Archive for the ‘Mary’ Category

C.S. Lewis on the Vatican Website – Priestesses and a Fourth Trinitarian Person?

April 22, 2013

C.S. Lewis, in an article at the Vatican website, states:

The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost ‘a fourth Person of the Trinity.’


Wondering why an article by C.S. Lewis is being posted on the Vatican website? The topic of the article is “Priestesses in the Church?” It was written in opposition to the introduction of priestesses into the Anglican church.

Are his arguments sound or usable by Roman Catholics? I think they are not:

That this reaction does not spring from any contempt for women is, I think, plain from history. The Middle Ages carried their reverence for one Woman to a point at which the charge could plausibly made that the Blessed Virgin became in their eyes almost ‘a fourth Person of the Trinity.’ But never, so far as I know, in all those ages was anything remotely resembling a sacerdotal office attributed to her. All salvation depends on the decision which she made in the words Ecce ancilla [Behold the handmaid of the Lord]; she is united in nine months’ inconceivable intimacy with the eternal Word; she stands at the foot of the cross. But she is absent both from the Last Supper and from the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost. Such is the record of Scripture. Nor can you daff it aside by saying that local and temporary conditions condemned women to silence and private life. There were female preachers. One man had four daughters who all ‘prophesied,’ i.e. preached. There were prophetesses even in the old Testament times. Prophetesses, not priestesses.

a) There has been a big push within Roman Catholicism to describe Mary in terms of being a mediatrix or “co-mediatrix,” which places her in a priestly role.
b) Mary was absent from the Lord’s Supper, but only the Lord is the Priest of the Supper, the apostles were beneficiaries not priests.
c) Moreover, women are free to participate as beneficiaries even though Mary was not at the supper.
d) There doesn’t appear to be anything particularly priestly about the distribution of extraordinary gifts at Pentecost. After all, the sign gift of prophecy also came to Philip’s four daughters.
e) Prophecy doesn’t necessarily involve preaching. We’re not given any details about what kind of prophecy the daughters of Philip had. It may have been simple seeing, as with Agabus, who foretold Paul’s bonds. On the other hand, it may have been like Huldah’s prophecy:

2 Chronicles 34:23-28
And she answered them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell ye the man that sent you to me, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah: because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be poured out upon this place, and shall not be quenched.
And as for the king of Judah, who sent you to enquire of the Lord, so shall ye say unto him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel concerning the words which thou hast heard; because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord. Behold, I will gather thee to thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered to thy grave in peace, neither shall thine eyes see all the evil that I will bring upon this place, and upon the inhabitants of the same.

That communicates a lot more information, and comes closer to preaching, although it is obviously not preaching in the sense of expounding or exhorting in a derivative way.


The "Here I am" Girl or the "Where were you" Girl?

May 18, 2012

As reported by the Vatican Information Service, Benedict XVI stated (on 18 May 2012):

Mary of Nazareth is the woman of a full and total “Here I am” to the divine will. In her “Yes”, repeated even when faced with the sorrow of the loss of her child, we find complete and profound beatitude”.

A) The Bible calls Jesus, “Jesus of Nazareth.” It never calls his mother, “Mary of Nazareth.” We don’t know where she was raised.
B) There is no “yes” recorded from Mary in Scripture.
C) There is no “yes,” recorded from Mary when faced with the sorrow of the crucifixion.
D) Her state was one of mourning, not bliss, as it was prophesied: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,” (Luke 2:35).
E) Although Mary does not say, “Here I am,” in Scripture, the following people do:

1) Abraham (Genesis 22:1 & 11)
2) Jacob (Genesis 31:11 & 46:2)
3) Moses (Exodus 3:4)
4) Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4-6 & 8)
5) Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8)
6) Ananias (Acts 9:10)

Why not draw from those six men if one wishes to learn “Here I am,” to the divine will?
F) Moreover, on the contrary, one of the few recorded statements of Mary is not, “Here I am,” but almost “Where were you!”

Luke 2:43-52

And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him.

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”

And he said unto them, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Full and total, “Here am I”? Really? Why not pick an exemplary man like the prophet Isaiah? or one of the patriarchs who Scripture praises for their faith and devotion, rather than a woman whose blessedness is totally derived from being chosen to bear Christ?

