“I will put enmities between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed. She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel.”
— Gen 3:15 (Douay-Rheims)
These prophetic words of Our Lord uttered at the dawn of history, words which have retained their force down through the centuries, give us a first glimpse of God’s wonderful plan of salvation for mankind. We see that this plan involves a “Woman”—not just any woman, but the one whom the Church recognizes as the Mother of our Savior. It is this Woman who, together with her Offspring, secures an everlasting victory over the ancient serpent, the devil. Not everyone accepts this interpretation of Genesis 3:15, and yet the testimony of the Church and of so many of her saints cannot simply be ignored or dismissed.
In the early years of the fourth century, St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.) recognized the responsibility of scientists. In Book Five of his Confessions, he criticizes them thus: “It seems to me that the scientists were able to think clearly enough to form a clear judgment of the universe, even though they could not penetrate through to its sovereign Lord. That is because such men fall into pride. They accurately predict the eclipse of the sun, then fall into a state of eclipse themselves. They neglect to investigate the source of the intelligence by which they conduct their research. So they fail to find him. And if they do find him, they do not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”
As a researcher in the field of the medical sciences, I appreciate how much more true this is today, seventeen centuries later, when the world is witnessing incredible advances in science and technology—including the cyberspace phenomenon—which would have been considered impossible in St. Augustine’s time! Unfortunately, many of them are being used for evil purposes, and some are also causing the loss of numerous souls.
In the 1980s, I read the book, A Doctor at Calvary, written by Dr. Pierre Barbet (1884-1961), a French physician and chief surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paris, who researched the medical aspects of the crucifixion and the actual cause of the death of Jesus Christ. It was a devastating insight and an eye-opener into the extent of the unspeakable and unappreciated suffering, which the “Man of Sorrows” (Is 53:3) endured. This was but one of several factors which inspired me to research more deeply the Mother of the Man of Sorrows (Mater Dolorosa), who was His companion from the crib to the Cross.
Certain bible “scholars” are often dismissive of biblical support for certain truths, but St. John the Evangelist ended his witness with these words: “There were many other things that Jesus did, which, if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not be able to contain all the books that should be written” (Jn 21:25). While God speaks to us first and foremost through the Holy Scriptures, he also does so through the teachings of the Church, teachings of which the faithful are reminded via authentic private revelations. My research on this topic, therefore, included visits to the sites and in-depth studies on many of the approved Marian apparitions and shrines throughout the world. I have also read the writings of some of the great Catholic mystics, who were privileged to have been instructed about the life of Mary through visions and/or by word from her Majesty herself.
The Trial of the Angels
In the Old Testament, we read a passage pertaining to the fallen angels (Is 14:12-15): “How did you come to fall from the heavens, Day Star, son of Dawn? How did you come to be thrown to the ground … You who used to think to yourself, ‘I will climb up to the heavens, and higher than the stars of God… I will rival the Most High.’ What! Now you have fallen to Sheol, to the very bottom of the abyss!” In the New Testament, Luke 10:18 records these brief words of Jesus on the subject: “I watched Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” However, the Bible does not elaborate on the reasons why Satan was expelled from heaven.
One of the many mystics included in my research is the Venerable Mary of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665), a seventeenth century Discalced Franciscan nun who wrote a monumental four-volume history of the life of the Blessed Virgin: The Mystical City of God.1 It is claimed that she also had the gift of bilocation.2 Her writings were approved by Pope Innocent XI, Pope Alexander VIII, Pope Clement IX, Pope Benedict XIII and Pope Benedict XIV.
In 1988, I visited the Convent of the Immaculate Conception in Agreda in the Province of Soria, Spain. The nuns of her Order were expecting me, and I was escorted to a room where I saw her incorrupt body, over three hundred years old. I also saw the original manuscript of her work, in which she recorded in great detail the events leading to the fall of the angels as told to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In Book 1 of the Mystical City of God, Venerable Mary of Jesus wrote that countless angels were first created in the empyrean heavens, in a state of grace, by which they might be the first to merit the reward of glory. They received a more explicit intelligence of the one and triune God. God instructed the angels that they were to adore and reverence him as their Creator. All subjected themselves to this command and obeyed it. In the case of Lucifer, however, his obedience was said to spring more from a sense of overwhelming compulsion than from a loving willingness to obey.
