Reflecting upon why Protestants find Marian doctrines/dogmas offensive, perhaps a key reason for this are their apparent superfluous nature. If Christianity is about at its core salvation through the work of the Holy Trinity in sending one Person of the Godhead, Jesus Christ, to recapitulate humankind and atone for their sins, then should not every dogma pertain specifically to this? Wouldn’t the canon of the Scriptures be relevant because they pertain specifically to God’s revelation on this topic, or the ecclesiology of the Church hinge upon what the Body of Christ is, and etcetera? It would seem every necessary Christian doctrine would, at its core, have to pertain to Christ. Do Marian doctrines?
Marian dogmas appear to some as extra-Christian and irrelevant–simple factoids with no real theological relevance. The Theotokos is important because she gave birth to God. Some may muse, “fine.” Thoughtful Protestants, realizing they’d be rushing headlong into the Christological error of Nestorius, would admit that certain Marian titles like “Theotokos” are Chirstologically necessary as recognizing her as anything but the Bearer of God would lend support to Christological adoptionism. Yet, how about other doctrines which are dogmatic for Orthodox?
Why care about her dormition/death and assumption? Why are all of the “fanciful” details around it even relevant? What difference does the treatment of her dead body have to do with Christ?
Are Marian doctrines justified in an ad hoc manner? A thoughtful Protestant understands that some sort of rhetorical hat tipping can be made to Christ, but in reality these dogmas appear to be extolling the Theotokos for her own sake and their alleged Christological importance asserted ad hoc. If so, such a fascination with the Theotokos is in effect a distraction from Christ and proof that Orthodoxy has forfeited their wholehearted devotion to Him. Like the Israelites of old, they have syncretized with other gods. After all, the Henotheist Israelite may say, “Of course I think Jehovah is the God of gods, but I also honor the gods!” How would the Orthodox Christian, in the eyes of the Protestant, be any different in worshiping the one true God, but honoring the angels and the saints–in some context even calling the latter “gods” (inasmuch anyone who partakes in the energies of God is deified)?
So, I’d like to think, “I get it.” I understand how Protestants feel. It is not without warrant intellectually.
Deconstructing legitimate Protestant hesitancy. I think the true problem, ultimately, has to do with the Western intellectual tradition. First, Protestantism arose from the Roman Catholic worldview–the latter having deeply entrenched Mariological errors by the time of the Reformation. These errors revolve around the immaculate conception and the Roman Catholic view of the assumption. We will discuss these in a bit.
Second, if an apologist quips that “Mariology is Christology and that’s why it is important,” this comes across as disingenuous–a simple talking point without substance. After all, if this talking point is so true, why is the “Mariology is Christology” assertion only something that has recently been really hashed out in published works in the West? To the Protestant, it understandably sounds saccharine.
In the Western Tradition, it originates in the 19th century with Cardinal John Henry Newman. (see Newman’s brief comments on the subject in The Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman, p. 288-290) While “Mariology is Christology” has become a platitude of sorts since Newman, it has only really been covered in a surface level way (including by Newman) until literally a few years ago when Father Evgenios Iverites (“Christological and Ecclesiological Narratives in Early Eighth-Century Greek Homilies on the Theotokos” in The Reception of the Virgin in Byzantium, p. 257-280) published on the subject.
This does not mean that scholars have never recognized relevant theological details pertaining Christology within Marian texts, as implicit dyotheletism within these narratives has been used to date documents. (see footnote 119 in Truglia, “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives” in Revista Teologica 2021:4, p. 5-30) Nevertheless, there has been no in-depth analysis of how the anthropology (doctrine of humanity) shaped by the Christological controversies affected the entire Dormition genre until the preceding article was published officially in 2021 (it was only printed in 2022). I don’t think it is coincidental that it was left to Orthodox scholars, ironically considered “behind the eight ball on everything academic,” to have actually connected the dots on this subject.
So, it must be reiterated for emphasis: Protestants rightly look at Orthodox Marian dogmas suspiciously because they seem to be little different than Roman Catholic dogmas. The latter appear to have nothing actually to do with the Christian religion’s worship of the Holy Trinity. There has been little published in detail which would dissuade them from this view until a recently published article in a Romanian English-language journal demonstrated the actual link between Mariological details explicitly hinging upon Christology. Why wouldn’t Protestantism be deeply entrenched in opposition to Marian dogmas by this point?
The Protestant objection, itself a Western intellectual tradition devised against another Western intellectual tradition, is a necessary consequence of its parent religion’s errors. One must discuss the errors of Roman Catholicism on the topic of Mariology in order to in some sense validate the Protestant objection. While Roman Catholicism’s Mariology results in a defective, heterodox Christology as a result, Protestants in having (generally) no Mariology do not have a proper anthropology in which to have a correct Christology of their own.
