In lieu of any meaningful posting for the next few days - the bulk of my finals and projects will be done by next Tuesday - I'm bringing this post to the top of the stack. An interesting debate about Mary's sinlessness, original sin and a host of side issues has sprouted. Read, comment, enjoy.
Its been a while since I've had time to read any of Gabriel's Mary: The Untrodden Portal of God, but I got some time this afternoon so I figured I'd best keep up with my series on it. Chapter 4 focuses on a refutation of certain gnostic heresies that claimed Christ was not born according to the natural rules of childbirth. Chapter 5 discusses the Dormition and Chapter 6 details the differences between Orthodoxy's understanding of Mary's birth & death and that of Catholicism. I found that chapter most illuminating, primarily because I haven't really studied this subject matter before.
As I haven't heard of any modern commentators claiming that Jesus actually transpired out of Mary's side, I won't get too in depth with chapter 4. It was interesting to see how far the ancient heretics went to avoid the reality of the Incarnation for fear of contaminating divinity with materiality. It seems people will ever vacillate between a false asceticism that sees all matter as either evil or as completely void of all spiritual significance, and the hedonism that says matter is all there is so we might as well enjoy it. Christians have, for obvious reasons, tended towards the former and I see subtle strands of that in many Protestant thinkers. Not "all matter is evil" but that matter is empty, its meaningless and holds no import for spiritual matters. It is present in the pragmatic iconoclasm and austerity of our worship spaces, in the refusal to bless objects or regard any place as holy, to name but a few examples. It is a tired repetition and one I hope we will eventually be rid of.
Chapters 5 & 6 are closely linked in Gabriel's mind and he lays the groundwork in 5 to explore the key differences and their implications in 6. I knew Orthodoxy had special views about Mary's death and her role in heaven, but did not know the particulars. I found it particularly striking that Orthodoxy emphasizes her true humanity by acknowledging her death, whereas Catholicism is forced, by certain tenets of Augustinian theology, to deny it. As Gabriel rightly points out, the language of the Assumption can indeed lead to Mariolatry in one form or another. If no one is exempt from original sin except Christ and Mary, why, it makes perfect sense to begin elevating Mary above and beyond her proper role in relation to Christ. But Orthodoxy knows that this is not the case, that whatever she is, she is only that because of her relation to Christ. Though she was without the stain or blemish of sin, she still inherited the generational consequences of it, ie, death. She had to die because she was human but her theosis rendered her body incorruptible and as Gabriels says, "her bodily translation from Earth reflected the real mystery and awesome power of the Incarnation and the promise of the same incorruption for all."
Of course, the Protestant in me is going nuts about the thought of Mary being whisked away into heaven. Mother of God or no, it just seems wrong somehow. But then again, we know even less about Enoch (Gen 5:24) and we're told he was taken up into heaven. Elijah was a great prophet and he was taken up, so why do we have such a hard time acknowledging even the possibility that Mary received similar treatment? Yes, its not in the Bible and that is a key difference, but frankly, and this is becoming a similar refrain as I discuss Orthodoxy with people, quite a bit isn't in the Bible. We're told Jesus appeared to as many as 500 people at one time (1 Cor 15:6) after His resurrection and we don't receive a single piece of information about when this happened, who was there, or what Jesus said or did at this important event. We're not told what Jesus was writing in the sand in John 8, nor are we told what Jesus, Moses & Elijah talked about on Tabor. I think Protestants like to pretend that the Bible is just chock-full of all kinds of useful tidbits and that there aren't any blank spaces. There's nothing that needs to be filled in, nothing that can't be answered. But that's a load of crap! We're missing so much and so much of it is important stuff that I'm increasingly finding it hard to give a whole lot of credence to the argument that "its not in the Bible so it must be wrong."
So as I consider the Dormition, I have to say it makes a certain kind of sense. If you accept that grace redeems not just souls but physicality as well, then the unlimited font of grace we find in Christ that dwelt in Mary had to have an effect on her. It had to have changed her somehow, and if the Ark of the Covenant was treated with such absolute reverence that whatever place it entered became holy, how could we but view Mary's body as holy as well? And does it makes sense that God would toss something holy like that into the ground to rot?