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Orthodox vs. RC understanding of the Theotokos

trevor72694

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What are the main differences between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic understandings of the Virgin Mary?
 

Peacemaker

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From http://classroom.synonym.com/difference-between-catholic-orthodox-veneration-mary-9570.html
Differences in Mary's Nature
Perhaps the most distinct difference in how Orthodox and Catholic Christians understand and venerate the Virgin Mary has to do with the nature of sin. Catholics believe Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden burdened humanity with a sinful nature, a doctrine known as "original sin." They teach that Mary was, due to a special act of God, born without original sin, a doctrine known as the "immaculate conception." Orthodox Christians reject the doctrine of original sin and therefore reject the immaculate conception. However, the Orthodox do share a belief with Catholics that Mary lived a sinless life.

Rituals of Veneration
Catholics have many prayers and other rituals that serve to honor and venerate Mary. One of the most popular Catholic prayers, the Rosary, is centered on Mary. Catholics have a feast that celebrates their belief that Mary didn't die, but rather went directly to heaven: the Feast of the Assumption. Orthodox have a prayer that uses a set of beads, but it is known as "The Jesus Prayer" and doesn't specifically venerate Mary. While many Orthodox do believe that Mary did not die but went directly to heaven, this belief isn't required by the church and there isn't a church holiday celebrating this event.

Role of Mary in Salvation
Catholics and Orthodox understand Mary's role in salvation differently. Catholics refer to Mary as "Co-Redemptrix" with Christ and as a mediator between humanity and God. Orthodox Christians refer to Mary as the "Theotokos," or "God-bearer." They see Mary's role as the mother of the savior. This difference can be observed by comparing Orthodox depictions of Mary with Catholic depictions. In Orthodox depictions, Mary is almost always seen with Jesus, whereas the Catholic tradition often displays images of Mary without Jesus.


From http://www.ocf.org/OrthodoxPage/reading/ortho_cath.html

The doctrine of the place and person of the Virgin Mary in the Church is called "mariology." Both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism believe she is "Mother of God" (Theotokos, Deipare) and "the Ever-Virgin Mary."

However, the Orthodox reject the Roman Catholic "dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary," which was defined as "of the faith" by Pope Pius IX, on the 8th of December 1854. This dogma holds that from the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by a most singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the human race, preserved from all stain of Original Sin. It is a doctrine revealed by God, and therefore to be firmly and steadfastly believed by all the faithful (from the Bull Ineffabilis Deus).

Such a theory has no basis in the Scriptures nor the Fathers. It contains many ideas (such as "the merits of Christ") likewise without apostolic foundation. The idea that the Lord and His Saints produced more grace than necessary. This excess may be applied to others, even those in purgatory (see below).

But to return: the Church does not accept the idea that the Mother of God was born with the (inherited) guilt of Adam; no one is. She did, however, inherit the mortality which comes to all on account of Adam's Fall.

Therefore, there is no need to do what Latin theologians have done. There is no reason to invent a theory to support the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. There is no need to teach that, on account of "the merits of Christ," the Holy Spirit was able to prevent her from inheriting the guilt of Adam.

In fact, she was born like every other human being. The Holy Spirit prepared the Virgin Mary for her role as the Mother of God. She was filled with the Uncreated Energy of the Holy Spirit of God in order that she might be a worthy vessel for the birth of Christ. Nevertheless, several of the Fathers observed that before the Resurrection of her Son, she had sinned. St. John Chrysostom mentions the Wedding at Cana where she presumed to instruct Him (John 2:3-4). Here was proof of her mortality.

Receiving the Holy Spirit once more at Pentecost, she was able to die without sin. Because of her special role in the Divine Plan ("economy" or "dispensation"), she was taken into the heavens, body and soul. She now sits at the foot of her Son, making intercession for all those who implore her mercy. The Orthodox Church honors the miracle of her "assumption" with a feast on 15 August; likewise, the followers of the Pope.

