Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Beginning of Christian Anthropology: Jan. 1 - The Mother of God

Mother of God

This feast - "The Divine Maternity" - is significant for Opus Dei since it was the feast of the day when Opus Dei was approved for diocesan erection as a single vocation for laity and priests Basically, it was the nihil obstat of Opus Dei by the Holy See. It occurred on October 11, 1943, then, the feast of the Maternity of Our Lady. The feast was established on October 11, 1931, 1500 years after the Council of Ephesus which had legitimated for Mary, the title “Theotokos.” This title summarized the entire doctrine of Christ, Mary and the whole doctrine of the Redemption.

"Admirabile Commercium"

God becomes man in order for man to become God.

How? Mary made the gift of herself and said “Yes.” By saying “Yes” she opened herself as receptive of the Word of God-Person, and in so doing, she gives Him the whole of her humanity. Specifically, she gives the egg which is genetically her very self. The seed of the Word becomes implanted there and assumes her humanity – which is ours – into His divine Person and becomes the man, Jesus Christ.

What takes place is the following in the words of then Joseph Ratzinger: “it is no longer a merely external word but is saturated with the experience of a life, translated into human terms; now it can be translated, in turn, into the lives of others. Thus Mary becomes a model for the Church’s mission, i.e., that of being a dwelling place for the Word, preserving it and keeping it safe in times of confusion, protecting it, as it were, from the elements. Hence she is also the interpretation of the parable of the seed sowed in good soil and yielding fruit a hundredfold. She is not the thin surface earth which cannot accommodate roots; she is not the barren earth which the sparrows have pecked bare; nor is she overgrown by the weeds of affluence that inhibit new growth. She is a human being with depth. She lets the word sink deep into her. So the process of fruitful transformation can take place in a twofold direction: she saturates the word with her life, as it were, putting the sap and energy of her life at the Word’s disposal; but as a result, conversely, her life is permeated, enriched and deepened by the energies of the Word, which gives everything its meaning. First of all it is she who digests the Word, so to speak, transmuting it; but in doing so she herself, with her life, is in turn transmuted into the Word. Her life becomes word and meaning. That is how the gospel is handed on in the Church; indeed, it is how all spiritual and intellectual growth and maturity are handed on from one person to another and within humanity as a whole. It is the only way in which men and mankind can acquire depth and maturity. In other words, it is the only way to progress.

“This brings us back to our earlier questions. Today, by progress we generally mean the growth in the scope of technology and the increate in the gross national product. When we say progress, quite simply, we think of ‘having’ more.”[1]

In the office of readings for today (January 1) from St. Athanasius’ letter to Epictetum (5-9), he quotes St. Paul: “The Word took to himself the sons of Abraham, and so had to be like his brothers in all things. He had then to take a body like ours. This explains the fact of Mary’s presence: she is to provide him with a body of his own, to be offered for our sake. Scripture records her giving birth, and says: She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. Her breasts, which fed him, were called blessed. Sacrifice was offered because the child was her firstborn. Gabriel used careful and prudent language when he announced his birth. He did not speak of ‘what well be born in you to avoid the impression that a body would be introduced into her womb from outside; he spoke of ‘what will be born from you,’ so that we might know by faith that her child originated within her and from her.

“By taking our nature and offering it in sacrifice, the Word was to destroy it completely and then invest it with his own nature, and so prompt the Apostle to say: This corruptible body must put on incorruption; this mortal body must put on immortality.

“This was not done in outward show only, as some have imagined. This is not so. Our Savior truly became man, and from this has followed the salvation of man as a whole. Our salvation is in no way fictitious, nor does it apply only to the body. The salvation of the whole man, that is, of soul and body, has really been achieved in the Word himself.

“What was born of Mary was therefore human by nature, in accordance with the inspired Scriptures, and the body of the Lord was a true body: It was a true body because it was the same as ours. Mary, you see, is our sister, for we are all born from Adam…

“[As a result], man’s body has acquired something great through its communion and union with the Word. From being mortal it has been made immortal; though it was a living body it has become a spiritual [i.e. relational] one; though it was made from the earth it has passed through the gates of heaven.

“Even when the Word takes a body from Mary, the Trinity remains a Trinity, with neither increase nor decrease. It is for ever perfect. In the Trinity we acknowledge one Godhead, and thus one God, the Father of the Word, is proclaimed in the Church.”[2]

Major Piece of the Puzzle: How can the divine (uncreated) and the human (created) be one?

There is also the “Yes” of the human will of the divine Person of the Logos to the Will of the Father. The humanity from the Virgin is not simply attached or connected to the divine “nature.” The divine “I” of the Logos of the Father takes the entire offering of the Virgin to Himself as His very Self. He lives Who He is as Son of the Father through the humanity (soul, human intelligence, human will, human feelings) freely given to him by the Virgin. And so, He wills through His human will. The human will does not will. He wills. Therefore, the entire created humanity is suffused and activated existentially by the divine “I” of the Son of God. It is not diminished by this but enhanced in its humanness. Chalcedon declared that His humanity was not abolished or destroyed by being taken up into the divinity of the Second Person, but the contrary. It fully achieved the fulness of humanness (since it had been created in the image and likeness of the Trinity).

Ratzinger says it this way: “Thus the Logos adopts the being of the man Jesus into his own being and speaks of it in terms of his own I: ‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (Jn. 6, 38). In the Son’s obedience, where both wills becomes one in a single Yes to the will of the Father, communion takes place between human and divine being. The ‘wondrous exchange,’ the ‘alchemy of being,’ is realized here as a liberating and reconciling communication, which becomes a communion between Creator and creature. It is in the pain of this exchange, and only here, that that fundamental change takes place in man, the change which alone can redeem him and transform the conditions of the world” ("Behold the Pierced One" Ignatius [1986] 92)

This above is the work of the Third Council of Constantinople (680-681) which completed the definition of the Council of Chalcedon (451), that had used the terminology of Greek metaphysics, with the Christian existential understanding of the “I.” There had been a “development” of doctrine from an objectified metaphysic (that had preciously been deployed by the Greek Fathers) to a Christian subjective ontology that still has not been fully developed, nor certainly understood to the present day. It is this that Benedict XVI has labored on from his earliest days and now as pope.

The overriding point here is that God has become one of us in Mary, and we as other Maries are able to engender God in us. This is Redemption and eternal life and it takes place in ordinary life. This is the essence of Opus Dei which received its nihil Obstat in 1943 on the same date as the 1931 establishment of the Feast of the divine Maternity. And it will be this same date (October 11) 1962 (48 years ago) that Pope John XXIII inaugurated Vatican Council II. How interesting!

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Seek that Which is Above,” Ignatius (1986) 102-103.
[2] Office or Readings for January 1, Second Reading “From a letter by Saint Athanasius, bishop” (484-485).

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