Mary: The Union of Man and Woman in the Mystery of Salvation
It has been stated that Pope John Paul II's theology of the body will be the basis for the renewal of all Catholic theology. In this series we have already seen the profound ramifications of the Pope's insights on the theology of man's creation, temptation and fall.
I believe that the implications of the theology of the body for the field of Mariology are greater still.
If the union of man and woman is essential to humanity's creation and fall, then it must find an expression in humanity's redemption. The story of salvation essentially includes a new Adam and a new Eve.
The Church resolved early Christological controversies based on two patristic principles.
The first was that humanity's salvation had to be accomplished by God: “It was not possible that man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself and obtain the prize of victory … Unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.18.2-3.18. 7). The second principle was that the entirety of the human nature had to be elevated into the divine to be redeemed: “What is not assumed is not restored, but what is united to God is saved as well” (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Epist 101,7). Based on these principles, the early Church defined that the Word elevated a true and proper human nature (body and soul, intellect and will) into his divinity.
In the theology of the body, John Paul defined the communion of persons formed by man and woman from the beginning as an essential aspect of humanity's “image and likeness” of God (Nov. 14, 1979). He further defined that it was through the union of man and woman that sin and death entered human history (March 5, 1980). As such — according to our two basic patristic principles — the union of man and woman must be elevated into the divine if it is to be restored.
New Adam, New Eve
St. John's Gospel provides the basis for understanding this mystery. At the climax of his Passion narrative, he presents to us a man, a woman and a type of profound mystical union between them. Jesus Christ is presented as “the man” (John 19:5). St. John lets us know that Jesus is the mystery of the Word Incarnate (cf. John 1:14). He is the fulfillment of what man was created to be. He is the manifestation of the Father: “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Immediately after presenting Christ as the man, St. John presents Mary as the “woman” (John 19:26). Mary is everything woman was created to be. This mystery can only be understood in light of two moments in St. John's Gospel.
First, Jesus specifically reveals the Holy Spirit to be the paraclete (cf. John 14:16; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). The term paraclete comes from Greek legal terminology referring to someone who pleads the cause of someone else, i.e. an advocate. Second, this is precisely the light in which St. John presents Mary at the wedding feast of Cana. When the wine runs short, Mary turns to Jesus: “They have no wine” (John 2:3). St. John presents Mary as living the life of the Holy Spirit.
St. Maximillian Kolbe had gone so far as to state: Mary “is united to the Holy Spirit so closely that we really cannot grasp this union. But we can at least say that the Holy Spirit and Mary are two persons who live in such intimate union that they have but one sole life” (June 27,1936). A word of caution is in order at this point. Jesus Christ is God. He is the divine Person of the Word Incarnate. Mary is human and only human. It is her human life that is elevated into the divine life of the Holy Spirit.
Since Mary lives the divine life of the Holy Spirit, she is able to form an inseparable union with Jesus Christ. The Holy Father goes so far as to say that Mary is perfectly united to Christ in his sacrificial offering: “Through this faith Mary is perfectly united with Christ in his self-emptying … At the foot of the cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery of this self-emptying … Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death” (Redem-ptoris Mater, No. 18). We must carefully consider this mystical union between Christ and Our Lady on Calvary.
St. John presents the wounding of the heart as the conclusion of Christ's passion: “But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear” (John 19:34). It is the moment that Christ and Our Lady are most perfectly united. Mary's heart is spiritually pierced by the same sword that physically pierces Christ's heart: “A sword will pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).
However, we must go a step further. Mary is purified in the blood flowing from the wounded heart of Christ. The grace of Christ's passion is perfectly applied to Mary at the moment of her immaculate conception. Mary's immaculate flesh is, if you will, taken from the blood flowing from Christ's wounded heart: “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify … that [she] might be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25ff). This verse properly applies to the Church, but we must note that the Catechism states that the Church is holy in Mary (cf. Catechism, No. 829).
Significantly, while Mary's flesh is being purified in the blood shed during the Passion, Christ turns to address his mother as “woman” (John 19:26). It is the address of Adam for Eve when she was taken from his heart. In fact, it was Adam's only address for Eve prior to the fall.
Adam goes on to state that he is destined to form a “one-flesh” (Genesis 2:24) union with Eve. It is a statement perfectly fulfilled — in a nonsexual manner — by Christ and Our Lady. Jesus Christ and Our Lady properly speaking have the same immaculate flesh. Jesus Christ can look upon Mary and state: “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman” (Genesis 2:23). Jesus Christ and Our Lady form the one-flesh union that had been foretold of man and woman from the beginning.
Further, whereas Adam and Eve closed their union to the fatherhood of God, Christ and Our Lady specifically offer it to him — in a mystical fashion — upon Calvary. When they do so, they receive the sign of the Father's presence — the gift of life: “Woman, behold your son” (John 19:26).
It is the moment that Christ and Our Lady redeem the union that man and woman were called to form from the beginning: “The Lord, wishing to bestow special gifts and graces and divine love on [marriage], has restored, perfected and elevated it” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 49).
Steve Bollman is the founder of Paradisus Dei, a lay organization dedicated to implementing
Pope John Paul II 's teaching on marriage and the family. He may be contacted through
- August 10-16, 2003