Category Archives: Mariology

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary Pt. 2

In my last post, I gave an abbreviated version of three of the eight reasons I give for Mary’s perpetual virginity in my book, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. Because I have received tons of questions on this over the years, I thought I would provide three more abbreviated reasons for the perpetual virginity of Mary in this post.

Reason Four: Mary Was Consecrated to the Father of Her Son

As I said in my last post, Mary entered into a nuptial relationship with the Holy Spirit. The marriage between Mary and the Holy Spirit and that between Mary and Joseph are not incompatible, because they are of entirely different orders—like my own marriage to my wife, Valerie, does not contradict each of the two of us having a truly nuptial relationship with the Lord.

However, unlike all Christians’ “nuptial” relationship with the Lord, in the case of Mary and the Holy Spirit, a child was conceived. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In a unique and unrepeatable fashion, the two orders intersect. Thus, Mary’s consecration to God for the purpose of the Incarnation brings with it biblical challenges.

In my last post, I mentioned how Joseph and Mary’s betrothal to each other was equal to a legal spousal contract, according to Scripture. The word for betrothed in Hebrew is kiddush, which is derived from the Hebrew word kadash, meaning “holy” or “consecrated.” This betrothal was considered a sacred event binding spouses to each other. It was because of this understanding of the sacredness of the bond of matrimony that adultery was considered such a serious sin. Marriage was a consecrated state. Desecrating this state by adultery left a woman defiled and was punishable by death or, in some circumstances, left her unfit to return to conjugal relations with her husband. (This seems odd to us today, but things were different among the ancient, tribal people with whom our Lord was dealing.)

The latter cases where a desecration of a marriage left women unfit to return to relations with their husbands are of particular interest to us now. We see an example of this in 2 Samuel. Absalom, one of David’s sons, tried to usurp the throne of his father by, among other things, sleeping with ten of David’s concubines:

Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.”. . . [A]nd Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (16:21-22).

Later, when Absolam’s attempted coup d’état failed and he was killed, King David did not forget his concubines. Scripture tells us David “took the ten concubines, whom he had left to care for the house, and put them in a house under guard, and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood” (20:3).

David would not have conjugal relations with these ten concubines again because they were “defiled” by Absalom. But he did have the responsibility to care for them and protect them after Absalom’s death, because he (Absalom) could no longer care for them. And they were David’s concubines, so he had a real responsibility for their well being.

It is hard for us to fathom this in the twenty-first century. How could King David and St. Joseph have the responsibility to care for their wives but not be able to have conjugal relations with them? We have to understand this through the revelation given to us in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 reveal to us that a woman who was divorced by her husband and then wedded to another could never return to her former husband even if her new husband were to die. Deuteronomy 24:4 declares:

Then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt upon the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance.

It was the sexual bond that was evidently the cause of the “defilement” in the relationship. Hence, King David could receive his concubines into his home after they were “defiled” by Absalom, but he could never have conjugal relations with them again.

In Jeremiah 3:1, God refers to this law when he speaks metaphorically of his relationship with Israel:

“If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another’s wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the harlot with many lovers; and would you return to me?” says the Lord.

Very much rooted in this Old Testament understanding, the Talmud taught divorce to be mandatory in the case of an espoused woman who became pregnant by another. The espoused woman who conceived by another would then belong to that other and could never return to her former husband. The ancient rabbis said:

A woman made pregnant by a former husband and a woman who was giving suck to a child by another husband . . . do not receive the marriage contract. . . . A man should not marry a woman made pregnant by an earlier husband or giving suck to a child born to an earlier husband, and if she married under such conditions, he must put her away and never remarry her (Neusner, Babylonian Talmud, vol. 11, 123).

When we take into account the Old Testament background and ancient Hebrew culture, we understand Matthew 1 and the situation with the Holy Family. In Joseph’s mind, once she was pregnant, Mary would have belonged to the father of the child within her. His choices were either to expose her publicly and endanger her to mob violence or to do what we see he actually resolved to do in Matthew 1:19: divorce her quietly. But notice what Scripture tells us in verses 20 and 21:

But as [Joseph] considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

When the angel told Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived of the Holy Spirit, he knew what was required of him. Just as we saw with King David in 2 Samuel 20:3, Joseph knew that he was to take his wife into his home and care for her, though he could never have conjugal relations with her. According to Scripture and ancient Jewish tradition, Mary belonged to the father of her child—the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit could not be the protector that Mary needed. The Holy Spirit could not sign legal documents and be Mary’s legal spouse. But Joseph was ready and willing—just man that he was—to care for Mary as his lawfully wedded spouse.

Reason Five: Mary is the Temple Gate

In Ezekiel 44:1-2, the prophet was given a vision of the holiness of “the gate” of the temple, which would be fulfilled in the perpetual virginity of Mary:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.”

No Christian would deny that in the New Testament Jesus is revealed to be the fulfillment of the temple. In John 2:19, when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,” the Jews thought he was speaking of the enormous stone edifice that stood in Jerusalem. But, as John tells us two verses later, he was actually speaking of his own body. So if Christ is the prophetic temple of Ezekiel 44 into which God himself has entered for our salvation, who or what is this prophetic gate that is the conduit for God to enter into his temple?

Mary is the natural fulfillment. She is the gate through which not just a spiritual presence of God has passed but God in the flesh. How much more would the New Testament gate remain forever closed? St. Jerome commented on this text in the fourth century:

Only Christ opened the closed doors of the virginal womb, which continued to remain closed, however. This is the closed eastern gate, through which only the high priest may enter and exit and which nevertheless is always closed (Against the Pelagians, 2,4).

Reason Six: Mary is the untouchable Ark

According to multiple parallel texts in Scripture, Mary is depicted as the New Testament Ark of the Covenant. The encounter of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-45, shortly after Mary conceived Jesus at the Annunciation, is clear evidence of this.

First, take note of Elizabeth’s exclamation when Mary entered her home and greeted her: “And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This refers back to 2 Samuel 6:9 where the Old Testament “type” of Mary—the Ark of the Covenant—was carried into the presence of King David. He said, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” The ark remained there three months. In a New Testament fulfillment of the type, Luke 1 records that Elizabeth gave Mary an identical greeting, and that Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months.

According to Hebrews 9:4, the Ark of the Covenant bore the Ten Commandments, a small amount of manna, and the staff of Aaron the high priest. All of these were types of our Lord. According to John 6:31-33, Jesus is the true manna. According to Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is our true high priest. In Hebrew, the Ten Commandments can be referred to as the ten words (dabar in Hebrew). Jesus is the word made flesh, according to John 1:14.

According to the Old Testament, no one except the high priest could touch the ark or even look inside it. If anyone else touched or looked inside the ark, the punishment was death. The Levites in charge of the ark knew all too well that their charge was to protect but that they could not look inside and they could not touch.

If this was the case for the Old Testament type, which, according to Hebrews 10:1, is no more than a shadow of the true New Testament fulfillment, then it would seem fitting that Mary would remain “untouched” by Joseph as well. When we understand this, we understand why great saints such as Jerome and Epiphanius would have been so indignant when they encountered the first heretics to posit even the possibility that Joseph could have had conjugal relations with Mary. This was absolutely foreign to the Christian consciousness of the first four centuries of the Christian era.

Perhaps in a future post, I will discuss the unanimity among the Fathers of the Church on this matter. For the first Christians, this was a no-brainer.

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The Perpetual Virginity of Mary Pt. 1

Perhaps the two most commonly employed texts by those who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity are:

Matthew 13:55-56: “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all of his sisters with us?”

and:

Matthew 1:24-25: “And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn [Greek, prototokon] son: and he called his name JESUS” (Douay-Rheims).

A surface reading of these texts seems to raise some questions. If Jesus had brethren (brothers) and sisters, doesn’t this mean that Mary had other children? If Jesus was Mary’s firstborn, doesn’t this imply there was at least a second-born? And doesn’t “he knew her not till” imply that he “knew her” at some point thereafter? We’ll begin with Matthew 13:55-56.

Oh, brother!

First, we must understand that the term brother has a wide semantic range in Scripture. It can mean not only a blood brother but an extended relative or even a spiritual brother. Abraham and Lot are classic examples of “brother” being used for an extended relation (see Genesis 13:8 and 14:12). Though they were actually uncle and nephew, they called one another “brother.” Moreover, in the New Testament, Jesus told us to call one another “brothers” (see Matthew 23:8). Obviously, this doesn’t infer that all Christians have the same physical mother.

Second, if we examine more closely the example of James, one of these four “brothers” of the Lord mentioned in Matthew 13:55, we discover him to actually be a cousin or some other variety of relative of Jesus rather than a blood brother. For example, St. Paul tells us:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19).

Notice, the James of whom St. Paul speaks was both a “brother of the Lord” and an “apostle.” There are only two apostles named James among the twelve. The first James is revealed to have been a son of Zebedee. He would most likely not be the James St. Paul speaks of in Galatians, because this James, the brother of John, was martyred early on, according to Acts 12:1-2. And even if it were him, his father was Zebedee. If he were the blood brother of the Lord, his father would have been Joseph.

The second James who was an apostle, according to Luke 6:15-16, is most likely to whom St. Paul refers, and his father was Alphaeus, not Joseph. Thus, James the apostle and Jesus were not blood brothers.

Easy enough. However, some will argue that the James spoken of in Galatians 1 was not an apostle—or, at least, he was not one of the Twelve. Though this is a possibility—there are others in the New Testament, such as St. Barnabas in Acts 14:14, who are referred to as “apostles” in a looser sense—the argument from Scripture is weak.

When St. Paul wrote about going “up to Jerusalem” to see St. Peter, he was writing about an event that occurred many years earlier, shortly after he had converted. He was basically going up to the apostles to receive approval lest he “should be running or had run in vain.” It would be more likely he would have here been speaking about apostles proper, or the Twelve.

But for those inclined to argue the point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses another line of reasoning:

[T]he Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression (CCC 500).

The Catechism here refers to the fact that, fourteen chapters after we find the “brothers” of the Lord listed as “James, Joses, Simon and Judas,” we find “James and Joses” mentioned again, but this time their mother is revealed as being named Mary—but not Mary the mother of Jesus. The conclusion becomes apparent: “James and Joses” are “brothers” of Jesus, but they are not blood brothers.

