Mary, Mother Of Jesus
Mary has been venerated since early Christianity, and is considered by millions to be the most meritorious saint of the religion. She is claimed to have miraculously appeared to believers many times over the centuries. The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches believe that Mary, as mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God (Θεοτόκος, Theotokos, ‘God-bearer’). There is significant diversity in the Marian beliefs and devotional practices of major Christian traditions. The Catholic Church holds distinctive Marian dogmas, namely her status as the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity, and her Assumption into heaven. Many Protestants minimize Mary’s role within Christianity, basing their argument on the relative brevity of biblical references. Mary also has a revered position in Islam, where one of the longer chapters of the Quran is devoted to her.
Names and titles
Mary’s name in the original manuscripts of the New Testament was based on her original Aramaic name מרים, translit. Maryam or Mariam. The English name Mary comes from the Greek Μαρία, which is a shortened form of Μαριάμ. Both Μαρία and Μαριάμ appear in the New Testament.
The three main titles for Mary used by the Orthodox are Theotokos (Greek: Θεοτόκος, lit.‘God-bearer’ or loosely “Mother of God”), Aeiparthenos (Greek: ἀειπαρθὲνος, lit.‘Ever-virgin’) as confirmed in the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, and Panagia (Greek: Παναγία, lit.‘All-holy’). Catholics use a wide variety of titles for Mary, and these titles have in turn given rise to many artistic depictions. For example, the title Our Lady of Sorrows has inspired such masterpieces as Michelangelo’s Pietà.
The title Theotokos was recognized at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The direct equivalents of title in Latin are Deipara and Dei Genetrix, although the phrase is more often loosely translated into Latin as Mater Dei (Mother of God), with similar patterns for other languages used in the Latin Church. However, this same phrase in Greek (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ), in the abbreviated form ΜΡ ΘΥ, is an indication commonly attached to her image in Byzantine icons. The Council stated that the Church Fathers “did not hesitate to speak of the holy Virgin as the Mother of God”.
Some Marian titles have a direct scriptural basis. For instance, the title “Queen Mother” has been given to Mary since she was the mother of Jesus, who was sometimes referred to as the “King of Kings” due to his ancestral descent from King David. Other titles have arisen from reported miracles, special appeals, or occasions for calling on Mary. To give a few examples, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Navigators, and Our Lady Undoer of Knots fit this description.
In Islam, she is known as Maryam (مريم, Maryām), mother of Isa (Arabic: عيسى بن مريم, translit.ʿĪsā ibn Maryām, lit.‘Jesus, son of Mary’). She is often referred to by the honorific title sayyidatuna, meaning “our lady”; this title is in parallel to sayyiduna (“our lord”), used for the prophets. A related term of endearment is Siddiqah, meaning “she who confirms the truth” and “she who believes sincerely completely”. Another title for Mary is Qānitah, which signifies both constant submission to God and absorption in prayer and invocation in Islam. She is also called “Tahira”, meaning “one who has been purified” and representing her status as one of two humans in creation (and the only woman) to not be touched by Satan at any point.
- The Gospel of Luke mentions Mary the most often, identifying her by name twelve times, all of these in the infancy narrative (1:27,30,34,38,39,41,46,56; 2:5,16,19,34).
- The Gospel of Matthew mentions her by name six times, five of these (1:16,18,20; 2:11) in the infancy narrative and only once (13:55) outside the infancy narrative.
- The Gospel of Mark names her once (6:3) and mentions her as Jesus’ mother without naming her in 3:31 and 3:32.
- The Gospel of John refers to her twice but never mentions her by name. Described as Jesus’ mother, she makes two appearances. She is first seen at the wedding at Cana. [Jn 2:1-12] The second reference, listed only in this gospel, has her standing near the cross of Jesus together with Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas (or Cleophas), and her own sister (possibly the same as Mary of Clopas; the wording is semantically ambiguous), along with the “disciple whom Jesus loved”.[Jn 19:25-26] John 2:1-12 is the only text in the canonical gospels in which the adult Jesus has a conversation with Mary. He does not address her as “Mother” but as “Woman”. In Koine Greek (the language that John’s Gospel was composed in), calling one’s mother “Woman” was not disrespectful, and could even be tender. Accordingly, some versions of the Bible translate it as “Dear woman”. (John 2:4 NLT; NCV; AMP; NIV).
- In the Acts of the Apostles, Mary and the brothers of Jesus are mentioned in the company of the Eleven (apostles) who are gathered in the upper room after the Ascension of Jesus.[Acts 1:14]
- In the Revelation to John,[12:1,5-6] Mary is never explicitly identified as the “woman clothed with the sun”. Jean-Pierre Ruiz makes that connection in an article in New Theology Review but the belief is quite ancient, as is the association of Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, mentioned at [Revelation 11:19].
The New Testament tells little of Mary’s early history. The Gospel of Matthew does give a genealogy for Jesus by his father’s paternal line though only identifying Mary as the wife of Joseph. John 19:25 states that Mary had a sister; semantically it is unclear if this sister is the same as Mary the wife of Clopas or if she is left unnamed. Jerome identifies Mary of Cleopas as the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus. According to the early second-century historian Hegesippus, Mary of Clopas was likely Mary’s sister-in-law, understanding Clopas (Cleophas) to have been Joseph’s brother.