The answer, of course, lies in Benedict XVI’s devotion to Mary, as one might be devoted to a goddess. He is blind to her faults, and creates virtues in her for which there is no support in Scripture.


"Woman," a Scolding Term, or a Sign of New Eve?

September 12, 2011

I. “Woman” in the Vocative
One argument that we hear from contemporary Roman apologists is that when Jesus said, “Woman, what have I to do with thee,” he wasn’t scolding her, he was actually identifying her as the New Eve.

John 2:4  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

The more obvious explanation is that he is calling her “woman” rather “mother,” to scold her.  He was, in essence, denying her claim of maternal authority, by treating her as a stranger.  Nevertheless, our friends in the Roman communion argue that this vocative case “woman” implies that Mary is the New Eve.

If that’s so, there are at least least a few other New Eves:

1) Canaanite woman

Matthew 15:28  Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
2) Woman sick for 18 years
Luke 13:12  And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
3) Samaritan Woman
John 4:21  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
4) Woman Caught in Adultery (This passage is still in Rome’s Bibles)
John 8:10  When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
5) Mary Magdalene
John 20:15  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

The better explanation is that the use of “woman” in the vocative is not a sign of being “new Eve,” but rather is a way of addressing a woman one does not know.  Compare the following uses by Peter and the angels (respectively):

Luke 22:57 And he denied him, saying, Woman, I know him not.
John 20:13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

It’s perhaps not as gruff as in English (notice that not all the references above are negative, some are positive), but instead is a seemingly standard way of greeting a stranger.

Notice that in the garden, when Jesus says to Mary, “Woman …” she thinks he’s a stranger, but when he says to her, “Mary,” she recognizes him.

John 20:15-16
Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”
She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.”
She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni;” which is to say, “Master.”

The non-acknowledgment of Mary at the wedding at Cana is similar to the non-acknowledgment of Mary’s relation to Jesus, in Jesus’ famous words to Mary from the cross:
John 19:26  When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

But the argument from Woman in the vocative case, as opposed to something more affectionate, like “Mary,” or “Mother,” is also informed by the context.  In this case, the context is Jesus saying “what I have to do with thee!”

II. What have I to do with thee?  (τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί” literally “what to me and to you”)

This phrase, “τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί” (translated “what have I to do with thee”) is really the more powerful of the two indicia that Jesus is scolding Mary.  It is a Hebrew idiom that we see addressed to Jesus by the man possessed by the legion of demons:

Mark 5:7  And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
Luke 8:28  When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not.

The corresponding Hebrew idiom is found (in several forms) in the following:

Judges 11:12 And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?

2 Samuel 16:10  And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the LORD hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?
2 Samuel 19:22  And David said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah, that ye should this day be adversaries unto me? shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? for do not I know that I am this day king over Israel?

1 Kings 17:18  And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son? 

2 Kings 3:13  And Elisha said unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother. And the king of Israel said unto him, Nay: for the LORD hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab.
2 Chronicles 35:21  But he sent ambassadors to him, saying, What have I to do with thee, thou king of Judah? I come not against thee this day, but against the house wherewith I have war: for God commanded me to make haste: forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that he destroy thee not.
Hosea 14:8  Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir tree. From me is thy fruit found.

As you can see, this idiom is one that is used to distance oneself from others.  Notice that in David’s case, he is distancing himself from his nephews, the sons of his sister, Zeruiah (see 1 Chronicles 2:15-16).  It’s not a scolding or rebuke in itself, but when Jesus applies it to Mary, it suggests that his “Woman,” comment is part of a theme of distancing himself from her.

He was rebuking her presumption in requesting a miracle when Jesus’ time was not yet ready.  He was not somehow giving honor or praise by this remark.


Prayers for the Dead and Marian Intercession

September 8, 2011

“I pray that, through the intercession of Mary Immaculate whom he so greatly venerated, the Lord may welcome this faithful pastor of the Gospel and the Church into His Kingdom of eternal joy and peace”, the Pope concludes.

(Vatican Information Service, 5 September 2011)

Notice that here the Pope is explicitly requesting Marian intercession for a dead Cardinal (Cardinal Deskur). This falls into the category of prayers “through” Mary (as opposed to prayers simply to Mary) and of prayers “for” the dead.

