Saturday, February 4, 2012

Christ, the Church, and the Wisdom of the Theotokos

Christ, the Church, and the Wisdom of the Theotokos
Matthew J. Bellisario 2012

    The veneration and intercession of the Blessed Mother of God is often made an issue by those who cling to the heretical Protestant thought of the pretended “Reformers” of the 16th century. Although they maintain that their arguments are based upon Scripture, nothing can be further from the truth. It is only their shallow, narrow and heretical interpretations of Scripture that lead them to reject all of the authentic teachings of Christ. There are many Protestant apologists today who conjure up the same old arguments which have been refuted for centuries now regarding the Theotokos. For example the anti-Catholic e-apologist who has given himself the name of ‘Turretin Fan’ posts up an attack on the Catholic Church at least once a week, misinterpreting Sacred Scripture and making false accusations regarding the Church’s teaching on Mary. The posts are often drive-by scatter-gun type cheap shots made at the Church, with little to no substance, yet it is amazing that people will stop by to support such material. But as they say, on the web anything is possible. Instead of proposing the same old arguments made ad-nauseum on the internet, I thought I would approach the role of Mary from a different point of view, one that is not often spoken of in the common apologetics circles.

    The Blessed Mother of God is central to Christian theology. God made her part in the salvation history of mankind of central importance. Just as Adam and Eve played a large role in the fall of man, Jesus Christ, the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us, saved man from this fall. The incarnation of Our Lord could have been accomplished in many ways, but God chose only one way, and that was to take on flesh from 'The Blessed Theotokos', 'The Ever Virgin Mary.' To downplay her role in the incarnation is to question the sovereignty of God; for who chose to make her the Mother of Christ, who is God incarnate? It was God Himself who chose her to play this critical role. So yes, as is often done, we can begin with the incarnation of Christ to base the veneration of Mary upon. Is that however the best starting place to begin one's study of the Mary's role in Christianity? According to the Thomistic scholar, Charles De Koninck, although the incarnation is central to understanding Mary’s role in Christianity, this may not be the best place to start in explaining the role of the Mother of God. We must take even a step back further to grasp an even more important point, that which proceeds the incarnation, her sapiential wisdom. If you have not read Charles De Konick’s work on the ‘Wisdom that is Mary” then you are going to be in for a real treat here, for I am going to try and summarize his amazing work, which sheds a bright light on Mary’s role in Christianity. I must also point out that my summary does not do his work justice. I am just trying to wet your appetite for the real deal.

    The starting place in viewing the Mother of God is in the wisdom given to her by God Himself. This wisdom is a one that is properly ordered in nature. The highest order of reason lies in wisdom. It is the perfection of nature. Mary is not only the Mother of God in a symbolic sense, she is properly the genetrix of God, for in His incarnation He is generated through her. It is important to understand that she is not the creator of God, nor is God ultimately dependent on her for His incarnation, she is however chosen by God to provide His incarnation, thereby making her an active participant in the assimilation of the God-Man, and therefore by proper definition, she is a genetrix. She provides the hypostatic union, and hence she is truly the Mother of God; for she is the Mother of the entire person, Jesus Christ. Insofar as God’s plan of the redemption of man through the incarnate God-Man Jesus Christ, the first cause of His origin in His incarnation must be properly understood as the causa Dei et origo Dei. That is, she is properly speaking, by divine mandate, the cause and origin of God. In this origin however lies a wisdom which is rooted in the grace given to her by God, and therefore her intellect was raised to a unique level of wisdom, even before the incarnation.

    Charles De Koninck writes, “Being the cause of the cause of all things, the mother of God is consequently the mother of all things. “She is the mother of all things,” say St. Albert, “and God the Father is the origin of all things: but whatever is per se the origin and cause of the cause is per se origin and cause of all things: therefore she is per se the mother of all things.” Hence we see that she also takes on a unique God given “Wisdom” which is rooted in her role as the substantial first principle of God incarnate. De Koninck continues, “...she fulfills by her divine maternity an essential condition of the appellation “Wisdom” she is the mother of Wisdom engendered entitatively both of the eternal Father and the temporal mother.” If Jesus of course is the eternal Word, “Wisdom” made incarnate, and He is made incarnate within her and by her, then she is “the Wisdom which engenders and incarnate.” (Lapide) This wisdom also engenders a mediation, since Jesus’ origin is a consequence of this grace filled wisdom. Again, it must be noted that this highest grace was given to her before the incarnation.

    In order to further explain this wisdom, we must look to the intellect of the Mother of God. What are the words of wisdom that Sacred Scripture records of Mary? “...may it be done according to thy word.” This is her fiat yes, but what is the deeper understanding of her fiat? It is rooted in creation, and it is rooted in the creation narrative of Genesis. De Koninck illustrates this point, “The fiat of Mary is the echo of the Fiat of Genesis, the word whence proceeds the new order to which the ancient has been ordered.” DeKoninck the pulls from the wisdom of St. Augustine to further demonstrate this new order of origin that takes place from Mary, “Mary, full of faith and conceiving Christ in spirit before conceiving Him in her womb.” So we see that Christ who is the creator of all things, is now brought into God’s creation formally through Mary and her fiat, and everything now depends on this new order. So this wisdom of Mary is not one that is per chance, her being at the right place at the right time, it is by divine mandate. Her fiat is not just mere words of accent to the will of God, they are words of the highest wisdom. This wisdom penetrates into the very action of creation. If she is the Mother of God, she is certainly also the mother of the first cause of all things as well. This is based on God’s divine mandate, and she is therefore also the first of those predestined in the light of Christ, “She came from God in the beginning,...because from all eternity she was predestined to become the mother of the Son of God.” (St. Albert quoted by De Koninck.)