According to the writer of Luke, Mary was a relative of Elizabeth, wife of the priest Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah, who was herself part of the lineage of Aaron and so of the tribe of Levi.[Luke 1:5;1:36] Some of those who consider that the relationship with Elizabeth was on the maternal side, consider that Mary, like Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, was of the royal House of David and so of the Tribe of Judah, and that the genealogy of Jesus presented in Luke 3 from Nathan, third son of David and Bathsheba, is in fact the genealogy of Mary, while the genealogy from Solomon given in Matthew 1 is that of Joseph. (Aaron’s wife Elisheba was of the tribe of Judah, so all their descendants are from both Levi and Judah.)[Num.1:7 & Ex.6:23]
Mary resided in “her own house”[Lk.1:56] in Nazareth in Galilee, possibly with her parents, and during her betrothal—the first stage of a Jewish marriage—the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the mother of the promised Messiah by conceiving him through the Holy Spirit, and, after initially expressing incredulity at the announcement, she responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word.” Joseph planned to quietly divorce her, but was told her conception was by the Holy Spirit in a dream by “an angel of the Lord”; the angel told him to not hesitate to take her as his wife, which Joseph did, thereby formally completing the wedding rites.[Mt 1:18-25]
Since the angel Gabriel had told Mary that Elizabeth—having previously been barren—was then miraculously pregnant, Mary hurried to see Elizabeth, who was living with her husband Zechariah in “Hebron, in the hill country of Judah”. Mary arrived at the house and greeted Elizabeth who called Mary “the mother of my Lord”, and Mary spoke the words of praise that later became known as the Magnificat from her first word in the Latin version.[Luke 1:46-55] After about three months, Mary returned to her own house.[Lk 1:56-57]
Birth of Jesus
According to the Gospel of Luke, a decree of the Roman Emperor Augustus required that Joseph return to his hometown of Bethlehem to register for a Roman census. While he was there with Mary, she gave birth to Jesus; but because there was no place for them in the inn, she used a manger as a cradle.:p.14 [2:1ff] After eight days, he was circumcised according to Jewish law, and named “Jesus” (ישוע, Yeshua), which means “Yahweh is salvation”.
After Mary continued in the “blood of her purifying” another 33 days for a total of 40 days, she brought her burnt offering and sin offering to the Temple in Jerusalem,[Luke 2:22] so the priest could make atonement for her sins, being cleansed from her blood.[Leviticus 12:1-8] They also presented Jesus – “As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23other verses). After the prophecies of Simeon and the prophetess Anna in Luke 2:25-38 concluded, Joseph and Mary took Jesus and “returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth”.[Luke 2:39]
According to the author of the gospel according to Matthew, the Magi arrived at Bethlehem where Jesus and his family were living. Joseph was warned in a dream that King Herod wanted to murder the infant, and the Holy Familyfled by night to Egypt and stayed there for some time. After Herod’s death in 4 BC, they returned to the land of Israel. Because Herod’s son Archelaus was ruler of Judaea, they did not return to Bethlehem, but took up residence in Nazareth in Galilee instead.[Mat.2]
In the life of Jesus
Mary was present when, at her suggestion, Jesus worked his first miracle during a wedding at Cana by turning water into wine.[Jn 2:1-11] Subsequently there are events when Mary is present along with James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, called Jesus’ brothers, and unnamed sisters. Following Jerome, the Church Fathers interpreted the words translated as “brother” and “sister” as referring to close relatives.
The hagiography of Mary and the Holy Family can be contrasted with other material in the Gospels. These references include an incident which can be interpreted as Jesus rejecting his family in the New Testament: “And his mother and his brothers arrived, and standing outside, they sent in a message asking for him … And looking at those who sat in a circle around him, Jesus said, ‘These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother’.”[3:31-35] Other verses suggest a conflict between Jesus and his family, including an attempt to have Jesus restrained because “he is out of his mind”, and the famous quote: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”
Mary is also depicted as being present among the women at the crucifixion during the crucifixion standing near “the disciple whom Jesus loved” along with Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalene,[Jn 19:25-26] to which list Matthew 27:56adds “the mother of the sons of Zebedee”, presumably the Salome mentioned in Mark 15:40. This representation is called a Stabat Mater. While not recorded in the Gospel accounts, Mary cradling the dead body of her son is a common motif in art, called a “pietà” or “pity”.
After the Ascension of Jesus
In Acts 1:26, especially v. 14, Mary is the only one other than the eleven apostles to be mentioned by name who abode in the upper room, when they returned from Mount Olivet. Some[who?] speculate that the “elect lady” mentioned in 2 John 1:1 may be Mary. From this time, she disappears from the biblical accounts, although it is held by Catholics that she is again portrayed as the heavenly woman of Revelation.[Rev 12:1]
Her death is not recorded in the scriptures, but Catholic and Orthodox tradition and doctrine have her assumed (taken bodily) into Heaven. Belief in the corporeal assumption of Mary is a dogma of the Catholic Church, in the Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches alike, and is believed as well by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, and parts of the Anglican Communion and Continuing Anglican movement.
Later Christian writings and traditions
Some apocryphal accounts state that at the time of her betrothal to Joseph, Mary was 12–14 years old, and he was ninety years old, but such accounts are unreliable. According to ancient Jewish custom, Mary could have been betrothed at about 12. Hyppolitus of Thebes claims that Mary lived for 11 years after the death of her son Jesus, dying in 41 AD.
The earliest extant biographical writing on Mary is Life of the Virgin attributed to the 7th-century saint, Maximus the Confessor, which portrays her as a key element of the early Christian Church after the death of Jesus.
