Women in Ministry: First Mary

The most neglected texts about women in ministry in the entire Bible are texts about Mary, and because our class has been looking at Mary of late, I thought I’d make a few suggestions about Mary and Ministry for women. It won’t do to dismiss these points as nothing more than what only the mother of Jesus could do.
I’ll suggest that Mary was first in many ways.
1. Mary was the first to know about arrival of the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of the Most High God (Luke 1:26-38).

2. Mary was the first to surrender to God’s new redemptive plan in Jesus (Luke 1:38). One could say she was the “first disciple” from this.
3. Mary became — however you care to say it — the first witness to Jesus Christ. Only she was there at the very beginning, so only she was able to tell this story.
4. This leads me to this conclusion: Mary became the first human font of the “Christian hermeneutic.” Let’s admit up front that the “Christian hermeneutic” — the grid of learning to read the entire story of God through the story of Jesus — is revealed to Mary by the Holy Spirit, but that entire grid was passed on from the Holy Spirit through Mary to others. In other words, though not alone, Mary is the first one to know what has become the orthodox Christian view of Jesus: we now believe Jesus as Messiah, as Son of the Most High God, because Mary “passed on that hermeneutic” to others. (She’s not alone, but she’s first.)
The words we use, the words that shape what we believe, are words that have their human origins in Mary.
5. Mary is the first “follower of Jesus” (while still in her uterus) to declare what that kingdom ministry would look like when it occurred — even if she had to adjust her thinking, her Magnificat announces what God will do through her Most High God Son (Luke 1:46-55). Both Zechariah and Simeon confirmed this, and then Jesus himself preached it and lived it out (Luke 4:18-19 and Matt 11:5-6).
6. Mary is the first (along with Joseph) to hear that her Son would not only cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, but that the “sword” would pierce her own soul — surely an indication of the crucifixion at some level (2:33-35).
7. Mary is the first (perhaps along with Joseph) to hear that her Son had a unique and transcending relation to his Father (Luke 2:41-50).
8. Mary, perhaps along with Peter, was the first to struggle with the unique kind of Messianic ministry Jesus would actually carry out — from the incident in the Temple (#7) to the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) to her brush with Jesus’ vision of the true family (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35) — and one of the first to be a witness to the crucifixion as God’s saving event (John 19:25-27).
9. Mary, with others, was the first to participate in the Spirit of Pentecost (Acts 1:14).
Put together, we’ve got Mary as not only a unique person in history but a dynamic woman minister — she verbally and theologically shaped how you and I understand who Jesus is.
Can anyone tell me why Mary is so often neglected when it comes to talking about women in ministry?
And, if you are interested in helping more churches get women connected to ministry, check out this blog by Ben Dubow at St. Paul’s.

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  • Hi Scot, thanks for putting this sort of material out there. It is encouraging as a woman in ministry to see the issues raised.
    Re Mary: It almost seems as though we are so afraid of what some may consider to be the excesses of Catholicism that we barely pause to look at Mary in the scriptures, much less learn from her. Maybe one stumbling block is that unlike other biblical leaders – Debra for example, a man could not have done her job…. ;-)…

  • The Words That Cannot Be Spoken « Love Acceptance Forgiveness

    […] 29th, 2007 · No Comments Scot McKnight again asks an important question at Jesus Creed, “Can anyone tell me why Maryis so often neglected when it comes to talking about women in ministry?”  The answer obviously has a number of complexities based on the nuances of belief that one brings to their practice of following Christ but in its simplest form, I think the answer is fear. […]

  • Diane

    I haven’t read your book, though I will, so I may be repeating the obvious, but it seems to me, as a woman, that Mary has such an iconic or archetypal status that she often doesn’t seem real, or seems to lose reality once she’s not the 14-year-old giving birth. I don’t usually think of her as a person but as an exalted being, if that makes sense. And I was raised Protestant, not Catholic.
    If we split women into Virgins/Whores, Mary’s the ultimate Virgin. I think we unconsciously imbibe the following dichotomy: Virgins clean and clositered, Whores dirty and worldly, and still unconsciously, perhaps, see Mary as “too clean” for the discipleship mess. The disciples were flawed and we can barely bear to think of Mary as flawed! It’s interesting that we’re apparently so much more able to see Mary Magdalene, typically portrayed as a prostitute (even if there is no evidence of this) as the “apostle to the apostles.” We’re eager to place MMAg at the start of the female apostolic tradition, because she was the first to see the risen Christ and went back and “taught” that to the males. But the Virgin Mary, as you point out, is rightfully the first of the first. Perhaps the lens through which we view Mary says a lot about how we view women and may help us uncover why we (at least some people) are uncomfortable with women in ministry. And maybe accepting Mary’s more earthy, active role in the early church would help (sone of) us accept women more easily.

  • Lori K. Barbeau

    I couldn’t wait to comment on this!
    I think we haven’t done a good job of talking about Mary for at least three reasons.
    First, both men and women have had notions about women in the church for a long time, and those notions may have come from reading Paul’s words about women, and nobody wanted to disagree with Paul! I was one of those people, and it took an Old Testament college professor to really yank the women-are-inferior-to-men blinder from my eyes. (Thank you, Stan!)
    Second, I’m not sure if this is accurate, but it seems that we Christians are (finally) moving away from the us vs. them mentality when it comes to our Jewish brothers and sisters. We are learning to connect our understanding of the scriptures with the history of our Jewish brothers and sisters and God’s historical work in their lives. So, in light of understanding these things, our eyes are being opened.
    Third, and, again, I’m not sure if this is accurate, but it seems we Protestants are moving away from the us vs. them mentality when it comes to our Catholic brothers and sisters. When I was young, the Catholic veneration of Mary was viewed as wrong. Hence, a Protestant dare not focus on Mary lest he/she cross the line. But today, more than one person has noted that, out of all the denominations, the Catholics appear to have fulfilled the scripture regarding Mary being known.

  • Scot, Good points about Mary. Perhaps she is neglected because we are told our story as the Church, both Jew and Gentile, is to be built on the foundation of te apostles and prophets. I am not agruing that what follows is right, but many have built the foundation for Church leadership on the apostles’ teaching, little of which is prescriptive as it relates to Mary.

  • Women in Ministry: Mary, Mother of our Lord « Theological Reflections on Gender

    Weekend Quick Takes (03/30/07)
    Here are my WEEKEND QUICK TAKES this week. Simply click on the headlines for the links: Are you a multi-tasker? Then read this… not good! Me Church Very funny, but only because I think some people think this way!…—–
    Weekend Quick Takes (03/30/07)
    Here are my WEEKEND QUICK TAKES this week. Simply click on the headlines for the links: Are you a multi-tasker? Then read this… not good! Me Church Very funny, but only because I think some people think this way!…—–
    […] Women in Ministry: Mary, Mother of our Lord http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2188 […]

  • Hey Scot,
    Excellent points. As a Catholic I view Mary’s ministry, her story, as essential to the story of redemption. And what that says about women’s role in ministry within the Church is profound and has long been underestimated – but mostly, until recently, among Protestants. (And please understand, I only recently became Catholic and I love my Protestant background and my brothers and sisters who remain Protestant – this comment is in no way intended to become an argument between brothers and sisters, Protestants and Catholics – it is merely my observation in both traditions.)
    The ancient traditions have always honored women’s ministry within the Church, from Mary Magdala the “Apostle to the Apostles” to St Macrina, from St Clair of Assisi to Juliana of Norwich, from St Teresa of Avila to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – and of course the list goes on.
    But, here’s the but, as a Catholic – which is not news to you – though Mary was greater than Peter, Christ gave the office of bishop and presbyter to certain men, and not to women – for they become the person of Christ in the performance of their office. So, as John Paul II says, The Church has no authority to ordain women.
    Also, I think the conversation about women in ministry becomes confused when we heap up equality against hierarchy. Holy orders is no one’s right and is not about power, but service. As a man, it is not my right any more than it is my wife’s. Women in ordained ministry is not an issue of equality. Also, women in the Catholic Church have shaped the actions of the Bishop of Rome innumerable times throughout history. And John Paul II whispered to Mother Teresa that, if he could, he would lead the Church from Calcutta – so profound was her impact on his life.
    We make a mistake when we view leadership in the Church as power and therefore equality issue – though with leadership comes power (though I dislike the word associated with the ministry at all). The mistake is evident to all of us when we see our leaders make their power an issue. Why is the mistake less evident when we begin to believe leadership is about power?

  • Correction to my last paragraph: We make a mistake when we view leadership within the Church as an issue of power, and therefore of equality – though …

  • Tom Hein

    I suggest the book “Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood”, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Women are abundantly gifted for ministry and are called to ministry of many various sorts and Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures speak of women in a multitude of different ministries. But, this is something completely different from local church ministry. There is no biblical evidence of women who function as Elders or Teaching Pastors in a New Testament church. Mary was a “magnificent” witness to our Savior. She was not an apostle or an elder or a teaching pastor, nor were any other women in the New Testament who functioned in this capacity. The fact that women in Scripture were engaged in many different kinds of ministries has little if any relevance to the question of whether a woman should function as an Elder and Teaching Pastor. There is no direct biblical text that speak of women as Elders or pastors, only arguments using indirect references of women in various Old Testament leadership positions, or witnessing through prophecy (1 Corinthians), or here, Mary as a witness…. I know that this goes against the grain of emerging church stuff, but I just wanted to add my two cents and say that while I agree with your insights on Mary I don’t agree with the implied conclusion that it has anything to do with women serving as Elders or Teaching Pastors.

