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What About Eve?


Aug 29 2013
Somebody’s missing from much of our study of original sin.

As a young Christian woman involved in a research project on the doctrine of original sin, I noticed something was missing. Well, someone.

Eve.

For all the intense theological speculation about the first man that the early Christian church engaged in so regularly, there was little mention of his companion, the first woman. Many theologians, such as St. Augustine, simply ignored Eve. In their treatises and letters, she goes unmentioned. After all, Paul affirmed Adam's sole importance by linking him with Christ in the New Testament—and, more practically, these theologians lived in a time when men held all social and political power.

To the early Christian leaders who were primarily interested in setting out systems of Christological theology for the church, Adam and Christ were the two most important characters in the biblical narrative: the man who took the blame of sin and died and the man who died to take the blame away. Eve, as a woman, was simply not worth mentioning.

That is not to say that Eve was completely ignored, however. Many theologians did address her. Unfortunately, those who did so took an extremely negative view of her, going so far as to blame her for the fall of humankind and the existence of sin. In this view, Eve was easily corrupted by the Devil and, in turn, caused Adam to stumble, as well.

Ancient church father Tertullian, for example, wrote in On the Apparel of Women that women are, through Eve, "the Devil's gateway." He said, "You are the unsealer of that tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of [you] even the Son of God had to die" (my emphasis).

It was this view of Eve, and of women, that became the most prevalent throughout church history.

In the Middle Ages, St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached regularly that Eve was the "original cause of all evil," and that all women share her disgrace.

Even John Calvin and Martin Luther, figureheads of the Protestant Reformation, took a grim view of women: according to Calvin, Eve took advantage of her independence and was therefore "cast into servitude" along with the rest of womankind. Luther called this servitude a "gladsome punishment" when coupled with the "honour of motherhood," as women divorce themselves from the image of Eve and align themselves with the image of Mary, mother of Jesus.

(I do not intend to cast doubt on the work done by these men of the church as a whole. I myself go to Calvin College, a school founded on Augustinian and Calvinist theology, so far be it from me to reject church fathers wholesale based on their characterization of Eve. But it's still worth addressing their views on the subject.)

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