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The Past Her Prelude: Marian Imagery in the Old Testament

St. Augustine said that “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old is fulfilled in the New.” Like other Church Fathers he distinguished between the outer “literal” and the inner “spiritual” meaning of Holy Scripture. And like the others, he often preferred spirit to letter.

The categories into which various Fathers divided the spiritual sense need not concern us here, only their zealous attempts to read the figurative meanings of the Bible. They saw the New Testament foreshadowed in the Old through several devices. Types are persons, things, or events taken as historical (Adam is a Type of Christ); prophecies are predictions (the Messiah will be born of a virgin); and allegories are poetic comparisons, not limited to strict personifications (Holy Wisdom is a gracious woman). Our discussion will move freely across all these categories.

The Fathers saw every part of the Scriptures as linked to every other part. They believed that God had encoded patterns of similarities and contrasts into his Word to produce flashes of illumination. Making cross-comparisons rounds out our picture of what Salvation is–and is not. For instance, innocent, devout Abel is a Type of Christ while jealous, murderous Cain his Antitype.

Mary entered this web of associations early, when St. Justin Martyr (d. 165) contrasted her obedience with Eve’s disobedience immediately after referring to Christ’s symbolic titles in prophecy. His insight was repeated a generation later by St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. ca. 200): “What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.” Thus Mary came to be called the New Eve and the Latin pun Eva/Ave for the reversal entered Christian lore.

Eve is the mother of all according to the flesh, but Mary according to the spirit. As universal spiritual mother and first Christian, Mary is also a Type of the Church, a parallel first noted by St. Irenaeus. Therefore, the same Biblical imagery used for the Church can also apply to Mary: she is the living Ark of the Covenant, the ultimate Temple, the new Jerusalem, and the perfected Israel as Bride of God.

These Old Testament prefigurations are brought forward into the Book of Revelation and amplify the Woman Clothed in the Sun (Rev 12:12), the “great sign” manifested immediately after the scene of the Ark in the celestial Temple. The pregnant Woman’s body carries the Messiah as the Ark once held the Divinely sent Tablets of the Law, Aaron’s rod that flowered, and a pot of manna Moreover, she is also the mother of all Christians. But this Woman flees from the threatening Satanic Dragon, unlike Eve who fatally lingered when the Serpent spoke.

Read more at Catholic World Report. 

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