Blessed Virgin Mary Resources
Mascall on the Blessed Virgin Mary
First off, E.L. Mascall has written a wonderful essay on the Virgin Mary which explains her unique and important role in the Church. You may download it here:
Second, Bishop Chad Jones has given a good overview on the theology o the BVM. You may listen to that talk or read his notes below.
Bishop Chad's Notes:
CATECHISM ON THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
Is Mary not the Mother of Jesus alone rather than God or the Lord, and thus does she fall along with all of us into the state of sinner? Was Mary exempted from sin as the Virgin Mother of God's Incarnate Son from the time of her Immaculate Conception?
'And chiefly in the glorious and most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God...' (1549 English BCP).
These essential questions were posed in the fifth century during the time of the great Christological controversies, during which period the Church formulated her internal teaching inherited from Christ and the Apostles into official creedal and dogmatic statements, particularly in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which represent the mind, tradition, and consentient teaching of the Church from the Apostolic era. The question of the divine motherhood of Mary pertains to the identity and Person of her Divine Son. The question is really about Our Lord and His Person and Natures, and only relatively or secondarily concerns the status of His Mother. The Church has always believed that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, 'conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary' (Apostles' Creed). Jesus Christ is the 'Word made Flesh' (St John 1.1-18), God the Son, Who in the fulness of time assumed human nature, including human body, mind and soul, from the Virgin Mary His Mother.
Jesus Christ, therefore, is not simply a man or a separate human person who was adopted as God's only Son, some kind of 'God-possessed man' whom God controlled from the outside as distinct from the Logos Himself. Jesus Christ is actually One Divine Person, God, with two full, complete, and distinct natures which are not confused and yet are united together perfectly in the One Person: divine and human. Jesus Christ is God, God the Son, God the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, 'who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man' (Nicene Creed). Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, God-made-Man, the God-Man. (St John 5.36, 8.58, 14.9, 20.28, Galatians 4.4, St Mark 6.3, Colossians 1.15, Hebrews 1.3, 1 st John 1, Romans 9.5, to cite a few examples).
This, the Deity of Christ, stands firmly as the central and most fundamental dogma, or revealed truth, of the Gospel. Without the truth that the Eternal Son of God, eternally-begotten of the Father, of one substance with the Father (homoousios), actually condescended to become Man for our sake, and assumed human nature without the loss of His Divinity, the Christian Faith would be meaningless. 'God can only redeem what he assumes.' 'God became Man so that man might become God' (St Athanasius). In the fourth and fifth centuries, certain powerful and heretical teachers denied the truth of Our Lord's Incarnation, especially Nestorius of Constantinople, the Patriarch of the New Rome, who reigned in the early fifth century.
To Nestorius is attributed the wrong belief that Jesus was not God Incarnate, but rather a separate human person, a regular man, who was somehow uniquely joined to another distinct Person, God the Son, from the time of His conception in the womb of Mary. Jesus, in Nestorian theology, was in effect a God-possessed human being, a man manipulated and directed by God because of a unique moral union with God - but without an actual incarnation of God in the flesh. This heresy asserts that Our Lord is simply a supreme Saint, a very holy man possessed by God to a greater degree that other Saints. Jesus is thus held to be a temple of God, in whom God dwells, but He is not the Incarnation of God. This heresy rejects the hypostatic union, that God assumed human nature and became True Man, and that Jesus is perfect God and perfect Man in One Person. The Church has always recognised from the teaching of Christ Himself, and from the New Testament texts specifically, that Our Lord is not a paranoid schizophrenic, nor a half-God, half-man monstrosity. Jesus Christ is God-in-the-Flesh.
The aforementioned error led Nestorius to refuse to acknowledge in his public preaching and teaching the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos - Mother of God or God-Bearer. Nestorius introduced a false innovation by referring to Mary as only Christotokos ('mother of Christ') or anthropotokos ('mother of man'), thus denying the divinity of Our Lord in connection to His human nature. The Church has honoured and venerated the Blessed Mother as the God-Bearer from the beginning of the Faith, as we read in the pages of the New Testament. 'And why is this, that the Mother of my Lord (meter kuriou) should come to me?' (St Luke 1.43). Kurios, of course, is the Greek title of honour for God, LORD, transliterated from the Hebrew Adonai, in turn replacing the Divine Name or Tetragrammaton, YHWH, Yahweh. Our Lady is acknowledged by her cousin St Elizabeth to be the Mother, the Bearer, of God Himself.
Mary has been consistently and unanimously honoured with the tittle Theotokos because of the essential truth that the One to whom she gave birth, as a true Mother and not just as an instrument or channel, was no One else but God Himself. She is the true human Mother of Him who is God. If Jesus Christ is God, and Mary is His Mother, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God. The venerable title 'Mother of God' is not intended directly to glorify Mary, although it does rightly honour her in a secondary consequent sense; first and foremost, Theotokos is intended to safeguard the absolutely definitive, prime dogma of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. Nestorius violated the general Christian conscience, the mind of Christ in the Church, by his teaching which ran contrary to the received interpretation and understanding of the Church throughout all the world. As a result, St Cyril of Alexandria, a feisty orthodox bishop, openly challenged Nestorius, and this in turn led to the convening of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. This Council of Ephesus dogmatically proclaimed the term Theotokos as an article of the Catholic Creed, thus protecting the doctrine of the Incarnation: Nestorius was duly excommunicated.
Since Ephesus, the Holy Catholic Church, East and West, including, of course, the Anglican Tradition, has honoured Our Lady as Mother of God, and continues to worship and glorify her Divine Son as 'One of the Holy Trinity.' Thus, the theological definition of the term 'Mother of God' became the ultimate test of faith, the touchstone of Christian Orthodoxy, the greatest defence both of the Divinity of Jesus Christ and His Incarnation. The term Theotokos in no way implies that Mary is the Mother or cause of Our Lord's Divine Nature. That proposition would be simultaneously pagan and absurd. Theotokos solely safeguards and teaches the truth that the Babe conceived in the womb, suckled at the breasts, and reared on the knee, of Mary, is God. It has been honestly said that those who neglect to honour the Blessed Virgin do not fully appreciate or recognise the Incarnation of God as her Son.
It is also a fact of history and experience that Christian sects that have entirely abandoned veneration of the Blessed Mother ultimately have lost all faith in the Deity and Incarnation of Jesus Christ. 'He who does not love the Mother cannot rightly worship the Son. No one can honour Mary enough, for she is the very Mother of God. He who honours the Mother brings glory and right faith to the Divinity of her Son' (St Ambrose of Milan). The dogma of the hypostatic union, Our Lord as One Divine Person with Two Natures, human and divine, was dogmatically defined and promulgated at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The Chalcedonian Defintion, too, is a received and essential component of the Catholic Creed.
Now, on to the second part of the question...
Is Mary sinless? Did she ever commit actual sin? Did she inherit original sin, the condition of sinfulness and alienation from God via Adam and Eve our first parents?
These questions are simply not answered in Holy Scripture, and therefore are, for the Anglo-Catholic, a matter of pious opinion and belief. Orthodox Anglo-Catholics are obliged to receive as dogmatic truth, truth revealed directly by God and necessary for the salvation of man, only that which is contained in Holy Scripture. Because there are no explicit teachings in the Bible concerning Mary's sinlessness, these questions become concerns of piety, not of saving dogmatic revelation. We are free, according to conscience, to believe that Our Lady was sinless - and this is undoubtedly the belief and teaching of the Undivided Catholic Church of the first one-thousand years of the Christian dispensation. The Undivided Church and her Faith, the Faith of the Church when the Church, East and West, was one, serves still as the supreme tribunal for biblical interpretation within Anglicanism: we look to the Primitive Church, and to the ancient Catholic Fathers, Bishops and Doctors in their unanimous agreement, for the right understanding of the meaning of Scripture. The Bible is the Church's Book, and is only properly interpreted by the ancient Catholic Church.
The orthodox interpretation of the Church of the first millennium, Holy Tradition, universally asserts 1. that Our Lady never committed actual sins, 2. was Ever-Virgin, the Perpetual Virgin before, during, and after the birth of her Divine Son, 3. and was freed from the condition of mortality and death resulting from original sin by her glorification after death, called in orthodox Tradition the Dormition, Falling Asleep, or Assumption of Mary.
These internal traditions concerning Mary are celebrated within the life of the Church doxologically, that is, in the context of the worshipping life of the Church, in her prayers and Liturgy. Anglicans continue to celebrate these internal mysteries of the Faith through the Holy Eucharist, the Offices, and by private devotion, along with the rest of the Church, Eastern and Roman. However, these beliefs never were, in the Undivided Church, and are not still, within Anglicanism, the subject of dogmatic definition or teaching for saving necessary truth. Anglicans are free to accept or reject them according to conscience, without any impact on their status as Catholic Churchmen.
What of the Immaculate Conception? Interestingly, it does not refer to the conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of His Mother the Virgin Mary. That is the miraculous Virginal Conception of Our Lord, taught clearly in Scripture (St Matthew 1; St Luke 1). The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, St Anne. It teaches that Mary was conceived in her mother's womb without original sin, without inheriting the sin of Adam and Eve, in anticipation of the death and resurrection of Christ, that she might be a perfect Mother for her Son. Really all it teaches is that Mary was granted by a special privilege of God the grace of Christian Baptism, forgiveness of sins and eternal life as well as freedom from the spiritual effect of original sin, in the moment she was created.
This peculiarly Roman dogma, proclaimed as necessary for salvation by Pope Pius IX in 1854, is the product of a great deal of theological speculation during the High Middle Ages, and was denied by such imminent theologians as St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Thomas Aquinas. It depends upon a very strict Augustinian understanding of original sin and has not been received by the Orthodox Churches of the East at all. Patristic orthodoxy would tend to see it as needlessly and dangerously separating Our Lady from the rest of the human race and from all of the holy women of the Old Testament, of which she is the supreme culmination. Not only does Mary serve as the Bridge between God and Man, heaven and earth, in her birthgiving of God, but, as Mother of the Messiah, she serves as Bridge between the Old Testament and the New. The novel Roman dogma seems to interfere with the continuity of human nature from Adam, through Abraham and David, to Christ via Mary, and easily leads to a reductio ad absurdum in which we ought to except immaculate conceptions for St Anne, her mother, and so forth all the way back to Eve. And that, logically, would be just plain silly.
The Church does affirm, however, that Mary is Full of Grace (St Luke 1.28) and therefore has no room in her life for sin, as she, the Woman whose Son is the Seed that crushed the serpent's head and who Himself was bruised by the serpent, the Mother of the Redeemer (Genesis 3.15), is perfectly faithful and obedient to the will and plan of God. 'I am the Handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy Word' (St Luke 1.38). Mary, in essence, is the Second and New Eve, who, freed from the power of sin, reverses the disobedience of the first Eve by her own obedience and fidelity to God. 'She loosed by her obedience the knot first tied by the disobedience of Eve' (St Iraneaus of Lyons). 'In the name Theotokos is wrapped-up the whole mystery of the economy of the salvation of God' (St John of Damascus).
The most ancient opinion about original sin in Our Lady was that which celebrated her freedom from original sin at the moment of the Annunciation, in which by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, Mary conceived Our Lord in her now-immaculate womb. This was called Our Lady's purification or katharsis and is still generally believed in the Eastern Churches today. I personally affirm this view, for it is consistent with Scripture. We can summarise the whole subject with St Augustine of Hippo, who said so beautifully, 'Where sin is concerned, I do not even discuss it in relation to Mary.' All the Catholic Churches, including the Anglican, regardless of belief about the details of her conception, celebrate the Feast of Our Lady's Conception with great solemnity on December 8th. What all Catholics adhere to faithfully is the pious belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary is immaculate - negatively, free from sin, positively, full of all grace and virtue - whether before or after her own conception, when and how and where being irrelevant to the central beauty of her privilege. So, as the Bible implies it and does not require it, the Church piously and simply calls Mary, the Spotless One.
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Our Blessed Lady, Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us.