Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What is the Big Deal?

My wife couldn't quite pin down what the deal was. She calls the Blessed Virgin "Mary, the mother of our Lord." She said, obviously, that my Lord is God. Quite right.

And this is what St. Elizabeth meant when she created the Virgin Mother: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:42-43). St. Elizabeth's Lord is, well, the Lord--God.

Lord=God. Kryios=Theos. And in the LXX, kyrios=YHWH.

I have a smart wife. She didn't use the Greek and Hebrew last night, but she knows the score.

So what's the deal, then?

What is wrong in saying that Mary is the Mother of Christ? Absolutely nothing. It's true. What's wrong with saying that Mary is the Mother of our Lord? Nothing. It's great to agree with St. Elizabeth.

But can you, will you, say "Mary is the Mother of God"?

If not, then you don't really believe she is the Mother of our Lord. You mean something different than that. If you can't, won't, don't want to, think it's too confusing, to call her the Mother of God, then when you say that she is the mother of Christ, you mean a different kind of Christ who is somehow not God.

Who do you say He is? Is He God? Was He God in her womb? Or just "the Lord", whatever you mean by that? Was it God on the Cross or just Christ? As if you could separate Him.

Words matter.


  1. orrologion said...

    Similar to calling Mary Theotokos or Mater Theou is whether one will paint images of the incarnate Lord and venerate them. At first blush veneration of images seems something akin to 'idolatry' until one deeply considers the christological issues at stake, which were so deeply explored, mined and explained by Sts John of Damascus and Theodore the Studite in the 8-9th Centuries.

    Pastor Weedon's pastoral comment is important to remember when deciding what to do now, but it is also a separate point from determining what always should have been and in critiquing a situation where one is uncomfortable with a term essential to a right Christian faith.

    To be unable to call Mary Theotokos or Mater Theou is to fall into heresy, one of the oldest heresies overcome by the Church, Nestorianism. The fact that some/many Christians feel this discomfort says something deeply important about the way in which theology is taught and the way in which we worship.

  2. William Weedon said...

    Curiously, I don't think the veneration of the image of our Lord with His mother is one that particularly troubles Lutherans. The creche adorns almost all of our churches. The blessing of the creche is also telling. This is from LSB Agenda:

    After the invocation, the pastor says: Beloved in the Lord, for us men and for our salvation our Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man, thus fulfilling the word of the prophet Isaiah, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Let this creche remind us that the Lord Jesus came into our flesh and is truly our Savior. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

    After the salutation: Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, (on this night) You caused Your only-begotten Son to be born of the blessed Virgin Mary for our salvation. Bless this creche, which shows the wonders of that sacred birth, that all who behold it may ponder and adore the mystery of His holy incarnation and may joyfully partake in His divine grace unto life eternal; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. The Lord almighty, the Father, the + Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless this creche for use in His Church. Amen.


  3. orrologion said...

    I meant not only the use of images, but their actual veneration which acknowledges the hypostatic presence of the one represented. Images are more than simply 'books for the illiterate' though this is essentially all that the Carolingians, and thus the Carolingian dominated Papacy during and since the Hildebrandine reformation - yes, Luther wasn't the first 'reformer' :) - took from the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

  4. orrologion said...

    "The hypostatic presence of the one represented" is where the christological implications are to be found in the teachings of the 7th EC.

  5. William Weedon said...

    Well, we certainly can agree that honor given to the type goes to the prototype, but hypostatic presence might be a bit of a stretch. We bow to the Holy Cross, after all, in honor of Him who was stretched upon it. And we certainly can acknowledge that where we the Church gathers to the Eucharist, there the whole Church is truly present - and so the saints whose images are shown are really and truly present in the assembly (or rather, we are really and truly present in their assembly). But to argue that the saint is truly present in a particular representation seems rather the sort of thing that St. Gregory the Great warned against thinking.

  6. orrologion said...

