Thursday, February 05, 2004

Dialogue with an Evangelical Protestant on Catholic Mariology (vs. Jack DisPennett)



(including an explicitly biblical argument for the Immaculate Conception, from Luke 1:28,
related exegesis, and the meaning of grace)

This dialogue came about as a result of a critique of my paper, Biblical Overview: The Blessed Virgin Mary. Jack's words will be in blue. He has further replies on-hand if anyone wishes to read them, via e-mail. We both agreed that this dialogue was long enough for an Internet paper, as it stands.

1. MOTHER OF GOD (THEOTOKOS)

. . . I would agree for the most part. Even in the Bible Elizabeth calls Mary, "The mother of my Lord." However, I think that the phrase "Mother of God" is apt to be misleading and should thus be qualified. For example, "Mother of God the Word" or "Mother of God the Son."
 
I used to make precisely the same argument as a Protestant. I have no problem with this (I've used these phrases as a Catholic apologist, myself, on more than one occasion), but at the same time, the Protestant can and ought to do a little bit of work to understand what the Catholic means by the phrase, which was used by Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli also (and the Fathers en masse), with the exact same understanding. It is a word of high importance and significance in Church history, known by all who study that field: Theotokos, or God-bearer. It was crucial in the condemnation of Nestorianism as a heresy, at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
 
I agree that the Protestant must take pains to understand Catholic terminology; however, this does not absolve Catholics from the responsibility of developing a precise, unambiguous, Biblical vocabulary. I am quite aware of the Catholic understanding of the term "Mother of God;" I am only saying that Catholics should better phrase the terminology so as not to be a stumbling block to outsiders who might not be so well informed.
 
We use the term because it has been passed down to us, firmly entrenched in apostolic Christian Tradition. I could make the same argument about Trinity: a word not found in the Bible, based on deduction (though very good, solid deduction), and much-misunderstood by "outsiders." Should, therefore, all Christians cease using the word because so few understand it? It would seem that you must answer "yes," from your reasoning above.
 
Furthermore, I thought I'd add that I'd rather think of myself as Protestant (I prefer "evangelical,") in doctrine, rather than in lineage. I have never read Calvin or Luther, neither do I admire either one of them very much, based on what I do know about them. I would like to think that I came to believe what I believe by a fair and balanced interpretation of the Bible, not because "Pastor so-and-so" said it was true.
 
Many Protestants think in this way, but upon closer examination, traditions and denominational influences are apparent in every Christian's thought, of whatever stripe, whether or not they are aware of it. The very disdain of Luther and Calvin and the eschewing of a Protestant heritage and institutionalism in general is itself yet another form of Protestantism, deriving from the Anabaptists in the 16th century.
 
So it really comes down to your interpretation of the Bible vs. the historic interpretation of the Church (and in this particular case, classic Protestantism agrees with Catholicism and Orthodoxy). Why should anyone accept your view over against the overwhelming consensus of Church history? This is a problem throughout your analysis: the radical nature of an extreme Bible-only; as-interpreted-by-the-individual-only position. This is not at all how Jesus, the Apostles, and the Church Fathers viewed the matter, and Catholics believe we are merely following their lead.
 
Saying "Mother of God" without any qualifiers is apt to lead to the absurd conclusion that she is the mother of the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as the Son, which is ridiculous.
 
It could. People think a lot of things about many words. I consider it more ridiculous, however, that non-Catholic Christians (i.e., those who know their own faith traditions pretty well) would think that Catholics believe such an absurd thing in the first place. This illustrates how little they understand Catholicism, which, in my opinion, is a far greater problem than the misunderstandings which might occur among those who don't trouble themselves to any great degree to study comparative theology generally, or Catholic theology in particular.
 
I have taken pains not to mischaracterize Catholic theology thusly, so I agree that many
Protestants should be more careful in their study of Catholicism.
 
Great.
 
Such qualifiers to distinguish between the Persons of the Trinity are Biblical, I believe: remember, in John 1:1, John wrote, "and the Word was God," not "and God was the Word," because the latter would tend to hint at a teaching not unlike the Modalist heresy, namely, by seeming to say that the Son was "all of" God, that is, that the the Word Himself formed the totality of the Godhead.

Very interesting analogy. I think it ultimately fails, though. See my next reply.
 
I would also like to wholeheartedly agree that "Mother of God" should primarily be a Christological title: However, by addressing this title to Mary in prayer to her, Catholics may sometimes tend to use this title to give honor to Mary rather than to Christ. This is a potential stumbling block which needs to be looked out for.

The Church has written about Marian abuses in her ranks, particularly in the documents of Vatican II, and Mary's intrinsic inferiority to God as a mere creature is well-attested in our ranks. But your analogy to John 1 doesn't apply because the two situations are different. In my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, I went into this at greater length. I cited James Cardinal Gibbons on this matter:
We affirm that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God, who in His divine nature is from all eternity begotten of the Father, consubstantial with Him, was in the fullness of time again begotten, by being born of the Virgin, thus taking to Himself, from her maternal womb, a human nature of the same substance with hers.


But it may be said the Blessed Virgin is not the Mother of the Divinity. She had not, and she could not have, any part in the generation of the Word of God, for that generation is eternal; her maternity is temporal. He is her Creator; she is His creature. Style her, if you will, the Mother of the man Jesus or even of the human nature of the Son of God, but not the Mother of God.


I shall answer this objection by putting a question. Did the mother who bore us have any part in the production of our soul? Was not this nobler part of our being the work of God alone? And yet who would for a moment dream of saying "the mother of my body," and not "my mother?" . . . . . In like manner, . . . the Blessed Virgin, under the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, by communicating to the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity, as mothers do, a true human nature of the same substance with her own, is thereby really and truly His Mother.


It is in this sense that the title Mother of God, denied by Nestorius, was vindicated to her by the General Council of Ephesus, in 431; in this sense, and in no other, has the Church called her by that title. Hence, by immediate and necessary consequence, follow her surpassing dignity and excellence.
(The Faith of Our Fathers, NY: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, rev. ed., 1917, 137-138)
I think that you have misunderstood my point. I agree that Mary is really and fully the mother of God the Son. I was merely pointing out that calling Mary "The Mother of God" without specifying her as the mother of Christ is apt to confuse outsiders. If we specify her as the mother of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, then her role is made more clear in the phraseology; she is merely the vessel that God used to bring about the Incarnation of His Son. My point is that Mary's role as Theotokos should be further specified in the phraseology to: "mother of God the Son," because we wouldn't want anyone to think that she was the mother of the Holy Trinity, or the mother of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is the only qualm I have about that title; the uninformed are apt to misunderstand it.
 
2. IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

This seems to contradict what Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God." One could try to argue that since Jesus
Christ Himself is an exception to this universal statement, then perhaps there
are other exceptions also. This, however, is a weak objection. For the only
reason Jesus Christ did not sin and fall short of the glory of God was because
he WAS God. Indeed, Paul Himself would agree: just read verses 24-25. But to
add that Mary also did not sin seems to commit special pleading, because Mary
was mortal just as the rest of us are.
 
If your argument is merely or primarily a linguistic one, based on the meaning of all, it fails, not only by other uses of all in Scripture, and the latitude of meanings for it in Greek, but because an absolute all would indeed include Jesus Christ, He being a true man as well as true God,and a conscious being. It would also presumably include good angels who never sinned, and miscarried children, aborted babies, newborns, and severely retarded or brain-damaged persons, who do not have sufficient knowledge to commit actual sin. Therefore, if the meaning is not absolute -- i.e., now allowing any exceptions whatsoever, your argument collapses. But it can also be overcome on exegetical grounds. I presented that argument in the following paper: "All Have Sinned . . . " (Mary?).
 
Paul is obviously referring in this context to human beings who have sufficient understanding so as to either choose or reject God.
 
Then your argument collapses, because if all doesn't mean absolutely all, without a single exception, then Mary could be an exception (as indeed she is).
 
Note the preceding verses: "Jews and Gentiles" in verse 9--this passage is not talking about angels-- "with their tongues they deceive"-13 "Their feet are swift for shedding blood"-15 "There is no reverence for God before their eyes."-18 All these verses lead us to conclude that the "all" in verse 23 refers to mature human beings who have reached the age of accountability, since their rejection of God is portrayed as blatant and willful. Hence, the exceptions you listed (infants, mentally handicapped folk, angels) do not apply to the obvious context of this passage, since Romans 3:9 straight on through past Romans 3:23 is based on the same line of thought regarding mature human beings. I think on these grounds alone it is unlikely that there would be any exception other than Christ, who was able to avoid such sin precisely because He was God.
 
I reiterate that the linguistic argument collapses as soon as more than one meaning of all is conceded, as it must be, if anyone pursues the matter in biblical Greek linguistic reference books.