  • I would recommend Kevin Giles *The Trinity and Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate* to expand on the implications of Scot’s post about Mary and the equality of women in ministry with men.

  • One more thing, Scot. I realize that with your post you have a Protestant audience in mind, and that in evangelicalism there are no holy orders as there are in Catholicism. For instance, ordination of women in the SBC or the EFCA means something different than ordination in Catholic or Orthodox circles where the legitimacy of the sacraments is largely based on the legitimacy of our holy orders (though not for all the sacraments).
    Personally, I have no problem with women teaching men – though not in the Liturgy. Women have taught me too much and continue to teach me too much not to recognize their godliness and their God-given ability to teach and to lead.
    My apprehension is that with ordination of women in Protestant circles comes a greater barrier to visible unity within the Body of Christ – between Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. Whether that unity will ever be achieved, I don’t know. But I pray that it happens. And I know that the ordination of women in Protestant circles will only separate us further.
    I hope and pray that a visible, Christian unity (one Church) is a concern for all believers, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox – there are groups in each that do not wish for unity.
    So – perhaps my only point – I think in our conversations concerning the ordination of women this issue of ecclesial unity is one that needs to be better explored.

  • And I’m sorry if my comments are a little off task – but I do believe that the one (the issue of women in ministry) impacts the other (women’s ordination) in conversations such as these. Or at the very least, the issue of ordination is in the back of people’s minds in such conversations.

  • Diane

    Perhaps it is those groups that don’t ordain women which need to change if the concern is the visible unity of the body of Christ. Actually, I think the body of Christ can be in unity without having to be in monochromatic lockstep. I am glad there are place where people on both sides of the female ordination divide can be.
    My experience of the Bible is that it prohibits things for a reason. It’s not just about blind obedience to “thou shalt not.” The rules are meant to liberate, not oppress –and they align with reality. I don’t know that there truly is a rule against woman serving in certain ministry positions, but if there is, I don’t know what purpose it serves. If I really could be convinced there was some danger in letting woman serve interchangeably with men, I might support barring women from certain positions, or if the scripture was clear on this point and not so muddy, I would support it. And if men could truly convince me that they were sacrificing themselves by barring women, I would tend to be more convinced by this complementarian reading of scripture. However, I tend to think the bigger sacrifice of self, of ego, of pride, would be to put worthy women in authority.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    I would like to mention a few difficulties with Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Ev. Fem and Biblical Truth.
    First, there is a strong argument in these books that the differing role of women depends on their differing disposition.
    “God gave men, in general, a disposition that is better suited to teaching and governing in the church, a disposition that inclines more to the rational, logical analysis of doctrine and a desire to protect the doctrinal purity of the church, and God gave women, in general, a disposition that inclines more toward a relational, nurturing emphasis that places a higher value on unity and community in the church (v14)” (Grudem)
    I would suggest that a reading of Aggressive Christianity by Catherine Booth would prove otherwise. More on Booth here.
    There is also an overdependence by Grudem on the lexical meaning of authentein, 1 Tim. 2:12 as ‘exercizing authority’. Grudem’s argument here depends on a study by Knight which misquotes some ancient texts. I have commented on this here.
    Sadly, many of the notions about both authentein are like urban legends. Too few people go back and read the original ancient Greek texts on which the study depends. In this case, the error was glaring and in neither of the two instances of contemprorary texts using authentein was the meaning ‘exercizing authority” an option. Knight wrongly attributed exercizing authority to authentein when it came elsewhere in the sentence. Grudem cited this without checking the original quote.
    I submit that Grudem takes less care for linguistic detail than he ought to considering his influence.

  • Well said Diane.

  • Diane, I agree with you that Protestants and Catholics do not need to be in lockstep with one another in order to have unity. And the Catholic and Orthodox churches will certainly continue to view Protestants who ordain women as brothers and sisters in Christ, though separate.
    Unfortunately, Diane – and respectfully – those Churches will not change. It has always been the teaching of the Church everywhere and in all places that only certain men may be ordained. And though there are many in the Catholic Church who, against the teaching of the Catholic Church, wish to change that fact, it will not change.
    I am a man, and I cannot be ordained. This is not simply a complementarian-egalitarian issue. In fact, I don’t think it has the least bit to do with complementarianism or egalitarianism – leastwise not in Catholic and Orthodox teaching. A proper understanding of the issue would inform those engaged in the conversation that it is not an issue of equality or of power. It is an issue of how the Church was established by Christ and, subsequently, how the Church has viewed its being ordered in the millennia that have followed.
    This is the teaching of the ancient traditions and it troubles me that we so quickly and easily say, “Good riddance! You change if you’re so keen on unity.”
    I’m digressing, I suppose. All I mean to say is that the issue of women’s ordination should be viewed also as an issue of ecclesial unity. Certainly that must at least be a concern in such a conversation.

  • Diane,
    I’m with you. There was good reason for Paul to say what he said in his cultural context. But now those cultural reasons are gone, much like the statements about head coverings that just don’t make any sense in our world today.
    I think Mary is a great role model for women in ministry in our culture since she was in a whole new world from anyone who had come before her (she literally was birthing that world). And she was doing what God called her to do, despite all the criticism she must have faced…the suspicious looks, the comments, etc are probably similar to the kinds of things some women in ministry have had to face. Can’t you just imagine it, “Mary, saying you are giving birth to the Savior doesn’t line up with proper theological understanding…”

  • Terry Tiessen

    Thanks for this stimulating post. Challenged by the fine work on recovering Mary for evangelicals done by my colleague Tim Perry, and by your own work, I am seriously trying to do Mary justice in my own theology. Once again, you have summed up the biblical data very nicely. Mary was greatly blessed by God and she played an extremely important part in God’s saving program. There is, however, an inferential leap between your biblical data and your conclusion for which I don’t find warrant in my own reading of Scripture. This is perhaps most clearly seen in my response to your statement in today’s post: “we now believe Jesus as Messiah, as Son of the Most High God, because Mary “passed on that hermeneutic” to others. (She’s not alone, but she’s first.)”
    Do we really? I get no sense in my own reading of the New Testament that we do. I see no explicit mention of this in the New Testament descriptions of people’s coming to that awareness nor any reason to infer that it was so. What am I missing? I think, for instance, of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus specifically says to Peter that no human being had revealed to him Jesus’ identity. This had come about through a revelation from God the Father. Perhaps Mary had been telling the disciples this for some time and perhaps Jesus was not denying her important role in passing on that knowledge but wanting to emphasize that only divine illumination brought Peter to the point of believing Mary’s witness. There is a fair bit of “perhaps” there, though, and it does not lead me to your strong affirmation. Right now, I have no reason to say that I believe in Jesus as Messiah, as Son of the Most High God, because Mary passed that on.
    I am not trying to be obstinately Protestant here, nor obstinately complementarian either, but it looks to me that a pretty large leap is made to get from the biblical data about Mary to the conclusion that we should commission women to be teaching/ruling elders in the church today. I’ll keep listening but I’m still “from Missouri” at the moment.

  • Russ

    Mary sounds eminently qualified to have been an elder, pastor, or even an apostle! I wonder why Jesus or the early church didn’t make her one?

  • Terry,
    I take this as friendly fire as it were. Here’s what I said:

    Put together, we’ve got Mary as not only a unique person in history but a dynamic woman minister — she verbally and theologically shaped how you and I understand who Jesus is.
    Can anyone tell me why Mary is so often neglected when it comes to talking about women in ministry?

    First, I don’t say anything about elders, ordination, etc. I speak of ministry and have nothing in particular in mind and everything in mind that God grants women the gifts to do.
    Second, perhaps I should guard against saying we have evidence that Mary “passed this stuff on.” I will, however, contend that Mary’s revelation is at the font of revelation that Jesus was the Messiah and that Mary was the first to know that her Son would be the messianic Davidic King. That is established by the Annunciation. She declared as much in the Magnificat.
    Third, so maybe I should say that Mary is the First Witness to the messianic Davidic kingship of Jesus. That is all I really mean by “passed on.” I don’t necessarily want to suggest an oral tradition going on, though I should not at all be surprised.
    Fourth, I’m not sure Peter, then, is the “first to know Jesus is Messiah” but the first among his apostles to declare it so. (If we know that.) What the text says is that knowing such is spiritual revelation.
    Where are we now brother?

  • Russ,
    Is that a real question — for which there is no answer — or facetious?

