Illustrious Women of the Bible
By: Bernard O'Reilly
The first chapters of Genesis, like the ocean have been sounded and searched from the time of Moses, by the most serious seekers after truth, as well as by shallow and reckless adventurers. The Hebrew Talmudists, the fathers of the early Christian Church, and the leading minds of modern ages, have alike been persistent in their endeavors to wrest from these awful Scripture septs the mighty secrets with which they are pregnant. Nor has the resul, so far, been unsatisfactory to the most enlightened scholar or the most devout believer.
Just as every minute fragment or infusorial shell, brought up from the sea-bottom by the patient hand of the investigator, serve to connect thel ice with which the waters are teeming in our day with the life that filled them in the remotest periods known to science; just as the ooze adhering to the sounding-rod helps the geologist to ascertain the material forming the present ocean-beds, and to predict therefrom of what strata future continents may be composed: even so do the successive, thorough, and reverent investigations of inspired history reared the labor of the student.The try origin of things becomes more certain in the light of God's word, the first stages of life on our glove are laid bare, and the Almighty hand is discovered laying the foundations of the world, and directing its moral destinies with a perfect unity of purpose through all ages known to man.
The very first pages of that book, dear alike to the Hebrew and the Christian, to the Synagogue and the Church, describe the privileged condition of her who was "mother of all the living." An imperfect knowledge of her history, or the erroneous notions of early education, leave n many minds the impression that Eve's agency in the fall canceled all her claims to our filial regard, and left room only for just resentment. But a more careful study, and a fuller acquaintance with the sentiments of the Church, fill us with tender sympathy and veneration for our first mother.
Fairest of all God's works, created last of all, and within the earthly paradise, and amid the mystery fraught with most precious instruction, she was not only denoted with every natural perfection suitable to her quality of parent and queen of all humanity, but was, like Adam himself, exalted to the rank of adopted child of God.
This expression amazes: its sound conveys to the mind the idea of a dignity and a glory so far above the level of human thought and aspiration as to be unreal and delusive. Yet this reality is first and last and middlemost in the divine economy.
the fall of our first parents is a familiar dogmatic fact in every Christian household. But how can we understand the fall, unless we have measured the height from which they fell?
While we are studying the personal history of our first mother on this mountain of paradise, we are gathering light and strength for a further ascension: presently, from beneath the fatal tree on another mountain-top far away, on which stands another Eve, beneath another and more memorable tree.
What, then, is meant by this doctrine of the divine adoption? Simpliy this: that God was not satisfied, when he called man into being, with bestowing on him all the perfections and graces which we conceive as belonging to his nature and adoring it, with subjecting to this superior being all the brute creation, and assigning to him a sphere of moral duty based on the essential laws of his nature, and to be rewarded by an immortality of real though merely natural felicity hereafter.
He raised man - man perfect in mind and body - to his own level; proclaimed him before the entire host of heaven as his adopted child, truly and really as such; imposed on him, in this elevation, the law of higher aims in his actions, of divine generosity in sentiments, of godlike virtues in his relations with his fellowmen; and assigned to him as his final destiny the clear, unclouded vision of his own being, a share in his own interior life, and eternal fellowship with the three infinite Persons into which the unity of the divine nature overflows.
The grace of exaltation means not only the bestowal of a divine rank, with its rapturous hopes and eternal prospects: it means that, with the gift of supernatural justice and holiness, God communicated his own Spirit to be in intimate and perpetual relation with the soul, and, by dwelling in it, to be the very principle of its godly life. With this indwelling of the Spirit came to the soul a flood of gifts and energies that it is well to appreciate, if we would have a true insight into the very constitutive elements of the supernatural order as it existed in the beginning, and was restored in Christ.