    Hey, I'm just the messenger. The argument for the veneration of icons - rather than simply the allowance of icons - is based on the christological understanding of nature and person (ousia and hypostasis). It's fascinating reading and I recommend it to anyone, whether you agree with it in the end or not. Such was the teaching of the 7th EC, though the subtlety of the Council's Greek seemed to have been lost of the 'Germans' up in Aachen. :)

  7. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    You DO? Lutherans bow to the Holy Cross, in honor of Him who died upon it? Great!

    Why not bow to a holy saint, in honor of Him who lived in him/her?

  8. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    Why not bow to a Saint? Well, we'd much rather preach on how Christ worked in and through them. Preaching = teh awesome!

    And as for the hypostatic presence - I just don't know - once the Greeks stopped having the West bail them out on theological issues (like the tome of Leo) they get a little weird. I guess that is just the sin of the Emperor - head of both church and state - abandoning his people in the West to the barbarians over and over and over again. Thus is life. >=o)

  9. orrologion said...

    Watch it, you guys still accept the even more obscure teachings of the EC after Leo on dyotheletism. Another look at Chalcedon also shows that Leo's tome caused more problems in the end by muddying the already settling waters in the East that were coming to a better understanding of the 'late Cyril' who had himself accommodated the Antiochians - Leo saw himself as the precursor to the first of a later Council to be held in the Vatican and simply wanted everyone to kowtow to him; needless to say he was in no mind to accommodate anyone in any way.

    The Byzantine was no more the head of the Church than were the Electors of Saxony the heads of the Lutheran churches of their regions. :)

    Were the Emperors too involved? Yes. But, iconoclasm and the non-acceptance of 'Ecumenical' Councils of Lyons and Florence are but a few of the examples of when the Emperors tried to act as if they controlled the Church, but were rebuffed soundly.

  10. orrologion said...

    And the bowing to the saint is bowing the Christ working in him - "God is wondrous in his saints" - just like feeding and clothing the poor and naked is feeding and clothing Christ.

  11. Anastasia Theodoridis said...

    And Christ does more than just work in and through His saints; He has lived in them and as them, their flesh given to Him, His mind, heart, and Spirit given to them, as theirs.

  12. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    1 - Actually, the Emperors claimed much more headship over the Church than the Saxons did.

    2 - If bowing to the Saints because Christ works in the Saints and indeed, lives in them. . . shall we venerate each other, as we are the temple and dwelling place of God? Does the East practice the veneration of the living Saints in whom Christ dwells? (That was a serious question - how is the idea of the veneration of images of saints applied to those still living?)

  13. orrologion said...

    Orthodox will regularly bow to people in authority in the Church or that are deemed 'holy'. There is a difference in that the holy today can be the reprobate of tomorrow - salvation isn't 'sure' until the Last Day - so it isn't an across the board veneration and honoring of all Christians. Bows to living persons are positioned more as bows of repentance than as veneration, for the fact that we are still in the world and prone to falling away. In fact, a bow before a living person (e.g., bishop, priest, spiritual father, monastic elder, etc.) is termed a metanoia. There is also a rule to distinguish between relics (departed, sure saints), and holy things imbued with the grace of the Holy Spirit such as the cross, icons, the communion chalice, etc. The sign of the cross is only made with a metanoia and/or a kiss of veneration to these things; living people may be bowed to or kissed, but without the sign of the cross. My old Archbishop used to joke that when people made the sign of the cross before taking his blessing, they were unknowingly wishing he were dead.

  14. Christopher D. Hall said...

    That was informative, Christopher. I think it may also be noteworthy that at various times in the Divine Liturgy the altar is incensed, as well as the iconostasis, which all makes sense, but the people are also incensed as well.

    Or am I reading something into this?

  15. orrologion said...

    Quite right, Pastor. The people are incensed just like the icons and the other holy things, though not as 'expandedly'. The reasons I have been given have been that the people are also icons of Christ, saints, and that they are temples of the Holy Spirit. I think most of the laity consider it is because they need blessing, the sure, humble sign of a saint who sees only his own lack.