  • Diane

    Dear Scot L,
    I should have used the smiley icon with my comment about the non-female ordaining churches to change their ordination traditions. Your statement just begged for the opposite point to be brought up. I know the RC and OC churches are highly unlikely to change. I see it as their role to change slowly and maintain tradition, but I also see a different role for the Protestant part of the body of Christ. One day we will be thankful that the Catholics held the line on so many things and on another day we will be glad for what the Protestants have done to stimulate change. However, I do see the debate about women’s role in the church as a debate about power. The power debate starts with who said that Christ determined the church would be organized this way? I don’t read him saying that in Scripture. It’s not there. We have to look at who he surrounded himself with and that doesn’t give us clear answers either. If the answers were clear, we wouldn’t be arguing. Jesus surrounded himself with women as well as men and revealed himself first to Mary Magdalene. People who knew Jesus appear to have allowed women leadership positions in the early church. I often feel that no matter how much evidence we can show that women should be co-equal to men, it will never be enough. But the point is, power is at stake.

  • Diane

    Thanks jennifer and Rose. I’m not trying to persuade anyone, as I am unlikely to change any minds, but am putting out there that women’s role in the church is not an open and shut case.

  • Tom Hein

    I think that you have some valid points on your blog on 1 Tim. 2:12 regarding the level of certainty in translating “authentein” and some lively discussion on the thread regarding your statements. I don’t want to take up too much space on Scot’s blog to discuss this issue. But, I wouldn’t base my position on women in ministry on that one text, but on a number of traditional texts in the New Testament that I’m sure are familiar to you, and I’m fairly sure that both of us have studied various statements on all sides (and corresponding nuances) of this issue. For me to be convinced otherwise of my traditional evangelical opinion I would need to hear valid biblical reasoning countering every chapter in “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” It’s the argument of the whole book that is convincing to me, and not just one passage (1 Tim. 2:12). By the way, it would be psychologically and socially much easier for me to adopt an evangelical egalitarian position, which is why I am slow to adopt such a position, unless I am clearly convinced that the traditional evangelical understanding of women as teaching elders is wrong.

  • Scot,
    I take it your fourth point in #20 is what the text says to ‘you’. For Terry it may have quite another meaning. Then what do we do?

  • I’d like to see what Terry thinks, Greg. The text doesn’t say “Peter is the first to know or say these things.” It says that God alone reveals such things. (By the way, Andrew is close to affirming Jesus’ messiahship in John 1 — leading me to think that temporal priority for Peter in Matt 16 is not the point.)

  • Terry Tiessen

    Thank you, Scot. Your clarification about your intention in regard to Mary’s role as witness is helpful.
    People get hurt by “friendly fire” so I really don’t want my comments to be in that category. I’d prefer that they be read as friendly but not fiery. 🙂
    I did stretch your point, though, in my final comment about Mary’s role as support for women elders and I thank you for pointing that out to me. Knowing that you are egalitarian I read more into your comments than was there, and I am sorry for that hermeneutical leap on my own part.
    I affirm your desire to liberate women for ministry in all the ways that God intends. I want that too. Mary is truly a wonderful example for all of us.

  • Russ

    Scot: I was aiming at provocative rather than facetious. We can’t know with any certainty why something didn’t happen, of course. Yet, you’ve made the case that Mary was eminently qualified for leadership, and I would add she’s certainly more qualified than any of those who were actually named apostles or held leadership positions (she was certainly a more faithful follower of Jesus than James, the brother of Jesus, for example). It’s reasonable to speculate, I think, what compelling reason there might have been that she was not placed in a public ministry role (and what leaps to mind is a consensus that authoritative leadership roles were reserved to men).
    Or to put it another way, your second to last statement – why is Mary neglected as an example of women in ministry (in the general sense of the ministry that belongs to all Christians) – is an important one. But the final sentence, a link that specifically addresses women in leadership, seems beside the point, since Mary did not hold this kind of role in the early church.

  • Russ,
    Do you mean my linking to Ben Dubow’s post?
    I do think Mary was a “leader” in the early Church, and that is why she appears in Acts 1:14. I find the issue to be some kind of “office” being occupied by Mary. I’m not interested in that right now; I’m interested in what women “did,” what “ministries” they carried out, and how we can encourage women today to do what God has called them to do and be. Sliding this into ordination is not the issue for me.

  • Scot,
    I have to say, I love your approach in #29. When women do what God has called them, and the Spirit has gifted them, to do, they are following in the footsteps of Mary and many other women.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Thanks for your gracious reply. I don’t want to take up too much space either but I have done what you asked for Ev. Fem and BT. I had not expected to find this but I did find that the arguments about Junia also disagreed with the footnotes and the Greek text and I have had Burer agree to back off on some of the points they used for saying that she was only known to the apostles.
    I have done the same for every point but TMI. More later.
    I have read many complementarians who say that they would like to be egalitarian and I can only say that first those who are scholars should redo the original research.

  • Terry Tiessen

    I concur, Scot (#26). I think we have no reason to assume that Peter was the first one to whom the Father revealed Jesus’ identity. He was the talkative type, so he spoke up and he did so loudly, when Jesus was asking questions. Unfortunately, he didn’t get all of his ideas from the Father; some of them came from Satan, and the two show up in quick succession. More good lessons for leaders!

  • Scot asks, why is Mary neglected as an example of women in ministry? Mary has been neglected for many reasons, and cheif among them is the centuries of rejecting women in ministry to begin with. Along side of that is the idolization of Mary by some. I propose Mary is a prime example not only for women in ministry but for all people of faith who desire to have the life of Jesus formed within them. Can we enter in with Mary to the miracle of Christ being formed within us? Can men accept that Jesus would choose to be birthed in power through women in a unique way that men may have difficulty understanding?
    You have heard it said, you must be born again, but I say to you let Jesus be born in you and live in you and change your life from the inside out.

  • Russ

    Scot: Thanks – apologies for misunderstanding your approach. Since the Dubow post you linked begins with the foundation that they are an “explicitly egalitarian church” (which when clicked defines this as having women in ordained, senior leadership positions), I assumed that (like nearly every discussion of “women in ministry” I’ve encountered), your real point was women’s ordination (is there a book in print anywhere with the phrase “women in ministry” that isn’t about ordination?). I’m thankful you’re not doing this. When the discussion is framed (explicitly or implicitly) as “women in ministry” = “women’s ordination,” the importance of the ministry work done by non-ordained men and women is devalued (and, I suspect, many gifts given for ministry are misinterpreted as calls to pursue ordination).

  • Russ,
    I agree that the central issue here is not who should be ordained. Ordination should be about recognizing those God has called and gifted for the tasks of pastor, which interestingly enough, include all the things women were gifted for and called to do in the NT. To equate today’s pastor with the NT’s Apostles is a bit of a jump. You’re absolutely right that its about gifting and calling, not ordination.

  • I too agree Scot(#26)that we have no textual basis to assume that Peter was first one to whom the God revealed that Jesus was the messiah, but was that in Terry’s post?
    At any rate, my point was along the lines of your confirmation about what the text ‘doesn’t say’ and ‘says’ in your comment #26. Good to see your affirmation that the text does ‘say’ something that is not merely left up to context or reader response.

  • #24 Tom
    Last fall I reviewed all 29 essays and some 500 pages of Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. It is the best on volume study there is from its perspective. If you learn more about the alternative view, Christians for Biblical Equality has a website with many articles that directly address arguments made by CBMW.

  • #37
    Rats! That second link was supposed to be Christians for Biblical Equality

  • #33, Elizabeth, Not only have women been traditionally debarred from ‘leadership roles’ in the church but the idea of what Jesus taught as the hallmarks of true leadership have been subverted into something that neither women nor men should aspire to!

  • Diane, though I strongly disagree with you about leadership and power, I appreciate your response and your charitable conversation.

  • Diane #13
    “My experience of the Bible is that it prohibits things for a reason. It’s not just about blind obedience to “thou shalt not.” The rules are meant to liberate, not oppress –and they align with reality. I don’t know that there truly is a rule against woman serving in certain ministry positions, but if there is, I don’t know what purpose it serves.”
    Yes! Male and female are equally created in the image of God. They are called to be co-regents over creation. To be in the image of God at least means having the mental faculties allowing for discernment and leadership. There is no hierarchy or ranking in the two creation stories. Men and women are ontologically (in their being) no different. Yet when it comes to teleology (end purposes) we say women may not teach/instruct/lead men. They were not meant for this. Why? What is the end purpose that God is accomplishing by this? I know what my RC and orthodox friends will say (and I disagree) but what is the Protestant justification? Is it that women are deceitful and can’t be trusted? Are they weak minded? Both of these arguments have been made by the Church throughout the centuries. If these are not the reasons, than what? Also, name me any other area of theology where teleology (the purpose for which something was made) differs from its ontology (the nature of its being.) Diane nails a critical question.

  • One of the arguments I have heard about why women may not teach men is that the men might be tempted by her sexuality and lust after her.
    Same reason is given for why men cant be friends with women (or ride in a car, or be in an office alone with one).
    The whole argument makes me so sad and angry. Didn’t Jesus address the issue of lust already?

  • #42 Jennifer
    I have heard that too but somehow can’t find it in my Bible. 🙂

  • Diane

    Thanks Michael.
    On a different note, every time I read “women in ministry,” I automatically assume ordination, and I have to remember there are other forms of ministry. I do think, however, that’s there’s never been any argument about Christian women serving the poor, ministering to the sick, feeding the hungry, teaching the children, laying down their lives for their faith, etc., only about putting them (us) in top positions of power, so I tend to jump to that debate.