The exegetical argument is very important, and of course, it is entirely biblical. I will reproduce a portion of the above-cited article:
Jesus says:
      No one is good but God alone. {Lk 18:19; cf. Mt 19:17}

    Yet He also said:

      The good person brings good things out of a good treasure.... {Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45, 7:17-20, 22:10}

    Furthermore, in each instance in Matthew and Luke above of the English "good" the Greek word is the same: agatho. Is this a contradiction? Of course not. Jesus is merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God's, but He doesn't deny that we can be "good" in a lesser sense. We observe the same dynamic in the Psalms:

      The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good [Hebrew, tob] no not one. {Ps 14:2-3; cf. 53:1-3 / Paul cites these in Rom 3:10-12}

    Yet in the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims I trusted in your steadfast love.... {13:5}, which certainly is "seeking" after God! And in the very next he refers to those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right...... {15:2}. Even two verses later he writes that ...God is with the company of the righteous. (!!!) So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance. Such remarks are common to Jewish poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5 refers to a good man (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly (11:23, 12:2, 13:22, 14:14,19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Ps 14:2-3. And references to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9, 22:19, Ps 5:12, 32:11, 34:15, 37:16,32, Mt 9:13, 13:17, 25:37,46, Rom 5:19, Heb 11:4, Jas 5;16, 1 Pet 3:12, 4:18, etc., etc.).
Romans 3:23--I think you misunderstood my point. When someone uses the word "all," it is our responsibility to look back and see what the antecedent is. I argued that the antecedent of the "all" is "all Jews and Gentiles who have reached the age of accountability." I gave arguments for this. Jesus Himself is an exception, yes. But this is assumed in that very text, because Jesus Himself is the one who the "all" come to for salvation (v. 22). Hence, since Jesus Christ in that very text is differentiated from the "all" who have sinned, there actually are no exceptions to the all, once we figure out exegetically who the antecedent is; All Jews and Gentiles, except Jesus,who have reached the age of accountability and have the witness of conscience in them. Hence, your objection that stated, "Since there is one exception, why couldn't there be more?" fails once we properly establish the antecedent, of which Mary is obviously a part, being an adult Jew. Indeed, we should assume a priori that there are no exceptions from within the antecedent group, unless someone has good positive proof otherwise.
 
As for the argument "all doesn't always mean all," it is a decent point, but I think it fails exegetically. Notice Paul's words, "all have turned away...there is no one who does good, NOT EVEN ONE."-v.12, emphasis mine. Paul said that this was written "so that...the whole world (may be) held accountable to God." And that "no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law." Paul emphasizes the depravity of all mankind too much for there to be any exceptions within the antecedent group.
 
As for your exegetical argument, I think that even though David may have understood his words as hyperbole when he wrote them, applying only to the desperately wicked majority, Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seemed to take those words quite literally insofar as they apply to all people. His point is that, at some point in everyone's life, people sin and go astray from God, and that we don't naturally seek Him in our flesh (unless we are led by His Spirit.) Paul is emphasizing the universality of sin. No human being (save Christ) who has understood the difference between right and wrong has always chosen the right. Notice especially, "there is no one who does good, not even one." This means that everyone (and remember the antecedent) has broken God's laws As he said, "No one will be declared righteous by obedience to the law." Christ is the only exception, but not really an exception, since the text itself places Him outside of the antecedent of "no one." To say that Mary was sinless would mean that she was declared righteous by obedience to the law, which seems to contradict this passage.
 
The whole doctrine of the immaculate conception also raises other problems: For
example, why does God not simply immaculately conceive everybody and remove the
stain of original sin from everybody as a result of the merits of Jesus Christ?
 
I don't know. He hasn't told us, just as we don't understand many things about Him and what He does, particularly with regard to the Problem of Evil. God gives grace as He wills, and it is not for us to question why He does, but to believe in faith that He does so fairly and justly, and with some profound purpose, whether or not we comprehend it. God could have chosen to save all men by grace, due to the Cross, or to utterly annihilate the devil and his demons long ago, even before man's creation. Or He could have prevented the Fall itself, but He would have had to restrain human free will, to make it impossible for man to rebel. So this argument is simply an appeal to things we can't fully know, by the nature of things, hence, of little relevance to our present discussion (because it would apply to many, many mysteries of Christianity).
 
This would seem to be much more merciful than allowing all men to sin and a large portion to go to hell simply because they were born with original sin.
 
But this is untrue in the first place. They don't go to hell "simply because they were born with original sin." They go there because they choose to live in disobedience to God's commandments and refuse to accept Jesus as their Redeemer and Savior. Anyone can be saved who chooses to be, and perseveres to the end, by God's grace. Catholics are not supralapsarian Calvinists. Go argue with them about the injustice of that doctrine. In any event, baptism removes the penalties of original sin (although concupiscence remains, and must be overcome through a lifetime of spiritual struggle and moment-by-moment obedience, aided by the power of the Holy Spirit and enabling grace).
 
It is clear from the case of Mary that He is able to do such a thing: It must follow that He is unwilling to remove the stain of original sin. But how can this be if He desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? (1 Timothy 2:4)
 
Because they can still be saved despite original sin. What your argument amounts to is the silly thought-experiment of: "we know how God should have done things, better than God Himself." No Christian can make that argument. This is really, then, much ado about nothing: mere philosophizing, and proves little one way or the other concerning the plausibility and biblical support for the Immaculate Conception.
 
I am dropping my points regarding why God did not then create everyone without original sin, because I would rather this not turn in to a philosophical free-for-all with counterfactuals flying all around. I think it was a mistake for me to even make those points, because that whole part of the issue is really very moot.
 
I will admit that Mary is "full of grace." [Luke 1:28] I'm not a Greek scholar so I'm not sure how to translate things, and will thus accept the Catholic interpretation at face value. The problem with this argument is in what it reads into the text. Catholics chide Protestants for reading into texts like 2 Tim 3:16 to prove Sola Scriptura, and yet I think that I could raise a similar objection here.
 
You make that claim, yet the Catholic view is arguably derived straight from the Greek meaning of kecharitomene; thus I don't think it involves as much "reading into" the text (eisegesis) as you and many Protestants suppose. You have not dealt adequately with my biblical and linguistic arguments, so I will expand upon and strengthen my case presently. In my paper, Biblical Overview: The Blessed Virgin Mary, which you are critiquing, I wrote:
Kecharitomene, in any event, is derived from the root charis, whose literal meaning is grace (it is translated as grace 129 out of 150 times in the KJV). The angel is here, in effect, giving Mary a new name (full of grace), as if he were addressing Abraham as full of faith, or Solomon full of wisdom (characteristics which typified them). Throughout the Bible, names were indicative of one's character and essence, all the more so if God renamed a person.
To pursue the linguistic argument further, I shall consult the highly-regarded Protestant Greek reference work,Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words (edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich; translated and abridged in one volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, 1304-1305, charis, charizomai, charitoo, acharistos):
Distinctively charis in Paul expounds the structure of the salvation event. The basic thought is that of free giving. In view is not just a quality in God but its actualization at the cross (Gal. 2:21) and its proclamation in the gospel. We are saved by grace alone . . . it is the totality of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1) that all believers have (1 Cor. 1:4) . . . Grace is the basis of justification and is also manifested in it ([Rom.] 5:20-21). Hence grace is in some sense a state (5:2), although one is always called into it (Gal. 1:6), and it is always a gift on which one has no claim. Grace is sufficient (1 Cor. 1:29) . . . The work of grace in overcoming sin displays its power (Rom. 5:20-21) . . . In Col. 1:6 charis means the gospel . . .
Charis (grace) often means favor, it is true, but it can also refer to a state. The latter is how Catholics usually think of grace: or more specifically, as a power or ability which God grants in order to overcome sin (and this is how we interpret Luke 1:28). This sense is a biblical one, as well, as seen in the above citation, and in the following, from Greek scholar W.E. Vine:
. . . in another objective sense, the effect of grace, the spiritual state of those who have experienced its exercise, whether (1) a state of grace, e.g., Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:12; 2 Pet. 3:18, or (2) a proof thereof in practical effects, deeds of grace, e.g., 1 Cor. 16:3 . . .; 2 Cor. 8:6,19 . . . the power and equipment for ministry, e.g., Rom. 1:5; 12:6; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2,7 . . .
(An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1940, vol. 2, 170, "Grace" / "Charis")
 
For Paul, grace (charis) is the antithesis and overcomer of sin (RSV):
Romans 5:20-21 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 5:17 If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,
2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have behaved in the world, and still more toward you, with holiness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 12:9 but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
We are saved, of course, by grace, and grace alone:
Acts 15:11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of
the Lord Jesus, just as they will."

Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-- not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men,

1 Peter 1:10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation;

Romans 3:24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

Titus 3:7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Now, the implications of all this for Luke 1:28 and the Immaculate Conception of Mary ought to be obvious by now.

Unlike the doctrine of the Trinity (which can be more or less defined by applying deductive reasoning to various passages of scripture) the Catholics are using a few very indirect verses to prove what is to them an important doctrine. I deny that one can prove the immaculate conception using only the Bible and deductive reasoning. An example of a legitamite deductive argument from the Bible to prove, for example, the Trinity:
1. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4)
2. The Father is God (2 Thes. 1:1)
3. The Son is God (John 1:1, John 20:28)
4. The Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)
5. These Three are distinct Persons with distinct roles (Ephesians 2:14, Matthew
28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14)
6. Therefore, we conclude that there is one God who exists as three distinct
Persons.
I will accept the Immaculate Conception as soon as such a conclusive deductive argument for it is presented to me. Notice that there are no analogies or speculations of any sort in the argument, and that the conclusion (6) follows logically and inescapably from the premises.

All of the above instances of "grace" in English are translations of the Greek charis, the root of the word used by an angel in Luke 1:28 to describe Mary: kecharitomene. From the above we learn two things, and they are biblically certain:
1. Grace saves us.
2. Grace gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin.
Therefore, for a person to be full of grace is to both be saved and to be exceptionally, completely holy. Thus we might re-apply the above two propositions as follows:
1. To be full of the grace which saves is to surely be saved.
2. To be full of the grace which gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin, is to be fully without sin, by that same grace.
Or, we could make the following deductive argument, with premises (#1 and #2) derived directly from Scripture:
1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God's grace.
2. The Bible teaches that we need God's grace to live a holy life, above sin.
3. To be "full of" God's grace, then, is to be saved.
4. Therefore, Mary is saved.
5. To be "full of" God's grace is also to be so holy that one is sinless.
6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.
7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.
8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, is directly deduced from the strong evidence of many biblical passages, which teach the doctrines of #1 and #2.
The logic would seem to follow inexorably, from unquestionable biblical principles. The only way out of it would be to deny one of the two premises, and hold that either (1) grace doesn't save, or that (2) grace isn't that power which enables one to be sinless and holy. In this fashion, the entire essence of the Immaculate Conception is proven (alone) from biblical principles and doctrines which every orthodox Protestant holds.
 
