- The Great Hoax
- Mary´s Story
- What Two Natural Scientists Might Say
- What Mary and the Angel Said
- What Some Lutherans Would Say About Scripture
- The Alleged Silence of Mark, Paul and John
- What Some of the Early Church Fathers Say
- What Five Swedish Theologians Say
- A Sad Personal Summary of the Foregoing Theologians´ Reflections
- A Glad Personal Summary of Some of what I Would Say After Having Listened to the Prophets, Mary, the Mother of God, the Angel and All the Friends in the Communion of Saints
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In the debris of my mind there is the story about the man who met God, and when God offered him to take the Truth from his hand, the man answered: “Knowing the Truth behoves thee alone, o God; the eternal seeking after truth becomes me being just but a man”.1
At times I thought that was the perfect human answer, showing the proper human respect and humility before the ultimate Truth and the exalted Deity. Here is the scholar and the scientist trying to understand, here is the religious seeker, all illustrating the two great projects of the human mind: science and religion. The what and how and the why and who. Yet, there was a lingering feeling of uneasiness, as I suspected that the picture was more complicated and ambigious than that. Gradually, I came to realize that this seemingly humble answer epitomizes fallen man´s arrogance towards God. This is the answer of man who wants to be like God without God, defining good and evil on his own terms having to obey none in total freedom. And man, a true son of Eve, in the end gets what he wants: “Go, be it done for you acording to your belief.” (Mt 8:15 RSV). And what he gets is in the end the godless world.
This attitude, however, is not the only possible one as there is also the answer of the Virgin Mary, representing humankind when she says “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Mary, the handmaid of the Lord is the antitypos of arrogant man, and she represents mankind at its highest in that she listens to the word and will of God, obeying by not shrinking from the task that God is giving her: Mary receives the Word of God, and instead of seeking truth on man´s own conditions, Mary is letting the miracle happen in an active passivity, trusting and waiting while the Word, the Divine Truth, as a gift is growing under her heart, full of grace and truth: the Incarnation.
The Great Hoax
If a teenage girl, engaged to be married under the traditional conditions that there was going to be no sex before marriage, came and told her fiancé that she was pregnant after having met an angel, he would probably not believe her, immediately trying to figure out in his mind who the “angel” was with whom she had been unfaithful; and if she insisted and told him that the child conceived was the Son of God, he would most likely have consulted psychiatric expertise to have her discreetly hurried away to an institution where there are plenty of white-clad angels. If her fiancé was deeply in love with her, desperately wanting to believe her story, especially as a gynaecological examination proved that she was a virgo intacta, but incontestably pregnant, he might in his mind have invented a story that she had involuntarily been inseminated during her sleep or had had an fertilized ovum implanted in her uterus after having been drugged by some unknown malevolent person or crazy doctor. At this stage, however, his friends would probably be contemplating whether he would not be ready to join his fiancée at the instituion with all the nice people dressed in white.
Mary, the teenager fram Nazareth, engaged to be married to Joseph, the carpenter in the same town, had to tell her fiancé this story, and after having thought to send her away discreetly in order not to disgrace her, Joseph finally believed what she told him and married her according to what the evangelists Matthew and Luke tell in the New Testament. Matthew tells story from Joseph´s point of view, whereas Luke tells Mary´s story. Together with some momentous prophetic passages from the Old Testament (Gen 3:15, Jes 9:2-7, Jes 7:10-14, Mich 5:2), they form the lovely Christmas story, read, sung and retold at Christmas in Christian churches all over the world, a story with an enormous religious force and commercial potential. But it is all folklore and legends, religious poetry and “theology”, isn´t it? The answer depends upon whom you ask.
What Two Natural Scientists Might Say
If you ask a natural scientist today about Mary´s story—if it really could happen–he or she would at first most likely declince to answer the question as it has to do with religion and thus personal beliefs, but if you were to insist, he or she would probably say that from what we hitherto know and can observe, it is most unlikely that something like a virginal conception and, hence, a virgin birth could take place. He or she could point to the fact that parthenogenesis occurs in lower forms of life but is not known to happen among mammals; further, something might have been said about cloning and gene manipulation, and it would also have been called to the enquirer´s attention that a virgin birth of a son would be impossible since a woman, with two x chromosoms could not on her own bear a child with both x and y chromosomes. That would take a miracle! As for the angelic visions and the divine message you would probably be referred to the Department of Psychology or Religion or recommended to arrange an appointment with a local Christian minister or priest.
Another scientist, let us say, for the sake of argument, a full bearded 19th century German professor with unrimmed spectacles, would flatly have denied the possibility of a divine intervention in a miracle like the virginal conception and virgin birth on the grounds that in Science there is no room for the fundamental assumption that there is a God, who may be able to intervene in the course of humanly observable events. God is a hypothesis that science does not need. Science is atheistic, or which practically amounts to the same effect, agnostic in principle, i.e., it is impossible to know anything about these matters. In science there is no need to assume that an event or object has a supernatural origin or significance as scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena. Science is in practice materialistic, assuming that physcical matter is the only reality, and there is nothing like a soul in man which survives pshysical death. All being, all processes and all phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter. This imaginary German professor, whose influence has lasted for more than a hundred years, would probably have ended his lecture (of which this is a radically shortened and simplified version) with a paragraph about die Entwicklung und Fortschritt der Menchschheit 2 to which his collegues all over the world approvingly would have nodded; and finally, before leaving the lectern, he would, of course, have quoted Goethe 3.
Is nur ein Gleichnis;
hier wird´s Ereignis;
Hier ist´s getan:
Das Ewig Weibliche
Zieth uns hinan.