The "Spirit Creator, then, which was communicated to the soul in the divine adoption, not only raised it to that nearness to God, and familiar intercourse with him, but imparted to every one of its vital forces a new and extraordinary power. The mind of man was filled with the gift of wisdom, which enabled him to read God in all his works, and to behold the unseen and the eternal behind the thin veil of the visible and temporal. He "filled them with the knowledge of understanding. He created them in the science of the spirit. He filled their hearts with widow … He set his eye upon their hearts, to show them the greatness of his works" (Ecclus. xvii. 5-7). In natural and supernatural knowledge, as well as in the power to do easily all godlike deeds, the Creator spared them th slow processes of acquisition. They were enabled both to know and to do, from the first hour of their creation, what is only the result of long striving in the ordinary course of life. They received what theologians call the "infused habits" of all intellectual and moral virtues, with the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost.
The mother or maiden who reads this page may apprehend its meaning, if she will recall to mind how long it takes to acquire any accomplishment, or the habit of practicing with facility any one needful virtue. What labor and perseverance it takes to sing or play at sight the most difficult music, to manage the painter's brush, the sculptor's chisel, the harm or the organ, so as to make the use a pleasure, and not a labor! These are examples of the pure intellect, what years of patient training are necessary, even in those who are the best endowed by Nature, to master with almost instinctive ease the most abstruse problems of science, or to see with the glance of intuition what untrained taken can only discern after diligent and patient research! Now, God can bestow at once on any or every faculty of the soul the power which is only acquired by protracted labor; and this power is termed an "infused habit," because it is a vital force imparted instantaneously by the Creator, enabling one to accomplish with instinctive and unconscious facility what could, in the ordinary course, be done only after long habitual effort.
Thus holy person are said to be "led by the Spirit of God," because, without having learned, they seem to know intuitively things far above the reach of human ken. St. Ignatius Loyola is thus said to have declared, that although but a rude, unlettered soldier, he had learned more by one hour of prayer in the Cave of Manresa than all the doctors of the schools have taught him in a lifetime (Hare, "Wanters in Spain," pp 26,27). And thus we meet frequently with persons of no education whatever, but of eminent humility and piety, who have acquired, by communing with God in prayer, a deep knowledge of divine things, an unearthly wisdom, and a preternatural facility of practicing the most sublime virtues. Their souls are obedient to the light of the indwelling Spirit, and follow his impulses whithersoever he would lead them.
So was it with newly created man. God, in adopting him, had done for him what no human parent can do for the child of his adoption, - infused into his soul his own sanctifying Spirit. With this original justice and holiness were united, as integral parts of a supernatural star, and appendages of a godlike condition, the perfect subordination of the inferior or sensitive faculties of the soul to the reason and the will, and, in the body, the subjection of sensuality to the control of the spirit. No revolt of the senes, such as we have to blush for our fallen state, could ever occur in the human frame, so long as man remained obedient and faithful to his bountiful Maker. Besides, the same special care of the God two whom he was ever so near, preserved that frame from pain or decay, or the infirmity of age. It was in man's power never to die, and to pass from the bliss of his state of trial to the incomprehensible ecstasy of the beatific vision without the bitterness of death.
"God created man incorruptible; and to the image of his own likeness he made him; but, by the envy of the devil, death came into the world" (Wisdom of Solomon ii. 23,24).
But we must not anticipate. The Eternal One, then, to whom a thousand or a thousand centuries are but " as yesterday which is past, and as a watch in the night," had been for cycles of uncounted ages preparing our earth as a dwelling-place for this new king, whose noble nature placed him a little beneath the angels, but whose exaltation to a supernatural destiny made him their equal, and the envy of some among them. The inspired writer relates how man, soon after his creation , was transferred to a choice abode, a paradise, or garden of delights, which was to be, in the divine plan, the cradle and nursery of the race of its innocence, so long as its period of probation lasted. This abode he had to guard and cultivate. All that it contained was assigned to his use, save one tree and its fruit. This was forbidden him; and the prohibition was to test his obedience toward his bountiful Provider, Maker, and Parent. It was designated as "the tree of knowledge of good and evil;" not that the natural taste of its fruit could perfect the intellect, or bestow superior knowledge, but that the sinful use thereof would be followed by a sense of guilt so bitter and so keen as to open the eyes of the transgressor to the difference between lost innocence and nearness to God, and the degradation entailed by sin, and the separation from the source of all good.
