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Understanding The Virgin Mary - Part 1

December 13, 2004 Length: 49:08

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This episode is in the Exploring Orthodoxy? collection.

This episode is in the The Role of Mary in Orthodox Christianity collection.

 
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Program Notes - December 12, 2004
The Virgin Mary and Her Perpetual Virginity

MARY IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

  1. Mary is a "hot button" for most Protestant Christians coming into the Church. But most of their issues are not with the Scriptures or the Church, but with misperceptions and assumptions based on their rejection of Roman Catholicism.
    1. The reality is that the Orthodox Church holds the place of Mary in a balance: She is not worshipped (as some Catholic Christians seem to do), nor is she ignored as virtually all Protestant Christians do. We need to examine the Scriptural, Patristic and liturgical texts to gain a proper understanding of the role and place of Mary within the life of the Church and her role in the life of the Christian. The reality is that many facts regarding Mary have not been evaluated on their own merit by many Protestants, but have been lumped together and wholesale discarded simply because they are found within the scope of Roman Catholic piety.
    2. In Luke 1 Mary says: From henceforth ALL GENERATIONS shall call me blessed.
    3. What has happened in Church history is that all generations up until the 17-18th centuries did that. Since then Mary has been at best ignored and at worst denigrated by virtually all Protestant Christians since then. The current attitude toward Mary we find today is a recent innovation in Christian thought and piety in the grand scope of Church history, including the Reformation.
  2. Church Fathers spoke of Mary as having remained a virgin throughout her life:
    1. Athanasius (Alexandria, 293-373); Epiphanius (Palestine, 315-403); Jerome (Stridon, present day Yugoslavia, 345-419); Augustine (Numidia, now Algeria, 354-430); Cyril (Alexandria, 376-444)... St. Irenaeus Origen Tertullian St. John Chrysostom St. Epiphanius St. Basil St. Isidore St. Ildefonsus St. Jerome devotes his entire treatise against Helvidius to the perpetual virginity of Mary (see especially nos. 4, 13, 18).
      1. The contrary doctrine is called: "madness and blasphemy" by Gennadius (De dogm. eccl., lxix),
      2. "madness" by Origen (in Luc., h, vii),
      3. "sacrilege" by St. Ambrose (De instit. virg., V, xxxv),
      4. "impiety and smacking of atheism" by Philostorgius (VI, 2),
      5. "perfidy" by St. Bede (hom. v, and xxii),
      6. "full of blasphemies" by the author of Prædestin. (i, 84),
      7. "perfidy of the Jews" by Pope Siricius (ep. ix, 3),
      8. "heresy" by St. Augustine (De Hær. h., lvi).
      9. St. Epiphanius probably excels all others in his invectives against the opponents of Our Lady's virginity (Hær., lxxviii, 1, 11, 23).
  3. EAST GATE
    1. It ought also be remembered that the Fathers ascribed an important prophecy to the ever-virginity of Mary from Ezekiel 44:2 "And the LORD said to me, "This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut."
    2. The gate of the womb of the Theotokos was left sacred. For another to enter it would not be proper.
    3. Other foreshadowings of the Incarnation in the OT are cited by numerous Church Fathers:
        1. The "Temple of God" She is the Holy of Holies in which God dwelt. (Ephraim the Syrian, Ambrose, Gregory Nazianzen)
        2. The "Rod of Jesse" from whom blossomed Christ (Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus, Tertullian, Jerome, Ephraim the Syrian)
        3. The "East Gate" (Jerome)
        4. The "King's Palace" (Ephraim the Syrian, Ambrose)
        5. "More Spacious than the Heavens", which is also the name of the icon of Mary over the altar in an Orthodox Church. This means her womb contained the uncontainable God. (Athanasius of Alexandria, Ephraim the Syrian, Epiphanius of Salamis, Proclus of Constantinople)
        6. The "Imperishable Wood" from which the Ark of the Covenant was fashioned (Hippolytus)
        7. The "Source of the Bread of Life" (Ephraim the Syrian, Peter Chrysologus)
        8. The "Burning Bush that is Not Consumed" a reference to the burning bush of Moses and Hebrews 10, our God is a consuming fire. Mary contained God and was not consumed. (Gregory of Nyssa)
  4. Luther, Calvin, and Other Early Protestant Reformers on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary
    1. All of the early Protestant Founders accepted the truth of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.
      1. The Marian doctrine of the Reformers is consonant with the great tradition of the Church in all the essentials and with that of the Fathers of the first centuries in particular. For 1700 years the virtual unanimous teaching and belief of all Christians was that Mary was perpetually virgin.
      2. In regard to the Marian doctrine of the Reformers, we have already seen how unanimous they are in all that concerns Mary's holiness and perpetual virginity . . .{Max Thurian (Protestant), Mary: Mother of all Christians, tr. Neville B. Cryer, NY: Herder & Herder, 1963 (orig. 1962), pp. 77, 197}
      3. The title 'Ever Virgin' (aeiparthenos, semper virgo) arose early in Christianity . . . It was a stock phrase in the Middle Ages and continued to be used in Protestant confessional writings (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Andrewes; Book of Concord [1580], Schmalkaldic Articles [1537]).
