MODERN CHRISTIAN: But you guys bless her too much.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: That was prophesied when the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 2. “All generations will call me blessed,” (Luke 1:48) and it began to be fulfilled with that generation when the woman in Luke 11:27-28, said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” Then it has continued ever since then as the Spirit prophesied through her.
Madonna with Child and Angels
Painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato, 1674
MODERN CHRISTIAN: But you guys use phrases like Mother of God.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Elizabeth, when she was filled with the Spirit and spoke by Him, said to Mary, “The mother of My Lord” (Luke 1:43). That is Biblical.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: She said “the mother of My Lord,” but you say “The Mother of God.”
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Isn’t Jesus God?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yes, but still….
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Oh, I see how it’s going to be. You are arguing about specific wording, huh?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yeah….
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Anyway, let me make things a bit clear. We actually referred to her as Theotokos in the early church which properly means, “The one who has given birth to God,” and it was not to simply glorify her, but to point out that the one who was conceived in her womb was God, and the one she bore was God; our Lord Jesus is not only a man, but He is both fully God and fully Man. Humanity and divinity are united in Him without separation, without mingling, without alteration, and without confusion. The word Theotokos became a lot more common in its usage when heresies arose that denied the divinity of the Son or separated our Lord Jesus’s humanity from His divinity. The reason this term became so widespread in the early church was to further point out that our Lord’s humanity and divinity were united, and from the moment of conception at that.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: I see.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Again, it is in the same meaning as the Bible.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Ok. I’ve got nothing more to say about that. Your point is solid. But I will say this, you guys forget that this is all the grace of God, and He chose her, so what she did is for the glory of God.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Nobody is arguing with you there; her glorifying God mightily in her life is the reason she is the greatest saint. You see, the word grace means “gift,” and unless one accepts the gift, then the grace will not transform that person’s life and bring glory to God. She accepted the gift, the grace. The Archangel Gabriel even pointed this out from the beginning when the very first words he said to her (as correctly translated from the original Greek) were, “Rejoice (hail), O one full of grace” (Luke 1:28).
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Did you guys call her the Ark, the Queen, the Throne of God, and the Ladder?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Yes.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Well, isn’t that taking things a bit too far. Isn’t that making her co-redeemer and born without sin?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Not at all!
MODERN CHRISTIAN: How so?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: For a couple of reasons at least. One, that these are drawn out from the Scriptures, and two, that saying these things never caused us in the ancient church to think that she is co-redeemer or born without sin.
First, calling her the Ark is heavily warranted based on Luke’s language in the Gospel of Luke chapter 2.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: I have never heard or read that.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: That’s because you did not read carefully enough. If you go back to 2 Samuel 6 and compare the wording between the Ark and Saint Mary; it is the same. It is pretty clear Luke did this intentionally, and he wants the reader to infer that she is the Ark of the New Covenant.
To begin with, the Archangel Gabriel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). The word for overshadow here in the original Greek is episkiasei, which was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (which the Apostles used and quoted in the New Testament) in the Book of Exodus 40:35 (40:29 LXX) to refer to the cloud which guided the children of Israel and which hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle. This cloud further symbolized the Spirit as Paul the Apostle explains in 1 Corinthians 10:2, “All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” and Baptism is described in three contexts in the New Testament: into Jesus, the water, and the Spirit. The cloud symbolizes the Holy Spirit, therefore this same imagery of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Saint Mary appears in the Old Testament in the cloud overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant.
Further, the Ark had three objects in it: the Ten Commandments (that is the Old Covenant), a pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod. All three are types of the reality of our Lord. The Old Covenant foreshadows the New Covenant. The pot of manna foreshadows our Lord Jesus as the Bread of Life, which He clearly explained in John 6, and Aaron’s rod, which by definition is dead yet it budded, so this is a type of the Resurrection, which our Lord Jesus is (John 11:25). Saint Mary carried our Lord in her womb who is the realization of what these objects in the Ark foreshadowed. So, she is an Ark as well.
To continue the typology, when David the King thought of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9), and this was in the land of Judah. Elizabeth, when she greeted Mary said, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). This also happened in the land of Judah. What followed was also similar, “The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months” (2 Samuel 6:11), and “Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house” (Luke 1:56). When the Ark came to David, it says that he “danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod,” (2 Samuel 6:14) but it clarifies in 2 Samuel 6:16, that he was “leaping.” When Elizabeth heard Saint Mary’s greeting she said, “As soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (Luke 1:44). What is interesting to note here is that David was wearing an ephod, which was only allowed to be worn by the priests. John the Baptist, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, was a priest. What David did in front of the Ark was prefiguring what John the Baptist did in front of Saint Mary.