Both also believe in the intercessions of the Virgin Mary and all the Saints. Such intercessions reflect the unity of the Church in heaven and the Church on earth.


 

LBK

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A few comments on the above:

While many Orthodox do believe that Mary did not die but went directly to heaven, this belief isn't required by the church and there isn't a church holiday celebrating this event.
The equivalent Orthodox feast of the RC Assumption is the Dormition of the Mother of God. Even a cursory look at the hymns of this feast will show that the Mother of God did die, and that she was miraculously and mysteriously translated to heaven.

However, the Orthodox do share a belief with Catholics that Mary lived a sinless life.
The Orthodox Church does not have a definitive teaching on the absolute sinlessness of the Mother of God prior to the Annunciation. What is definitive in this regard is found in the hymns for the feast of the Annunciation.
 

wgw

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There's one more error in the above, and that is the doctrine of Mary as co-redemptrix is not yet official RC dogma.  In fact it's the so called "Fifth Dogma" advocated so vehemently by supporters of Ida Peerdeman, who received a series of Marian apparitions from a rather menacing spirit known as "The Lady of All Nations, who was once Mary."  That this was a demon can be of no doubt to the Orthodox but fortunately for our relations with the Roman church the CDF ruled these apparitions as not supernatural.  Unfortunately the latest Roman Bishop of Amaterdam has, in violation of protocol, dared to defy the CDF and advocate for the matter.  Hopefully Pope Francis will not do anything rash but if he does that would be devastating for the cause of ecumenical relations as the Orthodox can surely not contemplate communion with a church that views Mary as co-redemptrix.  The fact they regard her as co-mediatrix, or Mediatrix of All Graces, is bad enough.

On another note LBK many of the Oriental Orthodox churches do celebrate August the 15th as "the Assumption" but unfortunately I can't say whether their doctrine matches Eastern doctrine because I've never attended an Oriental church on that date for various reasons, and the English translations of their service books are not quite adequate; I might have enough of the Coptic liturgy to tell in their case from the Annual Psalmody, but I'm not sure where to look, and for the Syriac Orthodox liturgy Id need a Fanqitho, which is apparently not yet extant in English.  Which is a bummer.  I did read somewhere that in the 1950s a Syriac patriarch implemented the dogma of the Assumption but I'm not entirely sure if I believe it.  However I'm going on a pilgrimage to several monasteries starting with a Coptic one, so I'll ask there.  I do think on this website which is pan Orthodox, we should be careful to qualify our posts with which communion were referring to if we're referring to only one, and the other has or may have a different praxis.  I do know for sure the Syriac Orthodox call August 15th the Assumption and not the Dormition.  I profoundly hope there is no difference of doctrine on this point though; if it emerged my beloved Syriacs just picked up a relatively new doctrine and created an incompatibility with the Byzantines who I also love that would count using the vernacular of the preceding generation as a "bummer."  Now if you happen to know that the Syriacs do believe in the dormition and not the Assumption, and that their English service books are merely mistranslated, which is why you wrote "Orthodox" without wualification you would rather make my day. 

Now here's a fun fact by the way: Carl Jung, the neo-Gnostic psychologist who influenced the AA, the Oxford Groups, and also helped fund the recovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi library, had predicted on the basis of his theories regarding religion, the collective unconscious and other esoteric matters that the Roman Catholic Church and indeed all Christians would ultimately have to add a female goddess aspect to the male-dominated trinity; Archpriests Bulgakov and St. Pavel Florensky tried this with Sophiology, which if I recall involved a personification of Divine Wisdom in the Virgin Mary and some hypostatic Union of Mary with the Holy Spirit.  It was nasty stuff, and it shocks me that Bulgakov managed to make Archpriest after having developed the doctrine with St. Pavel (who was himself glorified as a New Martyr in spite of it); fortunately ROCOR declared it a heresy although I don't think Bulgakov ever retracted or was deposed; he was in the very avant garde Parisienne church.  I hope he did.  I do love the painting, The Philosophers, showing St. Florensky and Archpriest Bulgakov prior to the latter's ordination strolling through the lovely Russian countryside together.

