Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

Iranian Christian may be executed this weekend

Youcef Nadarkhani, sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity in Iran, has once again refused to deny Christ, and so he may be hanged as early as today.

Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who is facing the death penalty, again refused to convert to Islam to save his life.

Nadarkhani was arrested in 2009 for the crime of apostasy because he allegedly abandoned Islam for Christianity. As a pastor, Iranian clerics believe that Nadarkhani was preaching in order to convert Muslims.

Before his last hearing Wednesday, Nadarkhani had been given three previous chances to repent, and all three times he has refused. After his final refusal Wednesday, no verdict has been announced, but many expect that he could be put to death as soon as Friday.

via Iranian Pastor Sentenced to Death: Nadarkhani Refuses to Convert – International Business Times.

 

Youcef Nadarkhani

Read his letter to his flock.

The Pope on Luther

Thanks to Paul McCain, who posted a transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks that he gave at the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt, which was where Luther served as a monk.  You should read the whole speech, but here is a sample:

As the Bishop of Rome, it is deeply moving for me to be meeting representatives of Council of the Lutheran Church of Germany here in the ancient Augustinian convent in Erfurt. This is where Luther studied theology. This is where he was ordained a priest in 1507. Against his father’s wishes, he did not continue the study of Law, but instead he studied theology and set off on the path towards priesthood in the Order of Saint Augustine. On this path, he was not simply concerned with this or that. What constantly exercised him was the question of God, the deep passion and driving force of his whole life’s journey.

“How do I receive the grace of God?”: this question struck him in the heart and lay at the foundation of all his theological searching and inner struggle. For him theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God.“How do I receive the grace of God?” The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make an impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. Insofar as people today believe in an afterlife and a divine judgement at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbour – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – this burning question of Martin Luther must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther.

Another important point: God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis regarding the origins of the universe. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us. He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ – who is both true God and true man. Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly Christocentric: “What promotes Christ’s cause” was for Luther the decisive hermeneutical criterion for the exegesis of sacred Scripture. This presupposes, however, that Christ is at the heart of our spirituality and that love for him, living in communion with him, is what guides our life.

Now perhaps you will say: all well and good, but what has this to do with our ecumenical situation? Could this just be an attempt to talk our way past the urgent problems that are still waiting for practical progress, for concrete results? I would respond by saying that the first and most important thing for ecumenism is that we keep in view just how much we have in common, not losing sight of it amid the pressure towards secularization – everything that makes us Christian in the first place and continues to be our gift and our task. It was the error of the Reformation period that for the most part we could only see what divided us and we failed to grasp existentially what we have in common in terms of the great deposit of sacred Scripture and the early Christian creeds. The great ecumenical step forward of recent decades is that we have become aware of all this common ground and that we acknowledge it as we pray and sing together, as we make our joint commitment to the Christian ethos in our dealings with the world, as we bear common witness to the God of Jesus Christ in this world as our undying foundation.

via The Pope’s Remarks at the Augustinian Cloister in Erfurt | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

The pope may hold the office of the antichrist, but he “gets” Luther, including just how Christocentric is his theology.  Read what Rev. McCain has to say about this, including his point that the pope doesn’t minimize our differences–indeed, he stands on clear confession, unlike many ecumenical efforts–while wanting us to stand together against the tides of secularism.

What do we make of this?  (I’d like to hear from Catholics on what they make of this also!)

Deny Christ or die

A Christian in Iran is being given that choice:  recant your faith in Christ or be executed.  He has refused to deny Christ three times.  This is from Wesley Smith at First Things.  Go there for several relevant links.

An Iranian pastor may soon be executed for apostasy because he refuses to recant his Christian faith. Here’s the story from the Get Religion blog, by the eminently responsible Terry Mattingly. Here’s the press release from Christian Solidarity, which states in part:

“Pastor Nadarkhani was tried and found guilty of apostasy (abandoning Islam) in September 2010 by the court of appeals in Rasht. The verdict was delivered verbally in court, while written confirmation of the death sentence was received nearly two months later. At the appeal in June 2011, the Supreme Court of Iran upheld Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s sentence, but asked the court in Rasht, which issued the initial sentence, to re-examine whether or not he had been a practicing Muslim adult prior to converting to Christianity. The written verdict of the Supreme Court’s decision included provision for annulment of the death sentence if Pastor Nadarkhani recanted his faith.”

