8 December 2019

December 8: avoiding anathemas

How to 'reconcile' the Catholic and Orthodox attitudes to our Lady's Conception? Noble attempts have been made to reconcile the two traditions, not least under the auspices of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it has become an 'ecumenical' commonplace that differences in the Latin and Greek traditions with regard to Original Sin have a fair bit to do with the 'problem'. I applaud these attempts, but instead of picking around in the gloom of 'problems' (or, as we nowadays call them, 'issues'), I want, briefly, to look at ... er ... well, I want to enjoy ... the underlying theological convergence between the Festival we Catholics celebrate today, and the meaning of a festival which has a low profile in the Roman Calendar but is right up with the front-runners in the Byzantine Calendar: that of our Lady's Presentation in the Temple (Nov 21).

What unites East and West in each case is this: our Lady is situated, contemplated, in a prelapsarian context, although the Western Definition happily safeguards the important fact that it is intuitu meritorum Filii sui, through the redemptive work of the Cross, that her status as the New Eve is hers.. In other words, Back to Eden ... or, perhaps, full throttle ahead to Eden! For us Latin Catholics, she is the new Eve and as immaculate as the first Eve was before her Fall. The Obedience of the New Eve leads to the Obedience of the Second Adam, just as the disobedience of the First Eve led to the Fall of the First Adam, the felix culpa. And, for the great Byzantine Doctor S Gregory Palamas, Mary, after she was presented in the Temple by SS Anne and Joachim, was fed there with "mystic food by the care of the angels, food which Adam had not tasted: because, if he had, he would not have fallen from life". (Byzantine iconography shows the Angels bringing the infant Theotokos this Food from the paradisal Tree of Life.)  Palamas goes on to argue that "this immaculate woman" did not logically need to die; although briefly she did so before her Assumption.

So West and East unite in seeing our Lady as the Paradisal Mother of the New Adam, Queen of Eden, Queen of Heaven, the Immaculate one.

Those, of course, who deny the Immaculate Conception fall under the anathema implied by Blessed Pius IX's definition of 1854. But amusingly, those who deny the Presentation fall under the anathemas of the fourteenth century 'Palamite' Councils, damning those who say that "the Immaculate One, the Theometer ... did not enter into the Holy of Holies".

Steer clear of Anathemas!


Pulex said...

1. What was the purpose of that anathema? To protect the historicity of the Presentation? Is some theological school nowadays denying it?

2. The convergence discussed here is bought by a very high price. I think that the Catholic belief is that both the obedience of Mary and disobiedience of Eve (and Adam) were exercise of (prelapsarian) free will. If we take the words of the "great Byzantine Doctor" as cited here at face value we get impression that Our Lady was sort of drugged to suppress her free will and, therefore, was not afterwards quite in the prelapsarian state analogous to Eve. Although both Catholic and palamite concepts are compatible with "intuitu meritorum Filii sui", the latter seems to diminish the human merit of Our Lady.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. ABS wonders how many Catholics are aware of the radical nature of the theology of Gregory Palamas?


Paul-A. Hardy said...

All of this is very well. But hasn't the Pope's recent adherence to the Pachamama cult changed all of this? I mean the endorsement of the identification of the Blessed Mary with a cosmic force on the model of pre-Christian religions. The Orthodox often if not always baptize Roman Catholic converts. Does this not suggest a disparity of cult which renders further mariological reflexions in the name of ecumenism moot?

Ed the Roman said...

Requesting a clarification of the Orthodox anathema: are they saying that Mary was brought into the Holy of Holies that only the Cohen Gadol entered and only on Yom Kippur?

That would have been extraordinary.

PM said...

Three comments. First, ist any such thing as human merit when we speak of justification? 'Merit' is the effect of the grace of Christ at work within us - for Our Lady, in a unique and privileged manner admittedly, as for us. Cf the preface of All Saints, which affirms that in crowning the merits of the saints God crowns His own gifts. Second, a new zygote ( a newly fertilised egg) does not make free decisions; Bl Pius IX was affirming the prevenient grace of Christ. Third, grace does not suppress our free will (liberum arbitrium is perhaps better translated as free decision or free judgment, by the way) but enhances it. After Our Lord, Our Lady was the most free human being who has ever existed. Sin, though part of the human condition, is a defect, something missing in our natures, not an intrinsic part of them as created by God.