In the 19th century, a house near Ephesus in Turkey was found, based on the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, an Augustinian nun in Germany. It has since been visited as the House of the Virgin Mary by Roman Catholic pilgrims who consider it the place where Mary lived until her assumption. The Gospel of John states that Mary went to live with the Disciple whom Jesus loved,[Jn 19:27] identified as John the Evangelist.[Jn 21:20-24] Irenaeusand Eusebius of Caesarea wrote in their histories that John later went to Ephesus, which may provide the basis for the early belief that Mary also lived in Ephesus with John.
Perspectives on Mary
Christian Marian perspectives include a great deal of diversity. While some Christians such as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have well established Marian traditions, Protestants at large pay scant attention to Mariologicalthemes. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutherans venerate the Virgin Mary. This veneration especially takes the form of prayer for intercession with her Son, Jesus Christ. Additionally it includes composing poems and songs in Mary’s honor, painting icons or carving statues of her, and conferring titles on Mary that reflect her position among the saints.
In the Catholic Church, Mary is accorded the title “Blessed” (Latin: beata, Greek: μακάρια, translit.makaria) in recognition of her assumption to Heaven and her capacity to intercede on behalf of those who pray to her. There is a difference between the usage of the term “blessed” as pertaining to Mary and its usage as pertaining to a beatified person. “Blessed” as a Marian title refers to her exalted state as being the greatest among the saints; for a person who has been declared beatified, on the other hand, “blessed” simply indicates that they may be venerated despite not being officially canonized. Catholic teachings make clear that Mary is not considered divine and prayers to her are not answered by her, but rather by God through her intercession. The four Catholic dogmas regarding Mary are: her status as Theotokos, or Mother of God; her perpetual virginity; her Immaculate Conception; and her bodily Assumption into heaven.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus has a more central role in Roman Catholic teachings and beliefs than in any other major Christian group. Not only do Roman Catholics have more theological doctrines and teachings that relate to Mary, but they have more festivals, prayers, devotional, and venerative practices than any other group. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.”
For centuries, Catholics have performed acts of consecration and entrustment to Mary at personal, societal and regional levels. These acts may be directed to the Virgin herself, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and to the Immaculate Conception. In Catholic teachings, consecration to Mary does not diminish or substitute the love of God, but enhances it, for all consecration is ultimately made to God.
Following the growth of Marian devotions in the 16th century, Catholic saints wrote books such as Glories of Mary and True Devotion to Mary that emphasized Marian veneration and taught that “the path to Jesus is through Mary”. Marian devotions are at times linked to Christocentric devotions (e.g. the Alliance of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary).
Catholics place high emphasis on Mary’s roles as protector and intercessor and the Catechism refers to Mary as “honored with the title ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs”. Key Marian prayers include: Ave Maria, Alma Redemptoris Mater, Sub Tuum Praesidum, Ave Maris Stella, Regina Coeli, Ave Regina Coelorum and the Magnificat.
Mary’s participation in the processes of salvation and redemption has also been emphasized in the Catholic tradition, but they are not doctrines. Pope John Paul II’s 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater began with the sentence: “The Mother of the Redeemer has a precise place in the plan of salvation.”
In the 20th century both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have emphasized the Marian focus of the Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) suggested a redirection of the whole Church towards the program of Pope John Paul II in order to ensure an authentic approach to Christology via a return to the “whole truth about Mary,” writing:
“It is necessary to go back to Mary if we want to return to that ‘truth about Jesus Christ,’ ‘truth about the Church’ and ‘truth about man.'”
The views of the Church Fathers still play an important role in the shaping of Orthodox Marian perspective. However, the Orthodox views on Mary are mostly doxological, rather than academic: they are expressed in hymns, praise, liturgical poetry and the veneration of icons. One of the most loved Orthodox Akathists (i.e. standing hymns) is devoted to Mary and it is often simply called the Akathist Hymn. Five of the twelve Great Feasts in Orthodoxy are dedicated to Mary. The Sunday of Orthodoxy directly links the Virgin Mary’s identity as Mother of God with icon veneration. A number of Orthodox feasts are connected with the miraculous icons of the Theotokos.
The Orthodox view Mary as “superior to all created beings”, although not divine. The Orthodox does not venerate Mary as conceived immaculate. Gregory of Nazianzus, Archbishop of Constantinople in the 4th century AD, speaking on the Nativity of Jesus Christ argues that “Conceived by the Virgin, who first in body and soul was purified by the Holy Ghost, He came forth as God with that which He had assumed, One Person in two Natures, Flesh and Spirit, of which the latter defined the former.” The Orthodox celebrate the Dormition of the Theotokos, rather than Assumption.
The Protoevangelium of James, an extra-canonical book, has been the source of many Orthodox beliefs on Mary. The account of Mary’s life presented includes her consecration as a virgin at the temple at age three. The High Priest Zachariah blessed Mary and informed her that God had magnified her name among many generations. Zachariah placed Mary on the third step of the altar, whereby God gave her grace. While in the temple, Mary was miraculously fed by an angel, until she was twelve years old. At that point an angel told Zachariah to betroth Mary to a widower in Israel, who would be indicated. This story provides the theme of many hymns for the Feast of Presentation of Mary, and icons of the feast depict the story. The Orthodox believe that Mary was instrumental in the growth of Christianity during the life of Jesus, and after his Crucifixion, and Orthodox Theologian Sergei Bulgakov wrote: “The Virgin Mary is the center, invisible, but real, of the Apostolic Church.”
