EXEGESIS - GENESIS.
Hence the reading which we now have in the Vulgate must have existed in one of the old Italic recensions long before the time of S. Ambrose, and been thoroughly popularized before his days, to have been thus used by laymen in Spain and Gaul.
S. Cyprian after quoting Isa. vii. 10-14, with the reading in v. 13, non pusillam vobis certamen cum hominibus, quoniam Deus praestat agonem, says: --
"God had foretold that from a woman would come forth this Seed, which should trample down the head of the devil, in Genesis." He then cites Gen. iii. 14, 15, with the reading: Ipse tuum observabit caput, et tu observabis calcaneum ejus. (Testim. contr. Judaeos, L. ii. 9.)
S. Jerome adopts the feminine reading in his own works, yet the masculine appears in his translation,* at least in what is supposed to be the genuine transcript, as it has been published by Vallarsius and Maffei. He, moreover, adopts it in his book, De Quaestionibus Hebraicis in Genesin, where he is writing critically. And this by the way affords us another and independent proof of the antiquity and authority of the feminine reading. For, that such an enthusiast for the Hebrew text, as S. Jerome proved himself to be, should have retained a reading, which he rejected as a Biblical scholar, is inconceivable, except on the hypothesis that it was already so strongly stereotyped in the memory of the faithful as to deter him from attempting to innovate upon it in his exegetic works.
Whether the masculine or the feminine reading be preferred as the right one, it is certain, according to the Fathers, that by the words immediately preceding God has established an enmity between Mary and the devil. For these first words of the verse are unquestioned. Here there are no variations. Protestants equally with Catholics admit the words as they stand. It is the woman between whom and the devil God declares that He will put enmity; that woman -- One, that is, who should be well known, easily recognized, in the new order of grace. And there can be no mistake as to who it is that is meant. For it is that woman whose Seed is to crush the serpent's head. It must be Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and she alone, to whom the words allude. And so the Fathers generally understand them. S. Irenaeus, in the second century, although he gives the masculine reading to the second clause, not once only, but in several places explicitly interprets the woman, announced in the Protoevangel to mean Our Lady.