In this article, I am not going to offer any significant commentary. The passages will mostly speak for themselves. I will offer some comments, but not in some overarching narrative. Not all of these texts are “smoking guns” against the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. One of them, in fact, actually is consistent with an aspect of Father Kappes’ thesis.
- Saint Gregory the Illuminator:
And when this word,
Hail, thou that art highly favoured, reached her, in the very moment of her hearing it, the Holy Spirit entered into the undefiled temple of the Virgin, and her mind and her members were sanctified together…in a manner contrary to nature, or rather above nature, doing a miraculous work in the body; and by the very weapons by which the devil strove against us, Christ also saved us, taking to Himself our passible body in order that He might impart the greater grace to the being who was deficient in it. And
where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And appropriately was grace sent to the holy Virgin. (St Gregory the Illuminator, Homily 2 on the Annunciation, Par 3)
Gabriel was sent to bear to Adam the signature of his restoration; Gabriel was sent to a virgin, in order to transform the dishonour of the female sex into honour; Gabriel was sent to prepare the worthy chamber for the pure spouse; Gabriel was sent to wed the creature with the Creator…
In the sixth month Gabriel was sent to a virgin—he who received, indeed, such injunctions as these: “
Come hither now, archangel, and become the minister of a dread mystery which has been kept hidden, and be the agent in the miracle. I am moved by my compassions to descend to earth in order to recover the lost Adam. Sin has made him decay who was made in my image, and has corrupted the work of my hands, and has obscured the beauty which I formed…And address Mary with the saturation, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, ‘that I may show compassion for Eve in her depravation.'” The archangel heard these things, and considered them within himself, as was reasonable, and said: “…And is He who condemned Eve, urgent to put such honour upon her daughter?”…
Thereupon the angel set himself to carry out the commission given him, and repaired to the Virgin, and addressed her with a loud voice, saying:
Hail, thou that are highly favoured! The Lord is with you. No longer shall the devil be against you; for where of old that adversary inflicted the wound, there now first of all does the Physician apply the salve of deliverance. Where death came forth, there has life now prepared its entrance. By a woman came the flood of our ills, and by a woman also our blessings have their spring. Hail, thou that are highly favoured! (Gregory the Illuminator, Homily 3 On the Annunciation)
I embolden, “No longer shall the devil be against you,” because I keep getting asked theoretical questions from people: “Are you saying there was a time Mary was under the power of the devil!?!?!?” Don’t ask me, ask Gregory!
2. Saint Methodius of Olympus:
Isaiah is our witness, who proclaims distinctly to the whole earth under the sun:
Before she travailed, he says,
she brought forth before her pains came, she escaped, and brought forth a man-child. Isaiah 66:7 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? The must holy virgin mother, therefore, escaped entirely the manner of women even before she brought forth: doubtless, in order that the Holy Spirit, betrothing her unto Himself, and sanctifying her, she might conceive without intercourse with man. She has brought forth her first-born Son, even the only-begotten Son of God, Him, I say, who in the heavens above shone forth as the only-begotten, without mother, from out His Father’s substance, and preserved the virginity of His natural unity undivided and inseparable; and who on earth, in the virgin’s nuptial chamber, joined to Himself the nature of Adam, like a bridegroom, by an inalienable union, and preserved His mother’s purity uncorrupt and un injured. (Homily on Simeon and Anna, Par 3)
She goes up, therefore to the temple, she who was more exalted than the temple, clothed with a double glory— the glory, I say, of undefiled virginity, and that of ineffable fecundity, the benediction of the law, and the sanctification of grace. Wherefore he says who saw it:
And the whole house was full of His glory, and the seraphim stood round about him; and one cried unto another, and said. Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory. Isaiah 6:3 (Homily on Simeon and Anna, Par 4)
But what shall I say to thee, O mother-virgin and virgin-mother?…The prophet Elijah likewise, as prescient of thy chastity, and being emulous of it through the Spirit, bound around him the crown of that fiery life, being by the divine decree adjudged superior to death. You [Mary] also, prefiguring his successor Elisha, Sirach 48:1 having been instructed by a wise master [Elisha], and anticipating your presence who wast not yet born, by certain sure indications of the things that would have place hereafter [i.e. events in Mary’s life], ministered help and healing to those who were in need of it, which was of a virtue beyond nature; now with a new cruse [i.e jar], which contained healing salt [i.e. Jesus], curing the deadly waters [i.e. within Mary and all mankind], to show that the world was to be recreated by the mystery manifested in you [i.e. the purification of the water in 2 Kings 2:21 is the same as the purification of Mary–demonstrating how the incarnation purifies the world]; now with unleavened meal [i.e. Jesus’s incarnation in Mary], in type responding to your child-bearing, without being defiled by the seed of man, banishing from the food [i.e. the poisonous pot of 2 Kings 4:40, here representing all of mankind] the bitterness of death; and then again, by efforts which transcended nature, rising superior to the natural elements in the Jordan [i.e. the splitting of the Jordan in 2 Kings 2:14], and thus exhibiting, in signs beforehand, the descent of our Lord into Hades, and His wonderful deliverance of those who were held fast in corruption [including Mary?]. For all things yielded and succumbed to that divine image which prefigured you [Mary]. But why do I digress, and lengthen out my discourse, giving it the rein with these varied illustrations…? (Homily on Simeon and Anna, Par 9-10)
What is the “sanctification” referred to in the earlier paragraphs? One should take note that in Par 9, that Jesus’ actions (in the incarnation and descent into Hades) are interpreted as the operative miraculous force. As it pertains to the incarnation, Mary is on the receptive end. The descent into Hades is a peculiar Marian reference, because thematically Mary is still the subject but she is not directly referenced unless we infer that those “held fast in corruption” include not only those dead in Hades, but also the living (such as Mary).