The Problem of the “Firstborn”

So what about Matthew 1:24-25 and the claim Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn son” and that Joseph “knew her not until” Christ was born? Does St. Matthew here teach Mary to have had other children?

Exodus 13:1-2 reveals something important about the firstborn in Israel:

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and beast, is mine.”

The firstborn were not given the title because there was a second-born. They were called firstborn at birth. Hence, Jesus being referred to as firstborn in Matthew 1 does not require there to be more siblings after him.

Propositions About a Preposition

Scripture stating Joseph “knew [Mary] not until she brought forth her firstborn” would not necessarily mean they “knew” each other after she brought forth Jesus. Until is often used in Scripture as part of an idiomatic expression similar to our own usage in English. I may say to you, “Until we meet again, God bless you.” Does that mean after we meet again, God curse you? By no means! A phrase like this is used to emphasize what is being described before the “until” is fulfilled. It is not intended to say anything about the future beyond that point. Here are some biblical examples that may help clarify things:

II Samuel 6:23: “And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to [unti] the day of her death.” Does this mean she had children after she died?

I Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.” Does this mean Timothy should stop teaching after St. Paul comes?

I Corinthians 15:25: “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” Does this mean Christ’s reign will end? By no means! Luke 1:33 says, “[H]e will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

In recent years, some have argued that because Matthew 1:25 uses the Greek words heos hou for “until,” whereas the texts I mention above from the New Testament use heos alone, there is a difference in meaning. Heos hou, it is argued, would indicate the action of the first clause does not continue. Thus, Mary and Joseph “not having come together” would have then ended after Jesus was born.

The problems with this theory begin with the fact that there is no scholarship available that confirms it. In fact, the evidence proves the contrary. Heos hou and heos are used interchangeably and have the same meaning. Acts 25:21 should suffice to clear up the matter:

But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until (Greek, heos hou) I could send him to Caesar.

Does this text mean that St. Paul would not be held in custody after he was “sent” to Caesar? Not according to the biblical record. He would be held in custody while in transit (see Acts 27:1) and after he arrived in Rome for a time (see Acts 29:16). The action of the main clause did not cease with heos hou.

A Positive Outlook

Having dispatched some of the objections to Mary’s perpetual virginity, perhaps some positive reasons for faith would be in order. In my book Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, I give eight positive reasons, but for brevity’s sake, we will briefly consider three:

1. In Luke 1:34, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she asked the question, literally translated from the Greek, “How shall this be, since I know not man?” This question makes no sense unless Mary had a vow of virginity.

When we consider Mary and Joseph were already “espoused,” according to verse 27 of this same chapter, we understand Mary and Joseph to then have had what would be akin to a ratified marriage in the New Covenant. They were married! That would mean St. Joseph would have had the right to the marriage bed at that point. Normally, after the espousal the husband would prepare a home for his new bride and then come and receive her into his home where the union would be consummated. This is precisely why St. Joseph intended to “divorce her quietly” (Matt. 1:19) when he discovered she was pregnant.

This background is significant, because a newly married woman would not ask the question, “How shall this be?” She would know! Unless, of course, that woman had a vow of virginity! Mary believed the message but wanted to know how this was going to be accomplished. This indicates she was not planning on the normal course of events for her future with St. Joseph.

2. In John 19:26, Jesus gave his mother to the care of St. John even though by law the next eldest sibling would have the responsibility to care for her. It is unthinkable to believe that Jesus would take his mother away from his family in disobedience to the law.

Some will claim Jesus did this because his brothers and sisters were not there. They had left him. Thus, Jesus committed his mother to St. John, who was faithful and present at the foot of the cross.

This claim reveals a low and unbiblical Christology. As St. John tells us, Jesus “knew all men” (John 2:25). If St. James were his blood brother, Jesus would have known he would be faithful along with his “brother” Jude. The fact is, Jesus had no brothers and sisters, so he had the responsibility, on a human level, to take care of his mother.

3. Mary is depicted as the spouse of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. When Mary asked the angel how she was going to conceive a child in Luke 1:34, the angel responded:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

This is nuptial language hearkening back to Ruth 3:8, where Ruth said to Boaz “spread your skirt over me” when she revealed to him his duty to marry her according to the law of Deuteronomy 25. When Mary then came up pregnant, St. Joseph would have been required to divorce her, because she would then belong to another (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Jeremiah 3:1). When St. Joseph found out that “the other” was the Holy Spirit, the idea of St. Joseph having conjugal relations with Mary would not have been a consideration for a “just man” like St. Joseph.

One Final Thought

An obvious question remains: Why did St. Joseph then “take [Mary] his wife,” according to Matthew 1:24, if she belonged to the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is Mary’s spouse, but St. Joseph was her spouse and protector on Earth. This is not a contradiction. All Christians have a nuptial relationship with our Lord. The Church is, after all, “the bride of Christ.” But in the case of Mary and Joseph, Joseph was essential in the life of Mary, his spouse, for at least two obvious reasons. First, as St. Matthew points out in his genealogy in chapter 1, St. Joseph was in line to be a successor of David as King of Israel. Thus, if Jesus was to be the true “son of David” and king of Israel (see II Samuel 7:14; Hebrews 1:5; Revelation 19:16, 22:16), he needed to be the son of St. Joseph. As the only son of St. Joseph, even though adopted, he would have been in line for the throne.

Also, in a culture that did not take kindly to espoused women becoming pregnant by someone other than their spouse, Mary would have been in mortal danger. Thus, St. Joseph became Mary’s earthly spouse and protector as well as the protector of the child Jesus.

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Is the Assumption of Mary Historical?

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the biblical evidence for the Assumption of Mary. And in my book, Behold Your Mother, I go into even more detail on the topic. In this post I want to deal with the question of history when it comes to the Assumption. Is there compelling historical evidence for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?

In summary, the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary began with an historical event that is alluded to in Scripture and has been believed in the Church for 2,000 years. It was passed down in the Oral Tradition of the Church and developed over the centuries, but it was always believed by the Catholic faithful. Let us examine the facts:

1. Archaeology reveals two tombs of Mary that still exist today, one in Jerusalem and one in Ephesus. The two tombs are explained by the fact that Mary had lived in both places. But what is inexplicable apart from the Assumption of Mary is the fact that there is no body in either tomb. And there are no relics. Anyone who would peruse early Church history knows that Christian belief in the communion of saints and the sanctity of the body—in radical contrast to the Gnostic disdain for “the flesh”—led early Christians to seek out with the greatest fervor relics from the bodies of great saints. Cities, and later, religious orders, would fight over the bones of great saints. This is one reason why we have relics of the apostles and so many of the greatest saints and martyrs in history. Yet, never was there a single relic of Mary’s body? As revered as Mary was, this would be very strange, except for the fact of the assumption of her body.

2.On the historical front, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, in his book, Theotokos – A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pg. 59, says:

We have known for some time that there were wide-spread “Transitus Stories” that date from the sixth century that teach Mary’s glorious Assumption. It was the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII that re-kindled interest in these stories of the end of Mary’s life. In 1955, Fr. A.A. Wenger published L’Assomption.

Indeed, and Fr. Wenger found a Greek manuscript that verified what scholars had previously believed to be true. Because there were whole families of manuscripts from different areas of the world in the sixth century that told a similar story of Mary’s Assumption, there had to be previous manuscripts from which everyone received their data. Fr. Wenger discovered one of these earlier manuscripts, believed to be the source later used by John of Thessalonica in the sixth century in his teaching on the Assumption. Fr. O’Carroll continues:

Some years later, M. Haibach-Reinisch added to the dossier an early version of Pseudo-Melito, the most influential text in use in the Latin Church. This could now, it was clear, be dated earlier than the sixth century…V. Arras claimed to have found an Ethiopian version of it which he published in 1973; its similarity to the Irish text gave the latter new status. In the same year M. Van Esbroeck brought out a Gregorian version, which he had located in Tiflis, and another, a Pseudo-Basil, in the following year, found in Mount Athos.

Much still remains to be explored. The Syriac fragments have increased importance, being put as far back as the third century by one commentator. The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century.

This is significant. Recently discovered Syriac fragments of stories about the Assumption of Mary have been dated as early as the third century. And there are undoubtedly more manuscripts to be found. It must be remembered that when we are talking about these “Transitus stories,” we are not only talking about very ancient manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts, but we are talking about two different “families” of manuscripts written in nine languages. They all agree on Mary’s Assumption and they presuppose a story that was already widely known.

Gnostic Fable or Christian Truth?

What about those who claim the Assumption of Mary is nothing more than a Gnostic fable? Or those who claim the historical narratives about the Assumption of Mary were condemned by Pope Gelasius I? James White, on page 54 of his book, Mary – Another Redeemer? goes so far as to claim:

Basically, the first appearance of the idea of the Bodily Assumption of Mary is found in a source that was condemned by the then-bishop of Rome, Gelasius I! The irony is striking: what was defined by the bishop of Rome as heresy at the end of the fifth century becomes dogma itself in the middle of the twentieth!

Mr. White’s reasoning fails for several reasons.

1. Even if it were a Papal document, Decretum Gelasianum would not be a “definition” by the bishop of Rome declaring the Assumption of Mary to be heresy, as White claims. The document does not make such an assertion. It gives us a rather long list of titles of apocryphal books after having listed the accepted books of the Bible. That’s all. One of these titles declared to be “apocryphal” is referred to as: “Liber qui appellatur Transitus, id est Assumptio sanctae Mariae,” which translates as “A book which is called, ‘Having been taken up, that is, the Assumption of Holy Mary.’” White evidently thought this document condemns as untrue the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. But it did not. As a matter of history, this document does not condemn any doctrines in the books it lists at all; it declares the books themselves to be apocryphal and therefore not part of the canon of Scripture.

This would be something akin to the Church’s rejection of The Assumption of Moses and The Book of Enoch as apocryphal works. The fact that these works are apocryphal does not preclude St. Jude (9; 14) from quoting both of them in Sacred Scripture. Because a work is declared apocryphal or even condemned does not mean that there is no truth at all to be found in it.

2.There is real question among scholars today as to whether what is popularly called the Dectretum Gelasianum was actually written by Pope Gelasius. According to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Faith, p. 462, it was probably written in the sixth century (Pope Gelasius died in the late fifth century) in Italy or Gaul and was most likely not a Papal work at all. In fact, it was falsely attributed to several different Popes over the years.

