Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Immaculate Conception (very rough start-draft) (Updated on Wednesday 20 July 2016)

Background

On January 12th I was doing some reading which resulted in my posting this on Instagram. Well much time has past and I have not made good on my word, though obviously this post is the beginning of me attempting to do so.

Maybe a month ago Fr. Christiaan Kappes invited some people on academia.edu of which I was one of them to discuss a paper he is working on entitled 'Gregory Nazienzen's Prepurified Virgin in Ecumenical Councils and Patristic Tradition: A Reappraisal of Original Sin, Guilt, and Immaculate Conception.' Obviously a topic of great interest to me, and amongst the comments Adithia Kusno, a Byzantine Catholic, asked,
Did the Greek fathers have in mind a purification at the moment when Theotokos was conceived during St Anna's maternity and not just an ambiguous prenatal purification? Does this purification not exclude her from partaking the consequence of natural death passed from Adam to Christ?
To which I responded with the link to the Instagram post linked above, which in turn resulted in me receiving a private message asking if I would care to share the reference to St Ambrose that I mentioned in the linked Instagram post. I was hoping to have a full post done on this matter but it's becoming apparent to me that with my jiu-jitsu training and Greek studies that it's either going to be a while, its not going to happen, or this is it. So I replied to the message,
No problem, I was referring to St. Ambrose’s 'Commentary on Luke' (Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam).
Those looking for said reference can find it here.

Foreground

Let's look at some of the discussion that was apart of this paper, to which I will go through and edit/add my comments later, and after that, hopefully, address the main point I brought up in my original Instagram post:
Christiaan Kappes
29 days ago
This paper, so far as I know, newly attempts to recast Augustine in a more exact light on original sin and Mary or the Theotokos' relation thereto. Secondly, it shows the important contribution of Gregory Nazianzen to Christological and Mariological thought that acted as a counterweight to the N. African monopoly on the manner and mechanism of original sin. Mary's exemption from sexually transmitted sin became a driving force to break the strict and universal law of sin, at least in its modality, as applied to human nature. Although the 8th-9th century Greek and Latin solution to the problems were sufficient, they were eventually forgotten in succeeding centuries. Although this paper does not address the issue, Anselm and the English feast of the Immaculate Conception in a post-Norman world ignorant of the prevenient Latin tradition caused a certain confusion on the issue. Mary's conception under various Augustinian-inspired theories of original sin later became such a common misconception that when John Damascene's De fide Orthdoxa was introduced to the West in the 1140s, Damascene's notion of prepurification was thought to confirm Mary's concupiscence, not argue against it!
[. . .]
 Adithia Kusno
28 days ago
Fr Christiaan Kappes, thank you for this interesting discussion. As a Byzantine Catholic, I've been fascinated by your approach to re-examine the idea of Immaculate Conception in Eastern tradition. Did the Greek fathers have in mind a purification at the moment when Theotokos was conceived during St Anna's maternity and not just an ambiguous prenatal purification? Does this purification not exclude her from partaking the consequence of natural death passed from Adam to Christ? There's a minor typo on page 18. I think the year for Constantinople III is 680-1.