  • Scot,
    In your book you addressed the passage in Luke about “Mary pondered these things in her heart.” You emphasized that this was not a wistful emotionalism. The heart is associated with mind and intellect among the Greeks. The passage suggests that Mary was carefully reflecting on these things and actively working to make sense out of them so they could be related to others. It is the same words to describe what Jewish intellectual would do. I thought that was a key observation. (I hope I am representing this correctly since I don’t have the book in front of me.)

  • Diane

    Thanks Michael. I have thought that perhaps the decline in membership in mainstream (oldstream) churches could be connected to women’s ordination, but the Southern Baptist Convention is also losing membership and the RC Church is only holding steady because of Latino immigration. The Penetecostals are growing and they tend to treat women and men equally as leaders, as do many charsimatic churches, which are also growing. Part of the Pentecostal growth is from Latino immigration but their growth reflects more than merely the addition of that population. So the numbers aren’t showing me that women are ineffective leaders or the cause of oldstream decline. Otherwise, I don’t know how to quantify why women shouldn’t lead. And when we get down to the personal arguments, women are untrustworthy or tempt men to lust, that seems very squishy to me–in fact, kind of like stereotypical “women’s” thinking.

  • Diane

    Thanks Michael. I would never have thought of this in terms of teleology or ontology, but it fits.
    I have wondered if perhaps ordained women were causing the membership decline in mainstream (oldstream) churches, but that doesn’t hold up for a number of reasons. One is that churches that have excluded women from leadership, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, are also losing membership. The RC church is holding steady mostly due to Latino immigration. The pentecostal churches, which tend to put up few if any barriers to women leaders, are growing, in part due to Latino immigration, but also above and beyond that. I can’t think of any other way to quantify how women’s ordination might do damage. Excluding women because they might tempt men to lust or be deceitful seems to be squishy reasoning to me, as others are saying.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    I’d like to share this passage from Catherine Booth here.” Her last line here really spoke to me. I have been enjoying many of her sermons lately. I think we forget how much strong women leaders have done to improve the lot of other women. She is such an example.
    We are obliged to Mr. Rees for his quotation from Dr. Palmer’s letter, and agree in the opinion, that the Dr. will not be ashamed of his own argument; but we think that Mr. Rees has great cause to be ashamed of the manner in which he disposes of it. First, “As to Mary Magdalen’s proclamation,” says our author, “I don’t call a private message, a public proclamation.” Nor do we! There are few particulars, however, about this private message, to which we beg to call Mr. R’s attention. It was the first announcement of the glorious news to a lost world, and a company of forsaking disciples. Second, it was as public as the nature of the case demanded; and intended, ultimately, to be published to the ends of the earth. Third, Mary was expressly commissioned to reveal the fact to the apostles; and thus she literally became their teacher on that memorable occasion. Oh, glorious privilege, to be allowed to herald the glad tidings of a Saviour risen!
    How could it be that our Lord chose a woman to this honour? Perhaps Mr. Rees can throw some light on this mystery. One reason might be that the male disciples were all missing at the time. One was probably contemplating suicide, goaded to madness by a conscience reeking with the blood of his betrayed and crucified Master; another was occupied in reflecting on certain conversations with a servant maid; and the rest were trembling in various holes and corners, having all forsaken their Master, and fled. Had this perfidy been practised by woman, Mr. Rees would doubtless have paraded it with all that satisfaction which he evidently feels in reiterating the sentence, “The woman was deceived;” but no! Woman was there, as she had ever been, ready to minister to her risen; as to her dying, Lord,–
    “Not she with traitorous lips, her Saviour stung,
    Not she denied him with unholy tongue;
    She, whilst apostles shrunk, could danger brave;
    Last at the cross, and earliest at the grave.”
    But, surely, if the dignity of our Lord, or the efficiency of his message, were likely to be imperilled by committing this sacred trust to a woman, he who was guarded by legions of angels could have commanded another messenger; but, as it intent on doing her honour, and rewarding her unwavering fidelity, he reveals himself first to her; and, as an evidence that he had taken the curse under which she had so long groaned out of the way, nailing it to his cross, he makes her who had been first in the transgression, first also in the glorious knowledge of complete redemption.

  • Donna

    I get so angry about the lust thing.Why are women always made to blame? Good grief sounds like all we can do is stay in our houses, but then we get fat and our husbands complain about that to. Can’t work outside the home either.Burkas will be next.
    FOF and SG are mutually exclusive now. How can we reach women in underdeveloped areas of the world in ministry if we argue so much amongst ourselves about what we can and can’t do that ultimately nothing will be done.
    I get very discourgaed about this. If Jesus is my rescuer where is he?

  • Diane

    Hi Donna,
    I hear what you are saying. I think the thing to do is to focus on all the spaces that now exist for women and not worry too much about the rest. But what are FOF and SG?

  • Donna #49,
    I’m with you. The lust argument is so discouraging because it blames women for men’s sin. I’m not talking about women who are deliberate trying to be provocative…just ordinary women who are trying to look nice according to our culture. This dynamic gets played out all the time (in churches, friendships, etc) and women are punished (through being restricted) for men’s sin.
    I think Jesus is very clear – lust is the responsibility of the onlooker, not the person who is being lusted after. After saying that lust = adultery, in the very next breath, he is saying that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Note that he does not say “if a woman causes you to sin, it’s her fault.”

  • Donna

    ‘Focus on the Family’ and ‘Soverign Grace’. There ‘Boundless’ website (FOF) is almost exclusively extreme complimentarian.While I appreciate some of the material they put out I wonder if deep down all the wordplay and teaching/theology in this area is a result of struggle with sexual addiction. They are riding a wave at the moment but I don’t think it will last over the long haul.It surely won’t if they dig their heels in which appears to be whats happening.
    Thanks for the encouragement though. I can only tolerate alot of this debate in small doses,I take care of the sick and personally alot of the time I would rather go to work than go to church. At least there I can think critically and deal with reality instead of living in some christian bubble.

  • BeckyR

    Wow Diane, #3. Has me think of Joseph Campbell and his tying of myth with human psyche. I heard a series on tv where I think, Bill Moyers, was conversing with Campbell. I remember the part of Campbell pointing out each era, each culture had it’s cultural psyche in myth of virgin and whore.
    Ok, that’s got to go somewhere, beyond quoting Bible verses, about the struggle on this issue. It might be the place where the myth of virgin/whore is played out. I think you said that. That puts a whole different twist on it vs quoting Bible verses or working out theology. The need to look at the unconscious psyche stuff ingrained, of virgin or whore. Each era and each culture have their stories that have the divide between esteeming virgin and degrading some women as whore.
    My husband is deep into astronomy and to hear him explain the Greek myths played out in the naming of constellations. Here’s the heroic virgin that is rewarded, here’s the bad whore who is punished.
    Ok, you just really opened my eyes to thinking about the women in the church, in a whole other way.

  • Diane

    Dear Becky,
    I love your enthusiasm! You know, as I was writing the post, it occurred to me: OF COURSE Mary Mag. was labeled a whore, even without any evidence. She HAD to be the “other”/ the doppelganger, to the Virgin (even if she wasn’t, in reality). I never got that, because until Scott M’s post, I had never thought of how dynamically the Virgin Mary was intertwined in the whole Jesus story. To me, she’s always been that woman in blue nursing a baby in a tryptich. Passive, the way “good” women are supposed to be. And of course the active woman got the “bad” label, because we women had to be discouraged from being active. And the Virgin Mary’s active presence in the story had to be muted and controlled by freezing her as that girl holding a baby.

  • BeckyR

    #51 Jennifer (Hi!) The men’s lust thing is one thing I’ve thought about, being an artist. I was challenged 7 or 8 yrs ago that I had a responsibilty toward my weak brother, in what drawings of nudes I exhibit, and where. I put it in the category of serving then. Not in the category of me being accused of something that is not my responsiblity. But even if it is put to me that way, and that bro or sis has a problem with lust and my nude drawings exarcebate that, rather than seeing the artistic beauty, I will try to respect that as I can.
    I see great beauty in my drawings of nudes, I am touched deeply by the beauty and power shown in them. I think it’s awe or as close to it as I’ve gotten. What beauty God has created in the human form. Makes me say “wow.” But I will accept what some people may only see is a naked person and have completely different reactions than I.
    For me, it’s about serving my bro or sis. Not, saying “you can’t make me do that.” Or, “that doesn’t make sense.” If a bro or sis in some unclear way but yet a way is trying to say they have a problem with my drawings of nudes, I will respect it. That’s the point I’m trying to make, to put this thing about women being the object creating lust, being a matter of serving our bro or sis rather than saying “you can’t make me do that.”
    A difficult line to walk is when I exhibit my work, or when I did have a website of it. I have no control over who sees the nude drawings and what they do of it.
    I exhibit some of my work around the house and I have control over that. And, as my daughter used to say when she was in school years, that I found and find cute, “mom, do you have to hang pictures of naked people on our walls?” Her friends thought it was real weird. (-: For her comfort I stopped putting those drawing on our walls.

