Eve: A “Saint” for Our Times
Though Eve is generally not called a saint, nevertheless, she is in Heaven, along with her husband, Adam. They can be found in the Roman Martyrology among the many other Old and New Testament citizens of Heaven. But while most canonized saints are such because their lives provide a standard or “canon” for our lives, Eve helps us by indicating what not to do.
On the First Woman
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Nevertheless, I won’t be the first, nor the last person to offer some reflections on this first woman. I do believe she can help us better understand our own lives and the world in which we currently live.
In Genesis 2 we read how good Eve was for Adam. She is a helper to Adam. She comes from Adam’s very side. She gives joy and consolation to Adam’s solitude as he rejoices “this now is… flesh of my flesh.” And Eve is described as so valuable that the man will actually leave his parents in order to join himself to her. In chapter two, Eve is described as all good. She is just like the rest of God’s all-good creation, but she is even more special because she is “bone of Adam’s bone.” We might think this glowing evaluation of Eve was her own take on the relationship.
When we get to Genesis 3, we get a totally different picture of Eve. And it’s not all good. Sometimes, when speaking to spouses, it seems as if they are not describing the same relationship. There is the husband’s point of view and then there is the wife’s point of view. Sometimes it is hard to believe they are speaking about the same relationship. Perhaps the picture of Eve, in Genesis 3, was from Adam’s point of view. For Eve is blamed by Adam for his fall. She also ends up speaking a whole lot more than Adam. And she got into quite a lot of trouble with what she said to the serpent. I think there is a lesson in here…something about modesty in speech?
The Subtle Serpent
The third chapter of Genesis opens up with the serpent. He is described as subtle or crafty. The Hebrew root for “subtle” is the same Hebrew root which described the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the previous verse. In English, this Hebrew root means, “to be bare.” Therefore, the subtle serpent is linked to the vulnerable bareness of the first couple. Furthermore, other creatures were like the serpent in being subtle, but the serpent was “more subtle” or more crafty than the other creatures. Because the serpent differed only in degree, and not in kind, from some of the other creatures, this would make it more difficult to differentiate between the serpent’s subtleness from the subtleness of the other creatures.
When the serpent enters the conversation with Eve he begins by asking a question, “Why has God commanded that you should not eat of every tree…” By asking this question, traditional Catholic commentators suspect the serpent already had knowledge of Eve’s thoughts or inclinations. Eve resonates with the question and goes on to believe the serpent’s lies. St. Augustine believes that in order for Eve to actually believe the apparent lies of the serpent, she must have been already inclined to be deceived due to “the love of her own independent authority and a certain proud over-confidence in herself.” Perhaps this self-absorption inhibited her from realizing that there was an obvious problem with a serpent that could both reason and speak to her.
Back in Gen. 2:15, God had commanded Adam to “dress and keep” the “paradise of pleasure.” Eve certainly would have known of this command given to Adam. Now the Hebrew behind the second verb, “keep” means literally to “put a hedge about.” In other words, Adam was commanded to guard and to protect the garden. However, from what we know of the sacred text, Adam was not told from what the garden needed protecting. God had declared in Genesis 1 that His creation was “all good!” From what, therefore, did the Garden need protection?
In the Garden
“And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good” (Gen. 1:31). There was no perception of evil in the Garden. God even saw that “every thing that creeps on the earth” was good. How easy it must have been to wrongly trust one of God’s seemingly good creatures like a creeping serpent. Therefore, faced with the dilemma of trusting one of God’s good creatures whom Eve could see, versus trusting God’s commandment which she did not directly hear, she did what every sinful creature that was born from her does: she went with what she could see with her own eyes instead of what God had spoken in her mind.
For ancient peoples, the lower bodily part of man’s nature, his sensuous part, was termed serpent-like. When things were going well in the Garden, the higher spiritual nature ruled over the lower. But when Eve let her sensual nature rule her judgment, it was the serpent that was speaking to her.
