Mary’s Advent in Anglo-Saxon England
The conventional wisdom on women in Anglo-Saxon literature is that, with few exceptions, women are presented in exact opposition to active, heroic male characters: they are idealized, passive objects who are qualified in terms of the Virgin Mary or the temptress Eve (Chance xiii-xiv). Female characters have no independent agency; they are active only in terms of the degrees of power allowed them through male figures, as through marriage or Divine intervention. Traditionally, the Virgin Mary has been seen in just such a light: she is an asexual, passive vehicle who in her obedience and nurturing is “perfect maiden, wife, and mother” (xvii). However, Mary’s appearance in the Old English “Advent Lyrics” defies such a classification. She is not a passive vehicle through which God works his will, but a woman with a voice of her own and who is active in her fate. This characterization of Mary is unique, and is an early literary result of the Marian cult that began to flourish in England during the sixth century.
Mariology’s development in England was twofold: there was an initial wave of Virgin worship between the seventh and ninth centuries in the north, followed by a flourishing Marianism in the south between the tenth and eleventh centuries. England was by no means unique in its cult of the Virgin. Indeed, many of its key elements were taken directly from Roman sources. The Advent Lyrics were originally written during the initial wave of Marian piety: they were most likely written in Mercia in the early ninth century, and later rewritten in the latter tenth century during the flowering of the southern centers of Marian worship. An overview of Mariological development aids in fully understanding both the relevance of the lyrics and how they departed from liturgical standards.
Early Patristic studies of the Virgin Mary began with Ignatius of Antioch, the first to refer to the Virgin. He was prompted by question concerning how Mary’s humanity contributed to Christ’s dual human and divine natures, as “the Christ who had no earthly father took his human form from a mother” (Stafford 79-80). Through Mary, Christ inherited his human guise, yet this discussion introduced the problem of Original Sin. If Mary was tainted by Eve’s legacy, then Christ’s perfection would be cast into doubt. A debate arose questioning Mary’s own birth, for only if she was born without sin to her own parents, Anna and Joachim, could she become the pure vessel required of God. While some Fathers, such as Origen, denied Mary’s absolute sinlessness, the majority, including Augustine, insisted on her perfection (Clayton 5). To clarify this idea, the Virgin was defined, beginning with Justin the Martyr, in opposition to Eve. The parallels between the two were natural, as both were born immaculate and were identified primarily as mothers. Mary became known as the second Eve, “the obedient rather than disobedient virgin” who is foreshadowed in the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 (Wood 54). Whereas Eve’s temptation initiated exclusion from paradise and characterized women as morally suspect, Mary redeemed women as she was anointed by God to carry his child. While Eve generated mankind, Mary was the Dei genetrix and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that “A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). As the new Eve, Mary was both mother of God and mother of mankind. As such, she had the capacity to interact between the two, thus her ability to intercede with God on behalf of humanity. Irenaeus of Lyon first discussed this central element of Mariology in the second century (Clayton 5). In this development, Mary is clearly seen as comforter and mother to mankind
Mary’s purity remained an issue, but she was proclaimed ever virgin–even through pregnancy and childbirth–by Pope Siricus in 390 and codified at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (Warner 67). Some have seen the Patristic interest in Mary’s virginity as a misogynistic denial of her femininity that “subordinates her to masculine desire and that relegate her [Mary’s] existence to her relationships with masculine figures” (Dockray-Miller 41). Similarly, there is a view that “by practicing chastity, a woman relinquishes that which makes her female [because] Female sexuality inhibited an active social and political role for women because of the religious view that women were naturally passionate and the cause of man’s Fall” (Chance 53). In other words, a woman’s femininity resides in her sexuality; to be chaste means to become non-female, and only when a woman loses her femininity can she be permitted authority. However, some scholars may have forgotten that, to the early church Fathers, virginity was a virtue desirable in both sexes. They believed that virginity reflected a spiritual unity that rejected earthly desires, be they carnal or material. The special focus on Mary’s virginity was because the “Fathers [. . .] recognized it as a sign of paradisal wholeness, but it is more than that: [Mary’s purity] is sacramental, representing the spiritual integrity of the church [. . .]” (Wood 64). As Mary becomes increasingly identified with the church in Christian literature, this view of her chastity, and of its significance, is well worth noting.
