Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Mary's Role in the economy of salvation

From the book  Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought by Luigi Gambero

Mary's Role in the Economy of Salvation

It is in this context of the doctrine of recapitulation of all things in Christ that Irenaeus explains the role of the Blessed Virgin in the divine plan of salvation, referring to the Eve-Mary parallel. While Justin, as we have seen, had touched on this theme casually, Irenaeus produces a more developed and profound theological reflection:

Even though Eve had Adam for a husband, she was still a virgin... By disobeying, she became the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race. In the same way, Mary, though she also had a husband, was still a virgin, and by obeying, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race....The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience. What Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosed by her faith.

Irenaeus clearly establishes a perfect parallel between the two women, in terms of both convergence and divergence, just as the apostle Paul had done with Adam and Christ. Eve and Mary, though both were married, were still virgins. But while Eve disobeyed, causing ruin and death for herself and the human race, Mary by obeying became the cause of salvation. Eve's disobedience imposed the bonds of spiritual slavery upon the human race; Mary's obedience is the fruit of her faith. In another passage, where the Eve-Mary comparison is discussed in parallel with the Pauline comparison between Adam and Christ, Irenaeus attributes to the Virgin the title "advocate of Eve":

Eve was seduced by the word of the [fallen] angel and transgressed God's word, so that she fled from him. In the same way, [Mary] was evangelized by the word of an angel and obeyed God's word, so that she carried him [within her]. And while the former was seduced into disobeying God, the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary became the advocate (advocata) of the virgin Eve.

And just as the human race was bound to death because of a virgin, so it was free from death by a Virgin, since the disobedience of one virgin was counterbalanced by a Virgin's obedience.

If, then, the first-made man's sin was mended by the right conduct of the firstborn Son [of God], and if the serpent's cunning was bested by the simplicity of the dove [Mary], and if the chains that held us bound to death have been broken, then the heretics are fools; they are ignorant of God's economy, and they are unaware of his economy for [the salvation of] man.

These texts clearly show that Irenaeus not only attributes to Mary a role within the work of redemption; he specifies that this role is strictly connected to the Savior's action, in the same fashion that Eve had a role, albeit negative, with regard to the first Adam. Finally, the holy Virgin is not limited to carrying out her role on her own separate plane, parallel to that of Eve. She does something more: she interferes with Eve's historical plane because, by her simplicity, she destroys the pride and cleverness of the serpent, the author of the evil that befell Eve.
But Irenaeus goes even farther. In his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, he expressly states that, just as Adam was recapitulated in Christ, even so Eve has been recapitulated in Mary:

Adam had to be recapitulated in Christ, so that death might be swallowed up in immortality, and Eve [had to be recapitulated] in Mary, so that the Virgin, having become another virgin's advocate, might destroy and abolish one virgin's disobedience by the obedience of another virgin.

We have cited these three texts in chronological order, and it is easy to observe a certain progressive development. The principle of recapitulation is integrated with the principle of "recirculation", which introduces a note of salvation history into the the theology of Irenaeus. While the principle of recapitulation affirms that humanity (fallen because of its first head, Adam) had to be brought back to God by another man - Christ- who would be its second head, the principle of recirculation affirms that this process of restoration accomplished by the Savior had to correspond step by step, but in an opposite way, to the story of the fall. Mary enters this process as the antitype of Eve.

pages 53 to 55 from the book  Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought by Luigi Gambero






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