Friday, March 26, 2004

What about Mary?

Below is a letter I wrote last year on the Virgin Mary. My friend Toney forwarded the short article to his friend Terry who sent it on to Father Champagne (of the Dioceses of Lafayette). Father Champagne then responded to the article. The letter below that of Father Champagne’s is my attempt to answer his criticisms.

Dominus Vobiscum,

Hey Folks,

I've not written much lately. I have been in a bit of a lull in my emailing, but I hope to be back at full speed again before to long.

We just finished up celebrating the Christmas Season. We used this period as a time set aside to feast and celebrate the marvellous, miraculous, virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe this is good. God, in the Old Covenant, set aside many feast times for His people. We have a far greater blessings now than they did, because we live in the New Covenant. Therefore we too should have great feasts set aside to give praise to our God and Saviour and enjoy His blessings and bounty that He has given to us.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, stands out prominently during Christmas. Non-Catholics often do not give Mary the honour that she rightly deserves. I believe this is mainly do to an over reaction to a perceived too great a prominence given to Mary by Roman Catholics.

Luke records these words which were spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Elisabeth, her cousin, (who was also the mother of John the Baptist) when she was filled with the Holy Ghost, said "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Mary says in here response "from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed."

All Christians should recognise that Mary is the most blessed woman ever to walk upon the earth. She was privileged to carry in her womb for nine months the incarnate deity. She was the woman who raised Jesus; she nursed him on her breasts. Mary is the most blessed of all women. All generations, to the end of time, should honour her.

Now we come to a problem. Who was Mary? Was she sinless or did she, like all of us, need a Saviour? Is Mary an eternal virgin, or did she have normal sexual relations with her husband Joseph after Jesus was born?
I think the Scriptures answer these questions for us.

Was Mary without sin or did she need a Saviour? --- Mary answers the question for us in Luke 1:46,47. She says, "My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." Mary understood her need for a saviour. She was a sinner because sinless people don't need a saviour. Mary, like you and me, was in need of a saviour, and her Saviour is her Son Jesus Christ.

What about her virginity, is it eternal? Again we find the answer in the Word of God.

Remember what Mary said to Gabriel when he told her that she would have a son? She said "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" The words "KNOW" and "KNEW" were common Hebraic idioms for sexual intercourse. We see these words used throughout the Scriptures as euphemisms for sexual intercourse. Here is an example.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. (Gen. 4:1)

We read in Matthew 1:25 that Joseph "knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS." The implication being that Joseph did not "know" Mary (in a sexual way) until after Jesus was born. We see in Mark's Gospel (and elsewhere) that Jesus had siblings. We read "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?" It is obvious in God's Word that Jesus had several half brothers and sisters.

If we allow the Scriptures to speak, it becomes clear that Mary is certainly the most blessed and honoured woman to ever tread upon the earth, but it is also clear that she was not a virgin after the birth of Jesus and she had many other children besides him.

I believe most Protestants don't give Mary enough honour, and most Roman Catholics give her more than the Scriptures will allow.

We must seek to follow the Word of God as it is presented in the Scriptures. As one baptised and raised, for a time, in the Roman Catholic Church, I love Christian tradition and I think most Protestants have jettisoned far too much tradition, but if (or when) tradition is counter to Scripture then we must follow Scripture. In matters of doctrine I agree with the Reformers and their cry "Sola Scriptura."

Soli Deo Gloria,

I forwarded your email about Mary to a good Roman friend of mine. I asked for his thoughts on the matter and he evidently thought his priest could do a better job explaining the Roman position. I don't agree of course but was impressed with his explanation using John the Baptist as an example. What do you think of this reply?

These are a few thoughts that a Priest friend of mine sent concerning your email. I hope this will be of some assistance to you.

God Bless You,

Grace and Peace! I hope you, the wife and the boys are all doing well and growing in the Lord.

I received a copy of the E-mail sent by a friend of yours. I wish I had more time to address his erroneous arguments step by step. It would be quite easy to pick up Fr. Mario's "Unabridged Christianity" or one of Peter Kreeft's works to address the questions. However, his problems with Mary's Virginity after giving birth to Christ arise given the ambiguity in the English translation. For example, what St. Paul says of James, "the brother of the Lord" is actually "adelphos tou kuriou" which can be either a blood brother or a relative. In fact the two James in the apostolic college are James son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus. So if we are speaking about one of these being the same James then the interpretation must be relative and not blood brother. Catholics have the advantage of Tradition and from the earliest days Mary is taught to be ever virgin. For example, the Confiteor which dates to the 6th century invokes Mary, Ever Virgin. However, you can't argue with those who hold "Sola Scriptura" for they will consider nothing but the Sacred Text. However, they have the big problem of trying to defend Sola Scriptura, for I ask them where does it say "Scripture Alone" in the Bible. The fact is, it doesn't. We don't have the Bible (a collection of Books) until about the middle of the third century and the codices that we have then differ in the number and books included in the New Testament. There was not agreement in both the east and the west on this until late in the fourth century. It was the Catholic Church that determined which books went into the Bible and which were left out.