3. If the teaching of the Assumption had genuinely been condemned by the Pope, great saints and defenders of orthodoxy like St. Gregory and later St. John Damascene would not have taught it. Further, we would have found other writers condemning this teaching as it became more and more popular throughout the world. And we certainly would not see the Assumption celebrated in the Liturgy as we do as early as the fifth century in Palestine, Gaul in the sixth, universally in the East in the seventh century, and in the West in the eighth century. Far from a condemnation of the Assumption, this reveals just how widespread this teaching truly was.

Why Don’t the Earliest Fathers Write About the Assumption?

The most obvious reason would be that when Gnostics, who were some of the main enemies of the Faith in the early centuries of the Christian era, agreed with the Church on the matter, there would have been no need to defend the teaching. In other words, there is no record of anyone disagreeing on the matter. We don’t find works from the earliest Fathers on Jesus’ celibacy either, but that too was most likely due to the universal agreement on the topic. Much of early Christian literature was apologetic in nature. Just like the New Testament, it mostly dealt with problem areas in the Church that needed to be addressed.

Even so, it is not as though there is no written evidence to support the Assumption either. According to Fr. O’Carroll (Theotokos, 388), we now have what some believe to be a fourth-century homily on the prophet Simeon and the Blessed Virgin Mary by Timothy, a priest of Jerusalem, which asserts Mary is “immortal to the present time through him who had his abode in her and who assumed and raised her above the higher regions.” Evidently, there was disagreement in the circulating stories of the Assumption of Mary as to whether she was taken up alive or after having died. But whether or not she was assumed was not in question. Indeed, the Church even to this day has not decided the matter of whether Mary died or not definitively, though she does teach Mary to have died at the level of the Ordinary Magisterium, for example, in Pope Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus, 17, 20, 21, 29, 35, 39, and 40.

Rethinking St. Epiphanius

I believe St. Epiphanius’ work needs to be re-examined when it comes to the Assumption of Mary. This great bishop and defender of orthodoxy may give us key insights into the antiquity of the Assumption, writing in ca. AD 350. In his classic Panarion (“bread box”) or Refutation of All Heresies, he includes eighty-eight sections dealing with scores of the most dangerous heresies of his day. But in sections 78 and 79, he deals with one particular sect comprised mainly of women called the “Collyridians.” Evidently, this sect was “ordaining” women as “priestesses” and adoring Mary as a goddess by offering sacrifice to her. St. Epiphanius condemns this in the strongest of terms:

For I have heard in turn that others who are out of their minds on this subject of this holy Ever-virgin, have done their best and are doing their best, in the grip both of madness and of folly, to substitute her for God. For they say that certain Thracian women there in Arabia have introduced this nonsense, and that they bake a loaf in the name of the Ever-virgin, gather together, and attempt an excess and undertake a forbidden, blasphemous act in the holy Virgin’s name, and offer sacrifice in her name with women officiants.

This is entirely impious, unlawful, and different from the Holy Spirit’s message, and is thus pure devil’s work . . .

And nowhere was a woman a priest. But I shall go to the New Testament. If it were ordained by God that women should be priests or have any canonical function in the Church, Mary herself, if anyone, should have functioned as a priest in the New Testament. She was counted worthy to bear the king of all in her own womb, the heavenly God, the Son of God. Her womb became a temple, and by God’s kindness and an awesome mystery, was prepared to be a dwelling place of the Lord’s human nature. But it was not God’s pleasure that she be a priest.

These women who were adoring Mary as if she were a goddess would no doubt have been well acquainted with the “Transitus Stories” and would have been teaching Mary’s Assumption. In fact, it appears they were teaching Mary never died at all. This would be in keeping with John of Thessalonica, Timothy of Jerusalem, and others who taught this among Christians. However, these women were taking Mary and the Assumption to the extreme by worshipping her. What is interesting here is that in the midst of condemning the Collyridians, St. Epiphanius gives us, in section 79 of Panarion,a point-blank statement that is very-much overlooked today by many:

Like the bodies of the saints, however, she has been held in honor for her character and understanding. And if I should say anything more in her praise, she is like Elijah, who was virgin from his mother’s womb, always remained so, and was taken up, but has not seen death.

St. Epiphanius clearly indicates his personal agreement with the idea that Mary was assumed into heaven without ever having died. He will elsewhere clarify the fact that he is not certain, and no one is, at least not definitively so, about whether or not she died. But he never says the same about the Assumption itself. That did not seem to be in doubt. By comparing her to Elijah he indicates that she was taken up bodily just as the Church continues to teach 1,600 years later.

A Final Thought

Since the time of the promulgation of the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, there has been much new discovery. We now have written evidence of the Assumption of Mary as far back as the third century. Though it is not necessary for there to be written evidence all the way back to the second-century for us as Catholics because we have Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church first and foremost that has already given us the truth of the Matter, I believe it is really exciting that new historical discoveries continue to be made and once again… and again… and again, they confirm the Faith of our Fathers.

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Was Mary Free From Labor Pangs?

In the wake of the first (human) sin of Adam and Eve, God spoke directly to our original parents and indirectly to all mankind concerning some of the far-reaching consequences of that sin: Physical death and disorder would be the lot of all mankind until the end of time. Indeed, in some sense, all of creation was changed for the worse as a result of this cataclysmic sin. But for our purpose we want to focus on Genesis 3:16 and one particular effect of Original Sin:

To the woman [the Lord God] said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”

Scripture teaches that as a result of Original Sin, God would “greatly multiply” the pangs of labor not only for Eve, but for all women. Many Fathers of the Church and theologians down through the centuries deemed it fitting that Mary alone would be exempt from such pains as a sign of her unique holiness. Thus, Mary’s freedom from the pains of labor is one of many reasons for belief in the Immaculate Conception of our Lady.

The Church has taught this as well on the level of the Ordinary Magisterium, but not with the same degree of authority with which she has taught Mary remained an “intact” virgin in giving birth to Jesus. However, we should note the fact that it has been taught on the level of the Ordinary Magisterium and that it was taught by many fathers of the Church. This is significant.

While there is certainly no argument from necessity here, and this teaching is a matter of legitimate debate in the Church today, we argue it to be most fitting as a sign of hope for the entire body of Christ. All can see in this unique gift to Mary a sign of the ultimate deliverance from all bodily pain and suffering that awaits the Church. Analogous to God preserving the Mother of God in virginal integrity in giving birth to our Lord, Mary demonstrates in a more profound way both the truth of the Immaculate Conception and the saving power of Christ in preserving her from this effect of Original Sin.

Moreover, when we consider Mary in one of her many titles demonstrating her sinlessness – “the beginning of the new creation” – (for more on this, check out my book, “Behold Your Mother“) a topic we will cover in a future blog post, how fitting indeed is it that the “new creation” would be inaugurated without the pains of childbirth—one of the principle effects of sin in the first creation.

What evidence do we have for this belief? We will examine it from three sources—Scripture, history, and the teaching of the Catholic Church as it is communicated to the faithful through both Magisterial teaching and in the Liturgy. And we will then examine some of the most common objections.

Sacred Scripture

 Isaiah 66:6-8

In a chapter laden with references to the coming of the New Covenant, or “the new heavens and the new earth” as we see in Isaiah 66:22—a text referenced in Revelation 21:1—we find this startling prophecy:

Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, rendering recompense to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?

Not only do we find the Fathers of the Church referencing this text as referring to the miraculous birthing of Christ, but we find it difficult to apply it in its fullest sense to anything else.

 Luke 2:7

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

Some critics will say the fact that Mary “brought forth” Jesus would mean she experienced labor pains. Not necessarily. The teaching claiming Mary was freed from labor pains would agree Mary “brought forth” Jesus, but miraculously aided by God. There would be no reason not to use the language of Mary having “brought forth” Jesus.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas (who references St. Jerome), Mary being depicted as “wrapping” and then “laying” Christ in a manger is an indicator that she did not endure the normal pains of labor. Even in our day, doctors or nurses would do this kind of work. In the first century, it would be a mid-wife. Yet the Bible seems to indicate Mary did this by herself.

The Bar of History

The Gnostics of the first centuries of the Christian era were prolific. And as a result, we find much of Christian writing during this period to be apologetic responses to Gnostic claims. Not surprisingly, Gnostic writers affirmed Mary’s freedom from labor pains because they characteristically denied Christ possessed a physical body at birth. Mary would naturally be free from pain in bringing forth a phantom Christ.

What is fascinating to discover is that some of the very earliest Christian writers who were engaged in writing specifically against Gnosticism agreed with the Gnostics that Mary gave birth without pain. Here are some examples to give us a sense of the antiquity of this teaching:

Odes of Solomon

These are Coptic Christian hymns discovered in 1909 and dated to the late first century or early second century. Their emphasis on Christ’s physical body indicates that they are not Gnostic. Note the mention of Christ “[taking] on [human] nature.” These ancient hymns seem to acknowledge Mary’s freedom from the effects of original sin in childbirth as a matter of history, rather than for a particular theological reason.

Ode 7:

He became like me so I could receive him, he thought like me so I could become him and I did not tremble when I saw him for he was gracious to me.

He took on my nature so I could learn from him, took on my form so I would not turn away.

Ode 17:

I was crowned by God, by a crown alive. And my Lord justified me. He became my certain salvation. I was freed from myself and uncondemned. The chains fell from my wrists…

They became the limbs of my body and I was their head.

Ode 19:

The Spirit opened the Virgin’s womb and she received the milk.

The Virgin became a mother of great mercy; she labored, but not in pain, and bore a son. No midwife came.

Ascension of Isaiah

This book “is a composite work comprising three originally distinct writings, the Martyrdom of Isaiah…which is of Jewish origin; a Christian apocalypse, known as the Testament of Ezekiel; and the Vision of Isaiah, also of Christian origin.”

The Ascension of Isaiah also dates back to the first and second centuries and the Jewish part perhaps before the first century. It is noteworthy that it may well have been alluded to in the New Testament—in Hebrews 11:37. In the midst of referencing the great and heroic virtue of men and women of the Old Covenant, the inspired author of Hebrews here mentions that “they were sawn in two” just as the Ascension of Isaiah recounts of Isaiah. This work shows heavy Gnostic influences, but because it was most likely alluded to in Scripture, it is worth considering.

