What human being ever gave God something He didn’t already have?
Stay tuned for the answer after this break, brought to you by Christianity as it was believed and practiced for 1500 years.
“‘The name of the Mother of God contains all the history of the divine economy in this world.’ St. John of Damascus, Exposition on the Orthodox Faith, 3:12”
With that, Vigen Guroian begins a new Chapter in his book The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key. His opening, and selections from the beginning of the chapter, seem a good way to acknowledge that today is the Feast of Annunciation — not-coincidentally just 9 months before another, even bigger Feast.
Mary is the bridge from Old Testament righteousness to its fulfillment in the New Covenant. “All the sacred tradition of the Jews is a history of the slow and laborious journey of fallen humanity toward the ‘fullness of time,'” writes Vladimir Lossky, “when the angel was to be sent to announce to the chosen Virgin the Incarnation of God and to hear from her lips human consent, so that the divine plan might be accomplished.”
All the sacred tradition of the Jews is a history of the slow and laborious journey of fallen humanity toward the “fullness of time.”
The Divine Word became one of us. He lived a life without sin, perfectly obedient to God, and died a perfect sacrifice on the Cross so that our corrupted human nature could be restored to health in him. Instead of death, he has made eternal life the human inheritance. In his “body” Christ brought us back to wholeness and holiness. But Christ “took” his body from a woman. Even the Divine Word grew into a human being in the womb of a woman. Just as a woman was needed in the history of salvation to bridge the old and the new humanity, the old and the new covenants, the Old Creation and the New Creation, so also a woman was needed in whom God might commence to render our corrupted human nature whole again. That is why the church calls Mary “the New Eve; “the New Mother of Life; “the Mother of Holiness; “the Queen of Heaven:” The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, as well as the early Reformers (Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli), believe that salvation cannot be understood apart from Mary’s role in it. It does seem especially appropriate that, above all, the church honors Mary with song, since it is she who sings the most significant song in all of Scripture: the Magnificat of St. Luke’s Gospel (1:46-55).With the titles of “Second Eve” and “Handmaid of the Lord, the ancient tradition registers its firm conviction that the mother of Jesus exercised her freedom and made her choice to bear the Son of God with total sobriety. Whereas Eve asked no questions of the Serpent and was foolishly deceived through her passions by that tempter, Mary scrupulously interrogated her angelic visitor. Only when she felt assured that there was no trickery in his proposal and that this was truly the will of God did Mary consent to conceive and give birth to the Second Adam who opens the closed gates of Paradise (Luke 1:31). Only then did Mary pronounce: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38, KJV).
I hate to admit that when I was a Protestant, I carelessly and uncharitably attributed to the title “Mother of God” the absurd meaning that Mary preceded and somehow brought forth the Godhead. The absurdity of that should have tipped me to the high likelihood that such was not the proper meaning. Had I been behaving as a sentient human, I might have thought “some Catholics are bright, and a bright person who adhered even to a lowdown, no account version of Christianity surely couldn’t say anything that stupid. So maybe I’m the one who’s being stupid. What else could they mean by that?”
I now see that the meaning is really pretty simple, and pretty profound, even at the relatively superficial level:
- Jesus Christ is God — the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
- Mary was the Mother of Jesus Christ.
- Therefore Mary is the Mother of God.
Jesus Christ was God Incarnate from the moment of conception. That’s not something that came over Him later. His cousin John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at His prenatal proximity. Therefore, the title Mother of God affirms the deity of Jesus Christ from yet another perspective. The dissembling claim that Mary was “just the mother of Jesus’ humanity,” as if His humanity were separable from His deity, is the very heresy that was condemned by the Ecumenical Council that affirmed the title “Theotokos,” or “mother of God.” She was human, and therefore was not the source of His deity, but she was the mother of the God-Man, “light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made.”
Moreover, Mary had a choice. God did not, to put it crudely, inseminate her involuntarily. Her “fiat mihi,” “be it unto me according to your word,” gave permission for the Holy Spirit to “come upon her,” incarnating the Son of God of her. There’s no sign that God had a “plan B.” Mary was who He’d chosen, and her acceptance of the scandal and gossip that could result, her trust in God despite the chance that righteous Joseph would put her away quietly,” was a sina qua non of our salvation.
So the answer to the initial riddle, which you should know by now if you read carefully, is that Mary gave God something He didn’t already have: a human body.
Is it any wonder that all generations call her “blessed”?