Orthodox -- Unification Dialogue -- Constantine N. Tsirpanlis Editor 1981

The Blessed Virgin's Place in God's Redemption According To the Church Fathers and Unification Thought -- Constantine N. Tsirpanlis

From the very beginning it must be emphasized that there was no Mariology developed by the Eastern Church Fathers as a separate and independent chapter in their doctrinal writings. What became "Mariolatry" in Roman Catholic piety, which by reaction caused the rejection of the Mother of God or Theotokos by Protestantism, is totally foreign to Patristic thought and the experience of the Eastern Church. The Orthodox Church's teaching about the Theotokos is not independent and autonomous "Mariology" or anthropology having Mary at its center but is in essence and in its entire content Christology. I hope to show that this is not so much a specific "cult of Mary," as an optimistic message and source of power, blessing and joy to anyone who struggles for theosis or divinization, i.e. restoration of our fallen nature and will.

The single most important source concerning the Virgin Mary and her place in God's redemption is found already in the second century designation of Mary as the New Eve or the Second Eve. This idea was introduced by the first Christian philosopher and theologian Justin the Martyr1 and developed by Irenaeus2 especially. Irenaeus' elaboration of the contrast between the two virgins. Eve and Mary, is of profound soteriological significance and illustrates Mary's role in the history of salvation. This contrast symbolizes two possible uses of created freedom by man: in the first, a surrender to the devil's offer of false deification; in the second, humble acceptance of the will of God. The Old Testament is the history of the preparation of the human race for the coming of Christ, a story in which human freedom is constantly put to the test by God. All of the sacred history and tradition of the Jews is the tale of the slow and laborious journey of fallen humanity toward the fullness of time. In the entire Patristic tradition the Virgin Mary is viewed as the goal of Old Testament history, which began with the children of Eve: "Among the children of Adam, God chose the admirable Seth," writes Gregory Palamas, "and so the election, which had in view, by Divine foreknowledge, her who should become the Mother of God, had its origin in the children of Adam themselves, filled up in the successive generations, descended as far as the King and Prophet David... when it came to the time when this election should find its fulfillment, Joachim and Anna, of the house and country of David, were chosen by God.... It was to them that God now promised and gave the child who would be the Mother of God."3

The election of the Virgin Mary is therefore the culminating point of Israel's progress toward reconciliation with God, but God's final response to this progress and the beginning of new life comes with the Incarnation of the Word, because man's salvation could be realized only by God, His sinless Son.

The answer of Mary to the angelic annunciation, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Luke 1:38, KJV), resolves the tragic problem of fallen humanity. All that God required of human liberty since the fall is accomplished: conformity of human will and purpose to the Divine will and purpose. Divine will is accepted and responded to. And this human response is highly relevant at this point. The obedience of Mary counter-balances the disobedience of Eve. And now the work of redemption, which only the sinless Incarnate Word can effect, may take place. The great theologian and mystic of the fourteenth century, Nicholas Cabasilas, said in his homily on the Annunciation, "The Incarnation was not only the work of the Father and of His Virtue and His Spirit, it was also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin. Without the consent of the all-pure one and the cooperation of her faith, this design would have been as unrealizable as it would have been without the intervention of the three Divine Persons themselves. Only after teaching and persuading her does God take her for his Mother and receive from her the flesh which she wills to offer to Him. Just as He voluntarily became Incarnate, so He willed that His Mother should bear Him freely, with her own full and free consent."4

The Incarnation was indeed a sovereign act of God, but it was a revelation not only of His omnipotent might, but above all of His Fatherly love and compassion. There was implied an appeal to human freedom once more, as an appeal to freedom was implied in the act of creation itself, namely, in the creation of rational beings. The initiative was, of course, Divine. Yet, as the means of salvation chosen by God was to be an assumption of true human nature by a Divine Person, man had to have his active share in the mystery.