I know that some of Rome’s advocates are fond of saying that one is “just asking Mary to pray” in one’s prayers to Mary.  Actually, though, the goal here is for the prayed-for person to be accepted on the basis of Mary, that is to say, on the basis of her person and merits.  While this is not completely explicit, notice that she’s described as “immaculate.”  This is the wrong way to pray.

Our prayers are to be God through the intercession of Jesus Christ, our one mediator.  Only Christ’s merits form a sufficient basis for the intercession we need.  Christ is not simply the best mediator, he is the only mediator.

It is also foolish to pray for the dead.  They have already either entered into Heaven or Hell.  There is no third place from which they need to be freed in order to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  The pope’s teaching here is consistent with his own church’s dogmas, but not with the Scriptures.

It seems doubly foolish for the pope to pray for the dead in this way.  Does he not supposedly possess the ability to release souls from Purgatory by means of indulgence?  Why not simply declare the Cardinal free himself rather than hoping that Mary will intercede for him?  This aspect of the pope’s messages seems out of line with the traditional view of Purgatory – or at least rather odd, considering that the pope evidently feels kindly toward the deceased Cardinal.

To put it in another way, isn’t this rather like telling a naked and hungry man, “be warmed and fed,” but not actually giving him food and clothing?  Perhaps there is more to the story, but it certainly inconsistent for the pope not to exercise his own papal prerogatives, if he really wants the Cardinal to get out of Purgatory.

Finally, perhaps it is worth pointing out that the pope acknowledged that the Cardinal engaged in the veneration of Mary.  Moreover, the pope recognized that he did so to a notable degree “so greatly,” the English text reads.  Cardinal Foley put it this way:

Cardinal Deskur had a particular love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his apartment door carried the sign “Casa di Maria” (house of Mary). He was quite devoted to his most recent responsibilities as President of the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculate Conception.

(Catholic News Agency)

Do my readers in the Roman communion want to tell me that this “veneration” isn’t “worship”?  I suppose some will.  But I think most people can see that this kind of religious devotion is worship.


Prayers and Living Water

September 1, 2011

“This evening” Benedict XVI concluded, “you caused us to turn our hearts to Mary in prayer, the most beloved prayer of Christian tradition. Yet you also led us back to the beginning of our journey of faith, to the liturgy of Baptism, the moment in which we became Christian: an invitation always to drink from the only water that can quench our thirst – the living God – and to commit ourselves day after to day to rejecting evil and to renewing our faith with the affirmation ‘I believe!'”

(Vatican Information System, 1 September 2011) A few brief responses:

1) It is nice to see the pope admitting what a lot of his English-speaking servants deny, namely that his religion prays to Mary. His reference is to the Hail Mary (the Ave Maria).

2) I’m sure that the Hail Mary is the most beloved prayer to those in the Roman communion. However, it ought not to be. The prayer was not taught or practiced by the Lord Jesus or His apostles. It is a tradition of men, not a tradition of God, even though it incorporates portions of God’s word.

3) There’s a more natural choice for the most beloved prayer – the Kyrie Eleison (Господи Помилуй – “Lord Have Mercy!”). After all, that prayer can succinctly express both repentance of sin and trust in Christ.

4) Alternatively, the model of our prayers, the Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster) would be an excellent choice for the most beloved prayer.

5) One does not become a Christian at Baptism. Christians (and their children) come to baptism. Baptism signifies and seals what faith grasps. Whoever believes is a Christian, and therefore ought to be baptized.

6) I’m not a fan of mixing the metaphors of baptism and the water that is drunk (there’s not any intentional drinking of water in Baptism). Nevertheless, the pope is right in pointing to that living water as the uniquely thirst-quenching water. If only he would learn that one who drinks once of this water will never thirst again!

John 4:13-14 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Yet Rome teaches (and the pope has not rejected) that men can again thirst: that they can commit a “mortal sin” and – in essence – lose their salvation. It is great that the pope has appealed to one of Christ’s metaphors, but would that God would open the pope’s eyes to see the whole truth!


Did Augustine Call Mary the "Mother of God"?

