It was the very day of our fall that God said to the serpent, our corrupter: I will put eternal enmity between you and the woman, between race and his; she will break your head.
First, it is unbelievable that God intended to actually judge or punish the visible serpent, an unconscious animal: it is therefore an allegory where the serpent is judged as a type of the devil, of which he had been the instrument. Second, it is meant by the seed of the serpent the liars, of which he is the father, according to the words of the Savior: When he tells lies, he speaks from his being, because he is a liar and a father of lies. Third, by the race of the woman, we must understand that it is one of her race, a fruit from her that will break the serpent’s head. For one can not think that the whole race of women is victorious over the serpent, since there are so many who never recover from their fall. The race of the woman is victorious, as long as there is one of the children of the woman by whom the devil and all his children will be defeated.
It only matters in an old version, that this victory over the serpent is attributed to the woman, and it is she who must crush his head; ipsa conteret. For it is necessary to understand that the woman will win that victory, because she will bring the conqueror into the world. By this means we reconcile the two lessons: that now found in the original, which attributes the victory to the son of the woman, and that of our version, which attributes it to the woman herself; and in whatever way we hear it, we see a fruit out of the woman that will crush the serpent’s head and destroy his empire.
If God had been content to say that there would be an eternal enmity between the serpent and the woman, or with the fruit that she would produce, and that the serpent would get ready from behind and ambush her heel, we would not see the future victory of the woman or her fruit. But since we see that her fruit and she would break the serpent’s head, the victory must remain with our race. Now, surely what this race can say, this fruit, to translate word for word, the holy seed of the woman, we must listen to Paul, to this promise to Abraham: In one of your race, in your son will be blessed and sanctified all the nations of the earth. What the holy Apostle said that it did not: In the fruits that you will produce, your many children; but your son, as in one, and in Christ: non in seminibus tuis, quasi in multis, sed quasi in uno: in semine tuo, qui est Christus.
It is in him that all nations will be blessed: all in one. Thus, in this speech addressed to the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her fruit, is meant that God had in mind only one son and only one fruit, which is Jesus Christ. And God, who could also say, and rather was to say that he would put this enmity between the dragon and the man, or the fruit of the man, preferred to say that he would put it between the woman and the fruit of the the woman, the better to mark this blessed fruit, which, being born of a virgin, was the fruit of a woman. St. Elizabeth also said: blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. So you are, O Mary! this woman who, by your fruit, should crush the serpent’s head. You are, O Jesus! this blessed fruit, in whom victory is assured to us. I thank you, my God, for having thus raised my hopes! And I will sing to you with David: O my God, my mercy! And also: does God withdraw his mercy forever? Will God forget pity, or will He hold his hidden mercies in his anger? No, merciful and good Lord, you could not, if one dares to say it, hold them back, since at the day of your anger, and when you pronounce their sentence on our early relatives and all their posterity, Your mercies must have burst forth, and you must appear a liberator. Therefore, you promised us the victory, and to make it easier for us, you discovered for us the malice of our enemy, saying: You attack him by the heel; that is to say, you attack the human race at the point where it touches the ground; you attack by the feet, that is to say, by the place that supports; you will attack it, not in the front, but from behind, and by stealth rather than by force.
This unhappy spirit attacks us by the senses, by which we connect with the earth, when it offers us sweetness, and it takes man by the weak part. Let us, then, defy our senses, and as soon as they begin to inspire us with some flattering desire, let us remember the snake that arouses them against us.
But here is yet another attack: we believe to be firm on our feet, and that the enemy can not defeat us: I said to myself, in the abundance of my heart, I will not be shaken, and I will never waver. It is then that the enemy surprises me, and that he beats me down. It is then that I must say with David, that the foot of pride does not come to me, that I never rely on my presumptuous confidence, which makes me believe that I have a firm footing, and that he will never trip me up. Put, Christian, your strength in humility: do not rely on your past victories. When you believe yourself to be strengthened in virtue, and able to support yourself, it knocks you down like another St. Peter, by the very fact that you relied on your strength: that makes you say like this Apostle: Me, renounce you? I will give my life for you. Instead of listening to presumptuous courage, acknowledge your weakness; and the enemy will attack you in vain.
But here’s the most dangerous of all his artifices. He will not attack you in front, but subtly, from behind; he will hide his temptations from you: he will inspire you like a Pharisee a false thanksgiving: Lord, he said there, I give you thanks. But it is your preoccupation with your fasting, your pious generosity, your accuracy to pay the tithe of your righteousness, that puts you above other men. He attacks you from behind, and with you in the act of thanksgiving, in this he insinuates the finest pride. He has many other artifices: it is only a gentle discussion he offers you. Is God diligent enough to effective defend against these innocent sweets? I will know how to restrain myself, and I will not let go of my desires. He attacks you from behind, like a clever enemy, he tries to steal God’s march and designs: you will perish, and one after another you will swallow venom.
When you feel him approaching with such insinuations, and so to speak wiggle from behind and around you, then without looking too much at his deceitful baits which are a trap to your heart, as it is perhaps the first thing he wants of you, push yourself further, throw yourself into the arms of the one who crushes the head, look at the Cross; for it is there that in pain and death he overthrew the empire of the devil, and rendered his temptations useless.