Chapter 5:

And while they were alone, Mary looked up and saw a little child, and she was frightened. And at that very moment her womb was found as it had been before she had conceived.

The Protoevangelium of James (A.D. 140)

This text was quoted often by Fathers of the Church and is definitely Christian. It is this ancient writer who gave us our traditional names of Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. In it, there is a very graphic depiction of the birth of the Lord. Luigi Gambero writes (in his book, “Mary and the Fathers of the Church”):

The absence of labor pains and the sometimes crudely realistic examinations carried out by the midwife and a woman named Salome, who was then punished for her unbelief, confirm Mary’s virginity in the act of giving birth. At the same time, the realism with which the Lord’s birth is described leads one to think that the apocryphal gospel means to oppose the error of Gnostic Docetism, which considered Christ’s body to be a mere appearance or phantasm.

Because this work was anti-Gnostic in nature, it gives a strong argument for the belief of Christians to coincide with Gnostics concerning this matter of Mary’s freedom from labor pains. As Gambero mentioned, the author went to great lengths to make it clear that Jesus possessed an actual body and Mary was actually pregnant, yet that she gave birth in a miraculous fashion.

Perhaps even more important is the second-century work of St. Irenaeus. No one would say he was influenced by Gnosticism. He was the second century’s strongest defender of orthodoxy against Gnosticism. Yet, in his “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” we find:

For Behold, [the prophet Isaiah] saith, the Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son: and he, being God, is to be with us… And yet, concerning his birth the same prophet says in another place: Before the pains of travail came on, she escaped and was delivered of a man-child (referring to Is. 66:22).

St. Gregory of Nyssa, brother of St. Basil and one of the three “Cappadocian Fathers” gives us a window into what was the commonly held view of the birth of our Lord in the fourth century, writing ca. AD 380:

His conception did not result from the union of two humans; his birth was not polluted in any way: there were no labor pangs; his bridal chamber was that of the power of the Most High, which covered virginity like a cloud; the bridal torch was the splendor of the Holy Spirit; his bed was a personal condition devoid of vices; his nuptials were incorrupt . . . his birth alone occurred without labor pains… “Before the pangs of birth arrived, a male child came forth and was born” (Isa. 66:7) . . . Just as she who introduced death into nature by her sin was condemned to bear children in suffering and travail, it was necessary that the Mother of life, after having conceived in joy, should give birth in joy as well. No wonder that the angel said to her, “Rejoice, O full of grace!” (Luke 1:28) With these words he took from her the burden of that sorrow which, from the beginning of creation, had been imposed on birth because of sin.

St. Proclus of Constantinople (ca. AD 420)

What, then, is the mystery celebrated in yesterday’s solemnity? The unexplainable mystery of the divinity and the humanity, a birth that leaves the Mother uncorrupt, an Incarnation that gives a form to the incorporeal Divinity, while it undergoes no passion, an extraordinary birth, a beginning for a generated One who has no beginning.

St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. AD 430)

She conceives as a virgin, she gives birth as a virgin, and she remains a virgin. Therefore, her flesh knows the power of the miracle but does not know pain. In giving birth, it gains in integrity and knows nothing of physical suffering.

St. John of Damascus (ca. AD 730)

His birth was in accordance with the laws of parturition, while in that it was painless it was above the laws of generation. For, as pleasure did not precede it, pain did not follow it, according to the prophet who says, Before she travailed, she brought forth, and again, before her pain came she was delivered of a man-child (Is. 66:7).

Magisterial Teaching

Though this teaching has never been the object of a formal definition of the Church and therefore is not infallible, the Catechism of the Council of Trent gives perhaps the clearest example of the general understanding of the Church through centuries past:

But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so also the birth of our Lord… just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from his mother’s womb without injury to her maternal virginity.

From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ… To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus… without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

It seems fitting: Eve’s sin is causally linked to labor pain. The New Eve was uniquely free from the sin of Eve and did not experience that pain. Indeed, we would argue it would seem contrary to our sense of Jesus and Mary as the “New Adam” and the “New Eve” and—as we have seen—together the beginning of the New Covenant—to inaugurate this great and glorious covenant by experiencing pains that were the result of failure in the Old.

Pope Alexander III (1169)

[Mary] indeed conceived without shame, gave birth without pain, and went hence without corruption, according to the word of the angel, or rather (the word) of God through the angel, so that she should be proved to be full, not merely half filled, with grace and (so that) God her Son should faithfully fulfill the ancient commandment that he had formerly given, namely, to treat one’s father and mother with honor.

The Liturgical Tradition

The Church at prayer, both East and West, reveals a common understanding of Mary having been freed from labor pains.  In the Mass of “Mary at the Foot of the Cross II,” celebrated in the Latin Rite before the 1969 reform of the liturgy, the Church prayed:

In your divine wisdom, you planned the redemption of the human race, and decreed that the new Eve should stand by the cross of the new Adam: as she became his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit, so, by a new gift of your love, she was to be a partner in his passion, and she who had given him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of your Church.

In the Byzantine liturgy, from the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ and from the Synaxis of the Theotokos, Tone 2:

Behold! The Image of the Father and his unchangeable eternity has taken the form of a servant. Without suffering he has come forth to us from an all-pure Virgin, and yet he has remained unchanged. He is true God as he was before, and he has taken on himself what he had not been, becoming man out of his love for all. Therefore, let us raise our voices in hymns, singing: O God, born of the Virgin, have mercy on us.

The liturgy of the Church has always been an exemplary tool of catechetics and moral certitude theologically as well as the primary instrument of our spiritual nourishment in Christ. Thus, the fact that the Church asks all her children to affirm Mary’s freedom from the pangs of labor in liturgical prayer at Mass is a testimony as to the authority of this teaching of the Church.

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Queen of Heaven? Part II

As I said in an earlier blog post, Pope Pius XII pithily summarized the core reasons Christians ought to honor Mary with the title of Queen of Heaven and Earth:

According to ancient tradition and the sacred liturgy the main principle on which the royal dignity of Mary rests is without doubt her divine motherhood. In holy writ, concerning the son whom Mary will conceive, we read this sentence: “He shall be called the son of the most high, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” and in addition Mary is called “Mother of the Lord,” from this it is easily concluded that she is a queen, since she bore a son who, at the very moment of his conception, because of the hypostatic union of the human nature with the Word, was also as man, king and lord of all things. So with complete justice St. John Damascene could write: “When she became mother of the creator, she truly became queen of every creature.” Likewise, it can be said that the heavenly voice of the Archangel Gabriel was the first to proclaim Mary’s royal office.[1]

If we understand that Jesus is the king of Israel, then we know who Mary is: the queen mother. It really is that simple.

I will now add Revelation 12 to the mix in demonstrating Mary’s queenship:

And a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child… she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne… Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus (Rev. 12:1-2; 5; 17).

Here Mary is clearly depicted as a cosmic queen giving birth to both Christ and all Christians, all the while wearing her royal crown. She rules and reigns with her divine son at the center of the perennial battle between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world in union with “the serpent” of old. These texts alone demonstrate Mary to be queen of the kingdom of Christ.

But here’s the problem. Although Pope Pius XII says “it is easily concluded that [Mary] is a queen,” it is not so easy for millions outside of the Catholic Church to conclude. For the skeptic, then, I am now going to show how a fuller understanding of Old Testament typology can be the key to illuminating the truth of Mary’s queenship.

Hidden in the Old and Revealed in the New

The “kingdom of David”—which Christ came to (in a sense) re-constitute, in accord with prophecy—is the most prominent type of “the kingdom of Christ” in the New Covenant, and it also reveals Mary’s role as queen of that New Covenant kingdom.[2]

I will raise up your [King David’s] offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son.[3]

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isa. 9:6-7).

From the very first verse of the New Testament through the book of Revelation, we find Jesus referred to as this prophetic “son of David,” or “the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David.”[4] There can be no doubt that Christ is revealed as the king. But what is revealed to us about a queen?

Scott Hahn provides the answer in the remarkable ancient office and Old Testament type of the gebirah (Heb.: great lady):

In the ancient Near East, most nations were monarchies ruled by a king. In addition, most cultures practiced polygamy; so a given king often had several wives. This posed problems. First, whom should the people honor as queen? But more important, whose son should receive the right of succession to the throne? In most Near Eastern cultures, these twin problems were resolved by a single custom. The woman ordinarily honored as queen was not the wife of the king, but the mother of the king.[5]

It can be difficult for us in the modern Western world to understand ancient monarchical concepts. But first-century Jews understood the notion of the kingdom that Jesus preached because they lived it. They knew that a kingdom meant that there was a king. And, in ancient Israel as in many nearby cultures, if there was a king there was a queen mother.

2 Kings 11:1-4:

Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal family. But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, sister of Ahaziah, took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him away from among the king’s sons who were about to be slain, and she put him and his nurse in a bedchamber. Thus she hid him from Athaliah, so that he was not slain; and he remained with her six years, hid in the house of the Lord, while Athaliah reigned over the land.

Queen Athaliah ruled in Israel for six years after her son, King Ahaziah died. She was a wicked woman and so may not seem to be the greatest type of the Blessed Mother. But then there were many wicked kings in ancient Israel, too, who were nonetheless types of Christ. (Even the great King David himself is quite well-known for his moral failings.) Leaving aside Athaliah’s wickedness, we see in this text a scriptural example of the importance and the authority of the queen mother.

2 Chronicles 15:16:

Even Maacah, his mother, King Asa removed from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. Asa cut down her image, crushed it, and burned it at the brook Kidron.

Queen Mother Maacah was not exactly a picture of holiness, either. But her office was a powerful one in ancient Israel. Maacha held royal authority and was only deposed from it because she made an idol.

Jeremiah 13:18:

Say to the king and the queen mother: “Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head.”

Both the king and the queen mother wore royal crowns, just as Mary is depicted wearing in Revelation 12:1.

Perhaps the best example of the power and authority of the queen mother in the Old Testament is found personified in Bathsheba in 1 Kings.