The text in Matthew 1:25 that says that Joseph had no relations with Mary until the time of her delivery again doesn't imply that they had relations after she gave birth. The greek conjunction heos can be legitimately translated as "till" or "until" but it does not restrict the continuance of the action beyond the time indicated. The context of Matthew is obviously concerned with the Virgin Birth and St. Matthew is not trying to clearly declare Mary's continued virginity after birth but his point that he is arguing is the Child is Divine. So from the Greek alone, we wouldn't know from Matthew's text whether or not Mary remained Virgin after giving birth to Jesus. Implying that she did is a Protestant reading into the text. If they claim to be Sola Scriptura, then the only honest position would be to say we don't know. However, we do as we have Sacred Tradition, the Oral Tradition, to clarify what is unclear or only present in germ in the Scriptures.

The final point about Mary calling Jesus Savior is a good one. Jesus is Lord and Savior of all. Catholics believe that Mary was most perfectly redeemed. She is saved, as Blessed Duns Scotus said, not by falling into the pit and being pulled out of it like the rest of us, but by a singular graced of being kept from falling into the pit at all. Mary is full of grace which means that she is sinless and redeemed. Mary is privileged to be saved from the first moment of her conception in St. Anne's womb whereas we have to wait for Baptism as a youngster or as an adult. The fact that Mary was preserved from all sin from the first moment of her existence should not surprise the Protestants as even St. John the Baptist, who no one would argue to be greater than the Virgin Mary, was consecrated, baptized, redeemed in the womb of Elizabeth at the Visitation. Finally, theologically it is fitting that Mary be without sin and its stain as the humanity of Jesus comes from her and it would not be fitting the sinless Redeemer that his humanity be stained with sin.

I hope these reflections offer some help.
In Jesus Crucified,
fr. champagne


Thanks for sending the response from Father Champagne. I hope to write and thank him myself when I have time.

Father Champagne's letter is the standard Roman Catholic answer when this subject comes up and mine is the standard Protestant/Reformed view. Their position and our position have remained the same for the past 500 years.

What he says could be "a" correct rendition but it is not "the" natural reading of the texts in question. Father Champagne wrote that the Greek word adelphos ("can be either a blood brother or a relative" and he is certainly correct. But the natural reading of the text would not lend itself as readily to the latter as it does the former. We use the English term "brother" in narrow and broad ways as well, but context must determine how we understand the word in a particular setting.

Let's look at how Matthew uses this word "adelphos" elsewhere in his Gospel.

Matt 1:2 -- Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren (NOTE: Same Greek word.)

Matt 1:11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon (NOTE: Same Greek word for Brethren.)

Matt 4:18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. (NOTE: Same Greek word for brethren and brother.)

Matt 4:21 And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James [the son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. (NOTE: Same Greek word for Brethren)

Matthew does use the term in a general way as well. For example we read in Matthew 5:22 "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Here the Greek word is used in a general way just as we might use it. But when ever Matthew uses adelphos in a familial way he uses it to mean "brother" in its normal/ precise way.

To claim that the brethren and sisters mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel are not Jesus' half brothers and half sisters, can only be done if you approach the Scriptures with the preconceived idea that Mary had to remain a virgin forever. This is eisogeting (reading into) the text.

On the use of the word “till” Father Champagne is correct when he writes, “The greek conjunction heos can be legitimately translated as "till" or "until" but it does not restrict the continuance of the action beyond the time indicated.” But again I do believe our position is “the” natural reading of the text. If we approach the text without preconceptions of Mary’s perpetual Virginity we would naturally understand it as I show in my original letter.

When Fr. Champagne asks, “where does it say "Scripture Alone" in the Bible?” I would simply respond “Were does one find the word “Trinity” in the Bible. Our doctrine of “Scripture alone” as the foundation of right doctrine is not taken from a single verse, but from our overall understanding of God’s Word.

I don’t disparage tradition, as so many non-Roman Catholics do. I love tradition. There is much that we can and should learn from tradition. I consider myself a member of the holy catholic Church. I also consider my Roman Catholic family members and friends to be part of the holy catholic Church. I am reading a good deal in the Church fathers. I count Athanasius, Augustine Anselm and Aquinas all as my brethren (adelphous) in Christ. I look to them for guidance and instruction. They do not perfectly agree with one another and I do not perfectly agree with any of them, but I respect them and do not part from them without careful thought and prayer. They were all far better scholars and Christians than I will ever be.

I greatly lament the division of the Western Church since Luther. The Roman Church was correct when it said that with the break of 1517, Pandora’s box of perpetual heresy would be opened up. And it has been, but I believe the Lord will yet repair the breach that exists within the Church of Jesus Christ in His timing.

Father Champagne recommended a couple of books to your friend. One of them, Unabridged Christianity by Fr. Mario Romero, I purchased a couple of months back. I too recommend it. Fr Romero does a good job defending the Roman Catholic position, and it is always good to read, first hand, the views of a brother with whom you disagree (or even, at times, agree).

Coram Deo,