  16. orrologion said...

    This as with many things in the lex orandi are meant to be experienced and sought after; their 'true meaning' isn't in their explanation as a piece of catechesis (lex credendi).

    Here is one explanation of the censing at the beginning of Vigil:


    And another for the censing immediately prior to the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Liturgy:


    From 'Canonization':

    "...the Orthodox Christian prays to a saint by asking the saint to pray for him. The Orthodox Christian venerates ikons -- he bows and kisses the ikon and in doing that he bows before and kisses the image of God which he sees in the saint. He bows to honor the image of God; he kisses to show his love for that image, and to express his hope that the image of God will also become evident and manifest in himself. In a similar way the priest censes the ikons and bow to them -- again, seeing the image of God,censing it, bowing to it; and then the priest turns and censes the people gathered in the Church and bows to them, just as he did to the ikons. He also sees the image of God in the people of God who are the Church of Christ on earth. In turn, the people bow to the priest, seeing also in him that same image, that same call to be an ikon." (http://www.oca.org/FS.NA-Document.asp?SID=4&ID=82)

    Well, that was far more than called for.

  17. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    I guess it boils down to what it meant then by veneration. If veneration is meant to mean treat as an object of worship, I would reject. If venerate means to treat with respect, dignity, and honor - then it happens quite frequently (or at least ought to) even in Lutheran Churches.

  18. orrologion said...

    That gets back to the old distinction so obvious in Greek but more vague in English between latreia (worship) and doulia (honor).

    I think it odd that it is always assumed that they get all mixed up in the minds and practice of those backwards Catholics and Orthodox, but it is quite clear they are not within the context of the Divine Services. For instance, the saints are venerated by making the sign of the cross of the Lord; the feasts of the Lord always bump feasts of the Theotokos and the saints; there are no 'exclamations' and blessings in the name of a saint, but always (and repeatedly, numerously, over and over again) with reference to the Holy Trinity or a Person of the Trinity; Mary is rarely pictured without her Son, Who is the One Who makes her what she is, the Mother of God; etc.

    A similar misunderstanding is made regarding the difference between a mediator and an intercessor with people objecting to the intercession of the saints based on the passage stating there is only 'one Mediator between God and man'. Apples and oranges.

  19. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Christopher--I don't think it helps that to Protestant eyes veneration looks like worship. But this is more a Western/American problem than Orthodoxy's problem.

    What I mean is that we don't actually worship much. We pray, to be sure. We praise. We kneel to receive the Eucharist, but worship as an *action* is not common among us. We don't necessarily have actions of worship, more like sensibilities and mind-sets of worship. In other words, most protestants (and Lutherans) when they think of worship think of praying. Maybe kneeling or bowing, but mostly that's a thing a pastor does.

    And kissing? Gee whiz! We Krauts hardly kiss our wives and kids, much the less strangers. Or pictures. Or stuff. Kissing is for Italians. Or Greeks. ;)

  20. orrologion said...

    Very interesting. Is worship something different than postures or praying or praising? Is it literally just the actions that are off-putting and proper only for God Himself? Is a lack of such actions a sign that God isn't really believed (in practice) to be present in Communion, in others, that holy things are only 'remembrances' of or 'tokens' and not actually holy or spirit-bearing?

    Someone, somewhere recently said something to the effect that Lutherans recognize only the Word and Sacraments as means of grace, but that, in practice, they really only acknowledge the Word since the Sacraments are only done in reference to the Word. Perhaps the Word Himself is not really, truly believed to be in the Sacrament?...

    (This 'really' argument is meant as a sleight against Lutherans. Anastasia has made it against Greeks in a parish in Thessaloniki who don't act in the church service as if God is truly, actually present in Communion - they talk, they finish the service before everyone has communed, they leave before everyone has communed, etc.)

