Clarification on the sinlessness of Mary from the Orthodox Perspective


#1

orthodoxforum.com/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1874

Ever since I came back to the Church, I have been curious to learn about Eastern Theology specifically on what the differences between the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox Churches. I mostly have frequented Orthodox forums and reading the web pages written by Orthodox explaining their beliefs.

I have come across several beliefs from our Orthodox brethren that I find confusing and in some cases rather troublesome. One example is illustrated in the link posted above, it deals with the sinlessness of the Blessed Mother. The posters basically fall into three camps

A. she did not sin
B. she did sin
C. It doesn’t matter

There are two things that I find confusing…

  1. Isn’t there dogmatic books that these posters can refer to? For Catholics, we can at minimum go to the Catechism. What are the dogmatic books for the various Orthodox Churches?

  2. Why does it appear to be such confusion? Is this not taught? Is it not dogma and/or tradition?

I really hope that I do not offend any of our Orthodox brethren who I hold in utmost respect but I find the position of most of the posters of this thread bordering on heresy, if not outright heretical.

Before I came back to the Catholic Church, I did consider Eastern Orthodoxy but I found it hard to find answers to deeper theological issues/uncertainties that I had at the time. Maybe your average layman faces the same challenges that I did. I remember asking someone who was Orthodox about the faith and I was told that I could find all the answers to what I was seeking within the Divine Liturgy.

Anyways I hope the latter comment in this post does not deviate from my original questions above…are there any dogmatic books that laymen can refer to to avoid confusion? What is the official position of the Orthodox Churches on the sinlessness of Mary?


#2

The sinlessness of Mary is a bit of an odd one. Some, like John Chrysostom believed that Mary had committed venial sins. Pope Leo argued in his Tome, read at Chalcedon, that Jesus inherited human nature but not sin from his mother (a view which only makes sense if one allows for the possibility that Mary had sinned in life). Some, like Gregory Palamas, speculated that righteousness and purity were heritable, and that over generations the Virgin Mary’s ancestors were purified, so that she was born pure and capable of resisting sin. Others speculated that Mary was purified at some point in her life (e.g., the annunciation, at conception, or at birth).

From the liturgical tradition, we come to a similar vagueness. I am unaware of any hymn or liturgical prayer which explicitly states that the Virgin Mary was without sin. Many hymns call her blameless or spotless, but none that I have heard call her sinless (and because we ask for forgiveness of “involuntary sins” we know that blamelessness in the East is not automatically equatable with sinlessness). The safest answer is that we simply do not know.

The question on whether this should be dogmatic is perhaps easier to answer. When we look at something which needs to be held as a matter of faith, we have to understand that misunderstanding it jeopardizes our salvation. For example, teaching that there was a time when the Son was not, as Arius did, could potentially lead people to damnation, because, as Athanasius argued, our salvation comes from our union with God, made possible through the work of the Son who is divine and without beginning with the Father… Similarly, Nestorianism and Eutychianism are both dangerous heresies, because both deny that God the Son truly became man, thereby denying that salvation is possible (this is why we must affirm that the Virgin Mary is Theotokos, not Christotokos, because she did not give birth to a man, but to the very incarnate Word of God).

Does the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary have any bearing on our salvation? I’m not entirely convinced that it does. I think that one can find salvation all the same, whether believing that the Virgin Mary committed venial sins as St. John Chrysostom did, or that she was sinless. It’s a nice pious belief, but I think that it certainly falls short of needing to be a doctrine.


#3

That you can find all the answers in the Divine Liturgy is reallly a nice answer ! Visiting this Liturgy now and then with orthodox friends I agree.

But to frame an explanation…well…the Light of Christ is the only reality, involving the taking away of all sins, your own, Mother Mary’s, the Apostles, mine. That is what is all about.

Delving into causality descriptions of the separate individuality of Mary seems off the board, not really concerning faith at all. Like so many activities in apologetics.:rolleyes:

Jan Peter Otto


#4

It starts here. Perhaps someone can post a recent “Patriarch” address than comments on St. Marys state of sin?

East: Patriarch St. Mark I the Apostle of Alexandria 60-AD [Liturgy of St. Mark the Evangelist], “Most holy, immaculate, and blessed Mother of God, and ever Virgin Mary.” Latin: “Sanctissima, immaculata, et benedicta, Deipara et semper virgine Maria.”

East: Bishop St. James the Just Apostle of Jerusalem. [Liturgy of St. James], “Most holy, most glorious, immaculate, Mother of God and ever Virgin,” and that Mary is “in every respect out of the range of sinful men.”