Theologians from the Orthodox tradition have made prominent contributions to the development of Marian thought and devotion. John Damascene (c. 650─c. 750) was one of the greatest Orthodox theologians. Among other Marian writings, he proclaimed the essential nature of Mary’s heavenly Assumption or Dormition and her mediative role.
It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the Creator in her womb when he was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of heaven.
From her we have harvested the grape of life; from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality. For our sake she became Mediatrix of all blessings; in her God became man, and man became God.
More recently, Sergei Bulgakov expressed the Orthodox sentiments towards Mary as follows:
Mary is not merely the instrument, but the direct positive condition of the Incarnation, its human aspect. Christ could not have been incarnate by some mechanical process, violating human nature. It was necessary for that nature itself to say for itself, by the mouth of the most pure human being: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word.”
Protestants in general reject the veneration and invocation of the Saints.:1174 Protestants typically hold the view that Mary was the mother of Jesus, but unlike Catholics, they believe that she was an ordinary woman who was also devoted to God. Therefore, there is virtually no Marian veneration, Marian feasts, Marian pilgrimages, Marian art, Marian music or Marian spirituality in today’s Protestant communities. Within these views, Roman Catholic beliefs and practices are at times rejected, e.g., theologian Karl Barth wrote that “the heresy of the Catholic Church is its Mariology”.
Some early Protestants venerated and honored Mary. Martin Luther wrote that: “Mary is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. God’s grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.” However, as of 1532 Luther stopped celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Mary and also discontinued his support of the Immaculate Conception. John Calvin remarked, “It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.” However, Calvin firmly rejected the notion that anyone but Christ can intercede for man.
Although Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli honored Mary as the Mother of God in the 16th century, they did so less than Martin Luther. Thus the idea of respect and high honor for Mary was not rejected by the first Protestants; but, they came to criticize the Roman Catholics for venerating Mary. Following the Council of Trent in the 16th century, as Marian veneration became associated with Catholics, Protestant interest in Mary decreased. During the Age of the Enlightenment, any residual interest in Mary within Protestant churches almost disappeared, although Anglicans and Lutherans continued to honor her.
Protestants acknowledge that Mary is “blessed among women”[Luke 1:42] but they do not agree that Mary is to be venerated. She is considered to be an outstanding example of a life dedicated to God.
In the 20th century, Protestants reacted in opposition to the Catholic dogma of the Assumption of Mary. The conservative tone of the Second Vatican Council began to mend the ecumenical differences, and Protestants began to show interest in Marian themes. In 1997 and 1998 ecumenical dialogs between Catholics and Protestants took place, but, to date, the majority of Protestants pay scant attention to Marian issues and often view them as a challenge to the authority of Scripture.
The multiple churches that form the Anglican Communion and the Continuing Anglican movement have different views on Marian doctrines and venerative practices given that there is no single church with universal authority within the Communion and that the mother church (the Church of England) understands itself to be both “Catholic” and “Reformed”. Thus unlike the Protestant churches at large, the Anglican Communion (which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States) includes segments which still retain some veneration of Mary.
Mary’s special position within God’s purpose of salvation as “God-bearer” (Theotokos) is recognised in a number of ways by some Anglican Christians. All the member churches of the Anglican Communion affirm in the historic creeds that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, and celebrates the feast days of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This feast is called in older prayer books the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 2. The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin on March 25 was from before the time of Bede until the 18th century New Year’s Day in England. The Annunciation is called the “Annunciation of our Lady” in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Anglicans also celebrate in the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin on 31 May, though in some provinces the traditional date of July 2 is kept. The feast of the St. Mary the Virgin is observed on the traditional day of the Assumption, August 15. The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin is kept on September 8.
The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is kept in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, on December 8. In certain Anglo-Catholic parishes this feast is called the Immaculate Conception. Again, the Assumption of Mary is believed in by most Anglo-Catholics, but is considered a pious opinion by moderate Anglicans. Protestant minded Anglicans reject the celebration of these feasts.
Prayers and venerative practices vary a great deal. For instance, as of the 19th century, following the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholics frequently pray the Rosary, the Angelus, Regina Caeli, and other litanies and anthems of Our Lady that are reminiscent of Catholic practices. On the other hand, Low-church Anglicans rarely invoke the Blessed Virgin except in certain hymns, such as the second stanza of Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones.
The Anglican Society of Mary was formed in 1931 and maintains chapters in many countries. The purpose of the society is to foster devotion to Mary among Anglicans. The high-church Anglicans espouse doctrines that are closer to Roman Catholics, and retain veneration for Mary, e.g., official Anglican pilgrimages to Our Lady of Lourdes have taken place since 1963, and pilgrimages to Our Lady of Walsingham have gone on for hundreds of years.
Historically, there has been enough common ground between Roman Catholics and Anglicans on Marian issues that in 2005 a joint statement called Mary: grace and hope in Christ was produced through ecumenical meetings of Anglicans and Roman Catholic theologians. This document, informally known as the “Seattle Statement”, is not formally endorsed by either the Catholic Church or the Anglican Communion, but is viewed by its authors as the beginning of a joint understanding of Mary.
