Throughout her entire life, Mary is completely one with herself. She is simply a human being who is always satisfied with her given state of life. As a child, she is a child among children. In her rounded personality, she experiences fully the state of childhood, as it corresponds to her age. But she does not shut herself off from the outside world. She simply is what she is without reflecting upon it: a playing child, a learning child, a knowing child. She distinguishes herself from Eve by remaining perfectly open and willing (without especially underscoring her willingness) for everything new that is given her by God, or perhaps more generally, for everything good that comes to her from good. Since she is without sin, there is nothing in her to hinder this reception.
Thus God does not constantly represent a problem for her. She possesses an open naturalness, a self-ease and happy-go-lucky nature, which knows no scruples and is not constrained by any self-preoccupation in its readiness for all good things in the surrounding world. She does not have the “conscience” of a sinner, who is compelled to question himself all the time about whether and to what extent and in what way and with what effect, and so on. She naively loves all good things. She knows that God always gives her good things, even though they do not always expressly lead to a pious act or to a conscious prayer.
It is this unproblematic openness that allows her to give her answer to the angel. She recognizes God’s messenger in the angel and, in him, God. She therefore sees in him the opportunity to open herself guilelessly to him, just as she stands open to everything that comes from God. There is certainly the question of how she, as a virgin, is to give birth. She cannot see an answer to this but knows that the answer lies in God. She does not ask about this on the grounds that she might only give her Yes under certain conditions, but rather she asks in order to be better able to give her unconditional Yes. She knows that nothing will be required of her other than this Yes. God will take care of all the necessaries. Nor is this Yes simply supra worldly or otherworldly. Within it resides the perfection of her creatureliness, of her personal uniqueness in being able to say Yes to everything good in the world and in her life. It is an act of total submission and servitude to God, but also an affirmation of everything good in his work. She knows, of course, that it concerns the most earnest, the most responsible things in Israel’s expectation and in her faith, things into which she enters through her Yes. In addition, however, she also knows that she is one of God’s creatures, whose nature and joys and human everyday life are granted by the Creator: she knows that God speaks to her not only through great but also through the most inconspicuous occurrences. And, because she is completely one, these two spheres do not diverge from one another. There is not one part of her consecrated to God and another left to her own care, but rather there are various ways of considering her intact unity. Through her Yes to God, she chooses neither a cloistered existence remote from the world nor a special form of asceticism. What was and is in her is not denied, since it originates in God and coheres to his goodness. In her Yes resides such wholeness that there is room in it for everything. She will doubtless have to do without and persevere through hardship, but everything lies in the hands of God, and she will do nothing on her own to sacrifice other things that God wants to leave to her. She will not deny her being or her gifts or her life, in the form in which God has given it to her, so long as God does not explicitly demand this. She will not rush into her gift of self or take charge of things of which God apparently does not wish to take charge just now, though at any moment he might: this may mean doing without things, or it may mean deliberately fostering them. Thus, in the handmaid of the Lord, humanity also continues to exist as God created it and as it should be according to his will.
God the Father and God the Son have now resolved upon the Incarnation of the Son, and the Son has chosen Mary as his Mother. He has sought her out, not simply on the grounds of her general characteristics as a woman, but also because she is this personality with these specific characteristics. He makes himself dependent on her body, but also on her entire being, her life, and her surroundings. He chooses her because, as Mother, she accepts him. As man, he will be the son of this mother. He will be physically and spiritually tied to her in the way that human children are to their parents. He chooses this truly human tie in order to acknowledge and affirm, in the blessed humanity of his Mother, the essence of human nature as the Father desired it and to give to this nature a new impulse toward the divine. She is the true creation, as it emerges from the hands of the Creator and returns to God without distancing itself or severing its unity. And he, God, will live in her. But she, this special human being, is at the same time just a human being. She is therefore a human being who stands in place of all other human beings. All others will live through him in her, the pre-redeemed. She is the one human being who lives in unity with God. Yet this unity stands for all unities that all men as men represent or should represent. She is simply the first and most successful example.
