Well, I am not nearly as far in my Patristic reading as I had hoped to be at this point, but I am making progress. I wanted to provide some brief thoughts about Mary, since I am reading more about her than normal! What I find interesting about Mariology is that it tends to blossom with time. Once the virgin birth began to be read in terms of purity, it seems, there was a tendency for that purity to overflow as far as the church would let it. But as I think a bit more about the virgin birth, it seems to me that Cyril of Alexandria, building upon Athanasius’ Christology, had the right resources to talk about this in a different, and, in my mind, more fruitful way. The virgin birth, it seems possible, is meant to highlight the singular personhood of the Son of God. Gregory of Nazianzus is helpful here:
Since a question is being mooted concerning the divine ‘inmanning,’ or ‘fleshing,’ you should expressly declare to all, in reference to ourselves, that we treat the Son of God begotten of the Father and thereafter of the Virgin Mary as a single item, and that we do not name two sons but worship one and the same Son in undivided Godhead and honor” (The Second Letter to Cledonius the Presbyter).
Rather than seeing the virgin birth as necessary purity for Christ, I wonder if it would be better to see it as necessary for the missions to image the processions. Put more simply, Jesus had to be born to a virgin because he already has a Father. Think about this along the lines of the theotokos controversy. Mary is the mother of God. Or, to put this another way, Jesus as God has a father by his nature, and Jesus as man has a mother by his nature. And yet, as man, Jesus has a father – a fatherhood which points back to the processions because of the singular person of the Son of God.
Cyril of Alexandria makes a broady similar point, this time in reference to the Holy Spirit rather than the Father. The birth of Christ by the Holy Spirit is based on his mission to “reconstitute our condition within himself,” paving the way for salvation by being the first born of the Holy Spirit. But, again, this is in direct reference to the Father: “He wanted us to have this intellectual regeneration and spiritual assimilation to himself, who is the true and natural Son, so that we too might be able to call God our Father…” (On the Unity of Christ).
I think that the near obsession with the question of original sin has plagued Mary and her legacy as the theotokos. Furthermore, by making her role one of purity, there were few boundaries set up for this not to overflow into other doctrines. Any thoughts?