  21. William Weedon said...

    I see various physical actions associated with worship at my parish. There is no "lock step" - but you can see:

    People stand (when praying, or hearing the Gospel and at Trinitarian doxologies)

    People kneel (for receiving the Eucharist and for the confession at Compline and the pastors kneel for confession at the Divine Service)

    People sit (usually to hear the first two readings, the sermon, and during distribution)

    People crossing themselves (when the Trinity is named, when the Cross or Lectionary passes by them, when they receive our Lord's body and blood and when they are blessed)

    People bow (whenever approaching the altar and to the Eucharist during the distribution)

    As for kisses, I regularly kiss the Gospel after it is read. Our former associate pastor did as well.

    People hold out empty hands (to receive the Eucharist)

    People open their mouths (to receive the Eucharist)

    People embrace - we usually do so after a service has concluded (like Compline)

    So all kinds of actions if you stop to observe them. But most of all, the people SING. It is their primary joy among the sacrificial acts of worship.

  22. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    I think this does describe something that is rather ironic given the history of the Church. In the first 1000 years, the East was actually the champion of local language - the West mandated Latin whereas the East invented alphabets so people could read and hear the Word and worship in their own tongue.

    As Pastor Weedon points out - if we are talking of having respect/reverence for images/each other - a decorum of worship -- well, yes, many places are quite lax in Lutheranism - but there still are many places that have reverence -- some perhaps more formal, some less.

    One of the things we have argue as Lutheranism is that this level of formality and the specific shape (stand or kneel, etc) can vary region to region according to custom. The fact that a custom of the East isn't followed in the vast majority of our congregations isn't viewed as shocking, no more than Pastor Weedon would view the fact that I do not kiss the Gospel when I finish the reading thereof.

    Now, our problem tends to be two-fold. There are some who assume that such reverence isn't "hip" and thus needs to go so we can attract the kids with our "mad, dope, Jesus time". Then, on the other hand, there still are some who freak out over looking too Catholic (I'd have folks who would raise their eyebrows over a kissed Gospel - because it is unfamiliar and might be. . . Roman Catholic. . . gasp).

  23. orrologion said...

    One of the things we have argue as Lutheranism is that this level of formality and the specific shape (stand or kneel, etc) can vary region to region according to custom.

    This where the rubber meets the road, I think.

    The Orthodox would also agree that form can vary. Even such dramatic differences as leavened/unleavened bread were accepted by East and West in the time of St. Photios the Great.

    The difference is in whether differences are cultivated and whether there is any sense that the form and actions of faith (lex orandi) in addition to words are given a sense of authority. These actions themselves are no simply left at being mere pedagogical tools, aesthetic or in keeping with 'good order'. In fact, it is notoriously difficult to understand Orthodox liturgical texts because they keep assuming you know the actions that make them make sense, or they say "then the Dismissal" or "cense in the normal fashion" without explanation. These are the kind of 'essentials' the St. Basil refers to in On the Holy Spirit - essentials, not adiaphora, at least to that great Father.

    This is all to say that we don't get to choose how we do things based on utility, personal taste, etc. Things have changed and developed over the centuries, but not really as much as one would think, and the tradition has been pretty stable in much the same way that recensions of the Bible are stable and essentially undifferentiated. Changes happen, but only under great necessity, not without a fight, and always keeping in mind that a dramatic action is being taken whereby the 'changer' is taking on great responsibility before God for the management of Holy Tradition, guided and informed by the Holy Spirit.

  24. William Weedon said...

    Well, I think things may have changed more than you are reckoning, Christopher. Have you by chance had the opportunity to read Wybrew's book on Orthodox liturgy. Kallistos Ware praises it, and - though an Anglican - Wybrew does a wonderful job of moving beyond text to description of liturgical action and space across the history of the Byzantine rite. One example that sticks in my head is that at the time of St. John Chrysostom in Contantinople, there were no words that accompanied the Great Entrance nor was any apparent meaning attached to it other than the utility of moving the elements from the back of the Church to the altar. It looked more like the current Roman practice of bringing up the elements than like the Great Entrance as the Easterners practice it today - almost a climactic point of the service!

