Thursday, May 29, 2014

Quite Contrary: Scripture and Mariolotry

I’m all for consistency. Consistency is a great thing. I imagine it’s comforting to view one’s faith as part of a grand ecclesiastical tradition going back a couple thousand years. I suspect it’s reassuring to be able to trace its leadership all the way back to Christ’s disciples. And if there’s strength in numbers, how intimidating is a religious tradition that goes by the name “universal”?

In any accusation against Roman Catholicism, the nagging question How can this many people over this many years be wrong? seems an implicit rebuttal. And even if the concept of infallibility is considered a bit much to ascribe to any human institution, its historical dominance and sheer, massive scale suggest that something in the order of “extremely likely to be correct” must surely apply.

In comparison with Protestant factionalism, Catholicism boasts an enviable appearance of solidarity. However, there are numerous and visible cracks in the facade. For every unifying and stirring address from the Pope there are thousands of practical departures from monolithic consistency at the local, practical level — far away from Vatican City, where most Catholics actually live. After all, before 1870, belief in papal infallibility was not a defined requirement of Catholic faith. And in a 20-year old survey of 15-25 year olds, 81% Catholic, taken over a four-year period, only 36% affirmed that the Pope has the authority to speak with infallibility.

So, cracks in the facade. There are many more. Still, it may seem a little brazen to suggest that so many wise men with so much accrued learning over so many centuries could be so wrong about so much. At least, it would be brazen if the revelation of God began and ended with Romanism.

But it didn’t.

And that’s the great watershed, isn’t it. That is the $54,000 Question: Can we add to Scripture or not? If we can, then the encrustations of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Magisterium are surely no worse than any other conceivable 20-century accumulation of ecclesiastical barnacles. But if we can’t ... hoo boy.

Romanism asserts for itself the right to add to Scripture the ongoing “Infallibly Declared Dogmas of the Catholic Faith”. Bible-believing Christians from outside the Roman tradition profoundly disagree.

I don’t propose to try to persuade you one way or another. If you’ve read this blog for more than a week, you know where I come down on it. It’s a question worth more than one blog post and, more importantly, something of which each person, in deciding how he will approach the word of God, needs to be completely convinced in his or her own mind.

Despite the fact that neither side seems inclined to be swayed, there may be some value for fence-sitters or those who have simply never considered the issue in pointing out where and how these two schools of thought part ways, both philosophically and methodologically.

Let me give you an illustration. Here are seven points of Catholic dogma concerned with Mary and how she is to be viewed:
102.       Mary is truly the Mother of God.
103.       Mary was conceived without stain of Original sin.
104.       Mary conceived by the Holy Ghost without the co-operation of man.
105.       Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity.
106.       Also after the Birth of Jesus Mary remained a Virgin.
107.       Mary was a Virgin before, during and after the Birth of Jesus Christ.
108.       Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven.
(The Infallibly Declared Dogmas of the Catholic Faith 102-108)
Mother of God

The inclusion of the word “truly” to me implies that the writers may have anticipated opposition on this point. And indeed, it's a pretty brassy statement; one that, for the record, is found nowhere in the word of God. In the sense that Jesus Christ was and remains God in the flesh, it may be held to be true in a technical sense, though it horribly misrepresents the reality. Since the word “God" is used throughout Scripture to refer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit both as persons and together, its connotation a full 75% of the time is abominable, inappropriate or just plain wrong.

“Mother of Jesus” would’ve done just fine, but somebody couldn’t let well enough alone.

Without Stain of Original Sin

Say what? From the standpoint of Scripture, this one is spectacularly fanciful. I remember when I naively thought the words “immaculate conception” referred to the Lord’s birth. No such luck.

Hey, I’m sure Mary was a nice lady. Beyond that, nobody can advance a sentence fragment from the word of God to support this one. And a single line from what we refer to as the Magnificat gives the lie to it: “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”.

Nobody born immaculate requires a savior. End of story.

Naturally there is an explanation: Mary was redeemed, we read, “by the grace of Christ, but in a special way — by anticipation”. So the Lord, in Catholic thinking, is her savior too.

There is always an explanation. After all, Romanists have been dealing with objections to such doctrinal positions for centuries and are quite prepared to tell you what “fundamentalists believe” on the subject. But the important thing to remember is that both the theological position being defended and all post facto justifications employed to do so are extra-Scriptural.

Mary Conceived By the Holy Ghost

If that last one was fanciful, this one is off the charts.

