Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Blessed Virgin Mary

I read a good portion of Luke yesterday, although not really in the right spirit. However, I noticed something interesting that I thought I could post on. Catholics have for a long time believed that Mary was sinless, presumably because they thought it was necessary for her to bear the Son of God. I have never seen any evidence in the bible for this opinion and yesterday I read this part of the prophecy of Simeon when the child Jesus was presented at the temple.
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)

Perhaps it was because I was not in a teachable frame of mind that my attention was drawn by the comment in brackets that a sword will pierce through Mary’s soul and what that could mean. In the context it would appear to be about the judging of the people of Israel, either for their good (rising) or their bad (falling) (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Now this shows nothing more than the fact that she will be judged, not what that judgment will be. But in my eyes at least this suggests that she may not come out white (without Christ’s blood anyway). Luke seemed to share this view, I think, as the next story about his visit to the temple at twelve years old (Luke 2:41-51) does not leave Mary in a very positive light. She is reported not to understand what he is saying but to treasure ‘up all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:51) a phrase much preached on although usually in its appearance earlier in the chapter (v. 19) following the shepherd’s visit and proclamation of what the angels have told them. Perhaps, just perhaps, we are wrong to always understand this as having positive connotations. The only other mention of Mary in Luke is when she with Jesus’ brothers try and visit him and Jesus disregards them stating “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." (Luke 8:21). Maybe I am reading too much into this anyway and should stop my rambling. Three things though are sure.

  1. Jesus is the focus of all the gospels and not Mary who figures very little. Maybe my poor attitude yesterday was the cause of my focus being on Mary and not Jesus.
  2. Mary (and Jesus’ brothers) all come round eventually as Luke himself records in Acts (1:14) and Jesus’ brother James is the leader of the Jerusalem church beforehand. Indeed some scholars believe Mary was herself a important source for Luke in writing his gospel (which puts an interesting twist on things.
  3. Mary was greatly blessed by a merciful God.

For those who are interested this is what the Catholic Encyclopedia has to say on the subject:

Some few patristic writers expressed their doubts as to the presence of minor moral defects in Our Blessed Lady. [77] St. Basil, e.g., suggests that Mary yielded to doubt on hearing the words of holy Simeon and on witnessing the crucifixion. [78] St. John Chrysostom is of opinion that Mary would have felt fear and trouble, unless the angel had explained the mystery of the Incarnation to her, and that she showed some vainglory at the marriage feast in Cana and on visiting her Son during His public life together with the brothers of the Lord. [79] St. Cyril of Alexandria [80] speaks of Mary's doubt and discouragement at the foot of the cross. But these Greek writers cannot be said to express an Apostolic tradition, when they express their private and singular opinions. Scripture and tradition agree in ascribing to Mary the greatest personal sanctity; She is conceived without the stain of original sin; she shows the greatest humility and patience in her daily life (Luke 1:38, 48); she exhibits an heroic patience under the most trying circumstances (Luke 2:7, 35, 48; John 19:25-27). When there is question of sin, Mary must always be excepted. [81] Mary's complete exemption from actual sin is confirmed by the Council of Trent (Session VI, Canon 23): "If any one say that man once justified can during his whole life avoid all sins, even venial ones, as the Church holds that the Blessed Virgin did by special privilege of God, let him be anathema." Theologians assert that Mary was impeccable, not by the essential perfection of her nature, but by a special Divine privilege. Moreover, the Fathers, at least since the fifth century, almost unanimously maintain that the Blessed Virgin never experienced the motions of concupiscence.


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