Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Our Lady of the Snows - August 5, 2008

After the Council of Ephesus (431) in which the mother of Jesus was acclaimed as Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III erected at Rome on the Esquiline Hill a basilica dedicated to the honor of the holy Mother of God. It was afterward called Saint Mary Major and it is the oldest church in the West dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Mary: Mother-Cause of the Creator

Our Lady’s relation to the Son of the Father must be “Mother” because the humanity she engendered was “assumed” by Him such that that body informed by that soul with that intellect and that will is “His.” It belongs to Him. It is Him. Thus, if she is “cause” of the body, she must be “cause” in some way of the very Person Who is her Creator.

Notice that from the very beginning of the Church
[1], our Lady was considered to be “cause” of the Incarnation since without her free fiat, there would have been no God-man: Jesus Christ. Concerning the earliest fathers of the Church, St. Justin, Tertullian and St. Irenaeus, Newman reported: “what is especially noticeable in these three writers is that they do not speak of the Blessed Virgin merely as the physical instrument of Our Lord’s taking flesh, but as an intelligent, responsible cause of it; her faith and obedience being the accessories to the Incarnation, and gaining it as her reward. As Eve failed in these virtues, and thereby brought on the fall of the race in Adam, so Mary by means of the same had a part in its restoration.”[2] Further down, he goes on: “However, not to go beyond the doctrine of the three Fathers, they unanimously declare that she was not a mere instrument in the Incarnation, such as David, or Judah, may be considered; they declare she co-operated in our salvation not merely by the descent of the Holy Ghost upon her body, but by specific holy acts, the effect of the Holy Ghost within her soul; that, as Eve forfeited privileges by sin, so Mary earned privileges by the fruits of grace; that as Eve was disobedient and unbelieving, so Mary was obedient and believing; that, as Eve was a cause of ruin to all, Mary was a cause of salvation to all’ that, as Eve made room for Adam’s fall, so Mary made room for Our Lord’s reparation of it; and thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve do-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good.”

The Council of Ephesus (431)

The large point to be made here is the impact of Christian revelation on the Greek mind. Benedict XVI has shown that Church made a decision to communicate its faith in Jesus Christ in the language of reason, and not in myth. Up to this point, there has been no distinction between the Greek notion of nature (ousia) and person. Hence, the Council of Nicea did its job of affirming the divinity of Christ (“I and the Father are one,” Jn. 10, 30) by the homoousios: one in being with the Father. This left the fourth century of Christianity in an undeclared Monophysite state (mono-physis: one nature) as Logos-Sarx[3] which was spoiling for the heresy of affirming the real humanity of Christ, and hence falling into the denial of the redemption by affirming with the two natures (the divine and the human) that there are two persons in Christ. And if there are two persons in Christ, then we are not redeemed, since the death of Jesus would be the death of a human person and be inconsequential for our divinization.

The principal struggle here during the fourth century came from the lack of emphasis on the completeness and autonomy of the humanity of Christ. The fourth century was dominated by the revolutionary truth that Jesus is homoousios with the Father. Thus a Logos-Sarx (God wrapped in flesh) Christology flourished whereby the Word had become flesh. But the question still remained, had he become fully man also with a human soul and its faculties of intellect and will such that in Christ there would be two intellects and two wills? How would that work?

Nestorius (with the discipleship of Theodore of Mopsuestia) championed the affirmation of the full humanity of Christ. However, the Greek mind and its conceptual metaphysics of substance had to be exploded into the distinction between nature and person precisely here. The heresy that Nestorius proclaimed insisting on the full humanity of Christ (which is the totally correct positions) consisted in proclaiming that if there were two full natures, then there must be two persons. And the inexorable logic of that demanded that the son of Mary would not be the son of God. Mary would not, then, be the Mother of God (Theotokos). Besides, “(t)he two persons are connected with each other by a mere accidental or moral unity. The man Christ is not God, but a bearer of God. The Incarnation does not mean that God the Son became man, but merely that the Divine Logos resided in the man in the same manner as God dwells in the just. The human activities (birth, suffering, death) may be asserted of the Man-Christ only; the Divine activities (creation, omnipotence, eternity) of the God-Logos only. Consequently Mary cannot in the proper sense be designated by the title, customary since the time of Origen, of `Mother of God’ (θεοτόκος). She is merely a bearer of man (άνθροποτόκος) or Mother of Christ (χριστοτόκος) The conviction that in Christ there are two persons appears also in the doctrine of authentication peculiar to the Antiochians, according to which the Man-Christ was obliged to merit divine dignity and adoration by his obedience in suffering. Nestorian tendencies appear in the Christology of early scholasticism also, above all in the `habitus’’ theory, which goes back to Peter Abelard, and which was favoured by Petrus Lombardus which compares the assumption of human nature by the Divine Logos to the putting on of a garment. St. Thomas condemns this as heresy, since it implies a mere accidental unification (S. Th. III, 2, 6).”