"As God had built the world for man" (says Lactantius), "so did he make man for himself, that he might be the high priest of this divine temple, the attentive beholder of his works here below, as well as the heavens above him. He alone is gifted with sense and reason, enabling him to understand God, to admire his works, and clearly discern the greatness of his power. Wherefore he alone was endowed with a resigning mind, and with a tongue capable of expressing its every through, that he might thus proclaim the divine Majesty." Scarcely, however, has he been placed over his blissful abode, when we hear his Creator say, "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." Follows a passage full of deepest significance. He who in its elevation to a divine rank, free-will, manifests his wish that man should freely love, and freely take to himself, the helpmate about to be provided for him. then the Author of life brought in succession to Adam "all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air," in pairs, "male and female" as he had made them. "And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field; but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself."
"There is a divine lesson, too, in the fact that "but one woman was created for the first man: the whole race has thence to learn that the happiness of parents, the union and honor of families, the proper education of children, the peace of the domestic hearth, and the well being of public society, were all to rest on conjugal unity."
We are literally walking here upon abysses of truth deeper than those of the Atlantic or Pacific. St. Thomas Aquinas will have it, that it was due to the dignity of our great first parent, that his companion, and the mother of the race, should spring from his own substance, in order that, by being thus the principle and well-spring of human life he might be more like to God, who is the principle of all created things. Moreover, this unity of substance would be for Adam a powerful incentive toward loving with undivided love her who was a part of himself. There is a divine lesson, too, in the fact that "but one woman was created for the first man: the whole race has thence to learn that the happiness of parents, the union and honor of families, the proper education of children, the peace of the domestic hearth, and the well being of public society, were all to rest on conjugal unity. Corelius a Lapide gives a further reason. As in the unfathomable mystery of God's won interior life, we know that the Father brings forth eternally the Son as a most perfect image of himself, and from them both proceed the Holy Spirit, the living love of the Trinity, so did he, in the beginning of human history, produce Adam like a loved son, and from Adam formed Eve as the substantial love of our first parent.
There is a memorable passage in Tertullian, in which he compares god, while forming the body of Ada,, to a sculptor lovingly set his heart. So God, as he shapes every line of beauty in the first human frame, contemplates the body of the second Adam, Christ, which is one day to be the prince of our ransom on the cross. And to Tertullian's thought this much may be added, - that the divine Workman, as he mounded from Adam's side the companion whose need his heart so deeply feels, looked forward to that other dam, whose body, in his own good time, he was to fashion from out the virginal substance of Mary, and to that other moment when that blessed Mary's body should itself be formed with a beginning as privileged, and free from stain, as the origin of the first Eve. For is not the second Eve to be the mother of true life, and a "helper" to her Son from the manger to the cross?
When Adam appeared as the last of the works of God, St. Clement says, that the beauteous world recede its most beauteous ornament in him who was (insert greek here, sorry no greek characters available). What must have been Adam's rapture after his late loneliness, and when, waking from his sleep, he saw by his side, presented by God's own hand, the fulfillment of all his desires, - that lovely being surrounded with the halo of her innocence, and whose beauty outshone what was most fair even in paradise!
"And Adam said, This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because whew as taken out of Man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (that is, the two thus united shall thenceforth be as one substance, one heart, one love, one life, one undivided existence). The last verse is attributed by Christ (Matt. xix. 5) to God himself, who, it is generally understood, placed the words on the lips of Adam as a prophetical utterance, and a divine ordinance regarding the unity and sanctity of matrimony.
Thus we are contemplating at thievery cradle of humanity the two first sovereigns, divinely appointed, of the whole earth; while the immediate presence of the Creator makes the spot on which we stand in spirit the holiest of sanctuaries.
