MARY – SESSION 13

INTRO We have explored for the last two weeks the Mary of the Scriptures, recognising that she is presented as the one of who gives to the Eternal Divine Word of God (Son of the Father) humanity, human flesh from her flesh. Her total giving of herself to the will and Word of God in the Annunciation with ‘a trust beyond all measure’ (Bl Charles de Foucauld – Prayer of Abandonment) enabled the Word to be made Flesh in human history, enabled God to be ‘Emmanuel’ the God who walks with us, who lives in our skin, walks in our shoes. As such she is the One above all others who ‘hears the Word of God and keeps it’. She is the Woman of Faith who gives herself to an unknown future, who does not understand the Ways of God in Christ but walks faithfully; she is the Woman of Prayer growing in understanding as she ponders in her heart and mind the mystery of Christ ‘that is beyond knowledge’ (Ephesians 3: 19); she is the Woman of Love who yielded to Infinite Love so that this Infinite Love would be made flesh of her flesh. Mary is there at the beginning of Jesus ministry at the Marriage Feast of Cana, there at the foot of the Cross and there when the Spirit of God at Pentecost was poured out on the first community of disciples.  Therefore, Mary (Miriam or Mariam – the ‘exalted one’) is the first and greatest Disciple of the Lord, a model of discipleship always being transparent to Christ, drawing the world to her Son and not to herself. And she stands not alone but in the community of the ‘anawim’ (the faithful, humble poor of Israel) and among those first disciples (in the Upper Room of Pentecost). In these ways, she is the ‘sign’ of what it is to be Church, to be together, to pray together, to love one another, to witness together by our shared life and prayer and mission. She is the model of Mission, for her whole life is one great act of self-giving so that Christ can transform the world. Having explored the Mary of the Scriptures, faithful Virgin Daughter of Zion, let us now explore the meaning of three key doctrines of the Church in regard to Mary – Mary as ‘Theotokos’ (‘Mother of God’), Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Mary, Assumed into Heaven.

[1] Mary, ‘Theotokos’, the God-bearer, the Mother of God. This was the first doctrinal definition concerning Mary in the history of the Church. The first five centuries of the Church’s existence were a period when there was immense controversy and so many various heresies concerning the true identity and nature of Jesus the Christ. The Church was hammering out its belief, discussing, arguing struggling to define exactly what was orthodox (‘true teaching’) concerning the central doctrine of the Christian Church – ‘Who do you say that I am!’ (Matthew 16: 15). To over-simplify the complex doctrinal story, some thought Jesus was human but not truly God, some that he was God clothed in humanity but not truly human, and some believed he was a ‘demi-God’ or ‘super-angel’ neither human nor divine but carrying the message of God. And all used the same Scriptures to defend their position. Remember that the New Testament in general and the Gospels in particular were not ‘theological manuals’, not text books of systematic theology – they were Proclamations drawing people to faith in Jesus. There were a variety of theological insights in the four Gospels (as we seen in these talks) and different emphases arising from differing ‘oral traditions’ and the needs and nature of the ‘originating communities’ that gave birth to the Gospel accounts. This led to a surprising plurality of beliefs (or perhaps not surprising!) in those first centuries and there was a need to make a definite statement in a new language that could not be misinterpreted. That is why we have the early Creeds, to clarify authentic orthodox belief, what was truly revealed by God in Christ. Those early ‘Councils of the Church’ were led by the Holy Spirit, that ‘Spirit of Truth’ that ‘leads us into all Truth’ as John’s Gospel describes, and as we see in that first Council in Jerusalem recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. We will explore the ‘development of doctrine’ and what is meant by the authentic Tradition of the Church at another time, but definition of Mary as ‘Theotokos’, Mother of God is an example of it in practice.

[2] So we come to the Council of Ephesus in 431AD. Bishops and theologians from various parts of the Church gathered in the ‘Cathedral’ Church of St Mary in the Greek city of Ephesus. This was the only Church in the world at that time dedicated to Mary – the custom was that a local church would be dedicated to either the saint who founded it, or the saint who lived there: testimony therefore to both the early Church’s revereence, devotion and love for Mary as well as the very early tradition that Mary lived with the ‘beloved disciple’ in Ephesus until her death (Assumption).  After long debate, the Fathers of the Council defined the doctrine of Mary ‘Theotokos’ – Mary the ‘God-bearer’ , Mary the ‘Mother of God’. Why did they make this binding definition of Faith? It was not primarily to honour Mary (unlike some later definitions), but rather to secure beyond doubt the truth that Jesus Christ is utterly divine and utterly human. They defined ‘that God is truly Emmanuel, and that on this account the holy virgin is the “Theotokos” (for according to the flesh she gave birth to the word of God become flesh by birth)’. The Motherhood of God was the servant of the Truth of the mystery of the Incarnation. This is the primary doctrine of the Church concerning Mary, making explicit what is thoroughly rooted in Scripture. Mary’s motherhood is the servant of the Emmanuel, enabling the Divine to enter into the human drama from ‘inside’ our humanity. The early Fathers of the Church had a saying – ‘What Christ has not shared, Christ has not redeemed’. As the Letter to the Hebrews (ch2: 17) says, we need a High Priest who is in all ways like his brothers and sisters. Our God is not a lonely isolated power remote from the joys and hopes, the pain and sufferings of the world, but engaged, involved, suffering with us, rejoicing with us, being wounded by us and healing us by those very wounds (‘By His wounds we are healed’  1Peter 2: 24 & Isaiah 53: 9).

[3] The centre of our Faith, the Fulness of God’s self-revelation of the Divine nature and Love is not a book, not a creed, not words of a doctrinal definition but a Person. We do not worship the Scriptures, we worship the Person of Jesus Christ, Flesh of the Father’s love who breathes the Spirit of their shred Creative Love upon us and the all creation. As Fr Henri Nouwen observes, a doctrine does not have a mother – a Person does! Without Mary, our faith could easily become an ideology and as such a tool of division, culture wars and worse – real wars! Mary reminds us that Person is the centre of our Faith, the Person who is the Universal Brother who carries within himself all humanity, indeed all creation and therefore there is no authentic Christian Faith that is not Love for all humanity.

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