Despite Martin Luther’s harsh polemics against his Roman Catholic opponents over issues concerning Mary and the saints, theologians appear to agree that Luther adhered to the Marian decrees of the ecumenical councils and dogmas of the church. He held fast to the belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin and Mother of God. Special attention is given to the assertion that Luther, some three-hundred years before the dogmatization of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854, was a firm adherent of that view. Others maintain that Luther in later years changed his position on the Immaculate Conception, which, at that time was undefined in the Church, maintaining however the sinlessness of Mary throughout her life. For Luther, early in his life, the Assumption of Mary was an understood fact, although he later stated that the Bible did not say anything about it and stopped celebrating its feast. Important to him was the belief that Mary and the saints do live on after death. “Throughout his career as a priest-professor-reformer, Luther preached, taught, and argued about the veneration of Mary with a verbosity that ranged from childlike piety to sophisticated polemics. His views are intimately linked to his Christocentric theology and its consequences for liturgy and piety.” Luther, while revering Mary, came to criticize the “Papists” for blurring the line, between high admiration of the grace of God wherever it is seen in a human being, and religious service given to another creature. He considered the Roman Catholic practice of celebrating saints’ days and making intercessory requests addressed especially to Mary and other departed saints to be idolatry. His final thoughts on Marian devotion and veneration are preserved in a sermon preached at Wittenberg only a month before his death:
Therefore, when we preach faith, that we should worship nothing but God alone, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed: ‘I believe in God the Father almighty and in Jesus Christ,’ then we are remaining in the temple at Jerusalem. Again,’This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ ‘You will find him in a manger’. He alone does it. But reason says the opposite:
What, us? Are we to worship only Christ? Indeed, shouldn’t we also honor the holy mother of Christ? She is the woman who bruised the head of the serpent. Hear us, Mary, for thy Son so honors thee that he can refuse thee nothing. Here Bernard went too far in his Homilies on the Gospel: Missus est Angelus. God has commanded that we should honor the parents; therefore I will call upon Mary. She will intercede for me with the Son, and the Son with the Father, who will listen to the Son. So you have the picture of God as angry and Christ as judge; Mary shows to Christ her breast and Christ shows his wounds to the wrathful Father. That’s the kind of thing this comely bride, the wisdom of reason cooks up: Mary is the mother of Christ, surely Christ will listen to her; Christ is a stern judge, therefore I will call upon St. George and St. Christopher. No, we have been by God’s command baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, just as the Jews were circumcised.
Certain Lutheran churches such as the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church however, continue to venerate Mary and the saints in the same manner that Roman Catholics do, and hold all Marian dogmas as part of their faith.
Methodists do not have any additional teachings on the Virgin Mary except from what is mentioned in Scripture and the ecumenical Creeds. As such, Methodists accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but reject the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. John Wesley, the principal founder of the Methodist movement within the Church of England, believed that Mary “continued a pure and unspotted virgin”, thus upholding the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Contemporary Methodism does hold that Mary was a virgin before, during, and immediately after the birth of Christ. In addition, some Methodists also hold the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary as a pious opinion.
Nontrinitarians, such as Unitarians, Christadelphians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Latter Day Saints also acknowledge Mary as the biological mother of Jesus Christ, but most reject any immaculate conception and do not recognize Marian titles such as “Mother of God”. The Latter Day Saint movement’s view affirms the virgin birth of Jesus and Christ’s divinity but only as a separate being than God the Father. The Book of Mormon refers to Mary by name in prophecies and describes her as “most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” and as a “precious and chosen vessel.”
Since most Non-trinitarian groups are typically also Christian mortalists, Mary is not seen as an intercessor between humankind and Jesus, whom mortalists would consider “asleep”, awaiting resurrection.
The issue of the parentage of Jesus in the Talmud affects also the view of his mother. However, the Talmud does not mention Mary by name and is considerate rather than only polemic. The story about Panthera is also found in the Toledot Yeshu, the literary origins of which can not be traced with any certainty, and given that it is unlikely to go before the 4th century, the time is now far too late to include authentic remembrances of Jesus. The Blackwell Companion to Jesus states that the Toledot Yeshu has no historical facts and was perhaps created as a tool for warding off conversions to Christianity. The tales from the Toledot Yeshu did impart a negative picture of Mary to ordinary Jewish readers. The circulation of the Toledot Yeshu was widespread among European and Middle Eastern Jewish communities since the 9th century. The name Panthera may be a distortion of the term parthenos (virgin) and Raymond E. Brown considers the story of Panthera a fanciful explanation of the birth of Jesus that includes very little historical evidence. Robert Van Voorst states that because Toledot Yeshu is a medieval document with its lack of a fixed form and orientation towards a popular audience, it is “most unlikely” to have reliable historical information. Stacks of the copies of the Talmud were burnt upon a court order after the 1240 Disputation for allegedly containing material defaming the character of Mary.
The Virgin Mary holds a singularly exalted place in Islam and she is considered by the Qur’an to have been the greatest woman in the history of humankind. The Islamic scripture recounts the Divine Promise given to Mary as being: “Mary! God has chosen thee, and purified thee; He hath chosen thee above all the women of creation” (3:42).
Mary is often referred to by Muslims by the honorific title “sayedetina” (our lady). She is mentioned in the Qur’an as the daughter of Imran.
Moreover, Mary is the only woman named in the Qur’an and she is mentioned or referred to in the scripture a total of fifty times. Mary holds a singularly distinguished and honored position among women in the Qur’an. A Sura(chapter) in the Qur’an is titled “Maryam” (Mary), which is the only Sura in the Qur’an named after a woman, in which the story of Mary (Maryam) and Jesus (Isa) is recounted according to the view of Jesus in Islam.