Freely Eve disobeyed; freely the new or the second Eve had to obey. Mary was voicing this obedient response of man to the redeeming decree of the love Divine, and so she was representative of the whole race. She exemplified in her person, as it were, the whole of humanity. This obedient and joyful acceptance of the redeeming purpose of God, so beautifully expressed in the Magnificat, was an act of freedom. Indeed, it was freedom of obedience not of initiative -- and yet a true freedom, freedom of love and adoration, of humility and trust -- and freedom of cooperation5 -- this is so much of what human freedom means. In this sense, Mary was the highest point of holiness that could be attained before Christ, in the conditions of the Old Covenant, by one of Adam's seed. She was the highest peak of Old Testament holiness, but not sinless, not free from the original sin or physical death, that is. The Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1854) seems to break up the uninterrupted succession of instances of Old Testament holiness, which reaches its term at the moment of the Annunciation, the continuity of the human race and the representative function of Mary in the Incarnation. For precisely these reasons the Orthodox Church rejects the Immaculate Conception which implies that Mary was exempted from the lot of the rest of fallen humanity and makes her into a being ransomed before the redemptive work of Jesus by virtue of the future merits of her Son. It is not in virtue of a privilege received at the moment of her conception by her parents that the Greek Fathers venerate Mary more than any other created being. She was holy and pure from her mother's womb, but not with a sanctity which places her outside the rest of humanity -- before Christ. She was not in a state analogous to that of Eve before the fall at the moment of the Annunciation. On the contrary, she was in the state of fallen humanity. She was born under the law of original sin which in Eastern Patristic thought means inherited mortality, not guilt. But sin could never become actual in her person; the sinful heritage of the fall had no mastery over her right will. The sanctity of the Mother of God is the fruit of free will and grace. That is, although the Virgin Mary, having inherited Adam's nature, was under original sin, she was able to halt this natural tendency toward sin and become "truly pure, more than anyone else, after God,"6 "more holy than the saints."7

Now, what is the deeper meaning of Mary's election or predestination, of Luke's saying that she has "... found favor with God"8 and was "full of grace," gratia plena? And in what way is such a Divine election9 reconcilable with the free will of Mary and her representative role in salvation history? The Eastern Church Fathers understood Mary's election or predestination as a unique and unparalleled relation to God, to the Holy Trinity, even before the Incarnation, as the prospective Mother of the Incarnate Lord, just because it was not an ordinary historical happening but an eventful consummation of the eternal decree of God. The Incarnation itself was a new beginning in the destiny of man, the beginning of the new humanity. In the Incarnation the "new man" was born, the "last Adam;" he was truly human, but he was more than a man: "... the second man is the Lord from heaven."10 And the Mother of this "second man," Mary herself, was participating in the mystery of the redeeming re-creation of the world. Her Son is her Redeemer and Savior, just as he is the Redeemer of the world. Yet she is the only human being for whom the Redeemer of the world is also a son, her own child whom she truly bore. Jesus indeed was born "not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,"11 and yet he is "the fruit of the womb" of Mary. His supernatural birth is the pattern and the font of the new existence, of the new and spiritual birth of all believers, which is nothing else than participating in his sacred humanity, and adoption into the sonship of God -- in the "second man," in the "last Adam." Adam was before Eve; the last Adam was after the new Eve. But we cannot say that the humanity assumed by Christ was a complement to the humanity of his Mother. It is the humanity of a Divine Person, that of the heavenly Man.12 It is not the Mother of God but her Son who is the Head of the New Humanity. Therefore, it is through her Son that the Mother of God could attain the perfection reserved for those who should bear the image of the heavenly Man.13 Because it is in her Son that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily14 Mary's election was an absolute and eternal election, but not unconditional -- for it was conditioned by and related to the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary holds her unique position and has a "category of her own" not as a mere Virgin, but as the Virgin Mother as the predestined Mother of the Lord. However, the "privileges" of the Divine Motherhood do not depend upon a "freedom from original sin." The fullness of grace was truly bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin and her personal purity was preserved by the perpetual assistance of the Spirit. But this was not an abolition of original sin. Sin was destroyed only on the tree of the cross, and no "exemption" was possible, since sin was simply the common and general condition of the whole of human existence. It was not destroyed even by the Incarnation itself, although the Incarnation was the true inauguration of the New Creation. The Incarnation was but the basis and the starting point of the redemptive work of our Lord. And the "second man" Himself enters into His full glory through the gate of death and resurrection. Mary had the grace of the Incarnation, as the Mother of the Incarnate, but this was not yet the complete grace, since the Redemption had not yet been accomplished.