Certain phrases make the inferred readings in the above brackets necessary. “[T]he world was to be recreated by the mystery manifested in you” is clearly a reference to the incarnation, but the type (“salt curing deadly waters”) is a strange one if one were not to presume that the incarnation purified Mary, and therefore the human race, from something deadly. The next example, the flour that purified the poisonous pot of deadly food is described as a type of “your child-bearing, without being defiled by the seed of man.” We must understand “your child-bearing” to simply be a euphemism for the incarnation given the typology (Jesus being the flour and Mary being the “poisonous pot.”)
Some Roman Catholics would find such an interpretation to border on blasphemy. However, this shows how their own doctrines and subsequent eisegesis has distanced themselves from the teaching of the fathers. Olympius’ is not blaspheming the Theotokos. He did not view these types as knocking down Mary a peg (as the Immaculate Conception is an anachronism.) Olympius’ purpose in doing this is to extol the event of the incarnation and Mary’s participation.
Presuming the authenticity of the work, it is perhaps the most profoundly pre-Nicene Marian document in existence. So, by pointing out that in Mary, the human race was sanctified and saved from corruption, contemporaries would have been viewed such laud as consistent with a profound veneration of her.
3. Saint Ambrose:
You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, and that a kindly cloud, which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, Luke 1:35 when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. (Ambrose, On the Mysteries, Par 13)
This passage sounds scandalous. Surprisingly, we shall see Saint Gregory the Great taught the same thing.
4. Saint John Chrysostom
Do you not see that this sun, whose body is sensible, is corruptible and perishable?…And not it only, but also, earth, sea, and in short all of visible creation has been subjected to futility…[quotes Romans 8]…Therefore, now it is perishable and corruptible, for being in “bondage to decay” is nothing else than being corruptible. Further, if the sun being a corruptible body sends forth its rays everywhere, and approaching mires, defilements and much other such matter, receives no injury to its purity from the converse with bodies, but even withdraws its rays pure again, giving a share of its own virtue to many of the bodies which have welcomed it, and receiving additionally the least bit of filth and defilement, (if that is so) much more, the Sun of righteousness, the Master of the bodiless powers, having come to pure flesh [of Mary], not only has not become defiled, but also made this itself more pure and more holy. (Homily on the Nativity, Chapter 6).
The above is a fascinatingly inconvenient passage. The work is clearly Chrysostom’s, and not misattributed, as one can tell from its style.
Chyrsostom in more than a few places betrays perhaps the lowest Mariology amongst the fathers. He accused Mary of “vainglory” more than once and speculated that she would take her own life if the angel did not announce the coming of Christ to her.
Yet, in the above, Chrysostom clearly considers Mary “pure” (though implicitly “subjected to futility”) and actually says something consistent Father Kappes’ interpretation of the term “prepurification.”
Granted, Chrysostom is not explicitly applying Luke 1:35 or any specific Greek term to be rendered to mean that Mary was of a pure nature which was made more pure. Nevertheless, this shows that we Orthodox cannot reject Mary was of a pure nature made more pure, as Father Kappes posits.