Eve, in every natural and supernatural excellence, was her compainon's equal. Of the knowledge, not acquired by toil and experience, but poured into his soul from the foundation-head of the truth, Adam had previously given a sample in naming appropriately every inhabitant of earth and air collected around him by the Creator. This same knowledge was communicated to Eve. She was destined to be, with her husband, the teacher of the entire human family, and their teacher in things divine, as in inferior matters. To them God revealed - such is the common opinion - the principal mysteries relating to his own nature. Like the angles, our first parents during their period of trial had to practice the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. They had to believe in what they saw not, and could not understand; to hope for the sure attainment of that other life, where clear vision would be the reward of faith, and sure possession the crown of hope; and they were to love, with a love string on its divine object a price beyond and avow all finite good, that its divine object a price beyond and above all finite good, that Infinite Perfection and Loveliness, whose bosom was one day to be their eternal home. In that love was to be blended as integral part the strong love for their offspring, down to the last-born, with all the sweet and ever active charities that make society on earth the image and foretaste of the society of the blessed.
To these exalted beings, God had appointed guardian spirits from among his own faithful hosts' and this was meet. For, in fulfilling their ministry toward man, angles were serving adopted children of their common Maker and Lord' and, moreover, in them they ministered, in anticipation, to Christ and Christ's spouse, the Church. The angels witnessed the blessing bestowed so solemnly on the pair, the injunction to taste not of the forbidden tree, and the dread penalty that should follow the transgression. But there were fallen angles too, enemies of God and man.
Not unworthy of a great Christian poet is the parting admonition of the archangel to our favored first parent: -
"Be strong, live happy, love! But, first of all,
Him, whom to love is to obey, and keep
His great command. Take heed lest passion sway
They judgment to do aught, which else free-will
Would not admit: thine, and of all thy sons,
Would not admit: thine, and of all thy sons,
The weal or woe in thee is placed: beware!
I in thy preserving shall rejoice,
And all the blessed. Stand fast: to stand or fall,
Free in thine own arbitrament it lies.
Perfect within, no outward aid require;
And all temptation to transgress repel."
"O woman! best are all things as the will
Of God ordain'd them: his creating hand
Nothing imperfect or deficient left
Of all that he created, much less man,
Or aught that might his happy state secure
Secure from outward force. Within himself
The danger lies, yet lies within his power:
Against his will he can receive no had,
But God left free the will; for what obeys
Reason is free; and Reason he made right,
But bid her well beware, and still erect;
Lest by some fair-appearing good surprised,
She dictate false, and misinform the will
To do what god expressly hath forbid.
Seek not temptation then, which to avoid
Were better, and most likely if from me
Thou sever not: trial will come unsought."
"Now the serpent was more subtle (cunning) than any of the beasts of the earth which the Lord God had made." By a mysterious permission, frequently instanced in Holy Writ, Lucifer, as well as his fallen angels, has the power of taking possession of the bodies of animals, and even of man, and of using the organs thus usurped for his own purposes.
The Arch-fiend assumes the serpent's form, and, after long watch, finds Eve gazing curiously at the fair tree, and the tempting fruit that she may not taste. It is a weakness of which her foe takes instant advantage. The Hebrew and Chaldaean texts make him say, "Is it indeed true (ape ki) that God hath given you command that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?" He does not, as in the Vulgate, ask why God has done so; but proceeding more cautiously, and without abruptly questioning the right of God to impose the prohibition of his creatures, he seems to inquire about the mere existence of the prohibition. Eve, already warned, should have now been doubly so, on hearing an animal use articulate speech. Curiosity, which has led her into a first imprudence, causes her to fall into a worse. She answers, that god has indeed imposed one limitation on the use granted to herself and her husband and of all the fruits in paradise. She even exaggerates the terms of the command, by adding, that they were not so much as to "touch" the tree, whereas they were only forbidden to "eat" of it' and she seems to throw in a doubt about the certain data throated as a penalty, "lest, perhaps, we die."
