“Mary’s faith . . . [reveals] that faith is the unconditional assent given to the three-fold union of love that God wishes to establish with man: filial, nuptial, and fruitful.”
The mystery of the Virgin Mary, icon of faith, receives its light from that of Christ and guides us to him and to the Church, of whom Mary is also the archetype.1 Only in and through the relation of love with her Son, the Incarnate Logos, can the contours of Mary’s person be seen.2 By sheer grace, the Virgin Mary’s assent of faith was uniquely able to receive God’s love humanly and without any sort of resistance.3 However, that the Virgin Mary, blessed among women because she believed (Lk 1:45), leads to and cannot be severed from Christ also means that, in a way possible only for the divine agape (1 Jn 4:8) that gives itself without losing itself, Christ himself cannot be separated from the Virgin Mary.4 In this sense, man’s reception of and fulfillment in the divine life in Christ is a participation in the agapic relation of Jesus with his mother: we become children of God and members of the body of Christ when, through the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary becomes our mother and we become brothers of Christ, whose body was prepared in Mary’s womb. Man’s faith is a gift that comes from and roots him in the reciprocal relation between Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
This essay ponders Mary’s faith in its unique capacity to reveal that faith is the unconditional assent given to the threefold union of love that God wishes to establish with man: filial, nuptial, and fruitful. Mary’s faith shows us that God wants man to be fruitful, like he himself is, and to be nuptially and filially united to him as a son in his Son through the Holy Spirit (Gal 4:4–7).5 The Virgin Mary’s faith, however, is not simply an icon in which we see God’s will embraced to the end. She is also the one through whom, in a mysterious way, God carries out his plan. The Virgin Mary, becoming the mother of all believers at the foot of the Cross (Jn 19:26–27), enables Christ to become the brother of all those who, as St. John did, welcome Christ and Mary in faith. As brothers, they enjoy the love the Father has for his eternal Son. Furthermore, precisely because the faith of her who is full of grace is the ongoing recognition of and total surrender to the true Word of God, she, the archetype of the Church and eschatological Bride of the Lamb (Rev 19:7, 21:9), introduces the communion of believers into that nuptial union with Christ (Eph 5:25–27; 2 Cor 11:2) which will be fulfilled when he is everything to everyone (Col 3:11).6
Our essay proceeds in five steps. It first examines the sense in which Mary’s faith is both the fruit and the fulfillment of her own filiality. It then elucidates the nature of Mary’s faith, by which, in assenting to God’s promise and omnipotent faithfulness, she became the virginal mother of God and underwent at the foot of the Cross the most radical kenosis of faith (sections 2–3). Mary’s virginal motherhood will then help us ponder the meaning of both the nuptial union with God that faith establishes (section 4) and the gift of divine sonship that Christ, together with Mary, bestows on the believer (section 5).
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1. See Lumen gentium (=LG), AAS 57 (1965): 58–59. For a history of Mariology see, among others, René Laurentin, A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary, trans. Charles Neumann (Washington, NJ: AMI Press, 1991); Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999); Luigi Gambero, Mary in the Middle Ages: The Blessed Virgin Mary in the Thought of Medieval Latin Theologians, trans. Thomas Buffer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000); Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).
2. Love reveals the person because persons are defined by the relations that constitute them and love is the highest form of relation among persons. Love is the unconditional reception of the beloved in oneself; the affirmation of the longed-for beloved for his own sake; and the gratuitous reciprocation of the gift of his person with that of one’s own life. Thus, analogically to what happens in God, where the Father’s love is eternally received and reciprocated by the person of the Son, the divine love for man that the Logos is to personify in history must be recognized and welcomed by a human person. Concerning the way Christ’s passions express God’s love in history, see Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 5 (PG 91:1045D–1060D).
3. Mary is the daughter of Zion. As such she is virgin, mother, and spouse, and hence recapitulates in herself both the people of Israel with all of its history and man’s most authentic religiosity. It is in this sense that, as John Paul II said, the Virgin Mary “represents the paradigm of the authentic holiness that is achieved in union with Christ” (John Paul II, General Audience [3 September 199], no. 61 in John Paul II, Théotokos: Woman, Mother, Disciple; A Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God [Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000], 227).
4. LG suggests, on the one hand, that Christology and Mariology need to be studied together and, on the other hand, that the study of the relation between ecclesiology and Mariology can enrich both theological disciplines.
5. Our reflection presupposes the threefold dimension of love indicated by Scripture: agape, eros, and communion. Faithfulness to Scripture, in fact, prevents us from accounting for divine agape without love’s erotic (Lk 22:15) and communal dimensions (1 Jn 1:4), properly understood. See, among others, Antonio Prieto, “Eros and Agape: The Unique Dynamics of Love,” in The Way of Love: Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, ed. Livio Melina and Carl A. Anderson (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006), 212–26. The theme of deification as the goal of Christ’s sacrifice, still neglected today by most of Western theology, is, as is well known, admirably emphasized by the Fathers. See, among others, Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3.19.1 (PG 7/1: 939); Athanasius, De incarnatione, 54,3 (PG 25: 192B). Furthermore, when we consider that becoming like the triune God means becoming eternally gratuitous as well as virginally and immeasurably fruitful without thereby ceasing to be a creature, we understand more why God wishes to incorporate Mary into his bestowing of every grace—and to do so without undermining the sole mediation of Christ.
6. Regarding the nature of the meritorious act of Mary’s faith, it is helpful to recall that she merited de congruo what Christ merited for us de condigno. Ad diem illum laetissimum, AAS 36 (1903): 449–62; DS, 3370–71.