She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel (Gen 3:15b).
This primordial prophecy of sacred scripture is a word picture that has served over the ages to instill in the hearts of the faithful confidence in the power of the Immaculate Conception. The image of the Woman of Genesis 3:15 with Her foot on the head of the serpent is a source of confidence of countless souls who wear the Miraculous Medal (the Medal of the Immaculate Conception). St. Maximilian called the Medal his Silver Bullet. Indeed it is a visual exorcism over the enemies of faith and charity, because of its reference to Genesis 3:15.
Blessed Pope Pius IX utilized this verse, evincing such a militant and confident spirit, as the principle scriptural text in the bull of definition for the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus.
The verse in its entirety reads: (a) I will put enmities between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed; (b) She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for Her heel. Pius IX, in accord with the received tradition, teaches that enmity exists between the Woman and the serpent only because She is never under His power through sin. The enmity indicates, not only the fact that there is this unbridgeable gulf between the Woman and the serpent, but also that the two are engaged in an unending conflict. In this She is associated with Her Seed, namely, Christ. In fact this association is emphasized in the verse in the way that parts (a) and (b) complete each other. The first part sets up a parallel that is recapitulated in the second.
In part (a) The Woman and the serpent are set in opposition and then likewise Her Seed and the serpent’s seed. In part (b) the Woman completes the relation of opposition by destroying the serpent.
Much has been written concerning the second part of the verse, as to whether it should read He (Christ) shall crush thy head heel or She (Mary) shall crush thy head. (Here is a good argument in favor of the Marian interpretation of 3:15b). Regardless of what conclusions one might come to with respect to the most accurate translation, several things should be noted: first of all, the woman is definitely associated with the Seed in a mutual hatred for the serpent, so much so that promised Redeemer is identified as none other than the Seed of the Woman; secondly, that the logic of part (a) calls for the completion of part (b), so that whether the Woman is mentioned explicitly or not Her collaboration in the crushing of the serpent’s head is at least implied.
For this reason, and because of the Church’s use of the Marian translation of part (b) within the liturgy, we need to be convinced that the image of the Immaculate Conception standing on the serpent’s head tells us something profoundly important. Whether it is the bas-relief of Our Lady on the Medal of the Immaculate Conception (Miraculous Medal) or one of the many painted versions of the Immaculate Conception, like the one of Rubens at the head of this post, one of the identifying features of Our Lady portrayed under this particular title is the representation of Her immaculate foot over the proud and defeated head of Satan.
What this tells us is that Our Lady’s immaculate purity of heart is powerful and victorious. Not only is it beautiful and all-holy, it a sword in the hand of God.
This interpretation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is confirmed and strengthened with the support of the Church’s understanding of Apocalypse 12, another militant passage in which the Woman is pitted against the serpent (this time in the form of a red dragon). In this passage Our Lady is clothed with sun, stands on the moon and is crowned with twelve stars. In some images of the Immaculate Conception of the Imagery of Genesis 3 and Apocalypse 12 are combined, both strengthening the symbolism and using the one passage to interpret the other (as Ruben’s renders it above). This imagery of Apocalypse 12 indicates both a state of militancy and triumph. Our Lady is both suffering here on earth and glorified in heaven. This is because She is the personification of the Church, which is both militant and triumphant. Those of us who still suffer already share in the victory of those who have passed through the veil. This is particularly true in the way in which we participate in the victory of the Woman.
Jesus Christ, our victorious King, has chosen to associate His Mother in His Redeeming work in an absolutely unique way. He created Her immaculate so that She might be the worthy Tabernacle of His presence, and also so that She by worthy to stand by Him at the foot of the Cross and suffer with Him in a way that was meritorious for salvation of all. Our Lord made Her so perfect that Our Lady She possesses a holiness greater than which cannot be conceived. He is so perfect a Redeemer that the most perfect fruit of His perfect redemption is associated with Him in His redeeming action.
For this reason, Satan fears Our Lady. His hatred for Her is bitter but futile, for, as Apocalypse 12 shows us, he is unable to touch either Her or Her child. Our Lady is His humiliation. The Fathers of the Church, interpreting Apocalypse 12 teach that fall of Satan and the bad angels was due to a rejection of the mystery of the Incarnation, especially insofar as it pertains to Our Lady’s Queenship over all the angels. (For a great explanation of this as it relates to the Immaculate Conception, see The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: An Exposition, by Bishop Ullathorne, c. viii, pp. 65-76.)
The last verse of Apocalypse 12 is a synopsis of the whole of sacred history as the ongoing hatred of Satan for the Woman:
And the dragon was angry against the Woman: and went to make war with the rest of Her seed, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (17).