The Patristic study of Mary’s purity and divine motherhood, along with the perception of her as New Eve and universal mother, culminated in the institution of four feast days in her honor–those of the Virgin’s nativity, annunciation, dormition (death), and assumption into heaven. These celebrations were gradually introduced throughout the Christian world beginning in the seventh century. The feasts of the Virgin traveled to England, and beginning at this point, the Anglo-Saxon clergy developed Marian worship in a distinctly unique manner; “insular writers of the late seventh and early eighth centuries made the next significant contributions to western Mariology” (Clayton 14). Bishop Wilfrid of York (634-709) was acquainted with Marianism while in Rome, and he is credited with promoting the cult of the Virgin in England. According to Eddius’ Life of Wilfrid, the bishop’s introduction to the virgin was reinforced on his return to England: he was visited by the Archangel Michael who encouraged Wilfrid to seek the Virgin’s aid as intercessor with God and Christ. The archangel promised that, in exchange for venerating the Virgin, Wilfrid would receive a long life and monastic lands (Hollis 172). Wilfrid immediately proceeded to dedicate churches to the Virgin and to include her in prayer.
Wilfrid was based at Ripon, Northumbria, and he’d founded religious houses in Mercia. His influence may have contributed to the flourishing of Mariology within that region between the seventh and ninth centuries when the English “eagerly read Marian texts, had begin to celebrate her feats, prayed to her, and depicted her in their art“ (Clayton 267). Wilfrid certainly impacted the English approach to Mary: Irish works indicate that, in the western islands, she was venerated chiefly as a mother, whereas Wilfrid’s Roman version focused on Mary primarily as a virgin bride who was “modest, submissive, and amenable to ecclesiastical discipline” (Hollis 174). Yet Wilfrid also honored the Virgin as a maternal figure–she was “his heavenly protector and giver of life” (175). As with other examples of Marian literature, the differing figures are often conflated and, at times, are used interchangeably. In contrast to the idea that Wilfrid’s version of Mary was valued as a submissive female, she was approached in prayer as a woman of great power. Although not God, she is assumed to have a voice and is able to exert some influence with God in appealing for mercy on humanity’s behalf.
Three early prayer books, probably Northumbrian, contain examples of pleas to Mary. These were written between the eighth and ninth centuries, and they celebrate the Virgin’s mercy, purity, and grandeur while asking for her intercession on the penitent’s behalf (Clayton 120). A specific example of such prayers is included in the Book of Cerne. The prayer was written by a Northumbrian writer, Alchfrith, in the eighth century: “Holy Mary, glorious mother of God and ever virgin, who deserved to bear a saviour for the world, hear me and have mercy on me now and everywhere, on account of the honour and glory of your most excellent virginity” (qtd. in Mayr-Harting 187). While this is a sedate illustration of Marian prayer, Alchfrith’s appeal speaks to those exact Marian qualities debated by the early church Fathers, but she is no passive virgin bride. Although the writer emphasizes her chastity, it is not a matter of real sexuality. Mary’s purity is a symbol of her spiritual perfection and its reward in her motherhood. That the poet believes she deserved the reward implies that Mary consciously earned rather than passively accepted her divine role. It is these qualities that are expounded on in the “Advent Lyrics.”
Although this series of twelve poems is included in the tenth century Exeter Book, Mary Clayton argues that linguistic evidence, as well as similarities between the verses and contemporary art and other recorded prayers, prove that the original poet was probably a Mercian monk of the early ninth century (206). A scribe later copied this monk’s work in the latter part of the tenth century (180). The poet’s ultimate focus is Christ’s role on earth and as heavenly lord, but his characterization of Mary is unique; the lyrics offer a varied portrait of the Virgin Mary as mother, sacred bride, second Eve, and representative of Christ’s church. He also presents her as an active player in both the mystery of Christ’s birth and in aiding humanity.
