This coming Saturday, in the Latin Church, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Because I believe this to be an important feast of the Church, I have written on this topic numerous times in two and a half years. It’s at the Visitation where Mary greets her older cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant and was known to a barren woman. We also hear Mary’s Song of Praise, the Magnificat, during the Visitation.
For today’s “Mondays with Mary”, I bring you into the mind of one of the great Early Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church, Saint Athanasius of Alexandria. Since St. Athanasius had to battle the Arians in the Early Church, much of his theology focuses on Christology, which in turn led him to defending Mary’s Motherhood and Perpetual Virginity.
Although Mary’s Motherhood (Theotokos) and Perpetual Virginity would not be declared dogmatic till the fifth and seventh centuries, the doctrines were held as truth by many early Church Fathers. Many of them fought with pen and papyrus in defending Mary, which in turn had them defending Jesus Christ. It’s the common understanding that when you state something incorrect about Mary’s nature, you are in fact stating something incorrect about nature of Jesus Christ.
The excerpt below is from St. Athanasius’ Homily of the Papyrus of Turin. In it, he clearly calls out Arius, who thought that Jesus Christ was above man, but below God. For Arius, Jesus Christ is a demi-god like the Marvel Comics hero, THOR.
“[Mary] greets Elizabeth: the Mother of the Master greets [the mother] of the servant; the Mother of the King greets the mother of the solider; the Mother of God greets the mother of the man; the Virgin greets the married woman. She greets Elizabeth with an outward greeting, and when the two greet each other in a visible manner, the Holy Spirit, who dwelt in Mary’s womb, incites him who is in Elizabeth’s womb, as one who urges on his friend, ‘Hurry, get up!’
Therefore he who dwelt in Elizabeth’s womb leapt. And behold: [Christ spoke to him] saying, ‘Go forth; make straight my paths, so that I may realize the plan [economy] that has been determined for me.’ When Mary and Elizabeth greeted one another, Christ also greeted John in his mother’s womb, as it is [said] in the Gospel: ‘It happened that, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb of joy.’
Come now, raving Arius: do you not hear that he who is in Mary’s womb and he who is in Elizabeth’s womb are exchanging greetings, while the son of the barren woman announces to the whole world: ‘Behold the Son of God in the womb of the holy Virgin, Mary.’
But you say, ‘How does this happen?’ Listen, and I will tell you. The moment John heard his Master’s voice, he greeted him through the mouth of his mother, and then he rejoiced and delighted to hasten forth from this mother’s womb, in advance of his Master. Then, unable to contain his joy, he cried out, through his mother’s mouth, addressing the Virgin: ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?’
My dear friends, do not think that John was the instrument; Elizabeth is the instrument, and John speaks through her mouth. Now, just as John was not an instrument, so also the Savior greets John, by the greeting Mary addresses to Elizabeth through the mouth of his mother.”
Wow…That is one moving excerpt! When we hear the voice of God, the voice of Jesus Christ in our hearts, let us pray that we have the courage, strength, and grace to – Hurry and Get Up! Let us also pray that the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the greeting She and Jesus brings to Elizabeth and John can be brought to each and every one of us.
Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.