Not everything Father Kappes states is wrong, after all. My bone to pick, rather, is on the meaning of “prepurification” as it pertains specifically to the Luke 1:35 event–here something Chyrsostom is simply not passing comment on. It appears Chyrsostom has not give the issue much thought. He makes a most plain observation about Luke 1:35 elsewhere–
But just as I was saying, on this account the barren ones went before, in order that the Virgin’s child-birth might be believed, that she might be led by the hand to faith in that promise and undertaking which she heard from the angel, saying,
The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the miraculous power of the Most High shall overshadow you— thus, he says, you are able to bear. (Homily Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren, Par 8)
5. Saint John Cassian
For the Holy Ghost sanctified the Virgin’s womb, and breathed into it by the power of His Divinity, and thus imparted and communicated Himself to human nature; and made His own what was before foreign to Him, taking it to Himself by His own power and majesty. And lest the weakness of human nature should not be able to bear the entrance of Divinity the power of the Most High strengthened the ever to be honoured Virgin, so that it supported her bodily weakness by embracing it with overshadowing protection, and human weakness was not insufficient for the consummation of the ineffable mystery of the holy conception, since it was supported by the Divine overshadowing. Therefore, he says, the Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. (John Cassian, On the Incarnation, Book II, Chap 2).
This passage does not get into a terrible amount of detail, but it is similar to the Liturgy of Saint Basil in positing that the Luke 1:35 event pertains to God giving grace to someone unworthy to be present amidst His physical manifestation.
An important theological concept here is “the weakness of human nature.” Only fallen human nature is “not…able to bear the entrance of Divinity” because, naturally speaking, before the Fall we were in the presence of God–and the hypostatic union of Jesus Christ, though attained miraculously, was not a different human nature. Human nature can have divinity–sinless and deified human nature, that is. (It should be noted we only will have this by God’s energy, while Jesus Christ had both the essence and energy of God dwelling bodily.) Granted, Cassian is not getting into this sort of detail, but it is a logical consequence of what is stated.
6. Saint Cyril of Alexandria:
It is the custom moreover of the divinely inspired Scripture to give the name of fire sometimes to the divine and sacred words, and to the efficacy and power which is by the Holy Spirit, and whereby we are made, as I said, “fervent in spirit.” For one of the holy prophets thus spoke as in the person of God respecting Christ our common Saviour: “The Lord, Whom you seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, Whom you desire: behold He comes, says the Lord. And who shall endure the day of His coming? or who shall stand at the sight of Him? For lo! He comes like the fire of a furnace, and like the sulphur of the bleacher. And He shall sit, like one that smelts and purifies as silver and as gold.” [Mal 3:1-3] Now by the temple he here means the body [of the Virgin], holy of a [sic] truth and undefiled, which [sic] was born of the holy virgin by the Holy Spirit in the power of the Father.*= For so was it said to the blessed virgin, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you.” And he styles Him the “Messenger of the covenant,” because He makes known and ministers unto us the good-will of the Father. For He has Himself said to us, “All things that I have heard of the Father, I have made known unto you.” [John 15:15] And the prophet Isaiah also thus writes respecting Him; “Unto us a Child is born; yes, unto us a Son is given: and His government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called, ‘The Messenger of the great counsel.'” [Isaiah 9:6] Just therefore as those who know how to refine gold and silver, melt out the dross contained in them by the use of fire; so also the Saviour of all cleanses by the doctrines of the Gospel in the power of the Spirit, the mind of all those who have believed in Him. (Cyril of Alexandria, Sermon XCIV on Luke, Par 3).
The above is made unnecessarily difficult to interpret thanks to a garbled English translation. However, we can break down its meaning if we understand that Cyril is saying that Mal 3:1-3 is a prophecy of the Lord’s incarnation in the Theotokos. The point is that when God communicates the Gospel (here, narrowly understood as the angel telling Mary about His coming into the world), this purifies the listener–here Mary. So, the prophecy in Malachi is essentially that God will “come to His temple” (i.e. the Virgin’s womb) and He will communicate to the Virgin His coming, which will in effect “purify” her.
Additional texts such as John 15:15 and Isaiah 9:6 are added to buttress the idea that God is “the Messenger” who makes “known unto” the Virgin His own coming (apparently, through the angel). Cyril connects this with Luke 1:35, as the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit was in effect this purification. Due to the most crucial sentence (with the sic’s in it) in the passage was botched, it is hard to tell whether Mary is the Temple, or Christ is, or if it is she or He that is called “undefiled.”
It should be noted that in other books, Cyril is clear that Mary is the Temple (c.f. Second Book on the Gospel of John, Chap 5, Par 1; Third Book on the Gospel of John, Chap 2, Par 17; Chap 3, Par 1; Chap 4, Par 3). An accurate translation of this sentence will probably bear out the meaning of Malachi 3:3–that being Mary was “refined” as “gold and silver” and this overshadowing had the effect of cleansing her “mind.” Pars 4 and 5 exegete passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah to the effect that their preaching purified the sinful people that listened to them.
