Monday, 15 August 2011

Mary for Evangelicals

It is tedious to even point out that the veneration of Mary by Catholics and Orthodox is condemned by American Evangelicals. However, because the evangelicals think that Marian veneration and devotion is a matter of idolatry, I'm writing this in the hope that it will provoke an attitude of reason in them. So, I am not here to convince anyone that Mary was sinless, or that she is a virgin. The point of this blog entry is to perhaps reveal to the evangelical Mary's role in the order of grace, so that having laid aside their bigotry against Marian devotion and momentarily adopting a critical and unbiased approach they may arrive through their own reason at a new appreciation for Mary. Hopefully, having a new found appreciation for her, they might be more fair handed when reasoning about Catholics, and what it means to be a Christian.

I used to attend a college house church in California when I was a Protestant Evangelical. One night there were about 20 of us gathered in the living room talking about 'what if's.' One girl said," What if a Christian found the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life? Could they enter and eat?" And naturally, I shouldn't wonder, I said," No, the angels wouldn't let you pass." So she said," But what if you told them that you had the authority to, because of Christ?" At that I said," Then, you would be acting in opposition to the will of God. We all have Original Sin, and sin is death. To eat would be to eat unto eternal death. That is why God banished man from the garden, because in his mercy he was saving man from living eternally in that fallen state and everything that entails." They all agreed 

In the Gospel, we hear the angel Gabriel's salutation to Mary," Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." (KJV Luke 1:42) The 'Hail Mary,' much denounced, mocked and condemned by Evangelicals is in fact mostly Gabriel's own salutation, the message given to him by God," Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus..." Now, naturally when looking at the bible we take certain ancient things to be signs of new things. Moses says," The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken." (KJV Deuteronomy 18:15) and we naturally take that to mean the Christ.

In Numbers chapter 35 we read about how the death of the high priest absolves all man-slayers in the land and the land itself of bloodshed,"And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled: and he shall abide in it unto the death of the high priest, which was anointed with the holy oil." This we naturally take as a sign, not only for the redemptive work of the Cross (death of the High Priest), but the work of the Church (refuge cities of the priesthood), which is also the work of the Cross.

In the words of St. Augustine of Hippo," The New testament is hidden in the Old." How many times does Christ himself confound the Pharisees and Sadducees by showing how he is the fulfillment of prophecy with the scriptures? How many times does he appeal to Isaiah alone? It is undeniable, that the old was a sign of something else.

When evangelicals think of Mary, they usually just imagine that she was selected by God as arbitrarily as possible for no other reason than that she was capable and willing to participate in God's plan, and that she possessed the genealogical prerequisites necessary to fill the slot. And for this she is to rightly and heartily receive a kindly pat on the head, before she is buried under Pauline epistles and the bulk of the New Testament. She was the envelope that God sent his Word in, and can be disposed of. They give more honor to St. Paul, a reformed murderer than they do to Mary! St. Paul gave us words, but Mary gave us 'THE WORD.' And so some sort of account has to be given for the disregard Evangelicals have for Mary, and their aversion to giving her, her appropriate place in theology.

At this point, any Evangelical or Protestant might be already sliding back into the mire of objections. Again, we aren't here to discuss doctrines that defend Mary's sinlessness or her perpetual virginity; but we are here to discuss Mary's queenship. This, too, has been misrepresented tremendously by fundamentalist 'bible Christians,' as they like to call themselves. They attempt to conflate Mary's natural queenship with the Canaanite 'Queen of Heaven' so they can tell people that Catholics worship demons. And many of you have been hearing that pathetically shabby argument for years now. So, I ask you to simply for a moment repress your prejudices, do not allow your reason to be clouded by passion, and maintain a rigid unbiased attitude. Then, judge for yourselves what the argument bears out. But until then, please don't let what you are reading be drowned out by ready made fundamentalist objections. "It is the mark of an educated mind to examine an idea without believing in it." Plato said that, and I think he has a point.
So, let us look at scripture a little further. "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed." (KJV Luke 1:3-4) Also, please notice that I have taken the trouble to only use the King James Version, and not the real bible of Nicaea used by the Catholic Church. In this passage, we see the evangelist Luke addressing a certain Theophilus. Now, as many people are aware, the name 'Theophilus' is a Greek name meaning 'friend of God.' This particular Theophilus is also a type of all 'Theophili'... all the friends of God. We can read the opening passage of the gospel as if it were addressed not only to a particular man, not only to a particular kind of man (Christians), but to ourselves, and we can do so without any kind of hesitation. In fact, to do so is only intuitive.