The poems are a seasonal meditation on Christ’s role as savior. The poet based some of them on eight of the Latin O’s, antiphons intended to be “sung at Vespers, because it was at the evening of the world [. . .] that the Messiah came, and attached to the Magnificat, to indicate that the awaited Saviour will come to us through Mary” (Burlin 40). The approach to Christmas was a time to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s birth, and Mary was necessarily included in this meditation, but the Old English poet extended his inclusion of the Virgin beyond the two Latin O’s that focus on her. Certainly, the lyrics’ primary focus is Christ’s role as Emmanuel, the wallstone, the mystery of his human and divine nature, as well as the Christian promise of Paradise, but it is here that the figure of Mary demonstrates a power and authority unlike that granted to most female characters in Old English literature. She is, at times, a passive figure, but she is largely active–a participant in the Incarnation, a representative of human virtues, and a mother to mankind. Uniquely, she also speaks in two of the poems (III and VII), and this “is indicative of the poet’s desire to have her articulate the discourse of power which operates through her” (Pigg 114). The poet appears to believe that Mary is a woman of authority, as universal mother–as kin–she is available to vocalize about the power and sanctity of the heavenly mysteries.
The Virgin Mary first appears in the second set of lyrics during praise for Christ‘s role as Lord of Life, governor of the locks of Paradise, and the bringer of light into an unworthy world of sin and ignorance (II. 2-14). Mary is referred to in support of Christ’s role as redeemer and in relation to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. In this section, she is purely passive. Mary is shown as a chaste young girl who is selected as mother by her future child. There is no action on the virgin’s part. Moreover, she is the bride who is “magnified” by her child’s birth rather than by any independent action of her own (21). Yet here is also the first occurrence of Mary’s multiple roles. Just as God and Christ are one in the trinity, so Mary is the elected mother as well as the virgin bride, which recalls not only her betrothal to Joseph, but also her position as Bride of Christ.
The poet notes that nothing like the virginal birth has happened previously, and he asserts that Mary’s appearance as a woman without peer–“no merit of woman existed in the world” is without precedent, and has not reoccurred since (22-4). The poet’s imagination takes hold; as he explains her virtue “a quickening awe develops, growing out of the mention of Mary” (Campbell “Patterns” 247). From this point, he develops a metaphor that combines natural imagery with Biblical prophecy. As “all spiritual gifts sprang up throughout the earth; / then many a shoot became illumined [. . .]” (II. 27-8). Mary, as mortal woman, is the earth in which heaven’s gift of Christ takes root, bursts forth, and reveals truth. This metaphor also references The Jesse Tree, which traces Jesus’ genealogical line. Mary, a shoot, from David’s line, fulfills ancient prophecies in bearing Christ, the light-giving bud (and termination of the Jesse Tree) who illumines the sinful world‘s gloom: “the combination of natural growth and the divine agency of conception [. . .] is now repeated in relation to the prophecies of that event” (Burlin 73). The human-divine duality of Christ’s birth is reinforced as the earthly soil, Godly influence, and “the chants of the prophets” work together to bring light to a suffering people.
Although Mary is presented as a passive player in the Christian mystery–her role is assigned rather than actively earned–Lyric II illustrates Mary’s importance not simply in the mystery, but in her significance as a symbol. She is celebrated simultaneously as virgin, bride, and mother. More roles appear, and she becomes more active, as the Advent cycle progresses, but her relevance those qualities that appear to ensure her passivity–her purity and receptivity–become active strengths that peak in the later Lyrics.
Lyric III is addressed to Jerusalem, the city of Holy Joy that awaits the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. The name Jerusalem actually signifies a number of meanings: the heavenly city, the body of the church, and the figure of Mary (Campbell Advent 16). The poet segues from one meaning to the next relying on the reader’s familiarity with tradition for understanding. The opening, a call to Jerusalem, redefined over the course of four lines, transforms into a celebration of the Virgin as Jerusalem: “Never a touch of vileness / in that region is ever seen, / rather every crime is exiled far from you /every evil and struggle“ (III. 5-8). She, like the heavenly city, is sinless and joyful, and, most significantly, the poet asserts that “Heaven’s King Makes his home in you, as long ago / wise prophets predicted [. . .]” (14-5). The identification of Mary with the Church is not uncommon and springs from her dual role as mother and bride of Christ, for Christ‘s “Incarnation and the founding of the terrestrial church are simultaneous acts” (Burlin 20). Mary birthed the Holy Spirit just as she birthed Christ. While she is celebrated throughout Lyric III as Christ’s home, she remains passive. Mary must wait with the Christian community for the promised King of Heaven. The active option is only available to the king. The promise to Jerusalem–the sacred birth and the redeeming lord–flows into the next section, which separates Mary from her symbolic role and grants her a voice. Lyric IV is a dialogue between the Virgin and Jerusalem’s children who question her about the virgin birth.