According to Nina Shea at The Corner, Pastor Nadarkhani has now refused for a third time to recant.

via Iranian Pastor May Soon Be Executed for Refusing to Deny Christ » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

Preaching assurance vs. preaching doubt

I have noticed that there are two kinds of preachers, especially when addressing young people: One kind tries to assure the listeners of their salvation in Christ, underscoring His grace and mercy and His atoning work on the Cross. The other kind tries to make the listeners question whether they are “really” Christians. (“Did you REALLY give your life to the Lord? Do you show the fruit of true faith? Does your life show evidence of true conversion? Maybe you need to commit your life to him again, just to be sure.”)

Granted the problem of nominal Christianity. And granted the need to make people realize how sinful they are so as to help them grasp their need of the Gospel. But I would argue that the latter approach can do great harm. The one thing that DOES make a Christian is faith in Christ. Doubt is the opposite of faith. To make a person doubt his or her salvation is, ironically, to destroy faith, rather than to build it up. Furthermore, these “are you really a Christian” messages have the effect of making the hearers look within, at their good works or their feelings or their piety or whatever. Surely, whenever we look honestly at ourselves we will find nothing to commend ourselves before God. Rather, what needs to happen is to encourage troubled or doubting souls to look OUTSIDE themselves to the Cross of Jesus and the promises of God’s Word, to objective facts about God’s disposition towards them (“Did God cause you to be baptized? Have you taken the Lord’s Supper and heard the words “given for you”?)

I wonder if the attempts to scare young people into greater piety may be having the opposite effect.

The Cross at Ground Zero

Although I did not want to dwell too much on the 9/11 ten year anniversary, the occasion brought out some fascinating stories that are worth our reflection, even though the anniversary is behind us.  Like this one, on the Cross at Ground Zero:

The shape was oddly identifiable in the blasted wreckage of the World Trade Center, standing upright amid beams bent like fork tines and jagged, pagan-seeming tridents. A grief-exhausted excavator named Frank Silecchia found it on Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. A few days later, he spoke to a Franciscan priest named Father Brian Jordan, who was blessing remains at Ground Zero.

“Father, you want to see God’s House?” he asked. “Look over there.”

Father Brian peered through the fields of shredded metal. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Silecchia replied, “Just keep looking, Father, and see what you see.”

“Oh my God,” Father Brian said. “I see it.”

As Father Brian stared, other rescue workers gathered around him. There was a long moment of silence as he beheld what he considered to be a sign. Against seeming insuperable odds, a 17-foot-long crossbeam, weighing at least two tons, was thrust at a vertical angle in the hellish wasteland. Like a cross. . . .

Shortly after its discovery, Father Brian persuaded city officials to allow a crew of volunteer union laborers to lift it out of the wreckage by crane and mount it on a concrete pedestal. They placed it in a quiet part of the site, on Church Street, where on Oct. 3, 2001, Father Brian blessed it with the prayer of St. Bonaventure. “May it ever compass Thee, seek Thee, find Thee, run to Thee . . . ” When he finished, the crane operators sounded their horns, a choral blast.

Each week, Father Brian held services there. He became the chaplain of the hard hats. Whenever crews working to find the dead needed a blessing or a prayer or absolution, Father Brian would offer it. Sometimes victims’ families came to pray. The congregations grew from 25 or 35 to 200 and 300. . . .

In July, the nonprofit group American Atheists sued to remove it [from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum], calling it an unlawful and “repugnant” attempt to promote religion on public land. One group member told ABC News that it was “an ugly piece of wreckage” that connoted only “horror and death.”

via 9/11 memorials: The story of the cross at Ground Zero – The Washington Post.

It’s not necessary to accept this cross as a miraculous relic to appreciate what it means:  In the midst of the horrors of 9/11 and in the midst of all horrors, Christ–who took them all into Himself on His Cross–is there.

 

 

The Cross at Ground Zero

 

 

Cross at Ground Zero

 


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