1 Kings 1:11-16, 22:

Then Nathan said to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon, “Have you not heard that Adonijah the son of Haggith has become king and David our lord does not know it? Now therefore come, let me give you counsel, that you may save your own life and the life of your son Solomon. Go in at once to King David, and say to him, “Did you not, my lord the king, swear to your maidservant, saying, ‘Solomon your son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne’? Why then is Adonijah king?” Then while you are still speaking with the king, I will come in after you and confirm your words. So Bathsheba went to the king in to his chamber (now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunamite was ministering to the king). Bathsheba bowed and did obeisance to the king, and the king said, “What do you desire?”… While she was still speaking with the king, Nathan the prophet came in.

While King David was still alive, Bathsheba was merely one among many of his wives. As such, she had to bow before her husband the king when making a request of him. In this case, in order to ensure that her request would be granted by the king, she also needed the aid of Nathan the prophet. However, after David’s death, Bathsheba received a crown and a drastic change in authority. Bathsheba became the queen mother.

1 Kings 2:13-23:

Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” She said, “Say on.” He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign; however the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord. And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Say on.” And he said, “Pray ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak for you to the king.”

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.” She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife.” King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also; for he is my elder brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah.” Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, “God do so to me and more also if this word does not cost Adonijah his life!”

What a change! Once, Bathsheba bowed to the king. Now the new king—Solomon—bowed to her. (At that time the king of Israel bowed to no one except God… and evidently the queen mother.) As wife of the king, Bathsheba had to beg her husband David for a favor with the assistance of Nathan. As queen mother, Bathsheba needed no assistance and would be refused nothing.

The high degree of power and authority wielded by the queen mother in the kingdom of Israel gives us a context to appreciate in a deeper way the intercessory power of Mary as exemplified, for example, at the wedding feast of Cana in John 2. Are we saying that whatever Mary asks will be brought to pass by her divine son? Yes, we are. If it was so for the Old Covenant type, how could it be anything less for the New Covenant fulfillment? We should always keep in mind, however, that Mary will never ask her Son to do anything that is contrary to his will. Her perfectly obedient will is only to do his will.[6]

Queen and Mother Prophesied

Psalm 45:1-9a prophesy in some detail about Christ the king:

My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king… In your majesty ride forth victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right… Your divine throne endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows; your robes are all fragrant… From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor.

In the New Testament, the inspired author of Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes verses 6-7 of this very text as referring to Christ, his divinity, and his kingship. But immediately following those verses is another, lesser-known, prophecy that speaks of Mary:

 … at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir. Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house; and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him; the people of Tyre will sue your favor with gifts, the richest of the people with all kinds of wealth. The daughter of the king is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes; in many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions, her escort, in her train. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king. Instead of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever (9b-17).

Set in the context of a royal wedding, on the literal level this psalm referred to the king of Israel, likely Solomon, receiving a new bride, with his mother standing at his right to symbolize her power and authority. But on the spiritual level it refers to Christ and Mary. T.E. Bird says of this text:

But although the poem may have been written in honor of a royal wedding (probably Solomon’s), the inspired writer’s thoughts reach beyond the actual event; he sees a king fairer than an ordinary man (3), one whom he addresses as “God” (7,8), one whose throne is to remain forever (7), whose rule is to extend over the world… It is not surprising, therefore, that Jews and Christians have seen here the espousals between the Messiah and his people. The Targum treats the Psalm as strictly Messianic; St. John Chrysostom could say that on this point Jews and Christians were agreed (PG 55, 183); St. Thomas Aquinas gives the Catholic interpretation: “The subject-matter of this psalm is the espousals between Christ and the Church.” On feasts of the Blessed Virgin, the Psalm is recited as Matins; (10-16) are applied to her as the Spouse of the Holy Ghost and the Queen of Heaven.[7]

Who is this woman of whom the Lord said, “I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations; therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever”? Not one of Solomon’s wives fit the prophetic description.

Most every Christian—indeed most of the world beyond Christendom—knows the name of the Mother of God—Mary—who in fulfillment of this prophetic text said, “All generations shall call me blessed.”[8]

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[1] Pope Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam, 34.

[2] The Kingdom of Christ is not a strict re-constitution of the Kingdom of David because Christ fulfills and transcends the old kingdom as well. Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” and “everlasting,” while the kingdom of David was not (cf. John 18:36 ; Luke 1:33).

[3] 2 Samuel 7:12-14.

[4] E.g. Matt. 1:1; Rev. 3:7.

[5]Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen, p. 78.

[6] 1 John 5:14 tells us that we will receive whatever we ask of God “if it is in accord with [God’s] will.” Mary always prays thus, we strive to do so as best we can.

[7] T.E. Bird, A Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, p. 456.

[8] Mary is most obviously the Mother of the King—Jesus. But she is also a member of the Church as are all Christians, and as such can be viewed as a bride of Christ as well. It must always be emphasized that just as we say with regard to all members of the Body of Christ in relation to Christ, this union is not sexual. It is nuptial, but this term is used by analogy. It is in this analogical context that some mystical writers will refer to Mary as having a nuptial relationship with Christ inasmuch as Christ is God. The great fourth-century father and mystic, St. Ephrem of Syria, described Mary as if from her own lips: “I am a mother because of your conception, and bride am I because of your chastity” (Hymns on the Nativity, 16, 10).

Queen of Heaven?

Pope Pius XII effectively summarized the core reasons Christians ought to honor Mary with the title of Queen of Heaven and Earth:

According to ancient tradition and the sacred liturgy the main principle on which the royal dignity of Mary rests is without doubt her divine motherhood. In holy writ, concerning the son whom Mary will conceive, we read this sentence: “He shall be called the son of the most high, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” and in addition Mary is called “Mother of the Lord,” from this it is easily concluded that she is a queen, since she bore a son who, at the very moment of his conception, because of the hypostatic union of the human nature with the Word, was also as man, king and lord of all things. So with complete justice St. John Damascene could write: “When she became mother of the creator, she truly became queen of every creature.” Likewise, it can be said that the heavenly voice of the Archangel Gabriel was the first to proclaim Mary’s royal office (Ad Caeli Reginam, 34).

In my next blog post, I will give more positive reasons for faith in Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, but many Protestants I speak to cannot get past one biblical text from the Old Testament that casts a shadow over this topic like none other. In Roman Catholics and Evangelicals—Agreements and Differences, Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie present that text along with their commentary that represents the misguided faith of millions. And that text is Jeremiah 7:18:

Do you not see what they are doing in the streets of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.

Geisler and MacKenzie comment:

 To call Mary “Queen of Heaven,” knowing that this very phrase comes from an old pagan idolatrous cult condemned in the Bible (cf. Jer. 7:18), only invites the charge of Mariolatry. And Mariolatry is idolatry (p. 322).

I can certainly sympathize with their thinking here. I once thought the same. But the truth is: this text has absolutely nothing to do with the Blessed Mother as Queen of Heaven for at least three reasons:

  1. Jeremiah here condemns the adoration of the Mesopotamian goddess Astarte (see Raymond Brown, S.S., Joseph Fitzmeyer, S.J., Roland E. Murphy, editors, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1968, p. 310).  She is in no way related to Mary. In fact, “she” did not and does not exist in reality. Mary, on the other hand, was a real historical person who was—and is—a queen by virtue of the fact that her son was—and is—the king.
  2. Jeremiah condemned offering sacrifice to “the queen of heaven.” In Scripture, we have many examples of the proper way we should honor great members of the kingdom of God. We give “double honor” to “elders who rule well” in the Church (1 Tim. 5:17). St. Paul tells us we should “esteem very highly” those who are “over [us] in the Lord” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). We sing praises to great members of the family of God who have gone before us (Psalm 45:17). We bow down to them with reverence (1 Kings 2:19). We carry out the work of the Lord in their names (Matt. 10:40-42, DRV), and more. But there is one thing we ought never to do: offer sacrifice to them. Offering sacrifice is tantamount to the adoration that is due God alone. And this is precisely what Jeremiah was condemning. The Catholic Church does not teach—and has never taught—that we should adore Mary (see CCC 2110-2114; Lumen Gentium 66-67; CCC 971). Catholics offer sacrifice exclusively to God.
  3. To the Evangelical and Fundamentalist, the mere fact that worshipping someone called “queen of heaven” is condemned in Jeremiah 7 eliminates the possibility of      Mary being the true Queen of Heaven and Earth. This simply does not follow. The existence of a counterfeit queen does not mean there can’t be an authentic one. This reasoning followed to its logical end would lead to abandoning the entire Christian Faith! We could not have a Bible because Hinduism, Islam, and many other false religions have “holy books.” We could not call Jesus Son of God because Zeus and Hera had Apollo, Isis and Osiris had Horus, etc. The fact that there was a false “queen of heaven” worshipped in ancient Mesopotamia does not negate the reality of the true queen who is honored as such in the kingdom of God.

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The Assumption of Mary

Tomorrow we celebrate the great Feast of the Assumption of Mary. It is a time of rejoicing in the Catholic Church. But for many Christians, this celebration is wrong-headed. In fact, for some it is downright blasphemous. And there are two texts of Scripture most commonly used to “prove” the point:

1. John 3:13:

No one has ascended up to heaven, but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man.

If “no man” has ascended into heaven, wouldn’t that include the Blessed Virgin Mary?

2. I Cor. 15:22-23:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.

If no one except Christ will be resurrected bodily before the Second Coming of Christ, would that not eliminate the possibility of Mary having been bodily assumed into heaven?

The Catholic response

John 3:13 does not eliminate the possibility of the Assumption of Mary for four reasons.

1. St. John was quoting the actual words our Lord spoke when he wrote, “No one has ascended into heaven, but . . . the Son of man.” Jesus was merely saying that no one had ascended into heaven by the time he made that statement. That was long before the Assumption of Mary.

2. Jesus cannot be saying that no one else will ever be taken to heaven. If that is the case, then what is all this Christianity stuff about? You know, heaven and all.

3. If one interprets John 3:13 as speaking about Christ uniquely ascending to heaven, that would be acceptable. We would then have to ask the question: what is it about Jesus’ ascension that is unique? Well, the fact that he ascended is unique. Mary did not ascend to heaven. She was assumed. There is a big difference. Jesus ascended by his own divine power as he prophesied he would in John 2:19-21: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . he spoke of the temple of his body.” Mary was powerless to raise herself to heaven; she had to be assumed. The same could be said of all Christians. Jesus raised himself from the dead. Christians will be entirely passive when it comes to their collective “resurrection.”

