The Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity

Tuesday, May 20, 2003



Here's another posting the conservatives will like.

I'll start out with an argument I had with an Evangelical Protestant about the Immaculate Conception and perpetual virginity of Mary based on Biblical texts and the issue of tradition. This part may be tedious, but will help those looking for apologetics. I then will add a section about the Virgin birth itself from this one progressive's point of view. This part may be more interesting, especially to my fellow progressives.

Let me start by saying that what the Church teaches about Mary is what we hope for ourselves. As grace has made her immaculate, we hope to be made immaculate through grace. As Mary was assumed body and soul into in to heaven, we hope to be share bodily in the resurrection of the dead. Furthermore, since Mary always points to Christ, and Christ always surpasses her, the higher we lift her, the higher we are lifting Christ! Finally, the symbol of Mary speaks volumes to the dignity of women.

An Evangelical Protestant asked me recently "Who was the woman of Genesis 3:15"?"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel." (Genesis 3:15) Was it really Mary?

The Evangelical went on to demonstrate that the passage seems to literally apply to Eve. I responded to him as follows:

In a prophetic sense it is Mary. What you are doing in your exposition is assuming that each and every line of Scripture has one meaning, and one meaning only. Many believers in the doctrine of sola scriptura seem to hold this opinion, but this is not the Catholic position.

We Catholics believe that Scripture is inspired by an infinite God, and therefore it could have infinite layers of meaning in each and every verse.

We Catholics do believe that the human authors employed their own human agency while writing, and the intended meaning of the human author is the primary meaning, and no interpretation is considered correct that directly contradicts this primary meaning. We call this the "literal sense" of Scripture.

The literal sense does not necessarily mean "literal" the way some who define themselves as fundamentalist might say. Rather, if the human author was writing poetry, it needs to be read as poetry. If he intended history, it needs to be read as history, and so forth.

However, in addition to the literal sense, there is the allegorical sense, the moral sense, and the anagogical sense of Scripture, and all of these senses are developed with an eye to fitting everything into a coherent whole (for God is ultimately the author of all Scripture), and reading the text in continuity with the tradition of the Church.

Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes each sense of Scripture:

116 The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: "All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal."

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ's victory and also of Christian Baptism.

2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction".

3. The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading" ). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

In the literal sense, the author of Gen 3: 15 may be speaking of Eve or someone other than Mary. However, in the anagogical sense, all Scripture in some way points to the unique Word of God, Jesus Christ. In this anagogical sense, the best reading of this passage is a prophetic foreshadowing of Mary, mother of God.

From here on out, my opponent's words are in bold:

To find out, let us read the passage in its proper context. In the following verse it says, "To the woman he said: 'I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.'" (Genesis 3:16)

The Evangelicals are attempting to get at the literal meaning, and there is nothing wrong with this. However, for a Roman Catholic, it is not an either/or proposition.

Rather, we believe in both/and.

Did Mary bring forth children according to their dogmas? The Romanists say she didn't but the Scripture prophesied that the woman shall bring forth children.

I'm not sure what you are trying to say. Roman Catholics do believe that Mary had children. First, she physically bore the Christ child. Second, we call her our spiritual mother based on Christ's giving her as mother from the cross in John's Gospel.

Take note that we're using the Roman Catholic translation of the Scripture. And it says that her urge shall be for her husband and the husband shall be her master. So, who was the woman referred to in this passage? The answer is Eve. The passage is also prophetic of Eve and the women after her.

Yes - you are correct that the literal sense is referring to Eve and all women born in sin. However, it is highly significant that a woman will stand on the head of the serpent - which in no sense applies to Eve. Afterall, would you say that Eve conquered the serpent? Or any other women after her other than Mary?

This is where the analogical reading pointing to what will happen in Christ begins to shed light on the mysterious plan God has for all of our salvation. It is also important to note that whatever the Catholic Church says about Mary exalts Christ, because she has no goodeness on her own, but only the goodness given as grace to her form Christ (even if he gives it to her before he was born - which is not impossible for the divine Logos).