God then revealed his divine plan for the first time, proposing it as a test for the angelic creatures. The angels were informed that he was to create a human nature and reasoning creatures inferior to them. They were told that these were to stand in high favor, and that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was to become incarnate and assume their human nature. They were to acknowledge Him as their head, not only as God, but as the God-man, adoring and reverencing Him. To this command, using their free will, all the obedient and holy angels submitted themselves and gave their full assent and acknowledgement with a humble and loving subjection of the will. But Lucifer, full of envy and pride, resisted and induced his followers to resist likewise, as they did in reality, preferring to follow him and disobey the divine command.3
After it was revealed to the angels that they would have to obey the Incarnate Word, a third precept was given to them, namely, that they were to admit as a superior conjointly with Him, a Woman in whose womb the Only-Begotten of the Father was to assume flesh, and that this Woman was to be their Queen and the Queen of all creatures. He then presented her to them, not in reality, since she did not as yet exist, but in a sign or image. It was a Woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with a crown of twelve stars on her head. This Woman was shown in her condition of motherhood, that is, in a state of maternity. St. John describes this image in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rev 12:1-2). The angelic spirits understood at once the role of this Woman.
The mystic went on to relate that the good angels obeyed this command of the Lord with still increasing humility, praising the powers and the mysteries of the Most High, accepting also the Woman of the sign as their Queen. In disorderly fury, Lucifer and his confederates, however, rose to a higher pitch of pride and boastful insolence. He aspired to be himself the head of all the human race and of the angelic orders; and if there was to be a hypostatic union, he demanded that it be consummated in him: “It is only I who will be like the Most High. All will render me honor.”
Above all, Lucifer opposed with horrible blasphemies the decree constituting him inferior to the Mother of the Incarnate Word. Turning against God in unbridled indignation and calling upon the other angels, he exhorted them saying: “Unjust are these commands and injury is done to my greatness. This human nature which you, Lord, look upon with so much love and which you favour so highly, I will persecute and destroy. To this end I will direct all my power and all my aspirations. And this woman, Mother of the Word, I will hurl from the position in which you have proposed to place her and at my hands, that plan which You set up shall come to naught.”
This proud boast aroused the indignation of the Lord. To humiliate and punish him, he spoke thus to Lucifer: “This woman whom you refuse to honour, shall crush your head and by her shall you be vanquished and annihilated. And if through your pride, death enters into the world, life and salvation of mortals shall enter through the humility of this woman. Those that are of the nature and likeness of this man and woman shall enjoy the gifts and the crowns which you and your followers have lost.” It was then that Michael shouted in response: “Who is like unto God? I will serve.” Then happened that great battle in heaven which St. John describes in Revelation 12. The good angels, led in battle by Michael the Archangel, cast one third of the angelic host down to earth.
Continuing with the account of Venerable Mary of Jesus, after the fall of the angels, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden. Knowing the precepts given to him by the Creator and believing that our First Parents were the God-man and His Mother about whom God had spoken to the angels in heaven before the fall, Lucifer resolved to tempt them. He began with the woman Eve in the hope of attaining his end more surely. Great was his joy when he succeeded in leading her to be disobedient to God. Sin had entered the world for the first time. He glorified in his triumph, thinking that he had thwarted the divine plan for all time. But grief would soon be his when once more he heard this rebuke from the mouth of God himself: “Because you have done this I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head and you shall lie in wait for her heel” (according to St. Louis de Montfort,4 her “heel” refers to her faithful followers). This was God’s first promise to humanity that he would redress the Eden tragedy.
According to the Decree of God
Fr. Leo Clifford, O.F.M. (1922-2012), the highly-respected Franciscan priest who hosted the weekly EWTN series, Reflections, once spoke at length on this subject, quoting Canon Patrick Sheehan (1852-1913), one of Ireland’s most popular writers in his time. Preaching on Our Lady, Fr. Clifford said: “It was decreed by God at the fall of our first parents that their children would have inherited grace and glory if His commands had been obeyed, so, because of their disobedience, their children were to inherit only sin and shame. This law is universal. Not even the greatest saints were exempt from it. Once and once only did God create a soul as pure and beautiful at the moment of its conception as it is now in heaven; a soul to which the Almighty could turn when weary of the deformity which sin has stamped upon mankind.