To help illustrate this further, it helps to delineate the Roman Catholic errors from the Patristic, Orthodox doctrines in order to bring out why the Mariological doctrines are necessary. Comparing Orthodox Mariology to an absent Protestant Mariology really would not accomplish much.
Roman Catholic Mariology and consequent anthropological errors. The Roman Catholic tradition has so far supposedly avoided dogmatizing excessive Marian doctrines such as her being a propitiatory co-redemptrix (i.e. Mary’s maternal sufferings and grief in effect also had an atoning effect for mankind alongside Christ’s, a doctrine absurdly impious and bizarre to the Orthodox, but nevertheless was under serious consideration in Roman Catholic circles during the 19th to 20th centuries). In fact, there appears to already be Papal statements on the subject which should, theoretically speaking, make the view dogmatic. According to Catholic Magazine, Pope Leo XIII wrote that, “There stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who, in a miracle of charity, so that She might receive us as her sons, offered generously to divine justice her own Son, and died in her heart with Him, stabbed with the sword of sorrow.” In the same article, Pope Pius XII write that, “in carrying out the work of human Redemption, the Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably linked with Christ in such a manner that our salvation sprang from the love and the sufferings of Jesus Christ, to which the love and sorrows of His Mother were intimately united.” One can see how such a dogma, establishing a theological connection wholly absent in the Patristics, would be offensive to Protestants as it implies that the death of Christ was not sufficient in of itself to atone for the sins of mankind. Orthodox likewise could never accept this, as they understand Christ’s atonement alone as “a perfect satisfaction to the justice of God, which had condemned us for sin to death, and a fund of infinite merit.” (St Filaret of Moscow, Longer Catechism, Q. 208)
The co-redemptrix view aside, other faulty Roman Catholic Marian doctrines likewise do much to stoke Protestant objections. For example, Mary’s “immaculate conception” (i.e. the idea she was born without original sin) and its necessary logical consequences create serious issues. Let’s leave aside the objection that the view is entirely without Scriptural and Patristic merit. Instead, let’s review the anthropological consequences to the doctrine and what Protestants would have to accept as a result.
If “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23), one would think that both Mary’s soul and body would have to show signs of the Fall if she had sin. These “signs” would specifically be concupiscence for the soul, and corruptibility and death for the body. Presuming her immaculate conception, theoretically how did Mary die, have hunger, grief and doubts at the cross, and etcetera?
As a way of avoiding actually confronting these theological difficulties, Roman Catholicism presently leaves it undefined whether Mary actually died during the Dormition (a pretty big detail to say the least). Compounding matters further, Roman Catholicism does not have a dogmatic teaching as to whether original sin leads to the degradation of both soul and body, or just the body. So, while it must be maintained by Roman Catholics that Mary is completely without any taint of sin from conception, whether or not Mary died informs what the nature of sin actually is and its effect upon human nature. Mariology is absolutely central to Christology because anthropology necessarily affects how one conceives Christ, the God Man. However, the choices Roman Catholics are necessarily wed to due to the anthropological consequences of their Mariology lead to extreme Christological difficulties.
The aforementioned lack of anthropological clarity has resulted in divergent Marian teachings within Roman Catholicism. There are two camps. One camp asserts that her flesh was “prelapsarian” (not fallen) while the other that her flesh was “postlapsarian” (fallen).
The prelapsarian camp consequently believes that Mary never died. This view would presuppose that sin has an effect on both body and soul (as Rom 6:23 and Patristic tradition explicitly delineate). Therefore, they could at least assert sin had neither effect on her. Hence, Mariological prelapsarianism permits the Roman Catholic to apply the doctrine of the immaculate conception in a straight forward manner: sin had no effect whatsoever on Mary. It is incredible this is not the default position for Roman Catholics as it resolves most (but not all) consequent complications of the immaculate conception dogma.
As for those complications, one is that such a view is explicitly contrary to every extant Marian text on the subject. The Damascene boasts, “We do not call her a goddess…for we proclaim her death.” (Father Brian Daley, On the Dormition of Mary, p. 220) Mariological prelapsarianists, such as Father Christaan Kappes, could not state the same. (see Source at 25:40 and Gregory Nazianzen’s Prepurified Virgin, 2018, p. 180) Additionally, Marian prelapsarianism creates all sorts of anthropological issues. Roman Catholicism is necessarily wed to the idea that Mary experienced grief and maternal sufferings as Popes have explicitly spoken on this subject. The reason why this is an issue is that saints like Maximus and Damascene identify the passions as entering into human existence after the Fall. (Truglia, “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives,” p. 15-19) Therefore, the sort of Mary prelapsarianists envision still has concupiscence according to its full definition, unless one discards with the Patristic anthropology and asserts that certain aspects of concupiscence (such as grief) precede the Fall. This only complicates matters further, as it would make human nature defective as a default and call into question whether in the eschaton there really will likewise be no grief or tears. (cf Rev 21:4)
Hence, one can see why many would be hesitant to discard with the hagiographic witness entirely on this issue. To make it clear, that witness clearly taught that Mary experienced corruption and death (perhaps excepting the probably feigned agnosticism on the question by Saint Epiphanius). The preceding represents the Marian postlapsarianist position.
