Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ornament Of Our Race

[Now seems like a good time to make this simple observation: I am richly blessed by so many faithful Christians sharing of their knowledgeable about many different Christian groups. Thank you all, and I hope that the discussions here, and my own simple contributions, can be at least partly edifying to you in return for how very edifying your contributions are to me.]

Severus of Antioch (ca. 465-538), Patriarch of Antioch, who incidentally was tied to a moderate form of Monophysitism, said something that reminded me of a recurring Marian angst of mine. Maybe it's not so much an angst as it is a confusion, so I'll share it for discussion.

He said, "More than any other saints, she is able to lift up prayers for us, and we glory to have obtained her as the ornament of our race." (Fr. L. Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 315, emphasis added).

I would like to be clear that my anxiety is with the description of Mary as the ornament of our race (not about intercessory prayers). I read this type of expression of Marian appreciation and admiration often. She is the preeminent human, the 'solitary boast' of the human race. I'm anxious because this seems to call into question the full humanity of Christ. These types of expressions are centered around the premise that Mary is humanity's link to divinity. Indeed, she was the culmination of the righteous root of the people of the Old Covenant. From her flowered the Messiah. But, while a flower, he too was of the root. He was of the same Genus and species. If Mary is humanity's solitary boast, or our greatest ornament, it seems that would be because Christ is of a different kind of humanity. No, I say, Christ is our sole boast (or, if you insist, He and Mary are our two 'boasts', she because of him).

I think I know a rebuttal view, but do see some logic in my above concern all the same. The rebuttal would go something like this: We rightly say that Sin came to humanity through Eve. But we also rightly say "death came into the world through a man" (1 Cor 15:21), because Adam is our federal head. By analogy, we can rightly say that righteousness came to humanity through Mary, that she is the ornament of our race, and still really mean that Christ is our true sole boast, as our true federal head.

Is there another view about such expressions of Mary as the pinnacle of humanity? Am I being uncharitable?

18 comments:

Sarah said...

I heard someone teach once that Mary is God's perfect creation.... what Eve was meant to be before the Fall. She is not divinity but a Divinely inspired masterpiece. It used to bother me that Mary was sinless. Somehow that took away from Christ's "human-ness" as given to him by his mother. But somehow understanding Mary to be God's best design (really intended for all of us) and necessary to carry the Son of God, helps me reconcile all of this a little.

I am also a presbyterian on a similar search. I appreciate your blog, your honesty and especially your guiding prayer for unity!

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

Christ is not a human person. He is a divine person with a human nature. In that way He is not properly described as "a human being". He is a divine being; His human nature is not a separate being, such that there are two beings. Two natures does not mean two beings. He is fully human. But He is not merely human. Mary is a human person; she is merely human. She is a human being. So Mary is unique (with respect to us) in a way that Christ is not. She is the only sinless "human person", the only sinless "human being", and the only sinless "mere human".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

Sarah,

Thanks for sharing and for stopping by. I have prayed as a Protestant (with a clean conscience) for some time (first thing when I wake up) that God would make a God-bearer that day, like Mary was. In other words, that I could present the Glory of Christ, the dwells within me, to the world ("this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!"). May God bless you, Sarah, as you seek to be obediently united to His glorious bride, the Church, in its proper constitution.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

Bryan,

Wow! Sometimes I do a double-take when I read you... this was one of those times. My first impression is that my understanding of the incarnation (if you're right) has some deep, systemic flaws. I've always taken Christ's fully having a human nature to mean that He was fully Human (a human being, a Homo sapiens), the pre-eminent exemplar of our species. Are you saying He is other than of our species, or are you saying that because He is so much more than our species (i.e., also God), that it is improper or inaccurate to consider Him to be a human being? I guess with the word "being" appended to human, I see your grounds for criticism. His *being* is the God-man united.

I read this as sort of going like this: "He's fully human, but not human". You can see how this characterization of what you're saying is problematic, so I would appreciate your help in sorting this out (as always!).

I will think more of this idea that He has a human nature, but that doesn't make humanity his *being*.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos - I think you and Brian (and Sarah) agree on a lot of points just that the language can get confusing with such delicate (and complex) topics.

Christ isn't what we were intended to be (fully authoritative, pre-existent from the foundation of the world etc...) He lived a sinless life that we were meant to live of course. But we all agree there are certain ways He is infinitely more than we were ever meant to be.

The same is not true of Mary however. We were all meant to be perfectly submissive to the will of God (even to the point of rejoicing) and to live perfectly before Him. Mary did this (according to Catholic dogma) and did it acting fully (and MERELY) as a human of the same type as we are and as we were originally created and intended to be.

We lift Mary up finitely beyond other humans (while infinitely less than God) not because of herself but because as Sarah said, she is God's masterpiece.

TheDen said...

Tom,

I know you are struggling with the concept of Mary. Hang in there!

Here's the way I understand it...

Regarding Mary, she is God's greatest creature. Thus, she was created. Jesus is not a creature. Jesus was begotten--not made. Jesus existed from the beginning of time and He is fully human and fully God.