7. Saint Gregory the Great
[B]y the burning effect of this scorching wind the mind of each one of the Elect is cooled down, when the heat of evil inclinations is extinguished therein, and the flame of carnal desires turned to ice… the minds of the righteous are brought from the irritation and heat of bad habits to coolness and quietness of the thoughts, while they now no longer seek earthly things, while they extinguish the flames of the flesh by heavenly aspirations. In reference too to this cooling of the soul, which is given from heaven, it is said to Mary, The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee [Luke 1, 35]; though on this point, by the term of ‘the overshadowing,’ either Nature of God to be made Incarnate might have been denoted. For a shadow is followed by light and body. Now the Lord is Light in respect of the Divine Nature, Who, by means of a soul intervening, vouchsafed in her womb in respect of human nature to become a body. And so because the Incorporeal Light was in her womb to be made corporeal, to her, who conceived the incorporeal for corporality, it is said, The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; i.e. The Incorporeal Light of the Divine Nature shall in thee take the corporeal substance of Human Nature. (Moralia on Job, Book 18, Par 32-33)
As we can see, the “cooling of the heat of carnal passions” of Ambrose is called here “the cooling of the soul” from “the heat of evil inclinations.” In other words, Mary was purified of “the passions” or “concupiscence.”
It is too easy to read these passages in a modern, western way and conclude that Mary is being purified from lustful thoughts–but clearly this is not being conveyed. Rather, “the heat of evil inclinations” is actually morally neutral. Being subject to passions is not an immoral act. Hence, what we see hear is that Mary’s inclination towards internal assaults of the passions were purified away to set her mind in a higher state for a most important moment.
The Orthodox doctrine is that, by God’s grace, Mary willing turned from every passion. This passage is simply an example of God providing Mary this grace at an important moment. If we rightly understand baptism, which we will cover in a future article, Mary’s purification at the incarnation from “evil inclinations” is simply understood as such.
8. Saint Andrew of Crete:
Moved by care for the human race, “He looked down upon the lowliness of His handmaiden” [Lk 1:47] and decreed an end to the curse of the first Eve. By His appearing in the flesh He ‘overshadowed’ [Lk 1:35] ‘those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.’ [Lk 1:79] (On the Dormition, Homily III, par 6)
In the above passage, “overshadowing” appears to be simply the incarnation itself. Nevertheless, it is connected to:
- Decreeing an end of the first Eve’s curse.
- The overshadowing was for those who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
In the passage, Mary is a stand-in for the whole “human race.” Saint Andrew interprets Mary calling herself “lowly” as her invoking her solidarity with the first Eve (due to her shared experience of the curse.) This is why the overshadowing is then interposed with the prayer of Zechariah concerning John the Baptist’s ministry of repentance (Luke 1:79).
Reading the whole prayer in context is key, as the prayer is about turning people away from sin. Hence, the purification was not just for Mary, but the whole sinful human race. Mary is being included with this group of people whose minds “dwell in darkness”–clearly contradicting any Roman Catholic notions that her soul was exempt from original sin. We know this to be true, because Adam’s mind before the fall did not dwell in darkness.
Elsewhere, Saint Andrew takes this for granted, writing that “the Mother of the Word” and all those who “enter with” her “into the Holy of Holies” are:
…purified by the coal in the Seraphs tongs [Is 6:6], having attained the highest degree of freedom from passion. (On the Dormition, Homily I, chap 4)
Here, we see the purification pertaining to the mind (i.e. “freedom from passion”); something Ambrose and Gregory the Great refer to. It is also important to note that Is 6:6 occurs because Isaiah recognizes he has “unlean lips” and that he is from a people with the same. It is obvious that Mary is being identified with the original sin (i.e. the “unclean lips”) of the rest of mankind.
Further, Andrew writes:
Yet if it were not God’s own dwelling place who died, would the corruption sowed by disobedience be dispelled? Yes–it has been dispelled, since Christ died before her! Nature itself has been called forth from the condemnation of corruption, has taken on a new state, rooted in incorruption…Nature has given birth to death we freely chose in our disobedience; but she, instead, has brought forth the one who destroyed death by His obedience. She, she alone has been chosen for the renewal of our nature. (On the Dormition, Homily III, chap 7)
As we can see, “corruption” is rooted in corporate “disobedience” that all people share. Disobedience is not dispelled at Mary’s conception, but rather after Christ’s death. The presumption is that all of humanity, with original sin, shared in this until Christ was crucified and conquered death. After that point of time, all of us who are baptized and faithful (including Mary) share incorruption.
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