Such a position is obviously complicated because of the immaculate conception. How could Mary be postlapsarian (i.e. have a fallen body that died as a result of the Fall), but have no original sin? This can only be maintained by asserting the medieval scholastic distinction that original sin is transmitted only to the soul and not the body. Therefore, for a reason which is honestly not that clear (at least to the author of this article), it can be maintained that Mary is immaculate according to soul but not the body (as the latter’s physical inheritance is still from a fallen source, Adam). In other words, this is a halfway immaculate conception.
Sadly, instead of making things 50 percent more correct, it further complicates matters. By maintaining that only Mary’s soul was sinless, but not her body, this creates an oddly Gnostic anthropology where the human body itself is sinful (capable of corruptibility and death), but the soul itself (here, Mary’s) would be without all trace of sin, including original sin. In other words, the soul has no original or subsequent sin, but the body clearly maintains its inheritance from Adam. Additionally, the unresolved issue of grief being an effect of sin and yet an immaculately conceived Mary allegedly experiencing it in her allegedly sinless soul, is not fixed by asserting Marian postlapsarianism. Hence, even the nature of a sinless human soul would still be consequently defective entailing the same problems spoken of previously. For all practical intents and purposes, the postlapsarianist immaculately conceived Mary is only nominally immaculate, as she still experiences concupiscence and corruptibility.
Effects of the Roman Catholic anthropological errors upon Christology.The effects of the preceding anthropological errors stemming from the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception are profound upon Roman Catholic Christology. This is because Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully man, is greatly deformed if human nature, which He shares, is understood incorrectly.
If one adheres to Marian prelapsarianism, several problems result. One must adduce that (contrary to the Fathers) Christ had assumed blameworthy passions, such as self-pity (i.e. grief) as this defect would be part of human nature by default. (Note: This is a difficulty that Dr. Benjamin Heidgerkin, a Roman Catholic anthropological scholar, acknowledges.) This, in effect, would make Christ a sinner by the Patristic definition. Additionally, if Christ did not assume griefless humanity, then this aspect of humanity is encoded into human nature and could never go away unless human nature fundamentally alters in the resurrection (thereby forfeiting its classification as “human”).
One may try to salvage the situation by asserting that this is “fixed” in Christ’s glorified human nature, but this “solution” fixes nothing. If the resurrected body is fundamentally different according to nature than the pre-resurrected body, then it in reality has a different nature. This makes it no longer human, and this would make Christ no longer human as He is presently resurrected. If this is so, how can the Eucharist divinize those who commune the sacrament, being that the sacrament and the participants have different natures? Therefore, Marian prelapsarianists have major, insurmountable problems–Christological ones.
Marian Postlapsarianism appears to create even more profound Christological issues. For one, it likewise turns Christ into a sinner as it would permit Him to have assumed blameworthy passions such as self-pity. Additionally, it turns Christ’s human nature into some sort of Valentinian Gnostic husk, fallen and decaying, calling into question how Christ conquered death if He had in fact died by necessity. Adam died as a matter of volunteerism by opting into sin. To undo the work of Adam it requires a sinless New Adam that voluntarily opted into death. In short, Adam voluntarily sinned, leading to involuntary death; Christ is involuntarily righteous, but voluntarily died–this “broke” the Law of Nature and when He resurrected, it ensured all human nature would resurrect. (For more on the Orthodox doctrine of the atonement, click here.) So indeed, Mariology does inform Christology–but Roman Catholic theology leaves Protestants with a false Jesus that cannot save. This ironically validates Protestant claims that the Roman Catholic dogmas eviscerate the Gospel instead of expound it.
The immaculate conception lends itself to no anthropological solutions. There is one other potential option that Roman Catholics may attempt to salvage the immaculate conception doctrine. It was first devised by myself (which would be an odd origin for a future Roman Catholic dogma): Mary voluntarily assumed aspects of concupiscence (such as grief) as well as corruptibility and death. In effect, one would be imposing the dogma of (as the sixth ecumenical council calls it) Christ’s “discretionary manner of living” (cf Truglia, “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives,” p. 7-9) upon Mary. Technically this could work, as it makes Mary prelapsarian, but merely exhibiting postlapsarian effects of the Fall that otherwise do not really belong to her nature. Mary would be like Christ, being “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), but not in reality.