Eve responded to the serpent’s question for why God prohibited the eating of every tree, but she got the reason wrong. She added to God’s prohibition to eat of the fruit of the tree in the midst of paradise by saying: “and we should not (even) touch (it).” We might be tempted to think, in dealing with God, being more strict is better. But both Deut. 4:2 and Apoc. 22:18-19 state that adding (or subtracting) to the Word of God will result in being removed from the “Book of Life.” The scrupulous, in their pride think exactly the same way. They add to what God requires thinking themselves superior to the subtracting lax tendencies of everyone else. “Pride goes before destruction” (Prov. 16:18), and by wrongly adding these limiting words to what God had commanded, Eve made herself even more prone to the craftiness of the serpent. Eve was no longer on the solid ground of exact truth. She could be more easily “sifted as wheat” by Satan (Lk. 22:31).
The Temptation of Eve
The serpent is now prepared to lay his hand bare (pun intended). He contradicts God: “No, you shall not die the death” if you eat of this tree. If scrupulous adding to God’s commandments leads to despair in making their fulfillment more difficult, as in a one-two punch, the serpent now introduces the way out of despair through presumptuous laxity. “Don’t worry… the consequence of dying that you fear is not real.” Once the fear of God was removed from Eve’s soul, her sensuous serpentine nature took over. Eve saw 1) that the tree was “good to eat;” 2) it was “fair to the eyes;” 3) “delightful to behold.”
Eve “saw”—meaning understood for herself—the tree was good to eat. Eve was brought to rely fully upon her own judgment. Thus, original sin originates not only from man’s un-subordinated sensual nature, but also from private judgment. Private judgment is the cornerstone of all heresy, especially Protestantism and liberalism.
Naturally, then, as Eve was Adam’s helpmate, she gave the seemingly “good fruit” to her husband and that was the beginning of the end of this “paradise of pleasure.” Adam’s disobedience, aided by Eve, is the essential act that constitutes the “Original Sin.”
Eve’s Lessons for Us Today
Let us draw two lessons from what “saint” Eve can teach us today. The first lesson that Eve can teach us is the constant need that we have to be vigilant to avoid disobeying God’s commandments. We can now understand that Adam (and Eve) were supposed to protect the garden from disobedience. And so, we need to be on guard always for the devil prowls around...seeking someone to devour (I Pet. 5:8). When I get into my car my basic operating assumption is, all other cars are being driven either by someone who is having a drug induced psychosis or is just naturally that way.
Therefore, I do not assume they will obey traffic laws and I am always prepared to respond to something going wrong. While living the moral life in a similarly cautious way would not be considered acceptable to many contemporary persons, nevertheless such cautiousness is consistent with the fact that “sin is crouching at the door” much more persistently today than it ever was for Eve’s son, Cain. And so, if innocent and properly ordered Eve needed to be on guard to protect her “paradise of pleasure” from disobedience, how much more do we need to be on guard—we who have lost both innocence and a properly ordered soul.
Another lesson we can learn from Eve is that she didn’t have the faith down pat, as it was needed to be known. If she fell, in part, because of her lack of knowing what God actually said, instead of what she thought He had said, how much more do we need to constantly remind ourselves of the Church’s Faith, especially her doctrine on Original Sin. Our contemporary world is characterized by an amnesia of what Adam and Eve did. This “forgetfulness” was enshrined in the novel theology of many modern theologians, which preceded and influenced the documents of Vatican II and its subsequent magisterial teachings.
Therefore, more so than Eve, we need to remember that like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we are not in Kansas anymore. But not only are we not in paradise, but as long as we still have one foot on this earth (and have not entered the true paradise in Heaven) we need to regard this life as thoroughly impacted by the disordering effects of original sin. Therefore, to avoid going off the straight and narrow path, we cannot expect the happiness we ultimately desire to occur in this life—which will never be again a “paradise of pleasure.” All this-world utopias are from the satanic serpent. We must instead be willing to suffer—to suffer for the true Faith, and for our sins—both actual and original.