Birth of Mary
In a narration of Hadith from Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, he mentions that Allah revealed to Imran, “I will grant you a boy, blessed, one who will cure the blind and the leper and one who will raise the dead by My permission. And I will send him as an apostle to the Children of Israel.” Then Imran related the story to his wife, Hannah, the mother of Mary. When she became pregnant, she conceived it was a boy, but when she gave birth to a girl, she stated “Oh my Lord! Verily I have delivered a female, and the male is not like the female, for a girl will not be a prophet,” to which Allah replies in the Quran Allah knows better what has been delivered[3:36]. When Allah bestowed Jesus to Mary, he fulfilled his promise to Imran.
Mary is also called a “Chosen One”; a “Purified One”; a “Truthful one”; her child conceived through “a Word from God”; and “exalted above all women of The Worlds/Universes (the material and heavenly worlds)”.
The Qur’an relates detailed narrative accounts of Maryam (Mary) in two places,. These state beliefs in both the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Virgin birth of Jesus. The account given in Sura 19 is nearly identical with that in the Gospel according to Luke, and both of these (Luke, Sura 19) begin with an account of the visitation of an angel upon Zakariya (Zecharias) and “Good News of the birth of Yahya (John)”, followed by the account of the annunciation. It mentions how Mary was informed by an angel that she would become the mother of Jesus through the actions of God alone.
In the Islamic tradition, Mary and Jesus were the only children who could not be touched by Satan at the moment of their birth, for God imposed a veil between them and Satan. According to author Shabbir Akhtar, the Islamic perspective on Mary’s Immaculate Conception is compatible with the Catholic doctrine of the same topic. “O People of the Book! Do not go beyond the bounds in your religion, and do not say anything of Allah but the truth. The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was but a Messenger of God, and a Word of His (Power) which He conveyed to Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in Allah (as the One, Unique God), and His Messengers (including Jesus, as Messenger); and do not say: (Allah is one of) a trinity. Give up (this assertion) – (it is) for your own good (to do so). Allah is but One Allah ; All-Glorified He is in that He is absolutely above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And Allah suffices as the One to be relied on, to Whom affairs should be referred.” Quran 4/171
The Qur’an says that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth. The most detailed account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus is provided in Suras 3 and 19 of the Qur’an, where it is written that God sent an angel to announce that she could shortly expect to bear a son, despite being a virgin.
The Bahá’í Faith venerates Mary as the mother of Jesus. The Kitáb-i-Íqán, the primary theological work of the Baha’i religion, describes Mary as “that most beauteous countenance,” and “that veiled and immortal Countenance.” It claims that Jesus was “conceived of the Holy Ghost.”
The statement that Joseph “knew her not till she brought forth her first born son” (Matthew 1:25 DouayRheims) has been debated among scholars, with some saying that she did not remain a virgin and some saying that she was a perpetual virgin. Other scholars contend that the Greek word heos (i.e., until) denotes a state up to a point, but does not mean that the state ended after that point, and that Matthew 1:25 does not confirm or deny the virginity of Mary after the birth of Jesus. According to Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman the Hebrew word almah, meaning young woman of childbearing age, was translated into Greek as parthenos, which only means virgin, in Isaiah 7:14, which is commonly believed by Christians to be the prophecy of the Virgin Mary referred to in Matthew 1:23. While Matthew and Luke give differing versions of the virgin birth, John quotes the uninitiated Philip and the disbelieving Jews gathered at Galilee referring to Joseph as Jesus’s father.
Other biblical verses have also been debated, e.g., that the reference by Paul that Jesus was made “of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3) may be interpreted as Joseph being the father of Jesus. However, most scholars reject this interpretation in the context of virgin birth given that Paul used the Greek word genomenos (i.e., becoming) rather than the word gennetos (i.e., that is born, born) and the reference to “seed of David” is likely to Mary’s lineage.
From the early stages of Christianity, belief in the virginity of Mary and the virgin conception of Jesus, as stated in the gospels, holy and supernatural, was used by detractors, both political and religious, as a topic for discussions, debates and writings, specifically aimed to challenge the divinity of Jesus and thus Christians and Christianity alike. In the 2nd century, as part of his anti-Christian polemic The True Word, the pagan philosopher Celsus contended that Jesus was actually the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera. The church father Origen dismissed this assertion as a complete fabrication in his apologetic treatise Against Celsus. How far Celsus sourced his view from Jewish sources remains a subject of discussion.
2nd to 5th centuries
Christian devotion to Mary goes back to the 2nd century and predates the emergence of a specific Marian liturgical system in the 5th century, following the First Council of Ephesus in 431. The Council itself was held at a church in Ephesus which had been dedicated to Mary about a hundred years before. In Egypt the veneration of Mary had started in the 3rd century and the term Theotokos was used by Origen, the Alexandrian Father of the Church.
The earliest known Marian prayer (the Sub tuum praesidium, or Beneath Thy Protection) is from the 3rd century (perhaps 270), and its text was rediscovered in 1917 on a papyrus in Egypt. Following the Edict of Milanin 313, by the 5th century artistic images of Mary began to appear in public and larger churches were being dedicated to Mary, e.g., S. Maria Maggiore in Rome.
According to the 4th-century heresiologist Epiphanius of Salamis the Virgin Mary was worshipped as a mother goddess in the Christian sect of Collyridianism, which was found throughout Arabia sometime during the 300s AD. Collyridianism had women performing priestly acts. They made bread offerings to the Virgin Mary. The group was condemned as heretical by the Roman Catholic Church and was preached against by Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote about the group in his writings titled Panarion.