The absolute mystery of the divine birth cannot be understood by mortals, Eve’s children and heirs to her sin only know the pain of life, for procreation begins in sin and leads not to joy, but to grief, and death (IV. 15-7). The children of Jerusalem disbelieve and wonder to hear of another reality: a sinless, joyous birth that runs contrary to all they know. Mary’s response to their queries is, initially, a rebuke: “What is this wonderment whereby you marvel, / and sorrowing lament in grief, / son of Salem and his daughter” (19-21). She informs the questioners that she is unable to relate her secrets–the mystery is to remain closed to mankind. In this, Mary becomes an active participant in the mystery. She is an earthly woman, but her knowledge is divine, and this awareness–or familiarity–of the heavenly plan sets her apart from the rest of humanity. Her tone softens when she relates what she can explain, which is that through Christ’s birth to “the dear kinswoman of David / that the sin of Eve is all nullified” (26-7). Early Christian poets often placed Mary and Eve in opposition to “inform the characterization of their feminine heroes and thus to enhance the imagery and structural unity of the poems” (Chance 16). Here the contrast highlights both the differences between Eve and Mary and the similarities. Eve was created without sin and was the mother of mankind; likewise, Mary was created without sin and was mother of the New Adam. Although Eve’s temptation led to expulsion from Paradise, her legacy has been lifted with the mystery of a simultaneously human and divine birth (Burlin 95). In Mary, not only has the curse of a joyless, grief-stricken life been lifted, but the female sex has been “made great” and reinstated alongside men as spiritual equals: “Now hope is received / that blessing may rest with both together, / with men and women always henceforth / in the exalted joy of the angels / with the True Father forever [. . .]” (IV. 29-33). Men and women alike are embraced in Christ’s promise, and both are granted hope for eternity. In this, Mary acts as mother to all, first rebuking Jerusalem’s children–the Christian congregation–for their curiosity, and then reassuring them of the Christian reward: life eternal alongside the angels and God. Here Mary speaks with an authority achieved from her familiarity with the Divine, and she does so in a tone that belongs to no meek creature. She is an agent of the Divine, a speechmaker who addresses both sexes rather than to women alone.
Section V is reminiscent of section II as the poet addresses Christ as the “brightest of angels” and asks the “God of God” to return to Earth to “illumine” those who’ve lived “in continual night / enshrouded in sin” and under the cloud of death (14). The Virgin again becomes a passing figure. She’s mentioned briefly in support of Christ’s perfection as the poet writes that Christ “has become / flesh free from stain which the virgin bore / as a help to the miserable” (19-21). Whether Christ’s birth or the Virgin‘s womb is what provided “help to the miserable” is not clear. It could be that Mary’s presence is intended as an aid or help to humanity rather than Christ who offers Christians more than assistance. Moreover, reading the line as a comment on Mary’s aid to humanity adds the idea that she actively gave her womb to Christ in order to help humankind. Rather than a passive vessel, she becomes an active participant in birthing the Son of God and Son of Man together to live “in harmony among people” (23).
The dialogue of Section VII is a definite change from the standard format of the “Advent Lyrics”; and the poet’s form works to explicate Mary, to “praise the character and significance of the Virgin” (Campbell, “Patterns” 247). This is also the most problematic of the Advent Lyrics. It is a complex conversation between Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, who is caught between the whispers he hears in public and his loyalty to the Virgin. The problem lies in where one line of dialogue ends and the second begins. Translators and critics vary in their assignation of these lines: Jackson Campbell believes Mary introduces the dialogue and speaks until line three (Advent 59), whereas Robert Burlin thinks Mary speaks until line twelve (113). The differing views serve to delineate the speakers’ psychologies rather than determine the poem’s outcome. In Campbell’s view, Mary begins the dialogue by asking why Joseph must desert her. Joseph responds that he is worried that he is “despoiled of honor” due to her pregnancy. Mary insists that she’s never found fault or guilt in him, but that he acts “as if you yourself of every sin / of crimes were filled” (VII. 17-8). Joseph recounts that he’s heard gossip, and he fears Mary’s possible betrayal. He has reached a conundrum, for if he speaks against Mary she’ll be stoned as an adulteress, and if he keeps silent he is a cuckold, and therefore doomed to live in disgrace among people.