What Mary and the Angel Said
Whatever the young Mary else might have been, she was not stupid, nor was she gullible. Apparently, she was well informed about the facts of life. There is a matter of factness and an Old Testement flavour in Luke´s account that rhymes badly with the assumption that this story is made up after the pattern of Hellenistic stories telling how gods impregnate women who in the end will give birth to heroes and demi gods in order to give credibility to the proclamation of the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. In a Jewish environment that would simple have beeen blasphemous. What Luke records is a simple straightforward story about wonderful things, and how would he know about it in order to tell it in his gospel, had he not ultimately got it from the source: Mary herself. A young girl becomes utterly frightened when she encounters a divine messenger, an angelos, who has the most shocking message for her. In other biblical accounts of encounters with angels, the awesomeness and fright are there, as with Mary, but the angel greets her as the one who is the chosen object of God´s special grace. Usually, angels had to calm those whom they met: “Do not be frightened! Don´t be afraid!” Mary is hailed almost as a queen, as the one who has found favour with God. The ordinary rendering full of grace lends itself to a misunderstanding that Mary in itself is filled with grace as if it were a substance that she could pass on. She herself is the object of God´s benevolence and favour. The greeting of the angels does not only frighten her but also made her think what it might mean. She enters into a dialogue with herself what kind of a greeting this was and what it would mean for her. This is the reaction of a rational and very down to earth young woman. The angel, then, goes on to say what angels usually tell men according to the biblical record: “ Fear not!”, because now the incredible message with the impossible task is about to be presented to her, and it comes wrapped in God´s grace. Again it is repeated that Mary is the object of God´s favour and grace before the pivotal announcement breaks forth: “you will be with child and give birth to a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus”. Who he is and what he will do is expressed in Old Testament categories through and through. The whole history of Gods´ dealings with and promises to Israel come to sight and are present in this angelic message. With disarming naturalness Mary, who certainly knew that babies did not come with the stork, retorts: “How can this be” , and through the Greek texts shines the Hebrew sexual meaning of the word know, when she goes on to say: ”I know not man”. Mary is as sceptical as any modern natural scientist or Bible scholar. Things like this do not happen, it is simply impossible, and she was perfectly aware of that. In one of the most majestic passages in the Bible, the angel, however, proclaims to the perpexed Mary that Holy Spirit will come upon her and power from the Highest will overshadow her as once God´s glory overshadowed the Ark in the tabernacle. Therefore the holy that comes into being, that is born, shall be called God´s Son. In this account there is nothing said about sin, neither sinlessness nor sinfulness, either hereditary or actual. These categories are simply absent in the story, as they serve no purpose and do not apply. The offspring is holy, and this holiness comes from God´s own power and overshadowing. This conception and pregnancy are included in God´s great salvific design as her relative, Elizabeth, the priest Zacharias´ wife, also will bear a son, who will play a significant part in God´s redemption of Israel and through Israel, the whole of mankind. Elizabeth, who had been considered infertile, now most likely past menopause, had experienced a wonder having been made pregnant in an ordinary conception through marital sexual intecourse and male seed, unexpected, impossible at first sight, but within the boundries of natural laws, whereas Mary´s pregnancy trancends the ordinary course of nature in that a conception takes place in her womb as a creative act of God analogous to the “Let there be light”, God´s Word spoken in the the beginning at the Creation, or in the language of natural sicence: the cosmic Big Bang. There are no sexual overtones in this creative act, in this conception. There is no hint that human sexuality manifested in ordinary sexual intercourse would be stained, impure or inferior to this mode of conception. Nor is it in this connexion ever said something about virginity, the merits of virginity or virginal purity implying a negative view of the sexuality of women. The creative act takes place through the Word and Spirit of God. In a clause that effectively, for everyone who is willing to listen carefully enough to take in its message, meets every objection—scientific, philosophical, theological—the angel reassures Mary that all that which has been spoken, said, prophesied, promised, proclaimed, taught is not something which cannot be mastered by God, ususally rendered in English: for God nothing is impossible. It belongs to God´s “dynamics”. God spoke, and the world came into being. God spoke, and the divine Word entered into the womb of Mary through the Spirit and power of God. Matter is light, energy, fashioned by the divine Logos, the Word. Once one has grasped this truth, the miracle that God does in ordering light, matter, atoms, molecules, elements, DNA-helices, genes, chromosomes, cells, organs, limbs, body, mind, seems logical, i.e. according to the divine Logos. Mary´s response to this proclamation is the simple: “Look, I am the Lord´s maid-servant! Be it to me according to that spoken by you!” This is the greatest Magna Charta ever of human freedom in cooperation, synergia, with God´s good will for man. And it is said by a woman.
What Some Lutherans Would Say About Scripture
The Bible is the Word of God. Not only Lutherans but indeed all Christian would in some sense agree with that statement. Nevertheless, when one is confronted with what this means in practice, one is stunned at the diversity and the divergent interpretations of Scripture. Lutherans have always believed in Holy Scripture as the Word of God and regarded the Bible as inspired by the Holy Spirit, but that does not normally mean that those who consider Confessio Augustana catholic in its substance and ecumenical in its intention, in general have been literalists arguing the inerrency or infallibility of the Bible as they have worked with a christological rule of interpretation, Jesus Christ being the Kern und Stern, the core and lodestar. The centre and substance of the Bible is God´s saving act in Jesus Christ, his conception, birth, life, death and resurrection. The Bible must be interpreted with the use and help of the Bible itself, and the objective to which all interpretations and statements must be related is Jesus Christ, his person and work. As long as there is a confidence in the Bible as the Word of God, there is also confidence that the texts, at least according to this christological hermeneutical rule of interpretation, convey God´s revelation as they are inspired by the same Spirit that rested upon Jesus Christ. It can, of course, be argued that no general clause about the character and inspiration of the Bible can guarantee its historical accuracy. It can also be argued that there are different genres in the Bible and that all stories are not to be taken literally but have to be interpreted in a symbolic or metaphorical way. It can still be the Word of God conveying a divine revelation, it has been argued, but one should be aware of the fact that once this way of looking at the Holy Scriptures is introduced, this procedure also raises the question about how great the tension can be between a literal understanding and a symbolic interpretation before the connexion is severed. A quotation from a recently published article in a leading daily Swedish newpaper, written by the Archbishop´s chaplain, Bo Larsson, may be taken as an illustration. The passage is quite long, but it admirably clarifies the issue, and, therefore, deserves to be quoted in extenso:
We, actually, know very little about God, and what we call revelation remains something which is partly given to us as a riddle to interpret and partly created by ourselves, saturated in humanness in a way that we never ever with absolute certainty can distinguish between pure heresy and an authentic God-address. There is no crystal clear Revelation which we just have to accept, swallow hook, line and sinker and then pass on to others. All such notions rest on a wishful thinking that God´s intentions somewhere reach us in a pure and uncorrupted way, whereas it, in fact, is so that all that is said and written remain interpretations of experiences that people have made of God. We, therefore, continually need to share our faith-experiences with one another without someone being appointed Patrolman with authority to decide what is wrong and right. Here is a remaining uncertainty, but also a considerably freedom for the church to examine and re-examine its faith-interpretation”.4
The author, then, goes on to mention the risk of being a slave of the Zeitgeist, eventually and inevitably leading to a denial of classical Christian belief, a risk that opponents of this liberal view repatedly point out, but he brushes that objection aside by arguing that behind this mode of reasoning lurks the assumption that the purest Gospel always is to be found in the oldest texts, and, further, that only very faithful archeological excavations may save us from getting lost in a disintegrating world. Entrenching oneself in such an attitude may in fact, in his view, run the risk of denying the most fundamental idea in the Christian faith, i.e., the belief in the Incarnation, God becoming man in total solidarity with the time that is now. The will to believe in the Incarnation, says the author, is a trust that Christ is first and foremost the One who will meet man from the front, from the future. This has nothing to do with an opportunistic adjustment to the trends of the times, but it is, in his view, rather a faithfulness towards the fact that the experiences of God´s presence in the world constantly have to be formulated anew.
Not all Lutherans would interprete the incarnation the way he seems to do: God´s total contemporeanity. Nor would all Lutherans be so pessimistic as Bo Larsson about the possibility to know something about God. If one wants to know something about God, why not start listening to what God has to say in his Word. No one would object to that suggestion, but the retort would probably be qualified in this way: “How does God speak, then? Only, or mostly in symbols, in metaphors, in legends and myths, or as the imagined German professor said: Alles is nur ein Gleichnis. Or, does God use plain language? Does God act in real events? Can we trust them as they are told? Is Luke´s acccount of the Annunciation a real event in space and time? Or is it a legend expressed in the prevailing language, concepts and genres of his time, meeting the needs of Hellenistic Christians in the young Church, a legend, the meaning of which we can grasp by peeling of the husks in in order to get hold of the kernel. But if there is a Word of God, what is it that God wants to to say? What is revealed? What is the kernel? A symbol of hope? A myth of fulfilment? A metaphor for human self-understanding?
