Homily: The Mystery of Adam’s Rib

Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside on 4 October 2015.

There is an echo in the Gospel lesson from the Old Testament lesson. We hear, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus quote from Genesis chapter 2. Jesus says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In this echoing there is well-established teaching on the Sacrament of Matrimony. And yet there is another echo that I would like to guide us. For this past summer, we read Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 5 of the Letter is heard the quote, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,’ and then the writer continues: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” St Paul, then, is pointing us back to the 2nd chapter of Genesis—back to, then, the creation of Eve out of the side of Adam—making, or in a better translation, “building,” Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes of “building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). How the building of Eve might correspond with the building of the Church—this is the profound mystery to which I call our prayer.

Great voices have spoken on this, the mystery of Adam’s rib. Three doctors of the Church invite us to consider through it a mysterious, sacramental, relationship between Eve and the Church. Saint Jerome wrote, “Adam’s rib fashioned into a woman signifies Christ and his Church” (Homilies 66). Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “By this is signified that the Church takes her origin from Christ” (Summa Theologiæ, 1.92.2.co).  And in a longer passage, Saint Augustine wrote, “Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth the blood and water that, as we know, signifies the Sacraments by which the Church is built up” (City of God, 22.17). Out of Adam’s side came Eve. Out of the side of Jesus, the new Adam, came Blood and Water—that is, the Sacraments, and hence Christian life.

And as Christ is the new Adam, Blessed Mary is the new Eve. Whereas Eve is the “mother of the living,” Mary is the “mother of the Church.” As Eve’s sin against God is the basic pattern replicated again and again in the life of the children of Israel and summarized by the Seven Capital Sins, Mary’s “yes to God” is the basic pattern of life for the baptized children of God: “Let it be to me according to your Word.” For “in the scene at the Cross the making of Eve from Adam’s side is repeated symbolically when the new Adam, in the sleep of death, breathes the life-giving breath of the Spirit upon the figure of Mary standing below his opened side” (Lionel Thornton, “The Mother of God in Holy Scripture,” in The Mother of God, ed. E.L. Mascall). Like Mary, we are to orient our lives to the Cross and by God’s grace and by means of the Sacraments flowing from him, say Yes to Him, time and time and time again, each time growing ever-more like Him.

But what of the relationship between Eve and the Church? This word “Adam” is usefully ambiguous. Yes, a particular person—but also universal humanity; human beings in general, made through Jesus the Eternal Word. Out of humanity in general did God form his Church. Of late we have considered the Old Testament doctrine of the Remnant, and we have considered this parish as a “Remnant parish” in light of the collapse of Constantinian Christendom. As we continue to explore how Remnant doctrine might shed light on the Incarnation, our consideration is safeguarded by the fact that Eve, who foreshadows the Church, comes out of Adam, who reflects humanity in general. The two, Adam and Eve, are one flesh, and so humanity and the Church are likewise distinct yet still intimately wedded as one. Despite the difficulties encountered in a hostile secular culture—legal, psychological, and even physical—any notion that the Church must be divorced or separated from human society in a cocoon must be false, for it flies in the face of creation as reflected in Genesis.

May we, the counter-cultural Remnant Church, nonetheless always be joined as one flesh with the concerns, the joys, the sufferings of all human beings. May we grasp an ever-greater sense of our mission and calling to be Christ in this world, perpetuating and extending His ministry, His prayer; yet never to become desensitized to the world, but rather grow in sensitivity, grow in feeling and awareness. Compassion means to “suffer with.” May our compassion be fed by the love of Christ’s Sacraments, which pour out of Him and build us up. And may we remember that to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, ate not two loves but rather are two perspectives upon one love: glorious, profound, mysterious, sacramental.

Image: “La création d’Ève (mosaïques de la Chapelle palatine, Palerme)” is licenced under CC BY 2.0. Resized from original.