In verse 13 we read, "The LORD God then asked the woman, 'Why did you do such a thing?' The woman answered, 'The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.' " (Genesis 3:13) Who was the woman? It was the woman that the serpent has beguiled? The woman was Eve.

Of course Eve is the one tricked by the serpent. No Catholic would argue with you on that. Consider how fitting it is that as the Fall came through an act initiated by a woman, God would permit salvation to come through an act he would initiate in a woman. It is through Mary's "yes" to God that our Lord and Savior was permitted to enter the world.

I know speaking of this as "permission" will strike you as odd, but we Catholics believe God is a good God who respects our freedom. If Mary had said "Oh no Lord, I am too young, and I am not married yet. Please don't do this." God would have respected her freedom.

Where Eve lacked trust in God and listened to the serpent, Mary trusted God even in a difficult choice - one that might have ended her engagement, if not getting her stoned to death. Through her "yes" to God, she stomped on that old serpent's head.

Yet, we Catholics know that all salvation is by grace alone. It is not what we do by our own power that saves, but what Christ does in us. Thus, the only way Mary could possibly say "yes" to God is if grace were already active in her being!

The favored one in Luke 1:28 "And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one (Gk., kecharitoomenee)! The Lord is with you." Here they say that the Greek word kecharitoomenee, rendered here as "favored one," "indicates a unique abundance of grace, a supernatural, godlike state of soul, which finds its explanation only in the Immaculate Conception of Mary."

The doctrine is consistent with this passage of Scripture, and maybe even implied.

However, the doctrine rests more on tradition that we find expressed very early in the Church. For example, the Proto-Evangelium of James written at the beginning of the second century makes reference to Mary's sinlessness. Indeed, the fathers of the Church constantly refer to Mary as sinless, and there are no voices of dissent until very late in Church history. If this were an error invalidating a Church, we'd have to say all Christians were in substantial error for about 500 years or so.

Thus, even if you do not agree with Roman Catholics on this doctrine, it is hard to argue that the error is so substantial that it deserves a judgment of condemnation.

We Roman Catholics do not believe in the notion of sola scriptura. While the Bible is infallibly inspired by God, we accept that God reveals himself in other ways. One of these ways is called "Sacred Traditition", which never contradicts Scripture, but may go beyond Scripture in some areas.

When Jesus condemns mere human traditions, he points out that the tests of a false tradition is that it "nullifies" God's word. However, tradition that is consistent with Scripture need not be rejected. Indeed, Paul explicitly makes reference to handing on traditions!

In fact, many so-called believers in sola scriptura do accept many truths that are not found in the Bible - such as mathematics, science, and so forth. Some even follow human traditions such as exchanging Christmas gifts or celebrating Thanksgiving.

So long as we are not nullifying God's word, tradition can actually help us understand the Scripture! We stand on the shoulders of giants - 2,000 years of Christian Biblical scholarship under the authority of an unbroken chain of apostolic succession!

My opponent then stated that we consider Mary "godlike" and asked:

What godlike state of soul?

The Second Letter of Peter, 1: 3-4 states that in Christ we are made partakers of the divine nature. While grace does not make each one of us a god, grace does confer upon us a sharing in the one true God through the Holy Spirit that makes like Christ, and therefore like God. Indeed, the one true God comes to dwell within each of us!

In the case of Mary, the Catholic Church is simply stating that grace was given to her earlier in life than most of us. She received God's grace at the moment of her conception. That grace is the very same grace that flows from the cross and cleanses us of all stain of original sin. In this sense, Mary is "immaculately conceived".

Yet, because Mary is a creature and a human person just like all of us, whatever the Church teaches of her expresses a hope for all of us. Thus, just as Mary is immaculate, we too hope to be perfectly cleansed and made spotless in the blood of Christ!

Though they usually add a disclaimer that kecharitoomenee (often rendered as "full of grace") serves only as an illustration, not as a proof of the dogma, it's worth noting what they meant by it. To them being declared kecharitoomenee means, "from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings."

Actually, what you are calling a "disclaimer" is not how we would put it. We are simply admitting that Scripture can have more than one meaning.

As far as rendering kecharitomene, it is the vocative, nominative, singular, feminine, perfect passive participle of the verb charitow which is "to grace".