The metaphysical move that was made here affirmed the priority of the notion of person over that of nature. That our Lady is cause of the nature of Jesus is trumped by the reality that the Person of the Logos has assumed that nature as His own. It belongs to him as the way He exercises Himself as Person. Her relationship then is not subject to object (human nature) but subject to Subject because the nature that she gave the Logos exists with the personal esse of the Son. There is no human nature in Jesus Christ that is not personal. There is only one Person exercising that soul, human intellect, human will and body Who is the Logos-Son. And since she is the cause of the existence of that soul, intellect, will and body which is the Logos-Son, then she is the “cause” of the Son. She is theotokos: the Mother of God. The uncreated and creating God who created the Virgin Mary is related to her as son to mother.


Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” (Lk. 11, 27), and when Jesus is told that “his mother and brothers are standing outside and wish to see him,” His reply in both instances is: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Lk. 11, 28), and “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8, 20-21).

The point is: to be the Mother of God, one must hear the Word of God and do it. If you say “Yes” and do it, then you will become the Mother of God. John Paul II: wrote: “Is Jesus thereby distancing himself from his mother according to the flesh? Does he perhaps wish to leave her in the hidden obscurity which she herself has chosen? If this seems to be the case from the tone of those words, one must nevertheless note that the new and different motherhood which Jesus speaks of to his disciples refers precisely to Mary in a very special way. Is not Mary the first of ‘those who hear the word of God and do it’? And therefore does not the blessing uttered by Jesus in response to the woman in the crowd refer primarily to her?”[5]

And, now, to you? Is not our mission to engender Jesus Christ in us such that we are other Christs. It is precisely tomorrow, the day of the Transfiguration – or the day after tomorrow, August 7, 1931 – that St. Josemaria Escriva heard the words: “Et si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum” (Jn. 21, 32). And with that the locution: “not in the sense in which the Scripture says them. I say it to you in the sense that you are to raise me up in all human activities, so that all over the world there are Christians with a personal and most free dedication, that they be other Christs.”[6] This is the Church and Opus Dei as “a little bit of the Church.”

[1] Newman shows that the coincidence of the doctrine in St. Justin in the East and Tertullian in the West was a received doctrine, not originated by them. The next question was, where did it originate from? “for from one definite organ or source, place or person, it must have come. Then we must enquire, what length of time it would take for such a doctrine to have extended, and to received, in the second century over so wide an are; that is, to be receive before the year a.d. 200 in Palestine, Africa and Rome” (“The New Eve” Newman Press, Westminster, MD (1952) 17)
[2] John Henry Newman, Ibid 16.
[3] Logos-Sarx: The Word in flesh: God is the Eternal Word who becomes incarnate by assuming a human body, but replacing a human rational soul with the Word itself. A favorite text was John 1:14, "The Word became flesh," in which they interpreted "became flesh" to mean that the Word only became the flesh of man and not the soul of man. As the soul is the form of the body, the Word here became the form of the body of Jesus. Views Christ as a Logos-sarx (Word-flesh), instead of the Logos-anthropos (Word-man). Here we have a Jesus who is fully divine, but not fully human. Apollinarianism was hesitant to recognize a fully human personality to Jesus with human passions and a human will. The Apollinarian Jesus is psychologically simple because the Word replaces all of this. The unity of Christ is defended at the price of the integrity of the human nature. This heretical tendency to deny the full human activity to Christ has a long life in Monophysitism, Monergism, and Monotheletism.

[4] Ludwig Ott, “Fundamental of Catholic Dogma,” Herder (1964) 143-144.
[5] John Paul II, “Mother of the Redeemer,” #20.
[6] John Coverdale, “Uncommon Faith,” Scepter (2002) 90.

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