If you have the time...please read this homily about Mary from a priest/friend of mine here in Detroit:

http://www.olgcparish.net/files/frjohn/homilies/2006/010106maryourmotherandmodelofdiscipleship.pdf

It could be useful in your search. (Also, please feel free to read his other homilies as well.)

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

He is fully human! He is homo sapiens. Everything that we have as humans, except sin, He has as human. In other words, He didn't get a 95% portion of human nature. He took on human nature completely. But nature and personhood are not identical. So he didn't take on a human person. That would be a kind of Nestorianism. He took on a human nature. He 'brought' with Him His divine Personhood. He is one Person, the eternal divine Logos, i.e. the Second Person of the Trinity. If you were to point to the baby in the manger and ask, Who is he?, the correct answer is: the eternal, uncreated, Second Person of the Trinity. Your personhood, by contrast, came into existence when your human nature came into existence. So you and I (and Mary) are human persons; Christ, by contrast, is an eternal divine Person with a complete human nature. He is fully human (but not merely human) because He took on fully/completely (100%) human nature. Christ is not two beings, one which is human, and the other which is divine. That would be equivalent to Nestorianism. He is one Person, with two natures. In His Personhood, He unites both natures, but without confusing them (i.e. reducing one to the other, or mixing them). He subsists in both natures. I'm not saying "He is fully human but not human". He is fully human. And He is human. But He is not a mere human. We are mere humans. So is Mary.

The point that I was trying to make was to show the metaphysical basis for understanding the uniqueness of Mary, given an orthodox understanding of the uniqueness of Christ.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

theden,

Thanks for sharing that sermon link. I liked this line, "Mary is the greatest human person who has ever lived (Jesus, remember, is a divine Person with a fully human nature)." It's got the kind of qualification my legal-oriented mind craves.

Bryan,

I think I grasp now what you're saying. Christ is fully Homo sapiens, fully human, but not merely human and not a human "person" or "being" because His being is much more.

Although, I think this could somewhat bring me back to where I started. If Christ is fully (but not merely) Homo sapiens, how is He disqualified from being the "ornament of our race" or our race's solitary boast? I can accept these expressions of Mary if the implicit qualification is that we are considering only those "merely" of our race. So Mary is the singular boast and greatest ornament of those merely of our race.

I have prudential concerns with this expression, but those are personal, and ones I should probably get over (and I pray that I can, if God so desires). I know it is possible to quibble too much over words!

Tim notes that we can't fully become what Christ is (as the 2nd person of the Trinity, consisting in part of a human nature). We can fully become what Mary is (I think in an eschatalogical sense at least). My prudential concern is that we could, with this view, diminish Christ's truly human perseverance, that is, the temptation He faced and resisted as He prepared Himself to be the perfect Sacrifice. Again, I don't want to sully decent piety by raising a spat over words. I do want to believe that Christ's human nature, His being "fully human" means that He was not above temptation or struggle. It was His obedience to the Father, and His resistance to Sin that earns us life. I know no one is contesting this. But if I telescope His obedience to something unattainable (where Mary's obedience is), I might easily become confused and think He was *above* temptation and the possibility of giving in to it (at least formally "possible").

I hope I'm not being unfairly contentious, and perhaps all of this is implied with all of Catholic expressions of piety. If so, please forgive. I realize that I have a wide culture gap to overcome.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thos - just curious, have you prayed to Mary (rather - asked her to pray for you) yet?

Perhaps too personal of a question to answer so if you don't I understand.

Thos said...

Tim,

Uh... yes.

Sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes not at all, all depending on my emotional state, the magnitute of my anxiety or security, etc.

This is my so-called empirical effort.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

I agree with all you said about Christ's obedience. He really was tempted, even though He is God, and God cannot be tempted. (James 1:13)

As for your "prudential concerns", that seems to me to be more a matter of how these things are presented, whether they are presented accurately or inaccurately. While it is true, of course, that everything should be presented accurately, the fact that some doctrines are presented inaccurately does not take away from their truth per se, or imply that we should hide them or anything. We just have to present them all accurately.

Who was the greatest human being (i.e. mere human) ever to live? A woman. That's part of Christianity.

The more we understand that, the more it uplifts our way (as a culture) of being toward women. It exalts women, just as Mary herself exalted the Lord. (Luke 1:46) When Peter affirmed his faith in Christ, Jesus responded by affirming His faith in Peter, i.e. making Peter the rock. When Peter replied to Jesus, "To whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life?", Jesus responded by making Peter the one to whom the Church looks to determine what is the faith. ("I have prayed for you Peter, that your faith would not fail.") Likewise, God responded to Mary exalting Him by exalting her, making it such that all generations count her blessed. (Luke 1:48) And all women are blessed through her example of perfect feminity, and perfect humanity. The more we reflect on Mary, the more we (both as individuals and as a culture) will be rightly related toward women.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...

Bryan,

Thank you. I think I agree with you even more than perhaps an honest Protestant should! I think I got it all 'of my chest' too.

