I just finished a wonderful book, Ecce Homo: On the Divine Unity of Christ, by Aaron Riches. It’s as informed and clear an exposition of Conciliar Christology as you’ll find. I read it on the heels of having finished Timothy Pawl’s equally excellent (but very different in its approach) In Defense of Conciliar Christology. I was with Riches all the way through his project until he expounded a Mariology of co-redemption that caught me by surprise and about which I have grave reservations. I’ll leave the reservations for now and just relay the relevant portions from Riches. Too much of the standard Protestant/Evangelical response to such claims about Mary are knee-jerk reactions that don’t engage the best, most serious attempts to express Mary’s unique status and role. It’s no surprise that Evangelicals are uncomfortable with recognizing this uniqueness. They do well talking about Abraham as the “Father” of the faith. They’re not so keen on owning Mary as the “Mother” of the faith.
There are foundational agreements I have with Riches’ treatment of Mary – that the Son has “two nativities,” that Christ’s concrete, human nature is ex Maria (of/from Mary), that her God-given role extends beyond that of being merely a receptacle to incubate and deliver Jesus. Evangelicals could do with some prolonged reflection upon the humanity of Christ ex Maria. Riches got me reflecting upon the matter, which I appreciate. My reservations have to do with conclusions Riches draws (for example, that Mary not only is the source of Jesus’ human nature, but that she is “constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus”) which are neither explicitly conciliar nor follow obviously from conciliar claims. Let me just share the relevant portions of Riches book at this point (from chs 10, “Son of Mary,” and 11 “The Weight of the Cross”) and leave you to reflect on them.
…[Th]e Logos did not assume a human person or the ontological infrastructure of a fully individuated human being, but rather assumed human nature so as to himself constitute the existence of this human being.
Whence this human nature? Whence its concrete inheritance? Here Riches maintains (rightly) that the Logos…
…truly receives his particular human nature ex Maria; indeed he allows his human particularity to be constituted in its specificity by her flesh, by her humanity, by her concrete genealogy and by the history of her people. The Son, in his incarnate nature, is truly a persona composita [a compound personal existence]; he is irreducibly both ex Patre and ex Maria. This is not to say that the Incarnate Son possesses an individuated mode of being discrete from his divine individuality…rather, it is to say that the particularity of Jesus’ human nature is concretely inherited in a way that it cannot be understood solely in reference to his eternal filiation…Just as the divinity of Christ is only knowable in terms of his concrete filiation from the Father…so analogously the Incarnation [Tom: or better, “humanity”] is only specified by the filiation of Jesus from Mary.
Riches describes the derivation of humanity from Mary as occurring within…
…a field of concrete relationality [that is] enabled by the fluid exchange of the Jesus-Mary relation; it begins at the Annunciation, continues through the Incarnation and is re-incarnated in every mystical encounter with Christ, which can only take place within concrete history as an unrepeatable event of the recognition of a genuine ‘other’, a historical figure with a genealogy who cannot be reduced to an abstraction. Thus the “unceasing, fluid exchange with the Theotokos”…is rooted, not only in the fact that Jesus in the Incarnation proceeds ex Maria, but also in the fact that she is constitutive within the experience of mystical encounter with Jesus. The particularity of the human Jesus cannot be thought of or accounted for outside the Jesus-Mary relation because the esse personale [personal nature] of the divine Son is human only to the extent that he receives himself ex Maria.
…the ex Maria procession cannot simply be subsumed within the ex Patre fact of who the Incarnate Son is. The Incarnate Son is persona composite, as Constantinople II designated. This means that the “enhypostatization” of the Son’s Incarnate nature cannot be upheld without a Mariological consequence. There can be no indifference in Christology to the carnal womb and personal being that gives the Logos his humanity.
If the ex Maria filiation of the Incarnate Son so constitutes his secundarium esse [his second, human nature] that she should be understood as playing a metaphysically permanent role in his incarnate persona composita, then Mary, in a sense, supplies not only the fleshly substance that makes Jesus “human,” but also the human infrastructure (education, culture, family, etc.) that forms and essential component of the personality of his human being. Recognizing this helps us to see how Mary, as a figure of the mystical body and its personal guarantor, supplies in herself at the origin a human suppositum and persona that uniquely corresponds with the homo verus of her divine Son. And so Mary is in herself the mystica persona of humanity united to Christ.