If Jesus Christ is the core and the lodestar of the Bible, God´s revelation to man, there are at least two points that are crystal clear in this revelation, if one is prepared to listen to the biblical records: his conception and birth and his death and resurrection. His birth and his death were visible events, even if the birth was not public as was the crucifixion. Both events were witnessed by persons of flesh and blood. But before the visible birth occurred the invisible, but real, conception take place. There was a time when Mary was not pregnant, and there was another time when she had become pregnant, and there was the instant in time when something wonderful happened to the ovum in her body and the cell division started. There was a specific moment in time when time and eternity coincided, when heaven and earth were joined together, when God and man were united. As with the resurrection, there was a time when Roman soldiers, members of the Sanhedrin, disciples and women followers of Jesus would have found his corpse in the tomb, had they gone to retrieve it; as there was also a time when is was not to be found, and between these times there must be an instant, when something wonderful happened to his lacerated body. There is a correspondence between his birth and death as there is between the way Christ enters into this world and the way in which he leaves it, or rather becomes present in a new way. Birth and Death are events that could be seen and certified by all who were witnesses. Conception and Resurrection were known only to those who heard the angelic proclamation and believed it.
It is true that the experiences of God´s presence in the world in one sense constantly must be formulated anew. This, however, cannot be taken to mean a redefinition of the substance of the testimonies of the original witnesses and recorders. The rule must be /non nova sed nove—/not novelties but in a new way. If Mary is believed to have been pregnant by sexual intercourse with Joseph, the Roman soldier Panthera, or through rape or casual sex by some unknown man, then there is no longer a re-rendering in a new way but a radically new interpretation against the witness of Scripture. The same applies for the resurrection: if the body of Jesus was rotting away in a forgotten grave somewhere and his bones still were to be found sometime somewhere in Jerusalem while the proclamation was that he had risen from the dead, i.e., he had risen in the hearts of his disciples and the commitment to his cause went on, then there would be no reinterpretation, but a fraud and a lie. The truth is that God´s presence experienced in the world is grounded in the ontological fact of the incarnation and its breaking into and out of time and space, the interface of this world, in the virginal conception and the bodily resurrection of the eternal Son of God.
The Alleged Silence of Mark, Paul and John
Matthew and Luke tell about the virginal conception and the Virgin birth. Mark, Paul and John do not, and they did not do it because they did not know it. Hence, these stories are of secondary importance and not an original and an essential part of the Gospel. So the argument runs. It is true that neither John nor Paul or Mark explicitly tell about the conception or the birth, but in the way they have chosen to write it seems perfectly possible to leave it out. The silence is not total, though. If one listens carefully there are faint but not insignificant traces of the virginal conception and the Virgin birth. As for Mark, why is Jesus called the son of Mary and not the son of Joseph (Mk 6:3)? John is notoriously complex with many layers and subtle allusion in his text, and, therefore, it is not at all impossible that he alludes to the virginal conception in his Prologue, when he writes about the Christians, that they “were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:13 KJV); then, immediately after this vers follows the majestic words of the incarnation: “And the Word was made flesh”. Some Bible readers and Biblical scholars hear like dewdrops falling on fleece the virginal conception implied in this design. Others do not.
Paul is said to have been ignorant about the miraculous conception and virginal birth of Jesus, an assumtion which is challenged by the fact that Paul knew Luke, the evangelist. Did they not talk to one another about the Christian paradosis, tradition? The reason why Paul never refers explicitly may be found in the character of his writings and his special theological concern: Jesus and the Law. There is, however, one passage that may indicate a reference to the virgin birth. Paul writes about the sending of God´s Son, the Incarnation: “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman…” (Gal 4:4, KJV). Why does he only mention a woman, why does he not write “made of man and woman, or of human parents”? The context is also intriguing; the sending of the Son results in a redemption and adoption, men becoming the sons of God through the Son, and into the hearts of the sons the Spirit of the Son is sent, in whom the adopted sons cry: Abba, Father. May this not be an echo from Jn 1:12-13. John´s framework is Creation, whereas that of Paul is the Law. Many Bible readers and scholars do not hear a reference to the Virgin birth in Gal 4:4, but others do like hearing dewdrops fall on fleece.
It is incontrovertible, though, that the virginal conception and the Virgin birth did not belong to the kerygma. In the apostolic preaching there is no reference to the conception or birth of Jesus. But it is also beyond doubt that a belief in the virginal conception and the Virgin birth was a part of the regula fidei and catechetical instruction and were confessed in the confession of faith at baptism in the the second century and probably earlier than that. The virginal conception and Virgin birth certainly belong to the dogma of the Church.
What Some of the Early Church Fathers Say
Preaching the gospel, interpreting the Scripture, instructing the catechumens, teaching the believers, fending off heresy—that was the day to day task of the Early Church. The Canon, the Creed and the Crozier, signifying the office of the bishop, became the means by which the Church strove to preserve its identity and integrity, when it was confronted with threats and dangers from within and without. At baptism the baptizand was probably asked if he believed in God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. From that nucleus, is is arguable that the creed, e.g., what is known as the Apostles´ Creed has its origin. Alongside with these baptismal formulas there were also summaries, flexible in wording and contents, but nevertheless with a striking similarity in substance, and in these summaries, the virginity of Mary, and implicitly the virginal conception and Virgin birth, is taken for granted.
Ignatius of Antioch
Bishop Ignatius of Antioch on his way in chains to Rome (ca 110 A..D.) to be torn to death by wild beasts at the arena, uses his precious time writing encouraging letters to congregations he is passing. In the letter to the Ephesians (19:1 ff) he writes what comes across a nucleus of confessional formula or precursor to a rule of faith; Jesus Christ is “at once fleshly and spiritual, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, born of Mary and God, first passible then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.”5 There is no hesistation for Ignatius calling Christ God; there is also no doubts about the virginity of Mary, as he writes: “For our God, Jesus the Christ was conceived by Mary according to God´s plan, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Ghost; he was born and was baptized, that by his passion he might cleanse water” (Eph 19:2) In a strikingly beautiful passage, Ignatius writes about the three mysteries to be resoundingly proclaimed. “The virginity of Mary and her child-bearing were hidden from the prince of this world; likewise was the death of the Lord—three mysteries that are to be proclaimed with a shout, which were effected in the quiet of God.”6 There can be no doubt that Ignatius believed Jesus Christ to have been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born by the Virgin Mary.