There is no need, and no reason, to assume that the Blessed Virgin realized at once all the fullness and all the implications of the unique privilege bestowed upon her by the grace of God. There is no need, and no reason, to interpret the "fullness" of grace in a literal sense as including all possible perfections and the whole variety of particular spiritual gifts. It was a fullness for her; she was full of grace. And yet it was a "specialized" fullness, the grace of the Mother of God, of the Virgin Mother, of the "Unwedded spouse," Indeed, she had her own spiritual way, her own growth in grace. Mary's sanctity and virginity was an undisturbed orientation of her whole personal life toward God, a complete self-dedication, sinlessness but not yet "perfection" and not freedom from temptations. Our Lady perhaps had her temptations too, since even our Lord himself was actually tempted by satan in the wilderness, but she has overcome them in her steady faithfulness to God's calling. It is remarkable that the greatest of early Patristic authorities, John Chrysostom, found it possible to ascribe to Mary not only "original sin," but also "agitation," "trouble," and, even, "love of honor."15

In the created person of the Blessed Virgin, theosis or divinization, which is man's true destiny, is accomplished for the first time. Mary's divinization was the result of her free will and consent to be one with Christ's enhypostasized humanity, on the one hand, and of the grace of the Logos of God, on the other hand. This is extremely significant and a source of optimism and power for the life of the faithful. It is furthermore the source of the greatest and eternal joy to man struggling for his salvation, because she is the fullness of love accepting the coming of God to us -- giving life to Him, who is the life of the world. And the whole creation rejoices in her, because it recognizes in her that the end and fulfillment of all life, of all love, is to accept Christ, to give Him life in ourselves, to become His "temple." And this is possible for any human being because the Blessed Virgin is the first "divinized" human creature making all men able to rise to deification by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The destiny of man and the world has already been reached, potentially, not only in the uncreated person of the Son of God but also in the created person of his Mother. That is why Gregory Palamas calls the Mother of God "the boundary between the created and the uncreated." Such joy and power and optimism are not possible within the unfortunate formulation of the Latin dogma of the Immaculate Conception and its outgrowth, the recent Roman Catholic dogma of the Assumption (1950).

However, they are possible in the teaching and experience of Rev. Moon's Divine Principle. Divine Principle sees the new Eve's role and identity in a similar way as Irenaeus. I will try to show this in the remainder of my presentation.

Initially, the operative principle at work both within Divine Principle and the writings of Irenaeus is of the same significance and effect. In Divine Principle, the principle is called "indemnity," or the principle of restoration.16 Simply stated, it refers to reversing the process of previous failure, or it refers to repayment of damages that have been suffered. Irenaeus put it this way: "as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin."17 A virgin woman caused the fall, so a virgin woman must reverse the process of the fall. Both Irenaeus and Divine Principle agree on this. It is interesting to note further that Divine Principle views Adam and Eve in a brother-sister relationship when they fell. The understanding is that they were not created perfect; they were to grow to a certain level of maturity and then consummate their marriage as husband and wife, as God intended.18 Irenaeus has a similar understanding:

For in Paradise 'they were both naked and were not ashamed,' having been created a short time previously; they had no understanding of the procreation of children, for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward.19

It should be added that ancient Christian tradition is in agreement with the basic teaching of Divine Principle that Adam and Eve were created imperfect and they had to be tested as free rational beings to become perfect through the stages of growth and maturity or perfection.