However, making this work has its own insurmountable problems (typical of any false doctrine). For one, the question of grief and the consequent Christological issues this creates are not resolved. Hence, one would need to have Mary assume something that is in fact sinful in a blameworthy way (see 2e), something Christ never did. If this is so, how would Mary be sinless in accordance with the Roman Catholic doctrine? How does one voluntarily opt into something sinful, but be sinless? This is why the Patristics always stress Mary overcoming grief (i.e. avoiding a sinful tendency), not voluntarily assuming the sinful tendency. Second, Saint Maximus explicitly rejects the notion:
[S]he suffered more than him and endured sorrows of the heart: for he was God and Lord of all things, and he willingly endured suffering in the flesh. But she possessed the frailty of a human being and a woman and was filled with such love toward her beloved and desirable son. (Stephen Shoemaker, The Life of the Virgin, p. 101)
This is consistent with other explicit statements from the saints on the question. Saint Germanus asserts the Theotokos’ “was subject to the laws of natural necessity” and “could not escape the event of death that is common destiny of all human beings.” (Daley, On the Dormition of Mary, p. 158) A Mariological equivalent to Christ’s “discretionary manner of living” appears to be not in the cards.
The necessity of Orthodox vis a vis Western Marian dogmas. The confusion of the Protestant on the question of Western Marian dogmas appears well justified given the intellectual tradition they are a counterpart of. As the preceding shows, latter day Roman Catholic Marian dogmas obviously confuse Christological matters, if not wholly deform them.
Then, why is Orthodox Mariology necessary for a (small or capital “o”) Orthodox Christology? If one wants the whole argument cited and hashed out, readers are recommended to read “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives.” However, let’s brush with very broad strokes on the subject. The earliest extent historical evidence on the subject (other than the archaeological evidence of Mary’s empty tomb in Jerusalem, something obviously consistent with her being bodily assumed, an Orthodox doctrine) appears to demand Orthodox Mariology. The sources being referred to would be the Book of Mary’s Repose/Liber Requiei, Ps-John (the earliest Greek Dormition narrative), and the Six Books Apocryphon–the former two vying for the title of being the earliest narrative, and all of these narratives plausibly dated to the fourth century and beforehand.
Shoemaker dates the Book of Mary’s Repose in its Greek original likely to the third century, though he even permits a second century dating. If so, one must seriously consider an even earlier dating of Ps-John, which likely precedes and largely acts as the original source for the Book of Mary’s Repose. (See the argument for this assertion made here; see also Footnote 30 in Truglia, “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives.”) Hence, Ps-John can very well be a third century or even mid to early second century text. The preceding is important, because if this is the case, there exists a relatively mainline Christian source (i.e. it is not flagrantly Gnostic) in Ps-John that includes Mary’s death and assumption, lending credibility that this was an early oral hagiographic tradition in the Church. Additionally, it would show that a “Gnostic” (in quotations because Stephen Shoemaker rejects this label) source had likely acquired the Dormition tradition from mainline Christians. (Note: To make things clear, due to the liturgical elements in Ps-John, I still favor fourth century datings for both texts spoken of in this paragraph, though perhaps a more thorough study of liturgics can make a third century dating more plausible.)
With the preceding context, one can reasonably conjecture (this is what the study of history is) that when the Book of Mary’s Repose asserts that Mary’s death was due to her “mother’s [Eve’s] nature, which prevails in every creature, on account of which there is death” (Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption, p. 299-300), this teaching of Mary’s original sin would have been borrowed from mainline Christians–not the other way around (i.e. originating in Gnosticism). This appears justified by the fact that another mainline Christian source preserved in Syriac (the Six Books Apocryphon), this source containing no questionable elements and dated by Shoemaker to the fourth century, (Shoemaker, “From Mother of Mysteries to Mother of the Church: The Institutionalization of Dormition Apocrypha,” p. 29) appears to independently preserve the doctrine of original sin as it relates to the Theotokos. By asserting that the Theotokos is among “the daughters of Eve” (W. Wright, ‘The Departure of my Lady Mary from the World’, 129) and that she “purified herself from evil thoughts,” (Ibid., p. 130) historians may perceive that the oral tradition(s) which informed the writing of all of these narratives had across the board preserved the notion that Mary died due to original sin and was assumed into heaven (something taught by Six Books Apocryphon) despite of it.
Therefore, there is strong fourth century (or earlier) evidence that within the hagiographic traditions both oral and written in (and outside) proto-orthodox Chrisitian circles that Mary died due to original sin. Original sin, as found in these traditions (though to be clear, its employment had a different intent in the Gnostic Book of Mary’s Repose), lacks any of the anthropological problems introduced by the Roman Catholic dogma of the immaculate conception. Original sin causes death and blameworthy passions, the latter of which Mary turned away from thereby implying her sinlessness apart from her original sin (i.e. her inheritance from Eve).
This detail, as detailed in “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives,” never dropped from the Orthodox tradition. Not coincidentally, all three of the preceding texts do not weigh in on Christological controversies that arose after the spat between Nestorius and Saint Cyril. While to the historian this certainly solidifies their pre-fifth century dating, it further demonstrates that the earliest of the Marian Dormition narratives collectively contain the traditions which form the historical basis of Orthodox Mariological doctrines (the Theotokos’ original sin, death, and assumption).