  • Beck (Hi!)
    I’m with you on doing things out of respect for someone’s vulnerability. But, I’m not talking about a woman who is appearing naked, or even one who is being provocative – just one who is normally dressed for today’s society. Even those normally dressed women are told they are too sexual in various ways – either they are too sexual to be pastors, or too dangerous sexually for men to be close friends with, etc.

  • Suzanne

    Michael #41
    My understanding of the complementarian justification is that it does not rest on the merits of the man or the demerits of the woman but on the sovereign choice of God.
    Jacob and Esau. God is not required to give a reason and can reasonably expect obedience from his people.

  • Suzanne,
    If God does not choose for women to be in ministry, why does he gift them for ministry, both now and in the NT? Women in the NT were gifted by the spirit for all the tasks a modern pastor performs.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    Suzanne Anon,
    We are all told to preach the gospel, to pass on the teaching that we have received to others, to use our gifts for the common good. Think of what women preachers have contributed to the abolitionist movement and other causes. What if women refused to teach and pass on the knowledge that they had been entrusted.
    We should obey the commands of God. An unmarried woman is without excuse. But what about Luke 11:28,
    As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
    28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

  • Jennifer,
    You’re appealing to society as the moral standard? Even “normal” society? What about in the pockets of Europe where it is not uncommon to see people walking around in their undies or nude? Nude beaches? Cultural. What kind of impact do you think that has on adolescent boys’ sexuality? Would you see that as a stumbling block, an inticement to sin, or would the ubiquity of it “dull” the effect on their senses? I’ve often wondered about this. Taken further, I’ve wondered whether men lust after topless women in African countries where that is the norm. However, when I walk through the mall, the “norm” for women in their “prime” is to dress provocatively (that is, culturally speaking).

  • Oh, I forgot that I was going to rain on someone’s parade…
    OK, not really. But I have a very strong hunch that women’s exclusion from church leadership for, ohhh, the last 1950 years, has nothing whatsoever to do with sensuality. Maybe a few people here and there threw that in as a reason, but that would be a remote exception, and certainly far from blameworthy of the whole situation throughout the Church’s history.
    In all things theological and ecclesial, my suspicions are aroused when we start saying that within the last few decades, we have “gotten it” and all those throughout the preceding centuries have “missed it” and therefore committed some longstanding, God-infuriating injustice. And then I go back to Exodus and read about God’s “laws” concerning treatment of slaves…
    WHAT?! I may never figure that one out.

  • Matt,
    I am not talking about women who dress provocatively on purpose to get attention (or women who are topless in another culture we have a hard time imagining). I am talking about the vast majority of women who are just trying to look nice, not stimulate a man’s lust. If a man lusts after a women who is not deliberately trying to provoke him, it is his problem, not hers. Jesus tells such a man to poke out his own eye, he says nothing about the woman who is the object of lust.

  • Who’s telling women not to dress normal? Is Focus recommending that American women dress like Middle-Eastern women? What I hear is admonitions for women (teens and twenties, in particular) to dress more modestly than “normal” (provocative), i.e. no short skirts, limited cleavage, no bikinis (who walks around in their bra & panties?) and the like. Would these be harsh recommendations to you? (OK Scot, I promise not to say another word about this. We’ve veered far off topic, I believe.)

  • Matt,
    We may never agree on the issue of women in ministry, and that is okay. But, I think it would be a good thing for you to realize that *many* Christian women have faced statements about things they cant do because of their sexuality – Everything from friendship between men and women, to a woman meeting with a pastor alone, to a woman being a pastor are all “too dangerous” because something sexual might happen. And it’s never the men who are saying that they are the problem…No pastor says, “I really have a problem with lust, so to keep myself from sin I wont be meeting with any women alone.” Instead he says, “Well, you never know what could happen, so lets be safe.” He’s not directly blaming the woman, but he sure isnt blaming himself either.
    I remember when I was about thirteen years old and was told that a woman couldn’t direct the choir because she would have her back to the congregation and if she swayed to the music at all, she would tempt all the men.
    I remember when I was in college and was told that a woman couldn’t be a pastor because men naturally need to dominate women, and all the men in the church would have fantasies of dominating her and she’d never be able to get anything done.
    I remember 3 years ago being in a church where the pastor said, “Women can do anything except preach, because men need someone they can look up to, not someone whose blouse they want to look down.”

  • I am very concerned with some of the arguments I have heard and experienced about the roles of women and why women can’t or shouldn’t do one thing or another. The idea that women should not preach/teach because they might cause someone to lust after them is preposterous. I agree with Jennifer here, men lusting after women is not often the woman’s fault.
    What are we teaching our daughters with this kind of thinking? Lisa Graham McMinn makes some excellent points in her book, “Growing Strong Daughters.” I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the effects such thinking is having on our society. This book was one of the first eye openers for me and challenged my thinking about the roles of women in general.

  • I’d like to call the “lust” hypothesis to a hault. Matt doesn’t know his history; he needs to read some of the early stuff to see that such a theory did play a role at times and it may well have had an overall shaping of women’s roles in churches. But, no more on lust; anything said will be deleted.
    Thanks. (The post is not about this topic.)

  • My 2 cents

    Of course if I am busy for a day, I’m a day late and a dollar short on the dialog here…
    Matt #61 – indeed, what do we clearly know now that we didn’t for 1950 years? Wouldn’t you think that we have to trust God even more for the things he has entrusted to us? And feel even more compelled to adequately prepare EVERYONE for their mission in our complicated world? I have a very difficult time thinking about how I would face God if I had two children and I would nurture, develop and prepare one (male) more than the other (male or female).
    As to this discussion, for years it has made me angry that the U.S. males would never approve women for leadership and ministry in the U.S. churches and church planting. But, they would definitely send them to foreign missions. That’s the ticket. Let them lead there. However, maybe I had it all wrong all these years. Mary was the original voice of the message across all cultures, races, gender, classes, etc. If I use her as a model of contriteness and willness to do what God asks, I couldn’t do better.
    All this hub-bub about how women need to keep their place or play their “role” sounds more to me like “who moved the cheese.” It is a power discussion, ironically, when that was the whole point of Jesus–to completely change the power fulcrum. How brilliant and powerful are Catherine Booth’s words in light of this!

  • So saying that sensuality was not primarily responsible for women’s exclusion from eldership is false? I stand corrected.

  • You know, why didn’t God just give us instruction for the Church the way he did the Levitical code? He didn’t spare a single detail on that, but now there’s all this ambiguity. He obviously foreknew that leaving all this ambiguity would cause the Church (a) to screw things up for centuries, and (b) squander valuable time debating that could otherwise have been used productively. Makes me wonder if anything related to form, function, or role makes a bit of a difference. If it was so important that we “get it right”, then it’s not our fault for getting it wrong when there’s no cut-and-dried “right”. Anyone feeling me on this?

  • Matt #69
    I am right there with you. I think we have spent far too much time making doctrinal statements expecting them to span centuries out of stories and instructions made in the context of the first century. As to the question posed earlier, what do we clearly know now that we didn’t for 1950 years? Oh my, we know SO MUCH MORE than we knew 1950 years ago! Let’s see, we know the earth is not flat,…
    The supposition that because a view has been accepted for a long period of time attests to it’s accuracy is a fallacy. The scriptures attest to the reality that we may be dwelling in the midst of a rebellious house, which has eyes to see but does not see, and ears to hear but does not hear; for they are a rebellious house. I believe that neglecting Mary as a role model for women in ministry, as well as any doctrines forbidding women to fulfill their God given calling needs to be repented of in many churches, especially in America.

  • The way I see it, the Church has been a miserable failure if it took it nearly 2,000 years to correct some of the gravest injustices known to mankind, namely, ones of human rights (slavery and oppression of women). That, to me, is to say that the Gospel did not have the power to transform 2,000 years ago, but only now that we are “enlightened”.

  • Paul Johnston

    Declaration On The Question Of Admission Of Women To The Ministerial Priesthood;
    Inter Insigniores
    October 15, 1976
    Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
    …”It is sometimes said and written in books and periodicals that some women feel that they have a vocation to the priesthood. Such an attraction however noble and understandable, still does not suffice for a genuine vocation. In fact a vocation cannot be reduced to a mere personal attraction, which can remain purely subjective. Since the priesthood is a particular ministry of which the Church has received the charge and the control, authentication by the Church is indispensable here and is a constitutive part of the vocation: Christ chose ‘those he wanted’ (Mk.3:13). On the other hand, there is a universal vocation of all the baptized to the exercise of the royal priesthood by offering their lives to God and by giving witness for his praise.
    Women who express a desire for the ministerial priesthood are doubtless motivated by the desire to serve Christ and the Church. And it is not surprising that, at a time when they are becoming more aware of the discriminations to which they have been subjected, they should desire the ministerial priesthood itself. But it must not be forgotten that the priesthood does not form part of the rights of the individual, but stems from the economy of the mystery of Christ and the Church. The priestly office cannot become the goal of social advancement: no merely human progress of society or of the individual can of itself give access to it: it is of another order.
    It therefore remains for us to meditate more deeply on the nature of the real equality of the baptized which is one of the great affirmations of Christianity; equality is in no way identity, for the Church is a differentiated body, in which each individual has his or her role. The roles are distinct, and must not be confused; they do not favour the superiority of some vis-a-vis the others, nor do they provide an excuse for jealousy; the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love (1 Cor. 12-13).
    The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints.”…

