Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Feast of St. Irenaeus

Today is the feast day of St. Irenaeus, 2nd century defender of the early Catholic faith. I am often fond of citing one of my favorite readings from his work "Against Heresies", Book III, Ch. 22 which portrays Mary as the New Eve:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise "they were both naked, and were not ashamed," inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty...

And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.
While Eve was made the cause of death to the entire human race, Mary became the cause of salvation to the whole human race. Through her obedience to God, she freely and willfully bore the Savior of the world in her womb.

Monday, June 27, 2005

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonderworker)

There is an interesting pious legend concerning what is said to be one of the first recorded visits of the Blessed Mother to an earthly man. Apparently, the account records the divine vision of John the Evangelist together with the Blessed Mother to St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, 3rd century Bishop of Caesarea. Such a vision was said to have helped Gregory elucidate the truth of the Trinitarian God, equipping him with the confidence and grace necessary to go forth and preach.

The account of the visit is recorded by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his work, "The Life of Gregory the Wonderworker."
At night he beheld the foundation of the faith. Various thoughts troubled him, for certain people perverted true teaching and often obscured it through persuasive, clever attempts.

As he laid awake, there appeared to him in a vision an aged person in human form adorned with solemn raiment and whose countenance was striking by great virtue and kindness in addition to the integrity his form... After quieting his fear, [the aged man] said in a soft voice that a divine order bade him to appear, the reasons of which were obscure to [Gregory], in order to reveal the truth of correct belief and to encourage him to speak while gazing upon him with both joy and respect. Then the old man suddenly extended his hand and with his finger pointed to something which appeared near him which was a splendid female form instead of a male one... Not only was [Gregory] revered with regard to true knowledge of faith but recognized the names of each man who appeared when they called each other by their respective names. It is claimed that this vision of a female form told [Gregory] that the evangelist John was exhorted to manifest the mystery of truth to a young man, saying that she was chosen to be the mother of the Lord whom she cherished. He also said that this fitting vision had vanished again from his sight. He was immediately ordered to write down this divine revelation and later proclaim it in the church. In this way it became for others a divinely given legacy through which the people might repulse any evil of heresy. The words of that revelation are as follows:
There is One God, Father of the living Word (who consists of wisdom, power and who is the eternal pattern), perfect Begetter of who is perfect, Father of the Only Begotten Son.

There is One Lord alone from him who is alone, God from God, pattern and image of the divinity, mighty Word, wisdom which encompasses everything, true Son of true Father, unseen [Son] of the unseen [Father], immortal [Son] of the immortal [Father], and eternal [Son] of the eternal [Father].

There is One Holy Spirit whose life is from God and who was made manifest through the Son (as well as to men), perfect image of the perfect Son, living source of those who are alive, holy provider of sanctity in whom God the Father appeared who is above all and in all, and God the Son who is in all.

A Perfect Trinity to whom belongs glory, eternity and kingship which can never change. (Thus the Trinity is not created, has anything else which claims to be first, nor is there anything which exists that can be introduced later. Similarly, the Son neither lacks the Father nor does the Spirit lack the Son; rather, the Trinity forever remains immutable and constant.)
...After that vision had filled him with confidence and courage, much like an athlete who competes in a contest after having acquired stamina from a trainer, he strips himself for the stadium and prepares for the struggle. In similar fashion, so does [Gregory] exercise himself and the assistance of grace which appeared to him anoints his soul and makes it worthy to undergo the contest... After leaving his solitude, [Gregory] at once hastened to the city where he felt obliged to establish a church for God.
Of course, the authenticity of the account is questionable, but I find it an interesting record nonetheless... a private revelation from God, given through the Blessed Mother and John the Evangelist, so that an essential truth, revealed by God in the person of Jesus Christ, might be articulated more fully.


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