This means subsequent narratives (whether Miaphysite or Orthodox) which implied or outright expounded upon Christological doctrines, did so from a Mariological tradition with a plausibly historical (as far as religions go) basis. The fact they purposely taught these Christological doctrines demonstrates their intent in expounding Mariology as they did. This surely resolves two Protestant objections: that these dogmas are relatively late accretions and that they are superfluous and have nothing to do with Christology. This is why these historical details now carry dogmatic importance and thereby have been preserved unlike other details about the saints that have been lost to history (such as what Saint Peter ate for supper the night before he was executed in Rome). In other words, the dogmatized details surrounding the Theotokos’ death are not superfluous, irrelevant quasi-historical factoids. Rather, they are central to the faith.
Therefore, Orthodox Mariological dogma is both 1. consistent with the earliest recorded historical evidence on the question and 2. deliberately interpreted in line with Orthodox Christology as delineated in the fourth, fifth, and sixth ecumenical councils. Hence, a Protestant cannot assert the death of Mary as a matter of dogma is “superfluous” because affirming her death is anthropologically, and thereby Christologically, necessary. Her mortality and subjection to death due to original sin are dogmatic to the Orthodox (on the basis of not only a consensus of Patristic and hymnographic/iconic evidence, but also conciliar decrees including Jersualem , Decree 6 and Constantinople , Par 6 and 13). This is something the Orthodox tradition clarifies is not the case for Christ who voluntarily assumed death (as being sinless, death was otherwise not possible)–this doctrine being decreed by the final session of the sixth ecumenical council.
Some thoughts on the doctrine of the assumption. Both Orthodox and Roman Catholics share the doctrine of Mary’s assumption. As discussed beforehand, there is historical merit for the doctrine but to an informed Protestant this does not necessarily entail that it is Christologically necessary so that it would be a matter of dogma.
For the Orthodox, the assumption of the Theotokos, is necessarily intertwined with the dogma of her death for mainly two reasons. First, the assumption of her body due to God’s grace, vis a vis Christ’s resurrection by virtue of His own divinity. This presupposes two-nature (divine and human) Christology (and if one really gets into the theological weeds, dyotheletism). In other words, without an Orthodox affirmation of the assumption, the result is the nature of Christ’s resurrection (according to His deity) and how it is different than that of resurrected Christians (which is according to grace) is obscured. Her assumption acts as a foil to Christ’s, giving Christians a window into their own future resurrections.
Second, it is considered a necessary consequence of the Theotokos’ purity, which in effect is necessary so as to keep Christ from coming into contact with anything defiled. It does not do justice to discuss this profound issue so briefly, but the Scriptures teach that the Theotokos is typolologically represented by the Ark of the Covenant. The Theotokos was similarly the footstool of God on Earth, the same God whose “eyes are to pure to look upon evil” (Hab 1:13) let alone permit Himself to be composed of defiled flesh. Being that the Theotokos committed no sin and avoided the means of transmitting original sin due to the incarnation occurring not via carnal relations but by the Holy Spirit (a topic discussed here, and quite candidly by saints here, here, and here), there was no way in which a sinful passion was within the Theotokos when Christ was conceived and born. Mary was not the Jewish Temple, which after being defiled by the syncretists and the Greeks was merely emptied out of pagan contents and washed. She was preserved from all defilement, being better than the types which represented her. Her continual preservation from sin to her very death, akin to the Jewish legend of the last whereabouts of the Ark (it being deliberately protected and hidden by Jeremiah, see 2 Macc 2), was necessary for the maintenance of God’s honor.
What has the preceding to do with the assumption? Whenever the reason the saints discuss why she was assumed, they always refer to the fact that due to her virginity being preserved before, during, and after childbirth. The connection they make is that due to her purity, it was necessary God prevent her from experiencing corruption in the grave. (see Truglia, “Original Sin in the Byzantine Dormition Narratives,” p. 22-23) The importance of the doctrine of the Theotokos’ perpetual virginity, found in both first and second century Christian sources, is that it pertains to her sinlessness and holiness. This being the case, her assumption is a demonstration of what occurs when one is sanctified by God–they become divinized by grace and are resurrected into heaven. The resurrected body is a divinized body which by eternally abiding in grace becomes immutable and permanently abides in this state. (For more information on all of these issues and their explicit Scriptural and early Patristic merits see this article and links within it.) Hence, to not have the doctrine of the assumption calls into question the nature of salvation itself (Theosis), the energy-essence distinction, and Scriptures that simply demand adherence to the doctrine. Prophesying the resurrections of Christ and Mary, Ps 132:8 (MT, 131:8 LXX) states: “Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength.” Even in the Scripture, Christ arises by His own power to Heaven, while the ark does so on the basis of His, and not its own, strength.