  • I tend to agree with what was said earlier with regard to the hypocrisy of many Protestants (I am a Protestant, so I have a right to critique us.) Protestants, by and large, at least in recent decades, have taken a pragmatic approach to ministry rather than an “ordered” one as described above. We have not adhered with any degree of continuity with the Biblical leadership structure imposed for the Church as witnessed in the NT accounts. Those who abandon the Biblical precedent of plural eldership in favor of senior pastor leadership have every obligation to ordain women as senior pastors in that context. Because if a church’s criteria is pragmatism, i.e. “rational purposes” for all decisions, then the exclusion of women from pastoral ministry is unacceptable, because they are clearly equally capable for the job. If, however, we stick to the Biblical precendent, the whole scenario takes a different shape (one more in line with Paul J’s citation above)…

  • Scott M

    Matt, go back to your history books. The church established early on that is was incompatible with the gospel for a Christian to own another baptized believer. And as Europe was ‘christianized’, slavery (though not serfdom) virtually vanished. It was reintroduced from Africa with the advent of the modern era and then took centuries to eliminate that resurgence. And while Christians opposed abolition, they were also the core drivers of abolition as well. Of course, we have a present-day resurgence of slavery, and once again Christians are among the forefront of those fighting against it. The record of the church is mixed, as it is on almost any topic, but when it comes to slavery, the balance is positive. Remember, that throughout the ancient world slavery was an almost universally accepted practice. That was one of the notable things about Israel. God began putting limits on the practice for his people. God’s work seems to have always been to counter our desire to dominate and enslave each other.
    When it comes to women, the interaction between the church and women all the way up through the Reformation is much more complex than most people credit. By and large, though, the church was more redemptive than not through those periods. It placed limits on the things that could be done to women, provided places of refuge, and took the exercise of their gifts seriously and as the movement of the Holy Spirit. That trend also took a backward turn at the Reformation, but within a couple of centuries you had reformers like John Wesley acting correctively once again.
    It is absolutely not the case that we are only just now starting to get it right. It’s a process of steps forward and steps backward that has been ongoing for 20 centuries.

  • Suzanne Calhoun

    Jennifer #58
    Suzanne #59
    I didn’t say I agreed with the complementarian view only that I think I know what their response would be. I’m brand new to the issue and still unsure where I will land. The discussions here have been helpful because I currently attend a complementarian church and have very little access to the other side. I have a high view of Scripture but I’m not a fundamentalist. I am finding a lot of the complementarian arguement bizarre and cultic.
    The response to gifting would I believe be that women are called to use all their gifts but not in every possible exercise of them and that the restrictions or boundaries placed on the exercise of gifts will be ultimately for the good of all and God’s glory.
    Jennifer the blouse comment by your pastor was unbelievable. That would be a deal breaker for me.

  • #57 Suzanne
    You wrote:
    “My understanding of the complementarian justification is that it does not rest on the merits of the man or the demerits of the woman but on the sovereign choice of God.
    Jacob and Esau. God is not required to give a reason and can reasonably expect obedience from his people.”
    I have heard this type of response but it dodges the question. (I am not arguing with you but with this type of claim.)
    Of course there are many things that God chooses to do without revealing his purpose. That is not the issue. The issue is ontology and teleology. God created woman as co-regent over creation (ontology) and then supposedly instructs woman to subject to man (in a way he is not to her), and according to complementarians to see this as her “role” and source of fulfillment. (Teleology) An example might be if God had created Adam and Eve as we know them to be in the Bible and then said don’t reproduce. The Jacob and Esau question is of a different sort. The issue isn’t about something not being explained. It is about “being” being in conflict with “end purposes.”

  • So, do we think Jesus’ neglected to call women – like His mother, Mary – to the inner circle of the twelve disciples beacuse of the cultural context or because women didn’t belong there?

  • #74 Soctt M
    Well said. I would also add that the evidence over 2000 years is God appears to be evolving/nurturing/maturing/molding his Church into what He would have it be. It is very much a parent nurturing a child. When we have children, we don’t give birth and then zap them into mature adults on the spot.
    The core ethic in the testaments of God’s mighty works are eternal and unchanging. But as humanity moves through the ages and encounters new challenges it presses us back upon the Word and our relationship with God and each other. Ebbs and flows; three steps forward two steps back; until Christ returns to consummate the New Creation.

  • Paul Johnston

    …..further from Inter Insigniories…..
    “The Attitude of Christ.”
    ….”Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. If he acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of his time, for his attitude towards women was quite different from that of his millieu, and he deliberately and courageously broke with it.
    For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3).”…
    ….”Even his Mother, who was so closely associated with the mystery of her Son, and whose incomparable role is emphasized by the Gospels of Luke and John, was not invested with the apostolic ministry. This fact was to lead the Fathers to present her as an example of Christ’s will in this domain; as Pope Innocent III repeated later, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, ‘Although the Blessed Virgin Mary surpassed in dignity and in excellence all the Apostles, nevertheless it was not to her but to them that the Lord entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.’…..

  • Paul Johnston

    And finally, again from “Inter Signiories”….
    “The Church’s constant teaching, repeated and clarified by the Second Vatican Council and again recalled by the 1971 Synod of Bishops and by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its Declaration of 24th. June 1973, declares that the bishop or the priest in the exercise of his ministry, does not act in his own name, in persona propria: he represents Christ, who acts through him: “the priest truly acts in the place of Christ’, as St. Cyprian already wrote in the third century. It is this ability to represent Christ that St.Paul considered as characteristic of his apostolic function (2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 4:14). The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and centre of the Church’s unity, the sacrificial meal in which the People of God are associated in the sacrifice of Christ: the priest, who alone has the power to perform it, then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi, taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.
    The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: the priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognise with ease. The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted on the human psychology: ‘Sacramental signs,’ says St.Thomas,’ represent what they signify by natural resemblance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.”….
    None of my quotes are intended to browbeat or offend but rather to simply inform with regards to the ongoing traditions of The Holy Roman Catholic Church.
    Blessings to all,

  • Scott M

    Elizabeth, Jesus calling the Twelve in that context would have had to be understood as calling out a new Israel. If he had called men and women in the twelve, that would have obscured, if not completely abolished, the picture and the point. He did have a number of women disciples, not least his mother. We’re told about a number of them by name. And they figure prominently in the gospels. But the calling of “The Twelve” would not have been perceived as it needed to be had it included women.
    At least, that’s my understanding.

  • Scot, thanks for the response. I agree that we see women among the disciples, but unfortuantely some use the calling of the twelve men as justification for the exclusion of women in leadership, instead of seeing it as a picture of a new Israel.
    I greatly appreciate your scholarly thinking on this subject.

  • Scott M

    Wrong ‘Scott’ Elizabeth. 😉 I assure you, I’m not a scholar and certainly not on Scot’s level. Thanks for the comment, though.

  • Suzanne Calhoun

    Michael #76
    Thanks, that helps….
    Again, I’m not defending the position but trying to find a way through.
    The sovereign choice of God would go to his right to make use of his creatures as he chooses, regardless of ontology. Subjection, especially when they relate it to Jesus’ subjection to the Father, being as good a use/role as headship/leadership.
    If God’s choice is counter to ontology does he contradict himself?

  • Doug Allen

    Long before reading Scot’s book on Mary, I began using “Hail Mary, blessed are thou…” as a mantra (no I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, just a follower of Jesus)and still do, with greater appreciation for Mary now. As for egalitarianism/complementarianism- you have all read that rape is more about power than sex. So, probably, are centuries of dismissive attitudes about women’s roles in the church (and politics) more about male power than anything else. And who in the Bible confronts the rich and powerful?!
    Doug Allen

  • Suzanne #84
    “If God’s choice is counter to ontology does he contradict himself?”
    I don’t think God does contradict himself in this way. What it says to me is that we have misunderstood ontology or teleology or both.
    It is interesting to see how theologians have wrestled with this “created in God’s image yet women shouldn’t lead or teach” issue over the centuries. Usually, it is concluded that it is “self-evident” that women are weak-minded, emotionally unstable, too easily deceived, etc. Over the past couple hundred years that “self-evidence” has evaporated.
    That led to the invention of the “Equal in being, [eternally] unequal role/function” formulation in the 1980s, and the ongoing effort to justify this as historic doctrine. The historic doctrine of the Church is that the Son subordinated himself to the Father for the purposes of redeeming humankind and creation. Upon completing his work he returns to his unsubordinated status as a member of the Trinity (Philippians 2:5-11).
    Two beings cannot be equal while one is eternally subordinate to the other. Being subordinate for a limited time and purpose is possible and that is what we have with the Trinity. (See my post On being “Equal in Being, Unequal in Role”
    Now, based on what I have written, I know someone is going to raise 1 Cor. 15:28. I will let St. Augustine speak for me:
    “Neither may we think that Christ shall so give up the Kingdom of God, even the Father, as that He shall take it away from Himself. For some vain talkers have thought even this. For when it is said ‘He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father,’ He Himself is not excluded; because He is one God together with the Father.” (On the Trinity)
    The three persons of the Trinity operate out of one will. One does not will anything that is not simultaneously willed by the others. There is no ontological subordination within the Trinity.

