The Coherence of Christian Theology VIII

The Incarnation and Mary

We have already seen how the Incarnation is not just an isolated point of doctrine among a list of other points of doctrine which Christians are called to believe. Rather, the Incarnation is the foundation and limit of all our doctrines, from the Holy Trinity, to salvation, to the Church and Sacraments. But most especially is this so in terms of Mary, our Lord’s mother.

Christians believe what we do about Mary precisely on the basis of the Incarnation. If there were no Incarnation, Mary would be among the great saints of the Old Testament, and a worthy exemplar. But it is hard to see how she would be more remarkable, say, than Elijah. That she was, and is, a holy woman, would no doubt be true. However, it is not on account of her holiness that we remember her. We honor her, and call her blessed, because from her our Lord took his humanity, and in her womb he resided for nine months. She is unique among all human beings, and apart from her obedience there would be no Incarnation. God prepared just one woman among all women to bear the Son. Upon her voluntary acquiescence hung all of salvation history.

And because she said yes, because all those years of preparation and her consecration to virginity and her life in the Temple were not in vain, God blessed us in her by sending us his Son through her. Mary was mortal and subject to death as we all are, and she needed the same redemption we need. But she, and no one else, is the Mother of our Lord, and so we honor her with special honor.

It is because of the Incarnation that the Church knew and teaches us, that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of our Lord. It is because of the Incarnation that the Church knew and teaches us, that on Mary’s falling asleep, the Lord himself raised her to incorruptibility. It is because of the Incarnation that the Church knew and teaches us, that Mary has a special place among God’s saints and a special efficacity in interceding for us. It is because of the Incarnation that the Church knew and teaches us, that the Mother of our Lord is our own Mother, too. It is because of the Incarnation that the Church knew and teaches us, that Our Lady is truly all-holy, Panagia.

Who, believing that Mary held in her womb the Living God, could ever suppose that Mary would not remain virgin? Who, believing that Mary gave birth to the One who redeemed us from death, could ever think that Christ would not also raise her from corruptibility upon her own death? Who, believing that Mary is truly the Mother of our Lord, could ever subscribe to the notion that Mary is no better than us and no more powerful an intercessor for us? Who, believing that her own words indicating all generations would call her blessed, could ever think that she is not, by virtue of the Incarnation, our own Mother, too? Who, believing that the ministry of Christ brought into union the human and divine, believing that by virtue of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan all the waters on earth have been blessed, could ever think it improper to call she who nursed at her breast the Great God and Savior of us, all-holy?

All that Mary is to us, she is because the Person who was conceived in her womb, whom she carried for those nine months, whom she bore in a stable, is Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made. All that we believe about Mary is predicated upon her Son. If we believed these things apart from the Incarnation, we may well be suspected of idolatry. But believing in the Incarnation we cannot but believe these things about Mary, and call her what she is, indeed: the Mother of our God.

When one begins seriously to think through the logic of the Incarnation, then it is simple and self-evident: Mary has a unique place in salvation history, and all that we know of her from the Church–in the Church’s Scriptures, the Church’s worship, and the Church’s tradition or life–is manifestly true . . . on the basis of the fact of the Incarnation.

I, myself, did not always understand the Church’s devotion to and respect for the Virgin Mary. Good Protestant that I was, I frankly was suspicious of the requesting of Mary’s prayers, cast a doubtful eyebrow upward at the Rosary, and would never be caught praying the Akathist to Mary. But all that began to change when I began to think through the implications of the Incarnation. Less than a year after my graduation from Bible college, after careful thought, I began to pray the Rosary from time to time. But even then, that was a rare practice, and I never otherwise asked Mary’s intercessions of more fully thought through what the Church knows about Mary.

Until two years ago. It was mid-October 2002, and I was on an individual retreat at a Benedictine monastery in central Michigan. There were many things on my mind that weekend, not the least of which was the subject of the Orthodox Church and several doctrinal matters I’d been studying and meditating on for several months. Among those things on my mind was concern for my marriage. Not that Anna and I were having any serious troubles, but as all couples from time to time experience, I did not then feel that we were as close as we could be. It sometimes felt that we were two individuals, very much in love, but nonetheless more a couple than a union. So, after browsing through the monastery library for a good part of Saturday afternoon, I came across the Akathist to the Theotokos, a long and lyrical hymn about the Virgin Mary. I determined that during the meditation hour after compline, I would pray that prayer. So I did. And at the end of it, I asked Mary to pray for Anna and I, that we would be more one than two.

What I will know relate is simple fact: Within a month of that prayer, Anna was pregnant with our daughter Sofie. Some will scoff at the coincidence. Others will solemnly declare that when it comes to prayer, there are no coincidences. All I can say for sure is that the after-effects of that pregnancy are precisely what I asked for in that prayer, and likely what the Blessed Lady herself asked for as well. Can I prove this to you? No. I will not try. But I know what I believe. And that is enough for me.

Since that time two years ago, the logic of the Incarnation has made its way into my understanding about Mary, Mother of Jesus. And because of the Incarnation, I believe what I do about Mary. She is the Mother of our Lord, and my Mother, too.

More honorable than the cherubim, more glorious beyond compare with the seraphim, O thou who without stain, bore God the Word, true Mother of God, we magnify thee. So did Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. So do I.

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