Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Early Church Mariology: Mary as the New Eve

Why do Catholics today talk so much about Mary?

I'm not sure that Catholics actually talk about Mary as much as evangelicals have been told that Catholics do, but Catholics certainly talk about Mary more than evangelicals (although evangelical interest in Mary seems to be growing). As with many things Catholic, many evangelicals assume that Catholic things like Mariology are "extra things", later medieval corruptions of the faith, whereas evangelicals follow the faith of the early Church.

Such an assumption is of course untrue.

Among the early Christians you find the beliefs that Mary was without sin, that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and that she is properly called the Mother of God (see Theotokos) to name a few. But one of the most widespread insights about Mary's place in God's plan of salvation was her role as the New Eve (which was greatly linked to the above beliefs). Just as Jesus was a recapitulation of Adam (1 Cor 15), Mary was a recapitulation of Eve.

Below is a sample of what early Christians had to say about Mary as the New Eve. Included are quotes from many of the early greats that some evangelicals hold in high esteem, like Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Jerome, and of course Augustine.

I offer the same challenge to evangelicals as was given by Taylor Marshall a few months ago at his blog: if you were present and heard these Christians teach as they do below, "would you rejoice and say 'Amen' or would you walk out? The way you answer this question will reveal whether you conform to the early Church or not."

St Justin the Martyr, Christian convert, philosopher, and martyr, 2nd century
Dialogue with Trypho, 100, ~A.D. 160:
[Jesus] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, 'Be it unto me according to your word.'

St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, 2nd century
Against Heresies, III.22.4, ~A.D. 180:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race.

And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty. And it has, in fact, happened that the first compact looses from the second tie, but that the second tie takes the position of the first which has been cancelled.

For this reason did the Lord declare that the first should in truth be last, and the last first. And the prophet, too, indicates the same, saying, instead of fathers, children have been born unto you. For the Lord, having been born the First-begotten of the dead, and receiving into His bosom the ancient fathers, has regenerated them into the life of God, He having been made Himself the beginning of those that live, as Adam became the beginning of those who die. Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.

Against Heresies, V.19.1, ~A.D. 180:
That the Lord then was manifestly coming to His own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation which is supported by Himself, and was making a recapitulation of that disobedience which had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience which was [exhibited by Himself when He hung] upon a tree, [the effects] also of that deception being done away with, by which that virgin Eve, who was already espoused to a man, was unhappily misled—was happily announced, through means of the truth [spoken] by the angel to the Virgin Mary, who was [also espoused] to a man. For just as the former was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter, by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way the sin of the first created man (protoplasti) receives amendment by the correction of the First-begotten, and the coming of the serpent is conquered by the harmlessness of the dove, those bonds being unloosed by which we had been fast bound to death.

Tertullian, 2nd-3rd century
The Flesh of Christ, 17, ~A.D. 210
[W]hy is Christ called Adam by the apostle, unless it be that, as man, He was of that earthly origin? And even reason here maintains the same conclusion, because it was by just the contrary operation that God recovered His own image and likeness, of which He had been robbed by the devil. For it was while Eve was yet a virgin, that the ensnaring word had crept into her ear which was to build the edifice of death. Into a virgin's soul, in like manner, must be introduced that Word of God which was to raise the fabric of life; so that what had been reduced to ruin by this sex, might by the selfsame sex be recovered to salvation. As Eve had believed the serpent, so Mary believed the angel. The delinquency which the one occasioned by believing, the other by believing effaced. But (it will be said) Eve did not at the devil's word conceive in her womb. Well, she at all events conceived; for the devil's word afterwards became as seed to her that she should conceive as an outcast, and bring forth in sorrow. Indeed she gave birth to a fratricidal devil; while Mary, on the contrary, bare one who was one day to secure salvation to Israel, His own brother after the flesh, and the murderer of Himself. God therefore sent down into the virgin's womb His Word, as the good Brother, who should blot out the memory of the evil brother. Hence it was necessary that Christ should come forth for the salvation of man, in that condition of flesh into which man had entered ever since his condemnation.

St Jerome, presbyter, Doctor of the Church, 4th century
Epistle 22.21:
Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary.

St Ephrem, deacon, Doctor of the Church, 4th century
Homily on Our Lord, 3:
With the body then that [was] from the Virgin, [Jesus] entered Sheol and plundered its storehouses and emptied its treasures. He came then to Eve the Mother of all living. This is the vine whose fence Death laid open by her own hands, and caused her to taste of his fruits. So Eve the Mother of all living became the well-spring of death to all living. But Mary budded forth, a new shoot from Eve the ancient vine; and new life dwelt in her, that when Death should come confidently after his custom to feed upon mortal fruits, the life that is slayer of death might be stored up [therein] against him...

Hymns on the Nativity 15:
Let women praise Her, the pure Mary,— that as in Eve their mother—great was their reproach—lo! In Mary their sister—greatly magnified was their honour. [...] Of him the Lord said, that he had fallen from Heaven.— The Abhorred One had exalted himself; from his uplifting he has fallen. The foot of Mary has trod him down, who bruised Eve with his heel.

St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Doctor of the Church, 4th-5th century
Christian Combat 22:24, A.D. 396 (quote taken from Catholic Answers):
Our Lord . . . was not averse to males, for he took the form of a male, nor to females, for of a female he was born. Besides, there is a great mystery here: that just as death comes to us through a woman, life is born to us through a woman; that the devil, defeated, would be tormented by each nature, feminine and masculine, as he had taken delight in the defection of both.

NOTE: Unless noted otherwise, all of the quotes have been take from the texts themselves as they appear on New Advent. Of great help in finding quotes was www.churchfathers.org/.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Scripture-filled Worship of Catholics

Many evangelicals have the mistaken notion that Catholics ignore or have a low regard for the Bible. Is this true? One way (of many) to answer this question is to examine the core of Catholic life and worship, the Mass.

During most of the year, Sunday Masses have a reading from the OT, a psalm, a reading from one of the NT epistles, and a Gospel reading, followed by a homily that is supposed to teach from the Scriptures of the day (and that's just half the Mass). That's a lot of Scripture, much more than is read at a typical evangelical worship service.

But as if that weren't enough Scripture for one Mass, the prayers of the Mass themselves are immersed with references to Scripture.

'The Lord be with you', 'Peace be with you', 'Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth', 'Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world' - these are all not only parts of the Mass but are also quotes from Scriptures (Ruth 2.4, Jn 20.19, Lk 2.14, Jn 1.29). The USCCB's annotated Order of Mass* lists 70 Scripture references among the prayers of the Mass. Here are two more big examples:

Soon after reciting the Nicene Creed, and at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the congregation sings these praises to God:

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might
Heaven and earth are full of your glory
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest


A person familiar with the Scriptures should immediately recognize that these are not just any words but praises given to God in the Scriptures. The first part is a reference to the worship occurring in heaven itself witnessed by the prophet Isaiah:

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
   “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
   the whole earth is full of his glory.
(Is 6.1-3)


The second part is a reference to the praises given to Christ during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week:

8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
   “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
   “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
   “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  (Mt 21.8-9)

Here's another example: Before going up to receive communion, the congregation prays together:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Again, this should ring a bell:

2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed." (Lk 7.2-7)

Catholics hear the Scriptures, are instructed from the Scriptures, and take their words of praise from the Scriptures. Far from being unconnected from the Scriptures, the Catholics's worship of God is steeped in Scripture.

*This is for the new translation of the Mass which will begin being used Advent 2011, but the references also apply to the current translation of the Mass. My quotes from the Mass in this blog post use the current translation.