In bearing the Son within her, her human unity has been stamped with a new character. God the Son is in her, while being distinct from her, insofar as he is completely incomparable. Yet he belongs to her unity, first, because he has chosen her and, also, because, through his life in her, he actually extends and strengthens her unity toward the Father and toward the triune God in general: her entire spiritual-physical, supernatural-natural unity. Bearing the Son, the Mother is no less a human being than she was before. She is a human being furnished with exceptional new characteristics. But she has remained herself, indeed, she has become more and more fulfilled and more and more herself at each stage of the way. It would be perverse to think that the pinnacle of her personal life was her Yes to the angel or the birth on Christmas night and that thereafter it was all sort of downhill. Rather, it has to be said that she remains a human being in the fulfillment given her, in an opening to God that can at any time be extended or reshaped as God desires but never again made narrower. God deflects all obstacles that might alienate her from him. Mary is the full human being who has within her the whole space to which God lays claim. Yet God neither hollows her out nor wants her to be less human in his favor. He rather sets about revealing the complete fullness and differentiatedness of her being and, thereby, the being of man in general. A relationship to God and to eternity is always the opposite of making all things equal: differentiation. The Son chooses as his Mother the one human being who belongs completely to God and in whom there is nothing that could be turned against the Father. It could be thought that in doing this the Son makes things easy for himself. He prepares himself a nest in which everyone would be more than happy to sit. Would it not have been better to choose a sinner whom he could convert through his coming? But that is not at issue now. In the choice of Mary resides his utmost regard for the Father: the Son wants to show him that the human being whom he, the Father, had in mind at the creation actually does exist. And Mary is so loyal to the Father that in her own Son she sees both the one who has been appointed by the Father (for she is always one with the Father’s will) and increasingly, through the Son, the Father himself. However, it will be much harder for the Son to take her, the innocent, with him into his Passion and to make use of her purity in a way that involves her in the work of redemption and makes her Co-redemptrix. It will be much harder to involve one who is immaculate in all this than a convert, who has many personal things for which to atone and therefore gladly cooperates in bearing a share of the common guilt. The sacrificing of the Mother here approaches the killing of the “innocents.”
The Son’s resolve to save the world is a divine and therefore an eternal resolve. But, from the outset, this divine resolve contains within it his human resolve: the Yes that he gives as man to his existence as God. Indeed, he does this not merely as a possibility but as a reality. When the Son in heaven resolves before the Father to become man, his human Yes is contained in his divine Yes as a real, human Yes. His human existence inside his existence as God is already effective and proclaimed in his resolve. An analogy that may help to clarify this mystery is that of a saint in heaven, in the full redeemed existence of eternal life, who nonetheless stands by the things he did on earth in faith as part of his divine mission. The intactness of his personal unity has not been infringed by his going to heaven, and it now includes what was good for its human existence on earth in faith. In this way, saints in heaven continue to accomplish the mission they performed on earth and to remain faithful to it without interruption. Admittedly, this is eternity after time on earth, whereas for the Son eternity is before the Incarnation, which nonetheless includes the earthly. But the fact that the blessed were already human beings, whereas the Son must first become a human being plays no role here, because the Son is God, who has the whole of eternity “before” and “after” the Incarnation at his disposal. And, as he becomes man, he does not cast off his divinity. Therefore, even though he wants to become man as fully as possible in order to carry out his task of being man as best as possible, he will relinquish nothing of his divine perfection. He will preserve both intact: the actual realization of his resolve to become man and to enter the sphere of time and creatureliness; and his eternal divine nature as the Son of the Father, who has made this resolve and now carries it out. In both he is the same indivisible personality of which both are equally the expression. In the world, he is one who is both man and God. But in heaven, before the Incarnation, he has already lived a certain quality of his human existence insofar as he was, from eternity, the one who resolved earnestly to become and to be man, the one who in doing so already—even though he was completely free—included something human in his divinity.
He then becomes man in the Mother, whom he has chosen for himself; man within the sight of the Father, but man in such a unified and personal way that on the Cross he will eventually spurn both the Mother and the Father. In doing so, he shows his highest unity with himself, his personal unity, his divine-human unity, which is strong enough to be both God and Man simultaneously; a unity no more questionable or divisible than the unity of the Father or of the Holy Spirit. But this divine-human unity is not only valid for him but is simultaneously formed for our sake. In it resides the prototype for the unity of the Church and also for the unity of each of the appointed: the unity of man and office. It is also the prototype for the unity of the Mother with the Church. Everything that is uniform in God is exemplified in the Son’s divine-human unity, all the things that at a given time may seem new or different in the most diverse nuances, cross-sections, and transformations and that, nonetheless, possess a valid unity in God and before God in the definitive oneness of the Son’s being.