Vocative = using a word as an address, such as saying "Hey you!" or "hail!"
Nominative = the subject of the sentence, so the one to whom the angel is speaking is the subject
singular = the angel isn't addressing anybody else but Mary
feminine = the addressee or subject is indeed a woman
perfect...participle = past tense ongoing action. Not the same as saying I mowed the lawn - more like saying I was mowing the lawn - an extended action over time that has already occurred
passive = the action is performed on the subject, rather than the subject performing the action
of "charitow" = the greek VERB for grace - "to grace"

Put all of this together, and the actual rendering would be "Hail you who have been being graced"

That seems pretty consistent with the doctrine of Mary being immaculately conceived, though I'll concede it could simply mean she was graced for some period of time prior to the angel's greeting.

Is there an exception to the declaration of Paul to the Romans, "For ALL HAVE sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23, KJV)?

There certainly must be, unless you believe Christ, himself, sinned! Saint Paul uses rhetorical language that is not always precise. He is not trying to make a statement about Mary, but about his readers. All who read Paul have sinned, and this continues to be true to our own day.

Would Mary have called God as HER personal SAVIOR had she been free from sin from the first instant of her existence?

If I were about to step out in front of a truck, and you grabbed me, might I say you saved me?

God did save Mary from sin, just as surely as he saves us. The only difference between her and me is that in her case, because of the special role she would play, she was granted powerful grace at conception. I was given grace later in life, and perhaps the graces I was given were of a different sort. But who am I to question God on why he gives each person unique graces.

"My spirit rejoices in God MY SAVIOR." -- Mary (All caps added, Luke 1:47)

Yep. Mary was perfectly humble in recognizing that all that happened through her was by God's powerful grace.

I regret I am not always so humble when good things happen through me.

What's in the Greek word kecharitoomenee, that they give so much emphasis on it?

Asked and answered.

Yes, they agree that it is the perfect passive participle of charitoo<10>, Strong's explained the Greek word as "to grace, i.e., indue with special honor." How does one endowed with special honor or grace become automatically sinless from birth?

You are correct that the word does not automatically imply from birth, but it does imply an ongoing action in the past performed on Mary. Since the universal consensus of the early fathers is that Mary was sinless from birth, and it would seem unfitting for Christ to be formed in the womb of a sinner, we believe that the best reading of the verse implies that Mary was blessed with a unique gift of grace from conception.

Yet, we also would point out that Eve was created originally without sin too. In Eve's case, she fell. In Mary's case, she choose to respond favorably to God's grace and allowed God to incarnate himself in our world through her!

To answer this they resort to an analogy of a man who fell into the pit, who got saved from it, and had never any stain.<11> But is physical stain the same as spiritual sin? Stain can be washed away with water but sin penetrates deep into the soul of man.

I never heard this analogy in my life - so it is not the "official teaching" of the Church. However, to the point about sin penetrating deep into the soul, we agree. That is partly why would find it completely unfitting that the incarnate God should be formed in the womb of a sinner.

Paul explained, "Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned." (Romans 5:12 ) "But scripture confined ALL THINGS UNDER the power of SIN, that through faith in Jesus Christ the promise might be given to those who believe." (Galatians 3:22)

Abraham was saved by faith in God even though he did not explicitly know that God is Christ. Mary was saved by faith as well, and prior to the incarnation, her faith was likely much like Abraham's.

Could we go against the Scripture that already declared, without ambiguity, that ALL THINGS are under sin?

"ALL THINGS" cannot be interpreted in the way you mean. Your own rendering of Paul would make Christ, himself, a sinner, and we all still be damned in our sins. Paul is obviously using hyperbolic speech. Remember, the literal sense is the sense intended by the author. Paul obviously meant for us to make some mental exceptions like Christ, himself - why is it "contradictory" of Scripture to assume he also had Mary in mind? The sinners he means are those reading the letter - you and I!

That all descendants of Adam have all sinned (with the exception of Jesus who is God incarnate who had no human father to get the sin nature from).

Hey - the text does not explicitly make this exception. By your own standard, how can you contradict Paul on this one?

