and for all. If the Virgin Mary hadn’t crushed the serpent’s head with her immaculate foot, not only would it hold a trophy or prized possession for all eternity, but she – the woman – would be in enmity with it forever. [5] The Fall would never be finally and fully resolved. The redemption could not be a perfect and complete reciprocation of what had transpired in the Garden of Eden.

And you, O tower of the flock, the hill of the daughter of Zion,
to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come,
kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem.
Micah 4, 8

Early Sacred Tradition

“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.”
St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100
[155 AD]

“Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord,
your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ …Thus, the knot of Eve’s
disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in
unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:22:24
[inter AD 180-189]

“These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the
world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of
mankind — words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and
wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, “I will put enmities between
you and the woman, between your seed and her seed” — taught that by this divine
prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of
God was clearly foretold That his most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was
prophetically indicated, and, at the same time, the very enmity of both against the
the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between
God and man, assumed human nature, blotted the handwriting of the decree that
stood against us and fastened it triumphantly to the cross, so the most holy
Virgin, united with him by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him
and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent and most completely
triumphed over him and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”
Pope Piux lX (Apostolic Constitution)
Ineffabilis Deus
[8 December 1854]

Salve Regina

Notes & Sources

John Emerton,  Studies on the Language and the Literature of the Bible ( Boston: Brill, 2015) pp. 136-144. ” See Chapter 8: Was There an Epicene Pronoun hūʾ in  Early Hebrew?: “The  Pentateuch differs  from  the other  books  of the  Hebrew  Bible in  that  the third-person  feminine  singular personal  pronoun  hî ʾ is  regularly  written  (apart from a few exceptions) with the consonants of the masculine form hwʾ, although a Qere perpetuum indicates that it is to be read with the vowel î. The old  theory  that  the  pronoun  hûʾ was  originally  used  for  both  masculine  and  feminine  has  been  generally  abandoned  by  scholars,  chiefly  because  different forms for the two genders are found in cognate languages and in Hebrew itself  outside  the  Pentateuch  (with  only  a  handful  of  exceptions),  and  it  was  thought unlikely that Hebrew in the Pentateuch was exceptional in this mat-ter.  It  was  therefore  generally  agreed  that  the  use  of  hwʾ for  the  feminine  in  the Pentateuch is secondary, and that it was based on a manuscript in which the  pronoun  was  written  hʾ for  both  genders  (although  the  masculine  and  feminine forms were pronounced differently)… The view that early Hebrew had an epicene pronoun hūʾ has, however, been revived by Gary Rendsburg in a form that avoids a major difficulty of the older form of the theory.” 

2 The English translation of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) by the Jerusalem Publishing Society has: “they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel.” 

3 The Hebrew word translated as “offspring” or “seed” (zera) in Genesis 3:15 is a collective noun and is grammatically masculine. Since it is a collective noun, zera takes the singular male pronoun standing in its place. Theologically in a Jewish context, therefore, this is a reference to the righteous descendants of the woman or Daughter Zion who metaphorically embody all true Israelites in the spirit or righteous offspring of Eve.

See the article About Hebrew Parallel Poetry called Chiasmus, by Jeff A. Benner at the Ancient Hebrew Research Center available online.

5 Gary G. Michuta, Making Sense of Mary (Wixom: Grotto Press, 2013), Chapter 3, pp. 55-60. See the co-relation between Christ’s “superabundant victory and the perfect redemption” which requires Mary’s moral participation in God’s perfect plan for the fall to be entirely reversed in its major and minor incidents.

Ad Caeli Reginam