The Roman Catholic dogma of the assumption is understandably much less problematic than their doctrine of the immaculate conception. At least Roman Catholics agree with the Orthodox in that the event actually occurred. However, due to lacking an energy-essence distinction, Roman Catholics struggle to explain why the event occurred and its Christological importance. Also, due to the Marian prelapsarianist view, the assumption can be understood in an outright heretical sense: that she was assumed due to her being incapable of death (contradicting Ps 132:8). If this is so, then prelapsarian human nature is no different than a glorified, post-resurrected human nature. Not only does this confuse tentative immortality with immutability (see more on Original Sin here) resulting in the heresy of apthartodocetism, it makes it possible for those who are glorified in the resurrected state to sin like Adam and Eve as such a state is no different than the prelapsarianist one. That makes it possible to fall into sin in heaven and calls into question eternal life! This is a repetition of the Origenist error in On First Principles, which postulated continual universal redemptions and falls from grace as a perpetual cycle.
In conclusion, due to Roman Catholicism having to square the doctrine of the assumption with the immaculate conception, at best the doctrine is a trivial historical detail without Christological theological import. This validates the Protestant view that the assumption is a superfluous dogma irrelevant to the Christian religion. At worst, as the aforementioned Roman Catholic anthropological quandaries show, the consequent confusion and errors created by the immaculate conception would make their view of the assumption unacceptable. It appears the only way to salvage the Marian doctrine of the assumption as Christologically necessary is to adhere to its Orthodox conception.
Final thoughts. The musings here, though dense, barely scratch the theological depth of this topic. There is so much more to discuss, such as the voluntary death of the Theotokos (which is different than the discretionary manner of living Christ exhibited, as the fathers teach she overcame original sin entirely–something by the way other saints have also attained to). Suffice it to say, there are interesting Christological and soteriological reasons behind the Theotokos’ voluntary death which by necessity separate Orthodox from Protestants (as well as Roman Catholics). Space nor urgent polemical necessity urge a discussion of this topic at the moment.
In any event, it has been demonstrated that the Marian dogmas are not superfluous, though it is understandable why they would be viewed as such by Protestants whose exposure to them has been almost entirely from the erroneous Roman Catholic perspective.
In review, Protestants have understandably reacted against 1. a lack of any in-depth treatment of how the Mariological dogmas have Christological import until literally the last few years and 2. a Roman Catholic intellectual tradition which has Marian dogmas which muddle Christology instead of clarify it. Nevertheless, this does not justify the view that these dogmas are mere opinions or accretions contrary to Christology. Orthodox Mariology is both established in the earliest extent historical evidence on the question and necessary for a proper Christology. After all, isn’t Christianity at its core a faith with an actual basis in history? Orthodox Mariology is a necessary piece of that puzzle.
“So, I’d like to think, “I get it.” I understand how Protestants feel. It is not without warrant intellectually”
Did you discover this only now or is this your Reformed views spoken as if they are present tense?
I can empathize why others, who are not given good arguments, would feel unconvinced.
I am a Roman Catholic, but I totally agree with you on the Co-Redeemer issue [And the Mediatrix of all graces issue as well], we already have too many Marian Dogmas, and we don’t need to add, besides, these two totally have giant Theological problems, the Popes cited for Co-Redemption don’t even seem to be alluding to it, they are simply talking about Mary’s intense suffering watching her son die on Golgotha.
You say: “In the same article, Pope Pius XII write that, “in carrying out the work of human Redemption, the Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably linked with Christ in such a manner that our salvation sprang from the love and the sufferings of Jesus Christ,”
Nothing wrong so far. This states that salvation comes from Christ.
The quote continues: ” to which the love and sorrows of His Mother were intimately united.”
Nothing wrong with that either. This in no way states that Mary is responsible for our salvation. Only that Mary’s sufferings were united to Christ’s.
I have never been convinced by the “co-redemptrix” arguments, they fail. The proponents of this theory do not deliver any convincing arguments.
In the same way, the other quote: “Pope Leo XIII wrote that, “There stood by the Cross of Jesus His Mother, who, in a miracle of charity, so that She might receive us as her sons, offered generously to divine justice her own Son, and died in her heart with Him, stabbed with the sword of sorrow” does not either infer that Mary is co-redemptrix, but acknowledges Mary’s role in Christ’s salvific work, as Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 1 tells us: “34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
That the Church anathematize as soon as possible the notion of the Co-Redemptrix of Mary, I’m sure that our Lady would feel quite dishonored by being wrongly given that title!
Craig, I left a comment on another post of yours before reading this one. I’d like to reiterate some of its points because it seems this post would have been a better place to do so.
