Mary our guide

It is possible to end up with Christ and like Christ only if we begin with and like Our Lady, writes Richard Norman

The Christian creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed – are (at the very least) two-dimensional: they have on the one hand a scientific dimension, which represents the best efforts of the Fathers of the Church to articulate the matter of Christian belief; but, on the other hand and more profoundly, they have also a mystical dimension, in which the words of the Creeds do not in themselves capture the realities to which they refer, but can only point beyond what can be transcribed and understood by the limits of our languages and our minds.

The rhetoric of the creeds, the style in which they were written, is evidence of this: witness, for example, the following tricolon in the Prayer Book translation of the Nicene Creed: ‘God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God’: in describing the life of the Trinity, and the nature of the Incarnation, the Fathers found ordinary categories of thought ultimately insufficient for expressing the simultaneous identity and difference of the Three-in-One, as well as the origins of Jesus Christ in beginning and in non-beginning.

Our Lady in the creeds

The ways in which the creeds treat Our Lady fall similarly into the two realms of the scientific and the mystical. St Athanasius taught that ‘our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man ...Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and Perfect Man.’ At the First Council of Constantinople in 381 it was agreed in the Nicene Creed that Jesus Christ ‘was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.’ Thus the creeds emphasize Mary as the origin and imparter of Our Lord’s perfect humanity. The Letter to the Hebrews says that ‘[s]ince therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same nature... he had to be made like his brethren in every respect’ [Heb. 2.14, 17]. So too Jesus is ‘one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin’ [4.15].

A perfect humanity

The scientific, factual meaning in all this is that Jesus’ humanity came, in the first instance, from the Virgin Mary. And he took from her a perfect humanity, since she had herself been saved from sin at the moment of her Immaculate Conception, and preserved from sin henceforth. Jesus’ own sinlessness comes not simply from the fact of his divinity, but – more significantly – from the fact of the humanity Mary gave him.

His being without sin is less a consequence of being ‘Perfect God’ than it is one of being ‘Perfect Man’. Humanity in its perfected form is without sin, because it is fully and unreservedly in the image of God. For this reason Mary could sing, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord!’ Her soul, her being, her identity, became a reflection of divine glory because, in saying yes to God, she imitated, and was made a sharer in, the life of the Trinity, where each Person eternally says yes to the others.

Drawn up into divinity

The mystical meaning of Christ’s Incarnation from the Virgin Mary is that, although our salvation and glorification takes place wholly within Christ’s humanity, yet it begins with and from Mary’s humanity, from whom Christ drew perfect humanity. To end up with Christ and like Christ is possible only if we begin with and like Our Lady. Redeemed humanity is drawn up into divinity: Mary, a human being kept from sinfulness, was drawn up into divinity, into the heart of the Trinity, in the very flesh which she shared with her child Jesus Christ. We pray that we too will be lifted up in our flesh at the Resurrection from the dead.

Gentle teacher

Mary stands at the beginning of the meaning of humanity because of her role in Christ’s Incarnation, premised upon her Immaculate Conception; she stands at its eventual end because, in her Assumption, she was the first joyfully to follow the Son of Man and Son of God into heaven. Mary helps us to know Christ: she is in her own way a sort of Creed, because she teaches us so much about Jesus and about our salvation which comes from him.

Mary our gentle teacher gave to the Church the Rosary, by which we might enter into the mystery of salvation through the contemplation of the story of her son. In her month of May, pray the Rosary and pray with Mary, and pray too the creeds which talk of the truth. ND

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