Tertullian, the great African Church father, who later became a heretic, while yet as a heretic he wrote theological works fundamental to the christological and trinitarian thinking in the orthodox and catholic church, gives in his writings at least three versions of the rule of faith or rule of truth, although he says that there only exists one and unalterable, thereby in fact saying that the substance of the faith remains the same.This is proved by the fact that there is a reference to Mary, the Virgin in all of them. In the rule of the Roman church it is just plainly stated “his Son Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary”.7 In another version the wording is fuller: Jesus is the Word of God, through whom God produced all things from nothing. “That Word is called his Son; he was seen by the patriarchs and ever heard in the prophets, and lastly was brought down by the spirit and power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, and made flesh in her womb, and born of her, and lived as Jesus Christ.8 With the verbal precison that is characteristc of Tertullian he writes in yet another version of the regula fidei: “He was sent by the Father into a virgin, and was born of her, man and God, Son of man and Son of God, named Jesus Christ”.9
Ireneus of Lyons
According to the tradition, the Apostle John, who had “seen the Lord” lived in Ephesus as a very old man when Polycarp was still a young man. As a child Ireneus, who was to become a bishop in Lyons, saw and heard Polycarp in Smyrna. There are three generations between Jesus of Nazareth and Ireneus of Lyons! When Ireneus writes about the continuity of the Church and the unity of its its faith, these are no idle words: “The church, dispersed throughout the world to the ends of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples the faith in One God the Father Almighty, “who made heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them” (Exod 20:11), and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, incarnate for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets predicted the dispensations of God: the coming, the birth from the Virgin…”10 The languages of the world may be dissimilar, yet, the power of the tradition is one and the same, says Ireneus, and, therefore “The churches founded in Germany believe and hand down no differently, nor do those among the Iberians, among the Celts, in the Orient, or in Libya, or those established in the middle of the world. […] Since the faith is one and the same, he who can say much about it does not add to it nor does he who says little diminish it.”11 The Church speaks everywhere in one voice and the message about Christ´s conception and birth is that which is later confessed in the words the creeds: qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria virgine or “Who because of us men and our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate fom the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.”
Creation and Fall
Incarnation and Restoration
The stories about the Creation and about the Fall cannot be read in isolation if one wants to see the whole Biblical picture with its salvation history. They belong together with, presuppose and are illuminated by the accounts of the virginal conception and the Virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Many modern Bible readers and scholars dismiss the patristic way of reading Scripture as Ireneus and Tertullian did by juxtaposing Adam and Christ, Eve and Mary, their objection being that in the case of Adam and Eve, we certainly have to do withs legends or myths, which at the time of the Church fathers were treated as if they were real events in history. Thus, there is an alleged incongruence or asymmetry by putting together myth and history. If Adam is purely mythical as the forfather of mankind, then the parallell of Christ with Adam as the beginner of a new humanity breaks down and does not seem real and is, thus, considered irrelevant. The same goes for the parallell of Mary with Eve. Eve is at best the representative of humanity in a life-interpreting story and cannot be treated as anything else but that. For many the story about the Annunciation is of the same character. Both these stories—the one about Eve and the one about Mary– try to interpret the conditions of humankind, understood from an outmoded world view and a outdated value system that modern man cannot any longer identify with. The modern understanding of the universe and the rise of man as the product of a gigantic evolutionary process seemingly undercuts the biblical witness and the patristic exgesis. We need a new broader concept of the incarnation.Or do we?
It is perfectly possible to argue that the Protohistory in Genesis ch. 1-3 is meant to stand exactly as it does; it is even likely that those who once compiled the traditions or wrote them down were themselves perfectly aware that this account of the Origin of the world and the Fall of Man were stories that were revealed by God in order to say something ageless about man and about God and the relation between man and God, and as such, the stories are still unsurpassed, because they tell what God in all times wants to tell people in a way that is understandable for all. It is, therefore, not only possible, but highly recommendable, to read the expositions of e.g. Tertullian and Ireneus of the creation and the incarnation, of the fall and the restoration of man and in him the whole creation, in order to obtain a deeper and broader understanding of the divine revelation.
Christ as the New Adam
Adam´s creation prefigured Christ´s birth, Christ being the new Adam who recapitulates mankind. In his On the Apostolic Preaching , Ireneus tells how man fell through disobedience and became subjected to corruptibility and death. In order to restore man the divine Logos must become flesh and through obedience recapitulate what happened to Man. And in order to liberate man, Christ “received the same embodiment (sarkosis) as the first formed [i.e., Adam] that he might fight for the fathers and vanquish in Adam what had struck us in Adam”.12 As God once created Adam by taking mud from the virginal earth, Christ was born from the Virgin “by the will and wisdom of God”, thus recapitulating the creation of Adam becoming the image and likness of God. Ireneus writes in Adversus Haereses: “And as Adam was first made from untilled soil and received his being from virgin earth (since God had not yet sent rain and man had not yet cultivated the ground) and was fashioned by the hand of God, that is by the Word of God ‘by whom all things were made'; so he who existed as the Word restored [recapitulated] in himself Adam, by his birth from Mary, who was still a virgin, a birth befitting this restoration of Adam”13 As the new Adam Christ means a new start for humanity, and through his obedience at the cross, he reversed what happened in the Garden through disobedience by destroying the knowledge of evil and, thus, introducing and providing the knowledge of good, which is obedience to God. As the cross extends in four directions, length, breadth, heighth, depth, the obedience of Christ, who is God´s Logos, has a universal significance and is an invitation to “the dispersed from all sides to the knowledge of the Father”14 which means liberation from death and corruption. Through this recapitulation Christ restores Adam, humanity, and becomes the Consummator of God´s plan of salvation, his oikonomia, for all creation/./
Mary as the New Eve
The consequences of Eve the virgin´s disbelief are reversed by Mary the virgin´s, belief by hearing in obedience. As Adam was recapitulated in Christ , so Eve was recapitulated in Mary, in the way that “a virgin became an advocate for a virgin, in order that she might undo and destroy the virginal diobedience by virginal obedience”.15 Tertullian has has a very similar exposition in his De carne Christi , which already in the title reveals the concreteness of the person and the work of Christ. The same concreteness is displayed in a commentary on the Fall of man. Man being created in the image and likeness of God had been taken captive by the devil For Tertullian the “in image of God” relates to man´s form, whereas “in the likeness of God” refers to man´s eternity, having the Spirit of God which man at the beginning received from God´s inbreathing, but which he lost afterwards through his transgression.16 The restorative process is parallel in the reverse to that of the Fall; as a word which was “the architect of death”17 reached her ear while Eve was a virgin, so correspondingly the Word of God, “the builder of life”.18 had to be introduced to a virgin; that which had been destroed by the female sex should by the same sex be restored to salvation. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed the angel. Ireneus sums it up succinctly when he writes: “And just as through a disobedient virgin man was struck, and falling, died, so also by means of a virgin, who obeyed the word of God, men, being revivified received life.”19 Ireneus also gives a telling metaphor for man´s condition, which reminds of Martin Luther´s description of man´s plight: incurvatus in se. The knot “that the virgin Eve had bound by her unfaith, the virgin Mary loosed by her faith.”20 Faith obeying the Word of God looses the knot of death!
What Five Swedish Theologians Say
It may seem abrupt, even strange, shifting the perspective from the Church Fathers, read and commented by Christians of all schools and confession, to that of a handful of Swedish theologians, who are not known outside Sweden and nowadays perhaps not with some exception known even in Sweden. However, one by one and together they represent a totally different, and today the probably the most common perspective on the virginal conception and the Virgin birth, at least among main line Protestants.
