Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Theotokos and Ancestral Sin

The two articles that follow below, "On the Theotokos and Ever-­Virgin Mary"  and "On the Ancestral Sin of the Holy and Ever-­Virgin Mary", are chapters 50 and 51 of the Treasury of Orthodoxy of Bishop Theophilos of Campania (1749-­‐1795).

By Theophilos, Bishop of Campania


1. The superiority of the Virgin Mary among the Saints

SPIRITUAL MASTER: This most holy Virgin, from whom the Son of God was going to be born according to His humanity, was announced beforehand by the Prophets many centuries before she appeared in history. We would need to add many pages to this article if we were to include all these prophesies. All the Patriarchs and the Prophets are extolled in a special way for some particular grace which they received from God. Abraham for his faith, Jacob for his wrestling with Christ, Abel for his righteousness, Enoch for pleasing God, Melchizedek for being an image of God, Joseph for his good judgment, Job for his patience, Moses for becoming a Law-giver, Joshua for becoming a great general, Sampson for having conversed with God, Elijah for having become a zealot for God, Isaiah for becoming a theologian, Daniel for his wisdom, Ezekiel for becoming the seer of divine secrets, David for becoming a divine ancestor, Solomon for his wisdom. None of them, however, is extolled as the Virgin Mary. Because they all saw God enigmatically, whereas she bore Him incarnate in her belly. This is why she heard from the Angel that "Rejoice you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you"  (Luke 1:28), which none of the Saints who appeared before her in history had been made worthy to hear.

2. What is hidden in the expression "who has received the fullness of grace"

The meaning that is hidden in this expression is very great, because the work of her who is designated by this expression is not human, and therefore her praise exceeds everything human. The person "who has received the fullness of God’s grace"  is the Woman that John saw in the revelation he received, "A Woman clothed with the Sun" (Rev. 12:1a), i.e. Christ and His Church, who had "the moon under her feet" (Rev. 12:1b), i.e. the Synagogue of the Jews, which was waiting under her and dwindled like the moon. She is the one who with prophetic insight made that declaration "From now on all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). She is the one of whom another woman said, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that you sucked" (Luke 11:27), which Christ confirmed by saying " Indeed, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:28).

3. The Virgin Mary is the "First-fruits of Virginity"

The unfortunate Origen, exalting the virginity of the Theotokos, says that "no other woman has the same fame like her [Mary], who marked the first-fruits (the perfection) of Virginity." The same author again says, "that the salutation addressed to the Virgin was alien, because it is not found anywhere else in Holy Scripture, but was reserved only for her, namely the ‘Rejoice you who are full of grace, the Lord is with You"  (Luke 1:28). To her, too, Elizabeth "exclaimed with a loud cry", as the Forerunner leaped inside her belly, and said,  "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb"  (Luke 1:42), because no other woman became a communicant of such a grace, has never been and will never be such. Because One is the divine fetus, One also the divine birth, and One the person who gave birth to a God-man. "Why should you come to me first?" Elizabeth tells her. "Am I the one who will give birth to the Savior? I should have visit ed you. Because you are blessed above all women. You are the Mother of my Lord, you my Lady who bore the dissolution of the curse. Why did you do to me such a great wonder, "that the Mother of my Lord should come to me"  (Luke 1:43)? It is significant that Elizabeth calls the Savior "fruit of the womb" because indeed He is not "from a man", but "from Mary alone", because those who are seeds "from fathers" are their own fruit.

4. The Virgin Mary is "The Theotokos"

This Virgin Mother of God is called "Theotokos"  [God-bearer] not only by the Ecumenical Synods, but countless God-bearing Fathers, who indeed anathematize those who refuse to attribute this title to her.

St. Gregory the Theologian in his Letter to Cledonius says the following: "Whoever does not accept Mary as the Theotokos is godless. And whoever asserts that God the Word passed through the Virgin as one passes through a tube, and, consequently, He was not formed inside her simultaneously in a divine and human manner -  in a divine because there was no mediation of a man, and in a human manner because He was no subjected to the law of gestation - is equally godless."

St. Epiphanius of Cyprus, in his attempt to exalt the Theotokos who is above all exaltation, says the following: "How can I call blessed the glory which is the root of all glory, given that she is above all, except God, and that she is better than the Cherubim and the Seraphim and every other Angelic order? No language is sufficient for this, neither in heaven nor on the earth, and not among the Angels, since they, too, offered hymns and praise, honor and glory, but did not succeed to speak commensurable with her worth."

