Through Mary All Women Are Blessed

Through Mary, a special blessing descended upon all women, and Proclus sets out to determine this by using biblical characters as examples:

‘Thanks to her, all women are blessed. It is not possible that woman should remain under her curse; to the contrary, she now has a reason to surpass even the glory of the angels. Eve has been healed; the Egyptian woman [Hagar] has been silenced; Delilah has been buried; Jezebel has fallen into oblivion; even Herodias has been forgotten.

Today, a list of women is admired: Sarah is acclaimed as the fertile field of the peoples; Rebekah is honored as the able conciliator of blessings; Leah, too, is admired as mother of the ancestor [Judah] according to the flesh; Deborah is praised for having struggled beyond the powers of her womanly nature; Elizabeth is called blessed for having carried the Forerunner, who leapt for joy in her womb, and for having giving witness to grace; Mary is venerated, because she became the Mother, the cloud, the bridal chamber, and the ark of the Lord.'”

(Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 256)

A Theology of Woman

CreationAdamEve

From one of Cyril [of Jerusalem]’s statements, we might cull a starting point for a theology of woman:

At first, the feminine sex was obligated to give thanks to men, because Eve, born of Adam but not conceived by a mother, was in a certain sense born of man. Mary, instead, paid off the debt of gratitude: she did not give birth by means of a man, but by herself, virginally, through the working of the Holy Spirit and the power of God.

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Cyril seems to want to say that the Blessed Virgin restored woman’s dignity, reestablishing her position of equality with regard to man and ennobling her role as mother. Mary’s response to God, who spoke to her through the mouth of an angel, reminds women that they, too, are partners, not only of men, but of God himself.

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The prestigious catechist of the Jerusalem Church, through his simple, spontaneous, and lively style, tries to make his disciples understand that the figure of Mary is essential to understanding the mystery of Christ. God, incarnate and made man, appears in all his mysterious divine-human reality and in his glory as the Savior of men only if he is presented alongside his Mother, from whom he received the body that made him Emmanuel, God-with-us.”

(Luigi Gamero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p. 139)

“Blessed is the Man…” AND Also the Woman

Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female . . . ?”   (Matthew 19:4)

There is neither … male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28)

St. Basil the Great writing in the 4th Century addresses an issue that is still relevant today – are women somehow excluded from the life of holiness because they are not males?  Obviously,women in his day felt excluded from the life in the Church, as many do today.  While his answer will not satisfy some today, he does argue that there is no difference between holiness in men and women, and that God equally honors both male and female.

.‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly’ [Psalm 1:1].  What is truly good, therefore, is principally and primarily the most blessed. And that is God.

..But before I explain what it is ‘not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly,’ I wish to settle the question asked at this point. Why, you say, does the prophet single out only man and proclaim him happy? Does he not exclude women from happiness? By no means. For, the virtue of man and women is the same, since creation is equally honored in both; therefore, there is the same reward for both. Listen to Genesis. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.’ They whose nature is alike have the same reward. Why, then, when Scripture had made mention of man, did it leave woman unnoticed? Because it believed that it was sufficient, since their nature is alike, to indicated the whole through the more authoritative part.

‘Blessed, therefore, is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly.’

(The Fathers of the Church: St. Basil Exegetic Homilies, pp. 155-156)

Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”  (John 8:10-11)

Motherhood

While today is Mother’s Day in the United States, in Orthodoxy references to mother often bring to mind the Mother of God, Mary the Virgin.

Fr. Georges Florovsky writes, “She [the Virgin Mother] was not just a ‘channel’ through which the Heavenly Lord has come, but truly the mother of whom he took his humanity…Motherhood, in general, is by no means exhausted by the mere fact of a physical procreation…  In fact, procreation itself establishes an intimate spiritual relation between the mother and the child. This relation is unique and reciprocal, and its essence is affection or love…  or could Jesus fail to be truly human in his filial response to the motherly affection of the one of whom he was born…” (Christos Yannaras, Against Religion, p. 128)

 

The Effects of the Expulsion from Paradise in Patristic Thinking

This is the 31st blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of St. John Chrysostom.

The story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise inspired the Patristic theologians to apply the story to a wide diversity of topics from theology, to ethics, to explaining the world as it is. They also sometimes saw the story of the Fall as having practical moral applications.  For example from the desert fathers we have this wisdom attributed to Hyperechius (d. ca 420AD):

“He also said, ‘It was through whispering that the serpent drove Eve out of Paradise, so he who speaks against his neighbor will be like the serpent, for he corrupts the soul of him who listens to him and he does not save his own soul.’” (in THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 238)

Hyperechius finds in the story of the Fall a lesson against gossiping, spreading rumors and speaking against one’s neighbor.  Every community has felt the destructive power of those who whisper secrets against one another.