Christiaan Kappes
28 days ago
Dear Adithia, Thanks for your interest. To answer your question allow me to do some parsing. There are several Greek approaches to the Theotokos. The Antiochene approach might be deemed very "low Mariology." Whether undue caution to attribute Mary too much because of reaction against Julian the Apostate making fun of "Theotokos", or -with Chrysostom- a thespian gift for drama in supposing that Mary needed to know about the nature of her pregnancy so she didn't despair and commit suicide [!], there were different early approaches to Mary before Ephesus, Constantinople II, and Lateran 649. Afterwards O/orthodox had only one option...Mary is the absolutely and unqualifiedly all-holy. However, in primitive Mariology, Nazianzen began a consistent and perfectly imitated "school" of thought on prepurification that did not admit of variation in interpretation as to what the term meant. Nazianzen was absolutely uninterested in question of conception because the liturgical calendar and controversies of the day did not occasion a diachronic or biographical journal of Mary's stages of holiness. As the liturgical calendar broadened in its celebration of Mary, so too did reflection on Mary's character and dispositions at each historico-liturgical moment. The same can be said about any controversy about Mary that involved a real or alleged historical moment of her life. By about 750, it was unquestionably heterodox -a prosecutable offense if you will (e.g., the trial of Maximus Confessor) to deny Marian dogmas of holy canons. Lateran and Constantinople II-III where the canonical sources in Damascene's first stab at trying to figure out how Mary was conceived of post-lapsarian sperm (Joachim) and ovum. He knew well (attested in the critical edition of his works) the N. African Fathers and their convocation that seed and flesh were the vehicles of death and passion from sexual pleasure as a symbol, if not cause, of a disordered act that would not have taken place in paradise. Maximus goes so far as to propose a quasi-virginal or otherworldly mode of human reproduction excluding post-lapsarian sexual differentiation and sexual intercourse. In this tradition Damascene (and Andrew of Crete) had to tackle the new fascination with Mary's conception. Damascene talked about a supernaturally cleansed sperm in Joachim and Anna womb "wider than heaven" (reminiscent of Mary's womb enable to hold the "uncontainable divinity" because of the Annunciation grace and intervention in utero of the Holy Spirit and Jesus) . For Damascene, this solution acts as foil to what he calls "original/ancestral fornication." So, from the biological tenor of your question, "Greek Fathers" are only interested from Damascene on, but I have not catalogued the number of Greek Fathers that took up the themes of Joachim's sperm and Anna's uterus afterwards. I also have not studied in depth Andrew of Crete's solution and whether, or not, it was the point of departure for a separate or parallel tradition. This would be a valuable study showing that Damascene's theological opinion did or did not have an impact on his successors. Jumping ahead, I have not found that Damascene's question to arise again (which does not mean that it did not!) until Palamas has to confront Augustine on original sin (similar to Maximus!) from 1341 +. His solution is ingenuous. He also uses Nazianzens Oration 27, 38, 45 to adjust the language that God gradually purified the wicked sperm from Adam until Joachim and Anna. Unlike the West that nowadays exalts Joseph the betrothed as the holiest human apart from Mary, Palamas' theory necessitated Joachim and Anna as the holiest in line with Damascene's spermatic and uterine solution. So the final cleansing of Adam's infected seed is by a special grace in their act of coitus that is passionless, so that Mary is born without corrupted flesh! Consequently Joachim and Anna are the holiest people in history...until Mary (and then John B). Lastly, I have not done enough study on "death + Mary." John Meyendorff made the claim that it is "Western" to claim Mary died only in "appropriate imitation of her son." Although I have not found any early fathers (late 4th century -Damascene) to contradict Meyendorff, one of Damascene's Dormition Homilies clearly refers to Mary's death as something "due" because of her son's example. I would need to dig up the wording. So, my guess is that Meyendorff's general idea stands in most cases but if Damascene has imitators (a likely event), then there are Greek Fathers that attribute Mary's death to "the imitation of Christ."


Christiaan Kappes
28 days ago
BTW thanks for the typo! It should be Constantinople II (553)!

Adithia Kusno
27 days ago
Rdr. Thomas Sandberg, thank you for the citation from St Nazianzen. The phrase, "[P]urified beforehand in both soul and flesh by the Spirit" is definitely alluding to a prenatal prepurification; but it doesn't necessitate a prepurification at the conception of Theotokos. The context is quite ambiguous and unclear. I think Nazianzen didn't specifically address that because there was no necessity to discuss it at the time when combatting Arians and Macedonians. Fr Christiaan Kappes, I agree with your comment that probably St Damascene is the first one to discuss the prepurification at the conception of Theotokos explicitly. Eastern fathers prior to Damascene seem to oscillate between Antiochian purification at Annunciation and Alexandrian prenatal purification. How would you explain St Chrysostom's Mariology (eg. Christ rebuked His mother at Cana)? It seems to contradict the idea of purification. Who do you think influenced St Augustine on his view that her purification takes place at Annunciation? Did he takes side with St Cyril's prenatal purification? It seems that Theodore of Mopsuestia (and the Antiochians) when defending Pelagius had no issue with his view on prenatal purification of Theotokos? Which I think is interesting because it shows fluidity even within the Antiochian school.