The Idealist Victor Rydberg
Already in 1862 the Swedish poet and writer, Viktor Rydberg, published a book, The teaching of the Bible about Christ, in which he critcized the traditional Church teaching on the person and work of Christ, with argument largly taken from German critical biblical scholarship, his main point being that the hierchical and dogmatic Church had perverted the original teachings of Jesus and of the Early Church. In his view the New Testament contains the teaching of Jesus, which, correctly understood, is an expression of the general divine Mind acting in humanity. The idea of the Messiah is not repugnant to the religious mind when understood as a work of the divine providence in the historic evolution as a course in which eternal truths become the possession of time. With an indirect referenc to the church teaching about the virginal conception and Virgin birth, the poet and authour writes: “A symbol of the infinite power of this idea for the ennobling of humanity and for the realization of the coming of God´s kingdom, was the majesty of this historical birth. For this it was required that Orient and Occident met and was betrothed to one another – that the inmost in the emotional life of the former was fertilized byt the most sublime thought of the latter: the eternal human personality.”21
The Radical Emanuel Linderholm
After the First World War in 1919, Emanuel Linderholm, a docent and later professor of Church history at Uppsala University, published an essay which still ranks as one of most outspoken and radical criticism of traditional Christian faith and one of the most far-reaching proposals for its reformation. It bears the programmatic title “Fom the Dogma to the Gospel”. As in the case of Viktor Rydberg, he also leans heavily on German critical scholarship and theology, and it is easy to hear echoes from Adolf von Harnack´s Das Wesen des Christentums. According to Linderholm, the new modern world view withs its strict conformity to laws and its causality, as well as the new evolutionary understanding of the natural sciences about the of the origin of the comos and of man, have undercut the cosmological and anthropologial presuppositions on which the traditional church dogma once rested. There is now no room for the miraculous. The historical critical method applied to the Bible also has far-reaching consequences for the traditional Christian faith in that it undermines the idea of a divine revelation. The belief in a virginal conception and a Virgin birth are later dogmatic hellenistic layers wrapped around a simple fact: an ordinary birth. Jesus never made any claims to have been born by a supernatural birth; the stories about the virginal conception and the virgin birth are later legends. For the evangelists and first Christian these were unknown, unnatural and alien. The divine sonship of Christ was not a “physical-hyperphysical” sonship but an “ethical-religious one in and through the Spirit”.22 The dogma changed the simple Gospel of Jesus to something radically different; what Jesus taught and preached was not himself but the Gospel about God and the kingdom of God. What remains in Emanuel Linderholms radical and reductionistic version of the Christian faith? He gives the answer himself: ”We can only keep that which is considered of lasting religious and ethical value and recognized as holy by the thoroughly educated, mature and sanctified personality. This will likely coincide with the great fundamental religious-ethical thoughts in Jesus´ preaching about God and the kingdom of God, and in the highest of the heritage of the prophets and of Judaism, as all this is understood from a historical critical study”.23
The Liberal Torsten Bohlin
As a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Uppsala University and a bishop of Härnösand in the Church of Sweden, Torsten Bohlin, in his Evangelic Doctrine, published in 1937, combines the demands of academic theology with the needs of the Church. The decisive question that Torsten Bohlin poses is whether the doctrine of the Virgin birth, in which the virginal conception is implied, is a necessary and essential condition for the salvific revelation, for the Christan basic experience which is the belief in the salvation through Jesus Christ. His answer is no. This is a historical and not a dogmatic question, and, therefore, it can be differently answered by Christians, who must tolerate and respect the opinion of the other party, as long as the religious meaning and motive are kept in mind. The secret of the person of Christ does not lie on the natural plane, but on the spiritual in that his will from its first conscious awakening was devoted to that of the Father, and that he was open to the Spirit without reservations. This devotion and openness are above that which is ordinary human, and therin lies the real miracle in the histrory of mankind. The spiritual significance of the Virgin birth is that it is a symbol of this unique life, which from the very beginning had been under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and this “from the beginning” cannot, acoording to Bohlin, religiously be understood other than from the assurance of God´s election: the unique calling of Jesus to be be the One, through whom the Reign will be established in humankind.24
Before Bohlin arrives at this understanding, he has rejected the notion that the Virgin Birth is necessary to guaranteee the sinlessness of Jesus. As a Saviour he must himself be sinless in order to be able to save sinful man. But, even if he had had no human father, and, thus, did not inherit sin from him, he would have inherited sin from Mary, had she not been sinless, and in order to secure that sinlessness, her forbears must also have been free from the taint of hereditary sin in a regressio ad infinitum, or it requires an exemption and special miracle, hence the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate conception; neither is it necessary for Jesu to be born of a Virgin in order to secure his universal importance for humanity, nor is the doctrine of the Virgin birth necessary to secure the mircle in the greatnesss of the person of Jesus. Thus, the sinlessness of the Saviour, the unique position in humankind, the greatness of person—for neither of these is the Virgin birth necessary or essential. The testimony of the New Testament corroborates this assesment as it is not mentioned by John, Paul or Mark. The Virgin birth as a historical event hinges on the precariously thin hypothetical thread of Mary´s testimony transmitted by Luke.The impossibility to establish the facticity of the Virgin birth is of no consequnce for the Christian faith as it only of historical interest. In relation to natural science Bohlin, however, writes, that if it was unequivocally clear that the Virgin birth was inextricably connected with the Christan basic experience, i.e., being an absolute condition for the salvific revelation, in that case, the Christian faith would rather take the conflict than giving up the belief in the Virgin birth. But as has been seen, for him there is luckily no religious motive for a irreconcilable conflict betweeen the Christian faith and the modern scientific world view, as the Virgin birth is neither necessary nor essential in the Christian faith.
The Paradoxical Gustaf Wingren
Gustaf Wingren is the theological Wunderkind, who succeded Anders Nygren as professor of theology at Lund University: He was ordained a priest, although he would not comfortably identify with that word, as he considerd himself rather a prophet; he left the priesthood in disgust over the strife about the ordination of women, a reform which he wholeheartedly suppported. As a professor of theology he has through his teaching influenced and even formed the theological outlook of generations of Swedish priests and pastors.
In 1974 Gustaf Wingren published Credo, his exposition of the Christan faith, in which he paradoxically states that not believeing in the the Virgin birth today coincides with the original intention of this belief: safeguarding the true humanity of Christ. Originally, this belief was intended and functioned as a bulwark against docetic and gnostic ideas, which asserted the divinity of Christ while denying his true humanity. The radicality of the incarnation, God becoming man, was expressed in that Christ was born in an ordinary way by a woman with all that belongs to a human birth: blood, sweat, pain. To the Gnostics with their understanding of the aloofness of God and their negative view of matter, such a birth was utterly repugnant The absence of man and male semen at the conception did not make this birth less intolerable from a Gnostic point of view although it was a step in the right direction. Wingren stresses the fact there has been a reversal: from the beginning belief in the Virgin birth was not intended to safeguard Christ´s divinity, which is the way it functions in the churches and among Christians today; the churches preach and teach a lot about his divinity whereas popular culture spells out his humanity. The church has to regain its belief in God in the mud. According to Wingren, there are two basic types of Christian belief: one is incarnational, believing in the virgin birth– the incarnation being the great miracle under which even the cross and the resurrection are subjected. This is also evidenced in the liturgy as the congregation bows at the mentioning of the incarnation but remains stiffnecked when the passsion and cross are confessed. Then there is the other type, which believes that Jesus was born after an ordinary human act of conception, seeing instead the “great inexplicable new creation act by God in the resurrection”25 Both standpoints may be characterized as Christian, but today in order to safegurard God´s true humanity, God´s solidarity with ordinary human life, placing the cross and resurrection at the center of the Christian faith, we must decide for a natural conception. The true humanity of Christ today must mean that he was conceived and born as everybody else. He must have beeen like us in all respects. His sufferings and his temptations must have been real; if he was conceived in another way different from ordinary people, it would be much more difficult to believe; it is in his true humanity, with which man can identify today, that the victory on the cross becomes so overwhelming. Jesus was like us but was victorious in temptation, in suffering, in death. After the total confrontation with the forces of destruction, the resurrection becomes the great miracle. Wingren says nothing about a possible clash with natural science. There is no need to discuss that question. As for the New Testament testimony Wingren follows the beaten track in his argumentation: the Virgin birth was unknown in earliest tradition, all Christian preaching starts with and is based upon the resurrection, a miracle which is as un-understandable for man´s reason as the Virgin birth. By believing in a normal conception and normal birth, denying the reality of the virginal conception and Jesus birth of a Virgin mother, one paradoxically believes in the “Virgin birth”, i.e., what it originally intended to safeguard: the full humanity of Christ.