The Fall was also, according to the Fathers, the explanation for all manners of evil in the world including slavery and other forms of inequality.

“At the fall came hatred and strife and the deceits of the serpent. . . I would have you look back to our primary equality of rights … not to the later division . . . Reverence the ancient freedom … Reverence yourself.”  (St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 391AD), THE HUNGRY ARE DYING, p 150)

St. Gregory Nazianzen blames the Fall for unleashing on the world hatred and strife as well as the inequalities one can observe everywhere – between the rich and poor, between men and women, between races and nationalities.  He believed all humans had an innate, ancient freedom which had been lost as a result of the Fall.  The divisions between humankind which limit the freedoms of some and increase the powers of others are all a result of the Fall, not part of how God intended the world to be.

Interesting, for me at least, is did St. Gregory apply his thinking to all social hierarchy?   For example did it cause him to see the imperial form of government not as natural for humans but purely the result of the Fall – a necessary evil?  I also wonder how he would have applied his thinking to the emerging and becoming rigid notions of hierarchy in the church, especially in the light of Christ’s own condemnation of Christians trying to lord it over one another (Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 23:8-12; Luke 22:25-27).   It is note worthy that despite the emphasis in more recent times that the Church is hierarchical, in the 4th Century when adopting the Creedal formula regarding the Church, our Fathers in the faith did not include the world hierarchical, but expressed a faith in a one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, excluding hierarchical as the canon for the church.

“Thus in Adam’s case, too, since he had not used his dwelling in paradise to his advantage, he brought him to his senses by expulsion; and his wife, who had enjoyed equal status but proved the worse for it, he made better by slavery and subjection.”  (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS  Vol 2, p 155)

Chrysostom sees the subjection of women to men as a direct result of the Fall, not part of God’s original plan for humanity.   However, he seems to accept this subjection as not only normal to this Fallen world, but perhaps even a corrective for women as a whole since apparently all women share collectively in the sin of Eve.   He apparently doesn’t think that Christians living in the light of Christ who overcomes the effects of the Fall should try to undo the inequalities of this world regarding gender.  Was he simply the product of his own time and patriarchal society?  Several Fathers mention slavery and inequality as resulting from the Fall, but almost none advocated abolishing such inequalities.

Next:  Adam’s Expulsion in Later Patristic Writings

Mother’s Day (2010)

Mother of God

We honor today our mothers for being the life-bearers of the human race,  for bringing us into the world, for the nurturing roles they play in our lives, for raising us up, for their roles in forming our beliefs and moral thinking.   

May God bless them all, always.

While we offer prayers today for our mothers, here is a prayer that mothers today can offer up for their children of all ages:

Lord our God, in Your wisdom You created humans from the earth and breathed the breathe of life into them.   In humility I call upon your goodness, asking that you unceasingly pour out your grace upon my child/children.   Fill him/her/them with wisdom and understanding so that she/he/they might always choose the good.   Protect them/him/her from all of the snares of the evil one.  Command Your angels to be with her /him/them and guide him/her/them toward good works, so that they/she/he may always praise and glorify You all the days of his/her/their life/lives.  Amen.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:8-10 (b)

 See: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:8-10 (a)

Genesis 6:8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. 9 These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

“Noah walked with God”    Like Enoch in 5:22, Noah too walks with God.  These are the only 2 personages in the Bible who are credited with walking with God.  However, in Genesis 18:16-33, Abraham walks with his three mysterious visitors and talks with the Lord while walking, giving us an idea about what a walk with God consists and what one converses with God about when walking with Him.   The implication is clear that those who walk with God are viewed as righteous, though the text doesn’t indicate whether the walk or the righteousness comes first. 

“Noah walked with God”    Noah is described as being righteous in his generation – there were perhaps many paths he could have walked and many companions he could have chosen.   He chose to walk with God. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1).  With whom do we prefer to travel?   What path do we chose and which destination?   Noah seemed willing to take any path as long as it was with God.  What would it mean for us if we were to make that choice?

“Noah, as He saw your nobility, the purity of your character and perfection in all things, God manifested you openly as the founder of the second world.  You preserved for it the seed of every kind, as He Himself decreed, from the overwhelming flood.”  (From the Canon of the Holy Forefathers of Christ)

Noah, the man to whom God spoke, is left speechless in the story.  There is no record of what if anything Noah may have said to God.  There is no record of any dialogue between God and Noah – all we have is several comments from God to Noah.  Is Noah’s righteousness purely that he was obedient –  God said it, Noah believed it, that settled it?   The very first words Noah will speak, and his only words recorded in the scriptures are his curse of his grandson Canaan in Genesis 9:25.

