Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Church Fathers on the Immortal Soul

The belief in the human soul's ongoing existence after death has been a very consistent position held by the Christian church (as well as its continued consciousness, albeit with minimally less consistence as far as the earliest centuries of the church are concerned.) St. Justin Martyr and his disciple Tatian are the only ones, as far as I know, who raise some sort of dispute about it (and the issue with Justin, I believe is just a misunderstanding.)

So, here are some select quotes from the Early Church Fathers who testify in favor to the human soul's aeviternity:

"Mathetes" (Anonymous), Epistle to Diognetus 6, c. 130/(c. 200)
The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world. The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle; and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies], looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.

St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, c. 155
And whatever both philosophers and poets have said concerning the immortality of the soul... they have received such suggestions from the prophets as have enabled them to understand and interpret these things. And hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the truth] when they assert contradictories.

St. Athenagoras, On the Resurrection of the Dead 13, c. 180
Confident of these things, no less than of those which have already come to pass, and reflecting on our own nature, we are content with a life associated with neediness and corruption, as suited to our present state of existence, and we steadfastly hope for a continuance of being in immortality; and this we do not take without foundation from the inventions of men, feeding ourselves on false hopes, but our belief rests on a most infallible guarantee— the purpose of Him who fashioned us, according to which He made man of an immortal soul and a body, and furnished him with understanding and an innate law for the preservation and safeguard of the things given by Him as suitable to an intelligent existence and a rational life: for we know well that He would not have fashioned such a being, and furnished him with everything belonging to perpetuity, had He not intended that what was so created should continue in perpetuity.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies V:7:1, c. 180
What, then, are mortal bodies? Can they be souls? Nay, for souls are incorporeal when put in comparison with mortal bodies; for "God breathed into the face of man the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Now the breath of life is an incorporeal thing. And certainly they cannot maintain that the very breath of life is mortal. Therefore David says, "My soul also shall live to Him", just as if its substance were immortal. Neither, on the other hand, can they say that the spirit is the mortal body. What therefore is there left to which we may apply the term mortal body, unless it be the thing that was molded, that is, the flesh, of which it is also said that God will vivify it? For this it is which dies and is decomposed, but not the soul or the spirit.

Tertullian, Treatise on the Soul 22, c. 205
The soul, then, we define to be sprung from the breath of God, immortal, possessing body, having form, simple in its substance, intelligent in its own nature, developing its power in various ways, free in its determinations, subject to be changes of accident, in its faculties mutable, rational, supreme, endued with an instinct of presentiment... 

St. Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 10:30, c. 230
And you shall possess an immortal body, even one placed beyond the possibility of corruption, just like the soul.

St. Methodius of Philippi, Discourse on the Resurrection 1:XII, c. 300
But it is the flesh which dies; the soul is immortal. So, then, if the soul be immortal, and the body be the corpse, those who say that there is a resurrection, but not of the flesh, deny any resurrection; because it is not that which remains standing, but that which has fallen and been laid down, that is set up

St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Against the Heathen 33, c. 318
But that the soul is made immortal is a further point in the Church's teaching which you must know, to show how the idols are to be overthrown. But we shall more directly arrive at a knowledge of this from what we know of the body, and from the difference between the body and the soul. For if our argument has proved it to be distinct from the body, while the body is by nature mortal, it follows that the soul is immortal, because it is not like the body.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:18, c. 350
Know also that you have a soul self-governed, the noblest work of God, made after the image of its Creator: Immortal, because of God who gives it immortality; a living being, rational, imperishable, because of Him who bestowed these gifts, having power to do what He wills.

Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Monday, September 25, 2017

What 1 Tm 2:5 Means & Doesn't Mean by "Mediator"

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,
1 Timothy 2:5

Orthodox, Catholics and some Anglican Christians practice asking the departed saints to pray to God on their behalf, and Protestants frequently frown upon this practice. When criticizing the former, the latter will often appeal to this verse as a proof-text against it, saying "Jesus is the only mediator between God and man." It tends to be their go-to text.

