Mary And The Church
“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
In this manner the angel Gabriel addressed the virgin Mary in the opening chapter of Luke's gospel. The first words from God's messenger are of the blessed grace already bestowed on Mary and the active promise of God's presence with her. Some manuscripts add "blessed are you among women."
Since the Reformation, Protestants have looked with concern at the Mariology of the Roman Catholic Church. When a church makes doctrines concerning Mary essential to salvation there should be quizzical looks. And yet, in the rush to deny the Marian dogmas many Protestants can feel an uncomfortable tingle down their spine when they hear "Greetings Mary, God's favored one." Why is that?
Perhaps I can ask the question more practically. Why do people shudder at the sharing—common during Advent—of the depiction of Eve and Mary embraced while Mary's foot crushes a serpent? Or if I can ask even more directly, have Protestant overreacted to Roman doctrine and dismissed the true Biblical witness concerning the Virgin? Unveiled, why is it that some take issue with Mary crushing the head of the serpent?
I'd like to answer by establishing a healthy and high Reformed view of Mary. Concerned with sounding overly negative or judgmental, I'd like to lay out a positivistic doctrine instead of a criticism. To do this I would like to specifically look at how Mary is a typological recapitulation of Eve and the Temple in the development of a doctrine about the Church Catholic. I'd like to begin with the Temple imagery.
Mary the House of God
Many theologians have argued that temple building is one of the major themes of the Scriptures. The imagery of the Garden during creation gives signs of God's temple building—with the conclusion being the placement of His priests in the garden. At the end of the Scripture, we see the city of God which does not need a temple or any light because God resides in it.
Later in the Old Testament, the Patriarch Jacob during a night's rest sees a vision of God with Angels coming down from Heaven to Earth on a ladder. Jacob's only response when he wakes up is to name the place a "house of God." The presence of God makes a place a house of God. In the afterglow of the Exodus, the house of God becomes a moveable tent. As long as the cloud resides above the tent of meeting, the people sit and wait. God travels with His people and tabernacles with them in His house. Eventually under Solomon the house promised to King David is built. A permanent house for God among His people.
In the Psalms and Prophets, the image of God's holy house is expanded to the whole city of Jerusalem. The "holy hill" and "holy city" motifs find different expressions under the pen of different authors. The symbolism throughout the Old Testament is easily recognized and affirmed—God's presence makes the location a house of God.
So when we read Gabriel say to Mary "the Lord is with you," we mustn't recoil towards a merely symbolic meaning. Truly, the Lord is with her in His favor, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and eventually in the presence of the Incarnate Word of God. Mary, unlike any other house of God, becomes the vessel in which the Incarnate Son resides. When John the Apostle speaks of how the Lord "tabernacled among us," he meant the incarnation. But the language could also be used for the time in which our Lord—in full Divinity—gestated in the Virgin Mary. She became the house of God, the tabernacle, and a glance forward at the church.
When the Apostle Paul picks up the language in his epistles, he attributes to the individual believer the designation "temple of God" based upon the indwelling Holy Spirit. Mary also had the Holy Spirit come upon her in the conception of Jesus Christ. How much more so the language is applicable to the theotokos who stands as the final typology before the construction of the church. Yes, blessed is she among women. She is truly the Virgin whom was bestowed the grace and favor of God. And as such, she typifies the church.
Just as John the Baptist stands as the last Old Covenant prophet, Mary stands at the front of the New Testament as the final pre-church house of God—particularly for God-with-us, Immanuel. Thus Mary prefigures the church in the most vivid and glorious possible way. Everything attributed to her belongs to the church by grace in the presence and power of Jesus Christ. Which is why the attribution to the church that Satan will be crushed under their feet is validly attributed to Mary—especially as she is the symbolic house of God with the infant Son.
Mary truly is the mother of grace just as the church is now the dispenser of the keys to the kingdom. God's grace flows through the Sacraments and the word preached. Jesus Christ has promised to reside with His church and unit it to Himself. We have been bestowed the power of the Holy Spirit unto faith and new life. A healthy doctrine of the church requires a high view of Mary.
The Second Eve
As we accept Mary as a symbol for the church, we begin to see Mary as a typological step in the direction of the Eschatological—or Second—Eve. Just as Jesus Christ is the Second Adam, we should not pull back from Mary as an important symbol of the Second Eve. Just as Eve was brought to Adam in his sleep, this Second Eve is the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Eschatological Eve is the church catholic whose very existence comes from the broken side of Jesus Christ, the second Adam. The church in partaking of the Lord's Supper and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb becomes one flesh with the Risen Lord. The body is united to the head. The church marries its Savior. And all of this is sufficiently prefigured in the Virgin Mary.
Nowhere is this high view of Mary more noted than in the Reformation's insistence against the Anabaptists that Christ took on the flesh of the Virgin Mary. Christ was miraculously conceived of the Holy Spirit, but his flesh was not distinct from that of His mother. The propagation of Original Sin was miraculously hindered by the empowering of the Holy Spirit and yet the fullness of Mary's human flesh was passed on to the God-man Jesus Christ. Thus, the Virgin Mary is the first to truly become one flesh with the Savior through the power of the Holy Spirit. And more so, she does not do it in merely a symbolic or spiritual way but in the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. In all of this, Mary typifies the church as the first member of the Second Eve.
The Virgin Mary is also the Second Eve in that she gives birth to the Eschatological Seed of the original Adam. She is mother to the Seed promised to crush the serpent—the Seed promised to Eve and her lineage (not explicitly Adam). So just as the Second Adam remains man forever in the Eschaton, so also the Virgin Mary remains a unique a member of the Second Eve—forever the mother who shares flesh with the Eternal Logos. While all of us are members of the Second Eve through union with Jesus Christ, Mary alone is and remains the Mother of the Eternal Son. She forever remains a historical representation and symbol of "Mother Church" bestowed with grace. In this context, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary seems a small thing compared to her being Perpetual Theotokos. It remains a sign that Christ will not be severed from His body or His bride. He will not take another. Those united to Christ are permanently united in body and blood to the Second Adam.
I hope any who began this article fearful of a leaning towards Papist doctrine can breathe easy. I am not supporting the addition of dogmas about Mary. But I fear we've discarded the high view that the early Reformers maintained for Mary simply on a polemical whim. The Reformers were slow to discard the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and yet today we'd rather Mary not get mentioned at all except marginally at the Nativity and Cross. It is a lack of proper Mariology that leads people to adopt the Roman Catholic dogmas.
It is good and right to enjoy the image of Mary and Eve gathering around the promised Seed. It is right to see that in the power of the Holy Spirit and Incarnate son, the church—Mary—crushes the serpent. Any attempt to make Mary into a Mediatrix is to be rejected. But to elevate our view of Mary to the benefit of our doctrine of the Church is entirely fitting for Reformed Christians.