The second division of the dialogue, which Burlin and Mary Clayton finds more appropriate, features a much longer initial Marian speech in which she is the one who feels betrayed (Clayton 191-2). Mary becomes more direct in this version, which is more in keeping with the Lyric’s conclusion. She asks Joseph why he is casting off her love and explains that she is subjected to “many great sorrows and hurtful speeches” (VII. 7). In this reading, Joseph is concerned and asks why she weeps. It is Joseph who insists that he never found fault in Mary, but he is too pained from the “hateful talk” of people who knew he was betrothed to a virgin (20-26). Here, Joseph’s decision to remain with Mary or desert her becomes bitterer, albeit honest.
Mary’s response to either reading is the full disclosure of her condition. Mary insists on her purity, and in a departure from scripture and tradition, she informs Joseph that she was told by the Archangel Gabriel of God’s plan, and that she would be “illumine [d] with splendor” in carrying the Son of God. She was “granted” the honor. Mary refers to herself as “I [God’s] temple am / made without spot”, which is a common analogy in liturgical works, but here it
takes a special meaning if we remember the Mary’s role as an allegory for the Christian church. Mary directs Joseph to be grateful, for not only has Mary been miraculously impregnated, but Joseph is fortunate to be considered the divine child’s father. Joseph, himself a descendent of David, a shoot of the Jesse Tree, is a part of the ancient prophecy. Mary’s speech underscores the didactic function of this Lyric. The movement “from Mary’s initial wonder, through [the] stages of Joseph’s gradual revelation of his doubts, to Mary’s realization and explanation of the mystery of the virgin birth and her eternal virginity” is intended to illustrate and intensify theological understanding (Campbell “Patterns” 251). Mary takes on the role as teacher, but she is also aware of her role as Christ’s mother, and that God had selected her. As in Lyric III, “Mary is the bearer of heaven’s power–through her, power functions” (Pigg 118). Mary has moved beyond passivity and speaks with authority.
Section IX, based on the Latin “O mundi domina” is a direct address to the Virgin which makes clear that it was Mary’s sacrifice of her virginity to God that prompted the archangel’s visit. She is the “Great One of the world,” the chosen bride who the highest order of angels celebrate because the “holy power” has made her sovereign of heaven, earth, and hell. Because of her single-mindedness to forsake carnality, she is unlike any other woman. Mary is seen as actively choosing her virginity, and as sacrificing it to God: she “resolved splendidly, firm-minded, / that you brought your virginity to God, / gave it without sin” (14-16). She isn’t passively awaiting her celestial suitor, nor is she allowing another to make a choice for her. That she is alone in her dedication, that heaven has not seen her like before in all humanity, is emphasized. This is partially due to being born without sin, and partially due to her dedication to purity. For these, she is rewarded when the “Lord of Victory commanded his high-messenger to fly [. . .] / and reveal quickly to you / the fullness of [God’s] power” in conceiving the Christ child while maintaining her purity eternally. Mary’s choice, then, activates her role as mother to Christ, and for this she is to be commended and acknowledged as a woman of power within her own right.