However, a closer look at the text itself will show that the two points are not in opposition to each other in the least bit; the saints can still intercede for us, and Christ is still "the one mediator between God and man." This solution will be provided by citing the four preceding verses and the one following, and delving into the context of the word "mediator." The passage below is 1 Timothy 2:1-6
1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people...

What "One Mediator" Does Mean:

Verse 6 is especially important, because it describes what that office of mediator actually looks like and how it came to be. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all people. In paying this ransom, Christ mediated our reconciliation with God the Father.

Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews sheds further light on the issue, because Hebrews equates Christ's office as mediator with his office as high priest of the people of God. Chapters five through ten expound on the nuances of His office as high priest and as mediator.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins... During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
(Hebrews 5:1, 7-10)
Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.

(Hebrews 7:23-27)
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
(Hebrews 9:15)

This last verse cited, IX, xv, directly equates Christ being mediator with his giving his life as a ransom. Other verses could be cited, but these will suffice. An high priest is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, in offering gifts and sacrifices for sinsHe lives always to intercede as a high priest, having sacrificed himself for their sins once for all. Jesus reconciled men unto God through the offering of His life. His sacrifice mediates forgiveness of sins, as is standard of His high priestly office. His mediation is on sacerdotal grounds, meaning that it is a covenantal mediation. It is something much more significant than simply praying on behalf of the people on earth -- this mediatorship encompasses the element of offering sacrifices, of remitting sin, of propitiating God the Father.

What "One Mediator" Doesn't Mean:

But, for the sake of argument, let's say that the word 'mediatior' described in 1 Tm 2:5 is written in an even more general sense and has a wider meaning than simply being the High Priest. Are we to understand it as forbidding intercessory prayer?

In verse 1 of this chapter, Paul urges that petitions, prayers, [and] intercessions be made for all people (the word intercession is specifically used.) If one wants to understand the concepts of intercessor and mediator as being synonymous, then St. Paul is contradicting himself. It is thus not coherent to read this verse as forbidding any and all intercessory prayer aside from that of Christ's.

Furthermore, Scripture itself testifies that the company of heaven do, in fact, pray for the holy ones on earth. The Book of Revelation depicts such an occurrence:
[. . .] the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints
Revelation 5:8
Here, the twenty-four elders and four living creatures, who are present before the throne of God,  present the prayers of the living to the Lamb of God. Paul's words thus cannot exclude this "mediation" which is here described; on the contrary: this intercession which Paul exhorts Timothy to is practiced by the hosts of heaven as well as by the saints upon earth.

One should take note also that it isn't even God the Father to which the incense of prayer is offered, but rather, to the Lamb: Christ, the priest and victim. The Father thus receives the prayers of both the earthly and heavenly saints through his Son. Even amidst the reality of heavenly intercessors, Jesus still stands out as "the one mediator between God and man."

In summary, Christ certainly is the "one mediator between God and man", in context of His high priesthood in Heaven, where He constantly beseeches His Father on behalf of His church, and this mediation is effective through surpassing value of His sacrifice on Calvary. There is nothing in asking the saints in heaven to pray for you which violates this principle -- ergo, there's no compromise in the truth set forth in 1 Timothy 2:5. Christ retains His rightful title and the honor it accords Him.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Who is the Light of the World?

The Transfiguration, Alexander Ivanov, c. 1845, Moscow
[for my friend Benjamin Tercero]

Primarily, Our Lord Jesus Christ gives this title to his very self. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) He is the light in the darkness which came into the world, and the darkness has not overcome Him. (cf. Jn 1)

But notice also what the Lord says in relation to this truth, "Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life." The light of Christ dwells within the Christian. But I ask, to what degree? How brightly does it shine?

The other place where we find the phrase "light of the world" is used in Matthew's Gospel, and when Christ uses it, He says it not in reference to Himself, but to His disciples -- that is, the Church.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Mt. 5:14-16)

And why should that surprise anyone? After all, Paul says the church is, among other things, the body of Christ, and the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way. (Eph. 1:23) We know Jesus is speaking of the Church because he specifically follows up the statement with "a city set on a mountain cannot be hidden", a city being a visible, established community of people. The society of saints itself is designated as "the light of the world."