According to the same Apostle, God can justify a believer--

Right - we believe Mary was justified by God's grace - she did not do it on her own!

"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record." (Romans 4:8) But that does not mean the believer did not sin from birth. Yes, this justification is only by the grace of God,

Whoa. back up. Are you saying that if the Fall never happened, Adam and Eve would not have been just since they never had a chance to sin?

That makes no sense.

When we who are sinners are justified, it is as though we had not sinned. However, someone who does not sin was always a just person.

"For sin is not to have any power over you, since you are not under the law but under grace." (Romans 6:14)

Paul uses the word "grace" in different ways, which leads to a lot of arguments between Catholics and others. At times, grace is "favor", while at other times it is power and even God's very life within us (thus, Paul speaks of Christ dwelling in him).

But it only means the believer was a sinner but by the grace of God the Lord justified him by through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. They also reason that, "Consider a child below the age of reason. By definition he can't sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin." But did Mary remain a child? No she didn't. She grew up gained the ability to reason and she sinned like all women before her, and like all humanity, she also needed a Savior (see Luke 1:47).

What proof do you have that she sinned after childhood?

The woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars of Revelation 12:1. They say the Virgin Mary was the woman described in Revelation 12:1 because she had only one child (v.2) and the early state of her only boy child was there was already an attempt to kill him (v.4) and that child is no other than Jesus who was to be the ruler of all nations, and ascended to God and to his throne (v.5).

Actually, the literal sense of Rev 12 is likely the Church, which is the interpretation of most of the fathers, and the consensus of most Catholic scholars. Yet, the anagogical sense sure seems to point to Mary - especially in light of early traditions of her sinlessness and assumption. Furthermore, we have believed that whatever is said of Mary expresses our hope for the Church. Thus, any symbol of the Church in Scripture can, in a way, speak of the truth of Mary and vice-a-versa.

But there are problems with this interpretation because Mary did not flee with Joseph in the wilderness or stayed there for 1,260 days to be fed. This number of days is also referred to as "a time, and times, and half a time" in Revelation 12:14 which is generally understood as three and a half years--

I beg to differ. Mary and Joseph took the child into Egypt to hide from Herod. It is not at all unreasonable to see this as a parallel.

"And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days." (Revelation 12:6) But the sun could be a symbol for Jacob, and the moon, either Leah or Rachel while the twelve stars, the twelve patriarchs. In other words, the woman more likely represents the Jews that will be persecuted during the Great Tribulation for three and a half years than Mary.

Yeah. I agree. This is the literal sense, which is primary and valid, and revelatory. What about the anagogical sense?

My opponent shifted gears to the "brothers of the Lord" :

Matthew 4:18 referred to Peter as Andrew's brother (Gk., adelfos) while Mark 3:17 and 5:37 refer to John as the brother (Gk., adelfos) of James, son of Zebedee.

The Scriptures go a bit further than you imply with John and James. Both are sons of Zebedee (Mk 10: 35), so they are not figurative brothers as you later imply as possible.

We understand that the Greek word adelfos could either be referring to a literal or a figurative brother therefore determining which of the two as the correct interpretation will be left on to how it is used in the sentence (i.e., context, Scriptural harmony and historical background).

There are more possibilities than the two you lay out. A person called an "adelphos" can be a literal brother - meaning that the two share the same set of biological parents. A person called an "adelphos" can also be a half-brother, meaning they only share one biological parent. A person called an "adelphos" can also be a biological cousin, or other close relative, which is common usage in the Mediteranean even to this day (see Gn 14: 16, Gn 29: 15, and Lv 10:4). A person called an "adelphos" can also be a member of the same tribe for a Jew! Then there is the figurative sense that you speak of, where we can say things like "We are all brothers in Christ."

Thus we know that Simon Peter is literally the brother of Andrew because of the possessive pronoun, take these as examples: "Peter, and Andrew HIS brother" (Matthew 4:18; 10:2); "Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew HIS brother" (Luke 6:14).

I do believe that Simon and Andrew are brothers, but not for the simplistic reason you present. The text you sight does not prove that both Simon and Andrew are sons of Jonah by itself when so many other possibilities exist.