At any rate, Jung apparently felt that the declaration of the Assumption of Mary meant that the Roman Catholic Church was fulfilling his personal prophecy, and sent a congratulatory note to Pope Pius XII on the occasion.  He should perhaps have supported the Sophiologists more, as the doctrine was popular in the left leaning circles of the Russian bourgeoise, and in fact Jesus and Sophia were in a great number of Gnostic heresies two members of a syszygy; in fact Sophiology is such an astonishingly Gnostic doctrine it's amazing how long it managed to slip under the radar.  It featured some social components as well of a left wing nature and was applied if memory servers by Fr. Bulgakov to diverse subjects such as economics; I believe Bulgakov and Florensky tried to advance it as an alternative to Communism, Anarchism or the other new systems being proposed for Russia in the years leading up to the Revolution.

But this is why it's so important that Orthodoxy keep a correct devotion to our beloved Theotokos.  You LBK did well to object in another thread to some icons of Mary lacking Jesus.  What we want to avoid is any sense of Mary as a goddess, co-redemptrix or superhuman figure.  If Mary loses her consubstantiality with us, then we lose our connection to the humanity of Jesus, because Jesus ceases to be the God-man and becomes instead a member of an entirely divine Gnostic syzygy.  And this is where the Roman church, which fought so hard against Gnostics from the time St. Peter arrived in Rome to contend with Simon Magus, is headed.  The essence of moat Gnostic theologies involves an essence of purely spiritual emanations, usually sexual pairs, originating from an androgynous and unknowable Monad, sent to liberate the spark of life from matter, which is evil or illusory or both and typically the result of some error made by Sophia that resulted in the creation of an incompetent demiurge who is usually associated with the God of Israel, and it was against this theology St. Irenaeus fought.  But we can in no sense admit a female aspect to the Trinity, and indeed Syriac Chrostianity is often falsely accused of doing this because their word for spirit is of a feminine gender, but they confess the Spirit as Lord in the Nicene Creed (both Syriac Orthodox and Assyrians).

I believe the danger of the Assumption and co redemptrix doctrines is they do incline in the direction of Mary becoming identified with either the Holy Spirit (from a misreading of Annunciation as described in Matthew and Luke) or a personified Sophia (from the name of the Great Church, and a misinterpretation of Proverbs, where Wisdom is allegorized as a virtuous woman in what can be read as a Marian prophecy), or both, resulting in the feminization of the Third Person of the Trinity and the dehumanization of Christ, resulting in Gnosticism.  Which is all the rage with people like Elaine Pagels and the editors of "The New New Testament", liberal Protestants, and the mainstream media, but which we as Orthodox most firmly believe to be entirely incompatible with the faith once delivered to the holy Apostles, literally, anathema.
 

Mor Ephrem

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wgw said:
On another note LBK many of the Oriental Orthodox churches do celebrate August the 15th as "the Assumption" but unfortunately I can't say whether their doctrine matches Eastern doctrine...
It does.

I did read somewhere that in the 1950s a Syriac patriarch implemented the dogma of the Assumption but I'm not entirely sure if I believe it. 
Never heard that one before.  It's more likely they simply adopted the word "Assumption" in English and other Western languages as a translation for the Syriac word, which encompasses the notions of "departure" and "translation". 
 

Deacon Lance

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Catholics have not dogmatized that the Mother of God did not die.  The older tradition, even in the West, is she did indeed die.
 

Volnutt

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But we can in no sense admit a female aspect to the Trinity,
Sure we can. God doesn't have chromosomes and He had to pick one or the other gender to Incarnate as.

That doesn't mean we have to change the Liturgy to reflect gender inclusivity.
 