February 14, 2011

A dear reader notified me that a Roman apologist (or perhaps just a friend in the Roman church) had provided the following to them as allegedly representing Augustine’s views:

“Mary was that only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God”. (Sermon 208)

You’ll notice that the person has provided a citation – the citation makes it look authentic. But, of course, I didn’t stop there.

I grabbed a copy of Augustine’s “Sermons on Liturgical Seasons,” since that contains the range of sermons including Sermon 208. The quotation, however, was not to be found in Sermon 208 – a sermon on the occasion of Lent.

So, I did a little more digging. Alfonso de Liguori’s “Glories of Mary,” provides this same quotation and gives the Latin original (“Haec est quae sola meruit Mater et Spousa vocari.”) as well as a more precise citation to an appendix of the Benedictine edition of Augustine’s works.

In fact, upon locating the sermon, I discovered that it is listed as Sermon 208(a) on the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It’s not an authentic work. There are probably a variety of ways we could prove that, but the easiest way is that it is now recognized that there was no feast of the assumption in North Africa during Augustine’s lifetime. Thus, the sermon was written at some later date, and merely ascribed to Augustine.

It’s sad to see that some of Rome’s advocates either knowingly or unwittingly are using falsehoods to try to promote their religion. It’s one reason this blog exists – to shed the light of truth on the matter. And the truth is that Augustine did not call Mary “the Mother of God,” nor would he have. In his authentic works he describes Mary this way:

At that time, therefore, when about to engage in divine acts, He repelled, as one unknown, her who was the mother, not of His divinity, but of His [human] infirmity.

NPNF1: Vol. VII, Tractates on John, Tractate CXIX, §1, John 19:24-30.


David’s Relationship to God

December 18, 2009

Vox Veritatis has some thoughts on the problems with the English expression “Mother of God.” (link to comments) Of course, there is an orthodox sense to the term (the orthodox sense is that Mary was the mother of Jesus, who is God incarnate), but the resultant expression is awkward at best.

The only argument for the expression is that Jesus is God, Jesus is the Son of Mary, therefore Mary is the mother of God. But Jesus is also the Son of David. Any takers for calling David “the Father of God” or the “Ancestor of God”?

Unsurprisingly, there are few takers for this kind of expression. The reason why is intuitive. It just sounds inappropriate. It similarly sounds inappropriate to call Mary the Mother of God (to those of us who have not become desensitized to the expression), since she did not provide Jesus’ divinity: only Jesus’ humanity was taken from Mary.

– TurretinFan

Mariolatry Exemplified

December 17, 2009

Steve Hays (and others) have already pointed out a Roman Catholic Psalter to Mary (link to Steve Hays’ post)(link to “psalter”). I’m not sure the depth of the blasphemy involved is fully appreciated by most readers. In the following post, I will give both some high level information as well as a specific example, so that it can be seen just how idolatrous this “Psalter” is.

I. High Level Comparison

Here are a few things to note: the psalter numbers the “psalms” 1-150, including multiple parts for the number corresponding to Psalm 119, as well as additional “canticles” designed to imitate various extra-psalter songs in Scripture. Not content with parodying (that’s not really the right word, is it) Scripture, the “psalter” even comes up with a Marian version of the “Te Deum” (an ancient song attributed to Ambrose) and a Marian “creed” imitative of the Athanasian creed. It is not too extreme to say that if you wanted to worship Mary in the same way you worship God, this is how you would go about it.

II. Detailed Comparison By An Example

It is not simply a matter of copying the number of the psalms in the Psalter, but even the content of the Psalms is converted from worship of the LORD to worship of the Lady. Here’s one example. First, the Psalm section (Schin from Psalm 119/118):

Psalm 119:161-168 (SCHIN)
Princes have persecuted me without a cause: but my heart standeth in awe of thy word.
I rejoice at thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.
I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love.
Seven times a day do I praise thee because of thy righteous judgments.
Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.
LORD, I have hoped for thy salvation, and done thy commandments.
My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.
I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.

I’ve broken off the Psalm there, because it is the natural breaking point for that particular Psalm, based on the spelling of the first word of each line. In fact, as we’ll note below, the author of the Marian “psalm” actually continues on a few verses further.