"When did the first ancestors fall? They fell during the growth period, while they were still immature," Divine Principle clearly states. And it continues: "If man had fallen after he had achieved perfection, we could not believe in the omnipotence of God. If man could fall after he had become a perfect embodiment of goodness, the goodness itself would be imperfect. Accordingly, we would have to reach the conclusion that God, the absolute subject of goodness, is also imperfect."20

Consequently, Divine Principle also maintains that theosis is the destiny of man, being thus in fundamental agreement with the Christian doctrine of man's divinization or theosis. It is written in Divine Principle:

The man whose mind and body have formed a four position foundation of the original God-centered nature becomes God's temple (1 Cor. 3:16) and forms one body with Him (Jn. 14:20). This means that man attains deity.... Therefore, when man has realized God's first blessing, he becomes a good object for the joy of God. A man with perfected individuality feels all that God feels, as if God's feelings were his own. Consequently, he cannot do anything which would cause God grief. This means that such a man could never fall.21

Now restoration history for the Greek Fathers (Irenaeus -- recapitulatio," Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus) is cosmological and universal, including all of creation. Of course, Paul confirms that the promise of adoption has been given to creation, which also tends toward fulfillment through man in the deified condition.22 Divine Principle is entirely consistent with the Pauline and the Greek Patristic view:

The 'providence of restoration' means God's providence of restoring fallen man to his original state endowed at the creation, thus fulfilling the purpose of creation.23

In this way, a man who attains the purpose of creation would become the temple of God's constant abode (I Cor. 3:16), thus assuming deity"24 "Therefore, the man who has attained the purpose of creation becomes the ruler of all creation (Gen. 1:28)... the substantial encapsulation of the entire cosmos.25

In reconciliation with the Eastern Patristic Tradition, Divine Principle sees the motivation for God's restoration plan not in purely legalistic terms, but in terms of a cosmic battle with the devil.26 It is, after all, God, not the devil, who created man and who is supreme in the universe. Thus the Incarnation becomes absolutely necessary. Restoration is "a portrait restored from the original", according to Athanasius, a re-creation of God's image in man which only Jesus, the perfect image of the Father, could accomplish.27 There are similar beliefs in Divine Principle:

Jesus came as the Son of God, without original sin, from God's direct lineage, and by making the whole of fallen mankind into one body by engrafting them to him (in the spirit of Romans 11:17), he was to restore them to be the children of God's direct lineage, having removed the original sin.28

Jesus came as the center, the true olive tree, in order to engraft fallen men, who are the branches of wild olive trees, to himself.29

The purpose of Jesus' coming as the Messiah was to fulfill the providence of restoration; his coming was primarily to save fallen men.30

Jesus came to earth in the flesh to save sinful mankind.31

Both Divine Principle and the Eastern Church Fathers emphasize the point that the ultimate motivation for God's effort through the Incarnation is Divine love and loyalty to man as His unique creation,32 that the most important and sufficient reason for the Word's assuming man's nature and death is not the satisfaction of God's justice -- the juridical Roman Catholic tendency rooted in Augustine and Anselm -- but that in Christ's death "death might once and for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image."33 In Eastern Patristic thought, Christ defeats the devil through the Incarnation as He accomplished victory over death through the Resurrection. Mystical deification or the conscious experience of God's life, love, grace and holiness replaces Western forensic motivation, and man has his own responsibility in developing on the foundation of Christ's enhypostasized or sanctified humanity34 "He (the Son of God) became man, that we might become God" in the words of Athanasius.35 Christ's Incarnation was absolutely required for man's salvation, because neither men nor angels could recreate the image, for men only are made after the image, whereas angels are not the image of God.36 Although Divine Principle does not deal with the Incarnation in Patristicterms such as "enhypostasis", etc., it does clearly recognize that man's merit alone is not sufficient for salvation, and that Christ's unique sinlessness and Divinity is the cornerstone of restoration.37