  • Scott M. (#74),
    I don’t have any history books, and had lame history teachers all throughout school who just gave us worksheets all day long. So I am profoundly ignorant of most of history. I remember general trends and happenings, but could not be farther from a historian. Thank you for the explanation of the ebb and flow within the Church. I do not think it makes a bit of difference whether Christians owned other Christians or non-Christians. They’re all human beings. Now, if people owned slaves who were prisoners of war, that’s a different story (even though our current ethical system wouldn’t allow it, God’s may). But if you’re saying that the Church completely banned the practice of slavery in its early days and we just simply got off track farther down the road, then that’s completely understandable.
    I wrote a blog post yesterday about the divine ordination of slavery and other forms of oppression (such as excluding women from church eldership), if it helps anyone sort through this subject.

  • OK, my last sentence sounded really scary. I didn’t mean that I was arguing for the divine ordination of slavery, but that the Old Testament makes it seem this way. I’m trying to sort through the different pictures of God that the Old and New Testaments paint, if indeed they are different.

  • I came to this party late, so I haven’t waded through all 90 comments, but I think Mary is often overlooked by American protestants because she is a woman and she represents for many protestants a part of catholicism to which they do not relate.
    I think this is an excellent post and one that raises great questions for complementarians regarding their position on women in ministry.

  • Matt #89, 90
    You definitely need to check out William Webb’s “Slaves, Women and Homosexuals.” Scot did a multi-post review of the book which you can find under this “Woman and Ministry” category linked in the right column. (Go back to Dec 18, 2006, for the first post.) I did a wimpy two post presentation of the idea you can read by clicking here.
    As to slavery:
    Lev 25:39: “If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves…. (NRSV)
    When making assessments about whether God ordained slavery be sure to look at the whole picture. The word “slavery” is used to mean a variety of things. All the nations around Israel in the OT participated in enslaving other peoples as well as their own. God forbids enslavement (permanent involuntary servitude) among the Israelites. It is unprecedented.
    We have don’t of the abolishment of the institution in the NT but we do have “neither slave nor free” all having been baptized and made one body in Christ in mutual submission to each other. Paul (following Jesus) ignores direct institutional transformation and “subverts” them from the inside by requiring people to live by a new other-centered ethic. In the centuries following the early church, this is just what happened. Eventually it was made unlawful to own someone who had been baptized as a slave. Virtually everyone in Europe became Christians. Slavery essentially disappears by 1000 AD.
    Slavery returns with a vengeance starting about the 1430s as Spain colonized the Canary Islands and enslaved the inhabitants. They colonizers justified their actions based on the claim that the natives were not rational creatures but a species of animals. The pope threatened excommunication of the slaveholders but the church had become so politically and economically compromised by the rising powers in Spain and France that the Church was largely powerless to stop this travesty. The Catholic Church went on to be a powerful advocate of humane treatment for slaves, but it never embraced slavery. Studies have been done by countless economists to find an economic justification for the abolition of slavery in England. The consensus today is that there was none. It likely was economically harmful. The change was based in ethics not economics. The anti-slavery movement today is heavily connected with Christian and religious organizations. It is a complex story of ebbs and flows, and the story concerning women similarly complex.
    In Mark we read:
    4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” (Mark 10:4-5, NRSV)
    Just because God gave in instruction about a particular behavior does not mean that is was his highest ethic. There was an ethic called the “sevenfold vengeance” in the Old Testament era. Whatever you do to me I do to you seven times worse. God instructed Israel to live by “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” But when you get to the New Testament, Jesus says by implication in Matthew 5:38-42, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.” Then, he tells them what the ultimate ethic is that goes beyond “Eye for and Eye.” (Matt. Chapter 5 is a series of these orations.)
    So why do we persist in the exclusion of half of God’s image bearers from vital aspects of New Creation work? I think it is because of the hardness of our hearts. Mary is a direct affront to our hardened hearts. In my estimation, the RC and Orthodox traditions have transfigured Mary into this ethereal being that masks her ministry as a human woman. We Protestants ignore her because if we look to close we find disturbing challenges to the neatly constructed order of things we have made for ourselves.

  • Michael K,
    Your history lesson is very helpful. I’m still left wondering, however, how far the “hardness of heart” argument can be taken. The way I’m reading your conclusion, you seem to be saying something like, “God allowed some human beings to exploit the labor of other human beings as a necessary evil because of the hardness of their hearts.” We read that God ordained government because of the hardness of the people’s hearts. Government is not itself, humanistically speaking, inherently evil. Slavery is. So I would have a very difficult time concluding that God permitted this atrocity (no small step down from God’s ideal) in order to cater to hard hearts. I deal with this issue much more in depth on my blog, and don’t want to take up too much room here, because it’s ultimately a side note in the conversation. I will add Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals of my list of things to read (although I cannot see the parallel between homosexuals and the other two. God never said it was a sin to be a slave or a woman. I must confess that that makes the book suspect from the outset.).

  • Matt,
    Webb’s book is not about 3 kinds of sin, but about learing to interpret some difficult passages for each. Dont jump to the conclusion that it says homosexuality is okay.

  • It’s obviously not about 3 types of sin. But when people start playing the cultural context interpretation card in one scenario, they start using it as a blanket rule, often over against any “conservative” viewpoint you can think of. Forgive me for assuming that the three issues mentioned in the title were not intended to be in some way parallel, but merely three random issues that were thrown together into a book. My bad.

  • #93 Matt S.
    I agree about not wanting take up time here. So briefly:
    “The way I’m reading your conclusion, you seem to be saying something like, “God allowed some human beings to exploit the labor of other human beings as a necessary evil because of the hardness of their hearts.””
    Essentially yes. Since the apple incident in the Garden God has been tolerating evil with the aim of accomplishing a higher vision. 🙂
    As to the book, all three are controversial issues where it is claimed by a significant number of Christians that one state of affairs held true in Scripture (acceptance of slavery, subordination of women, and disapproval of homosexual behavior) but that in the intervening centuries we have moved to another position based on some higher ethic (abolition of slavery, no subordination of women, and acceptance of homosexual behavior.) The book is about how we process these issues. Don’t jump to conclusions about what he concludes about each of the three issues until you read the book. 🙂

  • Forgive me for being overly mindful, but in the interest of the relationships we all maintain via this blog (and others we find ourselves engaging with one another on), I’d like to come right out and say that I do not approach this or any other person’s blog as a “teacher”, but rather a learner. It just so happens that I learn best by expressing my views rather earnestly in hopes that someone else will help me deconstruct them. I’ve tried to be transparent about certain weaknesses of mine on recent posts so as not to give the false impression that I think I’m any kind of scholar (not that anyone else would be so fooled). I just thought I’d throw that out there to provide a backdrop for our blogging relationship, since you don’t really have much opportunity to get to know the real me.

  • Thanks for the synopsis. So you’re saying that the tie that binds them together is that they’re frequently misunderstood because of oversimplification? Sounds legit to me. Just wanted to make sure the book wasn’t founded upon a logical fallacy right from the get-go. There are too many good books out there which I haven’t the time to read for me to waste my time on one that is doubtful, so I was just checking. I’ll hop over to Scot’s earlier post on it the next chance I get.
    Thanks again.

  • Matt,
    The first few sentences in #95 are inaccurate … it is a slippery slope argument that rarely obtains. The fundamental rule for conversation is to listen first; first you need either to listen carefully to what Webb says or take the time to read him before jumping to conclusions.
    That book is a model of careful thinking, even when one disagrees with William Webb. He comes to three different, or at least differing, conclusions. The cards are not set up for him to win.

  • You’re right, I misstated myself. Three sins are not inherent in the title (there’s nothing sinful about being a slave or a woman), though Webb may be dealing with sins of oppression of these three categories of people. This is what happens when I try to be concise (and not spend an hour constructing what I’m going to say). That’s definitely an area of needed improvement for me. I did not intend to suggest that every person who plays that card uses it as a blanket rule, just that this has more often than not been the case in conversations I have observed or participated in. My third sentence was sarcastic (apparently I didn’t make that obvious enough).

  • In my estimation, the RC and Orthodox traditions have transfigured Mary into this ethereal being that masks her ministry as a human woman.
    Michael, if you think so you know little about at least how the Orthodox venerate St. Mary. If she were not fully human, we would all be lost.

  • Gina,
    Are you just trying to provoke everyone? I’d not say the “traditions” so much as “many RCs and EOs” operate this way or come close to it.
    I’m assuming your last point is about her need to be wholly human so she could pass on a genuine human nature to Jesus?

  • Fair point about traditions. I tend to use the term to refer to both official and unofficial teaching and practice as they evidence themselves over time. I am very much aware of the divergence in my own tradition between official doctrine and actual practice (Priesthood of believers for example.)

  • Scot, I am not trying to provoke anyone. It simply isn’t true, as Michael asserted, that St. Mary is treated as an “ethereal being” in Orthodox practice. To the contrary. She is considered the premier example of theosis. If she were not like us, we could not take any hope from her example.