“Noah had three sons…”    He also had a wife, yet she is not even given honorable mention at this point in the story.   Her name is never mentioned.  These early chapters of Genesis do not place a strong emphasis on family or marital life and values in a way modern Christians might prefer.  Whatever role the husband and wife have with each other or whatever role the parents are to play in the lives of their children is not discussed.   Fathers and sons are listed without mentioning wives or mothers, though the existence of women in implicit in the text – it is not explicit.  The focus on the father-son relationship is suggestive that a very patriarchal tradition (tradition means a handing on of values and wisdom) is the normative way for families to operate.    The text offers us little insight into or from family life among these fathers of our faith. 

Noah’s sons are not credited with being righteous as Noah is, however they will benefit from the righteousness of their father as God will invite them to enter the ark of salvation.

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:11-12 (a)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:1-2, 4 (a)

See: Reading Noah and the Flood Through the Source Theory Lens (c)

Genesis 6:1 When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose.             …3* (Verse 3 will be dealt with after verses 1-2 & 4 which have a similar theme and so are grouped together)  …   4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

“When men began to multiply on the face of the ground…”   Although God had commanded the humans at their creation to be fruitful and multiply, throughout the early chapters of Genesis increasing numbers of humans seem to exponentially multiply sins and problems.

“…daughters were born…”   Daughters and women in general have played a very minor role in the opening chapters of Genesis.  Eve was the first human to rebel against God, but the only other women mentioned by name are those in the genealogy of Cain.  It does appear that the reference in these chapters to daughters or women in general is a sign of further problems.  In most of the genealogy following the descendents of Seth wives are not even generically mentioned; only fathers and sons get mentioned by name.  After Eve, the next time a wife is mentioned in the Seth lineage is with Noah and his sons.  The next wife actually named will not occur until Sarai, wife of Abraham is mentioned at the end of Genesis 11.

“…sons of God…”   It is possible that this section of the story with the references to the sons of God might actually have originated in a pagan source where avatars,  “sons of Hercules,  and other human offspring of the gods are common themes.  Judaism developed its own language and imagery which includes the phrase “son(s) of God”.   The inclusion in Genesis of verses 6:1-2 and 4 may have resulted from the Jews adapting some erstwhile pagan stories to their own use.    Some interpreters have seen the “sons of god” as a reference to angels or demons intermarrying with humans and producing “divine” offspring.  Such an explanation is totally inconsistent with Jewish and Biblical anthropology.  First neither angels nor demons have been mentioned in the text.  Second, both angels and demons are bodiless powers and would have no way to have sexual intercourse with the humans.  Angels in Biblical thinking don’t become human when they sin – that would be more a pagan or dualistic idea, not a biblical one.   No matter what the origins of stories about the “sons of God’, probably the interpretation of the text which is most consistent with the witness of the rest of Genesis would be that the descendents of Seth (the sons of God) began intermarrying with the daughters of the outcast Cain, something which displeased God.

“…they took to wife such of them as they chose…”     The text indicates a disorderly world, with each person doing as they saw fit with no regard for anyone else and especially with no regard for God’s wishes.  If God intended an orderly universe with each kind of animal and even each kind of human (descendents of Cain or the Sethites) maintaining separate realms, then the story is showing that the humans continue to push the world toward disorderly chaos by failing to respect the boundaries in creation established by God.  The human penchant for disregarding and destroying God’s established boundaries and realms is a major theme of the early chapters of Genesis.   In the Flood story God will be described as grief stricken because of this destructiveness of humans.

“…daughters of men…”  The earlier genealogies rarely mention daughters (except in the lineage of Cain), here nameless daughters are mentioned, and their role is that of temptresses.   Is it the women’s fault that they are good looking?  It is not the women who are out of control; they simply are what they are.  It is the “sons of God” who are doing whatever they want.  Is the text suggesting that lust is uncontrollable in the sons of God?  St. Isaac the Syrian believed that lust was the only major sin of these early citizens on earth.  Such stories will contribute to the monastic ideal of chastity and celibacy as the means for humans to overcome their own sinfulness.  It is desire which gives birth to so many evils, a theme common in ancient Hindu and Buddhist writings as well in which desire destroys the underlying unity of all things and causes the formation of the “self” which is in opposition to all other “selves.”

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:1-2,4 (b)