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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

The woman's perception of conception

There now appears very early on a tradition of understanding conception, not as unrelated to the fact of the sexuality of the man and the woman, but a perception of the fact that human life is conceived 'with the help of the Lord.'

' Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord"' (Gn 4: 1 ; and cf. also 4: 25).  In other words, while the narrator says that Adam 'knew' Eve, a knowledge of Eve which in this case is through intercourse427 with her, Eve's perception is of the fact that God has helped her to conceive.  This does not mean that she did not realize the connection between intercourse and conception.  For note precisely that connection each time Eve says this (ibid); and that in due course the related natural facts begin to emerge and to be identified (cf Gn 18: 11).  Thus this perception of the woman pertains in a particular way to a mystery inscribed428 within the natural process of human generation.

This wisdom of the woman is repeated and deepened in the words of the Mother of seven martrys: "I do not know how you came into being in my womb.  It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you.  Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws" (2 Mac 7: 22-23).  On the one hand this is an understandable admission of how ordinarily we are ignorant of what is generally hidden from our sight; however, this woman nevertheless perceives in the tradition of biblical culture in such a way as she confirms and develops the insights of it.  For the three things which she does not know correspond, as it were, to the three expressions of the creative act of God which is indicative of the action of the Blessed Trinity from the beginning; and while one does not wish to impute to her the perception of God as the Blessed Trinity, yet one can say her threefold ignorance is more knowledgeable than it first seems.

Her first perception is that she does not know how her son 'came into being' in her womb (2 Mac 7: 22).  This echoes the coming into existence of creation itself: a coming into existence which is particularly the work of God the Father; and should we think we overestimate what she has said she later says: "I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.  Thus also mankind comes into being' (2 Mac 7: 28).  Now the context of this woman's words is the torture and death of her sons.  Therefore her thoughts are on the possibility of the power of God to give back to them the life they have given up for him (cf. 2 Mac 7: 23).  Thus she is not just thinking about the mystery of their conception from the point of view of what can be naturally known (cf. 2 Mac 7: 22 and 27), but from the point of view that these facts of her motherhood have revealed a great mystery to her: the mystery that at the beginning of each one of us and at the beginning of mankind, God's act of creation is an act which makes to exist what did not exist.  For it is this power of God to bring into existence what did not exist, which is the basis of her confidence that God can give back to her the sons to who's death she is now witness (cf. 2 Mac 7: 29).  In other words, this mother realizes that only a power as great as that which can create out of nothing, is a power which can give back life after it is lost through death.

This woman's second perception is that: 'It was not I who gave you life and breath ...' (2 Mac 7: 23).  Thus again she speaks from within the biblical tradition of the connection between 'life' and 'breath' and the power to animate with life and breath is the 'divine wind' (NJB Gn 1: 1).  However, it may be that her distinction between life and breath is in fact a distinction between the two works of the Holy Spirit.  On the one hand the Holy Spirit animates all creation and in that sense makes it to live, and on the other hand God gives the breath of His Holy Spirit when He gives spiritual life to a human being (cf. Gn 2: 7).  It is striking, too, that when the Lord gives life to the dry bones in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, it is in connection with the breath that he does so: 'I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live' (Ex 37: 5).  In this famous 'prophecy of the resurrection'429 it is possible to see that the fullest definition of life for the Scriptural author is the life of the resurrection.

Thirdly, she says: nor was it 'I who set in order the elements within each of you' (2 Mac 7: 22).  She has seen that the creation of human life establishes a pattern that then unfolds, to use a word which Pope John Paul II uses when he says: 'Before creating man, the Creator withdraws as it were into himself, in order to seek the pattern and inspiration in the mystery of his Being, which is already here disclosed as the divine We'430.  It is this order and pattern which is as it were the trace of the Son.

Furthermore, she speaks in such a way as to make one wonder if she knew that God created Adam and Eve at once body and soul, man and woman (cf 2 Mac 7: 28).

The narrator's perception of conception in what is otherwise called
The First Book of Moses431

The woman's perception of the 'help of the Lord' in the conception of a man is complemented by the different perspective of the man; however, the two perspectives are pointing in the same direction and as it were focus on one reality.

'This is the book of the generations of Adam.  When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.  Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.  When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth' (Gn 5: 1-3).

The narrator perceives the history of the family of man through the male line in so far as the genealogy which follows at this point is in terms of a principal son (cf 5: 6-32) and the fact of other sons and daughters (cf 5: 4, 10, 13, 19, 23, 26 and 31); but it is also and quite clearly a perception of the continuity of the mystery of the beginning, in that the language in which Adam's son is said to be 'in his own likeness, after his image' is a language which unashamedly repeats, reinforces and reveals the force of the expression that 'God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them' (Gn 1: 28).

Finally, in time a man will come to say things in almost the same way as the woman.  'When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!"  Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, "Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?"' (Gn 30: 1-2).  And in time and not without much suffering God listened to Rachel's desire for a child 'and opened her womb' (Gn 30: 23).  Thus Rachel herself comes to see that God has helped her to conceive a child (cf. Gn 30: 23-24).

In conclusion, what emerges from this is the overwhelming perception of these people that the conception of a child is as it were principally an expression of the power of God, precisely because it involves a mystery of creation that is beyond the power of man (Gn 30: 2).

427 Cf. DOB, page 485: Know, Knowledge.    Back
428 Cf. LTF, art 9, pages 9-11.    Back
429 Cf. TC, Vol. III, on The Creative Action of the Divine Spirit, Gen. aud. Jan 10, 1990, page 157.    Back
430 LTF, art 6, page 6.    Back
431 RSV Ca, page 1.    Back

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