Mary thus constitutes…an order of grace that is singular: Jesus is God “by nature,” the saints are gods “by adoptive participation,” while Mary alone is a god “by affinity…[since] the venerable bonds which render her Christ’s Mother touch the very threshold of the divinity.” Mary is neither deiform by nature nor merely by adoptive participation; she is the Theotokos who encompasses God in her womb…and therefore she is the prototype of adoptive filiation. This means that, on account of her unique relation to the Son at his incarnate source, she is the first and exemplary member of his mystical body and therefore the personal representative of mystical union. In her…mode of being the first and perfect receptacle of the divine grace of her Son, the Church is fully present as co-belonging to the Incarnation. Adoptive participation in Christ is in this way made possible by the adopted daughter of God, since the grace of adoptive filiation dwells in its original plentitude in Mary in order that she may conceive the Son in whom we are predestined to be adopted filii in Filio [‘sons’ in the ‘Son’].
In the following chapter, Riches takes this Mariological metaphysics of Incarnation to the Cross and draws further conclusions:
If the incarnate filiation of ex Maria entails that the Theotokos “plays a permanent role in Christ’s metaphysical constitution qua ‘compound hypostasis’,” it is also the case that as the first and exemplar embodiment of receptivity to the grace of adoptive filiation, she plays a permanent role of co-belonging to the Cross, and so to the concrete content of the Son’s glorification. If Mary is truly the vera persona humana [the truly personal human] correspondent to the verus homo [true humanity] of her divine Son, then we would indeed expect a direct association to exist between her personal being as Theotokos and the personal act of synergistic love she presents at Golgotha. To the same extent that the Incarnation is determined by the Son’s pro nobis [the ‘for us’ orientation of the Incarnation], a “weight” that binds him from the moment of his incarnation in the womb of Mary to the Cross that is the goal of his mission, the union of Mary and Jesus must be realized within this “weight,” and must be perfected in the Pietà of the Virgin of Anguish, bearing in her arms the Crucified Lord. The Virgin is truly the exemplar of adoptive filiation, the first in the order of grace of the Spirit’s adoption of human beings into the communion of adoptive filiation, because her being too is centered on the sacrifice of Calvary.
Because Jesus must divest himself of the forma divina, the Mother must divest herself of the divine maternity in order to remain united with her Son. When the Son empties himself unto death, Mary becomes deprived of her child and of the God to whom she gave flesh. Giving her Son and her God to the Cross, Mary becomes dispossessed of the unique privilege of being “Theotokos.”
For the Mary-Jesus unio to be perfected, the distancing must be ever greater…Mary must be stripped of her Son not only by physical death but also by a state of divine abandonment in which she can no longer claim to be the “Mother of God.”
The abandonment of Jesus by the Father on the Cross is…a true dilation of the Trinity insofar as the Crucifixion is understood primarily as an abandonment of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, the vinculum amoris of Father and Son.
Mary’s personal co-being with Jesus exerts, through the Spirit, a via curcis that ensures that the Sacrifice of Calvary will be established in terms of an unceasing, fluid exchange of theandric maior dissimilitudo between the original martyrdom of the Church and the unique Sacrifice of the Son. To this extent, there can be no argument about co-redemption. As a descriptive term of what actually happened on Calvary, it is a fact. The verus homo is the Redeemer, and the Virgin of Nazareth is with him in his unique act of Redemption. The Mother is in communio with her Son at the foot of the Cross: she suffers and sorrows with him; she is united with him in mutual abandonment. All of this entails from her exemplary status, her perfect co-being with the Son in the Spirit and her perfect docility to that same Spirit by which her perfect act of sequela Christi proceeds.
…[Mary] is irreducibly with the Crucified in his solitary act of redemption. But just as his persona does not “add” to his verus homo, so Mary’s co-redemptive role is not a contribution of something otherwise lacking in the Son’s redemptive sacrifice.
Mary’s suffering, then, is both a true participation in the Cross and a contribution of nothing but “adequate response” of the ecclesia immaculata, a response in the Holy Spirit that is itself a grace given in Christ. By the grace that flows backwards from the Cross, Mary gives her own consent, fiat mihi [“Let it be to me”], to that on which God himself waits: the immolation of the sacred victim.