The Postmodern Karl Gustav Hammar
Karl Gustav (or as he is commonly known KG) Hammar became the 68th Archbishop of the Church of Sweden 1997, and before that he had been Bishop of Lund, where he also studied and defended his theses on the encounter between the Liberal and the Conservative theology at the turn of the last century. Gustaf Wingren was one of his teachers. If the theology of KG Hammar has been said to evaporate in a mystical and poetic purple haze, his Leftist political views and stands are all the clearer, as he is a faithful guardian of the political ideals of 1968.
Like Emanuel Linderholm KG Hammar26 believes that the modern world view, which through evolution gives man a different place in the universe compared to that of the antique and biblical understanding, together with the historical critical way of reading the Bible, which alters the conditions for the understanding of the Christian revelation, have radically changed the situation for Christians today, in a way that has far-reaching consequences for the expression of the Christian faith. They are obliged to express their religious experience in a new language under these new conditions, aided by a new conceptual dress relevant and understandable to contemporary man. This is the task of every new generation; so people before them used their language, their images, their concepts, their world view in order to express their faith. Christians today are not bound by the old religious languague, whether it is that of the New Testament or the dogmatic language of the Early Church. The religious history of man exhibits the attempts to understand the divine, and Hammar is very clear when he makes a distinction between the human images and descriptions “God” and GOD, God per se, who always will be beyond human concepts and human language. For Hammar the language of the mystics and the poets in the end is the best way of trying to express this mystery. Even if GOD is beyond human words and concepts, there is an experience of GOD that can be talked about. This experience is that God is love, and this love is encountered in Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian faith is not in the first case something one believes to be true; it is an attitude towards life, a relationhip and a way of life in self-giving love involving the whole person. A chief concern for Hammar is inclusivity; and no personal interpretation of the divine or the divine love is to be excluded. Each person experiences God in a unique personal way, and no one has the right to exclude the other, as the divine mystery always is greater than man´s conceptualization or verbalization. There has to be space and openness in and around the Christian faith.
If the personal relation is of basic importance in Hammar´s theology, what does he have to say about the most personal and intimate of all relations between God and man, that between Mary and Jesus as realized in the most concrete body language: the virginal conception and the Virgin birth? In his book, Ecco Homo, published in 2000, there is chapter about encounters with Jesus, who is depicted as the one who crosses boundaries and barriers; Hammar tells about the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar, he tells about Martha and Mary, he tells about the woman who in twelve years time suffered from bleedings; he also takes pains to stress that women at that time were considered to be of less value than men, he tells that the the pious Jew every morning thanked God that he was not born a woman, and he concludes by pointings out that Jesus did not share these values, as he considered women having the same value as men. Yet, there is a telling silence in what he writes. In a the chapter about Jesus and women, Hammar says nothing about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos.
As far as the New Testament is concerned, we can in Hammar´s view know very little about what once really happened in the stories told by the evangelists as their intention was not to give a biography of Jesus or a record of historical events. What they wanted to convey was an interpretation of what faith in Jesus as dead and risen meant. The stories about the birth and infancy of Jesus, therefore, do not record actual events; they are instead theological interpretations of the value and importance of person of Jesus. These intepretations have arisen rather late and are carriers of the post-resurrectional experience and God´s unique presence in Jesus. The dress in which the story about the Virgin birth was fashioned was not independent of the world-view, knowledge, or rather lack of biological knowledge of that time. What the Virgin birth was intended to convey was a discontinuity with sinful humanity as well as God´s real presence in Jesus´ death on the cross, warranting its saving significance. “But”, as Hammar writes, “ another age with new frames of understanding may shift the main focus and indicate new modes of interpretation in order to retain the classical essential features also in new-formulated overall picture”.27 The virginal conception and the virgin birth in this perspective do not come across as real events or physiological truths; they are “theology” and “poetry”. The logic seems strange: through the resurrection experience the early Christian in an interpretative process projected something onto the historical Jesus which he was not or did not do. Would it not be easier to take it the other way around: Jesus was someone and did something unique and remarkable which can be experienced today, and the resurrection threw light upon hitherto unconnected and un-understood words, deeds, hints, symbolic actions, teachings by Jesus? Hammar is as radical as once was Emanuel Linderholm in his critical analysis of the position of the Christian faith in the light of natural science and biblical critical scholarship, but he is in his reinterpretation of the Christian faith more successful than Linderholm, who founded his new interpretaion on ethics and personality, wheras Hammar uses other basic catgeories: mysticism and spirituality.
The present Swedish Archbishop has been called a postmodernist, and he has openly expressed his sympathies for this attitude. Against the old fashioned Christian claims that God is the Truth, he states his conviction that a definite overall perspective of reality cannot be formulated. All are conditioned by their perspectives, and from these prespectives men and women construct their realities. There is, however, a need for some kind of an overall viev in order to be able to orient oneself , even if every such view will be provisional. The attitude of the Christian mystic can be recognized in this way of relating.
