The veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been around for as long as the early Apostles. It emerged in conjunction with the understanding of the dual roles of Jesus Christ, as both fully human and fully divine. As the “Mother of God,” naturally Mary’s position was elevated. In order to be a sanctified vessel for the Son of God to be born, Mary needed to be recognized as having exceptional qualities, similar to Jesus.
The qualities of perpetual virginity, being immaculately conceived herself, and her bodily assumption into heaven were implemented within Roman Catholic Church doctrine from the 16th century. Mariology is the theological study of Mary through written accounts and the subsequent doctrines associated with her throughout the history of Christianity. It is distinct from, albeit related to, the practice of veneration and devotion to Mary.
Here, I explore the underlying circumstances for the prominence of devotion to Mary, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, how it became official dogma, and how official statements about Mary have been somewhat problematic for women of the Church in particular. I also explore how the Unification Movement addresses such issues attributed to Marian devotion, through the current leadership of co-founder, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, and how she is trailblazing a new view on feminine value which may ultimately help reform and encourage women leadership in the Church.
Historical background of the veneration of Mary
Given that so little is said about Mary in the Bible, it is amazing how the church as a whole, and Roman Catholic Church in particular, adores Mary. The rise of Mary came naturally as a consequence of the church developing its Christology, and the idea of Jesus being both fully human and fully divine. The term Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer,” was ascribed to Mary by the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 CE.
This was in contrast to the idea of Mary as Christotokos, or “Christ-bearer,” meaning Mary was the mother of Christ only in the sense of his body, but not his divine nature. Theotokos was not to make the assumption that from Mary’s body came the Word of God, but rather, as theologian Raymond Potgieter notes, Mary “was the vessel through which the eternal Word was incarnated in [the holy body of] Jesus Christ.” At the Council at Ephesus, Mary’s special role, not only as divine mother, but divine virgin mother, became clear.
Eventually the church credited her with titles like Mistress of the World, Queen of Heaven, and Mother of God. The early church historian and apologist, Irenaeus, called her the “New Eve,” as her son, Jesus, was the “New Adam.” Mary “obeyed” God, “whereas ‘the virgin’ Eve, did not.” Additional theological statements pertaining to Mary began from the 4th century, with church fathers such as Jerome and Origen promoting the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The Council of Chalcedon, which reaffirmed Mary’s status as Theotokos, did not address the issue of her perpetual virginity, but by that time it was accepted within the larger ecclesial tradition. It was only a matter of time for the idea of the virgin Mary to be sinless.
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