Recently on Twitter, I made the offhanded claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the "Spouse of the Holy Ghost." This comment brought about a strong pushback from Christian Twitter, even among Anglicans with a higher Mariology. This debate lead me to reflect on this title and the senses in which we may or may not speak of the Holy Ghost as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. From this, I concluded, as before, that it is permissible to speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Spouse of the Holy Ghost in a qualified sense.
First, in this analysis, we must understand how language works and the sense in which I affirm the Blessed Virgin Mary to be the Spouse of the Holy Ghost. In titles such as these, we may speak of things as either "analogical" or "univocal." Univocal language is predicating the same thing to two objects in the same way. For example, if we speak of the door being white and the walls being white. By "white," we mean a given attribute of color which the door and walls share in the same way. Analogical language is speaking of a certain likeness, yet without a complete sameness between the two objects. For example, the man is running, and the water is running. The action in the two is not the same in every way, but it shares a certain likeness, i.e., they are both moving.
Scripture and Tradition
When we speak of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "Spouse of the Holy Ghost," we are using language not univocally but analogically. In Sacred Scripture, it states that "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:35) and "his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 1:18)
Further, the creeds also speak on this point. The Apostle's Creed states, "He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary." The Nicene Creed states, "For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man." The Tome of Pope St. Leo states
"He was conceived from the holy Spirit inside the womb of the virgin mother...uniquely wondrous and wondrously unique as that act of generation was, it is not to be understood as though the proper character of its kind was taken away by the sheer novelty of its creation. It was the holy Spirit that made the virgin pregnant, but the reality of the body derived from body [material cause]."
From this biblical and creedal data, we can state the role of the Holy Spirit thus, "The Holy Spirit actualized the potency to become pregnant of the Blessed Virgin Mary as an efficient cause of her conception." This summation is in line with the Apostles Creed that Christ was "conceived by the Holy Ghost." The active power in the conception of our Lord was provided by the Holy Ghost in the place of a spouse, as St. Thomas Aquinas states,
"This can be done by Divine power: for since an effect depends more upon the first cause than on the second...without natural causes He can produce other effects of natural causes, even as He formed a human body in the Virgin's womb, 'without the seed of man.'"
In this, there is an especial relation between the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Blessed Virgin Mary is unique in having the Holy Ghost as the sole efficient cause of her pregnancy. Other miraculous pregnancies in Sacred Scripture still retain the father of the child as the efficient cause, but the Holy Spirit alone, in the words of Pope St. Leo, "made the virgin pregnant." In the economy of natural conception, the efficient cause that actualizes the potency of pregnancy is called "Spouse" in relation to the one impregnated. In this supernatural conception, the efficient cause that actualizes the potency of pregnancy is the Holy Ghost. Therefore He is rightly called "Spouse" in relation to the Blessed Virgin Mary in this event.
One may respond, "We may not refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, for, a spouse signifies a relation of sexual conception, it would be blasphemous to infer this, ERGO, we may not call the Blessed Virgin Mary the Spouse of the Holy Ghost." This objection misunderstands the argument made. For, we are not using the word "spouse" after a univocal manner; instead, we use the word "spouse" analogously to describe Divine mysteries (such as the virginal conception of our Lord). The word "spouse" here is used generally in reference to "one who actualizes the potency of pregnancy," and not specifically in reference to a specific mode of the efficient cause, i.e., sexual intercourse.
Another may respond, "We may not refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, for, Joeseph is already the Blessed Virgin Mary's 'Most Chaste Spouse.' It would be impious to speak of Our Lady as a bigamist, ERGO..." Spouse may be used in multiple senses and in multiple different relations. Those senses and relations are undivided and differ virtually in natural relationships, yet in this miraculous example, they differ really and truly. The Blessed Virgin Mary's Spouse is the Holy Ghost in relation to the act of actualizing the potency of pregnancy at the conception of our Lord. Concerning the other practical and legal aspects of marriage, where one is properly called "Spouse," St. Joseph is called "Spouse." It would be fallacious to take these two predications of "spouse" univocally and therefore conclude bigamy, which is properly defined as a multiplication of the proper, practical, and legal aspects of marriage in relation to two people.