4. St. John is demonstrating the divinity of Christ in John 3:13. Historically, we know St. John was writing against his archenemy, the heretic Cerinthus, who denied the divinity of Christ (according to, for example, St. Irenaeus, and Eusebius of Caesarea). St. John quotes these words from Jesus to demonstrate that the Savior “descended” from heaven and was both in heaven and on Earth as the “only begotten Son” (cf. 3:16) sharing his Father’s nature (cf. 5:17-18). Thus, he was truly God. St. John also emphasizes that even while “the Son of Man” walked the Earth with his disciples in Galilee, he possessed the beatific vision in his human nature. In that sense, his human nature (Son of Man) had already “ascended” into heaven inasmuch as it possessed the beatific vision, which is at the core of what heaven is. That is John’s theme in the text, not whether someone years after Christ could be assumed into heaven or not.

I Cor. 15:22-23:

1. We must remember that there are sometimes exceptions to general theological norms in Scripture. For example, consider Matt. 3:5-6: “Then went out to [St. John the Baptist] Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him.” We know that “all” here does not mean “all” in a strict sense because we know, at least, Herod, Herodias, and her daughter, were exceptions to this verse (See Matt. 14:1-11). They conspired to put St. John to death. Not the best candidates for baptism! Moreover, man of the Pharisees and Sadducees are explicitly said to have “not… been baptized by him” in Luke 7:30.

The bottom line: There are exceptions to Matt. 3:5-6. St. John the Baptist did not baptize everyone in “Jerusalem, Judea and the region around Jordan.” So Mary could be (and is, as we will see below) an exception to I Cor. 15:22-23.

2. There are exceptions to other general norms specifically laid out as true for “all” in Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Yet we see exceptions to this norm many places in Scripture by way of resurrections from the dead. Not only do we have Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, St. Peter and St. Paul raising the dead in Scripture, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, “the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and [came] out of the tombs” (Matt. 27:52-53). These folks obviously did not “die once.” They presumably died at least twice!

3. We have examples of other “assumptions” in Scripture. Both Enoch (cf. Gen. 5:24) and Elijah were taken up “into heaven” (II Kings 2:11) in a manner quite out of the ordinary. And so are the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:3-13. Why couldn’t God do this with Mary?

4. We know that Mary is an exception to the “norm” of I Cor. 15:22-23 because she is depicted as having been assumed into heaven in Rev. 12. “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun . . . she was with child . . . and . . . brought forth a male child [Jesus], one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron” (12:1-5). Who was the woman who gave birth to Jesus? Mary! And there she is in heaven!

Is the woman of Revelation 12 Mary?

Many will object at this point and deny “the woman” of Revelation 12 is Mary. They will claim it is either the Church, or, as do dispensationalists, they will claim it is the Israel of old.

The Church acknowledges Scripture to have a polyvalent nature. In other words, there can be many levels of meaning to the various texts of Scripture. So, are there many levels of meaning to Rev. 12? Absolutely! Israel is often depicted as the Lord’s bride in the Old Testament (cf. Song of Solomon, Jer. 3:1, etc.). So there is precedent to refer to Israel as “the woman.” And Jesus was born out of Israel.

Moreover, the Book of Revelation depicts the New Covenant Church as “the bride of Christ” and “the New Jerusalem” (cf. Rev. 21:2). “The woman” of Revelation 12 is also depicted as continuing to beget children to this day and these children are revealed to be all “who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (vs. 17). The Church certainly fits this description.

In fact, we argue as Catholics “the woman” to represent the people of God down through the centuries, whether Old Covenant Israel or the New Covenant Church, “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), at least, in one sense.

The first and literal sense

All we have said about “the woman” of Revelation 12 representing the people of God down through the millennia of time does not diminish in any way the first and literal sense of the text as representing Mary. In fact, there are at least four reasons why one cannot escape including Mary when exegeting Revelation 12 and specifically the identity of “the woman.”

1. “The woman” in Rev. 12 “brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son was taken up to God, and to his throne.” This child is obviously Jesus. If we begin on the literal level, there is no doubt that Mary is the one who “brought forth” Jesus.

2. Though we could discover many spiritual levels of meaning for the flight of “the woman” in 12:6, 14, Mary and the Holy Family literally fled into Egypt in Matt. 2:13-15 with divine assistance.

3. Mary is referred to prophetically as “woman” in Gen. 3:15, Jer. 31:22, and by Jesus as the same in John 2:4 and 19:26. Especially considering the same apostle, John, wrote the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation, it is no stretch to say St. John would have had Mary in mind when he used the familiar term “the woman” as the descriptor of the Lady of the Apocalypse.

4. There are four main characters in the chapter: “the woman,” the devil, Jesus, and the Archangel Michael. No one denies that the other three mentioned are real persons. It fits the context exegetically to interpret “the woman” as a person (Mary) as well.

How do we know Mary is bodily in heaven?

Some may concede Mary to be the woman of Revelation 12, but the next logical question is: “How does this mean she is in heaven bodily? There are lots of souls in heaven, but they don’t have their bodies.”

It seems clear that “the woman” is depicted as having “the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown” (vs. 1). Elsewhere in Rev. and in other parts of Scripture, saints in heaven are referred to as the “souls of those who had been slain” (Rev. 6:9) or “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). Why? Because they do not have bodies! They are disembodied “souls” or “spirits.” But the “woman” of Rev. 12 is portrayed as having a body with a head and feet.

But perhaps even more important than this is the fact that “the Ark of the Covenant” is revealed as being in heaven in Rev. 11:19. This is just one verse prior to the unveiling of “the woman” of Rev. 12:1.

Some may respond at this point: “Who cares if the ‘Ark of the Covenant’ is said to be in heaven?”

This is crucial, because Hebrews 9:4 tells us what was contained within the ark: a portion of manna, the miraculous “bread from heaven” of Old Testament fame, Aaron’s staff, and the Ten Commandments. In fact, it was precisely because of these sacred contents that the ark was so holy, and that is precisely why it is here depicted as having been taken up to heaven.

The question is: Is the Ark of the Covenant depicted as being in heaven a “what” (an Old Testament box made of acacia wood overlain with gold in Exodus 25), or a “who?” I argue it not only to be a “who” but to be the Blessed Virgin Mary for these reasons:

Let’s first take a look at the text of Rev. 11:19:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within in his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, loud noises, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

In order to appreciate the identity of “the ark,” let’s first take a look at the identity of “the temple” that St. John sees as housing the ark. John 2:19-21 and Rev. 21:22 tell us quite plainly that the temple St. John speaks of is not a temple made of brick and mortar.

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”. . .  But he spoke of the temple of his body (Jn. 2:21).

I saw no temple [in heaven], for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the lamb (Rev. 21:22).

When St. John views the temple in heaven, he is not viewing the Old Testament temple. He is viewing the true temple, which is Christ’s body. In the same way, St. John is not seeing the Old Covenant ark. He sees the new and true Ark of the Covenant. And remember: this would not just be talking about Mary but Mary’s body! It was Mary’s body that housed the Son of God, the fulfillment of the various types of Christ that were contained in the Old Covenant ark.

The conclusion is inescapable. Where is Mary’s body? In heaven, according to the Book of Revelation!

A final objection

Some may argue at this point our energy was wasted in asserting Mary to be identified with “the woman” of Revelation 12 because this “woman” is depicted as “travailing” with the pangs of labor in verse 2. Thus, this cannot be the “Catholic” Mary.

Two points in response:

1. No matter which interpretation you choose—Israel, the Church, Mary, or all of the above—all interpretations agree: the labor pains of Rev. 12:2 are not literal pains from a child passing through the birth canal. This really should not be a problem at all.

2. From the very beginning of Mary’s calling to be the Mother of the Messiah, she would have most likely known her Son was called to be the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and Wisdom 2.

Mary’s “labor pains” began at the Annunciation and would continue from the cradle to the cross, where she suffered with her Son as prophesied in Luke 2:34-35 and as painfully fulfilled in John 19. Mary’s deep love for and knowledge of her divine Son brought with it pains far deeper than any physical hurt could ever cause. A body can go numb and cease to feel pain. But you can’t deaden a heart that loves, as long as that heart continues to love. Mary clearly chose to love. She was uniquely present for our Lord, from the Incarnation of Luke 1:37-38, to the birthing of his ministry in John 2, to the cross in John 19, and into eternity in Revelation 12.

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Why Mary Matters

In my new book, Behold Your Mother: A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines, I spend most of its pages in classic apologetic defense of Mary as Mother of God, defending her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, assumption into heaven, her Queenship, and her role in God’s plan of salvation as Co-redemptrix and Mediatrix. But perhaps my  most important contributions in the book may well be how I demonstrate each of these doctrines to be crucial for our spiritual lives and even our salvation.

And I should note that this applies to all of the Marian doctrines. Not only Protestants, but many Catholics will be surprised to see how the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, for example, is crucial for all Christians to understand lest they misapprehend the truth concerning the sacred, marriage, sacraments, the consecrated life, and more.

I won’t attempt to re-produce the entire book in this post, but I will choose one example among examples I use to demonstrate why Mary as Mother of God not only matters, but how denying this dogma of the Faith can end in the loss of understanding of “the one true God and Jesus Christ whom [God] has sent” (John 17:3). It doesn’t get any more serious than that!

In my book, I use the teaching of the late, well-known, and beloved Protestant Apologist, Dr. Walter Martin, as one of my examples (among others). In his classic apologetics work, Kingdom of the Cults, Dr. Martin, gives us keen insight into why the dogma of the Theotokos (“God-bearer,” a synonym with “Mother of God”) is such a “big deal.” But first some background information.

Truth and Consequences

It is very easy to state what it is that you don’t believe. That has been the history of Protestantism. Protestantism itself began as a… you guessed it… “protest.” “We are against this, this, this, and this.” It was a “protest” against Catholicism. However, the movement could not continue to exist as a protest against something. It had to stand for something. And that is when the trouble began. When groups of non-infallible men attempted to agree, the result ended up being the thousands of Protestant sects we see today.

