Christmas

The Athanasian formula that God became man that for man to become God has has a symmetrical formulation in the act of creation: God made the cosmos so that the cosmos might make God. 

Sure, the formula sounds new-agey and gnostic and produces allergic reactions in those who pride themselves on orthodoxy and dedication to the tradition, but I don’t just want to insist that it’s true but that its denial is heretical for being certainly Nestorian and implicitly Arian as well. Nestorius insisted on the seemingly innocent theological clarification of referring to Mary as mother of Christ and not as Mother of God since “Christ” was an awaited figure in history but to take this “Mother of God” talk literally would give us the sheer contradiction of generating the ingenerable. Nestorianism mirrored the earlier and more widespread Arian heresy, which also boiled down to the same seemingly innocent desire to clarify that, whatever this “son of god” talk amounted to, there wasn’t literally a generated God.

All this points to the unnerving central mystery of Christianity that is too-easily abandoned by a spirit of moderation, reasonableness, and prima facie orthodoxy. God is generated. God is born. In fact, he was literally born-again (i.e. twice) with one nature from the Father and another from the Virgin. Nestorius and Arius were rebelling against statements that the pious still rebel against. The last time I posted on Mary literally generating God I got a combox full of well-meaning, pious, apologetical denunciations, but they were Nestorian all the same and would have taken very little prompting to become Arian.

The spirit of Nestorius is still with us in our reticence to speak of Mary as literally Mother of God. Both popular and scholarly Mariology tend to view Mary as vessel or, at best, as a source of sinless flesh (whatever that is). But if Mary is viewed simply as something physically containing Christ then she no more needs to be sinless than Judea or the cosmos, and the only way in which flesh is sinful is if “flesh” is a synecdoche for “a human being”. Mary had “sinless flesh” simply by being a sinless human being, and she had that because nothing alienated from God is capable of generating God.

The Marian generation of God has to be viewed through the lens of the hypostatic union whereas the trinitarian generation of the Son does not, but while Mary generated God and Pilate executed him, Mary’s action conferred a nature upon a divine person that Pilate’s did not. Mary is unique among creatures by being mother of God, i.e. the source of existence of a divine person. Staring at the mystery quickly turns into staring at the sun, but that’s orthodoxy, to which Nestorianism and Arianism are the moderate and balanced alternatives. But they’re false all the same.

So God made the cosmos so the cosmos might make God. By “making the cosmos” we mean he made this one, with the foreknowledge of all its sins and their consequences. All these were tolerated for the sake of the mere possibility of the Marian fiat, and the value of that fiat was sufficient to justify tolerating a human history that is too horrible to face squarely. The horror of human and angelic sin is thus the anti-mystery to Mary’s being mother of God, the one with a brightness that makes the intellect fail out, the other with a horror too great for us even to look at, much less understand how anything could justify its toleration. So that’s our predicament – to fear even looking at an abyss that was tolerated for the sake of a sun that we also don’t have the strength to look upon.

 

 

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