The only possible quibble might be about when God applied this grace to Mary. We know she had it as a young woman, at the Annunciation. Catholics believe that God gave her the grace at her conception so as to avoid the original sin which she inevitably would have inherited, being human, but for God's preventive grace, which saved her from falling into the pit of sin by avoidance rather than rescue, after she had fallen in. In a very simple sense, the Immaculate Conception is God giving Mary the grace to be as sinless and innocent as Eve originally was, a thing quite fitting and not at all strange or implausible for one chosen to bear the Lord God in her own body.

All of this follows straightforwardly from Luke 1:28 and the (primarily Pauline) exegesis of charis elsewhere in the New Testament. It would be strange for a Protestant to underplay grace, when they are known for their constant emphasis on grace alone for salvation (with which we Catholics fully agree -- we merely deny the tenet of faith alone, as contrary to the clear teaching James, and Paul, when closely scrutinized). If grace saves, then to be full of it is to be not only saved, but without sin, according to biblical principles and Protestant beliefs concerning sanctification. For no one can have more grace than to be "full" of it. It's as simple as that.

Protestants keep objecting that these Catholic beliefs are "speculative" (an insinuation that they go far beyond the biblical evidence) but once one goes deeply enough into Scripture and the meanings of the words of Scripture, it is not all that speculative at all. Rather, it looks much more like Protestant theology has selectively ignored grace when it applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but trumpeted it when it applies to all the rest of us Christian believers. It is one more instance of ignoring some parts of Scripture, and pure bias against Catholic distinctives, causing a corresponding bias and unacceptable subjectivity in hermeneutics and exegesis. Thus, it is not so much a matter of Catholics reading into Scripture, as it is Protestants in effect reading certain passages out of Scripture altogether, because they don't fit in with their preconceived notions.
 
I appreciated very much your deductive argument for the Immaculate Conception. It allows an easier analysis of the points and facilitates good discussion. I think your error lies somewhere in the following points:
5. To be "full of" God's grace is also to be so holy that one is sinless.
6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.
I think that point "5" is far from obvious. Given the free will of humans, it might be that even a person who is completely full of God's grace might still commit sin, since God's grace does not nullify free will. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15) yet he later doubted that Christ was the Messiah. In 1 Samuel 13:14, we learn that God will choose a king after His own heart. We later find out that this is David. So we could construct an argument.
1. God's heart is perfect and sinless.
2. To be a man after God's own heart is to be sinless.
3. David is a man after God's own heart.
4. Therefore, David is sinless.
This argument is obviously fallacious, since David did do sinful things, such as commit adultery with Bathsheba, kill Uriah the Hittite, and take an unauthorized census of the people. I would argue that this ad-hoc argument I've constructed here commits the same fallacy that your argument for the Immaculate Conception does. I would call this fallacy "over-application of a generalization." That is, you take a statement or title meant to apply to the actions or character of a person in general, and you try to apply that to every single circumstance in that person's life.
 
I could construct other deductive arguments to, such that "John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth," becomes "John the Baptist always followed the Spirit's leading and remained without sin." Of course these saints who are described as "blameless" commit sins. But they avoid sin more than most of us, and that is the whole point. To say that Mary is "full of grace" and therefore sinless is therefore overapplication of a general description of her and is not proof of the Immaculate Conception.

You are overlooking several things here. The whole point of my going into many other verses having to do with grace, was to show that grace seems to be presented as the antithesis of sin. In other words, it is a zero-sum game: the more grace one has, the less sin they have, because the two are mutually exclusive: like oil and water. Or, one might look at grace as water, and sin as the air in an empty glass (us!). When you pour in the water (grace), the sin (air) is displaced. A full glass of water, therefore, contains no air.
 
My argument was that grace in Scripture seems to be portrayed in this fashion, vis-a-vis sin (see also, e.g., similar zero-sum game concepts in 1 John 1:7,9; 3:6,9; 5:18). I don't claim that this is an airtight biblical argument, but it seems clear to me, at face value. Certainly all mainstream Christians agree that grace is required both for salvation and to overcome sin. So in a sense my argument is only one of degree, deduced (almost in common sense, I would say) from notions that Christians already hold in common.
 
Mary is the only person in Scripture who is defined (called, in the sense of a descriptive title) as "Full of Grace" (kecharitomene). This must be significant. I think that makes her unique in some sense, anyway you look at it (I contend that the uniqueness is sinlessness, as well as -- obviously -- being the Theotokos). Furthermore, I'm not sure that an honest doubt by John the Baptist in the midst of possible despair (after all, he was in prison at the time, and probably knew he would be executed) is a sin. It may have been, but it may not have been, too. God -- and courts of law -- take into account our states of mind and emotion when we say and do certain things.
 
As for the analogy with David, this fails, because "being a man after God's own heart" and committing sin are not presented as antitheses or contraries in Scripture, the way being "full of grace" and sin are. My whole exegetical/analogical argument above really turns on that, and this example of yours is not really analogous at all because the two ideas are not in the same relation to each other (based on other biblical support) as my two ideas were. Nor is there any such title given to David in an extraordinary sense of "complete and enduring, with permanent result." So my reasoning involves both exegesis and linguistic analysis.
 
[For a continuation of this portion of the discussion, see my paper, Luke 1:28 (Full of Grace) and the Immaculate Conception: Linguistic and Exegetical Considerations]

If grace is defined as "unmerited favor," then we could see Mary as an extreme example of God's favor; I would say that (and I don't mean to offend anyone by this, but I must state my view clearly) that despite Mary's unworthiness and sin, that she was chosen by God to carry His Son.
 
The alleged "unworthiness" and "sin" of Mary does not follow from Luke 1:28 and the above exegesis and linguistic analysis. So I contend that it is contrary to Holy Scripture. It is a Protestant bias, superimposed onto Scripture.
 
I admit that she was a very righteous person, insofar as people go. But since "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," it was an act of pure grace for God to choose her (or any other eligible female He could have chosen had He desired) to bear His Son.
 
The argument from "all have sinned . . . " has been dealt with in another paper, and above, to some extent.
 
I see no reason to leap from "full of grace" to "completely sinless"; it is simply not there.
 
I believe I have shown above that it certainly is there. One merely has to make straightforward deductions from very clear Bible passages, precisely as one does with regard to the Holy Trinity.
 
In response to my lengthy, Bible-filled exegetical arguments related to Luke 1:35:

Your argument is not convincing, because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (1 Cor 3:16) and yet we are not sinless. There is no more need for Mary to be sinless from birth as the bearer of the second Person of the Trinity than there is a need that those in whom dwells the third Person of the Trinity be sinless from birth.
 
God is everywhere, and every Christian has the Holy Spirit inside of Him. This is true, and a decent point. The uniqueness of the Incarnation, on the other hand, was that only one person was chosen (with her willing consent) to be Theotokos and have the incarnate God: God made flesh, inside of her body for nine months. Though the Immaculate Conception was not, strictly speaking, necessary for the Incarnation, yet it was fitting and entirely appropriate, based on the arguments I gave having to do with proximity to God, and it is based on biblical reasoning.
 
I think that the analogy between the ark of the covenant and Mary ends where Mary's humanity begins. The ark of the covenant was a thing, not a person. You could try to draw some sort of an analogy between the "cleanness" and "holiness" of that ark and the sinlessness of Mary, but ultimately, this is just your speculation., and nothing more.
 
No; it is based on several instances of explicitly-biblical parallels drawn between the ark of the covenant and Mary (noted by the Fathers as well). Again, you try to reduce to "speculation" what is clearly a biblical thought-pattern, which you choose to ignore as of no special significance. Catholics don't ignore it; we apply it in our overall theology.
 
Yes, God told Moses to take off his shoes when he was standing on Holy Ground, but it was by God's grace that Moses didn't drop dead right then. Moses was, after all, a sinner. Peter himself couldn't believe that he was worthy to be near with Christ (Luke 5:8), yet he became one of His apostles. I agree that Mary must have been very righteous to bear the Son of God, just as the High Priest had to be very righteous to enter the Holy of Holies. But one could apply similar logic to that you are applying to conclude that the High Priest should have dropped dead as soon as he entered the Holy of Holies, since he was only ritually pure, but not actually free from sin.
 
Parallels and analogies need not be absolutely exact in each particular (just as Jesus' comparison of His Resurrection with Jonah and the wahle was not exact in every detail). What I was getting at is a very common motif or way of thinking in Scripture. One either grasps the point or they do not. But it is not the sort of "historico-grammatical" biblical interpretation which is the usual Protestant modus operandi, so we would expect that these arguments do not appear plausible to a Protestant. This type of hermeneutic is very Hebraic, rather than rationalistic or strictly "logical."
 
I would argue that Mary was washed in the blood of the Lamb through faith in God, and that she was thus justified (accounted as righteous) to bear the Son of God. This is my speculation.
 
Well, Luke 1:28 says she was full of grace, and that means without sin, as shown. Very biblical; very straightforward.
 
However, I think that my explanation is more sound as it does not add any new doctrine that is not taught elsewhere in scripture (i.e. based on Romans 3:23, we should assume a priori that Mary did sin, unless someone can prove otherwise.)
 