We also know that John is literally the brother of James because of the definite article, "John THE brother of James" (Mark 3:17; 5:37).

Again - this is the wrong reason for reaching your conclusion. We know James and John are biological brothers because both are sons of Zebedee (ie - Mk 10: 35, mentioned above)

The possessive pronoun and the definite article help us realize that the kin-relationship between John and James is exclusive as the kin-relationship between Peter and Andrew.

My wife is from Tanzania, where cousins are called brothers and sisters in everyday speech. She introduces them as "MY sister". Likewise, my best friend from college is from Greece, and speaks Greek, and when he introduced me to his cousin, he said "This is my brother Mike". I was very confused, because I had already met his brother Mike. He realized what he had said, and said, "You would call him cousin." In both Swahili and modern Greek, there ARE words that are used in legal documents for "cousin", but in everyday speech, your cousin is your brother or sister! The Gospels are written in Greek, and while Koine is different from modern Greek, it is not good exegesis to simply assume the meaning based on grammar alone!

What about Jesus, did he have a literal brother and sister?

He had literal relatives, if that is what you are asking. Did Mary, his mother, have other children? The answer is no according to Catholics.

"But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother." (Gk., adelfos, Galatians 1:19) As you can see, there is that definite article signifying the exclusive kin relationship between James and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes. I agree that James is a relative of Christ, as we will see.

But does that make Jesus also the brother of John, the beloved?--Not if there were at least two James.
I agree with you here too. There is no indication in the text that Jesus and John, son of Zebedee are relatives.
Sure enough there were at least four (Jamses) — (1) The son of Zebedee, brother of John (Mark 3:17; 5:37; Acts 1:13; 12:2);

Ok. I'm with you.

(2) Judas' brother (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13; Jude 1:1);

Well, I want to stop you. There is no way you can know that James brother of Jude mentioned in Luke 6: 16 and Jude 1: 1 is the same person mentioned in Acts 1: 13.

In the first two selections, we are talking about James who is brother of Jude. In Acts 1: 13, we are talking about a James who is son of Judas.

(3) The son of Alphaeus whose brother is Judas (Acts 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15); and

As one of the Twelve, he is mentioned much more frequently than this, but OK.

(4) One surnamed The Less who is a son of a woman named Mary who had a brother named Joses (Mark 15:40).

You skipped a few connecting dots. In Matthew 27: 56, we see that a woman OTHER than Mary, mother of Jesus, is ALSO named Mary, and she has children named James and Joses. Thus, the James of Mk 15: 40 mentioned above very well could be the James of Mark 6: 3 that you mention next!

"Is not this the carpenter, THE SON OF Mary, THE BROTHER OF James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not HIS sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." (Mark 6:3)

Note that the selected text was not crafted to say: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary who is also mother of James and Joses"

I checked the Greek, and the word "kai" immediately follows "Marias". The actual grammatical rendering is more like the New American Bible translation that says:

Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Now this is very problematic for your position. You see, the phrase does NOT say that Mary is the mother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. Rather, it does say that these fellows are brothers of Jesus, and Mary is Jesus' mother. In fact, the phrasing implies that Mary is not the mother of these brothers.

This has two potential explanations. Either these are "half-brothers" whom Joseph fathered, or they are cousins.

I believe they are cousins on Joseph's side because that would allow that the James, brother of Jude and Joses is the same person in Mk 15: 40, Mk 16: 1, Mt 27: 56, Luke 6: 16, and Jude 1: 1. These children are the children of Mary, sister of Joseph and Judas! They are not the children of Mary, wife of Joseph!

Can I prove this?

Not absolutely. But there is no evidence in the text alone that contradicts it, and I think your own rendering is on even shakier grounds.

In the above passage the definite article, "the," helps ascertain the kin-relationship of the Carpenter's son to James can be taken literally as we have taken the exclusive mother-son relationship between Mary and Jesus.

In any language that I am aware of, it is not true that you can determine relationships this way through grammar. I speak English and Spanish, and have studied Koine Greek, Latin, French and Swahili to varying degrees. I’ll grant you that I fell asleep in class sometimes, but I just do not believe this rule exists. If you really want to stand by this, please cite where you get these grammatical rules so I can research it.