Divine Principle agrees that the image of God in man is primarily spiritual and was corrupted by the fall, resulting in spiritual death. The Patristic view is that the fall of man resulted in mortality also. Here Divine Principle disagrees, maintaining that Adam and Eve died spiritually but not physically as a consequence of their fall. In any case, in Divine Principle and in Eastern Patristic views, the oriental mind is presented at its highest level of maturity. It promises a natural theology of growth and development of human personality toward perfection in oneness with God, while still maintaining the transcendence of God.38 Man is not hopeless, but rather man is inherently motivated toward his original purpose of creation.39 Growth, development, restoration, sinlessness, deification... these experiences linked with the enhypostasized humanity of Christ define true soteriology It is here that Patristic and Unification soteriology find common ground with modern psychology which has also identified some directive and constructive force within the human psyche which only needs to be discovered. One must conclude that the hope of Christianity, as it lies on the brink of a new age, is in the East. No longer can we claim salvation through ceremonial faith when we make no effort to strive for deification and improvement in our very nature which itself seeks restoration.


1. Justin, Dialogue, 100.

2. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, V, 19, 1. Basically, Irenaeus derived his ideas from 1 Cor. 15:45;1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom. 5:14; 11:17.

3. Gregory Palamas, Horn, in Present., 6-7; ed. Oikonomos (Athens, 1861), pp. 126-7; trans, in E. Churches Quarterly 10 (1954-55), No. 8., 381-2.

4. Nicholas Cabasilas in Jugie's edition, Patrologia Orientalis XIX, 2.

5. Cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haeres., Ill, 21, 8: "Mary cooperating with the economy."

6. John of Damascus, Encomium to the Dormition, B, 16, 4-5.

7. Andrew of Crete, Oration on the Dormition of the All-Holy Theotokos, PG 97, 1108 B.

8. Lk. 1:30.

9. Lk. 1:28.

10. Cor. 15:47.

11. Jn. 1:13.

12. 1 Cor. 15:47-48.

13. 1 Cor. 15:49.

14. Col. 2:9.

15. John Chrysostom, Horn. 44 in Matt.; PG 57, 464; Horn. 21 in John 2: PG 59, 131.

16. Divine Principle. Washington, DC: The Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1973, pp. 222-227.

17 J. Donaldson and A. Roberts, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925, p. 547.

18. Divine Principle, pp. 82-83.

19. Donaldson and Roberts, op. cit., p. 445.

20. Divine Principle, p. 54.

21. Ibid., pp. 43, 104, 141, 206, Cp. pp. 62-63, 56.

22. Rom. 8:21-24.

23. Divine Principle, p. 221. Cp. pp. Ill, 39, 35.

24. Ibid., p. 206.

25. Ibid., p. 207. Cp. pp. 44, 58-60, 211.

26. Ibid., p. 111.

27. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi XIV, I-II; XX; VII.

28. Divine Principle, pp. 367-368. Cp. pp. 140-141, 211-212.

29. Ibid., pp. 368, 110, 213.

30. Ibid., p. 140.

31. Ibid., pp. 60, 63.

32. Ibid., p. 63.

33. Athanasius, De Incaranatione Verbi XIII, 9. Divine Principle, p. 140.

34. Divine Principle, p. 63.

35. Athanasius, De Incarn. LIV, 3. Ad Adelphium, 4; PG 26, I077A. Cp. Contra Arianos I, 38-39; PG 26, 92 BC. Ibid., II, 47, col. 248B.

36. Ibid., XIII, 5-10.

37. Divine Principle, pp. 110, 212-213.

38. Ibid., p. 55.

39. Ibid., p. 85. 

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