When Christ talks to his disciples, he is also talking to us; that's why the bible is relevant to our lives. Now, I wouldn't try to conflate anything intentionally, so I won't do so here. There is a universal meaning of scripture, and then there is what many Evangelical Protestants are so fond of calling 'Rhema,' that is, a private revelation. In other words, the bible means one thing and one thing only for all Christians, but it might and does have a special meaning for individuals in how it relates to their lives. One corresponds to the communal revelation of Christ in and through the Church, and the other corresponds to the personal relationship one has with God. I would be remiss if I didn't point it out, because in just a moment you will need to have this very thing in mind.

At the foot of the cross the beloved apostle John stood with Mary the mother of Our Lord, and the scripture reads," When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." (KJV John 19:26-27) What is meant here? Obviously, from a historical and empirical view point, it means that Jesus wanted his best friend to take care of his mother, and not just but he said that Mary was his mother and that John was her son.

Do you think that Christ's words were only meant to suffice some Jewish legal minutia, having to do with ownership, like a improvised last will? Do you think that the Apostle John wrote this down because he thought it would be important for the whole world to know that he looked out for his own mother, as if we wouldn't have naturally concluded, even without this scripture, that someone as holy as Christ wasn't derelict in his duty to family? No, that would be superfluous, and the apostle wasn't trying to boor people with irrelevant facts. It has a deeper significance.
What is Christ's possession on earth? It's the Church; and who did Christ put in charge of the the Church? The Apostles. Mary, like Theophilus, isn't merely a particular person in this passage, she is an amalgamation of the Church at large, the society of all Christians; and likewise the Beloved isn't merely John in particular, the Beloved is an amalgamation of all those who are beloved, Christian individuals. It's also interesting to note that Christ gives his mother to the beloved before he gives his Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and thereby gives them also his Father as their Father. He gives us not only his Father, but his mother, too. Therefore, Mary is the mother of every Christian, in the order of grace.

Christ initiated us into his family first through his humanity, which he received from Mary, by giving us to Mary; and then he initiated us into his divinity, by giving to us his Holy Spirit. Christ's apostles are troubled and ask him at the Last Supper where he is going and he says,"And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know." (KJV John 14:4) Well, what is the way? The way is,"...the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (KJV 1 Timothy 3:15) Because Christ says to them two verses later in John 14:6," I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." And the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is the head; they are one and the same. He is the groom, the Church is the Bride, and they are become one in the Holy Spirit. We go to Christ the same way he came to us, by the Holy Spirit, through Mary who is the sign of the Church. As long as we abide in the Body we have life. Because he says again," I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (KJV John 15:5) Abide in Christ's Body, abide in Holy Mother the Church, in Mary's example... the perfect 'yes' to God's will.

That kind of brings us back to the beginning, when I was talking about my experience in California at that house Church. Who then can be called the Tree of Life; who is that tree a sign of? It's Mary! She is the Church, and the fruit of her womb is Christ, he is the fruit that grants eternal life, and yet Christ is also the tree because the Church is him, his very body. This isn't the first time we see him doubling responsibilities either! He was the lamb of sacrifice, and yet also the priest who offered himself for us. This is a great mystery! In the mystery of Mary's ontological role we see how truly and irrevocably intertwined our humanity has become with Christ's divinity, through his incarnation, death, and resurrection, and the gift of adoption by the Father through his Holy Spirit. We are all fruit on that Tree, as he is, if we are obedient, because the apostle Paul says," For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren." (KJV Romans 8:29) Therefore, Mary is our mother in the order of grace. It is an active role, and because she is our mother in the order of grace, she is also the figurehead of the Bride of Christ, the image of the glory which God has planned for us, the Queen of Heaven. 

But one last bit of argument, for now. The apostle Paul calls Christ 'The Second Adam.' The first Adam fell into a deep sleep and God fashioned for him a bride from his side. The scripture reads," And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (KJV Genesis 2:23-24) Christ's bride was also taken from his side," But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." (KJV John 19:34) The water being baptism, and the blood being the sacraments, which together are the Church and all those who participate in them. The Second Adam's bride was also taken from his side. And she is called after him "Christian," just like woman is called after the man. But who then is the 'Second Eve?' Is it not Mary, as we have shown, flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone? Are we not all her children according to grace, just as we are all natural children of Eve? 

Perhaps, given the time to ruminate these ideas, you will finally find yourself fulfilling your own part in Mary's prophecy in Luke 1:48," ...henceforth all generations shall call me blessed!" Perhaps, you will know that Christ has also given you a mother, and that she is the paradigm of obedience to Christ and what we ought to be. And perhaps, finally, you will not be so hostile to those Christians who do venerate her as a mother, and even as the Queen which it pleased the Holy Trinity to make her, so that we would hope more strongly in his promises.

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

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