There is nothing which can stop man from believing in Truth which meets him in a personal relation of self-giving love desiring to engage him in a future-construction with love as its foundation. What postmodern culture says is no to the claim that this Truth can be formulated in one definite way. All truths are provisional. This is, according to Hammar, also what Christian mystics say. KG Hammar wrote his dissertation about the encounter between Liberal and Conservative theology and as a motto on the flyleaf of this dissertation, he used a quotation from a prominent Liberal theologian, Nathanael Beskow: “We own the Truth only insofar we are seeking for it”.28
A Sad Personal Summary of the Foregoing Theologians´ Reflections
So the virginal conception and the Virgin birth did not actually happen in the space-time continuum. Jesus was conceived by marital, possibly premarital or extramarital, sexual intercourse, like every other human being, and he was born in the manner of all human beings. His mother was not a virgin at the time of his birth. The story about Mary and her encounter and dialogue with the angel Gabriel are nothing but pious legends, late and untrustworthy, reflecting an outmoded worldview; they reflect a bypassed state of the christological development, being post-resurrectional religious value-judgements attached to the shadowy historical Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant rabbi, who probably preached the imminent coming of the Kingdom of of God (which never came). As for Luke and Matthew, they were misinfomed, or lied or were doing theology or writing religious poetry. Moreover, the virginal conception and, hence, the Virgin birth cannot happen in the evolutionary process in the chain of interlocked events as it is understod by natural science; it is, thus, biologically impossible (as the bodily resurrection); it is sexually offensive to modern sensibilities as it implies a stained view of human and especially female sexuality, it excludes the male part in the conception, and it unduly exalts virginity; it is theologically unnecessay and unessential to the Christan faith. And in the end, once the old belief in the virginal conception and the Virgin birth have been discarded, new questions must be asked: in what lies the decisive novum in Jesus Christ, and what is the crucial difference between Jesus on the one hand and Buddha or Muhammed on the other, and why do the Christian churches still cling to a traditional trinitarian understanding of God? Does not a clear, open and unequivocal abandonment of the traditional understanding of the the virginal conception and the Virgin birth or a radical reinterpretation of these theological loci finally open up new possibilities in the dialogue between the great faiths of humankind towards one universal religion? Jesus may be one way to the true life, but he is certainly not the Way, the Truth and the Life and the One without whom no one comes to the Father.
A Glad Personal Summary of Some of what I Would Say After Having Listened to the Prophets, Mary, the Mother of God, the Angel and All the Friends in the Communion of Saints
The conception of Jesus was praeter-natural, outside the laws of nature, because the Lord of Creation created a new beginning in the human race in analogy with the creation of man, but, in this case, not evolutionary but in one instant. This is the great novum in the human race. The evolutionary process is recapitulated in the growth of the foetus in Mary´s womb. In the reality of the divine and the human sonship lie the claims of Christ´s universality and his exclusivity as Saviour. If he is true God united to true man in one person in an ontological sense, which the Church believes and confesses, this means that he is universal; who he is and what he does concerns the whole of mankind. What seems to be exclusive is really inclusive, as there is nothing human that is outside Christ: he encompasses all that is truly human and judges all that is not according to this theandric norm. Jesus Christ is the imago Dei who has fully realized the similitudo Dei in unbroken koinonia with God.
After the conception Mary was still a virgo intacta The birth of Jesus was natural, which means that Mary after the birth was a primipara and not a virgo intacta in a gynaecological sense/./ As for the belief in Mary´s perpetual virginity, Mary as semper virgo, the question may be asked if virginity in this case does not signify permanent spiritual disposition rather than stating a physiological fact; anything else would seem to be docetism, i.e., denying that Jesus had a human body.29 In this sense Mary is also truly the Anthropotokos. When Torsten Bohlin speaks about the openness to the Holy Spirit and the radical and persistent obedience, in reality he paints a spiritual portrait of the virginity of Mary. The sonship of Jesus is also characterized by openness and obedience, but his sonship is physical, physis, or ontological. In this perspective the question of Mary´s sinlessness loses its significance; sin is not a stain that is transmitted in a physical way, and therefore the whole idea of the absence of male seed in order to secure the sinlessness of Jesus, without which he could not be the Saviour of mankind, is pointless. Sin is man´s wanting to be like God without God and therefore in an act of going out of God´s will, missing one´s goal, which is the realization of man´s God-given identity in communion with God. Neither Mary nor Jesus are sinners according to this description of sin. On the other hand, Mary is mortal, she belongs to fallen humankind and needs a Savoiur.
The great joy in the traditional understanding of the virginal conception and, hence, the Virgin birth, is that it shows the concreteness of God´s love for the world in that God honours his creation by entering into it—the Uncreated enters into the created—thereby honouring not only matter, but also man as the mediator between creation and its Creator; God honours both man and woman, both femaleness and maleness in a wonderful exclusivity and inclusivity. Half of humanity are excluded from the wonder of conception, pregnancy and birth, but Mary represents in this the whole humanity. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, takes humanity of Mary and is born male, thereby excluding half of humankind but in a complementary and complimentary way as Mary´s son represent the whole of humankind. Both sexes are honoured and exalted in a discriminating wonderfully complementary way.
The great joy of a traditional understanding of the virginal conception and the Virgin birth is the majestic simplicity, concreteness and reality in the body language of the event. Granted that the conception is miraculous, as a wonder-ful sign of God, as a fulfilment of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, audible only for those who attentively listen as if they hearken to the almost inaudible sound of dewdrops falling upon fleece, the pregnancy and the birth are tangible and real. This is the way God presents the Truth to man. It is not a subtle new self-understanding that is heralded into the world, a life-pattern to be followed, but a child born into this world. And where there is a child, there is a mother. The virginal conception and the Virgin birth gives God a Mother; as it also gives the Church and every single Christian a Mother. This is something completely different from Goethe´s Alles is nur ein Gleichnis. The fact or happening–/Ereignis–/he is talking about really takes place here in the realistically understood in carne, incarnation. It is not unattainable, nor unexpressable: it is a child, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, suckling his Mother´s breast. There is certainly something ever-Womanly which attracts us, but it is because this attraction is wrapped in God´s own gracious swaddling-clothes when he is coming near man in Christ through the Mother of God, the Theotokos.
The virginal conception and the Virgin birth are of immediate interest and importance today more than ever in the present cultural situation. In the Christian understanding of man–male and female—and man´s relation to God, there is no room for a Mother God. Even if God transcends any distintion of sex, which belongs to creation, Jesus always addressed God as his Father. The relationship between Jesus and God is encompassed in the word Abba, Father. He never talked about or prayed to Mum, the Mother. There are good reasons for the Church to follow Jesus in this respect and remain in his relation to the Father. This is an integral part of the divine revelation and, thus, belongs to the permanent and unalterable tradition of the Church: “For through him [Jesus Christ] we…have access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. ii.18).” To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit! This is the highway to God.
Yet, there is also a Mother in the Christian understanding of man. Therefore, Christian belief is theotokical. It means that an understanding of man, and, thus, of the incarnation, which wants to be traditional, trinitarian, theandric, also must include the Theotokos - the Godbearer - the Blessed Virgin Mary - The Mother of God. The word theotokos was the catchword of the Council in Ephesus in 431, which declared that Mary was not only the Mother of Christ, but the Mother of God. The Son she bore was true man and true God in one person from the moment of his conception. Jesus is not only the Eternal Son, begotten of the Father before all worlds. He is also the son of Mary, born in time. Thus, there is a motherhood that will not cease to exist. Mary is forever the Mother - the Theotokos.
In the divine symmetry displayed in the encounter between the human and the divine, between God and Mary, there is a singular beauty. In this encounter the human is the female, the virginal and motherly, in a pardoxical unity. When God answers man´s prayers to descend from heaven, this answer comes through a conception without male semen, in a pregnancy, in a birth, in a motherhood, in a Son. Mary is the Mother of God. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Mary. In the chosen people, in the Daughter of Zion, God has prepared a human being, a young woman, who in herself in a representative way carries the longing for God of all humankind. On behalf of all men–male and female–she says yes, or to be strict, does not decline by saying no to giving body, soul and life to Him, who in every instant is sustaining her and giving her life. God is not using Mary solely in an instrumental way as a mere channel for the divine grace. The Swedish Nobel Prize winner, Pär Lagerkvist, has in his book, The Sibyl, published in 1956, given a fearsome inverted account of the conception and the birth as a rape of man by the divine or rather by the demonic, resulting in the birth of a smiling idiot son. The biblical account is as far as possible removed from this demonically distorted picture. Mary is there totally present and totally involved as a person, saying yes to God on our behalf for our good. As the embodiment of mankind´s longing for God, Mary´s example shows that humankind–men and women–does not only consist of crucifiers and God-murderers but also men and women longing for God. Mary, the Mother of God, reveals something of the original highness of man.