The adoption of the mother of Jesus as a virtual goddess may represent a reintroduction of aspects of the worship of Isis. According to Sabrina Higgins, “When looking at images of the Egyptian goddess Isis and those of the Virgin Mary, one may initially observe iconographic similarities. These parallels have led many scholars to suggest that there is a distinct iconographic relationship between Isis and Mary. In fact, some scholars have gone even further, and have suggested, on the basis of this relationship, a direct link between the cult of Mary and that of Isis.” Conversely, Carl Olson and Sandra Miesel dispute the idea that Christianity copied elements of Isis’s iconography, saying that the symbol of a mother and her child is part of the universal human experience.
Ephesus is a cultic centre of Mary, the site of the first Church dedicated to her and the rumoured place of her death. Ephesus was previously a centre for worship of Artemis a virgin goddess; the Temple of Artemis there is regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The cult of Mary was furthered by Queen Theodora in the 6th century. According to William E. Phipps, in the book Survivals of Roman Religion “Gordon Laing argues convincingly that the worship of Artemis as both virgin and mother at the grand Ephesian temple contributed to the veneration of Mary.”
The Middle Ages saw many legends about Mary, her parents, and even her grandparents.
The Virgin’s popularity increased dramatically from the 12th century. This rise in popularity was linked to the Vatican’s designation of Mary as the mediatrix.
Depiction in Renaissance art
Since the Reformation
Over the centuries, devotion and veneration to Mary has varied greatly among Christian traditions. For instance, while Protestants show scant attention to Marian prayers or devotions, of all the saints whom the Orthodox venerate, the most honored is Mary, who is considered “more honorable than the Cherubim and more glorious than the Seraphim”.
Orthodox theologian Sergei Bulgakov wrote: “Love and veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the soul of Orthodox piety. A faith in Christ which does not include his mother is another faith, another Christianity from that of the Orthodox church.”
Although the Catholics and the Orthodox may honor and venerate Mary, they do not view her as divine, nor do they worship her. Roman Catholics view Mary as subordinate to Christ, but uniquely so, in that she is seen as above all other creatures. Similarly Theologian Sergei Bulgakov wrote that the Orthodox view Mary as “superior to all created beings” and “ceaselessly pray for her intercession”. However, she is not considered a “substitute for the One Mediator” who is Christ. “Let Mary be in honor, but let worship be given to the Lord”, he wrote. Similarly, Catholics do not worship Mary as a divine being, but rather “hyper-venerate” her. In Roman Catholic theology, the term hyperdulia is reserved for Marian veneration, latria for the worship of God, and dulia for the veneration of other saints and angels. The definition of the three level hierarchy of latria, hyperdulia and dulia goes back to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787.
Devotions to artistic depictions of Mary vary among Christian traditions. There is a long tradition of Catholic Marian art and no image permeates Catholic art as does the image of Madonna and Child. The icon of the Virgin Theotokos with Christ is without doubt the most venerated icon in the Orthodox Church. Both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians venerate images and icons of Mary, given that the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 permitted their veneration with the understanding that those who venerate the image are venerating the reality of the person it represents, and the 842 Synod of Constantinople confirming the same. According to Orthodox piety and traditional practice, however, believers ought to pray before and venerate only flat, two-dimensional icons, and not three-dimensional statues.
The Anglican position towards Mary is in general more conciliatory than that of Protestants at large and in a book he wrote about praying with the icons of Mary, Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “It is not only that we cannot understand Mary without seeing her as pointing to Christ; we cannot understand Christ without seeing his attention to Mary.”
On September 4, 1781, 11 families of pobladores arrived from the Gulf of California and established a city in the name of King Carlos III. The small town was named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de la Porciúncula (after our Lady of the Angels), a city that today is known simply as Los Angeles. In an attempt to revive the custom of religious processions within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, in September 2011 the Queen of Angels Foundation, and founder Mark Anchor Albert, inaugurated an annual Grand Marian Procession in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles’ historic core. This yearly procession, held on the last Saturday of August and intended to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of the City of Los Angeles, begins at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and concludes at the parish of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles which is part of the Los Angeles Plaza Historic District, better known as “La Placita”.
The earliest feasts that relate to Mary grew out of the cycle of feasts that celebrated the Nativity of Jesus. Given that according to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22-40), forty days after the birth of Jesus, along with the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple Mary was purified according to Jewish customs, the Feast of the Purification began to be celebrated by the 5th century, and became the “Feast of Simeon” in Byzantium.
Over time, the number and nature of feasts (and the associated Titles of Mary) and the venerative practices that accompany them have varied a great deal among diverse Christian traditions. Overall, there are significantly more titles, feasts and venerative Marian practices among Roman Catholics than any other Christians traditions. Some such feasts relate to specific events, e.g., the Feast of Our Lady of Victory was based on the 1571 victory of the Papal States in the Battle of Lepanto.
Differences in feasts may also originate from doctrinal issues—the Feast of the Assumption is such an example. Given that there is no agreement among all Christians on the circumstances of the death, Dormition or Assumption of Mary, the feast of assumption is celebrated among some denominations and not others.  While the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption on August 15, some Eastern Catholics celebrate it as Dormition of the Theotokos, and may do so on August 28, if they follow the Julian calendar. The Eastern Orthodox also celebrate it as the Dormition of the Theotokos, one of their 12 Great Feasts. Protestants do not celebrate this, or any other Marian feasts.
There is significant diversity in the Marian doctrines attributed to her primarily by the Catholic Church. The key Marian doctrines held primarily in Catholicism can be briefly outlined as follows:
- Immaculate Conception: Mary was conceived without original sin.
