We are now in a position to situation Mary properly within the context of metaphysics, which is to say we will acknowledge her in her most universal and cosmic significance. Nor will we be stepping away from Orthodoxy, but will in fact begin with two liturgical texts as our point of departure. Note that, as we’ve shown above, Mary is often assimilated to Lady Wisdom, and speaks as her own the words of scripture found in the wisdom literature (Proverbs, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus).
First, for the Vespers of the common of the Virgin, she speaks her words from Sirach 24:4:
From the beginning was I created, and before all the worlds, and in the ages to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy house I have exercised my ministry before him (the Lord).
Second, a reading from Proverbs used for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, in which she states:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. Neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth; I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. (Proverbs 8:22-31)
What we are dealing with here is an ‘eternal birth’ of the Virgin in a similar (although not identical) manner to the eternal birth of Christ. In other words, we have stepped beyond the order of individual existences and are instead dealing with the principles involved in creation. Mary could not be any more explicit about this in the readings just cited.
How are we to understand this? It seems that the best way to summarize it is to say that after the Absolute (in whom there is no distinction) we come to a first polarity: we move from unity to duality. We can describe this duality as the universal masculine and the universal feminine, although it is obviously incorrect to associate these terms with any biological characteristics. Rather, these are the universal (metaphysical) principles of which human sexual polarization is but a distant reflection.
We can envision in God both of these principles, for St. Thomas Aquinas himself has said that God is both mother and father, in Himself. This gives additional meaning to what is spoken in Genesis 1:27:
So God created man in his image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
In God, the masculine-feminine duality does not exist, but in the created order, where the divine attributes are expressed and distinguished from one another, they become the first polarity through which all creation can be brought into being.
To use a more common philosophical terminology, we can translate the universal masculine to universal essence, and the universal feminine to universal substance. In the Far East this is the pair yin-yang. One is pure act, the other pure potency. The former vivifies, the latter provides the material to be vivified. These are the two poles of being and are required for anything to be made, and whatever is must share to some degree in both.
Thus, Mary is co-redemptrix with Christ because she is also co-creatrix with Him. Such a statement is powerful but we should also be able to see why Mary is not situated at the same level with her son. Christ’s role, identified with the Logos and therefore with intelligence, is one that is personal and active. Mary’s role is passivity—cosmic passivity, demonstrated on the microcosmic level in her receptivity to the Holy Spirit.
What happened to Mary during her earthly life was the dramatic acting in history out of what has happened to her from the foundation of the world. She is the personification of the universal feminine, universal substance, and identifiable with the materia prima of scholastic metaphysics.