Monday, October 15, 2012

Adam's Rib: an early Irish interpretation

Christ the Second Adam.
Book of Kells.

Sacramentum hoc magnum est! This mystery is profound. So an early eighth century Irish exegete noted as he wrote his commentary on the book of Genesis [Codex Palatino-Vaticanus 840]. The mystery in question was the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam. In setting forth his interpretation of Genesis 2.21-22 our anonymous Irish commentator offered several layers of interpretation, historical, anagogical, and spiritual.

His historical interpretation was as follows,
“[God took one] of the ribs. Why was the woman formed from a rib? For if she were formed from his foot or hand or some other part she would stand in shame before him. Further it shows the greatest love, for the rib is, after all, closest to the heart, as it is said, the rib is the guardian of the heart.”

The point here is two fold, firstly as O’Loughlin notes, according to the Irish interpretation in using the rib God was intentionally choosing it to convey the standing men and women were to have in the others eyes. Eve was taken from Adam’s side so she could be helper and partner, not slave or master. A similar interpretation of Adam’s rib is found in the Irish ‘Book of Adam’,
“From the eighth upper rib of the chest on Adam’s right side Eve was formed to be his equal.”
Secondly the point made in the Irish Genesis commentary is that the rib was closest to the heart and thus points to the intimacy and love shared between Adam and Eve. As an Irish poem in the Book of Uí Maine so nicely puts it, ‘when Adam saw the beauty of Eve, he smiled for the first time!’ (So did I when I first saw Katie!).

From this the spiritual and allegorical interpretation is offered. The spiritual interpretation sees the opening of Adam’s side as parallel to the opening of Christ’s side on the cross. Thus Eve is a type of the Church which is born out of the sacrifice of Christ, the second Adam. Lastly, the allegorical interpretation again parallels the imagery of Adam-Christ and Eve-Church. Just as Adam recognized Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh so this is a foreshadowing of Christ recognizing the church his bride as flesh of his flesh. The ultimate source for this parallel is St. Paul, and the Irish commentary cites Ephesians 5 as its supporting text,

“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body… The two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:28-30, 32–33.

Thus for the Irish, the creation of Eve from the rib of Adam was instructive to the relationship of the Church to Christ, as his beloved, even members of his body, In Carne Una. The mystery is profound indeed. Furthermore, it was seen as having anthropological significance. Eve was taken from Adam’s side, an act that speaks of ontological equality between men and women. This last point would be taken up by Aquinas in his Summa (1a, 92, 3c). The source for this interpretation of Adam's rib ultimately traces back to the early Irish church.

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