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.