The holy St. James, brother of the Lord, taught that Mary was not a sinner, i.e., she never contracted original sin or committed venial or mortal sin.

East: Bishop St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle of Byzantium. says in 62-AD [Acts of Andrew]: “And therefore, because the first man was created of immaculate earth, it was necessary that of an Immaculate Virgin should be born a perfect man, that the Son of God should restore that eternal life which men had lost.” Latin: “Et propterea, quod ex immaculatâ terrâ ereatus fuerat primus homo, necesse erat ut ex immaculatâ Virgine nasceretur perfectus homo, quo Filius Dei, qui antè condiderat hominem, vitam æternam quam perdiderant hominess, repararet.”

Though the book The Acts of Andrew is not part of the Biblical Canon, it is historically accurate; one can see from the myriad lives of the saints published in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Irenaeus

Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, “Behold, 0 Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.” Eve . . . who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband — for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children . . . having become disobedient [sin], was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient [no sin], was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith (Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).

Origen

This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one (Homily 1 [A.D. 244]).

Hippolytus

He [Jesus] was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle [Mary] was exempt from defilement and corruption (Orat. In Illud, Dominus pascit me, in Gallandi, Bibl. Patrum, II, 496 ante [A.D. 235]).

Ephraim the Syrian

You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others, for there is neither blemish in you nor any stains upon your Mother. Who of my children can compare in beauty to these? (Nisibene Hymns 27:8 [A. D. 361]).

Ambrose of Milan

Come, then, and search out your sheep, not through your servants or hired men, but do it yourself. Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam. Lift me up not from Sarah but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace had made inviolate, free of every stain of sin (Commentary on Psalm 118:22-30 [A.D. 387]).

Gregory Nazianzen

He was conceived by the virgin, who had been first purified by the Spirit in soul and body; for, as it was fitting that childbearing should receive its share of honor, so it was necessary that virginity should receive even greater honor (Sermon 38 [d. A.D. 390]).

Augustine

We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin (Nature and Grace 36:42 [A.D. 415]).

Theodotus of Ancrya

A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns (Homily 6:11[ante A.D. 446]).

Proclus of Constantinople

As He formed her without any stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain (Homily 1[ante A.D. 446]).

Jacob of Sarug

[T]he very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary[ante A.D. 521].

Romanos the Melodist

Then the tribes of Israel heard that Anna had conceived the immaculate one. So everyone took part in the rejoicing. Joachim gave a banquet, and great was the merriment in the garden. He invited the priests and Levites to prayer; then he called Mary into the center of the crowd, that she might be magnified (On the Birth of Mary 1 [d. ca A.D. 560]).

There is no better way to CHRIST than the Mother of God who as St John Chrysostom states is "More Honorable than the “Seraphim”. “Redemptoris Mater”

Her Virtues in life set off the chain of events which resulted from the Incarnation to the Cross. One woman in History managed that…ONE! And that model of contemplation is the path to walk to Christ on the Cross. Your life.


#5

All I know is that a pope saw fit to declare the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother.
I bow to the God-given authority of our pope. It is my understanding that this proclamation was made to put to rest any speculation, and also to spotlight a long held truth.

Here is an interesting read:

campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/kimmac.html


#6

The OP wasn’t asking what a Pope thinks. The question was about what Orthodox think.

Cavaradossi laid it out pretty well without the need for a lot of proof-texting and quote mining.


#7

Cavaradossi may be a fine member of your church. However let me see. who shall I believe Cavaradossi or the Apostle’s? :rolleyes:

Laid out pretty well by stating “he” don’t know? I say Amen to that. In fact its a contradiction to 2000 years of Apostolic Teaching. The “we don’t know” becomes reduced to “I don’t know” because it becomes an “individual opinion” contradictory to 2000 years of Apostolic teaching in unison, and in History. Never an issue in the church until the schism and loose interpretation of polemics arrived. The facts exist and could read by those who actually take the time to do so.

As I showed from the The EAST from the begining…

East: Patriarch St. Mark I the Apostle of Alexandria 60-AD [Liturgy of St. Mark the Evangelist], “Most holy, immaculate, and blessed Mother of God, and ever Virgin Mary.” Latin: “Sanctissima, immaculata, et benedicta, Deipara et semper virgine Maria.”

East: Bishop St. James the Just Apostle of Jerusalem. [Liturgy of St. James], “Most holy, most glorious, immaculate, Mother of God and ever Virgin,” and that Mary is “in every respect out of the range of sinful men.”