Below you will find the Marian version (designated Psalm 118J in the translation at this source). I’ve provided footnotes to assist the reader in further identifying how closely the “psalm” imitates the divinely inspired psalm.

Marian “Psalm” 118J
Princes have persecuted me without cause [FN1]: and the wicked spirit fears the invocation of thy name [FN2].
There is much peace to them that keep thy name [FN3], O Mother of God: and to them there is no stumbling-block [FN4].
At the seven hours I have sung praises to thee, O Lady [FN6]: according to thy word give me understanding [FN7].
Let my prayer come into thy sight [FN8], that I may not forsake thee, O Lady, all the days of my life[FN9]: for thy ways are mercy and truth [FN10].
I will long forever to praise thee, O Lady [FN11]: when thou shalt have taught me thy justifications [FN12].
Glory be to the Father, etc.

[FN1] Direct copy of Psalm 119:161.
[FN2] Seeming allusion to Deuteronomy 28:10 (Douay-Rheims Version) And all the people of the earth shall see that the name of the Lord is invocated upon thee, and they shall fear thee. It would seem ironic as an adaptation of the remainder of Psalm 119:161.
[FN3] Adaptation of Psalm 119:165.
[FN4] The fact that this whole line is adapted from Psalm 119:165 becomes more apparent when one looks at the Douay-Rheims version of this verse: Psalm 119:165 (Douay-Rheims Version) Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling-block.
[FN6] Adaptation of Psalm 119:164.
[FN7] Direct copy from second half of Psalm 119:169 (Douay-Rheims Version) Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.
[FN8] Adaptation from the first half of Psalm 119:69 (see FN7).
[FN9] The allusion here is not clear, perhaps: Isaiah 38:20 (Douay-Rheims Version) O Lord, save me, and we will sing our psalms all the days of our life in the house of the Lord. or
[FN10] Apparent allusion to Psalm 25:10 (Douay-Rheims Version) All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies.
[FN11] Note FN12, but praising God forever may be found in various psalms. One example is Psalm 30:12 (Douay-Rheims Version, where it is numbered as verse 13) To the end that my glory may sing to thee, and I may not regret: O Lord my God, I will give praise to thee for ever.
[FN12] Adaptation from Psalm 119:171 (Douay-Rheims Version) My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

For the reader’s convenience, here is the Douay-Rheims version of the paraphrase/parodied/imitated portion in its entirety.

Psalm 119:161-171 (Douay-Rheims Version)
161 Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart hath been in awe of thy words.
162 I will rejoice at thy words, as one that hath found great spoil.
163 I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved thy law.
164 Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice.
165 Much peace have they that love thy law, and to them there is no stumbling. block.
166 I looked for thy salvation, O Lord: and I loved thy commandments.
167 My soul hath kept thy testimonies and hath loved them exceedingly.
168 I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies: because all my ways are in thy sight.
169 Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in thy sight: give me understanding according to thy word.
170 Let my request come in before thee; deliver thou me according to thy word.
171 My lips shall utter a hymn, when thou shalt teach me thy justifications.

(I should point out that this sort of thing is a great example of why Calvin and the Puritans wanted to avoid hymns of human composition – while I should also point out that the abuse of human composition, as here, doesn’t prove that the whole category of human composition is bad.)

– TurretinFan

Andreas of Caesarea on the Woman of Revelation 12

October 1, 2009

Andreas of Caesarea wrote the earliest complete commentary on the book of Revelation that we have available. I’m very thankful that Eugenia Constantinou has recently provided a complete English translation of this work (copy of that translation available: here). Andreas, following the patristic consensus, refers the woman of Revelation 12 to the church rather than to Mary, the mother of Jesus. (example) This reinforces the point I previously made, namely that the modern Roman Catholic view of Revelation 12 as referring to Mary is not only the result of poor exegesis, but also out of sync with the patristic consensus on the matter (link).


Out of Tune with the Roman Magisterium?

August 18, 2009

Mr. Shea has posted a still further response on the topic of Mary’s birth pangs or lack thereof and the woman of Revelation 12 (link to Shea’s post). Mr. Shea seems to think our arguments “flat-footed” and compares discussing this with us to discussing music appreciation with a deaf man. This flatfloot, however, is less interested in arresting Mr. Shea for playing such bad music, but for doing so without the proper license.