Christiaan Kappes
27 days ago
In context, Nazianzen's instances of prepurification are exclusively the speaking of Mary's reception of a divine elevation in grace just before producing the embryo (in Greek gynecological terms) of JC. Prepurificiation then begins to get applied to earlier moments in Mary's life as the grace of the Annunciation is opined to just be a repetition of earlier experiences. For example, the Palamite Theophanes of Nicaea designates Mary prepurified at her girlhood dedication and service in the temple. It is applied by Palamas even in Christological feasts, for example, Mary was purified by the Angel Gabriel at the tomb of the Ressurection. Finally, Joseph Bryennius correctly and univocally applies the term to Mary's moment of conception. In the first millennium it is only applied to the Annunciation, but the Palamite school was correctly understanding its applicability to any grace filled event in the life of Mary (viz., liturgical feast of Mary's glorification in this world). Damascene interchanges "purification" and "prepurificaiton" for Mary. Purificaiton means Either at the Annunciaiton Or after the Annunciation. Prepurification is ONLY at the Annunciation (in the first millennium). As far as I know Antiochene's do not discuss this grace of Mary with the technical term "prepurificaiton" at the moment called the Annunciation. If they do in Greek, I have never seen it, nor has Candal (1965). Secondly, it is possible that Syriac-Antiochene Fathers (e.g., Ephrem) predate even Nazianzen. I have found translations that say more or less the same. However, I have not looked at the original Syriac to confirm Ephrem as the first witness in that tradition. For Ephrem, however, purifying is a function of the Spirit in a manner quite close to Nazianzen. This likely has to do with ancient liturgy (epiclesis of Gospel of Thomas) and alternative version of the our Father (known to Gregory Nyssa) where "let the kingdom come" is actually translated "let thy Spirit come and purify." Whatever the Spirit does is purifying. Either it purifies what is already holy, elevating it (likes angels), or it takes what is soiled and cleanses it. After Ephrem, I have little doubt that Mary's purification is ubiquitous. Even the Christian sources for the Muslim Koran speak of Mary's "purification" though she is without any sin. This tradition was absorbed in tandem by semitic speaking peoples and is likely much older the Nazianzen since Ephrem is a generation older. The "low Mariology" concerns Greek writers such as Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Nestorius. Chrysostom is from this place and tradition. Perhaps because of a caution from the 363 or so fights with Julian the Apostate over the title Theotokos, Chrysostom uses it but reservedly. However, his willingness to say about 4-5 things that are nowadays insulting to Mary stems from a low Mariology and from what I see as a preacher's penchant to take biblical personalities and actually graft onto to them his occurring pastoral problems. In other words, DID CHRYSOSTOM REALLY THINK MARY WAS A SUICIDE RISK? Hardly, but he had so many pastoral problems with this when girls got pregnant out of wedlock that he may be trying to relate occurrences in his own cathedral to situations that NT characters found themselves in. This is just a guess. The earlier freedom to diminish Mary's role and virtue effectively ends with Ephesus, since only a Nestorian (and Antiochene) would predicate taint to Mary's person, body, or soul. My article to the left specifically addresses who and how Augustine was influenced: by Nazianzen's Theophany oration and N. African predecessors talking about sexual sin. I have not studied what Cyril's ideas are on how to cleanse someone of sin in the womb (e.g., John Baptist). I can only say that my other article-draft on this question demonstrates that Cyril was much closer to Augustine on original sin than to any Eastern Father other than Maximus the Confessor. In fact, I would say that Cyril's correspondences with Augustine might turn out to be the key to understanding how Cyril cited the Vetus Latina version of Rom 5:12 "[Adam] in quo omnes peccaverunt" or Adam in whom all sinned. So far as I know, Cyril does not use the Greek term "prokathartheisa" or some form of "prokathairo" at the Annunciation in association with Mary

Trent Pomplun
14 days ago
Dear Chris, I'm quite late to this discussion, but I wanted to thank you for this wonderful paper. It is worth noting that Western theologians who accepted the Immaculate Conception after Duns Scotus continued to speak of these episodic "purifications" in the life of Mary as visions of the Triune God, given at the Annunciation, the Birth of the Savior, at the foot of the Cross, etc. (The paradigmatic theological case is Francisco Suarez, De mysteriis vitae Christi.) These traditions were developed to a great degree in Spanish mysticism and exegesis during the seventeenth century, especially in the many lives of Mary that circulated in Franciscan circles. I haven't looked at that material in a long while, but it corresponds with a greater awareness of the Greek Fathers coming via the many new editions of the Fathers. In this regard, East and West were not, however, two ships passing in the night. That is an illusion brought about largely be the projection of early-twentieth-century neo-Thomism backwards. As it turns out, not only did East and West "meet" on the issue of the Immaculate Conception in the generation after Scotus (as we have spoken about at great length), but that the West continued to read and learn from the East, theologically and mystically. In short, the older notions of prepurification found their place in baroque Catholicism as necessary theologoumena in the doctrine of the absolute predestination of Christ and Mary. It is no coincidence, then, that Franciscans and Jesuits who taught the absolute predestination of Christ and Mary are often said to have "Eastern" notions of grace and predestination. Cheers (and thanks again)! Trent