“It was a time when the fullness of years had come, and it was decreed that the Son should leave the bosom of the Father and take flesh among men. For centuries God had not created a soul in grace. Yes, he had fashioned and formed and sent them into the world, but they were in the power of the enemy before they left his Almighty Hands. And so, the Blessed Trinity fashioned and formed and sent into the world the soul of Mary…
“When the Angel Gabriel left the throne of God and went to Nazareth to invite Mary to be the Mother of his Son, he bowed down before her. This is the girl chosen from all women to give God the color of His eyes and of His hair. She was to teach the Word to speak in her own accent. She was to help the Almighty walk His first baby steps. She was to give Him the Body and Blood in which He would live and suffer and die to redeem us all. The Body and Blood that you and I receive in Holy Communion come from Our Lady. What can we say about her? Words cannot magnify her, whom our thoughts could hardly reach. Our praise of Mary, like our praise of God, should be best embodied in our wonder and our love.”
According to Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater: “In the mystery of Christ, Mary was ever present, even before the creation of the world, as the one whom the Father has chosen to be the mother of His Son in the Incarnation.” And as Conrad of Saxony5 once wrote: “Mary is that being which God cannot make greater. He can make a greater world and a greater heaven, but not a greater mother.” The great Carmelite devotee of Mary, Fr. Cyril Bernard Papali, O.C.D.,6 also said: “God has exhausted His omnipotence in creating her.”
When Mary said “yes” to Gabriel, it was the beginning of the Good News. But it was bad news for Satan. The woman of the “sign” shown to the angels before the fall had consented to be the mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. But she was well-versed in the Hebrew Bible, as exemplified, for example, by her Magnificat, which is a remarkable compilation of Old Testament verses. She knew, therefore, what it meant to be the Mother of the Messiah (Is 7:14). She knew that He would be born of a Virgin (Is 3:14), would have a Galilean ministry (Is 8:12), would be spat upon and struck (Is 50:6), would be disfigured by suffering (Is 52:14), and would be silent before His accusers (Is 58:7).
Knowing all that, and the suffering she would have to endure, she gave her fiat. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived the God-man at that moment. Redemption had begun. And so, with her, in her and through her, the Holy Spirit produced his most illustrious work: the Incarnation of the Word. The hypostatic union, as foretold to the angels before the fall from heaven, was accomplished and fulfilled.
With Mary’s consent two wondrous things happened. A Woman, while remaining a Virgin, became a Mother, and a Woman became the Mother of her own Creator! And so, God so loved the world that he made one of us his Mother! At that moment, Infinity confined Himself in the womb of a mere mortal woman, and the angels gasped in wonderment. She then became the Womb of God, the Temple of the Holy Trinity, the Tabernacle of the Most High, the Ark of the Covenant, or more correctly, the Living Ark of the Mediator of the New Covenant. As St. Paul wrote: “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me. In burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God,” as it is written in the scroll of the book.’” (Heb 10:4-7).
Nine months later, Mary gave birth to the God-man, the second Adam—bone of her bones and flesh of her flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As my dear friend, the late Fr. Michael O’Carroll C.S.Sp., the renowned theologian of Blackrock College in Dublin, Ireland, once preached: “His DNA was totally Marian. He was the first Marian. No human father was involved in this conception. She gave Him His body, the very instrument of Redemption.”
There was no room in the inn, and so Jesus was born in a stable. But where else should a lamb be born, even the Lamb of God? He was born in Bethlehem, and so should it have been. Bethlehem means “House of bread.” The Prince of Peace (Is 9:6) was born, and the angels sang “Peace on earth to men of good will” (Lk 2:14). And from her breasts she gave milk to this “Bread of Life” (Jn 6:35). She then became the Queen of Peace. Significantly, this is the last of her titles in the Litany of Loreto. Perhaps it is of eschatological significance!
The New Eve
Our Lady is hardly mentioned in the New Testament. She is not there, for example, on Mt. Tabor where He manifested Himself in all His glory to Peter, James and John (cf. Mk 9:1-8). That was not her place. She was also not there on that Sunday when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, and the crowd waved palms and shouted hosannas (cf. Lk 19:30-38). That, too, was not her place. However, when all others had fled, on the following Friday there were no pews for that High Mass, and the ewe “stood” at the Foot of the Cross (Stabat mater dolorosa) on Calvary, watching the bloody immolation of her Lamb—the Lamb of God. That was her place.