[By the way, I've not grappled with James 1:13 in this context before... Hmmm... Here's an instance where I benefit from just accepting the ancient teachings of the Church, e.g., the meaning of the temptation of Christ in the desert, so as to not get wrapped around the axle by one verse.]

I appreciate your expressions about a woman being the preeminent human being. This makes sense to me as women are the 'inferior', historically (and I would say presently) oppressed sex, and Christ blesses the weak and the oppressed. [Ladies, you know I don't mean you're truly inferior, work with me!]

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Sarah said...

One more thought and I'm new at this, so it may be wrong:

Mary as the new, perfect Eve, was born without original sin (as Eve was) and fully capable of sinning at any point (as Eve did!). It was this human nature she gave to Christ. And because Mary did what Eve could not, we esteem her.

Christ as the second Adam (with Adam's same human nature) could have fallen to temptation and sinned. He was not "*above* temptation and the possibility of giving in to it" but "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Heb. 4:15)

Gil Garza said...

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know a few things about Severus of Antioch. He was wholly committed to the Monophysite cause. He opposed any manhood of Christ as a distinct nature. Christ was, for Severus, a single nature. He insisted, as well, on one agent and one activity in Christ. He led over 200 monks from Palestine to Constantinople to protest Chalcedon. When the Imperial Patriarch was deposed in the capital as a result of the tumult, Severus seized the Patriarchal cathedral. Severus led a Monophysite demonstration in the capital in which he chanted a modified Trisagion. This, of course, lead to a riot replete with burning and looting and pillaging.

In 512 Severus was elected Patriarch of Antioch. He condemned Chalcedon, Leo’s Tome and all who held two natures in Christ. Severus organized opposition to the new Chalcedonian Patriarch of Jerusalem. He even enjoyed the support of Emperor Anastasius and the clergy in the capital. Antioch and Alexandria were firmly held by Monophysites.

When Emperor Anastasius died, the new Emperor Justinian sought to restore orthodoxy to his empire. He called Pope Hormisdas to the capital to end the 24 year schism between Rome and the Imperial capital. The emperor, the patriarch, all bishops present in the capital and the heads of monasteries agreed to the Pope’s terms and signed the papal formula of reunion. Legates remained in the capital to ensure full implementation of the terms of reunion.

Reunion was poorly received, however. At Ephesus, Chalcedon was repudiated. At Thessalonika, the legate who sought the bishop’s signature was attacked. Nevertheless, at Antioch Severus was deposed and exiled. He continued to defend his Monophysite positions and sent Monophysite bishops and clergy eastward to the Euphrates. He eventually fled to Alexandria where he became the leader of the movement against Chalcedon.

Surprisingly and unexpectedly, this movement soon fractured and Severus found himself defending his movement against two other Monophysite leaders who vigorously opposed him and one another. Severus was then invited by Justinian to the capital for conferences with the emperor and his Monophysite wife, Theodora. Pope Agapetus arrived in the capital to set things straight. Agapetus condemned the Monophysites in the capital, deposed the Monophysite Patriarch of Alexandria, consecrated a new orthodox patriarch and once again exiled Severus. Severus fled to Egypt where he died, only to be canonized by his followers.

TheDen said...

Thos,

Keep at it!!! Don't worry, we Catholics don't ALWAYS pray for Mary's intercession either!!!

Jesus Christ is not the Ornament for the human race.

Think about what an ornament is. An ornament adorns something. It's used for decoration.

For Mary, she "adorns" the Church as she is held up as a shining example. Someone who is modeled.

What is Christ?

He IS the Church. Not a mere ornament but the entire Church. He doesn't adorn it, He sanctifies it.

To say that Christ is an "ornament" of the Human race would take away from Him (and yet holds Mary up!!). The human race was made for Christ. It was made for His pleasure.

Thos said...

Gil,

Thanks for some history on Severus. I said in my post that he was incidentally monophysite. That's how Fr. Gambero's book approaches him, though I didn't realize from that work the extent to which Severus was, well, an activist for his views!

I just used this expression because it doesn't seem too far out there, and seems similar to many other such expressions. It was a case study, if you will, but perhaps given Severus's background, not the best one to use. Thanks!

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Thos said...

theden,

Thanks for sharing. It's nicely said that an ornament merely decorates. Christ is the Church? Hard point. Mary symbolizes the Church. Christ is the bridegroom. In an eschatological sense, the two become one flesh (Christ and the Church). That on its own makes him the Church, as well as the Church's head, as well as the Church's bridegroom. Lots there that I didn't mean to bring up, but I think I follow you.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

TheDen said...

Thos.

Thanks. I follow you. When I make that reference, I was thinking how Christ is the head and His Church is the Body. They are joined together (like marital union); however, the Church is the body of Christ thus the Church is Christ.

Hard concept to follow but as we are baptized, we become one with Christ as we enter His body. As long as we follow Him, we remain in Him and He remains in us. Thus, all people in His Church are one with Christ and so His Church is Christ.

VERY difficult concept to grasp...