Satan is always standing on the frontier of each human life, seething with hatred for Jesus and Mary and perceiving their image and likeness in us and projecting his hatred for them onto us. He longs to destroy us, but his designs will be frustrated if we are truly the rest of Her seed.
St. Maximilian always counseled his friars and the members of the Militia Immaculatae to make the novena leading up to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception a time to examine one’s conscience in respect to the degree of surrender they had made to the Immaculate. The day of the solemnity was to be the most precious time of grace in which one was to renew their consecration and resolve to live it more faithfully. War is never easy. We should not expect the spiritual life to be anything but constant struggle. Our blessings and consolations will come not in spite of struggle but as a fruit of it.
The spiritual life is a battle. Our Lady is the Immaculate Warrior Queen is the Victrix of Lepanto and of every conflict that threatens the salvation of souls. May we always have confidence in the She who is tota pulchra, all beautiful. Let our confidence be our consolation.
The Immaculate is my source of strength as I battle cancer, Father. I sometimes imagine that Our Lord was speaking from His childhood experience when He told of the woman who sought a lost coin (Lk 15). For I know this: Our Lady kindly and graciously found me, and I will forever be in Her debt. Cheers
I agree totally. Our Lady has done us all a great favor by finding us poor lost souls.
I will remember you at the altar today on Her feast.
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In light of all that I read in this post, as well as the obvious relationship between Gn 3:15 and Rv 12 as directly observed in the text and in Church teachings/Tradition, why do most if not all of the “modern” biblical versions translate Gn 3:15 as “he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel”? This obviously detracts from the importance of Mary’s role in salvation, at least the way I interpret all of this (please correct me if I am wrong). Which translation(s) is correct? The RSV-CE is supposed to be extremely literal but it translates this verse as “he….” as well, noting that the seed of the woman will do the bruising and that the translation of “she” is the result of a copyist mistake. Is there any merit to any of this? Which translation most accurately conveys the true meaning of the original text?
I am not an scripture scholar. I have provide several links above which explain the problem and the relative merits of the various translations (here again, 1 and especially 2). The more modern translations are based on readings from the hebrew rather than from St. Jerome’s vulgate.
Part of what I am saying is that the Marian strength of the passage is not really logically reduced by the masculine translation, though certainly the effect of the change upon the reader does make a difference.
Blessed Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus, for example, argues for the Marian strength of the passage, paraphrasing the Marian translation of the second part of verse 15. It seems to me that the strength of this passage logically stands with or without that reference:
The links I have provided, especially the second one, indicate that St. Jerome’s feminine translation of the pronoun is not the result of carelessness or a mistake, but was deliberate and based on solid reasons. See for example the second link:
Thank you for your detailed explanation and the included links, which I found to be very interesting and informative regarding this matter. I agree with you that the Marian strength of the passage is not reduced by the masculine translation, which is what the RSV notes generally signify, as Mary is still a vital part of the equation. However, I think that the masculine translation can be purposely misinterpreted to support an opposing viewpoint and/or downplay Mary’s importance and overall role in God’s plan for salvation. I also tend to agree with the two citations you noted, and find it unfortunate that most scriptural translations do not support this general viewpoint…but, they also do not relate this verse to Our Lady in the Book of Revelations, which seems to be the result of an entirely different “analytical methodology” than used by early Church Fathers. I tend to read the RSV-CE and Jerusalem Bible, which definitely have a much different viewpoint than my Haydock version of the Douay-Rheims….unfortunately I have a difficult time with reading the DR and usually fall back on the JB which I am not convinced is the best thing to do!! Regardless, it is very interesting how much can be gathered from one line of Scripture!! Thank you again for your reply and for the resources you provided.
You are most welcome.
Yes, unfortunately legitimate scholarship has been used to undermine the faith, by individuals who have chosen to ignore the witness of the fathers and to base their speculation on presumptions that are irreconcilable with the deposit of the faith.
As a final note on this matter, I found a decent website that allows one to view the Douay-Rheims side-by-side with the Clementine Latin Vulgate and Haydock Commentary…you may already be aware of this site but if you are not the link is as follows:
I have the Haydock Bible but the commentary is hard to read due to the small font…but this site allows for easy viewing and also provides a really good search option for study. The Haydock Commentary, in my opinion, is one of the best, and it offers some interesting insight for Genesis 3:15. If you have not read this commentary I think you will like it, as it is supportive of true Catholic Doctrine.
Thank you so much for the link. I have it bookmarked. God bless you.
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