But whereas on Mount Moriah God supplied the victim, a male sheep (a ram), to be substituted for the sacrifice of Isaac, and thus spared both the life of the son and the broken hearts of his father Abraham and his mother Sarah, on Mount Calvary God fully accepted both the sacrifices and sufferings of His Son and of Mary, not for three hours as some mistakenly believe, but for six long hours (9 o’clock in the morning until 3 o’clock in the afternoon).
Old Testament prophecy was then fulfilled in the New: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? … All who see me jeer at me. They toss their heads and sneer: ‘He relied on the Lord, let him save him! If he is his friend, let him rescue him!’ Yet you drew me out of the womb. You entrusted me to my mother’s breast … I am like water draining away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart is like wax melting inside me. My palate is drier than a potsherd and my tongue is stuck to my jaws … They pierce my hands and feet and leave me lying in the dust of death. I can count every one of my bones, and there they glare at me, gloating. They divide my garment among them and cast lots for my clothes” (Ps 22:1-18). “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22); and after He died she received His body, tattered and torn and swaddled in blood. And how He bled! “I thirst.” He was completely dehydrated.
Words cannot fully describe and adequately measure Mary’s anguish on that day. Perhaps it can be better appreciated if every mother were to contemplate her only son on the cross. Yet, if there were a thousand such mothers standing at the feet of a thousand of their crucified sons, the sum total of their anguish could not in any way measure the pain and suffering of that Mother of Sorrows on that hill on that “Good” Friday.
Over six centuries ago, on May 8-9, 1373, the saintly mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, England (1342-1416), recorded certain revelations7: “I saw part of the suffering of Our Lady Saint Mary, for she and Christ were so joined in love that the greatness of His love caused the greatness of her grief … for the higher, the greater, and the sweeter the love is, so the greater grief it is for those who love, to see their loved one suffer.” Indeed, as Fr. Cyril Papali also said: “Hers was the most spiritual, the most intense and incomparable suffering ever known by a woman, one solitary creature suffering with God, who in turn was suffering for all mankind and from them.”
Holmes Rolston III,8 scientist and theologian, Colorado State University, has philosophized: “Everywhere there is vicarious suffering, and all world progress and history is ultimately brought under the shadow of a cross. The story [of the world], therefore, was a passion play long before it reached Christ and since the beginning of time, myriads of creatures have been giving up their lives as a ransom for many. The ram, for example, which was sacrificed in place of Isaac, and the many lambs immolated in the temple are but some of the many examples in relatively recent times. In that sense, Jesus is not the exception to the natural law, but the chief and highest exemplification of it. It was the martyrdom of the God-man. Creation has known of no greater anguish, no greater suffering, physical, emotional or spiritual.”
God promised that there was to be a new and second Eve, and a new and second Adam (Gen 3:15). The first Eve was formed from the side of the first Adam. The second Adam was conceived in the immaculate womb of the second Eve. The first Eve was proud. The second Eve was humble. The first Eve said “yes” to Satan and sin. The second Eve said “yes” to Gabriel and God. The first Eve was disobedient. The second Eve was obedient. It was the fruit which hung from a tree in the Garden of Eden which was the instrument Satan used to bring sin into the world. It was “the fruit of her womb” (Luke 1:42) who hung from a tree on Calvary, who restored life to mankind. And, so, through the first Eve, death, and through the second Eve, life. Anyone, therefore, who leaves the “woman” out of that redemptive act is only preaching half of Genesis 3:15, half of the Gospel, half of the truth. It was Jesus and Mary. It was the Redeemer and His companion, the Coredemptrix.
“She” Shall Crush
In the Douay-Rheims Bible, the celebrated English translation of the venerable Latin Vulgate compiled by St. Jerome, Genesis 3:15 reads: “I will put enmity between you and the woman; between your seed and her seed. She shall crush your head …” This reading is in accord with Venerable Mary of Jesus’ account of the fall of Lucifer, when she recorded that God said to him: “This woman whom you refuse to honor, shall crush your head and by her will you be vanquished and annihilated…” As St. Louis de Montfort9 wrote: “Satan, being proud, suffers infinitely more from being beaten and punished by a little and humble handmaid of God, and her humility humbles him more than the divine power.”