Further, another may respond, "by this same logic the Holy Spirit may be called 'Father.' It is impious to call the Holy Spirit 'Father,' for, Christ had no earthly Father. ERGO..." I deny the major premise. The relation of Spouses and the relation of Father and Son regarding conception are different. Whereas the relation of spouses in regard to conception is one of efficient cause, the relation of Father and Son is that of material cause, i.e., providing semen. In natural circumstances, this relation is undivided, but in the conception of our Lord, the later relation was not present. For, we confess with Pope St. Leo that "the reality of the body derived from body." That is, the material cause in the conception of our Lord is the egg of the Blessed Virgin Mary alone, without a second material cause. Therefore, our Lord is said to be without earthly (biological) Father.
"Okay, its Orthodox, but why use it?"
One may challenge the usefulness of such a title. It seems like there is little to no benefit to suffer the onslaught of misunderstanding, with little to no biblical, creedal, catholic, or patristic warrant. While I understand the worry, we must realize that there are significant Christological, Mariological, and Pneumatological usefulness in using this title.
First, the Christological usefulness. Christologically, this guards the fact that Christ had no biological Father but was truly generated only of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For, in speaking of a union of the Holy Ghost and the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the conception of our Lord, we safeguard both that this conception was not absurd (there was a true efficient cause) and that it was of the Blessed Virgin Mary alone (that there was no material cause outside of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
Second, the Mariological usefulness. Mariologically, this guards the true virginity of Our Lady. Concerning the conception of our Lord, we deny that St. Joseph was the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Instead, we affirm that the Holy Ghost is the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary in relation to the conception of our Lord. This title removes all notions of carnal, sexual union in the efficient cause of the conception of Our Lord.
Third, the Pneumatological usefulness. This focus of the Holy Spirit in relation to Our Lady and the conception of Our Lord pushes against the tendency to exclude the third person of the Trinity in our theology. St. Thomas Aquinas speaks thus,
"The whole Trinity effected the conception of Christ's body: nevertheless, this is attributed to the Holy Ghost, for three reasons. First, because this is befitting to the cause of the Incarnation, considered on the part of God. For the Holy Ghost is the love of Father and Son, as stated in I:37:1. Now, that the Son of God took to Himself flesh from the Virgin's womb was due to the exceeding love of God: wherefore it is said (John 3:16): "God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son." Secondly, this is befitting to the cause of Incarnation, on the part of the nature assumed. Because we are thus given to understand that human nature was assumed by the Son of God into the unity of Person, not by reason of its merits, but through grace alone; which is attributed to the Holy Ghost, according to 1 Corinthians 12:4: "There are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit." Wherefore Augustine says (Enchiridion xl): "The manner in which Christ was born of the Holy Ghost . . . suggests to us the grace of God, whereby man, without any merits going before, in the very beginning of his nature when he began to exist was joined to God the Word, into so great unity of Person, that He Himself should be the Son of God." Thirdly, because this is befitting the term of Incarnation. For the term of Incarnation was that that man, who was being conceived, should be the Holy one and the Son of God. Now, both of these are attributed to the Holy Ghost. For by Him men are made to be sons of God, according to Galatians 4:6: "Because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your [Vulgate: 'our'] hearts, crying: Abba, Father." Again, He is the "Spirit of sanctification," according to Romans 1:4. Therefore, just as other men are sanctified spiritually by the Holy Ghost; so as to be the adopted sons of God, so was Christ conceived in sanctity by the Holy Ghost, so as to be the natural Son of God. Hence, according to a gloss on Romans 1:4, the words, "Who was predestinated the Son of God, in power," are explained by what immediately follows: "According to the Spirit of sanctification, i.e. through being conceived of the Holy Ghost." And the Angel of the Annunciation himself, after saying, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee," draws the conclusion: "Therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."