At the creation, God did indeed create and establish his attitude toward man not only as one of distance but also as one of relationship and, subsequently, as a form of unity. Man could have been, and could have become, what God had intended him to be, a creature who is one through its willingness to receive God at any time in the manner in which he chooses to communicate himself. And man’s unity would then actually have been fixed and hardened because he would have remained pliable in his becoming out of God; he would have preserved that becoming out of which God’s being would forever have brought forth; he would have allowed himself to be formed by God in such a way that his own human becoming would have thrived on this dialogue, and, as a result, he would have received and experienced his human unity.
This would not have happened either by lagging behind his call and challenge or through a self-satisfied selection and underscoring of a single part, but rather by keeping fluid—within his essence and being—that which God would have instilled in and communicated to him. That would have been his unity. But man has now fallen and cut himself off from a fluid exchange with God. He has turned from God and erected before him a kind of windowless wall in which there is no longer an opening for God.
Yet, when the Son becomes man in Mary, what was originally intended is reestablished in a sort of super-fulfillment. The spiritual unity between God and man, in which man’s unity should be established, is made so very clear and concrete that it assumes bodily forms. Mary conceives God within herself; she con-ceives him bodily because she re-ceives him spiritually in a perfect way and because this bodily conception has as its goal a sort of antidote to the expulsion of Adam—a new creation of human unity. Its object is the becoming concrete of what was spiritually intended, a demonstration of that which Adam and Eve misunderstood. God the Father’s place in man is represented bodily by the Son in the Mother. Mary’s genuine being and becoming is fulfilled through her acceptance of the Son. Even though she bears the Son within her and allows herself to be formed through him, she does not thereby alienate herself from other people or from herself; she experiences and performs her prime personal mission; she fulfills her task and adheres to becoming what God intended for her. Her unity is crowned by the Son. In remaining herself, she becomes the one who has given birth to the Son, the one who is the Mother of all Christians.
And in becoming this, she becomes entirely herself. She has remained willing to accept everything; she has lived in constant expectation of God’s will and, as a result, has received her Son, not as something foreign or as something imposed on her from outside, but rather as something of her own, something intended by God for her as her own. In remaining completely open for him, she has allowed the Son to work within her as he pleased. But in this openness she has realized herself as God had intended her most personal being for her. This is Mary’s unity.
The unity of the Son resides in his being God and, as God, becoming man from Mary. As God, he takes on the human life from her that, on the other hand, he has in part brought from heaven as the seed of God. His being human originates partly from God and partly from Mary. As man, too, he is partly from heaven and partly from earth, because the Holy Spirit has overshadowed Mary. As God-Man, he submits to the cycle of the maternal organism and lives from its strengths and vital forces. In letting himself act from this organism, he acts in his Mother; in allowing himself to be fulfilled by her, he fulfills her. He receives from that which she—as the human being of unity—has to give him. Thus he receives nothing that is divided but only that which is uniformly human, just as the Father planned at the creation. For this reason it was important for Mary to be open to all created good. There is something here like a reverse image: the Son lives not only from and for the Father’s divinity, which he finds to a degree in the Mother, but he also lives from the good in humanity, which lies in her and which she can offer to him. When the Creator finished his work, he saw that it was very good. It would be perverse to believe that the Son should find in the Mother only what God has bestowed on her as a special grace: he finds in her the human good that inserts itself without opposition into his unity, the human good that conforms to, nourishes, and, above all, makes possible his human form. It is hardly necessary to say that the unity of the Mother with the Son and the unity of the Son with Mother—where they encounter one another, where the Mother receives the Son and the Son receives the Mother—must coincide completely. It is possible to talk here without hesitation of an enduring, inexpressible reciprocal relationship that is impossible to investigate because it can no longer be ascertained which part was performed by whom. There is nothing worthwhile to be said further about this. The Son certainly gives the Mother more than the Mother gives the Son. But it is wrong to attempt to reduce the mystery to a transparent proportion.
Naturally, the Son as God enacts the christological unity. But, in doing so, he borrows the human from humanity. And he borrows as much from fallen humanity as he does from Mary. Had there only been Mary, he would not have needed to become man. He becomes man for the sake of the fallen. Within his divine spirit, he therefore owes something of his becoming man to this fallen humanity; he takes from it the concrete cause and the concrete form of his Incarnation: the descent into suffering. In order thus to descend, however, he needs the Mother, whom, being pre-redeemed, he can contrast with sinners.
This article was excerpted from Adrienne von Speyr's Mary in the Redemption, Ignatius, 2003.