    So we have Mary “as principle that she proceeds from the Principle: her procession of this same Principle, and she envelops the Principle in her procession from Him, she is held by Him in His procession from her.” (De Koninck) There is a unique circle of procession here between God and Mary. We see therefore that she is part of that Wisdom of God given to her as the Mother of God. This is something that time cannot contain. It is important to recognize that she is certainly intimately tied to Christ in His entire person, in his incarnation, and in the hypostatic union, and thus wisdom is a consequence of this very fact. She is by the order of nature also the origin of God, since birth lends itself to the entire person, and the entire person of Christ was born into the world through Mary. There is no one on the face of the earth who has ever received such as grace as she had, and as Scripture proclaims, she is, “full of grace.” So we can see that her connection to God goes much further than mere maternity, she is infused by great grace, which takes any notion away that she was a mere conduit or instrument used for one purpose, maternity, and then discarded. She holds the love of God, and God’s wisdom in her heart. Although a created being, she is able to participate in a way that functions in eternal wisdom. We hear the words of Saint Ambrose elaborating on her great wisdom, "The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose?” So a true Christian recognizes the fact that Mary was “full of grace” even before her consent to maternity, and this grace is intimately tied to the wisdom of God. This wisdom is of a higher nature than all other created beings. We also now understand why Christians who have been praying the ancient liturgy of St. Chrysostom for centuries proclaim her as being, "more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim."

    If we proceed further, we see that all of the works of God, made possible through the incarnation of Christ, were made by God to be dependent on Mary’s grace, and her fiat to become the Mother of God. She is not only the Mother of God, but also the mother of everything that comes with this motherhood of God, which is also being the mother of divine wisdom. Mary is the ark of the Trinity, for where one person of the Holy Trinity resides, so the other two reside. De Koninck writes, “This image was the sapiential exemplar that God followed in the composition of all things.” She is together with Christ the “root of the universal order.” She is at the core of God’s divine will to save man from sin. She participates in man’s salvation in a way that is higher in order than any other created being. Since she is of such a high order in God’s plan of salvation we honor and venerate her, not by her merits alone, but by her role in God’s universe and in His plan of eternal salvation. To reject this point is to separate oneself from Christianity. In short, by venerating and honoring her, we also recognize God’s work in and through her. We see His grace, His wisdom, and subsequently in order of time we see His incarnation made possible through her. Thus she has been granted higher privileges than any other, and her wisdom also surpasses that of any other men. Certainly then, based on these facts, Mary is the most amazing of all of God’s created creatures, and she is therefore worthy of our praise and veneration.

Charles De Koninck’s work, ‘Ego Sapientia: The Wisdom that is Mary’ was the primary source of this article. It is contained in volume II of his work, 'The Writings of Charles De Koninck'. Buy the book, its worth every penny.


Alan Aversa said...

Sedes Sapientiæ, ora pro nobis!

Charles de Koninck is an excellent Thomist philosopher of science. I read his The Writings of Charles de Koninck (Volume 1), which has contains his brilliant thesis on Sir Arthur Eddington's "ontological indeterminism." He helped me understand how indeterminacy inherent in nature (matter or potency, versus determinate form or act) does not negate God's rational, providential governance of contingent creatures.

Click here for a PDF of De Koninck's Ego Sapientia. It's excellent, isn't it?

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks Alan. I forgot that it was online. I would have used more quotes if I had the PDF!

I love this paragraph,

Fullness of grace in Mary thus becomes the root of her consent to ma- ternity, of the most free and liberal act that a pure creature can accomplish, of the most radical human act, upon which all the works of God are made to depend. For her thoughts are more vast than the sea, and her counsel deeper than the great ocean—A mari enim abundavit cogitatio ejus, et consilium ejus ab abysso magno.40 Chosen in the beginning of all the works of Divine Wis- dom, the strength and sweetness of the power of premotion caused to spring up in her a vast determination wherein she is established and establishes her- self as first principle. There is none that can resist thy will, if thou determine to save Israel—Non est qui possit tuae resistere voluntati, si decrevis salvare Is- rael.41 Because she herself becomes a sapiential principle, it is fitting that in her quality as Wisdom she be imbued with immutability.42 And so I was es- tablished in Sion—Et sic in Sion firmata sum.43 “Confirmation in good was fitting for the Blessed Virgin,” says St. Thomas, “because she was the mother of divine Wisdom, in which there is nothing defiled, as it is said in Chapter  of the Book of Wisdom.”44