Sunday, October 9, 2011

Questions about Mary

Because of a recent discussion between my wife and her friend regarding Mary, I'm going to go through a (hopefully) quick discussion of Catholic Marian beliefs. I'm not going to do a lot of digging right now on this, so there is definitely more that can be said on these issues.

When I decided to join the Catholic Church a few years back, one of the last hurdles I faced was Mary. This seems to be common in those who come from a Protestant background. Let me get into the basics real quick, and I'll end with the thing that gave me the most trouble.

Why do Catholics call Mary the "Mother of God?"
This doctrine was highlighted in the controversy with Nestorius in 431 AD who taught a disunion between Christ's human and divine natures, and said that Mary was only the mother of his human nature. The Church then reaffirmed that Christ's human and divine natures were united. A part of making this point was making clear that Mary was the mother of the Person, Jesus Christ, and as he was one person with both divine and human natures, Mary could rightly be called "Mother of God." Certainly the title honors Mary, but more importantly, it reaffirms that from his conception, Jesus was fully God and fully man. Notable supporters of this doctrine's importance include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Perpetual Virginity... what about Jesus' "brothers?"
The term "brothers" in this context can literally mean "brothers," but it can also mean"kinsmen" or "cousins." Either way, Mary needn't have had children. It was common belief in the early church that Joseph was an elderly widower, and had children from his previous marriage. It is thought, for one thing, that Joseph would treat the woman who bore God in her womb with a special reverence, as Jews would be accustomed to treating things touched in a special way by God, like the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies, and the ground in front of the burning bush. Such an idea might seem odd to modern Christians, but first century Jews knew that when the wrong person touched the Ark of the Covenant, they dropped dead. Supporters of this belief once again include Martin Luther and John Calvin.

The Immaculate Conception of Mary... wasn't Jesus the only person without sin?
The Bible doesn't actually say that Jesus was the only person without sin (though we could get into verses that seem to suggest this). There is a fundamental difference between Mary's sinlessness and the sinlessness of our Lord. Jesus was sinless by his own power, as God. Mary was only preserved from sin by the external Grace of God. This Grace was bestowed upon her because God was preparing a fitting mother for his son, a fitting womb to bear God.

To better understand some of these things and what the Bible says to suggest them we'd have to go into discussions of Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant, and Mary as the New Eve. This is certainly key, but it's also a bit complex, so I'll leave this to another occasion, or to those better equipped than I.

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