  25. orrologion said...

    I'm not sure that is all that dramatic since the action stays the same, and the action generally takes on meaning in the same way that mundane events in the OT also carried the weight of prophecy, unknowingly. Similarly, there was no fixed anaphora or canon of the Mass for many years, but there was always a prayer said and it followed a general 'pattern' that was learnt by experience rather than by book.

    Liturgical critique has similar flaws with biblical criticism. They both suffer from a lack of surviving documents, an addiction to supposition and proof from silence and perceived bias, and tend to pat the nice ancients on the head who know so little while we know so much. There is use to this, but to assume that we know better is possible only until the next generation of academics set out to make names for themselves and as new information arises.

    It also presupposes that the Church and her forms are man-made constructions not under the guidance of the Holy Spirit continually incarnating the the Body of Christ.

  26. William Weedon said...

    As Lutherans, though, we also live at the receiving end of a living tradition and one we confess to be guided by the Holy Spirit for we see how beautifully our liturgy confesses the Incarnate Word, Crucified, Risen, Reigning and Returning. In our hymns and our liturgy the treasures of the ancients are not forgotten, but gratefully received, used, and celebrated, even as that living guidance of the Spirit goes on to the giving of new psalms and hymns and spiritual songs by which we glorify the Lover of Mankind.

    No doubt we have a different approach because we don't see everything in the tradition as being of the same weight, worth or value. We know that you can build on the foundation with gold or silver or precious stones, but also with wood, hay, and stubble. We also believe that there is a clear standard by which one may assess what is precious and what is not. As we live in the Church's living heritage, we know that whatever is inspired of the Holy Spirit and so added to the liturgical deposit will be utterly congruent with the Good News that He inshrined for us in the Sacred Scriptures. What's not, we recognize as a false development and are free to set aside. I don't think that's comparable to Biblical Criticism (which you know we in Missouri also reject).

  27. orrologion said...

    Quite right, though I think your description of Lutheranism's respect for "the treasures of the ancients" is more personal than corporate - or, at least far from dominant as anything more than 'preference' in any of the Lutheran denominations.

    You point to the real issue: discernment. Both Athanasius, Maximus, Nestorius, Arius and Pelagius stood contra mundi and followed conscience.

  28. William Weedon said...

    Undervalued in our Lutheran jurisdictions, to be sure. But not strictly personal. After all, it is found in our official Service Books, hymnals, and other liturgical resources.

  29. orrologion said...

    "Found in our official Service Books, hymnals, and other liturgical resources", but only as one choice among many 'adiaphora'. This is not lex orandi. It's a more traditional, conservative version of icons and high-churchery in uber-liberal Episcopalian churches next to Keith Haring altars with a resident tight rope walker 'ministering' above (all true of St. John the Divine in NYC).

    But, you are fighting the good fight and must be commended for not ignoring the ignored hint at lex orandi in the BofC.

  30. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    One of the things I will contend is that how we worship is does demonstrate the faith and shape how it is believed. I am very big on teaching (and preaching) not just what we do, but why such actions are done.

    Also, we are a Church of Reform - one that acknowledges that Satan attacks and misleads even the Church. This has a two fold implication. The first is that simply because something has been done for a while can't bear authority in an of itself - for it might have been instituted contrary to Scripture (the Lex Orandi, while guided by the Spirit, can be messed with by sinful man - even as the temple worship in the OT was oft corrupted). The second is that I have no problem being highly critical of erroneous practices in Lutheranism today, nor do I view them as a sign of illegitimacy or a lack of "Churchliness" -- because Satan always attacks the Church and people always fall - why would my day be different.