It will do no good to keep appealing to Romans 3:23, when I have shown that your argument is entirely fallacious. Until you overturn my counter-argument, a mere citation just won't do.
 
I think that you would have to prove that Mary would have HAD to have been sinless to bear Christ; since your only analogy that you use to attempt to prove actual sinlessness is an inanimate object (the ark of the covenant), it is still not clear that Mary must be actually sinless.
 
I agree that it is not absolutely required (in the sense that God couldn't have done otherwise, without violating His own holiness). But it was entirely fitting and appropriate for her role as the Mother of God.
 
In the final analysis, my fear is that our Biblical arguments will become not unlike a debate on a sentence such as: "My father likes shooting stars." One person says it means "My father likes to watch meteorites penetrate the atmosphere and leave big streaks", another says it means, "My father likes taking his .22 and aiming it at the big dipper and firing seven shots."
 
I don't think the matter is anywhere near as vague as that, and so I'm content to let the reader decide who brought more Scripture and deductive reasoning to the table on this issue, and which position is more biblically plausible and coherent.
 
In response to more of my lengthy biblical and analogical arguments:
These parallels do not really make the doctrine of the Immaculate conception any more conceivable to those of us who do not believe it. It seems that, as is the case with most apologetics in all circles these days, the "proofs" are only convincing to insiders.
 
That is largely true; I have thought much about that myself, and the reasons for it would require extremely lengthy analysis. But you miss one very important consideration: if my arguments were so weak, why did you not then decisively refute them, one-by-one, for all to see?
 
[deleted a section which delved into Protestant understandings of justification and sanctification]

I wrote this because your arguments are very speculative, which I will try to prove now.
 
3. ASSUMPTION

There is very little I can say in response to this issue, since the Bible doesn't really tell us anything affirmative or negative.
 
Of course, to make this statement, you casually assume that all Christian doctrine must be explicitly found in the Bible: itself a non-biblical and arbitrary unproven axiom. We don't accept this presupposition, but I understand that you are operating from it, whether or not you are aware of it. The Bible also tells us nothing about the canon of the New Testament. But millions of Protestants accept with more-or-less blind faith, both sola Scriptura and the New Testament as they have received it. So if I am told that one of my distinctively Catholic beliefs is rejected because "it ain't in the Bible," I ask, "why, then, do you accept other things -- even fundamental Protestant premises -- which are also not explicitly (or not at all) in the Bible? Is this a double standard?"
 
However, I would like to make a quick comment about the centrality of Mary in the Catholic Church today--an emphasis that seems to be totally lacking until the mid-4th century A.D.
 
First of all, you would have to define "centrality." We would fully expect the relatively late development, as Cardinal Newman argued, because Christology was on the front burner. After that was taken care of and defined, then the Church had the "luxury," so to speak, to develop and ponder other doctrines. Mariology came to the fore precisely because of its proximity to Christology. One must understand the inevitability of development of doctrine. 
 
I have just read most of Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, (along with his concise Book of Martyrs) and although this is far from being a comprehensive doctrinal treatise, it definitely does reveal many of the emphases of the early church. Much emphasis is given to martyrs (it is interesting, though, that although dead martyrs sometimes appear to people in dreams, e.g. Potamiaena, they are never prayed to),
 
It was more so a matter of praying for them, for the dead, as we see in the catacombs. As time went on, the intercession of the saints (whereby a Christian asks a saint to pray for them, just as they would ask a Christian brother or sister on earth), came into more widespread use. The latter is generally what a Catholic means by "praying to" a saint. "Prayer" has a wider meaning in Catholicism, to include asking (a dead saint, who is much more alive than we are) for prayer, or intercession, whereas in Protestantism it is almost regarded as intrinsically an act of worship, which is why Protestants have such a problem with the intercession of saints, because it strikes them -- in their unfortunate lack of understanding of it -- as rank idolatry and elevation of creatures to the place of God's sole prerogatives. In fact, all it is is an acknowledgment that Christians who die are still able to pray and love, and thus, to help us by their intercession. It's very simple.
 
to the centrality and deity of Christ, to doctrinal disputes about the Passover, deity of Christ, immortality of the soul, Mary is never mentioned, except in passing.
 
I explained our reply to this, above. This poses no problem for the Catholic, who accepts development of doctrine. Protestants, however (if they wish to follow this line of argument) have a huge problem finding many of their distinctive doctrines in the Fathers. If they wish to make this case, they will create more difficulties for their own position than they could imagine, whereas the Catholic position is unharmed by the mere presence of late development of any particular development. For me, though, rhetorically speaking, "late" would be much more applicable to the novelties and inventions of 16th-century Protestantism (sola Scriptura, sola fide, two sacraments, symbolic Eucharist and baptism, congregationalism, etc.), than to Marian developments in the 4th century. Even the canon of the Bible wasn't finally formalized until 397. Why is that not mentioned in the cry over the "late" development of Mariology? What's good for the goose is good for the gander . . .
 
In fact, the title "The Virgin Mother" is used for the Church, not for Mary.
 
One of many parallelisms in the Bible and Christianity. Mary is indeed a symbol for the Church, and for the Christian.
 
(There are also documents from the council of Nicaea in an appendix to my copy of the Ecclesiastical History that seem to support the authority of the Bible against tradition, but that's another topic entirely).
 
Indeed, and I have more on that subject than I have on anything else, on my website (which is why I chose not to include your remarks in that vein -- as you suggested as a possibility -- in this dialogue.
 
It seems strange that the earliest surviving comprehensive church history that
is extant would not mention Mary as an important figure in Christian devotion,
if this doctrine was supposedly "handed down" from the Apostles.
 
No more than the absence of the canon of New Testament Scripture. What was handed down was the "kernel" -- which is, basically, the Virgin Mother and the New Eve. All else develops straightforwardly from that. Elsewhere I summarized early Christian teaching on Mary:
In the second century, St. Justin Martyr is already expounding the "New Eve" teaching, which Cardinal Newman regards as a starting-point for much later Marian dogmatic development:
Christ became man by the Virgin so that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it originated. For Eve, being a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. The Virgin Mary, however, having received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced to her the good tidings . . . answered: Be it
done to me according to thy word. (1)
St. Irenaeus, a little later, takes up the same theme: "What the virgin Eve had tied up by unbelief, this the virgin Mary loosened by faith." (2) He also views her as the preeminent intercessor for mankind. (3)


In the third century, Origen taught the perpetual virginity (4), Mary as the second-Eve (5), and was the first Father to use the term Theotokos. (6) He expressly affirms the spiritual motherhood of Mary: "No one may understand the meaning of the Gospel [of John], if he has not rested on the breast of Jesus and received Mary from Jesus, to be his mother also." (7)
1. Dialogue with Trypho, 100:5, in Graef, Hilda, Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, combined ed. of
vols. 1 & 2, London: Sheed & Ward, 1965.
2. Against Heresies, 3,21,10.
3. Ibid., 4,33,11.
4. Homily 7 on Luke.
5. Homily 1 on Matthew 5.
6. Two Fragments on Luke, nos. 41 and 80 in the Berlin ed.
7. In John, 1,6.

Even Eusebius calls her panagia, or "all-holy." (Ecclesiastica Theologia).

It seems to me much more likely that Marian devotion increased as pagans estranged from their pagan godesses in the wake of Constantine and his successors sought comfort in
Marian devotion, and that the doctrine developed thusly. This is confirmed by
the resemblance between early madonnas and figures of one of the pagan godesses
and her son (Another church historian, writing roughly 100 years after
Eusebius, whose name escapes me currently, mentioned Mary as a figure of
Christian devotion, however).
 
This is the familiar Protestant charge, but it is a very difficult one to prove, and is little more than a bald assertion. Why not go after the same Fathers for promoting prayers for the dead, or sacramentalism, or baptismal regeneration, or penance, on the same basis: similarity to pagan precursors? Pretty soon you'll find yourself attacking biblical, apostolic Christianity lock, stock, and barrel, for similarities can always be found by those insistent upon finding them. Atheists and Jews and Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses find what they think are manifestations of trinitarianism in kernel form, in Babylonian three-headed gods and so forth.
 
Anthropologists have (for some odd reason) long thrilled themselves over similarities in creation myths, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, or like-minded ethical codes (Code of Hammurabi, etc.) which approximate the laws of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Christmas and Easter have been pilloried by various Protestant sects as pagan and unworthy of celebration. Such speculation is subjective in its very nature, and therefore quite weak and insubstantial. There is a fallacy and serious misunderstanding involved here, too, even beyond the obvious genetic fallacy. 
 
After exploring more of my biblical arguments, in the original paper:

To say that she was "nearest to" Christ just because she bore His human body is
question begging. We could just as easily say that Paul or one of the other
martyrs was closest to Him in a more spiritual sense on account of their great
suffering for His Name's sake. We could say that the disciple He loved was
closer to Him than anyone else on account of his leaning on His bosom at the
last supper and of his privleged relationship with Him. The speculation could
go on and on, proving what can happen if we try to read too much into the Bible.
 
I'll refer the readers to my remarks on the profundity of the role of Theotokos above. One either immediately grasps the significance of that or they don't. Luther and Calvin did, so I am not left without hope that their spiritual legatees today can regain some of the original Protestant beliefs, which had a fairly high Mariology.
 
4. PERPETUAL VIRGINITY

Since you are well learned in the Bible, I know that you are well aware that several times it speaks of Jesus "brothers" and "sisters," the former group including James, Jude, and others. Catholics usually explain this as meaning "relatives" i.e. cousins.
 