There have been many theological debates over the interpretation of Genesis 3:15. However, the Marian interpretation of this passage has been expressly upheld by the Church’s Magisterium.10 Translations in other bibles have substituted the word “she’’ with “he” or even “it.” Some have suggested that this variation is an attempt to diminish the important role of Mary in salvific history. (Protestants in general reject the veneration of Mary. They acknowledge Mary as the Mother of Jesus, but consider her to be just an ordinary woman devoted to God.11)
Since the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New (St. Augustine), we see Mary foreshadowed by some of the great women of the Old Testament. Jael, for example, was the woman who grabbed a mallet and drove a hole right through the head of Israel’s enemy Sisera, the Canaanite. Deborah, one of the Judges of Israel, sings in her canticle: “Blessed be Jael among women, she struck Sisera, crushed his head, pierced his temple and shattered it…” (Judg 5:26). Centuries later, Jael’s story is told afresh. Judith (her name means “Jewess”) cut off the head of Holofernes, another enemy of Israel. On this occasion the canticle rings with similar praises: “May you be blessed, my daughter… you cut off the head of the leader of our enemy…” (Jud 13:23-24). Judith was another prototype of Mary.
Indeed, it may be said that Mary crushes the head of Satan by virtue of becoming the “Mother of the Word,” who became the second Adam and who, with her, redeemed mankind. Surely, there is no humiliation if the Word, the Creator, crushed Satan’s head. That privilege which is hers redounds to his eternal humiliation.
In fact, it can be said that the Virgin Mary confirmed that she was the woman of Genesis 3:15 by appearing to St. Catherine Labouré in Rue du Bac, Paris in 1830. The Blessed Virgin Mary showed her a medallion, which we call the Miraculous Medal, but which was originally called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculata is seen with her foot standing on and crushing the head of a green and yellow serpent! Should we disregard this important Church-approved private revelation?
“It was becoming,” says St. Bonaventure, “that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be blotted out and by whom the devil was to be conquered, should never, even for a moment, have been under his dominion.”12 Therefore, she is the one who, in virtue of her eternal enmity with the ancient serpent, and together with her Offspring, crushes his head. So many Doctors of the Church have recognized this power of hers. The Church proclaims it fearlessly. Our Lady herself has reminded her humble servants of her incomparable nobility. And now she awaits the rest of her wayward children to acknowledge her as Queen and take her as their Mother, in obedience to the command of Jesus: “Behold, your Mother!”
1 The Mystical City of God, Venerable Mary of Agreda. Translation from the Spanish by Rev. George J. Blatter, 1914. TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Illinois, 1978.
2 For more information about the remarkable life of Ven. Mary of Agreda, cf. “Venerable Maria of Agreda: ‘The Lady in Blue,’” Missio Immaculate International, vol. 8, no. 6, November / December 2012, 16-19. – Ed.
3 This thesis concerning the nature of the trial of the angels and the resultant punishment of the rebellious angels finds support among many great saints in the Franciscan tradition, including St. Bernardine of Siena, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, and—closer to our day—St. Maximilian M. Kolbe. – Ed.
4 True Devotion to Mary, St. Louis de Monfort, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois 61105, n. 54.
5 In The Glories of Mary. St. Alphonsus de Liguori. TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., Charlotte, North Carolina, p. 325. The quote is attributed by St. Alphonsus to St. Bonaventure, but in light of modern research, the work (Speculum B.V.M.) from which this quote is taken is now commonly ascribed to a Franciscan contemporary of St. Bonaventure, Conrad of Saxony.
6 Papali, Cyril. Mother of God. Mary in Scripture and Tradition. Augustine Publishing Co., Devon, 1987.
7 Revelations of Divine Love, Lady Julian of Norwich, Chapter 18. Dover Publications.
8 Rolston III, Holmes, Science and Religion. Random House, New York, 1987.
9 True Devotion to Mary, n. 52.
10 Cf., for example, the Bull Ineffabilis Deus defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, issued by Bl. Pius IX in 1854. For present-day Scripture scholars supporting the teaching of Pius IX, cf. Sett. M. Manelli, F.I., Genesis 3:15 and the Immaculate Coredemptrix, in Mary at the Foot of the Cross, vol. V, (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2005) pp. 263-322.
11 Thus, Karl Barth, often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century, once stated that “the heresy of the Catholic Church is its Mariology.”
12 III Sent., d. 3, p. 1, a. 2, q. 1, quoted by St. Alphonsus Liguori in The Glories of Mary. St. Bonaventure understood this statement in relation to all actual sin—venial sin and moral imperfections, as well as mortal sin—but its logic leads to include original sin and all taint of original sin as well, a position made explicit by Bl. John Duns Scotus. – Ed.