To say that the Church is his body, even his "fullness" in the world, then the light of Christ, the light of world, only ought naturally to apply to the Church -- it is to be his light in the world, in a very dynamic and real sense. A sacrament to the non-believer.

Applying that there is, in fact, a light of the world, Christ also affirms the other end of this reality: the world is in darkness. The darkness of sin, of a broken humanity. It needs to be shown the light of Christ, to know the redemption and reconciliation which He provides. The Church is to be that light in the world -- to demonstrate, exercise and bestow that healing and forgiveness, to give tangible evidence of that reconciliation.

If you are not the light of the world -- living the Christian life in faith, hope and love -- all the earth will be in darkness, and you yourself will be dwelling in it. You must let your good deeds shine before men for the Father's glory, because it is the Father's glory itself, the grace of Christ, which will give them their brilliance. We were "made to walk in our good deeds." (cf. Eph 2:10)

This is how intimately Christ and the Church associate with each other: they are both, very properly, called "the light of the world." It is Christ's light, but it shines from the tower which is the Church as from a lighthouse, guiding souls to the truth that will set them free -- for just as Christ is truth (Jn. 14:6), the Church is pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Tm 3:15).

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Church Fathers on Original Sin


St. Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130 - c. 202)
But this is Adam, if the truth should be told, the first formed man, of whom the Scripture says that the Lord spoke, Let Us make man after Our own image and likeness; (Genesis 1:26) and we are all from him: and as we are from him, therefore have we all inherited his title.
(Against Heresies III:23:2)
Men cannot be saved in any other way from the ancient wound of the Serpent except by believing in Him who according to the likeness of sinful flesh was lifted up from the earth on the tree of testimony and drew all things to Himself and gave life to the dead.”
(ibid IV:2:8)
But inasmuch as it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word, so was it also by these same that He brought in obedience and consent as respects His Word; by which things He clearly shows forth God Himself, whom indeed we had offended in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. In the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, being made obedient even unto death. For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.
(ibid V:16:3)

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155 - c. 244)
In expressing vexation, contempt, or abhorrence, you have Satan constantly upon your lips; the very same we hold to be the angel of evil, the source of error, the corrupter of the whole world, by whom in the beginning man was entrapped into breaking the commandment of God. And (the man) being given over to death on account of his sin, the entire human race, tainted in their descent from him, were made a channel for transmitting his condemnation.
(Testimony of the Soul 3)

Origen of Alexandria (c. 185 - c. 254)
Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin . . . And if it should seem necessary to do so, there may be added to the aforementioned considerations [referring to previous Scriptures cited that we all sin] the fact that in the Church, Baptism is given for the remission of sin; and according to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given even to infants. And indeed if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of Baptism would seem superfluous.
(Homilies on Leviticus 8:3)

St. Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200 - 258)
For which reason we think that no one is to be hindered from obtaining grace by that law which was already ordained, and that spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision, but that absolutely every man is to be admitted to the grace of Christ, since Peter also in the Acts of the Apostles speaks, and says, The Lord has said to me that I should call no man common or unclean. (Acts 10:28) But if anything could hinder men from obtaining grace, their more heinous sins might rather hinder those who are mature and grown up and older. But again, if even to the greatest sinners, and to those who had sinned much against God, when they subsequently believed, remission of sins is granted— and nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace— how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness
of sins— that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another. (Epistles 58:5)

St. Methodius of Philippi (d. 311)
For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man's ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return, (Genesis 3:19) should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that as in Adam at first all die, even so again in Christ, who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should all be made alive.
(Banquet of the Ten Virgins III:6)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 - 394)
Evil has been intermingled with our nature from the outset, because of those who received passion into themselves at the beginning by disobeying and so giving the disease a home in themselves. And, as in every species of living being, the same nature persists as one follows the other, so that as far as nature itself is concerned, what comes into existence is identical with that whence it came, so it is that man comes from man, the passionate from the passionate, the sinner from the sinner. In some sense, therefore, sin comes to exist along with things that come to be. It is born with it, grows alongside it and ceases only when life is ended.
(Sixth Homily on the Beatitudes)