In support of his discussion of the Virgin, the poet refers to the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who predicted the virgin birth. However, the Advent poet has misidentified his prophets. It is Ezekiel rather than Isaiah who is shown a gate at a sacred temple’s sanctuary. The gate was entered by God and shut thereafter. The gate, Ezekiel is told, is for the use of the prince, who “shall eat bread in it before the LORD; he shall enter by way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same” (44: 2-3). The Advent poet discusses Ezekiel’s vision, and he pointedly identifies Mary herself as the gate. However, she isn’t a temple gate, but a city gate, which ties into the idea of the Virgin as a type of Jerusalem. In the poet’s account of Ezekiel’s vision, the prophet is shown a grand doorway, a “ceasterhlides,” that is “decorated with precious treasure.” The gate is impenetrable–bound by extravagant chains and bolts. The poet doesn’t mention the God of Israel’s residence within the gate, but he asserts that God would, one day, pass through them in order to visit the earth, at which point they would again be locked and remain “eternally closed thus forever, / so that no other except God the Savior / may unlock them again” (51-3). These gates are a double metaphor for Mary. Traditionally, the gates have been associated with her womb, though which Christ enters the world. That the gates remain locked–with the exception of Jesus’ passage–is symbolic of her perpetual virginity. However, the gates are not merely representative of her chastity. As in Lyric III, Mary represents a type for the holy city of Jerusalem. Here she is the gate to that city from which God departs and which gates he may “unlock again” upon judgment day. Rather than simply representing Mary as the vehicle for Christ’s birth, here Mary is the gate to heaven itself. By invoking her name and by celebrating her virtues, the penitent hopes that the way may be opened for him. The poet furthers this idea when he references Jesus’ locking the gate “with a mysterious key” after he passes through it. In Lyric II, developed from the Latin “O clavis David” (O Key of David), Christ is identified as the guardian of the locks that “open and reveal Life” (2), just as he assures his disciples that he is “the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14.6). Christ is, then, himself “the key, the opener and closer of the locks of eternal life” (Greenfield 240). Christ’s way from Paradise is via the Virgin, and only he can access the locks that allow passage into Paradise. Mary Dockray-Miller, in her study of the “Advent Lyrics’” materiality of the Virgin’s body, sees the gates as a vivid representation of the Virgin’s vagina. In her view, the lack of physicality is symptomatic of the Virgin’s “objectification” and passivity–Mary’s use as a metaphor means she is, essentially, de-feminized and disempowered (44). On the contrary, when Mary becomes the gate through which mankind achieves Christian salvation, she is “opening the door to [Christ’s] revelation and the meaning of the New Jerusalem” (Campbell “Patterns” 247). None other than Mary, as is constantly reinforced throughout the Advent series, was able to do so. Stemming from her conscious sacrifice to God, by her “faith and consent” (Burlin 21), the Virgin is an active participant in the Christ story–she is “adorned with power, pure and set apart” (XII 59). As such, it is to Mary that humankind must pray in order to understand her gift, that quality that captured God’s attention. Additionally, through Mary, the poet believes that humanity can achieve a greater understanding of “that comfort, / your own Son” (66-7). By appealing to Christ’s human nature through Mary, his (and therefore humanity’s) “maternal kin,” the poet hopes for a greater understanding of the mystery of Christ’s birth. He brings up the image of the Christ child at the Virgin’s breast as one that offers hope for mankind, and asks the nurturing Virgin to “intercede for us now with vigorous words” (69) that Christ may welcome the supplicant into Paradise. Here Mary takes on the role as universal mother, the nurturing of the Christ child represents the nurturing she offers humanity with, as the poets hopes, her sympathy.
The roots of Mariology lie with the early church Fathers’ search for clues about Christ’s dual nature. It lead them to question Mary’s role before, during, and after the Incarnation. Although some controversy erupted, the consensus was that, as mother to God, Mary was morally and spiritually superior to her fellow men and women. After Marian devotion was imported to England in the sixth century, and promoted by Bishop Wilfrid, Anglo-Saxon writers–especially those of Mercia and Northumbria–began to write prayers and meditative poems on Mary’s virtues and asking for her intercession with God. This trend culminated in the “Advent Lyrics” that praised her various qualities and gave her a distinct voice. Although she remains passive in a number of the poems, she progressively gains strength in voice and authority. This voice peaks Lyric VII, but the celebration of Mary climaxes in Lyric IX, for here she is no ingénue; instead, Mary is portrayed as a woman who has made her choice. She dedicates herself to God and is rewarded with the Divine Birth. For this, she was seen to offer hope for mankind’s freedom from despair and the finality of death. With Mary’s assistance, the penitent may one day “dwell in beatitude with the God of Hosts” (IX. 75). All of Mary’s roles are reinforced with the closing “Advent Lyric” XII, Christ is “received from” the Virgin’s pure body. Mary’s chastity as well as Christ’s divine nature are underscored by the poet who notes that Christ, though borne in Mary’s womb, was created without the “seed of man on earth” (5) That Christ brought hope to mankind by way of his mother, “the miraculously closed gate [. . .] through which the incarnate Word is passed, is mystically identified with the golden gates of heaven, through which Christ descended to assume human form” (Burlin 21). Mary is the chaste bride, and she is a type of Church, but her most powerful role is that of mother–Christ’s and humanity’s. This not only highlights Christ’s humanity, but it also emphasizes Mary’s role as co-creator of the Savior. As the bride chosen by God, as the mother chosen by Christ, and as the embodiment of the Church, Mary is imbued with a power granted no other woman in the Christian tradition.
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