The alleged Scriptural support for this is a single statement of the angel to Mary, which Catholicism translates “full of grace”. I’ll link to here so you can see the number of translations that opt for that particular rendering as opposed to the number (and overall quality) of the translations that opt for language equivalent to “you who are highly favoured”. The difference is significant: The former is suggestive of innate goodness in Mary (though the jump from this to “conceived by the Holy Ghost” is colossal and wholly unwarranted). The latter emphasizes the unmerited favour of God to Mary and is supported Scripturally by Mary’s own established awareness of a need for a saviour.

I’ll leave you to speculate what the reasoning for this may have been. One wonders if the church fathers articulating Catholic dogma saw themselves as servants of Christ seeking ways to describe truth, or more as the ancient equivalent of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit screenwriters adapting Tolkien for the big screen: “Pretty good story, guys, but what it really needs is a strong female lead ...”

Without Violation of Her Virginal Integrity

In my naiveté, I’m afraid I’d haven’t the slightest clue what this means without Google. So here we go with the official Romanist explanation:
“This second Marian Dogma, Our Lady’s Virginity before, during , and after the birth of Jesus, has always included the traditional patristic and magisterial understanding that Mary gave “miraculous birth” to Jesus (in the words of Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943), without any violation to her physical, external virginity. As the Fathers of the Church explained, as “light passes through glass without harming the glass”, so Jesus was born with Mary’s Virginity “in tact”, that is with the preservation of her physical virginity, so that the Perfect Virgin would be an example of Christian virginity, in heart and in body, for all later Christians called to the special vocation of Christian virginity.”
Apparently this dates back to Pope St. Martin in 649 at the First Lateral Council.

This is getting into territory that … well, ew. Just … ew.

As stated ad nauseum, not the slightest suggestion of this to be found anywhere in Scripture. If it were significant in any way to God that we recognize Mary as an eternal virgin or as conceived by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t it seem even a tad suspicious that he failed to make this explicit in his word and left it to Romanism to conjecture it from nothing?

When God wants to glorify his son, he opens heaven and declares “This is my beloved Son”, or through an apostle affirms “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. Where Christ is concerned, the Father cannot keep silent. He is never lost for words.

On the subject of Mary, he is ... well, mum.

After Birth Mary Remains a Virgin

This is a curious thing. Matthew tells us about “Jesus’ mother and brothers”. Mark tells us about Jesus’ “mother and brothers. Luke tells us about “Jesus’ mother and brothers”. A fellow named James is called by the apostle Paul “the brother of the Lord”. Mark refers not just James, but Joses, Judas, Simon and some unnamed sisters.

How do Catholics account for this strange consistency in the word of God, when they insist that Mary forever remained a virgin? According to Romanists, the brothers may be variously explained as: (i) “extended relative[s], or even [a] spiritual brother[s]”; (ii) children born to Joseph with some other woman; (iii) children of another woman called Mary who were close enough to the Lord to warrant being referred to as “brothers”; or (iv) children of Joseph born previously to his marriage to Mary via another woman, all as detailed here

Yeah, any of those … or maybe, just maybe we could read the word of God in its most natural sense without inventing bizarre scenarios to fit preconceived notions. Just saying.

If you don’t have an agenda-driven need to keep Mary a virgin, none of these convolutions is necessary.

Virgin Before, During and After

Before, of course. Scripture specifically attests to that. During? I’m sure there’s a lovely Catholic logic to this that involved whole councils of Renaissance men and pronouncements made a millennium back, but after the whole “eternal virgin” thing, I’m not even sure I can face another Google search without a bucket. After? Well, I think that’s dealt with under the previous entry.

Assumed Body and Soul into Heaven

Pope Pius XII in 1950 is to blame for this one. His Inventiveness used Genesis 3:15 as proof, which reads
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 
and has remarkably little (okay, nothing whatsoever) to do with the alleged assumption of Mary.

Oh no, wait. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, that bastion of theology: “Since, then, Jesus arose to Heaven to fulfill this prophecy, it follows that the woman would have a similar end, since she shared this enmity with Satan.”

Makes sense to me. To reinforce his position, Pius XII quotes the apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ”
which has about the same amount to do with the subject: zip, nil, nada.

*  *  *  *  *

I will cease and desist before I get snippy. But this is the sort of reasoning that supports such non-Biblical teaching.

I won’t speculate about the sort of fanatically persistent will that could work through the centuries at reimagining the counsels of God to include a near-equivalent female counterpart for my Saviour. Whatever this person may be, she is not the Mary of the Bible.

The Catholic reinvention of Mary is a mere distraction; an attempt to dilute the uniqueness of the person and work of the Son of God, nothing more.

Diminishing the person of Christ? I leave it to the reader to discern who might have such an agenda.

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