As did Luther and Calvin, for good biblical and linguistic reasons.
 
However, there is a word in Greek for cousin, and it is used in Colossians chapter 4 verse 10: "My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him)."
 
That proves little for your case, because the New Testament Greek was reflecting the Aramaic spoken by Jesus, the disciples, and the Jews in Israel at that time, and they used the Aramaic/Hebrew equivalent of brother, because it included, in that culture, more distant relatives as well. I used the word in its wider meaning this very day, in fact, when I wrote "your brother in Christ" at the end of an e-mail letter. Even in English the word has a wide variation of meaning. Now, if my e-mail had been translated into Swahili, would they change the brother to the Swahili word for "friend" or "fellow Christian" or would they keep "brother" (assuming their word for brother has wide latitude as do the English, Hebrew and Greek words)? 

I pose this question to Catholics: Why does the New Testament talk over and over and over about Christ's brothers, using the Greek word for brother only, when the word "cousins" was available, and would have been more accurate?
 
I just explained it. John Calvin argues in precisely the same way:
Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's "brothers" are sometimes mentioned.
(Harmony, vol. 2 / From Calvin's Commentaries, tr. William Pringle, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949, 215; on Matthew 13:55)
    [On Matthew 1:25:] The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary
    remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had
    other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be
    drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called "first-born"; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was
    born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us .
    . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme
    fondness for disputation.
(Ibid., [Pringle], vol. I, 107. Calvin, in his commentary on Luke 1:34 in his Harmony, affirms the perpetual virginity of Mary, while at the same time denying that Mary had made a vow of celibacy)
Martin Luther agreed:
Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This
was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that. (236)
("Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4" [1537-39] )
Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that "brothers" really mean "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers. (237)
(Ibid. In Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, vol. 22, 214-215. Pelikan asserts that this was Luther's lifelong belief [vol. 22, 214-215] )
This seems to be an insuperable problem for the perpetual virginity of Mary.
 
Not at all. I think, rather, the "insuperable problem" lies in the supreme confidence you are placing in weak, unsubstantiated arguments. :-) 

I must say that none of the alternate meanings for "brother" that you supplied can be applied to James and Jude and the rest without doing great violence to the Bible to try to force it to fit your own ideas.
 
What can I say? I again appeal to the reader to go through my arguments and make up their own minds as to which view is more biblical, and which allows the Bible to speak for itself, rather than having a notion introduced by liberal "higher critics" of Scripture superimposed upon it, against the views even of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Wesley, and many other prominent Protestant teachers.
 
1. Paul, who used the Greek word for cousin elsewhere (Col 4:10) called James the Lord's brother.
 
So what? This proves nothing, as I explained above, when I dealt with the Jewish / Hebraic use of the word and concept "brother." Inspired Bible writers aren't required to use certain words based on the arbitrary assumptions of later eisegetes.
 
2. As for point L., one may just as well ask why Jesus didn't commit Mary to Peter, the head of the disciples in Catholic thought, if He wanted to make the point that Mary was like a spiritual mother to us all. The reason why He gave her to John is obvious, however; he was the only male disciple around at that time.
 
Why couldn't He have said to John, "John, please see that my brothers take care of my mother"? It would have been unthinkable in that culture (as in Middle Eastern culture to this day) to ignore the role of other sons to care for a mother, if indeed they existed.
 
Not only this, but earlier in John we see Jesus' brothers actually taunting Him to appear in public. They probably didn't even believe in Him at the time, therefore, perhaps He didn't see them fit to take care of His mother, being unredeemed persons.
 
Cultural pressure and norms go far beyond being "redeemed" or not. That's why they are there in the first place: to try to "force" people to act rightly. As for the "brothers," you simply assume what you are trying to prove once again, in lieu of actually dealing with my specific exegetical arguments, so this effort fails miserably.
 
3. The natural sense of Matthew 1:24-25 implies that Joseph and Mary did indeed have marital relations. If they did not, it remains unanswered why Matthew would even use the term at all. (For example if I say, "We didn't throw a party until Joe arrived," no one would think that no party was thrown even after Joe arrived, unless they believed on other grounds that no party ever happened at all).
 
Again, the word "till" is not confined to the meaning you try to give it, to salvage your position, which Calvin regarded as "obstinate" and the result of "an extreme fondness for disputation." This is why we have Greek lexicons. You seem to care little for what they teach us. In the above-mentioned dialogue, I cited a well-known Protestant commentary:
    The word "till" does not necessarily imply that they lived on a different footing afterwards (as will be evident from the use of the same word in 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 12:20); nor does the word "first-born" decide the much-disputed question, whether Mary had any children to Joseph after the birth of Christ; for, as Lightfoot says, "The law, in speaking of the first-born, regarded not whether any were born after or no, but only that none were born before."
(Jamieson, Robert, Andrew R. Fausset, & David Brown, eds., Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961 (orig. 1864), 882; first emphasis added. Romans 8:22, 1 Timothy 4:13, 6:14, and Revelation 2:25 furnish four further examples of a similar meaning of "until")
I don't see how it is possible to hold such a doctrine on Biblical grounds alone, because:
1. It goes against the normal pattern of marriage in the Bible (1 Cor. 7:1-5)
 
So does the celibacy of the Apostles and Jesus. Virtually all the Protestant (and Orthodox) pastors today are married. Why is it that there is so little imitation of that aspect of the apostles and our Lord? Even a married couple could choose to be celibate. In this case, it was a unique, extraordinary situation. Nothing in the Bible forbids this, either.
 
2. Jesus is said to have brothers, and this should be taken in the normal sense unless we have strong reasons from the Bible to believe in Mary's perpetual virginity (I don't believe we do.)
 
If you won't offer counter-arguments for the many and involved exegetical and linguistic reasons I gave for thinking that these "brothers" are not siblings, what can I do?
 
3. It does violence to an unbiased reading of Matthew 1:24-25.
 
Not according to Calvin, Lightfoot, and other recent Protestant commentaries, and -- with all due respect -- they carry more weight in a scholarly and Protestant framework than your unsubstantiated conclusions.
 
5. MEDIATRIX

See the section above on Eusebius about the lack of such an "important" doctrine from the early church. Either Eusebius was too dense to note such an important doctrine (which is doubtful since he is a very respected Church figure) or the early Christians were missing out on a very important channel of Grace.
 
I dealt with relatively late developments above. But this notion was not as completely lacking as you suppose. St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) -- 200 years before the New Testament Canon was defined for all time -- wrote:
    . . . so also Mary . . . being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.
(3,22,4; from Jurgens, W.A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 1, 93, #224)
    . . . for in no other way can that which is tied be untied unless the very windings of the knot are gone through in reverse: so that the first joints are loosed through the second, and the second in turn free the first . . . Thus, then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the obedience of Mary.
(Against Heresies, III, 22,4; from Most, William G., Mary in Our Life, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)
 
If we think of the thing as a regular knot, then it is obvious that the last part of the knot tied (Adam's sin) would have to be untied first (by Christ) and then Eve's part of the knot would be untied. But we do have a perfect analogy of this, because of Christ's obedience, the Church is then being sanctified (made perfect, holy) thereby loosing Eve's sin. Hence, if you want to use this analogy, I don't think Mary need be part of it at all. But the whole concept of knots does seem to be misleading, I think.
 
You're missing the whole point of the analogy, which is the human element in both sin and redemption, by analogy:
1a. Eve (a secondary agent of Satan's designs) disobeys God, sins, and thus helps to bring about the Fall, along with Adam.
1b. Mary (the second Eve and secondary agent of God's designs) obeys God and thus helps bring about the Redemption from sin and the Fall, along with the second Adam, Jesus, by bearing the Incarnate Son who is the Redeemer.
2a. Adam (a secondary agent of Satan's designs) sins and brings about the Fall.
2b. Jesus (agent of God's designs, as He is God), as the second Adam, undoes the Fall and brings about Redemption.
It's true that only the second pair of propositions is directly expressed in Scripture. But the first pair follows by close analogy to the first, which is why this thought appeared very early on in the Fathers. Catholic apologist Fr. William Most comments:
    Mary, says St. Irenaeus, undoes the work of Eve. Now it was not just in a remote way that Eve had been involved in original sin: she shared in the very ruinous act itself. Similarly, it would seem, Mary ought to share in the very act by which the knot is untied - that is, in Calvary itself.
(in Most, ibid., 25)
    Just as the human race was bound over to death through a virgin, so was it saved through a virgin: the scale was balanced - a virgin's disobedience by a virgin's obedience.
(Against Heresies, V, 19, 1; cited in Most, ibid., 274)
It never says that Eve was a virgin at the time. It doesn't say that she wasn't, either, but this argument is nevertheless speculative.
 
You missed the point again. There is no speculation at all here. St. Irenaeus in this context is talking about the Annunciation and Mary's obedience to bear Jesus Christ: to become the Theotokos. That is the Eve-Mary parallel: Eve disobeyed when she ate the forbidden fruit; Mary obeyed the angel Gabriel and God when she was asked to consent to her wonderful mission as the Mother of God. Protestants accept the Virgin Birth, and Mary was a virgin at the time of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-27 and ff.).
 
Nor is this doctrine entirely unbiblical, as you suppose. Numerous passages speak of Christians participating in some sense in the distribution of grace, and the "saving" of others (which are all that Mary's role as Mediatrix involves, albeit more preeminently). I presented the following arguments elsewhere:
Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you...

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
In the Bible, giving "salvation" to other people is done by either preaching the Gospel to them (1 Cor 9:22) so that they are saved, or by living a holy life so that people are attracted to Christ because of your good conduct. (1 Peter 3:1) In all cases, it is Christ who is completely doing the saving; we are just messengers.
 