I think you are right that “postlapsarianism” is the patristic view of Mary, and the Catholic Church would do well to clarify it. However, I don’t agree that an immaculate conception is as incongruous with this position as you say. If you do some research on the various Catholic debates on the debitum peccati (Mary’s debt of sin or lack thereof), I think this might become clearer.
Simply, for the debitist camp, to say that Mary was immaculately conceived does not mean that she was conceived in original justice, with titles to Adam’s grace. Even Mary did not have a title to an immaculate nature, which was lost to all in the Fall. What happened to Mary at her conception is what happens to us at baptism (though in a much more powerful way), where our person is cleansed of the sinfulness we contracted from Adam’s nature. The distinction between nature and person is all important. It is the person who is the subject of Christ’s sanctifying grace, not the nature. God accepts this personal grace, won for us by the Son, in place of Adam’s natural grace. Our Lady’s person received sanctifying grace, which was then mediated to her nature, as it is for all of us.
It’s worth pointing out that, for the medieval west, this happened to all the righteous Old Testament patriarchs at various points of their lives. Aquinas has a whole section on how circumcision saved Israelites from original sin when performed in the faith of the coming Christ. This didn’t mean heaven was opened to them yet, it just means they were ordained to Christ through faith, and so their person was cleansed of their natural will’s assent to the devil’s usurpation. In this cleansing, they were removed from the world of profanation and brought into the realm of election, as regards sin. Only in the realm of election, cleansed of original sin, is any kind of meritorious action possible for an Augustinian Catholic. However, their natures were not yet healed in regard to death, and so they had to wait in Hades for the fulfillment of their prevenient cleansing.
For Our Lady, who is the vessel of election, Catholics claim that she was ordained to election and the kingdom of her Son pre-eminently, being ignorant of the devil’s lies, and so, for Catholics, the prevenient grace given to Israel is given to her as early as logically possible, with the logical boundary being Christ’s dignity as universal redeemer. This grace for meritorious action is so that she might merit the coming of the Son through her faith and prayers in a way that is as literally full of grace as possible. Through rigorous debate, it was decided that the earliest moment possible that was logically congruous with Christ’s universal redemption was the very moment of the formation of her person, or the hypostatization of her nature. This does not mean, however, that she doesn’t have Adam’s nature. It means that her person is converted to Christ’s coming instantly, so as to never incur God’s reproach of her person, though her nature awaited the full liberty of the Son of God until He came.
Scotus even talks about her conception this way, that God cleanses her at the most dire moment possible, namely, between the formation of her nature (body and soul) and the formation of her person (particular body soul composite named Mary). If He had not cleansed her, though, her person would have contracted the sin passed through her parents’ nature to hers. Thus, Our Lady is still part of fallen and redeemed humanity. As Aquinas said, at her first sanctification she is inclined to the Good, at the incarnation she is confirmed in the Good, and at the assumption she is perfected in the Good.
She is preveniently redeemed from sin, but she is liberatively redeemed from death and the curses of the fall. This is true of the righteous patriarchs, and it is pre-eminently true for the Queen of the kingdom of the Son, for whom it is just to have the greatest share in Christ’s redeeming grace possible, so that He could most fittingly call her “My delight.” It is for God to forgive us all, and He forgives Our Lady most perfectly by forgiving her from all sins she would have committed, whether actually, habitually, or dispositionally, without His grace.
You asked for proof that this was part of the ordinary magisterium. Well, everything I’ve written here is from theologians of good standing from the mid-1800s through the 1950s. The catechism of the Catholic Church calls her the “first-fruits of redemption,” which certainly seems to say she is postlapsarian.
Sorry for commenting similar content on two separate blog posts, but I felt you might prefer this one as a venue for discussion.
Once again, I very much admire your good will towards Catholics and your intellectually honest approach towards making sense of all the available data. I think you are more right than wrong about most of what you say in this issue, but I feel that some of the data of modern (1600-1950) Catholic debate about the IC can really clarify what is permissible to believe in the dogma. Catholic apologists are often staking their claim in one of the possible camps within the IC, unwittingly battling legitimately Catholic options voiced by the Orthodox.
“What happened to Mary at her conception is what happens to us at baptism”
So what’s wrong with believing Mary was a sinner and that she repented prior to the annunciation and God forgave her sins?
Protestants would have no problem with this.
Some material I collected on the Immaculate Conception of Mary some time ago, explaining “Kecharitomene”. Sorry I no longer have the source:
“Was Mary the only one who was “full of grace”? Or were Jesus (John 1:14) and Stephen (Acts 6:8) also full of grace?
It is true that both Jesus and Stephen are said to be “full of grace” in the English translations. However, the Greek phrase that is used for Jesus and Stephen is “pleres charitos”, whereas the Greek word used with reference to Mary is “kecharitomene”.
Being a simple adjective, “pleres charitos” has a different connotation than “kecharitomene” in that it suggests a completion of grace in the present moment. In the case of Stephen, God filled him with grace at the moment to prepare him for martyrdom. For Jesus, John is emphasizing that Jesus was full of grace at the moment of the Incarnation. He tells us that Jesus remains full of grace later in verse sixteen: “And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.”
