I was reading this AM in the harmony of the Gospels parallel accounts of Mary and the brothers of Jesus seeking to speak with Him while He was teaching His disciples (Matt 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; and Luke 8:19-21). In these accounts, Jesus seemingly de-emphasizes His earthly family, for when He was told that they were seeking to speak with Him, He responded by looking to those seated before Him and calling them His "brothers, sister, and mother". He indicated that those who do His will are His true family.
How then does this square with the special emphasis on Mary given by the Orthodox and Roman Catholics? Yes, we are to call her "Blessed," for that is what she is since God chose Her among all other woman to bear and give birth to Himself. On the other hand, Jesus' comments in these passages seem to "put the brakes" (so to speak) on any OVER-emphasis of His mother as He considered His disciples--those doing His will--just as important in terms of familial relationship.
The reason I bring this up is that this apparent OVER-emphasis of the Virgin Mary is still a "stumbling block" in further pursuing the Orthodox church for myself and especially for my wife.
We are often worried about what Jesus thought about Mary. We often forget the Evangelists.
In the Gospels, Joseph played an important role and then GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª Poof! Joseph is gone. Yet, another Joseph shows up for Jesus’ burial, the flipside of the Gospel story about Jesus. Just as a Joseph disappears into thin air after Jesus’ nativity, another Joseph appears out of thin air before his burial. O, noble Joseph!
Notice how Luke likes to “globalize” things such as Jesus’ family. Remember: Luke, supposedly Paul’s associate (per tradition), makes the Gospel accessible to the gentiles. So, who is Jesus’ family?
You mention “special emphasis” on Mary. Where does that special emphasis come from and why?
Much of it has to do with having either a soteriological approach or ontological approach to a particular person. Soteriology deals with salvation or the economy of salvation and where that person played a role. Ontology is a study of that person’s being or personhood.
Let me give an earlier example: Before Arius, Christians and their Christology was basically ‘soteriological.’ It was perfectly alright for doxologies to state: TO the Father, THROUGH the Son, and IN the Holy Spirit. These terms, TO-THROUGH-IN, reflect how each person of the Trinity related to the economy of salvation: God works FROM-THROUGH-IN to reach us, and we return IN-THROUGH-TO God. There was no concern about equality of persons in the Trinity. This was all quite orthodox.
Then Arius introduced a confusion.
This natural ‘subordination’ of persons (subordinated in the sense of the economy of salvation and not subordination of status) was then transferred to an ONTOLOGICAL approach to God. Since the Father was primary, the font or source, he was superior, if not greater, than the Son in their BEING. The idea that we worshipped a hierarchical or graded Trinity was innovative. But it made sense to most of the Christian world, hence almost the entire church became Arian.
Then some folks noticed Arius’ mistake.
We cannot make ontological conclusions with soteriological premises. But Arius and others like him did. The debates in the early councils, especially the first, was over the soteriology-ontology confusion. The natural and orthodox subordination of the Son to the Father in the economy of salvation (soteriology) was translated into the heterodox subordinationism of persons (ontology).
Poop hit the fan!
[I’m sure you are probably wondering where I am going with this, but hold on GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª]
Liturgy was changed: Basil the Great changed the orthodox subordinationist doxology of “Glory to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit” to “Glory TO the Father, and TO the Son, and TO the Holy Spirit.” This was to protect the equality of the persons in the Trinity since we began to approach God ontologically, even in worship.
A “special emphasis” on the persons of the Trinity was begun GÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Âª and continued for a few more Ecumenical Councils. This was the time when Alexandrian and Antiochian Christologies hammered it out.
Since Arius, we as Orthodox and Catholic Christians, have approached Christology and Trinitarian Theology with a lot of emphasis on the ‘ontology’ approach.
Now, there is Mary.
The Council of Ephesus called her “Theotokos” (Mother of God). This was not so much a title that reflected Mary’s person (ontology), but her role in the economy of salvation (soteriology). In the economy, Mary gave birth to Jesus, who was God-man. That is what she DID, not what she WAS.
Later, the West began a course of approaching persons more and more from an ontological approach. Much bordered on speculation.
Due to the corner that Scholasticism painted Mary into, an ‘escape hatch’ was needed to have Mary protected from a type of sin that was of concern to Western theologians. Her person needed to be ‘immaculate.’ Not only did they hyper-emphasized her sinlessness (wasn’t Jesus the only one without sin?), but hyper-emphasized Mary’s being as if she wasn’t human or wasn’t in need of salvation (didn’t she herself refer to her son, Jesus, as “Lord and Savior?”).
Much ado was made over her person needing a special pronouncement to be held as dogma. Given the corner that the West painted themselves into, it WAS needed, ontologically speaking. But, of course, it was a bad theological move because it was bad theology to begin with. Can we muster forgiveness in our hearts to absolve them of their excursions into speculative theology? Well, didn’t we go that route with Christ?
But, of course, we were dealing with God, not a woman who would give birth to him. Big difference.
Mary’s death was another instance when a dogma had to be proclaimed. Her person’s end had to be stated: she was bodily assumed into Heaven. The Easterners say she “fell asleep” and we can’t make positive claims on her person. Of course, Eastern churches do name their temples after the Assumption, but not after the Dogma of the Assumption.
The East’s emphasis on Mary was never to go the way of extreme-ontology. Mary was simply the Mother of God. What better title than that can we give her? Is the status of her person necessary for salvation? This is the main “stumbling block.”
Are there any Marian-Arians out there?
There was/is no need to dogmatize Mary’s person. She wasn’t God. She DID play a very important role in the economy of salvation though. She is also adored greatly in the Churches too. She is everyone’s Mama.
Interesting how the only two ‘dogmas’ about Mary’s person deal with times and events outside the canonical Gospels. The context of her conception and death are from non-canonical sources. Hmmmmm.
Should we wag the finger at the West for such ontological dogmas about Mary? Probably not. There are just as many bizarre statements about Mary and others in our church hymns. But we all love Mary so much, so it doesn’t matter.
About your concern about what Jesus has to say about Mary:
Is it Jesus or the Evangelist who is trying to make a point? We often lose sight that the Gospels were written BY the Evangelists FOR the Church. If we are so concerned about approaching Jesus’ relationship to his mother due to some contemporary insight into psychology or philosophy of personhood (search for the historical Jesus kind of thing), then we might be just as guilty as Arius with our confusing of the ‘globalization’ of the family with the ‘ontological’ consciousness of Jesus of his mother’s person.
Sometimes, economy is much more enriching and salvation-oriented than ontology. I never met a person converted or saved by embracing ontology. The question can then be asked: So what? Where do we go from here? How does this affect my salvation?