But that's largely what I was arguing. God saves, but He uses human agents to spread His grace, whereby we are saved. You in effect concede the point altogether when you say that we indeed participate in this distribution of grace and sometimes salvation, by evangelizing and being holy (a good witness). We aren't contending that Mary saves anyone, but that God can use her in the application of His grace which alone saves anyone. I gave plenty of scriptural support for those notions, but you have not counter-exegeted them, so they stand unchallenged and unrefuted.
 
I don't think that the Catholic understanding of a "store of merit" from the saints whereby we receive indulgences are what those above passages are talking about at all.
 
I gave my biblical arguments (above and below). It is no counter-argument to say what you say here: it is just a bald statement. The two verses you do mention above are in no way contradictory to Catholic thought in this regard. So you have really offered no disproof whatever.
It is also to be noted that the "seven spirits who are before his [God's] throne" seem to participate in distributing God's grace as well (Rev 1:4). If Paul, Timothy, and "seven spirits" can be so used and honored, why not Mary, the Mother of God? What is the fundamental objection, other than prior antipathy to so-called "Catholic excess?" If one objectively examines the thing itself as at least a biblical possibility, I see no problem whatever with it.
The only way I can think of that Mary could "save" people is by appearing to them in dreams and exhorting them to embrace the divine word, as Eusebius relates to us that the martyr Potamiaena did. I just don't believe in a "store of merit" as Catholics do.
 
I deal with biblical arguments for merit and penitential issues elsewhere, in my papers, Biblical Overview on Penance, Purgatory, and Indulgences and Biblical Overview of Justification and Salvation. To pursue this would be to switch the subject from biblical evidence for Marian doctrine, to biblical evidence for penance and merit, or from biblical theology to systematic theology. I urge readers to pursue those papers for my answers.
Mary's secondary (to Christ) and wholly derivative function as the Mediatrix is no more a violation of Jesus' unique mediatorship than any number of functions He sanctions and allows among His Body, the Church. We pray for each other, thus acting as mediators. One could just as easily say, "Why ask your fellow Christians to pray for you when you can ask Jesus?" as "Why do you ask for Mary's prayers when you can go directly to Jesus?" Yet God commands us to pray for one another. God is Creator, but he gives us the privilege of procreation, in childbirth and parenthood. Jesus is the "chief" Shepherd of His flock (John 10:11-16, 1 Peter 5:4), yet He assigns lesser shepherds to watch over His own (John 21:15-17, Ephesians 4:11). And He is the supreme Judge, but He bids us to judge as well (Matthew 19:28, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Revelation 20:4). Many other similar examples can be found in the Bible.
I believe I stated clearly somewhere in my original writing that I was not against ASKING Mary to pray for you; what I am against is vain repititions to Mary,
 
Who decides what constitutes vain repetition? Where is that in the Bible. Failing answers to those questions, you are saying little or nothing of any substance.
 
semi-divine titles given to Mary,
 
We do no such thing. What is semi-divine, anyway? One is either divine or not. We believe Mary is a creature; therefore she is on no way, shape or form divine. Nor does Mother of God imply that, or Mediatrix, or any other Marian title.
 
and overemphasizing Mary in prayer. I will go into this further when I respond to the Rosary.
 
This would only apply if indeed the Catholic Church taught that Mary should replace Christ, or that asking her intercession is somehow in conflict with ultimately beseeching and praying to Jesus, just as Protestants deny that asking a pastor to pray for them is in conflict with asking God to grant some desire or need.
 
However, I do think that using the title "Co-redemptrix" is very misleading and should be done away with.
 
The popes hardly use it much at all anymore, precisely because it is so misunderstood; not because the view itself is erroneous.
 
In the English language, the prefix "Co" often implies equality with the other person, as in "co-owner" or "co-pilot."
 
Yes; this is a problem of translation from Latin to English, and a loss of meaning, leading to a misunderstanding. I've dealt with it in other papers.
 
I also think that it is wrong to use Mediatrix as a title; sure, we are all little mediators; we can intercede for one another. But none of us can claim that as our title, since there is only one "Mediator" between man and God, the man Christ Jesus. All other mediators are "little mediators" and get their authority to mediate handed to them by Christ; hence, no one else besides Him should have "mediator" or "mediatrix" as his/her title.
 
You illustrate that you can accept the concept, by your statement: "All other mediators are 'little mediators' and get their authority to mediate handed to them by Christ." What doesn't follow is that we mustn't use mediatrix because of Jesus' unique mediatorship. We use words similarly all the time. God is the Creator. But we are procreators when we have children. God made that all possible, and in a sense, created each child. But we participated, didn't we (as argued above)? God is the King, but we have human kings. He is our Father, and we have earthly fathers, etc. There is no inherent conflict or discord here. You have grasped the concept, as we believe it. The rest is just semantics and playing with words.
Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that Christians in general are God's "helpers" or "fellow workers" (Greek, synergos):
    2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. (cf. Mark 16:20)

    1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God's fellow workers . . .
Why then, is it unthinkable for Mary to be a "fellow worker" with Jesus (albeit in a much more extraordinary fashion)? No one claims that the above verses teach our equality with God, simply because we work with Him, and are His fellow workers. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin is in no wise equal to God in function when she is a Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix.
Of course it doesn't imply equality with God, but it still exalts Mary to too high of a level, a level that I think I have proved is not Biblical.
 
I don't see how you have proven that. I showed that the fundamental concepts involved are applied by St. Paul to himself. It is only a matter of degree. Mary is preeminent among creatures, but she is still a creature, and in no way on a level with God.
 
I think that it is dangerous to give all of these laudatory titles to mere mortal people; the New Testament gives such laudatory titles to the Members of the Trinity.
 
The New Testament calls Jesus Savior and Redeemer. We don't call Mary Savior, and even Co-Redemptrix, rightly-understood, in no way implies that Mary is a Redeemer as Jesus is.
 
I would conclude that such doctrine seems to insinuate a heavenly rankings system in which God is supreme and yet Mary stands at the top of the, having more grace, love, and godliness than any other created being.
 
Indeed it does. And it has much scriptural warrant or analogy, which you again largely ignore.
 
While I don't deny that there may be such a heavenly "rankings system," it seems that Christ would rather not tell us who will sit at His right and left hand (Matthew 20:23).
 
That was directed to His disciples, in the context of silly discussions about who was the greatest. Jesus was the King of Israel and successor to David, who was an archetype of the Messiah. It is said of Bathsheba, David's wife, and mother of King Solomon, his son, that Solomon bowed down to her, and that she had a throne on his right (1 Kings 2:19; cf. 15:2,10). The queen-mother was the most important woman in the king's court, and they were often named in the biblical history of the kings of Judah.
 
Yes, but Jesus' whole ministry was all about blowing to pieces peoples' traditional fleshly understanding of things.
 
This is merely what I would call a "pious Protestant platitude," with little content. You asked about someone sitting at Jesus' right hand, and I gave a biblical analogy, which related to Mary as both Spiritual Mother and the Queen of Heaven. But you don't have much appreciation for biblical typology, which is all-too-common amongst Protestants, over against the Fathers, who used it all the time (and the ancient Jews).
 
Jesus said that His mother and brothers were those who did the will of God.
 
I dealt with this sort of rather-common but exceedingly weak Protestant "objection" in my paper: "Did Jesus Renounce Marian Veneration? (Lk 11:27-28)".
 
Jesus was more worried about the spiritual than the physical, and this is why He cut down the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, etc.
 
I don't see how this is relevant to our discussion.
 
He cared for His mother, yes, but He never insinuated that her carrying Him in her womb gave her a special position of grace as a mediatrix.
 
His goal was to proclaim the Kingdom of God and make Himself known (which was His mother's goal, too). But the absence in the Bible of Jesus saying something like: "Venerate my mother because she is the mediatrix of all graces" is no more troublesome than His never saying in Scripture: "I am God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, equal in power, glory, and essence with My Father, with Two Natures (the Hypostatic Union) in my one Person." Both notions are developments in theology, and both (in terms of full understanding) are mostly post-biblical developments, based on the reflection of the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit of the Church into all truth. The Church was working on and developing Christology all the way up to 451 and the Council of Chalcedon (the Hypostatic Union), some 400 years after Jesus' death. Development is a fact of Christianity, and Mariology is one area which has exhibited much development, even up to our own times.
 
Jesus couldn't even guarantee that two of His closest disciples would sit near Him in His Glory, because He knew that their mere earthly relationship with Him does not give them privilege over others who might come later in history who might be closer to Him in the Spirit.
 
Jesus can do whatever He wants. He could make weak St. Peter the Rock and build His Church upon the notion of a human leader. Likewise, He can choose to give His mother whatever honor He deems fitting and in accordance with His purposes in salvation history. I have given plenty of Scripture, but you keep giving me your own opinions, which don't -- with all due respect -- count for much if they clash with Scripture itself.
 
6. SPIRITUAL MOTHER / THE ROSARY
If Jesus wanted to give her as a mother to all Christians, why was this fact not made clearer?
 
Why was the Trinity not made clearer? Why was not the doctrine of original sin made clearer? Why was not the allegedly biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura made clearer? These questions go nowhere, and are just as troublesome for Protestants as Catholics, as I argued above. I've given what I feel to be the biblical evidence for each of these beliefs. You can disagree with my interpretation if you like, but no progress in mutual understanding can take place where the main point is: "why isn't so-and-so clearer in Scripture?," or, "why didn't God do thus-and-so instead of what He chose to do?"
 