      4. Mary was formally separated from Protestant worship and prayer in the 16th century; in the 20th century the divorce is complete. Even the singing of the 'Magnificat' caused the Puritans to have scruples, and if they gave up the Apostles' Creed, it was not only because of the offensive adjective 'Catholic', but also because of the mention of the Virgin . . .{Raymond E. Brown et al, ed., Mary in the New Testament, Phil.: Fortress Press / NY: Paulist Press, 1978, p.65 (a joint Catholic-Protestant effort) }
      5. [But] Calvin, like Luther and Zwingli, taught the perpetual virginity of Mary. The early Reformers even applied, though with some reticence, the title Theotokos to Mary . . . Calvin called on his followers to venerate and praise her as the teacher who instructs them in her Son's commands. {J.A. Ross MacKenzie (Protestant), in Stacpoole, Alberic, ed., Mary's Place in Christian Dialogue, Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow, 1982, pp.35-6}
    2. Martin Luther
      1. Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. {Luther's Works, eds. Jaroslav Pelikan (vols. 1-30) & Helmut T. Lehmann (vols. 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (vols. 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (vols. 31-55), 1955, v.22:23 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539) }
      2. Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. {Pelikan, ibid., v.22:214-15 / Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539) }
      3. A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ . . .{Pelikan, ibid.,v.45:199 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) }
      4. Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity . . .when Matthew [1:25] says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her . . . This babble . . . is without justification . . . he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom. {Pelikan, ibid.,v.45:206,212-3 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523) }
      5. Editor Jaroslav Pelikan (Lutheran) adds: Luther . . . does not even consider the possibility that Mary might have had other children than Jesus. This is consistent with his lifelong acceptance of the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary. {Pelikan, ibid.,v.22:214-5}
    3. John Calvin
      1. Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's 'brothers' are sometimes mentioned. {Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562), vol. 2 / From Calvin's Commentaries, tr. William Pringle, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, p.215; on Matthew 13:55}
      2. [On Matt 1:25:] The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called 'first-born'; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us . . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation. {Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 107}
      3. Under the word 'brethren' the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity {Pringle, ibid., vol. I, p. 283 / Commentary on John, (7:3) }
    4. Huldreich Zwingli
      1. He turns, in September 1522, to a lyrical defense of the perpetual virginity of the mother of Christ . . . To deny that Mary remained 'inviolata' before, during and after the birth of her Son, was to doubt the omnipotence of God . . . and it was right and profitable to repeat the angelic greeting - not prayer - 'Hail Mary' . . . God esteemed Mary above all creatures, including the saints and angels - it was her purity, innocence and invincible faith that mankind must follow. Prayer, however, must be . . . to God alone . . .
      2. 'Fidei expositio,' the last pamphlet from his pen . . . There is a special insistence upon the perpetual virginity of Mary. {G. R. Potter, Zwingli, London: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1976, pp.88-9,395 / The Perpetual Virginity of Mary . . ., Sep. 17, 1522}
      3. Zwingli had printed in 1524 a sermon titled: 'Mary, ever virgin, mother of God.' {Thurian, ibid., p.76}
      4. I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil . . . I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity. {Thurian, ibid., p.76 / same sermon}
    5. Heinrich Bullinger
      1. Bullinger (d. 1575) . . . defends Mary's perpetual virginity . . . and inveighs against the false Christians who defraud her of her rightful praise: 'In Mary everything is extraordinary and all the more glorious as it has sprung from pure faith and burning love of God.' She is 'the most unique and the noblest member' of the Christian community . . .
      2. The Virgin Mary . . . completely sanctified by the grace and blood of her only Son and abundantly endowed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and preferred to all . . . now lives happily with Christ in heaven and is called and remains ever-Virgin and Mother of God.' {In Hilda Graef, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, combined ed. of vols. 1 & 2, London: Sheed & Ward, 1965, vol.2, pp.14-5}
    6. John Wesley (Founder of Methodism)
      1. I believe... he [Jesus Christ] was born of the blessed Virgin, who, as well after as she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin. {"Letter to a Roman Catholic," quoted in A. C. Coulter, John Wesley, New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, 495}
  5. The Jewish Piety of Joseph and Mary / The Sense of the Sacred
