Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What About Mary?

At the dawn of human history Adam, the representative head of humanity, chose darkness and turned away from his Creator, subjecting himself and his descendants to Satan’s power, sin, and death.

This “original sin” is referred to as "the Fall." Humanity, at that point, "fell" from the holiness and purity with which we were created. From that point, our hearts, minds, and souls ceased to be oriented toward glorifying God and enjoying him.

The Fall twisted every human faculty: body, heart, soul and mind in on itself, toward the darkness rather than the light. While the image of God remains in us, the image is darkened and skewed to the extent that all are, as Paul says in Ephesians 2, “dead” in sin. We cannot turn toward God unless God himself, by a special act of grace, gives us the power to do so (John 6:44).

“Naturally” speaking, all human beings are from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5), by nature (Eph 2:1-3) “oriented” or turned away from God and toward the self.

So that by the time we are old enough to make moral choices, we invariably follow our father Adam choosing the darkness over the light. Both by nature and by will, we suppress the core truths that God makes known in creation and that he imprints upon conscience; that God exists and that he alone is God (Romans 1:18-21).

And in the space created by this willed suppression, we set ourselves exhaustively to work fashioning little gods to supplant the God we will not face and for whom we have been made and designed to glorify.

We know Adam’s rebellion well because we are all party to it.

But the plain fact of this rebellion is an oddity. That human rebellion exists and continues within the created realm of an omnipotent and just God is an incredible thing.

When Eve, with Adam’s complicity, bit down on the forbidden fruit, human history ought to have come to an abrupt and manifestly just end.

But it did not.


Paul answers that question in the very same section of Ephesians 2 in which he describes the depths of the human fall from grace. After revealing that we are all "dead in sin" and by nature "objects of wrath" Paul writes:

"4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved..."

God loves us. And so, for that reason, in and through his Son Jesus Christ God intervened.

This was not an afterthought on God's part. Jesus was not God's "plan B" after "plan A", Adam, failed. In fact, in the very ruins of the Fall we see not only death and slavery, but a promise.

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15)

There are two very significant points to make about this passage.

First, you would expect that the text, written from within a patriarchal setting, might have read something like this:

“I will put enmity between you and the man and between your offspring and his offspring…”

Instead, the enmity is between the woman and the serpent, his offspring and hers. Strangely, the woman stands center ring and grapples with the serpent, not the man.

Second, the word here translated as “offspring” is the Hebrew word for “seed” and it is singular. Generally speaking, when the Hebrew Scriptures make use of the word “seed” it is in reference to the generative power of the man. A child comes from his father’s seed.

It must have seemed very odd to ancient scribes of the Old Covenant that in this case the child, the seed, is specifically identified with the woman. The “Seed” comes from the woman without reference to the man.

But for believers in the New Covenant it is not at all odd.

Mary the Virgin conceived and gave birth to a Son without the agency of a human father.

The Seed coming from the woman crushed the serpent’s head. And the serpent struck him.

Through the woman’s Seed, Jesus, God established new family with a new Head whose progeny are no longer subject to Satan, sin, or death.

To do this, God necessarily interrupted the transference of sin from generation to generation.

There are three things that must be upheld with regard to this divine interruption within the womb of Mary.

1. There was never a time when Jesus was not fully God the Son. Through the power of God the Holy Spirit Mary conceived and at the same time, in the very same act, God the Son took on or “assumed” human nature in Mary’s womb. For this reason it is rightly said that Mary is “theotokos” or, the “bearer of God.” This title does not mean that Mary in any way served as the originator or generator of the divinity of Christ. It does mean that God the Son lived in Mary in the person of Jesus’ at the moment of his conception.

As Calvin wrote, “Christ is not said to have been made by a woman, but of a woman…” (Inst 2.13.3) Further, the title “theotokos” guards against the re-emergent heresy of adoptionism: the assertion that God “empowered” or indwelled Jesus at his baptism or at the transfiguration. There was never a time when Jesus was not fully God the Son.

2. Jesus’ full humanity was like Adam’s humanity. God created Jesus’ human nature in much the same way that he created Adam. Adam was not conceived in the normal way. He did not have a human father and his mother was in some sense the dust of the earth. In the same way, Jesus, without a human father, was conceived and formed in the womb of Mary. Mary was the “dust” out of which God formed the New Adam. In this way the transference sin nature from generation to generation was interrupted. Of course, this does not mean that women are any less fallen than men. It simply means that God intervened to the effect that Jesus was conceived without the stain of original sin.

3. Jesus’ humanity was taken from Mary. For Roman Catholics this necessarily means that Mary herself was born without a sin nature. The sanctifying blood of Christ is applied backwards in time so that Mary was conceived “immaculate.” Here is the relevant section from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God,[134] was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (para 490)

Protestants, including most Anglicans (and we at Good Shepherd), disagree. Mary, as a descendant of Adam, was fallen. Jesus was conceived without the taint of original sin because his humanity was made pure at his conception not Mary's. Here is Calvin once more:

“We do not hold Christ to be free from all taint, merely because he was born of a woman unconnected with a man, but because he was sanctified by the Spirit, so that the generation was pure and spotless, such as it would have been before Adam's fall.” (Inst 2.13.4)

Moreover, Mary, in her song following Gabriel's visitation, says, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior"(Luke 1:47). Sinless people do not need God's salvation. There would be nothing to be saved from or too. In her song of rejoicing, Mary humbly acknowledges her need for God's salvation.

In any case, both Protestant and Roman Catholic insist that that Jesus’ full humanity was “of” or “from” Mary.

The Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit conceived brought forth Jesus the Christ, the New Adam and God the Son, fully Man and fully God.

What Adam failed to do, this New Adam has done. Whereas Adam rebelled and became subject to death, the New Adam obediently subjected himself to death so that all might live.

I’ll say more about how the manner of Christ’s conception and birth presaged his purpose and mission in the last and final installment of this series which should be completed tomorrow.

No comments: