Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Susanne's Question

Amber, I'm curious how the two differ and what about the OC's stance on Mary made more sense to you compared to the RC's thoughts?

Okay. Like I said, my understanding is fairly simplistic, but I'll do my best to explain what I know.

It's not that the basic beliefs in regards to Mary are vastly different from RC to EO or anything. Both believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary is perpetually Virgin. She remained virgin before, during, and after Christ's birth. She is the only sinless human being. We can't compare her to Christ in this instance, because while Christ was also sinless and fully human, He is God. There's some variance when you talk about what happened to Mary at the end. Did she die, or was she assumed alive into Heaven? If you ask most RC's, you will be told that she was assumed, alive, into Heaven. The Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on August 15th, and while the actual language of the dogmatic statements don't say whether or not she was alive at the time, most people seem to believe that she was. In EO, the same event, Mary's assumption, body and soul, into Heaven is known as the Dormition of the Theotokos. The Falling Asleep of Mary.

Which actually, in my mind, leads to the key difference between the two points of view. In the Assumption, the reason that so many believe Mary was assumed alive is because of the understanding of Original/Ancestral Sin. While I know RC who say that this is not what is taught, if you ask the RC on the street, they will tell you that Mary had to be assumed into Heaven alive because she was born without the stain of Original Sin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception tells us this.

When you see the words 'Immaculate Conception', it is referring, not to Christ's conception, though that too, was Immaculate, but to Mary's. The basic idea is that Mary was conceived, in her mother's womb, entirely without sin. She was 'reset' to the state of Eve, prior to the Fall. From her birth, she could do no wrong. It was simply not possible for her, even though she had free will, to choose anything but God and His will, because she was born perfect. So of course she was always going to say 'yes' to God when the Archangel Gabriel came. What does this have to do with her death? The only 'sin' she could be cleansed from, in the womb, would be original sin. Which implies that we carry not only the consequences of Adam and Eve's sin, but the guilt of it as well. By stating that God preemptively cleansed Mary of this 'guilt', implicitly or otherwise, the RC says that every other human carries this guilt - which I believe is where the idea (mistaken, I believe) comes that baptism washes away the guilt for original sin. This is also where one gets into, well what happens to unbaptised babies who die? Would God send them to Hell even though they have committed no personal sins? And then you have theories of purgatory and limbo, etc. Anyway. If Mary, in the RC theology is cleansed of original sin, then not just the guilt, but also the consequences must be removed. And one of the consequences of original sin, on a personal level, is death. Humans die so that they don't continue in their fallen ways forever. But if Mary is cleared of that, she would never die. So, logically, she was assumed, alive, into Heaven. As I said, though, that is not explicitly stated.

In the OC theology, however, mankind bears only the consequences of Ancestral Sin, not the guilt. No child is born to suffer the guilt of their parents. Analogously, I think of it like the child of alcoholics. Let's say a child is born to two hard drinking alcoholics. Just prior to the child's birth, they drive drunk and kill someone. When the child is born they have to live with the consequences of their parents' choices. They will likely have Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. They may have other problems, depending on if the mother took drugs as well. They will likely be placed with a relative or into the foster system because of their parents' crime. They must bear the consequences of their parents choices. But they bear no *guilt* for the same. They are not responsible, or answerable to anyone for what their parents did. But they have to live their lives in the circumstances their parents created for them. That's how I view Ancestral Sin. We have to live in the world our progenitors created for us when they chose to Fall. But we are not answerable for their personal sins, even the very first one.

So when Mary was born, in the EO, there is no need for the idea of the Immaculate Conception. Mary was born just like everyone else. Free will, and with the possibility to sin, just like every other person on the planet. The difference is that Mary *chose* to never sin. She chose right, every single time. That makes it far more important and meaningful, imho, as opposed to a woman who was never even capable of making the wrong choice. Anyway. Sorry, I keep tangenting here.

Any. Way. All this leads to the belief in the EO church that Mary did, in fact, die on earth before being assumed body and soul into heaven. Because she was, after all, merely human. A sinless human, by choice, but human none the less. And so she had to suffer the consequences of the Fall, just like all the rest of us. Only she, by free will, and by the Grace of God, of course, chose rightly and became a willing participant in God's plan of salvation for all of humanity.

So basically, I guess, it's not so much merely the theology around the Virgin Mary, but the theological points that it led me to.

Like I said, kindergarten theology here. If anything isn't clear, or I let a point dangle, let me know and I'll try to clear it up to the best of my ability. It's perfectly sensible in my head, but I'm writing at work and sometimes I get interrupted and think I've made a point when I haven't. :-)


  1. Oh, thanks for taking time to answer my question! I really enjoyed this and you were clear to me. I agree with the EOC on this as well re: ancestral sin instead of the guilt thing. Your example of the baby born to alcoholic parents was a good one! Now I understand the difference much better - thanks!

  2. No problem. I'm glad it made sense to you!

  3. What a nice post.
    I thought as i was reading that the Theotokos was "a willing participant in God's plan of salvation" and she also became a participant of His death. He died on the Cross, Innocent, and free from all sin and guilt. But He did die. And so did His most humble Mother who resembled Him more than any other human being.
    I've really been enjoying reading all of your posts about Mary. Along with the rest of course:)
    Sometimes i'm a bit reluctant to comment because it's kind of hard for me to write in english and takes more time than i have, but i do enjoy your blog a lot.

  4. Athena,

    Thank you!

    she also became a participant of His death. He died on the Cross, Innocent, and free from all sin and guilt. But He did die. And so did His most humble Mother who resembled Him more than any other human being.

    That's a very good point. Thanks for adding it.

    I'm glad you've been enjoying the posts. :)

    I understand your difficulties with commenting, so don't feel bad about it at all. Comment when you have the time, and I just hope you enjoy it the rest of the time! :)


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