Mr. Shea characterizes his previous arguments with respect to Mary’s birth pangs and Rome’s teaching or not on that subject as follows: “the whole point is that Rome acknowledges this opinion, but does not commit us to it.” Here, however, the flatfoot in one thinks to investigate. Does Rome merely acknowledge the opinion or actually teach it? Are we tone deaf, or is Mr. Shea out of tune with his magisterium?

The Catechism of Trent, most recently (that I could find) promulgated by the encyclical In Dominico Agro, on June 14, 1761, by pope Clement XIII included the following paragraph:

The Virgin Mother we may also compare to Eve, making the second Eve, that is, Mary, correspond to the first, as we have already shown that the second Adam, that is, Christ, corresponds to the first Adam. By believing the serpent, Eve brought malediction and death on mankind, and Mary, by believing the Angel, became the instrument of The divine goodness in bringing life and benediction to the human race. From Eve we are born children of wrath; from Mary we have received Jesus Christ, and through Him are regenerated children of grace. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.

Notice how Clement XIII’s catechism not only makes the connection that Mr. Shea previously attempted to criticize (“By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19).”), namely that because the sufferings were part of the curse, therefore, Mary didn’t suffer them. So, the tones of Mr. Shea’s song seem to be a bit off, if we’re permitted to use the official teachings of his church as our tuning fork for what constitutes Roman Catholicism – after all, they are the licensed magisterium, but I don’t think he can claim that same privilege.

In fact, and germane to our discussion, this paragraph it is not just from any old catechism, but from an official catechism. You will recall earlier that Mr. Shea built his argument that Rome doesn’t teach the view on the grounds that: “But as the carefully worded language of the Catechism (quoted in the combox) makes clear, the Church doesn’t go to the mat on this question.” By Mr. Shea’s apparent reasoning, Clement XIII’s Rome did “go to the mat” on this question, whether or not the ambiguous wording of the more recent 1980’s catechism does. Yet Mr. Shea seems insistent on relying on the silence of the current catechism on this particular issue.

Even in his latest post, Mr. Shea writes:

Note what is not demanded here. There is no clause saying “The faithful must, on pain of excommunication, believe and profess that Mary suffered no birth pangs.” So it’s rather a stretch to say “Rome teaches” this. In fact, Rome acknowledges it as a very common opinion and it is certainly something many great Catholics have held.

This kind of comment simply shows how out of touch Mr. Shea is with the life, discipline, and history of his own church. As Clement XIII explained regarding the Catechism of Trent:

The popes clearly understood this. They devoted all their efforts not only to cut short with the sword of anathema the poisonous buds of growing error, but also to cut away certain developing ideas which either could prevent the Christian people unnecessarily from bearing a greater fruit of faith or could harm the minds of the faithful by their proximity to error. So the Council of Trent condemned those heresies which tried at that time to dim the light of the Church and which led Catholic truth into a clearer light as if the cloud of errors had been dispersed. As our predecessors understood that that holy meeting of the universal Church was so prudent in judgment and so moderate that it abstained from condemning ideas which authorities among Church scholars supported, they wanted another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.

So, the purpose of the Tridentine catechism was to be “another work prepared with the agreement of that holy council which would cover the entire teaching which the faithful should know and which would be far removed from any error.” In fact, according to Clement XIII, the catechism was drawn up in a minimalist way: “they proposed that only what is necessary and very useful for salvation be clearly and plainly explained in the Roman Catechism and communicated to the faithful.”

Is the miraculous/painless birth something to which denial has been penalized with an anathema? I’m not aware of any such promulgation. Does that mean Rome has not explicitly taught that view and even grouped it as being a matter that is “necessary and very useful for salvation”? But Mr. Shea thinks that he’s free to accept it or not accept it: cafeteria-style Roman Catholicism at its most polemic (How polemic is his cafeteria position? he compares the view of Mary’s birth of Jesus being painless to geocentrism and the idea that Jews are accursed).

Mr. Shea claims: “In similar ways, the Catholic Church has had all sorts of schools of opinion on all manner of subjects, while the Magisterium has refrained, sometimes for centuries, from plumping in favor or one or the other.” I don’t know about you, but to me putting something in a catechism and saying in an official papal encyclical that the catechism only has matters that are “necessary and very useful to salvation” sounds like “the Magisterium” taking sides on the matter. As Clement XIII points out, after all, the Roman Catechism (as it was then called) was actually the product of Pius V (pope from January, 17, 1504 – May 1, 1572).