The most theological Gregory of Nyssa, in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, relates the following: "Since Christ’s gestation was uncombined [=without combining the union of a man and a woman], His birth was unstained, and the birth-pangs painless." He continues further on, that "only His birth was without delivery, just as His constitution took place without marriage, because no one could literally speak about delivery in the case of a woman who is uncorrupted and ignorant of intercourse, and since the names of virginity and child-delivery are incompatible when they are applied to the same person." Again he says further on, that "the Virgin did not know how the constitution of the body that received God was worked out within her own body, and for this reason she did not feel the delivery, in accordance with the prophesy which bears witness to the fact that her birth-pangs will be painless;"  because Isaiah says, that "before she that labored delivered, before the birth-pangs came on, she escaped them and delivered a male"  (Is. 66:7); hence also the "Rejoice you who are full of grace" instead of "in pain you shall give birth to children" (Gen. 3:16).

St. Basil of Seleucia expresses his thoughts in words that the all-holy Virgin addresses to her newly-born Son, and writes the following: "How can I find an appropriate name to call You, my child? Should it be a human one? But You had a divine conception? Should it be a divine one? But You received human flesh. What should I do to You? Should I feed You with milk, or should I theologize about You? Should I take care of You as a mother, or should I worship You as Your servant? Should I embrace You as my child, or should I pray to You as my God? Should I offer You milk, or incense? What an ineffable wonder is this, the greatest one?"

5. The Mediation of the Theotokos and its Efficacy

If Moses, Daniel, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets, raised supplications to God for the people, and He saved them, as we read in several places in the divinely inspired Scriptures, then, the prayer of the Mother of God, her mediation, and her supplication will certainly be unshakable. Since "a mother’s supplication has a great efficacy on the benevolence of a Master" (Troparion of Great Thursday), then the supplication of the Mother of God is heeded more than the Angels and all the Saints.

If Alexander the Great said to Antipater, that a tear of his mother suffices to wipe out all his transgressions; if Solomon, when his mother Bathsheba entered before him, got up from his throne and venerated her, and placed a throne on his right hand for his mother to sit, and when she told him that she wanted to ask him for a favor, he said to her: "ask, my mother, because I will not refuse you"; how could the Son of the Theotokos not hear all her mediations and prayers? God hears the prayers of His Saints as His servants, but those of His mother as if He repays, so to say, a debt. This is exactly what George of Nicomedia certifies, in saying "for the Creator, knowing your own glory as Son, almost repays the debt, by answering the petitions".

Gregory the Theologian says, that "because the grace was given in part to each one of the elect, it was the fullness of the grace that was given to the Virgin"; hence, it says, "the Queen appeared on your right hand", because she appears above the Angels and the Saints on the right hand of her Son and God. As incomprehensible are the mysteries that are associated with the All-holy Virgin, so inexpressible is the grace of the Godhead which surrounds her. Not only is she called the Mother of Christ, but also, the Mother of all the Christians, for whom so many miracles have taken place through her that entire books do not suffice to contain all their narratives. So, whoever venerates the All-holy Virgin and prays to her, will not be disappointed, but will enjoy the grace of God without delay."


6. Not the All-holy Virgin but Christ alone was born free from original sin

SPIRITUAL MASTER: There were some, who, on account of the prophesies of many prophets concerning the Virgin Mary and the unthinkable mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, developed a great veneration and a particular piety towards her person and they issued a dogma, that only the Theotokos and Virgin Mary was born without the primordial ancestral sin. These people's opinions were not based on a Prophet’s saying, nor on a decision of an Ecumenical Synod, nor on the opinion of any God-bearing Father, but only on certain private proofs and private (arbitrary) interpretations of certain words in the divinely-inspired and evangelical Scripture. Our Church, however, accepts the dogma which was revealed from above, that all those who were born from a man’s seed, carry on them the ancestral sin and participate in it. The one and only person, however, who was free from the ancestral sin, was Jesus Christ, who was incarnated in an ineffable manner and without a man’s seed, and was born from the Virgin. This is because His Flesh that was formed in a combinable way within the womb of the Virgin was not "from a man" but "from the Holy Spirit"; and this is proven by ample witnesses of the God-bearing Fathers.

7. The witnesses of the Fathers

Athanasius the Great in his Discourse Against Apollinaris 4, says: "He [the Son of God] united to Himself a soul-endowed body, which had the possibility to suffer willingly, and which did not pre-exist and was afterwards united with Him because of its virtue. This body did not simply come forth from the human side, i.e. from Mary, but after she had been sanctified, and then, God the Word became through her a partaker of humanity by uniting to Himself by way of condescension (economy) a soul-endowed body, so that He is one and the same person, God and man." Do you hear this? He said, "after she had been sanctified, and then, God the Word became through her a partaker of humanity", i.e. after she was cleansed from the ancestral sin. Because, what other sin had this blameless and pure Virgin committed?

