Feast of St Nicholas Cabasilas
THE WHOLE dogmatic teaching about our Lady can be condensed into these two names of hers: the Mother of God (Theotokos) and the Ever-Virgin (Aeiparthenos). Both names have the formal authority of the Church Universal, an ecumenical authority indeed. The Virgin Birth is plainly attested in the New Testament and has been an integral part of the Catholic tradition ever since. “Incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary” (or “Born of the Virgin Mary”) is a credal phrase. It is not merely a statement of the historical fact. It is precisely a credal statement, a solemn profession of faith. The term “Ever-Virgin” was formally endorsed by the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553). And Theotokos is more than a name or an honorific title. It is rather a doctrinal definition—in one word. It has been a touchstone of the true faith and a distinctive mark of Orthodoxy even before the Council of Ephesus (432). Already St. Gregory of Nazianzus warns Cledonius: “if one does not acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, he is estranged from God” (Epist. 101). As a matter of fact, the name was widely used by the Fathers of the fourth century and possibly even in the third (by Origen, for instance, if we can trust Socrates, Hist. Eccl., VII, 32, and the texts preserved in catenas, e.g. In Lucam Hom. 6 and 7). It was already traditional when it was contested and repudiated by Nestorius and his group. The word does not occur in Scripture, just as the term homoousios [consubstantial or of the same substance] does not occur. But surely, neither at Nicaea nor at Ephesus was the Church innovating or imposing a new article of faith. An “unscriptural” word was chosen and used, precisely to voice and to safeguard the traditional belief and common conviction of the ages.
It is true, of course, that the Third Ecumenical Council was concerned primarily with the Christological dogma and did not formulate any special Mariological doctrine. But precisely for that very reason it was truly remarkable that a Mariological term should have been selected and put forward as the ultimate test of Christological orthodoxy, to be used, as it were, as a doctrinal shibboleth in the Christological discussion. It was really a key-word to the whole of Christology. “This name,” says St John of Damascus, “contains the whole mystery of the Incarnation” (On the Orthodox Faith, 3.12). The Christological doctrine can never be accurately and adequately stated unless a very definite teaching about the Mother of Christ has been included. In fact, all the Mariological doubts and errors of modern times depend in the last resort precisely upon an utter Christological confusion. They reveal a hopeless “conflict in Christology.” There is no room for the Mother of God in “reduced Christology.” Protestant theologians simply have nothing to say about her. Yet to ignore the Mother means to misinterpret the Son. On the other hand, the Blessed Virgin can be properly understood and rightly described only in a Christological setting and context. Mariology is to be but a chapter in the treatise on the Incarnation, never to be extended into an independent “treatise.” Not, of course, an optional or occasional chapter. The Mystery of the Incarnation includes the Mother of the Incarnate. Sometimes, however, this Christological perspective has been obscured by a devotional exaggeration, by an unbalanced pietism. Piety must always be guided and checked by dogma. Again, there must be a Mariological chapter in the treatise on the Church. But the doctrine of the Church itself is but an “extended Christology,” the doctrine of the “total Christ,” totus Christus, caput et corpus [total Christ, head and body].
—Fr Georges Florovsky, The Ever-Virgin Mother of God