As with other Marian doctrines, unbiased exegesis provides no clear support. There is no biblical warrant other than to take the story about Jesus giving Mary to John's care at it's face value: Christ making sure that His mother was cared for in her earthly life.
 
I gave other biblical arguments, such as from Revelation 12:1,5,7 and various lesser and more indirect indications, which acquire their force (as do many Catholic doctrines) through cumulative effect.
 
Fasten your seat belts, cause here we go:
 
This is far from conclusive. John hardly fits the role for symbolizing the whole church; Peter would be better, since he was, in Catholic thought at least, the leader.
 
The only problem with this, is that Peter wasn't present at the Cross. Jesus wished to make a point, and John was the only disciple present, so he served as the figure and type in Jesus' statement.
 
Also, notice that Mary fades from view after this passage (mentioned only once more by name in the NT).
 
This is accounted for by the primacy of Christ, and development of doctrine.
 
Thus, I think it is dangerous for us to base entire doctrines solely on isolated stories in a narrative, since it becomes like balancing a pyramid on it's point. We will see if any of your other points provide a basis for the Motherhood of Mary over the Church. This one is too speculative to prove anything.
 
Is it any more "speculative" than Protestantism basing its entire authority structure on a doctrine nowhere found explicitly (nor, I would argue, implicitly) in Scripture: sola Scriptura? At least our view is self-consistent. Yours is not (it is self-defeating). Protestants also have to appeal to Catholic Church authority and early Church Tradition in order to get the canon of the New Testament: which is absolutely not found in the Bible itself. But with Mariology, I think I have shown that there is plenty of material to work with, sufficient for a strong case, even from the Bible Alone (which is your principle, not ours, in the first place).
 
As for asking Mary for prayer, there is nothing biblically wrong with doing so; however, to sit and pray to Mary for long periods of time (e.g. as in the Rosary) seems to be a bit more than just asking someone to pray for you (the Biblical pattern).
 
The main point of the Rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ, and what He accomplished for us on the Cross: i.e., the central aspects of Christianity, period. The Blessed Virgin Mary is part of the Rosary because she was involved in our Lord's ministry: and indispensably at that, especially with regard to His Incarnation. The repeated "Hail Mary, full of grace . . . " is mostly drawn straight from Scripture (this first clause was uttered by an angel at the Annunciation), and forms a "background" for meditation on the various mysteries, which are the "main ingredient" of the Rosary. Now, if you want to raise some (supposedly "biblical") objection against extended meditation on the life of Jesus, the Cross, the Resurrection, etc., then go right ahead. I'd love to see that done from a Protestant perspective.
 
First of all, to say that Mary is a "part" of the Rosary is a gross understatement. Mary is invoked in prayer 53 times in the Rosary (54 if you include the optional "Hail Holy Queen" prayer at the end.) God is invoked in prayer only 6 times (13 if you include all of the optional prayers, and 21 if you include all of the "Glory Be" and "In the name of" liturgies under the genre of prayer). Thus, God is invoked a maximum of 21 times in the rosary, while Mary is invoked a minimum of 53. Thus, Mary is invoked about 2.5 times more often than God is.
 
Again, you are missing the point, and not interacting with what I wrote. The "Hail Mary's" are a background to the meditation on (mostly) the events in the life of Jesus Christ. I think I have heard it said that such repetition was designed to concentrate the pray-er on the right things, so as to not get distracted (a fact we are all familiar with in prayer). Essentially, in the Rosary, one is saying the Hail Mary's, asking Mary to intercede, but meditating on the mysteries. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Repetition of a prayer (itself comprised mostly of biblical passages) does not in the least suggest a denigration of, or competition with God. All that is, is yet another Protestant false dichotomy (one of many), and proof that you have little or no comprehension of what is going on internally in a Catholic who is praying the Rosary.
 
As far as the 15 mysteries, 13 of them are purely Biblical, and the last two, are based on Catholic traditions.
 
There you go! How could a Christian object to a meditation so overwhelmingly biblical? We disagree on two of fifteen meditations (and I make lengthy biblical arguments about those on my website); so what? Christians will always disagree on some interpretations, but it seems to me that you could simply acknowledge the biblical and Christ-centered nature of the Rosary and let it go at that.
 
I take big issue with the coronation, but I'll let that slide for the time being. Thus, you have a good set of meditations, and thus I am utterly befuddled by the fact that, while you are meditating on the life, passion, and Resurrection of Christ, you pray to His mother, a non-divine, mere flesh and blood human being, twice as often as you invoke God.
 
We are asking for her intercession. Mere repetition is not unbiblical (many Psalms; much of the prophetic books, and also the Pentateuch; the endless "Hallelujah's" and "praise the Lords" uttered at many Protestant church services, especially pentecostal ones). Nor have you proven that the Rosary is "vain repetition." Why must you pit one against the other? We're merely asking one eminent person (the Mother of God the Son) to pray for us while we are meditating on what her Son, Jesus has done for us. Would you rather that we pray to Jesus the whole time and meditate on Mary? Obviously, it is a Christ-centered devotion, and that was my main point. Even you concede that; you just don't like the Hail Marys.
 
This is almost like talking out of both sides of one's mouth. You are supposed to be meditating on the life of Christ; how about praying 54 prayers to Him and only about 21 (or even less) to Mary.
 
This is a false dichotomy, and based on a fallacy; namely, that Catholics regard asking Mary to intercede in the same fashion as we do a direct prayer to Jesus (thus placing her on God's level). We see the two "prayers" as separate but not mutually exclusive. Say, e.g., a soldier is dying on the field of battle and a chaplain comes to attend to his spiritual needs. He has one minute to live. If he says to the chaplain "please pray for me" and then dies immediately after that, would you say that he was not also intending his sentiment to go "through" the chaplain to God? We say he was (or could be) doing both.
 
But since Protestants are so dead-set against the communion of saints, they always think that the practice is somehow antithetical to prayers to God, when in fact it is simply complementary, and based on "the prayers of a righteous man availeth much." You admit that Mary was very righteous. Very well, then, we think her prayers are quite powerful because of her righteousness and proximity to Jesus, so we ask her to pray for us a lot, in the Rosary, while meditating on Jesus, who is the ultimate recipient of our prayers, through Mary as intercessor.
 
Then again, many Protestants object to crucifixes, as if there is anything wrong with, or "unbiblical" about, meditation on Jesus' redemptive death for us (an objection held because, we are told, He is now resurrected and seated at the right hand of God the Father). At the same time, the people saying this see no problem with meditating on Jesus as a baby, every Christmas. If we can think about our Lord as a baby (which He most assuredly is not, anymore), why not as Savior of the world on a cross? I've never understood this. It seems to me like the worst logical and biblical problems in Protestantism concentrated into one absurd, essentially silly objection to a perfectly Christian and pious thing to do: a meditation on the most important event that ever occurred in world history and salvation history. Strange, odd . . .
 
I have no problem with crucifixes. Paul stated that while he was among the Corinthians he wanted to know only Christ, and Him crucified. It is just that we must be careful not to pray to such images.
 
We can't pray to Jesus while looking at an image of Him? We must close our eyes to pray? Where is that in the Bible?
 
There is nothing wrong, however, with using them for meditation pieces or reminders. Often anti-Catholics tend to believe that Catholics don't believe in the Risen Christ, because of the emphasis on crucifixes, but that is an obvious misconception.
 
Excellent; good for you.
 
For example, if I met you and spent two or three hours just asking you to pray for me and
talking about how you were a great servant of God, over and over, you would probably begin to think that my focus was not on God but on man.
 
Sure, but this has nothing to do with the Rosary, because, clearly, you are unfamiliar with what it is about. Join the crowd . . . I was the same way before I converted.
 
I am not unfamiliar with the Rosary. I got my Rosary statistics from a Catholic site newadvent.org, from which, incidentally, I stumbled upon the link to your site for the first time.)
 
You are unfamiliar with praying it. That's what I meant. And you don't seem to have talked to any Catholics who do. I'm not the most devotional-type Catholic in the world, either. I'm sure many, many Catholics could explain the experience of praying the Rosary better than I have.
 
I disagree with the statement [from Fulton Sheen] that "He needed her." God could have chosen any other woman to carry His Son had He so willed.
 
Of course, but what was meant was that the Incarnation required a human: a woman. No more, no less. He didn't need Mary in the sense that He couldn't have chosen to enter the world in some other fashion (say, as an adult, like Adam). He "needed" her in the sense that, having chosen a birth as a baby as the route to Incarnation, and thus requiring genes from the mother, etc., that Mary was then "necessary" secondarily, to achieve that divine purpose.
 
Even if I admit that this would acquite Immaculate Conception (which I will not for a moment admit), He still could have immaculately conceived any other woman. The existence of any created being is totally contingent on God's will: God loves everyone, but He does not "need" anyone. Mary was the one who needed Him, and not vice versa.
 
We have no disagreement here, so it is a moot point. You misunderstood Fulton Sheen's reasoning.
 
I would agree that knowing the Lord is "enough," since He was enough for Paul and the other Apostles.
 
In a skeletal, lowest common denominator sense, yes. But Catholics are interested in the fullness of the Gospel and biblical, apostolic Christianity. A king would still be a king if he sat on a simple frame chair in a bare white room, in the dark and cold, naked and all alone. But the point is that the king surrounds himself with a resplendent court, colors, music, food, and (oftentimes) the Queen Mother as well. That is how God presents Himself in Revelation. Catholics are merely applying this fullness of Christianity in this life, insofar as it is possible to do so.
 
I don't see how a mere human being could have such honor alongside God. The Bible only talks about the King; a Queen is never mentioned, and I think that giving such a laudatory and singular heavenly Royal Title to any mere human being is apt to lead to an overemphasis on that human being.
 