Dr. Walter Martin was a good Protestant. He certainly and boldly proclaimed, “I do not believe Mary is the Mother of God.” That’s fine and good. The hard part came when he had to build a theology congruent with his denial. With Dr. Martin, it is difficult to know for sure whether his bad Christology came before or after his bad Mariology—I argue it was probably bad Christology that came first—but let’s just say for now that in the process of theologizing about both Jesus and Mary, he ended up claiming Mary was “the mother of Jesus’ body,” and not the Mother of God. He claimed Mary “gave Jesus his human nature alone,” so that we cannot say she is the Mother of God; she is the mother of the man, Jesus Christ.

This radical division of humanity and divinity manifests itself in various ways in Dr. Martin’s theology. He claimed, for example, that “sonship” in Christ has nothing at all to do with God in his eternal relations within the Blessed Trinity. In Martin’s Christology, divinity and humanity are so sharply divided that he concluded “eternal sonship” to be an unbiblical Catholic invention. On page 103 of his 1977 edition of The Kingdom of the Cults, he wrote:

[T]here cannot be any such thing as eternal Sonship, for there is a logical contradiction of terminology due to the fact that the word “Son” predicates time and the involvement of creativity. Christ, the Scripture tells us, as the Logos, is timeless, “…the Word was in the beginning” not the Son!

From Martin’s perspective then, Mary as “Mother of God” is a non-starter. If “Son of God” refers to Christ as the Eternal Son, then there would be no denying that Mary is the mother of the Son of God, who is God; hence, Mother of God would be an inescapable conclusion. But if sonship only applies to “time and creativity,” then references to Mary’s “son” would not refer to divinity at all.

But there is just a little problem here. Beyond the fact that you don’t even need the term “Son” at all to determine Mary is the Mother God because John 1:14 tells us “the Word was made flesh,” and John 1:1 tells us “the Word was God;” thus, Mary is the mother of the Word and so she is the Mother of God anyway, the sad fact is that in the process of Martin’s theologizing he ended up losing the real Jesus. Notice, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is no longer the Eternal Son! And it gets worse from here, if that is possible! Martin would go on:

The term “Son” itself is a functional term, as is the term “Father” and has no meaning apart from time. The term “Father” incidentally never carries the descriptive adjective “eternal” in Scripture; as a matter of fact, only the Spirit is called eternal (“the eternal Spirit”—Hebrews 9:14), emphasizing the fact that the words Father and Son are purely functional as previously stated.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of what we are saying here. Jesus revealed to us the essential truth that God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in his inner life. For Martin, God would be father by analogy in relation to the humanity of Christ, but not in the eternal divine relations; hence, he is not the eternal Father. So, not only did Dr. Martin end up losing Jesus,the eternal Son; he lost the Father as well! This compels us to ask the question: Who then is God, the Blessed Trinity, in eternity, according to Dr. Walter Martin and all those who agree with his theology? He is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He must be the eternal … Blah… the Word, and the Holy Spirit (Martin did teach Christ to be the Eternal Word, just not the Eternal Son). He would become a father by analogy when he created the universe and again by analogy at the incarnation of the Word and through the adoption of all Christians as “sons of God.” But he would not be the eternal Father. The metaphysical problems begin here and continue to eternity… literally. Let us now summarize Dr. Martin’s teaching and some of the problems it presents:

1. Fatherhood and Sonship would not be intrinsic to God. The Catholic Church understands that an essential aspect of Christ’s mission was to reveal God to us as he is in his inner life as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Jews already understood God to be father by analogy, but they had no knowledge of God as eternal Father in relation to the Eternal Son. In Jesus’ great high priestly prayer in John 17, he declared his Father was Father “before the world was made” and thus, to quote CCC 239, in “an unheard-of sense.” In fact, Christ revealed God’s name as Father. Names in Hebrew culture reveal something about the character of the one named. Thus, he reveals God to be Father, not just that he is like a father. God never becomes Father; he is the eternal Father

2. If Sonship applies only to humanity and time, the “the Son” would also be extrinsic, or outside, if you will, of the Second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity. Thus, as much as he would have denied it, Dr. Martin effectively creates two persons to represent Christ—one divine and one human. This theology leads to the logical conclusion that the person who died on the cross 2,000 years ago would have been merely a man. If that were so, he would have no power to save us. Scripture reveals Christ as the savior, not merely a delegate of God the savior. He was fully man in order to make fitting atonement for us. He was fully God in order to have the power to save us.

3. This theology completely reduces the revelation of God in the New Covenant that separates Christianity from all religions of the world. Jesus revealed God as he is from all eternity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Dr. Martin reduces this to mere function. Thus, “Father” does not tell us who God is, only what God does. Radical feminists do something similar when they refuse to acknowledge God as “Father.” God becomes reduced to that which he does as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” and in the process there is a truly tragic loss of the knowledge of who God is. In the case of Dr. Walter Martin, it was bad theology that led to a similar loss.

4. There is a basic metaphysical principle found, for example, in Malachi 3:6, that comes into play here as well: “For I the Lord do not change.” In defense of Dr. Martin, he did seem to realize that one cannot posit change in the divine persons. As stated above, “fatherhood” and “sonship” would not relate to divinity at all in his way of thinking. Thus, he became a proper Nestorian (though he would never have admitted that) that divides Christ into two persons. And that is bad enough. However, one must be very careful here because when one posits the first person of the Blessed Trinity became the Father, and the second person of the Blessed Trinity became the Son, it becomes very easy to slip into another heresy that would admit change into the divine persons. Later in Behold Your Mother, I employ the case of a modern Protestant apologist who regrettably takes that next step. But you’ll have to get the book to read about that one!

The bottom line here is this: It appears Dr. Walter Martin’s bad Christology led to a bad Mariology. But I argue in Behold Your Mother that if he would have understood Mary as Theotokos (“God-bearer”, or, “Mother of God”), it would have been impossible for him to lose his Christological bearings. The moment the thought of sonship as only applying to humanity in Christ would have arisen, a Catholic Dr. Walter Martin would have known that Mary is Mother of God. He would have lost neither the eternal Son nor the eternal Father because Theotokos would have guarded him from error. The prophetic words of Lumen Gentium 65 immediately come to mind: “Mary… unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith.” A true Mariology serves as a guarantor against bad Christology.

Tim Staples on EWTN

If you didn’t get a chance to see it, check out Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., interviewing me on “EWTN Live” this past Jan. 21, 2015. Fr. Pacwa is a dear friend and a truly amazing priest. We talked about the Marian doctrines and devotion and promoted my new book, to which I am honored to say, Fr. Pacwa gave his endorsement: Behold Your Mother – A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines. Fr. Pacwa said of my book:

Tim Staples respectfully but clearly answers every conceivable Protestant objection to Mary, the Mother of God. With the street cred of one who has been there, Tim backs up his words with Scripture every time. His answers are exhaustive but not exhausting! An invaluable book for thoughtful, truth-seeking Christians.

Check out the TV broadcast here, and check out the book, here.

The Immaculate Conception

Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I John 1:8 adds, “If any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him.” These texts could not be clearer for millions of Protestants: “How could anyone believe Mary was free from all sin in light of these Scriptures? What’s more, Mary herself said, ‘My soul rejoices in God my savior’ in Luke 1:47. She clearly understood herself to be a sinner if she admits to needing a savior.”

The Catholic Answer

Not a few Protestants are surprised to discover the Catholic Church actually agrees that Mary was “saved.” Indeed, Mary needed a savior! However, Mary was “saved” from sin in a most sublime manner. She was given the grace to be “saved” completely from sin so that she never committed even the slightest transgression. The problem here is Protestants tend to emphasize God’s “salvation” almost exclusively to the forgiveness of sins actually committed. However, Sacred Scripture indicates that salvation can also refer to man being protected from sinning before the fact.

Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and for ever (Jude 24-25).

The great Franciscan theologian, Duns Scotus, explained ca. 600 years ago that falling into sin could be likened to a man approaching unaware a massive 20-feet deep ditch. If he falls into the ditch, he would need someone to lower a rope and save him. But if someone were to warn him of the danger ahead resulting in the man not falling into the ditch at all, he would have been saved from falling in the first place. Analogously, Mary was saved from sin by receiving the grace to be preserved from it. But she was still saved.

The Exception[s] to the Rule

But what about “all have sinned,” and “if any man says he has no sin he is a liar and the truth is not in him?” Wouldn’t “all” and/or “any man” include Mary? On the surface, this sounds reasonable. But this way of thinking carried to its logical conclusion would list Jesus Christ in the company of sinners as well. No Christian would dare say that! Yet, no Christian can deny the plain texts of Scripture declaring Christ’s full humanity either. Thus, if one is going to take I John 1:8 in a strict, literal sense, then any man would apply to Jesus as well!

The truth is—and all Christians agree—Jesus Christ was an exception to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. And the Bible tells us he was in Hebrews 4:15: “Christ was tempted in all points even as we are and yet he was without sin.” The real question now is: are there any other exceptions to this rule? Yes, there are. In fact, there are millions of them.

First of all, we need to recall that both of these texts—Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8—are dealing with personal rather than original sin. Romans 5:12 will deal with original sin. And there are two exceptions to that general biblical norm as well. But for now, we will simply deal with Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8. I John 1:8 obviously refers to personal sin because in the very next verse, St. John tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins…” We do not confess original sin; we confess personal sins.

The context of Romans 3:23 makes clear that it too refers to personal sin:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave. They use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:10-14).

Original sin is not something we do; it is something we’ve inherited. Romans chapter three deals with personal sin because it speaks of sins committed by the sinner. With this in mind, consider this: Has a baby in the womb or a child of two ever committed a personal sin? No, they haven’t (see Romans 9:11)! Or, how about the mentally challenged who do not have the use of their intellects and wills? These cannot sin because in order to sin a person has to know the act he is about to perform is sinful while freely engaging his will in carrying it out. Without the proper faculties to enable them to sin, children before the age of accountability and anyone who does not have the use of his intellect and will cannot sin. Right there you have millions of exceptions to Romans 3:23 and I John 1:8.

The question remains: how do we know Mary is an exception to the norm of “all have sinned?” And more specifically, is there biblical support for this claim? Yes, there is. Indeed, there is much biblical support, but in this brief post I shall cite just five examples, among the many to which I could refer, that give us biblical support for this ancient doctrine of the Faith.