Moreover, as I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Shea has yet to show us someone who holds to “in partu” virginity of Mary and yet asserts that Mary had birth pangs. This is not like the Thomist / Molinist controversy in which the popes simply avoided taking sides and eventually permitted both views to be maintained. Despite Mr. Shea’s lack of assistance, I’ve looked diligently for another side to this supposed controversy. The closest one finds is Ludwig Ott:

2. Virginity During the Birth of Jesus: Mary bore her Son without any violation of her virginal integrity. (De fide on the ground of the general promulgation of doctrine.)

The dogma merely asserts the fact of the continuance of Mary’s physical virginity without determining more closely how this is to be physiologically explained. In general the Fathers and the Schoolmen conceived it as non-injury to the hymen, and accordingly taught that Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains (cf. S. th. III 28, 2).

However, according to modern natural scientific knowledge, the purely physical side of virginity consists in the non-fulfilment of the sex act (“sex-act virginity”) and in the non-contact of the female egg by the male seed (“seed-act virginity”) (A. Mitterer). Thus, injury to the hymen in birth does not destroy virginity, while, on the other hand, its rupture seems to belong to complete natural motherhood. It follows from this that from the concept of virginity alone the miraculous character of the process of birth cannot be inferred, if it cannot be, and must not be derived from other facts of Revelation. Holy Writ attests Mary’s active rôle in the act of birth (Mt. 1, 25; Luke 2, 7: “She brought forth”) which does not seem to indicate a miraculous process.

But the Fathers, with few exceptions, vouch for the miraculous character of the birth. However, the question is whether in so doing they attest a truth of Revelation or whether they wrongly interpret a truth of Revelation, that is, Mary’s virginity, from an inadequate natural scientific point of view. It seems hardly possible to demonstrate that the dignity of the Son of God or the dignity of the Mother of God demands a miraculous birth.

Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 205

Ott himself doesn’t come out and advocate a lack of physical integrity in Mary, but he does criticize the physical integrity in partu position on the basis of (of all things) Scripture. He ends up expressing uncertainty over whether the Fathers were “attest[ing] a truth of Revelation” or “wrongly interpret[ing] a truth of Revelation” based on “an inadequate natural scientific point of view.” That kind of agnosticism over the issue is far to the “other side” as I was able to locate from any kind of authority in Roman Catholic theology. Of course, the body of Roman Catholic literature is enormous, and I may have overlooked something.

Mr. Shea eventually ends up consenting as well, if somewhat grudgingly. He states: “None of that is to say that it is wrong to think Mary suffered no birth pangs. I think the patristic logic is sense,” although he goes on to insist that since there is no anathema “that’s a matter of liberty, not of ‘Rome teaches’.”

Finally, Mr. Shea gets to what he views as the argument. He wants to interpret the birth pangs of the Revelation 12 woman as not being literal birth pangs but some kind of psychological pains such as those experienced by Mary when Jesus was crucified.

While that might seem like an escape, it undermines the identification of Mary with the Revelation 12 woman. After all, the main reason to identify Mary with the Revelation 12 woman is the fact that the woman there gives birth to a man child. In other words, one has to interpret that giving birth literally in order to connect Mary to the Revelation 12 woman. Then to turn around and make the travails non-literal seems arbitrary at best. Finally, to make them the psychological pain Mary experienced when Jesus was crucified ignores the temporal sequence found in Revelation 12, and further demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the association between Mary and the woman of Revelation 12.

Mr. Shea might think that having to defend his position is “like arguing about music appreciation with a deaf man” and call our arguments “flat-footed,” but that flat platform apparently leads to sure-footed stability of consistent explanation and a knack for detective work in tracking down what Rome actually teaches. Likewise, while we may be deaf to the sirens of Rome (though it seems to be Mr. Shea who is not quite in tune with Rome’s orchestra), we lack the inner ear problems that result in the wobbly (and eventually toppling) arguments trying to link Mary and the Revelation 12 woman.


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