- Mother of God: Mary, as the mother of Jesus, is the Theotokos (God-bearer), or Mother of God.
- Virgin birth of Jesus: Mary conceived Jesus by action of the Holy Spirit while remaining a virgin.
- Perpetual Virginity: Mary remained a virgin all her life, even after the act of giving birth to Jesus.
- Dormition: commemorates Mary’s “falling asleep” or natural death shortly before her Assumption.
- Assumption: Mary was taken bodily into Heaven either at, or before, her death.
The acceptance of these Marian doctrines by Roman Catholics can be summarized as follows:
|Doctrine||Church action||Accepted by|
|Mother of God||First Council of Ephesus, 431||Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, some Methodists|
|Virgin birth of Jesus||First Council of Nicaea, 325||Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrians, Anglicans, Baptists, mainline Protestants|
|Assumption of Mary||Munificentissimus Deus encyclical
Pope Pius XII, 1950
|Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox (only following her natural death), some Anglicans, some Lutherans|
|Immaculate Conception||Ineffabilis Deus encyclical
Pope Pius IX, 1854
|Catholics, some Anglicans, some Lutherans (early Martin Luther)|
|Perpetual Virginity||Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, 553
Smalcald Articles, 1537
|Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrians, some Anglicans, some Lutherans (Martin Luther)|
The Virgin birth of Jesus was an almost universally held belief among Christians from the 2nd until the 19th century. It is included in the two most widely used Christian creeds, which state that Jesus “was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” (the Nicene Creed in what is now its familiar form) and the Apostles’ Creed. The Gospel of Matthew describes Mary as a virgin who fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, mistranslating the Hebrew word alma (“young woman”) in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin”, though. The authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke consider Jesus’ conception not the result of intercourse and assert that Mary had “no relations with man” before Jesus’ birth.[Mt 1:18] [Mt 1:25] [Lk 1:34] This alludes to the belief that Mary conceived Jesus through the action of God the Holy Spirit, and not through intercourse with Joseph or anyone else.
The doctrines of the Assumption or Dormition of Mary relate to her death and bodily assumption to Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church has dogmaically defined the doctrine of the Assumption, which was done in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus. Whether the Virgin Mary died or not is not defined dogmatically, however, although a reference to the death of Mary are made in Munificentissimus Deus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is believed, and celebrated with her Dormition, where they believe she died.
Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, as proclaimed ex cathedra by Pope Pius IX in 1854, namely that she was filled with grace from the very moment of her conception in her mother’s womb and preserved from the stain of original sin. The Latin Church has a liturgical feast by that name, kept on December 8. Orthodox Christians reject the Immaculate Conception dogma principally because their understanding of ancestral sin (the Greek term corresponding to the Latin “original sin”) differs from the Augustinian interpretation and that of the Catholic Church.
The Perpetual Virginity of Mary asserts Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made Man. The term Ever-Virgin (Greek ἀειπάρθενος) is applied in this case, stating that Mary remained a virgin for the remainder of her life, making Jesus her biological and only son, whose conception and birth are held to be miraculous. While the Orthodox Churches hold the position articulated in the Protoevangelium of James that Jesus’ brothers and sisters are older children of Joseph the Betrothed, step-siblings from an earlier marriage that left him widowed, Roman Catholic teaching follows the Latin father Jerome in considering them Jesus’ cousins.
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consonant with Mary’s Jewish background
- (Greek: παρθένος, translit.parthénos) Matthew 1:23 uses Greek parthénos virgin, whereas only the Hebrew of Isaiah 7:14, from which the New Testament ostensibly quotes, as Almah young maiden. See article on parthénos in Bauercc/(Arndt)/Gingrich/Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Second Edition, University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 627.
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- Compare Luke 1:39-40 with Joshua 21:11 The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says, “This was most probably Hebron, a city of the priests, and situated in the hill country of Judea, (Jos 11:21; 21:11, 13,) about 25 miles south of Jerusalem, and nearly 100 from Nazareth.”
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We Protestants (for the most part) tend to say something to the affect [sic] that, if it is not found in Scripture it is not held to be required as an article of faith. Thus, the assumption of Mary would not be held as an article of faith (i.e., as a required doctrine). However, in as much as the Scripture does not say that Mary was not assumed into heaven, and, in as much as we do have other instances of some sort of “assumption” in Scripture (e.g., Elijah, as mentioned, before), there seems to be nothing that would require that a Protestant Christian could not have a private “opinion” (in the Wesleyan sense of the term) that agrees with Rome or Constantinople (at least regarding Mary’s assumption).Missing or empty
- Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America 2006 Page 73 Eugene V. Gallagher, W. Michael Ashcraft “Jehovah’s Witnesses pray to God in the name of Jesus, but insist that the Bible never identifies Christ as an eternal … Jehovah God caused an ovum, or egg cell, in Mary’s womb to become fertile, accomplishing this by the transferal of “
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- Peter Schäfer Mirror of His beauty: feminine images of God from the Bible to the ..2002 Page 233 “On the one hand, it mockingly disapproves of the idea of the mother of God; on the other hand, it treats Mary considerately and by no means only polemically. The talmudic and post-talmudic discussions about the Virgin Mary are classic …”
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- Toronto Star article – In December 2010, Catherine Lawless of the University of Limerick stated that by analyzing 15th-century Florentine manuscripts, she had concluded that Ismeria was the maternal grandmother of Mary. Toronto Star Dec 2010Discovery News
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