The rest is soon told. But pause we for a moment beneath the shade of that goodly tree; and, at the feet of her who is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, let us reflect on the single command imposed on our favored parents: it is one of abstinence. And abstinence - to refuse eye and ear and taste and hand what appetite craves - is still the law of life for the nations. It is by ministering to sensuality that the devil reigns over the bodies and souls of men. Attend well to the way in which he approaches the soul. A question is always the warning hiss of the serpent: "Is it indeed true that God forbids?" Or "Why hath God commanded?" The soul that once deliberately repeats to herself the question, or allows herself to doubt the expediency, the justice, or the necessity of the prohibition, is already lost. Doubt opens the door of the house to evil: vanity, appetite, ambition, rush in, and overpower the will already turned away from God.
"No, you shall not die the death,'" The Tempter replies. "For God doth know, that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened; and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." It is both the law and the Lawgiver that are not arranged and made odious. "And the woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold; and she took the fruit thereof, and did eat, and have to her husband who did eat." The threatened death did not instantly visit the transgressor; and she is thereby emboldened to bear the fatal fruit to Adam. The Hebrew, Chaldee, and Septuagint indicate that Eve ate again with her husband as if to encourage him to fear no punishment.
His act consummated this primal offense. He was the heat of the race: from him was derived all human flesh and blood, since from his substance Eve herself was formed. In him, then, at the moment that he sinned, we were all included. Had he stood faithful to his Maker in the lofty rank to which he had been raise,d we should have all stood in him: when he fell, in him all humanity fell. The stream of human life, thus stained with guilt in its very fountainhead and origin, must continue to flow polluted down the ages, till one sprung from Adam, but greater than hem shalom but the application not his own blood, enable every descendant of Adam to be born anew, and this time of the blood of God.
So, then, most true are the words of Ecclesiasticus (xxv. 33): "From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die." The "beginning" was indeed from her; but the consummation was from her husband: "By one man sin entered into this world," "in whom all have sinned." Hence, too, "one man" had to die, that all might live.
This offense, this fall, and the moral ruin it entailed upon the race, do not constitute a mystery so inscrutable, but that our reason, aided by the light of faith, can perceive how just are the consequence and the penalty attending on the transgression.
Adam (and in him the whole race) forfeited his supernatural rank, with all its privileges, and its right to a supernatural heaven, to the eternal society of God and his angels. He also lost the priceless ornaments of supernatural virtue that graced every faculty of his soul, as well as the extraordinary exemptions from sensuality, disease, and suffering attached to his sinless condition. Nature, though suddenly and rudely precipitated from her sublime and blissful elevation, was neither destroyed, nor deprived of any of her essentials. In the sudden revolution that took place in man's condition, Nature was wounded and weakened by being suddenly stripped of the divine ornaments of grace; but she remained Nature none the less, and in possession both of her native powers and of the free-will that regulates their exercise.
When the husbandman in Lombardy weds the vine to the elm, the two become so closely united, that they seem one body, enjoying one common life; the tree sustaining its weaker companion, the vine gracing with its festoons and rich clusters of delicious fruits the majestic trunk and wide-spreading branches that support it. Let some enemy come, and kill the vine, or tear it down from trunk and branch: the elm will lose an ornament, and its members may be lacerated by the violent separation; but it will still remain a lordly tree, with its own distinct life and unimpeded vital currents flowing from the trunk to the extremities of its pendent spray.
Fallen from a height which was not due to his natural merits, or along whose level nature could not have traveled unaided,man, though sorely bruised, wounded, and weakened, and placed, moreover, beneath the providence of a justly offended God, do not lose the fatherly care of that God. He who had made Adam knew of what dust he had formed him, knew that he had been seduced into evil by the envy of heaven's great foe, and that his judgment, by "fair-appearing good surprised," and his unwise affection for his companion, had conspired in him to
"Misinform the will
To do what God expressly had forbid."
The Judge has summoned the guilty ones from the covert whither shame had driven them.