Furthermore, the Ark did not give salvation; it did not redeem Israel, rather it carried God’s covenant which redeemed them from Egypt. Saint Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and likewise she is not the Redeemer, but she carried the Redeemer in her womb for nine months. So for us to say that she is the Ark of the New Covenant, that is not outside the bounds of Scripture, but it is to be clearly inferred from reading the Scriptures carefully.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Wow! That understanding is amazing. I can actually agree with that. I can’t believe I missed that in reading.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Learn to read deeper then, my friend. Also, read the Scriptures often. Think about them all the time, and then you will begin to see the depths of the Scriptures.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Can you provide a similar defense for calling her the Queen, the Throne, and the Ladder?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Yes. Again, this has to be inferred. In the Old Testament, in the days of the Kings, the mother of the king was called the Queen Mother (cf. 1 Kings 15:13; 2 Kings 10:13). If a mother has a child who is king, then she is a queen. Think about it, right? Bathsheba was the Queen mother, even though there were many other wives that David had. She was brought a throne and sat at the right hand of Solomon (1 Kings 2:19). In the same manner, Saint Mary is the Queen Mother of our Lord Jesus. Again, just because she is the Queen does not mean she is co-redeemer, and just like Solomon ruled the Kingdom of Israel alone, it is only our Lord Jesus Christ who is the ruler of His Kingdom. To call her Queen is a bestowal of an honorific; it is a grace, and if you remember the words of the Archangel Gabriel, she is the one full of grace.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Ok. I can see that, but then what about the Throne and Ladder?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Likewise. Wherever God dwells and sits, that is His throne, correct?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yes.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Our Lord God chose to spend nine months in her womb. This is where he began emptying himself as Paul the Apostle said in Philippians 2:7 (original Greek, see NRSV). The uncontainable God chose to be contained in her womb. This is where He dwelled and was seated, so Saint Mary is His Throne. Again, it is because of His grace toward her and her accepting His words through the angel. Again, the Throne is not the Savior, but is the chosen place of the Savior. Likewise she is His chosen above all others; the highest one. God also dwells in our hearts if we let Him, so our hearts can be His thrones as well, but Saint Mary was a special case because He took His humanity from her, and He became flesh in her, and this was the beginning of the final act of His plan for our salvation. The Miracle of the Incarnation which is a once-for-all time event happened through her and no one else, only through her accepting the words of the angel.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Whew. This is heavy stuff, but it does make sense. What about the Ladder? I have a feeling you will have a good answer too.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: The Ladder described by Jacob in the Book of Genesis 28:12 describes our Lord Jesus Christ; He even alluded to it in the end of John 1 when He told Nathanael and the other Apostles, “Hereafter you will see angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). But also the image of a Ladder connecting Heaven and Earth describes Saint Mary because it was through her that the Heavenly Son became an Earthly Man. He descended, which can mean walked down a ladder, from Heaven to become Man. She was the instrument of His becoming Man. Again, she is the instrument of our God for the Savior to save us, but she is not the savior. Again, it is all because of the grace of God. It is because of how much grace He poured out on her that she is the highest saint, but don’t misunderstand; she also responded to that grace, and it is that response that can teach us as Christians.
There are many other things, indeed too many, that can be said about Saint Mary the Theotokos, but I simply want you to begin to understand the way we in the ancient church thought about Saint Mary. Our discussion has not been exhaustive by any means.
However, for you right now, this is what you can learn from her above all else: that we should respond to God’s grace in our lives, and respond willingly. When we do so, then it will bring the glory to God, as He was glorified in her life, and He still is glorified in her life, but again, let’s save that for another time. What will happen then if you learn from her way of life is that your life will show and lead to faith, hope, love, courage, witness, causing others to come to and believe in our Lord, and it will bring glory to His name. As our Lord said about those who believe in Him, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15). She is a light too. She leads others to Christ till today if they approach her correctly. Her virtues teach us, and if we imitate her as she followed our Lord Jesus Christ, then that light will shine brilliantly, and the conclusion will be what our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
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