I do believe in the biological virginity of Mary during the conception of Jesus, but this is sometimes a contested issue by some progressives.

There are a couple of different ways to look at the issue and some underlying assumptions that need to be examined.

First, the Virgin Birth narratives are only found in Matthew and Luke, and they contain some important variants. For example, Matthew's genealogy and Luke's genealogy are significantly different. Matthew focuses on Joseph's struggle to accept that Jesus is God's child, while Luke focuses attention on Mary. Matthew portrays the holy family as living in a house in Bethlehem, where Luke portrays the holy family journeying to Bethlehem for a census. Matthew tells us the story of the magi, where Luke tells us of shepherds. Each of these variants can be explained best in terms of the theology of the author portrayed in the rest of their narratives.

Matthew's genealogy is different than Luke's because he writes to a Jewish audience, and wants to emphasize that Jesus descends from Abraham and David with a pattern in the number of generations indicating Jesus is fulfillment of a prophecy. Luke, who writes to a gentile audience, wants to show Jesus is a son of Adam, the patriarch of the whole human race. Likewise, Matthew has magi visiting to show Jesus is fulfilling prophecy, where Luke, the writer to the common gentile, wants shepherds visiting.

However, both authors agree on one factual point. Both authors also agree on the interpretation of that single factual point. Namely, both authors agree that Jesus was born of virgin who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus is the Son of God!

Many conservative Catholics want to try to harmonize the two gospels and downplay the variances. I take the exact opposite approach. I want to highlight the variances as evidence that there is some truth behind the texts.

The variances prove to me that these two authors are not colluding, and there is likely something historical behind the texts. There was an older tradition upon which each author shaped his own creative narration to interpret the tradition. At the very least, even the complete atheist can see this as a sign that there was controversy surrounding Jesus birth.

Perhaps opponents of the Jesus movement in the first century argued that Jesus was a bastard child born out of wedlock. The virgin birth may have been the believer's answer to this charge! The older tradition is that Jesus was born of a virgin, and each author is interpreting that tradition to his audience in such a way as to demonstrate that the meaning of such an event is that Jesus is God's unique and sole begotten Son.

Yet, how can we be certain that this story was not made up? How can we know that Jesus is not truly a bastard child?

Personally, suggesting that Matthew and Luke each borrowed from an older oral tradition makes their belief no less authoritative than if Mary told them each herself that she was a virgin. Ultimately, we believe in the virgin birth sign or miracle as an act of faith, not a proven fact.

The story is not "history" in the secular sense of a truth known by historical scientific methods. Yet, I believe the biological virgin borth is a real event in the past, and there is no counter-evidence other than the fact that we know of no other case of such a thing. The question is not about our sources or their reliability. Rather, the question is whether such a thing can ever happen!

Those who have read my essay on The Resurrection may have reached a mistaken conclusion that I believe that miracles are impossible. I think miracles happen everyday. It's really quite miraculous to me that the sun rises each morning! I do not believe it has to. The study of natural science is nothing to me but a study of God's habits. God seems to act much more consistently and regularly than we do, but She doesn't have to. With a single thought of God, the entire universe could cease to exist or become other than it currently is. God, the creator of the universe, can do anything!

I am not suggesting that God is personally responsible for everything that happens in the universe. God does permit freedom to humanity and angels. God does allow free beings to do evil that God Herself does not cause, and the repurcussions of sin seem to take on cosmic significance. All suffering and death seems somehow related to the existence of sin, and the permission of sin is a compliment to the greatness of human freedom.

The reason I speak of resurrection in such mystical terms that seem to concede so much to the atheist is that resurrection is a trans-historical event. It not something that happened in one moment in time, but is a present reality today that will be present tomorrow. In my essay on resurrection, I am simply stating that the Apostles may have experienced Christ just as we do. Maybe they experienced something more or other than we do, but there is no reason to presume either way.

On the other hand, with the virgin birth narrative, while we can argue that Christ's unique relationship with God as Son is an eternal and present verity, the virgin birth as a fact in itself is not a present reality. It happens in time as a sign.