Christiaan Kappes
14 days ago
Dear Trent, Thanks for your comments as always. Before I was exposed to importance of the voluminous works of the 17th-18th Scotists, I did not know such talented theologians existed. More importantly has been your pointing out the fact that -Scholasticism's medieval Achilles' heel [ i.e., the total lack of incorporation of new Latin translation of Greek Fathers (along with the Renaissance Schoolmen), and the important recourse to the inspired (Greek) text of the NT along with the original texts of the Fathers in Greek] was finally supplied for with the Enlightenment Scotists. Secondly, I found (with only a small footnote at the end of my Immaculate Conception in my ps-quaestio disputata) a Ps.-Bernardinian work -a homily on Mary's conception- where both Annunciation and Pentecost were described as moment of purification in an all-positive sense. This is the earliest purely latin witness (I think the preparatory critical examen of Bernardine's works lists it at 15th century) to a proper understanding of Mary's purification in the Greek mode. Before, I have found nothing. So, it sounds like the Scotists may have finally absorbed this preferred option that is the only historically correct way to understand the term. I too find with Gregory Palamas that his uncanny parallels with Francis Mayron (Mary's use of reason in utero), appeals to exception to rules in Enoch and Elijah, etc., cannot be explained by textual dependence, but can only be explained on the reasoning of absolute primacy or the Incarnation super omnia. In fact, in class on Mariology today, we read through Palamas' Homily 2 on the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. Palamas explicitly praises "first philosophy" (even if limited) and supposes that Mary's superior intellect had went through all the metaphysical and physics puzzles of the philosophers and found them to not understand uncreated graced and the "uncreated light of the divinity." As a result, he explains that Mary's own fiat had to do with her metaphysical insights + her acts of supernatural virtue that led her to the Incarnation in herself. He even goes so far to call her a "representative of the entire human race...to save us" and that she reasoned to consider herself "a self-appointed ambassador -but then followed up by a reference to the divine plan" for all humans to God to be saved from the original curse.

7 comments:

  1. I was able to get my hands on a hardcopy of Ambrose's commentary on Luke's gospel. I've read the relevant portions, i.e. the annunciation, nativity, presentation, etc., that would relate to the Theotokos and I don't see anything that could be used one way or another to discuss the Immaculate Conception. Where in the commentary are you reading?

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    1. Which commentary are you reading from, and is it Latin or English? In the Latin which I linked above, on p. 72 in the book (p. 125/653 in the Internet Archive pagination) within the commentary for 2:23-24 it reads:

      "solus enim per omnia ex natis de femina sanctus dominus Iesus, qui terrenae contagia corruptelae inmaculati partus nouitate non senserit et caelesti maiestate depulerit."

      One will usually see this translated into English in Orthodox books and websites as "Of all those born of women, there is not a single one who is perfectly holy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, Who in a special new way of immaculate birthgiving, did not experience earthly taint."

      So it's pretty clear in English, and even more so in the Latin, as in the Latin it specifically says that Christ alone is holy and did not have the contagion of earthly corruption because His celestial Majesty drove it away, implying that Mary experienced earthly taint (Original Sin/Ancestral Sin) just like the rest of us and was not immaculately conceived.

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  2. I was reading the Latin, as well as consulting the English translation by Ide M. Ni Riain. I came across the line you quote but it didn't stand out to me as very explicit. We do call Mary the Panagia after all.

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    1. I am unfamiliar with that English translation; give me a link to where I can read it or buy it? The English I have is "Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke" by St. Ambrose of Milan, Translated by Theodosia Tomkinson, the relevant section is translated on p. 67: "For wholly alone of those born of woman was our Holy Lord Jesus, Who by the strangeness of His undefiled Birth has not suffered the pollutions of earthly corruption, but dispelled them by heavenly majesty."

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  3. Nevertheless, I think you can bolster the case against an immaculate conception by adding St Augustine: "Mater ergo erat carnis, mater humanitatis, mater infirmitatis quam suscepit propter nos...Quia ergo non erat illa mater divinitatis, et per divinitatem futurum erat miraculum quod petebat; respondit ei: 'Quid mihi et tibi est, mulier?' sed ne putes quod te negem matrem: 'Nondum venit hora mea': ibi enim te agnoscam, cum pendere in cruce coeperit infirmitas cuius mater es." (Tractate on John 8, 9)

    Again, not explicit, but indicative of the weakness of her flesh, the very flesh which the Lord assumed.

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    1. Nice, I hadn't read that. I have many links and a few books to get through on this issue, which ultimately actually includes the so-called Immaculate Conception and Original/Ancestral sin.

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  4. I got the Ide M. Ni Riain translation from my institution via ILL. I've never seen it available online or for purchase. Its OCLC code is 48628701. I'd like to discuss this topic further, if you could message me through Academia.edu.

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