“Kecharitomene”, however, is a perfect passive participle (a verbal adjective). Like “pleres charitos”, it suggests that Mary is in a completed state of grace at the moment Gabriel approaches her. But unlike “pleres charitos”, it is a completed and ongoing state in the present that is the result of a past action.
A caveat worth noting: this doesn’t mean Jesus is not full of grace in the way that Mary was—namely, from the moment of conception and permanently throughout life. In fact, Jesus was full of grace in a far superior way, due to the hypostatic union of his human and divine natures.”
How would you respond to this Orthodox interpretation of Luke 1:28 and translation of Kecharitomene?
The meaning given here is something that Mary did for God, that earned her God’s favour.
The Catholic understanding is rather that this is something God did for Mary, to make her a pure vessel that would hold the Father’s son Jesus, that is God himself.
Why gives you the idea God needed a pure vessel?
My response does not seem to have come up.
It’s not that God “needed” a pure vessel, but that he chose to it that way.
Craig, you mention Original Sin often in the article. I was under the impression that Orthodox don’t hold to that doctrine. Can you explain?
I hope this helps: https://orthodoxchristiantheology.com/2021/04/11/the-orthodox-doctrine-of-original-sin-a-comprehensive-treatment/
You seem to be asserting that Protestant-Evangelicals question Orthodox Marian doctrines because they are similar to Roman Catholic ones, which you say are false. While there may be some P-E Christians for which that is the case, I do not think that is the prevailing view or reason.
Rather, many question both Orthodox and Roman Catholic Marian doctrines because the doctrines seem to lack evidence of apostolic origin. Specifically, they are not seen entering into Church liturgies, doctrines, prayers, etc., until the 4th and 5th centuries — hundreds of years after Mary’s life and death, and without them being an apparent part of Christianity in the interim.
Christians are suspect of doctrines that don’t appear to be of direct, immediate apostolic origin. There are good reasons to be careful there.
Read the article, these doctrines all precede nicea. The issue of being superfluous, which is only true for the RCs, is an additional point.
I read the article. The references to which you refer are not considered by historical scholarship to represent Church practice/belief, but are rather Gnostic and similar legends that contain countless heterodox teachings… including the ones about Mary.
The Marian doctrines don’t seem to appear in the Church until the 4th and 5th centuries. Claiming that they find their origin in largely heterodox texts a couple centuries earlier doesn’t really solve anything. Indeed, it only adds to the rightful suspicion with which such teachings are viewed.
I was writing back about icons, my apologies, I thought you replied about a different article! As for the Marian doctrines, Ps-John is not really a “gnostic” source. Neither is the Six Books Apocryphon. The person everyone cribs to make this argument, Dr. Stephen Shoemaker (who TRANSLATED all these texts), rejects the label “Gnostic.” So I know you are repeating the gloss of Dr. Ortlund and others, but it is not a faithful representation of either the primary sources themselves, as I outlined above, or scholarship.
Even if he rejects the label “Gnostic.”
Dr. Stephen Shoemaker would surely class these works as “Heterodox”?
Not even, though I think he wrongly classified Ps-John as “angel Christology” similar to Ascension of Isaiah. Six Books Apocryphon does not even include a hint of this. He rather classifies these sources as geographically peripheral and he views the doctrinal issues as unsettled in the Church at the time (which I don’t necessarily agree with).
Nice try…. However, that is why I wrote “Gnostic AND SIMILAR….”
You seem to be trying to dismiss my point without addressing its substance by fixating on the word gnostic, which is rather irrelevant here. What IS relevant is whether that doctrines/dogmas were part of the general traditions of the Church of Christ at the time. The evidence suggests that they were not.
Irrespective of the labels you want (or don’t want) to use to categorize the texts to which you are appealing, they contain content that places them well outside of the Church, don’t they? Further, we don’t seem to find documents IN the Church in the first centuries that support the desired doctrines… unless you care to provide some.
Any will do.
It appears you have changed tactics. Saying snidely “nice try” is not a replacement for substance. In the end of the day, you are making an argument from silence. You cannot take from silence, when there are extent sources, that we lack *enough* sources to show the doctrine was understood. We have several written sources that contain the tradition in full from the 3rd and 4th centuries (second century perhaps if you go by Shoemaker’s dating). You have no written sources to the contrary as even Saint Epiphanius, who polemically feigns doubts about some details, in the same book reveals he believes that the Theotokos had a demise similar to Elijah (which accords with tradition). So your arbitrary criteria keeps changing–first the sources don’t exist in the early Church, then they don’t exist among mainstream writers, when St Epiphanius makes literal mention of the tradition and shows that he even believes it.
You are being polemical and dishonest with the sources ultimately.