St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 338 - 397)
Therefore, in accordance with nature, excessive grief must not be yielded to, lest we should seem either to claim for ourselves either an exceptional superiority of nature, or to reject the common lot. For death is alike to all, without difference for the poor, without exception for the rich. And so although through the sin of one alone, yet it passed upon all; (Romans 5:12) that we may not refuse to acknowledge Him to be also the Author of death, Whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the Author of our race; and that, as through one death is ours, so should be also the resurrection; and that we should not refuse the misery, that we may attain to the gift. For, as we read, Christ has come to save that which was lost, (Luke 19:10) and to be Lord both of the dead and living. Romans 14:9 In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of Paradise, in Adam I died; how shall the Lord call me back, except He find me in Adam; guilty as I was in him, so now justified in Christ. If, then, death be the debt of all, we must be able to endure the payment. But this topic must be reserved for later treatment.
(On the Death of Satyrus II, 6)

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jesus Christ As the Wisdom of God

"... Christ,  the wisdom of God and the power of God."
1 Corinthians 12:4 
"... Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Colossians 2:2-3
In the writings of St. Paul, the Apostle makes praises of Jesus as being the ultimate manifestation of God's wisdom (as well as knowledge and power.) What is the significance of this description? Where does the Apostle get this idea? As it turns out, when the Old Testament sings the praises of Wisdom, its descriptions often apply to Christ, even with an exactitude!

It might strike the reader of odd to read about "wisdom" being referred to in the feminine, while Christ Jesus was obviously incarnate as a male. The feminine description of wisdom is purely figurative, symbolic of its surpassing beauty and worthiness. What the Old Testament praises of wisdom figuratively, Christ embodies with a literal quality, actualizing and personifying those many traits that make men savvy to the friendship of God.

Proverbs (8:22-31) ascribes qualities to Wisdom beyond that of a teacher of men. In this beautiful passage, Wisdom says of herself that she was with God before the foundation of the world, and that she labored in its creation, and that she was God's delight.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.
The Proverbs voice her saying "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work", "When he established the heavens, I was there" and "I was beside him, like a master worker." The Book of Sirach, (also known as Ecclesiasticus), makes similar statements, saying "Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity . . . It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works..." (Sirach 1:4, 9)

Ever notice how the Apostles refer to Christ using the exact same notions?

[Christ is] ... the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible... all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:1-4)

Really, the entirety of the Eighth Chapter of Proverbs can be seen as applying to Jesus Christ. (Just read it for yourself and be blown away!) What Wisdom makes of herself in this passage, Christ fulfills to a 't'.

Passages from the Old Testament even touch on the nature of Christ's incarnation, such as saying "Wisdom has built her house." (Proverbs 9:1) In "wisdom building her house", it required only the finest materials; Christ, the wisdom and power of God, was incarnate from a pure and holy virgin, "because wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul, or dwell in a body enslaved to sin." (Wisdom 1:4)

The Old Testament also emphasizes just how precious Wisdom is, and how essential it is to demonstrate one's loyalty to her. The Proverb says "Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever else you get [though it costs you all you have], get insight." (4:6-7) Does not Christ say the same of himself, telling his disciples to follow him at all costs, and that he will not deny them if they do not deny him? (cf. Mt. 10:33) The admonishments of Wisdom and the admonishments of Christ are not all that different.

In the next chapter (Proverbs 9:4b-5), Wisdom also says:
    To those without sense she says,
"Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”
Drinking her wine and eating her bread has a greatly beneficial quality. Sort of like Jesus, right?
Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.... I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.(John 6:35, 51)

The Book of Sirach (51:23, 26-27) voices Wisdom's invitation to the unwise in the following manner:
"Draw near to me, you who are uneducated,
    and lodge in the house of instruction. . . . "
Put your neck under her[the] yoke,
    and let your souls receive instruction;
    it is to be found close by.
See with your own eyes that I have labored but little
    and found for myself much serenity. 
Sound familiar? It should: these words hold a resemblance to that of some of the most beautiful ever spoken by Christ. Christ offers himself to those lacking in a similar fashion: he will teach them and aleve them. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

And yet, there are those who spurn wisdom: there are also those who spurn Christ. Proverbs' very fist chapter includes the following (Proverbs 1:28-29):
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
This is part of Wisdom's scoff of those who did not find her because they did not fear the Lord. In John 7, after Jesus is scoffed by the Jews of whom he claimed did not know God, he departs from them, saying: "You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” (John 7:34)

Christ expresses the wisdom of God with so much simplicity and, simultaneously, so much depth. The infant wades and the elephant drowns. He is the instructor of those who truly long for righteous living.