Athanasius the Great again, in his third Discourse Against the Arians, says: "For although He became man like us and, indeed, our brother, because He had the same body with us, nevertheless He is the first in comparison with us, because when all human beings were being lost on account of the transgression of Adam, His Flesh was the first among all the others that was saved and freed, because it became the Word’s own body."  Do you hear this? He said, that on account of the transgression of Adam all human beings were being lost, all of them, without exception, and that He was the first to be saved and freed. If the Virgin did not have ancestral sin, her Son would not be called the first to be freed from the ancestral sin, but the second to be freed after her.

And again the same Father, in his work On the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, says the following: "And so man is divided into two parts and was condemned to end up in two places. This is why there was need of Him who pronounced this, so that He would Himself dissolve His decision by appearing with the uncondemned and sinless form of the condemned humanity, and thereby God’s reconciliation with man might be achieved and man’s freedom might be restored through a man in communion with the image of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ."  Consider this, then! He pronounced the curse of the ancestral sin for the entire humanity, and He, too, dissolved it, by appearing with the uncondemned and sinless form of the condemned humanity, so that man’s reconciliation with God might be achieved and the freedom of all human beings, all without exception, including His Mother, might be granted through Him by condescension (economy).

Gregory the Theologian speaks about the "man who is God, and was born of a Virgin after she was cleansed in soul and body by the Holy Spirit."

Saint Amphilochios of Iconium, speaking about the Presentation of the Lord and the Theotokos, says:  "As iron, united with fire, ejects every contamination, and is entirely inflamed, and as a man who receives running water on his head also receives it on his entire body, so the divine Mother, as we firmly believe, was fully imbued with sanctity by the Holy Spirit who descended on her, and so she received inside her the living Word of God, in her virginal and myrrh-filled bowels!"  Do you hear it? As the iron ejects the contamination by means of the fire and the body is cleansed by means of the water, so the ancestral sin of the All-holy Virgin was cleansed by the chrism of the Holy Spirit.

The divine Maximos the Confessor, this exalted and visionary man, says the following against the heretic Apollinarius: "He was not simply from man, i.e. from Mary, but after she had been sanctified,  then, God the Word received from her His humanity by uniting to Himself by way of condescension (economy) a soul endowed body, so that He is one and the same person, God and man."  In other words, he was not incarnated simply from the Virgin Mary who had the ancestral sin, but from her after she had been cleansed by the Holy Spirit, because if she had not been cleansed by Him, then how was she cleansed from something which she did not have?

The most wise Evgenios Voulgaris, in his interpretation of the ancestral sin, says this about Mary the Theotokos: "As regards her who received God the Word without seed and in an unexplainable manner, who is truly the Mother of God, although we acknowledge that she was blameless in everything and pure beyond every measure, and we praise her for this, inasmuch as the nature from which she was born had been corrupted, we do not shrink from saying and teaching that she, too, followed the same condition and was subjected to the carnal law of the ancestral defilement like all other human beings." And a little further on, he says, that "With the descent of the Holy Spirit which occurred to her, she was elevated to being the most pure dwelling of God, because the Spirit sanctified her from the stain which her parents transmitted to her when she was conceived in accordance with the passionate and archaic emission. Because this manner of birth, which, like a running brook, brings into existence human beings that have been born and those that will be born, transmits the evil defilement through the passionate ejaculation and the hedonistic emission through which every human being is conceived." This is exactly what the patient Job connotes when he says in his dialogue with God, "that every mortal born of a woman is short-lived, and full of wrath"  (Job 14:1), and then he says, "Have you not taken account even of him, and caused him to enter into judgment before you? For who shall be pure from uncleanness? Not even one; even if his life should be but one day upon the earth, and his months are numbered by him? You have appointed him for a time, and he shall by no means exceed it»"(Job14:3-5).

From all this we conclude, first, that whatever penances people had to endure, they occurred so that human beings may understand that they sinned. This is why it says first that "every mortal that is born is short-lived and full of wrath"; second, that all of us human beings have to learn that we participate in this sin, for this is why it says, "you caused him to enter into judgment before you". And third, that, because human nature was defiled with Adam, the uncleanness is transmitted to all, and this is why it says, "No one is pure from uncleanness", because how could anyone be clean if he is conceived from an unclean seed? Or, as Job says, "who shall purify him who is born from a woman?" According to Symmachos: "Who could be without defilement after being born from a woman?"  All that was  said above are sufficient for understanding the case of the Theotokos without falling into error.

From "The Forerunner" (January – February – March 2013). Translated by Rev. George Dion Dragas, edited by John Sanidopoulos.
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