The holy St. James, brother of the Lord, taught that Mary was not a sinner, i.e., she never contracted original sin or committed venial or mortal sin.

East: Bishop St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle of Byzantium. says in 62-AD [Acts of Andrew]: “And therefore, because the first man was created of immaculate earth, it was necessary that of an Immaculate Virgin should be born a perfect man, that the Son of God should restore that eternal life which men had lost.” Latin: “Et propterea, quod ex immaculatâ terrâ ereatus fuerat primus homo, necesse erat ut ex immaculatâ Virgine nasceretur perfectus homo, quo Filius Dei, qui antè condiderat hominem, vitam æternam quam perdiderant hominess, repararet.”

Do you have a recent address from the Eastern Patriarchs stating St Mary was subject to the near occasion of sin? :shrug: Is there some “new” evidence?

Right I didn’t think so. :rolleyes:


#8

[quote="Cavaradossi, post:2, topic:277019"]
The sinlessness of Mary is a bit of an odd one. Some, like John Chrysostom believed that Mary had committed venial sins. Pope Leo argued in his Tome, read at Chalcedon, that Jesus inherited human nature but not sin from his mother (a view which only makes sense if one allows for the possibility that Mary had sinned in life). Some, like Gregory Palamas, speculated that righteousness and purity were heritable, and that over generations the Virgin Mary's ancestors were purified, so that she was born pure and capable of resisting sin. Others speculated that Mary was purified at some point in her life (e.g., the annunciation, at conception, or at birth).

From the liturgical tradition, we come to a similar vagueness. I am unaware of any hymn or liturgical prayer which explicitly states that the Virgin Mary was without sin. Many hymns call her blameless or spotless, but none that I have heard call her sinless (and because we ask for forgiveness of "involuntary sins" we know that blamelessness in the East is not automatically equatable with sinlessness). The safest answer is that we simply do not know.

The question on whether this should be dogmatic is perhaps easier to answer. When we look at something which needs to be held as a matter of faith, we have to understand that misunderstanding it jeopardizes our salvation. For example, teaching that there was a time when the Son was not, as Arius did, could potentially lead people to damnation, because, as Athanasius argued, our salvation comes from our union with God, made possible through the work of the Son who is divine and without beginning with the Father.. Similarly, Nestorianism and Eutychianism are both dangerous heresies, because both deny that God the Son truly became man, thereby denying that salvation is possible (this is why we must affirm that the Virgin Mary is Theotokos, not Christotokos, because she did not give birth to a man, but to the very incarnate Word of God).

Does the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary have any bearing on our salvation? I'm not entirely convinced that it does. I think that one can find salvation all the same, whether believing that the Virgin Mary committed venial sins as St. John Chrysostom did, or that she was sinless. It's a nice pious belief, but I think that it certainly falls short of needing to be a doctrine.

[/quote]

Great post! :thumbsup:


#9

Still waiting for EVIDENCE where Mary sinned.:thumbsup: Opinions are like pennies.

Sacred Tradition or Scripture??? Todays Patriarchs???? Oh thats what I thought:thumbsup:


#10

That was beautifully put I think Catholics can agree with most of what you said.

But I don’t think I got an answer to my questions. and please understand that I ask with utmost respect.

Are there any Orthodox dogmatic books? similar the the Catechism

Also from reading orthodox forums, most believers default to the writings of the Fathers. For this particular question about the sinlessness of the Theotokos ( l love that term:) ), what is the official Orthodox answer. You seem to say that it does not matter. Is that the official Orthodox position?


#11

[quote="carlos19, post:10, topic:277019"]
That was beautifully put I think Catholics can agree with most of what you said.

But I don't think I got an answer to my questions. and please understand that I ask with utmost respect.

Are there any Orthodox dogmatic books? similar the the Catechism

Also from reading orthodox forums, most believers default to the writings of the Fathers. For this particular question about the sinlessness of the Theotokos ( l love that term:) ), what is the official Orthodox answer. You seem to say that it does not matter. Is that the official Orthodox position?

[/quote]

I'm not really aware of any heavy-duty dogmatic books or catechisms like the CCC that one can refer to; I'm sure they exist, but they probably haven't been translated into English yet. My experience has been that most of the time, potential converts will spend time with the priest in small groups learning about the faith. In larger parishes, like the one I attend, there might be a formal class taught by various people (for example, we have an iconographer at our parish who teaches about icons for one week).

