aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,


As a Protestant, or at least, as a non-Roman Catholic, I have always taken a natural view of Mary, Mother of Jesus. While I believe in the Virgin Birth, the extra Marian doctrines (Immaculate Conception, Sacred Heart, Assumption) seem to me to be non-Scriptural at best. The idea of her Perpetual Virginity also seems to contradict Scripture, though John Wesley didn't think so (one of the few places where I disagree with ol' John).

However, as a great believer in the ancient traditions of the Church (esp. the doctrines and practices of the first millennium), I have to wrestle with this. The Sarum Mass that I appreciate so much includes a lot of references to Mary, some of which are difficult for me to say. These references are virtually the ONLY things which would cause me or other traditional UMs to blink, if I were to simply slip the Sarum Mass into our liturgy today.

So I went trolling through the documents of the ancient Church Councils, particularly the seven great Ecumenical Councils, to see what they had to say about Mary.

I Nicaea (AD 325) and I Constantinople (381) basically ignore Mary. Her person and place don't figure in the Arian controversy.

Ephesus (431) is where Mary was officially defined as theotokos, "God-bearer." In Latin, this is Mater Dei, "Mother of God," but the whole thrust of the Council's decrees was that Mary, while not the origin of the Godhead in Jesus, nevertheless bore w/in her body, and gave birth to, a person who was always God; therefore, she is "God-bearer" as well as mother of Jesus. Today, we would probably use the term "surrogate mother" for this concept, for we can see how someone could be the mother of someone not of her begetting, though of course she certainly WAS the mother (in every sense) of the humanity of her son. This Council took place amidst great controversies -- even riots -- because the ordinary Christians had become greatly devoted to Mary. Her place had been promoted, as it were, from the earliest usage of the Church.

At Chalcedon (451), where the two natures of Christ were further defined, Mary is mentioned. She is referred to as "virgin mother" and her title of "theotokos" is defended; however, no extra titles or honorifics are used.

It is at II Constantinople (553) that Mary begins to be refered to as "ever-virgin" in various anathemas, though her Perpetual Virginity seems to be more assumed than defined. III Constantinople (680-681) doesn't mention her at all. Finally, II Nicaea (787) uses the terms "without blemish" and "ever-virgin," though only in descriptive passages.

It is obvious that Mary's status continued to rise in popular piety and in liturgical usage until the Reformation. Thereafter, it continued to rise even farther among Roman Catholics. It remains very high among the Eastern Orthodox. But as a Protestant who is respectful of the wisdom of the ancient Councils, what am I to make of this?

I fully accept the definitions of Ephesus and Chalcedon. Calling Mary "God-bearer," or even "Mother of God" (strictly defined) is not a problem for me. Meanwhile, the extravagant references to Mary as "ever-virgin" or "without blemish" at II Constantinople and II Nicaea seem to me to be popular piety working their way up; I see no evidence that these titles were ever actually debated and defined. After II Nicaea, there were no Councils that everybody agreed to be authoritative, and we begin to debate formulations within Western Christianity only. The birth of medieval Catholicism is at hand.
Tags: church, history, theology

  • The Spiritual Value of Wilderness

    Those who haven't got the outdoor bug look askance at those of us who would prefer to sleep in a tent when we travel than in an equally uncomfortable…

  • Fall of Man

    zaimoni is apparently investigating the possibility that what we call Original Sin is genetically transmitted. Sounds a bit Mad…

  • More on authority issues

    Continuing the background here on ecclesiastical authority to set up a future post. This is a musing about Apostolic Succession. Controversies w/in…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.