Take, for example, his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. There, by "not abolishing the Law but fulfilling it", he demonstrates what was in God's heart the whole time when he had given the Israelites the law. He reveals that the commandment against "thou shalt not kill" was speaking past simple exterior action and going to straight to the human heart, telling man not to be angry with his brother. Likewise, the commandment was not in itself  merely concerning "thou shalt not commit adultery", but was telling us not to lust for anyone at all. He goes beyond saying to "love your neighbor and hate your enemies" to say "love your enemies."

Christ is thus not only the one who teaches us God's divine wisdom, but equipts and enables us to use it. This is part of what's so beautiful about knowing Jesus of Nazareth. He is more than just a wise teacher that lived two thousand years ago. He is the wisdom of God itself, incarnate from a pure womb, living and breathing in human flesh. He is what all the wise and learned of ancient times were reaching for, aiming for, striving for, but could never accomplish. He is the fulfillment of a promise, prophesied through the mouths and pens of multiple prophets. He "one-ups" every single other wise teacher, philosopher and religious founder in the entire world: while the rest all proclaimed to have discovered the way, the truth, the life, only Christ says "I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life."

[The icon is of Christ Pantocrator (Christ Almighty),St. Catherine's monastery, Sinai, Egypt, 6th century.]

Monday, May 29, 2017

Answering a Common Argument Against "Theotokos"

Theotokos of Vladimir Icon
The assertion of the Marian title "Theotokos" or "Mother of God" is established on the following grounds:
  1. Jesus Christ is God
  2. Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ
  3. Ergo, Mary is the Mother of God
This is the historic understanding of the Christian faith; it is inferred from the teaching of Scripture (cf. Is 7:14; Lk. 1:43), and the title's usage is well-established in the Church Fathers (Athanasius, Ephraim, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, Jerome, Epiphanius)

There are some who nevertheless oppose this assertion, even should they acknowledge its truth, replying that it the assertion is, at least, misleading, if not actually erroneous. They demonstrate the basis for their rejection of the term by offering the following syllogism which intends to employ the reductio ad absurdum, the syllogism being so obviously false in its conclusion that it demonstrates the beginning premise must be false.
  1. Mary is the Mother of God
  2. God is a Trinity
  3. Therefore, Mary is Mother of the Trinity
The argument based upon this syllogism is itself fallacious, on account of its presuppositions being removed from the context of the Christian Faith. It makes an erroneous assessment of the word "God", one that is too limited and too narrow.

It is important to remember what exactly the doctrine of the MOST HOLY TRINITY is. Each person of the MOST HOLY TRINITY are fully God. The Three Persons do not each constitute 1/3 of God -- rather, each Person is wholly, 100% God. (To believe otherwise is to adhere to the heresy of Partialism.) The title "God" can refer not only to the Godhead in its Three Persons, but can apply to any of Its individual Persons as well. The Father is Divinity in its fullness; the Son is Divinity in its fullness; the Spirit is Divinity in its fullness.

The Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth only one of the Divine Persons, yet that Person was and is "the fullness of deity dwelling in bodily form." (cf. Colossians 2:9) The Person whom Mary birthed was not merely partly God, or part of God, but was wholly God. The error in this counter-syllogism is its presupposition that the term "God" is exclusively applied to the Triune Godhead, and not also to any of the individual Persons which compose it.

Neither can, if one holds to proper Trinitarian theology, this doctrine be misunderstood as Jesus also being the other members of the Holy Trinity as well (for this is the heresy of Modalism.) Mary was but the human mother to the Second Person of the Trinity made Incarnate, the Word made flesh, as it was only this Person of the Godhead who became man. The same cannot be said for God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. The term "Mother of God" is but reference to the Incarnate Christ, and neither of the other two Members of the MOST HOLY TRINITY.