Personally, because of the lack of catechetical materials available in English, I turned to old catechetical materials, like the catechism of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (there are many others, practically every fourth century saint wrote one) or St. John of Damascus' Exact Exposition on the Orthodox Faith. The latter is excellent if one can manage to sift through all of the philosophical language or find a translation which helps with that. Of course, the most important books of all are the Gospels, but some here might think that's crazy talk. ;)

As for whether or not there is an official position, I honestly don't think there is. The canonization of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco seems to indicate that speculation on this matter (his speculation was that she may not have been sinless) is still allowed. Coupled with the lack of any conciliar decision on the matter, and I would venture to say that belief one way or another is acceptable.


#12

That answers my questions my friends thank you


#13

[quote="GaryTaylor, post:7, topic:277019"]
Cavaradossi may be a fine member of your church. However let me see. who shall I believe Cavaradossi or the Apostle's? :rolleyes:

[/quote]

I know that this is something that many are emotionally invested in, but there is no need to make such snide remarks. It would be nice and more productive if you had simply posted those quotes asking, "how do the Orthodox understand these quotations from the liturgy," without the acerbic tone.


#14

[quote="carlos19, post:1, topic:277019"]
... I remember asking someone who was Orthodox about the faith and I was told that I could find all the answers to what I was seeking within the Divine Liturgy.
...

[/quote]

This was actually a very good answer. More properly it can be learned from the liturgical cycle (including the Divine Praises), if one is attentive and the prayers are in the vernacular. This is so important that priests (and others) will sometimes advise a potential convert to simply come and worship with the community, and become comfortable with that, before serious theological discussion and lessons are attempted.

The discipline of liturgical theology seems to have more direct impact in the 'east'. The liturgy is very catechetical. From my experience, if one does not have the correct belief and faithfully attends worship that person should eventually experience something like (what I would call) cognitive dissonance, because he or she would notice that the prayer life and the personal beliefs are not fully in sync. Something eventually would have to give.

It is also helpful to understand the basic difference between apophatic and cataphatic reasoning (seemingly most people don't).

This is not rocket science, it's easier than falling off a log :D


#15

The rudder (i.e. the Canons of the Councils). The Orthodox Church has no more dogma than necessary, and all of it relates directly to Christ.

  1. Why does it appear to be such confusion? Is this not taught? Is it not dogma and/or tradition?

Bingo. Choice number three would be the explicit belief - it just doesn’t matter in the end. Whether or not the Theotokos sinned or not does not have an impact on salvation.

I really hope that I do not offend any of our Orthodox brethren who I hold in utmost respect but I find the position of most of the posters of this thread bordering on heresy, if not outright heretical.

How so? What does it have to do with salvation?


#16

My friend your brain power is beyond my limited capacity. I can’t tell the difference tween apophatic and cataphatic thinking I don’t even know what those two words mean:) Thank God for google.


#17

thank you all for your responses. I now have at least one book to read, the rudder and if I can find it the catechism of St. Cyrl. I just googled it and the rudder can be found free online.

Can I expand then on the question on the sinlessness of Mother Mary?

It appears then based on the responses here, that the Orthodox believe that it doesn't matter if Mary sinned. She might have even sinned according to the Orthodox.

If I am Orthodox, am I perfectly free to believe that the Mother of God broke the commandments? or are there limits to this? Surely it is not ok to believe that the blessed one who carried our savior in her womb broke the commandments?


#18

[quote="carlos19, post:17, topic:277019"]
thank you all for your responses. I now have at least one book to read, the rudder and if I can find it the catechism of St. Cyrl. I just googled it and the rudder can be found free online.

[/quote]

Cyril of Jerusalem? You can find his catechetical lectures online here: ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf207.toc.html

I don't know if I'd recommend reading the rudder. It's nothing more than a collection of canons, many of which are no longer observed. It could possibly damage your faith if you are not familiar with the history behind some of the canons and why they are no longer observed strictly.


#19

Yeah, sorry about that.

I wouldn't recommend reading the rudder for the very reason Cavaradossi stated. I only gave it in answer to the question asking if there is a central place where all the dogma of the Orthodox Church is stated.

While this may be true, reading the rudder is a bit like reading your countries criminal law book to find out about capital crimes. Sure it has what you want, but it has a lot more, and some of it is more important than other things. You need to be pretty knowledgable before you can appropriately approach it, and even then it is best used as a reference text, much the same way a legal code would be.

While I personally do recommend reading the Early Church Fathers, I know a lot of people find this difficult and don't relate to the ECF's, in which case there are quite a few more modern writers who discuss them.


#20

Thank you for that my friends. I will certainly read that I do have a book on the apostolic fathers based on Lightfoot s work. That is what led me back to catholicism.


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