"He came, and with him Eve, more loath, though first
To offend; discountenanced both and discomposed:
Love was not in their looks, either to God,
Or to each other but apparent guilt
And shame, and perturbation and despair,
Anger and obstinacy, and hate and guile."
Pass we rapidly over the ensuing scene of mutual recrimination in that dread Presence, and at the very moment when sincere self-humiliation, candid confession of guilt, and heartfelt appeal to the supreme Mercy, could alone have pleaded in abatement of the coming sentence.
No word of malediction falls from the Father's lips upon either culprit. Adam stands there but to foreshadow Him who is to expiate all upon "the accursed tree;" and Eve, disobedient, only recalls to the divine Mind that mother, all humility and obedience, destined to stand beneath that bitter tree, and receive form it on her bosom the "fruit of life," and there treasure it for the healing of us all.
The serpent is accursed, or, rather, the old curse pronounced in heaven on the Arch-rebel, the ancient, liar, and slayer of souls, is renewed on him who lurks beneath the serpent's form, with the addition that he, proud spirit as he is, must continue to dwell within that beastly thing, crawling along the earth, and feeding upon its inanimate clay, till death releases the animal from thralldom to the fiend.
But there is still heavier punishment reserved for the Evil One, who had triumphed in the thought of frustrating the divine plan through the fall of Eve and her husband. There, on the very spot where God holds his first court of justice on earth, the Seducer is forced to listen to the earliest record prophecy of Redeemer and Restorer: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she (or it or he) shall crush they head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel."
Between evil on the one side, impersonated in the serpent (with all who down to the final judgment-day, will continue the Devil's work), and on the other this woman, who brought death into the world, and her daughter Mary, the mother of the true life, and their great son JEsus, through whom both Even and Mary shall crush the serpent's head, there is to be undying hostility. The triumph of evil will be arrested on the cross by "the Blessed Seed;" and a new order of things, a new kingdom of God, will be there inaugurated. But the serpent will lie in wit for the woman's heel. Woman's share n expiation of past guilt, or in co-operation with God in overthrowing the designs and works of the Evil One, can only be at the price of being stricken in her weakest part, - in her heart's dearest affection. She shall suffer her best beloved. Eve, within a few years, shall behold her eldest-born slay his brother at the altar on which is offered up a spotless lamb, - the figure of Him who is there before, called "the Lamb which was slain from the be inning of the world" (Apoc. xiii. 8). And from the foot of that altar, where the blood of the victim is mingled with that of the priest, an uninterrupted track of blood (that of beasts offered up in place of guilty man, and that of innocent and holy men immolated by the wicked in hatred of God) marks the pathway of humanity through the ages, down to that altar-tree of Calvary, where the woman "blessed among women" stands, mingling her tears with the blood of her son, "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world."
Of these two great mothers of the human family, and of all who are to share with them in the labor of reparation, and of building up the kingdom of God in men's souls, one law is to be predicated, - abstinence, self-abegation, self-sacrifice.
This, in some one degree or another, was to govern the future life of Eve during the long centuries of her exile, as well as the life of every one of the line of true women, whose names stand like beacon-lights in revealed history, till the apparently withered stem of Jesse and David blossomed, and bore MARY.
Our first mother had found it hard to refuse her appetite the taste of one forbidden fruit amid the boundless store provided for her by the Almighty hand. During the seven or eight hundred years that she is to witness on earth the good and evil deeds of her progeny, one lesson she must inculcate on every child of hers, - that moral strength consists in tasting not, touching not, where to touch is to defile, or to taste is death; and that true heroism consists more in suffering evil than in doing good; true merit in sacrificing one's own darling inclinations more than in offering up choices victims; and the highest moral perfection in seeking God's interest by benefiting human souls. If the true woman who reads this page will compare Eve's single recorded fault with her long centuries of magnanimous suffering, and preserving endeavor to repair the evil she had done, the comparison may lead her to pity, rather than to blame, to admire where many have despised, and to find in the after-life of our common parent many heroic qualities well worthy of the imitation even of her Christian daughters.