The First Council of Constantinople (381) : The Incarnation, the Holy Spirit and Our Lady

Constantinople: The Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary

The true fait lead to the true prayer.

The symbol of the first Council of Constantinople, convoked by Emperor Theodosius in 381 for the Greek-speaking Eastern churches, was recognized like a formulation of faith of universal character by the Council of Chalcedon. The council was convoked to solve the two major problems which were infiltrating the Greek churches at the end of the 4th century:


- To risolve the polemic with the Arius' disciples (Christ divinity). So :

"We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds,

Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father,

by whom all things were made;

who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;


- To explain the origin and divine nature of the Holy Spirit contested by the Macedonians. So :

"We believe in the Holy Ghost,

the Lord and Giver of life,

[Greek version :] who proceedeth from the Father,

[Latin version :] who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,

who with the Father and the Son

together is worshiped and glorified."


The marian formula

"For us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man."


The Marian formula of that council, in its literal Latin version from the original Greek is : "Et Incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto et Maria virgine."

The formula is preceded by articles of faith on the divinity of Christ and the salvific aim of his descent from the midst of God. Therefore this isn't a direct and independant discourse on the virginal motherhood of Mary, which explains the brevity of the statement.


However the assertion of Mary's maternal role in the Incarnation of the Son of God is explicit and certain.

de Spiritu Sancto et Maria Virgine

de: By the causal preposition de the verb's action (incarnatus est ) is attributed to the Holy Spirit and Mary at the same time, as to a unique, composed principle, divine and human.


Spiritu Sancto: in the original Greek is without the article, which could have legitimized with certainty the reference to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. But nothing prevents us to think that, given the clarification about the Holy Spirit presented by that Council, the Fathers already meant to give it a personalist meaning.


et Maria Virgine: The person of Mary is grammatically and doctrinally joint to the Holy Spirit as the human co-principle of the Incarnation and humanization of the Son of God for the salvation of men.


Of extreme significance is the term Virgin: It is linked to the person of Mary and apposed to it, not as a simple epithet or predicate adjective. In fact the Greek text should be translated as : Mary, the Virgin. It doctrinally indicates the essential characteristic, the significant element of the human contribution to the Incarnation.


In short

The value of the Marian formula of the first Council of Constantinople is to solemnly express the maternal role of the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation of the Son as such.


This formula is related also to the very aim of the Incarnation, namely: that the Son of God took flesh in Mary "for men and for their salvation."



Excerpts from S.Meo, articolo Madre di Dio, nel Nuovo dizionario di mariologia, a cura di de Fiores, ed. san Paolo 1985, p.731-733


S. Meo