Freakish things happen all the time that baffle scientists and skeptics, and I see no reason to presume that a real virgin birth may not be one such event.

God can work miracles through primary and secondary causality. If He wants to put a hole in roof of my house, He can do so by simply wishing it to appear, or She can make a storm brew that knocks a tree over into the roof.

I once had a teacher in seminary that insisted that God always worked through secondary causality. He stated that "there is no such thing as direct divine intervention". To some extent I agree. If a virgin birth occurred, it is entirely possible that a scientist could have found a rationale explanation for how Mary's egg cells mutated and began to self-replicate with the startling feature of a Y chromosome. Maybe solar radiation and a first century Jewish diet on a young descendant of David provided the right of circumstances for just such a thing to happen, though the odds are 1 in 999 trillion or worse. And you know what? Even if such a rational explanation exists, it is still a miracle that it occurred in the one we come to believe is risen from the dead, savior the world, God in the flesh!

There remains some unanswered questions if we assume the virgin birth is a biological reality. It is fair for theologians and others to ask how we could "know" such a thing. Did Mary tell someone? Was it revealed through the sense of the faithful? Is it simply sufficient to say Matthew and Luke say so, even if we know that each author was taking creative liberties under the guidence of the Holy Spirt as they crafted their Jesus stories? This reamins an open ended question pointing into the mystery of the unknowable.

I once knew a progressive who suggested that Mary was raped. In his line of thinking, my fellow progressive was arguing that Mary was moral virgin, though not a biological virgin. He accepted that the belief that Jesus is the Son of God is a meaningful use of language, but rejected the physical and biological virginity of Mary.

There is a sense that I would defend my fellow progressive's right to his opinion against overly zealous conservatives who seek to use doctrines as litmus tests and want all dissention expunged through excommunication. The authors of Scripture make Jesus' unique relationship to the Father their main point. The miracle account is secondary and only serves to illustrate the broader point. Those who believe Mary was impregnated through sexual intercourse may not be automatically considered heretics if they except the primary meaning of Scripture and the creeds that tell us of Jesus' unique relationship to God.

However, we are still left with the fact that the older tradition that informs both authors is that Mary was a biological virgin, and I believe it is extremely fair to assume that this has always been the sense of the faithful, and even has been defined infallibly. I do not believe it pure anti-intellectualism to suggest that biological virginity actually occurred even if we can't prove it. It seems to me that sometimes God hits us over the head with a sign of his presence, even if She always does so in ways that employ some sort of secondary causality and leave some room for alternate interpretation.

I once read a theological article by Ann Carr. I can't remember exactly where I read it, but one of her struggles with the doctrine of the virgin birth was that it set an impossible moral standard for women. How are women to be virgin mothers? She pointed out that at times, when she was a little girl, the image of Mary seemed to be used as a big stick to beat smart girls into quiet submission. The emphasis in traditional piety is on Mary's pondering events quietly in her heart, her fiat to God, her perfect chastity and her submission to her son.

I do not believe that the virgin birth was intended by God as a moral lesson regarding virginity or celibacy. Certainly chastity is a virtue, but the virgin birth is not primarily directed at teaching us lessons on chastity. If the virgin birth really happened, I believe that the message intended by God is the same message intended by the authors of Scripture in their creative narration of the event. God is saying, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."

Furthermore, to see Mary as some quiet and passive woman to silence smart woman is not to read the Gospel for all its worth. This is a woman who boast that her own being proclaims the greatness of the Most High God. This is a woman who foretells that all generations will call her blessed. Mary is a prophetess singing canticles of radical social justice. She spurs her son on to his mission before he feels completely ready. She commands others what to do at times. She follows Jesus bravely all the way to the cross where almost all others had abandoned him. She is among the first to come to faith in the resurrection and she was present at Pentecost. This is no quiet door-mat! The only times Mary is quiet is before God and in pondering the truth in her heart. Before humanity, she is a strong Jewish mother with the ferocity of a lioness.

Peace and Blessings!

For more on the saints, see On the Saints

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posted by Jcecil3 2:57 PM

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