    1. A compelling argument is the faith of Joseph and Mary as good Jews. If Joseph was a good Jew and was raised in a religion that had stories of people touching the Ark of the Covenant and being killed for it, and worshipped in the Temple where only the High Priest dared enter the Holy of Holies, how would he regard Mary who bore the Son of God. Mary bears the Root of Jesse, the Bread of Heaven (John 6), the Word of God (John 1). The Ark contains the rod of Aaron, Manna and the Law. Mary is a "human Ark of the New Covenant"! Now is Joseph going to use Mary for "common use" after she bears God? Not that sex is bad, evil or wrong just as eating and cooking meat are not bad evil or wrong, but when put into service to God in the Temple they became holy, sacrifices and only the Priests could participate. The issue is that modern Christians in general do not have this OT sense of "sacredness" in their radar screens. It is beyond people in our sexualized culture that there can be any higher union between two people than mutual orgasms. Jesus and Paul both say that there are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom and (I Cor. 7) there is abstinence by mutual consent that is holy in the context of marriage. The perpetual virginity fits in the context of the first century, not in ours. The issue with most protestants as I see it is not the perpetual virginity per se, but what they think it leads to in their "romophobia" which is the "worship of Mary".
  6. Mary as the Queen Mother
    1. There is an Aramaic word, "Gebirah", which means "Queen Mother". Traditionally, next to the throne of the King was a second throne. Many would assume that the second throne belonged to the wife of the King, but in Israel it belonged to the mother of the king. The Gebirah was an official position, one with which everyone (Jesus and His disciples included) was entirely familiar. Her role was as an advocate of the people; anyone who had a petition or sought an audience with the King did so through her. She was an intercessor, presenting the wishes and concerns of the people to the King. This does not imply that the King was unapproachable, or that people were afraid or unable to speak to him. It merely means that the King honored his mother and took her requests into special consideration. On the part of the people, they felt close to her, as if they too were her children. This role is mentioned in:
    2. 1 Kings 15:13 " He also deposed his Maacah from her position as queen mother"
    3. 2 Kings 10:13 " "We are kinsmen of Ahaziah," they replied. "We are going down to visit the princes and the family of the queen mother.""
    4. Jeremiah 13:18 " Say to the king and to the queen mother: come down from your throne"
    5. Her specific place of honor and intercession is dramatically illustrated in the following passage from 1 Kings 2: 13-21: "Adonijah, son of Haggith, went to Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon. "Do you come as a friend?" she asked. "Yes," he answered, and added, "I have something to say to you." She replied, "Say it." So he said: "...There is one favor I would ask of you. Do not refuse me." And she said, "Speak on." He said, "Please ask King Solomon, who will not refuse you, to give me Abishag the Shunamite for my wife." "Very well," replied Bathsheba, "I will speak to the king for you." Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king's mother, who sat at his right. "There is one small favor I would ask of you," she said. "Do not refuse me." "Ask it, my mother," the king said to her, "for I will not refuse you." So she said, "Let Abishag the Shunamite be given to your brother Adonijah for his wife."
    6. Of particular import are the following observations:
      1. Adonijah assumed that the queen mother would approach the King on his behalf; he trusted her.
      2. The reaction of the King is noteworthy: he stood up to meet her and paid her homage.
      3. A throne was provided for her, and she sat at his right.
      4. Her power as intercessor is stressed by the repetition of the idea that the king "will not refuse her".
      5. We do the same with Mary today. We assume that she will approach the King on our behalf. Now, many Protestants will say "We don't need to go through anyone; we can speak to God directly." Well, of course we can, and we should. But I doubt that that same person NEVER asked a friend to say a prayer for or with him. We ask our friends to pray for and with us, not because we feel that we can't approach God directly, but because we are a family in Christ, and the more the merrier. We care about each other, and approach God on behalf of those we love all the time. Why limit that care and assistance to those living on this earth now? Saint Paul tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses-- do we think that these witnesses care nothing for us? Revelation tells us that the prayers of the saints rise like incense before God. If we ask those we know here to pray for us, how should we refrain from asking those who are in the presence of God? James 5 says the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Who is more righteous than the Mother of God? And if we ask those who are in the presence of God to pray for us, how should we refrain from asking the very mother of the King? The issue is not "mediation" but intercession, which is something all Christians are called on to do for one another.

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