1. LUKE 1:28:

And [the angel Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Many Protestants will insist this text to be little more than a common greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. “What would this have to do with Mary being without sin?” Yet, the truth is, according to Mary herself, this was no common greeting. The text reveals Mary to have been “greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29, emphasis added). What was it about this greeting that was so uncommon for Mary to react this way? There are at least two key reasons:

First, according to many biblical scholars as well as Pope John Paul II, the angel did more than simply greet Mary. The angel actually communicated a new name or title to her. In Greek, the greeting was kaire, kekaritomene, or “Hail, full of grace.” Generally speaking, when one greeted another with kaire, a name or title would almost be expected to be found in the immediate context. “Hail, king of the Jews” in John 19:3 and “Claudias Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting” (Acts 23:26) are two biblical examples of this. The fact that the angel replaces Mary’s name in the greeting with “full of grace” was anything but common. This would be analogous to me speaking to one of our tech guys at Catholics answers and saying, “Hello, he who fixes computers.” In our culture, I would just be considered weird. But in Hebrew culture, names, and name changes, tell us something that is permanent about the character and calling of the one named. Just recall the name changes of Abram to Abraham (changed from “father” to “father of the multitudes”) in Gen. 17:5, Saray to Sarah (“my princess” to “princess”) in Gen. 17:15, and Jacob to Israel (“supplanter” to “he who prevails with God”) in Gen. 32:28.

In each case, the names reveal something permanent about the one named. Abraham and Sarah transition from being a “father” and “princess” of one family to being “father” and “princess” or “mother” of the entire people of God (see Romans 4:1-18; Is. 51:1-2). They become Patriarch and Matriarch of God’s people forever. Jacob/Israel becomes the Patriarch whose name, “he who prevails with God,” continues forever in the Church, which is called “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). The people of God will forever “prevail with God” in the image of the Patriarch Jacob who was not just named Israel, but he truly became “he who prevails with God.”

An entire tome could be written concerning the significance of God’s revelation of his name in Exodus 3:14-15 as I AM. God revealed to us volumes about his divine nature in and through the revelation of his name—God is pure being with no beginning and no end; he is all perfection, etc.

What’s in a name? A lot according to Scripture!

When you add to this the fact that St. Luke uses the perfect passive participle, kekaritomene, as his “name” for Mary, we get deeper insight into the meaning of Mary’s new name. This word literally means “she who has been graced” in a completed sense. This verbal adjective, “graced,” is not just describing a simple past action. Greek has the aorist tense for that. The perfect tense is used to indicate that an action has been completed in the past resulting in a present state of being. That’s Mary’s name! So what does it tell us about Mary? Well, the average Christian is not completed in grace and in a permanent sense (see Phil. 3:8-12). But according to the angel, Mary is. You and I sin, not because of grace, but because of a lack of grace, or a lack of our cooperation with grace, in our lives. This greeting of the angel is one clue into the unique character and calling of the Mother of God.

Objection!

One objection to the above is rooted in Eph. 2:8-9. Here, St. Paul uses the perfect tense and passive voice when he says, “For by grace you have been saved…” Why wouldn’t we then conclude all Christians are complete in salvation for all time? There seems to be an inconsistency in usage here.

Actually, the Catholic Church understands that Christians are completed in grace when they are baptized. In context, St. Paul is speaking about the initial grace of salvation in Ephesians two. The verses leading up to Eph. 2:8-9, make this clear: “… we all lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath…even when we were dead in trespasses and sins…(by grace you have been saved)” (vss. 3-5). But there is no indication here, as there is with Mary, that the Christian is going to stay that way. In other words, Eph. 2:8-9 does not confer a name.

In fact, because of original sin, we can guarantee that though we are certainly perfected in grace through baptism, ordinarily speaking, we will not stay that way after we are baptized; that is, if we live for very long afterward (see I John 1:8)! There may be times in the lives of Christians when they are completed or perfected in grace temporarily. For example, after going to confession or receiving the Eucharist well-disposed. We let God, of course, be the judge of this, not us, as St. Paul tells us in I Cor. 4:3-4:

I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted (Gr.—justified). It is the Lord who judges me.

But only Mary is given the name “full of grace” and in the perfect tense indicating that this permanent state of Mary was completed.

2. An Ancient Prophecy—Genesis 3:15:

Genesis 3:15 is often referred to by biblical scholars as the Protoevangelium. It is a sort of “gospel” before “the gospel.” This little text contains in very few words God’s plan of salvation which would be both revealed and realized in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, when one reads the text, one cannot help but note that this prophetic woman seems to have what could be termed almost a disturbing prominence and importance in God’s providential plan:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Not only do we have the Virgin Birth here implied because the text says the Messiah would be born of “the seed of the woman” (the “seed” is normally of the man), but notice “the woman” is not included as “the seed” of the devil. It seems that both the woman and her seed are in opposition to and therefore not under the dominion of the devil and “his seed,” i.e., all who have original sin and are “by nature children of wrath” as St. Paul puts it in Eph. 2:3. Here, we have in seed form (pun intended), the fact that the woman—Mary—would be without sin, especially original sin, just as her Son—the Messiah—would be. The emphasis on Mary is truly remarkable in that the future Messiah was only mentioned in relation to her. There can be little doubt that a parallel is being drawn between Jesus and Mary and their absolute opposition to the devil.

3. Mary, Ark of the Covenant:

The Old Testament ark of the Covenant was a true icon of the sacred. It was a picture of the purity and holiness God fittingly demands of those objects and/or persons most closely associated with himself and the plan of salvation. Because it would contain the very presence of God symbolized by three types of the coming Messiah—the manna, the Ten Commandments, and Aaron’s staff—it had to be most pure and untouched by sinful man (see II Sam. 6:1-9; Exodus 25:10ff; Numbers 4:15; Heb. 9:4).

In the New Testament, the new and true Ark would not be an inanimate object, but a person—the Blessed Mother. How much more pure would the new and true Ark be when we consider the old ark was a mere “shadow” in relation to it (see Heb. 10:1)? This image of Mary as the Ark of the Covenant is an indicator that Mary would fittingly be free from all contagion of sin in order for her to be a worthy vessel to bear God in her womb. And most importantly, just as the Old Covenant ark was pristine from the moment it was constructed with explicit divine instructions in Exodus 25, so would Mary be most pure from the moment of her conception. God, in a sense, prepared his own dwelling place in both the Old and New Testaments.

4. Mary, the “New Eve” of the New Covenant:

It is important for us to recall, as I mentioned briefly above, that New Covenant fulfillments are always more glorious and more perfect than their Old Testament types, which are “but a shadow of the good things to come” in the New Covenant (Heb. 10:1). With this New Testament truth in mind, let us consider the New Testament revelation of Mary to be the antitype of Eve, or the “New Eve.” After the fall of Adam and Eve in Gen. 3, God promised the advent of another “woman” in Gen. 3:15, or a “New Eve” who would oppose Lucifer, and whose “seed” would crush his head. This “woman” and “her seed” would reverse the curse, so to speak, that the original “man” and “woman” had brought upon humanity through their disobedience.

It is most significant here to note “Adam” and “Eve” are revealed simply as “the man” and “the woman” before the woman’s name was changed to “Eve” (Heb.—Mother of the living) after the fall (See Gen. 2:21ff). When we then look at the New Covenant, Jesus is explicitly referred to as the “last Adam,” or the “New Adam” in I Cor. 15:45. And Jesus himself indicates Mary to be the prophetic “woman” or “New Eve” of Gen. 3:15 when he refers to his mother as “woman” in John 2:5 and 19:26. Moreover, St. John refers to Mary as “woman” eight times in Rev. 12. As the first Eve brought death to all of her children through disobedience and heeding the words of the ancient Serpent, the devil, the “New Eve” of Revelation 12 brings life and salvation to all of her children through her obedience. The same “serpent” who deceived the original woman of Genesis is revealed, in Revelation 12, to fail in his attempt to overcome this New Woman. The New Eve overcomes the serpent and as a result, “The serpent is angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God, and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).

If Mary is the New Eve, and New Testament fulfillments are always more glorious than their Old Testament antecedents, it would be unthinkable for Mary to be conceived in sin. If she were, she would be inferior to Eve who was created in a perfect state, free from all sin.

5. Mary, the Beginning of the New Creation:

Jeremiah 31:22 presents another fascinating prophecy concerning the coming of the “New Woman” and the New Covenant. In the midst of this well-known chapter famous for its prophecy concerning the coming of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31, which is quoted in Heb. 8:8), we read: “For the Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth. A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN” (DRV). St. Jerome, in the fourth century, comments on this text:

“Can a bride forget her jewels, or a virgin her girdle” (Jer. 2:32) Always in this very prophecy it is said that a great miracle occurred involving this woman: The woman will surround the man and the virgin’s womb will contain the parent of all.

In the first covenant, the man “compassed” or “encompassed” the woman. The woman came from the rib of the man. In the New Covenant, “the New Man,” or “New Adam”—Jesus—would come from the womb of “the Woman”—or “New Eve.” It is Mary that would “compass” Jesus.

Many fathers of the Church, in agreement with St. Jerome, will see from this and other biblical texts Mary as the “new earth” or “new land” out of which God would form the “New Adam.” Consider St. Jerome’s Tractus de Psalmo 66 and 96 (these are commentaries on the Psalms). When considering Psalm 66, St. Jerome sees Jesus and Mary in both the “flower and the Lily” of Song of Solomon 2:1 and the “fruits of the earth” from Psalm 66 (67):6:

Do you want to know what this fruit is? It is the virgin from the Virgin, the Lord from the handmaid, God from a human creature, the Son from a mother, the fruit from the earth.

St. Jerome here refers to Mary as “the earth.” He says something similar in his commentary on Psalm 96. He speaks of the promised land to David as being Mary:

The land of David is holy Mary, Mother of the Lord, “who was born of David’s seed according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). What was promised to David was fulfilled in Mary’s virginity and birth, where a virgin is born from a Virgin.

Mary is the new earth out of which would be formed the New Adam. Just as God formed the first Adam from a pristine earth untouched by the curse of original sin, so God would bring the “New Adam” from a “New Land” or “New Earth” that would also most fittingly be pristine and untouched by sin. The first creation began without sin, so the New Creation would begin without sin as well. The first Eve would fall from grace; the New Eve would not.

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