In Mary´s yes to God expressed in the words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it to me according to thy word", human freedom is revealed in depth. She could have said no to God. Mary could have referred to her own life-project, saying: “I do not want to be the object of somebody else´s project. I myself want to be and to remain the master and commander of my own life and fate”. She could also aborted the child, anachronistically speaking. She could have abandoned the child leaving it to die. But she did not. Instead, with every fibre of her body, with all her soul and heart, she says yes to Him, who in every instant of her existence gives her the freedom to say no, had she wanted to. In her yes to God and her obedience to him, she reveals the ultimate dimension of human freedom: serving God according to his will. In her whole-hearted yes to God and in her unconditional service to God, she stands out as the most beautiful rose of mankind. Her glory is the glory of Man–male and female. But Mary herself gives the glory to God: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour!” Her yes to God is encompassed in God´s great things done to her: God´s yes to her and through her to all men and women.
In her yes to God Mary the Mother of God serves as a model and an icon for all mankind. In her yes to God she definitely says no to man´s attempt to be like God, but without God. She trusts the word of God. In her yes to God she abstains from the human project of defining what it means to be man–male and female–on man´s own God-less terms, instead of obeying the will and word of God. In her yes to God she finds her true identity and ultimate goal of life: created in the image of God, she is growing closer to the likeness of God; subjected to the will and word of God in obedience and service, Mary enters into eternal communion in love with the Triune God.
Mary´s yes to God, or strictly speaking her not saying no, stands as the model of the encounter between God and man, and all Christian theology should have this in mind when it tries to determine what God does and what man does in this encounter. Mary´s receiving is encompassed in God´s election and gift, which are prior to anything Mary does or says. It is in God´s elective yes to man that man is capable of not saying no to God. Man´s freedom consists in his possibility of saying no to God. Man´s yes to God flows from the receiving or reception of God´s gift to man: the Word of God, and this encounter always takes place in and is always overshadowed by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life.
In her unqualifed openness to God, body, mind and soul, Mary is the icon of the justification of faith, by grace alone without works because of Christ: justificatio sola gratia, sola fide sine operibus propter Christum. As the human being who has been closest to the Holy Spirit, Mary is also the archetypal charsimatic as the Spirit filled her body and soul. Therefore, it is perfectly in accordance with the Divine oikonomia, when Mary together with Apostles are waiting and praying for the Spirit to come at the First Pentecost. But when the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit descend from heaven, Mary does not receive one. Why? Because she had already been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and under her heart borne him upon the whom the Spirit from the moment of his conception rested. Mary is the Daughter Zion of the heaveny Father, she is the Mother of God in Christ and she is the Ark for the Holy Ghost. She is, as the one who met God in an unique way, the first saved human being, the first-fruit of the work of Spirit, the one in whom the real Church becomes visible and has a face.
Mary the Mother of God, as depicted on the Glykophilousa-icons, represents together with her Son an image and a model of a true humanity in relation to God. As the Ascended, Christ is “sitting at the right hand of the Father”. May we also think that Mary, as a kind of the first fruit of the saved, already beyond dust and ashes, has reached what the redeemed humanity in Christ once will attain to? The picture of the Mother holding her Son to her bosom, his face supporting hers as she is carrying him on his arm and he is hugging her while she points at him, portrays the deepest mystery of the Christian faith. In this icon the Christian understanding of the incarnation, God and man united, and humankind–male and female—in a complimentary and complementary difference and equality–in a divine discrimination– become visible.
”Wenn Gott in seiner Rechten alle Wahrheit und in seiner Linken den einzigen immer regen Trieb nach Wahrheit, obschon mit dem Zusatz, nicht immer und ewig zu irren, verschlossen hielte und spräche zu mir: Wähle! Ich fiele ihm mit Demut in seine Linke und sagte: Vater, gib! Die reine Wahrheit ist doch nur für Dich allein!", quoted from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Theologische Streischriften, Eine Duplik I, 1788. ↩︎
“the Development and Progress of Mankind”. ↩︎
”All that´s transient is but a metaphor; All that´s inadequate, here it´s perfected; the Undescribable, here it´s done; the ever-Womanly attracts us.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, part II, Final scene, Chorus Mysticus. ↩︎
Bo Larsson, “Varför pekar inte kyrkan med hela handen?” [My translation: Why does not the Church point with the whole hand], article in Svenska Dagbladet [SvD] 2002-01-27. ↩︎
Quoted from Henry Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, 1969, p. 41. ↩︎
Eph 19:1, Bettenson, ibid. ↩︎
De virginibus velandis 1, Bettenson, p. 140. ↩︎
De Praescriptione haereticorum 13, Bettenson, ibid. ↩︎
Adversus Praxean, 2, Bettenson, p.141. ↩︎
Against Heresies, Book I, 10.1, quoted from Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons, 1997, p. 70. ↩︎
I.3.31, quoted from St Ireneus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching. Translation and Introduction by John Behr, 1997, p. 60 f. ↩︎
Adversus Haereses 3.21.10, Bettenson, p. 82 f. ↩︎
On the Apostolic Preaching, 3.34, Behr, p. 62. ↩︎
ibid., p. 61. ↩︎
De Baptismo 5, Bettenson, p. 114. ↩︎
De carne Christi, 17, Bettenson, p. 126. ↩︎
On the Apostolic preaching, 3.34, Behr, p. 61. ↩︎
Against Heresies, Book III, 22.4, Grant, p. 141. ↩︎
Viktor Rydberg, Bibelns lära om Kristus, 1862, quoted from the 13th ed, 1925, p. 208. ↩︎
”Från dogmat till evangeliet” from Det andliga nutidsläget och kyrkan [The contemporary spiritual situation and the Church], 1919, p. 102. ↩︎
ibid., p. 109. ↩︎
Torsten Bohlin, Evangelisk troslära, 1937, p. 91 f. ↩︎
Gustav Wingren, Credo, 1974, p. 80 f. ↩︎
KG Hammar has expressed his theological views in several articles and many interviews in the daily newspapers and magazines; he has also published Tecken och verklighet [Sign and Reality], being his Pastoral Letter to the diocese of Lund, 1993, Samtal med Gud [Conversations about God], being his Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese, 1997, and, Ecce Homo efter tvåtusen år [/Ecce Homo/ after two thousand years], 2000. ↩︎
Ecce Homo, p. 93. ↩︎
The material of this paragraph is taken from an article, “Trust God´s love”, by Hammar and published in SvD 2002-03-19. ↩︎
It is of course possible, if one in this sees an important theological point, to retain a literal traditional understanding of Mary as semper virgo by assuming that the recuperation after the parturition also meant a healing of all lacerated body tissue. ↩︎