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I have never heard it said in the Orthodox Church that the Mother of God did not die.  Indeed in the Icons of the Dormition we see Christ holding her holy soul which he took directly into Heaven, while her body yet remained for a short while on earth while the Apostles mourned and sang hymns over her.  Isn't this the definition of death - the separation of the soul from the body?

Also, as was previously mentioned, this is attested to in the services for the August 15 Feast:

"She surrendereth her most holy soul into the hands of her Son today." - sticheron at the Litia

"O ye Apostles from afar, being now gathered together here in the vale of Gethsemane, give burial to my body; and Thou, O my Son and my God, receive Thou my spirit."  - Exapostilarion

"Thy death became a passage to an everlasting and better life, O pure one, " - Matins Canon, Ode 4

In most parts of the service, her death is called a passing, a translation from death to life because that is the focus - the passing on to eternal life in heaven.  It is compared to sleep because her death was peaceful, so the feast is correctly called the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, or Dormition. There was no wrenching agony of her soul separating from the body. But certainly one could not believe that all the gathered apostles were tricked with an illusion and she was only sleeping and they subsequently buried her alive?






 

Volnutt

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CarolS said:
I have never heard it said in the Orthodox Church that the Mother of God did not die.  Indeed in the Icons of the Dormition we see Christ holding her holy soul which he took directly into Heaven, while her body yet remained for a short while on earth while the Apostles mourned and sang hymns over her.  Isn't this the definition of death - the separation of the soul from the body?

Also, as was previously mentioned, this is attested to in the services for the August 15 Feast:

"She surrendereth her most holy soul into the hands of her Son today." - sticheron at the Litia

"O ye Apostles from afar, being now gathered together here in the vale of Gethsemane, give burial to my body; and Thou, O my Son and my God, receive Thou my spirit."  - Exapostilarion

"Thy death became a passage to an everlasting and better life, O pure one, " - Matins Canon, Ode 4

In most parts of the service, her death is called a passing, a translation from death to life because that is the focus - the passing on to eternal life in heaven.  It is compared to sleep because her death was peaceful, so the feast is correctly called the Falling Asleep of the Mother of God, or Dormition. There was no wrenching agony of her soul separating from the body. But certainly one could not believe that all the gathered apostles were tricked with an illusion and she was only sleeping and they subsequently buried her alive?
Yeah, it only popped up in some RC circles at all because Municifentismus Deus is worded ambiguously, "having completed the course of her earthly life..."
 

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I don't know much about Roman Catholic teaching, but if one believes that she was immaculately created without original sin, then wouldn't death be impossible?  It seems that the distortions of doctrine just lead to more inconsistencies.
 

orthonorm

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CarolS said:
I don't know much about Roman Catholic teaching, but if one believes that she was immaculately created without original sin, then wouldn't death be impossible?  It seems that the distortions of doctrine just lead to more inconsistencies.
So Sts. Joachim and Anna conceived her in sin? Her not being conceived in sin (in the sense the act of lovemaking between the two Saints was unmarked by lust, etc.) makes more sense than her being sinless. Christ died for everyone but his mother?

Strange how distortions of doctrine lead to more inconsistencies.
 

Volnutt

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CarolS said:
I don't know much about Roman Catholic teaching, but if one believes that she was immaculately created without original sin, then wouldn't death be impossible?  It seems that the distortions of doctrine just lead to more inconsistencies.
Death still comes because material creation has fallen (Romans 8:20).
 

wgw

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CarolS said:
I don't know much about Roman Catholic teaching, but if one believes that she was immaculately created without original sin, then wouldn't death be impossible?  It seems that the distortions of doctrine just lead to more inconsistencies.
They do indeed.  Error begas error.  That's why you see me talking about Gnosticism in this thread; make Mary coequal to Christ and Christ ceases to be consubstantial with humanity, and et voila, the two of them become a Gnostic syzygy or male-female emanation, and we've just thrown the work of St. Irenaeus and indeed Ss. Peter and John the Evangelist and the other Apostle's straight out the window.
 
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