All in all, in order for any objection to the Marian title "Mother of God" to be a valid criticism, it must either assume or prove that he who uses the title and professes it to be true has a heretical understanding of the person of Christ or of the Holy Trimity. Ergo, let no Christian be criticized for using the title, because if they understand it in a way which contradicts proper Christology or Trinitarian theology, they don't qualify as an orthodox Christian to begin with. Far from being unorthodox or heretical, the validity of this title, Theotokos, is actually demanded on the grounds of proper Christology.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ancient Christian Thought on Mary's Spiritual Motherhood

Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
John 19:27
Contrary to certain assertions, there was in fact an understanding in the early Church of Mary being a spiritual mother to Christians, albeit, they do not convey the full blossoming of Marian devotion as we have it today. What they do convey, however, is the idea that Mary, by virtue of having birthed the Redeemer, has by extension, also birthed all the redeemed.

For the most part, it is conveyed in a formal, theological sense, and not in the personal, devotional sense of "Mama Mary." But this is somewhat expected: the earliest writings of the Church are almost all focused either on apologetics against heresy and paganism, or on church discipline. Theology for theology's sake was not the standard for most of the ancient saints, and any purely sentimental expression of devotion was all the more infrequent. So the fact that this concept of the Blessed Virgin being a universal mother to the members of Christ's body is present at all is noteworthy, and in my mind, can be argued to supply enough substance for adequate development of later ages.

Second Century:
Again, there are those who say, He is a man, and who shall know him? and, I came unto the prophetess, and she bore a son, and His name is called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God; and those [of them] who proclaimed Him as Immanuel, [born] of the Virgin, exhibited the union of the Word of God with His own workmanship, [declaring] that the Word should become flesh, and the Son of God the Son of man (the pure One opening purely that pure womb which regenerates men unto God, and which He Himself made pure)
-St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies IV:33:11
Third Century:
We may therefore make bold to say that the Gospels are the first fruits of all the Scriptures, but that of the Gospels that of John is the first fruits. No one can apprehend the meaning of it except he have lain on Jesus' breast and received from Jesus Mary to be his mother also. Such an one must he become who is to be another John, and to have shown to him, like John, by Jesus Himself Jesus as He is. For if Mary, as those declare who with sound mind extol her, had no other son but Jesus, and yet Jesus says to His mother, "Woman, behold your son,"(John 19:26) and not "Behold you have this son also", then He virtually said to her, "Lo, this is Jesus, whom you bore." Is it not the case that every one who is perfect lives himself no longer, (Galatians 2:20) but Christ lives in him; and if Christ lives in him, then it is said of him to Mary, "Behold your son Christ."
-Origen of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, I:6
Fourth Century: 
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). This is she who was prefigured by Eve and who symbolically received the title of mother of the living (cf. Gen 3:20). For Eve was called mother of the living after she had heard the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19), in other words, after the fall. It seems odd that she should receive such a grand title after having sinned. Looking at the matter from the outside, one notices that Eve is the one from whom the entire human race took its origin on this earth. Mary, on the contrary, truly introduced life itself into the world by giving birth to the Living One, so that Mary has become the Mother of the living.
-St. Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion (Against Heresies) 78:18 (emphasis mine)
Fifth Century:
His mother is [a figure of] the whole Church, because she herself assuredly gives birth to His members, that is, His faithful ones... that one female, not only in the Spirit, but also in the flesh, is both a mother and a virgin. And a mother indeed in the Spirit, not of our Head, Which is the Saviour Himself, of Whom rather she was born after the Spirit: forasmuch as all, who have believed in Him, among whom is herself also, are rightly called children of the Bridegroom: but clearly the mother of His members, which are we: in that she wrought together by charity, that faithful ones should be born in the Church, who are members of That Head: but in the flesh, the mother of the Head Himself.
-St. Augustine of Hippo, On Holy Virginity 5, 6

Notable in all these expressions, they carry a Christological significance. Something it is healthy and good for all Christians to keep in mind is that Jesus Christ is the connection between Mary and all those who think of her as their mother, and that any Marian devotion practiced by Christians will be depraved if devotion to Christ is not its means and its end.