Mary: Channel or Essential?

St. John Chrysostom makes it very clear that the incarnation of God, and thus our salvation, is an act of synergy between humanity and divinity.  Specifically it is an act of synergy between the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit.  Even the Nicene Creed says “of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”  It is not just the power of the Holy Spirit or the Will of God.  The free ascent of Mary is part and parcel to the incarnation of God.  Mary was not, as Chrysostom notes, a mere channel through whom God passed to enter into the world.  Christ receives His humanity – a fallen humanity – from her,  He doesn’t create a new perfect nature but receives human nature and renews it (as in Revelation 21:5, Christ doesn’t make all new things but makes all things new).    She is the humanly essential person in the Word becoming flesh – without her the incarnation and our salvation does not take place.  Our salvation depends on and results from her willing participation in the incarnation.  Her pregnancy is not the result of rape, or of her being overwhelmed by God.  Rather, she  willingly and freely agrees to give her own humanity to God’s plan of salvation – the mystery from all eternity (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 1:9, 3:9).  Chrysostom writes:

“Neither the angel Gabriel nor the evangelist Matthew can say anything except that the birth of Christ was the work of the Holy Spirit, but neither of the two explains how the Spirit did this, since such a mystery is totally beyond words. Do not believe that you have understood the mystery, just because you hear the words ‘of the Holy Spirit’. For even after we have learned this, there remain many things we do not know about. For example: How could the Infinite be contained in a womb? How could the Virgin give birth and continue to be a virgin? Tell me, how did the Spirit fashion that temple? How did he take from his Mother, not all of her body, but only a part that he augmented and formed? The evangelist clearly states that Christ came forth from the Virgin’s body in these words: ‘That which is conceived in you’ (Mt. 1:20), and Paul does the same: ‘Born of a woman’ (Gal. 4:4), in order to stop the mouths of these who say Christ passed through his Mother’s womb as if through a channel.” (in Mary and the Fathers of the Church by Luigi Gambero, p 174)



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