Yesterday in class we spoke about the many images Proclus uses to identify and define Mary within his homilies. I want to examine the type of these images in which Mary is described as a door or gate as compared with those that define her as a container. There are examples of the notion of Mary as both a gate and a container throughout Proclus’ homilies but I will look into just a few key examples and discuss some questions raised by this identification.
The container images used to describe Mary seem to place her in a completely different position than those that identify her as a gate. Throughout this selection of homilies she is called the “container of the uncontainable.” Proclus overwhelms his listeners with the idea of Mary being a container chosen by God to hold “The Word” which by his own definition is “the one whom (creation) cannot contain” (Homily 4, 18-19). She is “the untarnished vessel of virginity,” (Homily 1, 16), and she is referred to as the womb, belly, or field in which God “sprouted,” (Homily 1, 57-60), she possesses the “womb of a virgin wider than creation” (Homily 4, 17-18), “Mary is venerated for she became a mother, a servant, a cloud, a bridal chamber, and the ark of the Lord” (Homily 5, 98-100).
Forgetting for a moment the obvious paradox created by Mary as a container of the Word and focusing on Mary’s position in this divine plan as such, certain questions as to Mary’s agency and importance become apparent. As a container, she is merely the fertile ground or safe harbor in which God chose to store himself as he became incarnate with what seems like very little action on her part. In this case, Mary appears stationary and to a certain degree dehumanized by all these references to her as inanimate objects. She is no longer an individual but a “garden” or simply a “womb” that serves as the temporary house of the Word. It is stated in Homily 1 that God “was not defiled by dwelling in places which he himself had created without dishonor,” (Homily 1, 42-43) indicating that Mary was created by God for the express purpose of being the container. This coupled with the description of Gabriel “who brought glad tidings to Mary” (Homily 1, 82) not a question or an offer, seems to suggest the notion that she had very little choice when it came to her place in the incarnation nor did she contribute much effort. In this image, God both creates and chooses Mary to be his vessel, which makes me wonder to what degree Mary as a container had any agency in this process.
In comparison, the few mentions of Mary as a gate or door seem to ascribe her a much greater importance and power within this event of God’s incarnation. In Homily 1, she is called the “only bridge for God to mankind” (Homily 1, 24). At the most superficial level the word choice seems to imply that Mary possesses unique qualities. Proclus could have chosen to say that she was “a” bridge for God but instead he specifically chose to say the word “only.” This supports the conclusion that Mary was the one human who could have served as the pathway for the Word to become incarnate in a human form. This image is very popular in the Akathistos Hymn in which she is called the “celestial ladder” and “the bridge leading from earth to heaven” (Akathistos, 10-11) suggesting that it may have been more popular in a different time or situation.
The notion of Mary as the second Eve that was discussed last class also appears in these homilies in references to both Paradise and Adam along with more direct comparisons to Eve herself, “and by his birth what was once the door of sin was made the gate of salvation” (Homily 1, 139). These works appear to maintain many of the points determined in the last class citing Mary as the antithesis of Eve; obedient where Eve was rebellious, chaste in situations in which Eve was lead astray etc. Yet, Proclus seems to expand on this concept further by attributing a spiritual power to these two women. It is not merely the decisions of Eve and Mary that determined the course of humanity but their actual essences. Each stands as an essential spiritual doorway or mediator connecting the humanity with the divine. One does it through the whispers of the serpent and the other through the words of God. Eve introduces death and destruction into creation by being the method by which Lucifer gained a foothold, while Mary was the way of salvation by being the bridge that the Word used to enter the human realm and become incarnate.
Can Mary be both a container and a doorway? Is this just another in the long line of paradoxes embraced by Proclus in reference to Mary and if so what is its purpose? Does it merely add to the mystery or miraculous nature of the divine birth or is he combining multiple interpretations? Whatever the answers are to these questions it appears to me that Proclus’ reference to Mary as a doorway imbues her with a greater measure of power and agency in the divine scheme of incarnation. In my opinion, this idea of Mary as the gateway makes her more integral to the incarnation because she is the necessary human link that allows the divine Word to push his way into humanity. She plays an active role in this notion of the Word’s entrance to the world and appears to be granted a spiritual power that makes her unique among her peers. As the doorway, Mary becomes an essential and, to a certain degree, divine member of the incarnation, which according to my understanding makes her more worthy of the “Theotokos” title.