I gave the examples of Revelation 12 and the Queen-Mother Bathsheba.
 
(Mary, my Catholic friends tell me, could not intercede for everyone perfectly then, because she was still on earth. This is why, they say, her name was not invoked in the epistles, except for a vague reference in Galatians 4).
 
This is more than adequately accounted for by development of doctrine, and Paul's purpose in his letters.
 
Concerning the woman of Revelation 12:

Most Protestant scholars interpret this woman as being the nation of Israel (note the twelve stars.) We are her "seed" because we belong to Him who is the seed of Abraham (Christ--see Galatians 3).
 
Well, Catholics believe the passage has a multiple application: to Israel, the Church, and Mary. This is not at all uncommon in Holy Scripture.
 
Also, I was under the understanding that Mary did not experience pain in childbirth according to Catholicism, in direct contradistinction to this passage. Applying this passage to the church doesn't seem to be very good exegesis, since Christ was not produced by the church after this manner, but preceded the church.
 
But Israel preceded the Church and Jesus' birth, and the Church was an extension of Israel, as the "people of God."
The nation of Israel was often unfaithful and played the whore, and even I myself would hate to see that often unfaithful nation compared to Mary.
 
Your view of Israel is not the Apostle Paul's You need to read the entire chapter eleven of the Book of Romans.
 
The pain of Mary at Jesus' birth could have been a spiritual agony, knowing what was to happen to Him.

That is speculative, and I tend to think that Mary did not understand His future passion at that time, hence this probably cannot be "spiritual agony" either Mary didn't understand many things about Jesus early on (Luke 2:50)
 
How do you conclude "many things" from a passage which states that she didn't understand one thing Jesus said? The angel told her at the Annunciation that Jesus was the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and the Messiah (Luke 1:32-33). If Mary was familiar with the Scriptures about the Suffering Messiah (e.g., Isaiah 53), then she could have come to this conclusion through deduction alone, apart from likely divine revelation given to her. Simeon's prophecy to Mary in Luke 2:34-35 alluded to the fact that Jesus would be "opposed" and that a "sword" would "pierce" Mary's "soul." So although it isn't an airtight argument, I believe that the Catholic view of the passage is biblically plausible.
 
Yes, but as I noted above, Mary probably did not understand all of this early on.
 
The Bible just taught that she did (at least in part)! You have no basis for your conclusion "probably" other than your own unsupported opinion. You assume (against both Scripture and a strong Apostolic Tradition) that Mary was more or less ordinary, a sinner like all of us; therefore she didn't have any particular advantage of knowledge . . .
 
It is speculative to say that Mary is symbolized here. Mary was from the tribe of Judah; she was not from all of the tribes, since no human possibly could be. The twelve stars obviously symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, we conclude that that the woman represents Israel. There could, of course, be double symbolism, but it is speculative for us to say. I also doubt, for reasons delineated above, that one single person COULD be symbolized here at all. Although the Apostles sometimes used passages as double symbolism (like Is. 7:14), they were directly guided by the Holy Spirit in their writings, whereas we come up with a thousand different conclusions when we try reading into the symbolism of the Bible. Thus, to "prove" a doctrine from the Bible, I think we need clearer statements, not just human interpretations that are far from clear.
 
I find no grounds for concluding that Mary was the "first Christian." One could propose Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, or even the thief next to Him on the cross as the first Christian and we could argue about it all day to no avail. The verses you mention are speculative and do not refer to Mary in any direct way.
 
Strange argument. Mary was the first to learn (from an angel) that Jesus was the Son of God, and she obviously believed this, as she consented to the Virgin Birth. She bore the son of God and gave birth to Him. She (with St. Joseph) raised Him; talked with and lived with him for thirty years, before His ministry was made public. What an unspeakable privilege! What an unfathomable honor! She was there at His first miracle. She didn't exhibit the obtuseness and dull-headed stupor of the Apostles, when they repeatedly didn't understand the difficult teachings of Jesus concerning His Passion. She was at the Cross. She was in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell upon all present.
 
Yet you suggest that Joseph preceded her in the faith: the one who didn't even understand at first that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, not a man, or John the Baptist, who only met him as an adult, and doubted who He was for a short time, or the others who came later. I say it is a clear-cut case, and that your reluctance to acknowledge plain and obvious facts here is yet another example of the (later) Protestant desire to minimize, discount, and dismiss Mary at every turn, even though the point at hand has no direct bearing on "Catholic distinctives" which they find so repugnant.
 
I may have overstated my case, but I think it is obvious that Mary did not understand everything at first (Luke 2:50), so it is far from obvious who the first, full fledged Christian is. Perhaps it was Mary. Perhaps it was the first person to understand the Resurrection (St. John.) I don't know who God considers to be the first Christian. I'm not saying it wasn't Mary; I'm just saying I don't have enough information to draw a conclusion.
 
Again, who was the first Christian is moot, since it is far from obvious that Mary was the first to understand the atonement, the Resurrection for our justification, etc. The Gospels seem to insinuate that she did not completely understand Christ's role and mission on this earth. I would also deny that Rev. 12 speaks of Mary, hence the appearance of the Ark just before the scene of the woman in travail is not indicative of Mary bringing us the New Covenant.
 
7. MARIAN APPARITIONS / CONCLUSION

I have heard that some of the Marian apparitions seem to focus all of the attention on her and aim to establish some kind of one world religion. While I don't know if these reports are true, I think that we should reject any vision that is not, as you say, "Christ-centered."
I totally agree that extra Biblical revelations are possible. It remains to be seen whether or not the Marian apparitions are valid or not.
 
I am unaware of any apparitions approved by the Church or even widely believed by orthodox Catholics, which are of this sort. There are unapproved so-called apparitions, such as Bayside, which have wacko and un-Catholic elements in them. In the approved apparitions, Mary is always directing Christians to follow her Son more fully, wholeheartedly, and faithfully.
 
The problem is, though, that the Catholic Church is supposed to be God's mouthpiece on earth, and yet, so often the doctrines taught in Catholic Churches are often garbled, legalistic, and sometimes even pagan doctrines are put up with. This includes, I believe, even some excesses in devotion to Mary in some parishes. One wonders why the hierarchy does not exercise more quality control over the actions of the individual churches. I myself can personally testify that the Catholic Church in the small midwestern town that I grew up in seemed to teach a totally works-oriented salvation, with little mention of Christ at all. (At least this is what I gathered from talking with several attendees of that church).
 
Then they must be either amnesiacs or prone to sleeping during Mass, as every Mass has a reading from the Gospels (as well as from the Epistles, Psalms, and another Old Testament reading). Every homily is supposed to be - by Church directive - a commentary on the Gospel reading. If someone can sit every Sunday and hear all that without hearing about Christ "at all," or the "gospel" at all, as Protestants will often charge, that would be quite amazing indeed.
 
I've found that Catholic churches (because of all this Bible-reading and Bible-based homilies) emphasize Scripture more than most Protestant churches, where -- too often, but by no means always -- there exists little more than a personality cult involving the pastor when it comes to sermons. And if you think that personality cults and tendency to man-centeredness are not problems in Protestantism, then explain to me why, oftentimes, a congregation will have a bitter civil war or split in two simply because one pastor left and another came in? I've witnessed this in my own experience as a Protestant, on three separate occasions (and heard about many more such sad occurrences).
 
Even the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft admitted that 90% of the students at the Catholic University he teaches at do not have a Biblical conception of salvation. Of course, the same is obviously true of many Protestants as well, but the problem the Catholic has that the Protestant does not is that the Catholic must claim that his Church is God's mouthpiece to proclaim completely true and inspired doctrine to the ends of the earth.
 
Ignorance is no argument as to the merits and claims of a church at all (rather, it is an argument about insufficient teaching methods or discipleship practices). I have a whole web page devoted to these issues.
 
Most Protestants, however, make no such claim about Protestantism in general, or even about their denomination.
 
I know. That's one reason I am a Catholic, because the Church shown in the Bible (e.g., at the Council of Jerusalem: Acts 15) does have that sort of authority and assurance.
 
Therefore, I think that the "excesses" require at least some explanation.
 
Excesses will always occur. The Church has spoken. You can always find individuals and even some parishes who fall short, but I can just as easily do that with Protestants (pick whatever denomination you like), so I think it is a wash and irrelevant. One can only go by official teachings.
 
I have tried to focus in this rebuttal not on the excesses committed my some overzealous Catholics, but on the mainstream of Catholic piety. And although I think that even in the mainstream doctrine there is some tendency to overemphasize the importance of Mary, I hope I have not mischaracterized Catholic doctrine or offended you in any way. I also apologize if I have worded things a little too harshly at times. I would also appreciate your correcting me on any mistakes I may have made as regards history, doctrine, etc.
 
I was not offended at all, and I enjoyed the discussion. Thanks for the opportunity, and for your ecumenical spirit. I hope I haven't caused offense, either. Thanks for your critique, and God bless you.
 
I want to thank you for your cordiality and cooperation throughout this debate. It has been a good experience for me . . . I believe I have said about all that I can say for the time being. I know that there are still many misunderstandings between us, but it would probably be better not to keep writing a tome's worth of material in a forum like this (just look at how huge the file of our discussion already is!). I am still willing to defend my position if anyone wants to engage me in e-mail discussion . . . I would like to thank you, Dave, for making this an interesting discussion and I look forward to doing more dialogue with you in the future.
 
My pleasure. I look forward to more dialogue with you as well.


Uploaded by Dave Armstrong on 21 January 2002, with full editorial permission from Jack DisPennett. Typesetting revised on 17 May 2012.


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