  • Paul Johnston

    Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven being spiritualized; being cellestial; being ethereal is a perfect culmination and better understanding of her ministry as a human woman…Hail Mary, Full of Grace….

  • Gina #104, Paul #105
    Thank you Paul for making my point. 🙂
    “Hail Mary full of Grace” from Luke 1:28 where Gabriel addresses Mary. The Latin translations dating to the fifth century rendered the verse gracia plena or “full of grace.” Tradition has taught that Mary is like a cup of filled with grace to the brim, overflowing to the rest of us. This translation is incorrect as is noted even by modern RC scholars. Most English translations now use the phrase highly favored. It is no different than the messenger talking to Daniel (Dan. 10:19) or the Angel of the Lord to Gideon (Judg 6:12 NRSV) or Boaz to Ruth (Ruth 2:4, NRSV). Mary was not “full of grace” but favored by God just as any of us might be.
    From Luke 1:
    41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:41-42, 45, NRSV)
    There are two Greek words that we translate into English as “bless.” Both occurrences of blessed in verse 42 are a from of eulogeo (from which we get the word “eulogy.”) It means to praise; to speak well of; invoke a benediction upon. However, “blessed” in verse 45 uses markaria. It means the one to whom God’s grace has been given and/or the happiness that comes from having received such favor. (Kenneth Bailey refers to eulogeo as blessing with a small “b” and markaria as blessing with a large “B”.) The defining quality of Mary is her faith and willingness to serve in the face of great personal cost, not her reproductive role as Jesus mother.
    Ten chapters later in Luke 10:
    27 While he [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (Luke 11:27-28 NRSV)
    Jesus overturns the perspective that values women only for the biological capacity to give birth to great men. Men AND women are capable of receiving a call from God and being obedient to it.
    My issue with the RC/Ortho perspective is the preoccupation with the womb. Jesus “had” to have been born into sinless womb. Then, with secular/sacred dualism, Mary could not ever have had sexual relations because that would have violated the sacred womb. Thus we disregard the most straight forward reading of passages about Jesus’ brothers and morph the brothers into relatives. Then, since the womb must be sinless, so most be the one in whom the womb resides be sinless. From there we move on to Mary having a favored place in interceding with Jesus so we pray to this not quite human, not quite godlike entity. And for my money, the way this works out in practice in some settings is a virtual quadrinity.
    Ministry is literally any work done in the employ of another. Ministry is not defined by what we do. It is defined by who we are doing for. Mary was at work in response to God. She was a minister. She was a young peasant girl with which each of us should be able to identify. My position is that the RC/Ortho position raises Mary’s “mother of Jesus” status to a level that eclipses her more important status as a courageous and faithful minister of God, something we can all emulate.
    I did not say that the RC/Orthodox traditions teach that she was not human but their teaching masks her human ministry. I have zero expectation that I am going to convince you of my perspective but I wanted to at least get more specific about what it is I find objectionable.

  • What I would say is that Orthodox veneration of Mary, referencing her in our prayers and liturgies, is testament that her ministry didn’t end in the first century but is ongoing. That’s may be a proclamation of her otherworldliness, but only insofar as that world is the “real reality” of the church. What better time than the Resurrection season to remember this.
    Scot, I was actually really surprised at your reaction. I take it that this assumption is so self-evident to you and your readers, that trying to contradict it is like trying to argue the earth is flat, and that’s why you assumed I was trying to jerk Michael’s chain.
    BTW I liked the initial post very much. All good points, and I appreciate your effort to try to get a broader “footprint” of the Theotokos into evangelical thinking. She does indeed have a much greater ministry and than simply to be a vessel, a uterus in which the Incarnation happened.

  • Gina,
    I should have put a smiley there; your response didn’t surprise me but I knew what it would do … get a bundle of us ready to put our dukes up.
    But I would say that many lay folks are confused on Mary — I know what the Great Traditions and I’ve tried to help my co-evangelical co-Prots grapple with what those traditions really affirm. Over and over I’ve said this: Prots struggle more with popular perception, which tends to go on unchecked, than with the core teachings of the Great Traditions on Mary.

  • Michael, our posts crossed but I think this illustrates why I find your earlier posts so perplexing. You say:
    The defining quality of Mary is her faith and willingness to serve in the face of great personal cost, not her reproductive role as Jesus mother.
    And if I didn’t know it, I would guess you were an Orthodox Christian arguing against a Protestant rather than the other way around. It is evangelicals who downplay Mary’s role into “just a mother,” as just another woman, and the Orthodox who have always emphasized that her continual, courageous submission to God’s will and testimony of faith is her defining characteristic. But as you brought up dualism, I would go on to say that dismissing the fact that our Lord took flesh from her (not only resided in her womb) too easily gets into a spiritualization of the Incarnation.
    By touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, a sick woman expressed her faith in Him and was healed. Was she denigrating the garment by doing so? By venerating the mother of God, we express our faith in what He has done for us and hope also to be healed.

  • Scot: I’m relieved- I thought I had really caused offense.
    Michael: Our posts crossed, but I think that must have been fate as it illustrates some of the irony here. I praised Scot for helping evangelicals to see that St. Mary is not just a womb in which the Incarnation happened; you wrote that the Orthodox and Catholics make her into just a womb. I think that’s an assertion that founders badly on reality.
    In some respects the arguments you make about Mary’s “preparation” echo those an Orthodox Christian would also make against the Roman church. We do not hold to Mary’s immaculate conception, nor to her sinlessness; the Orthodox do not have the same problem of “original sin” that those of more Augustinian bent do. To an Orthodox Christian, the selfless, courageous faith and sacrifice of the Theotokos is precisely the hallmark of her life. As I said earlier, our veneration of her is the very opposite of a denigration of her ministry- rather, it is a celebration of it and recognition that it’s ongoing. It is evangelicalism that tends to see her as “just a mother like any other.” I used to also cite the passage you do in Luke, to show that she was just one of the girls.
    Beyond this, you too easily dismiss the significance of the fact that Jesus took flesh from St. Mary in the Incarnation (not only resided in her womb). A sick woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, expressing her faith in Him and thereby being healed. In a similar fashion, we venerate His mother, expressing our faith in the miracle of salvation, and hoping also to be healed.
    I recognize that you “have” to charge the ancient churches with getting St. Mary wrong, in order to support your view that up to modern times the church has neglected and denigrated womens’ abilities and spiritual worth. For surely the veneration of the Theotokos is the most glaring contradiction of that assumption.

  • Gina,
    Don’t know how to ask this quite … so let me fire away for it has haunted me gently for years. Do you think the veneration of Mary in EO and RCism has anything to do with the lack of women in traditional/male ministries? In other words — and I’m wondering what you think because I’m not sure we can know this sort of thing, does the veneration of Mary make less likely women in ministry that you see now in many Prot churches?
    Others — say some kinds of feminists — see it as a form of suppression of women or even an feminine dimension of the religion.

  • Scot #110,
    That’s a question I have too…very interested to hear an answer.
    Although, I do wonder it in a slightly different way. I think you’re asking if veneration of Mary makes women less likely to be accepted in ministry….And, I wonder, does not allowing women in ministry make it more likely that Mary gets venerated since there is no feminine expression in the priesthood for the “soft” parts of God.
    I’m taking a class on Women in Christianity this quarter, and on Friday we were discussing this very thing.

  • Gina #109
    My take is that Mary was a very real human being who found favor in God’s eyes because of her remarkable faith and willingness to go where God led. What distinguishes her is not her biological connection to Jesus (which none of us can aspire to) but her faithfulness and discipleship (which we can all aspire to.) My point isn’t the RC/Orthodox see Mary as only a womb but rather that this biological connection to Jesus is the organizing principle for Mary’s identity.
    You wrote:
    “I recognize that you “have” to charge the ancient churches with getting St. Mary wrong, in order to support your view that up to modern times the church has neglected and denigrated womens’ abilities and spiritual worth.”
    Hehehe… Just as I recognize you “have” to keep up these rationalizations about Mary to protect human traditions. ( 🙂 with a really big wink.) My position regarding women has never been “Church up to 16th century = all bad; Reformation Church = all good.” Ebbs and flows. And actually the issue of women has not been a central focus of my formation over the years. What drives most of my concern is a lifelong quest to get a grip on the nature of ministry and the mission of the Church. These issues overlap considerably with much of the debate about gender and ministry. Studying the literature on the gender debate uncovers some powerful things about ministry.
    Also, just a little background. My roommate prior to getting married was a guy who was Christian education director at a Catholic church (Discussions late into the night about theology, and countless tracts and books.) I have in-laws who are RC or formerly RC. All of my immediate neighbors are RC. Several RC friends over the years. It seems I am at mass or other RC officiated events at least a few times a year. I have less direct exposure to the Orthodox world but I have tried to educate myself on these and RC traditions. I respect these traditions… and I disagree with them. Just like I respect you … and disagree with you. 🙂

  • Scot and Jennifer: I’ve said it before here and I’ll say it again- the Protestants have a long way to go to catch up with the role that women have played and still do play in the Orthodox Church. So your question just doesn’t make much sense to me. I would have to say that if we’re talking about motivations, the mothers of the faith, as the fathers, inspire people to devotion and service rather than discourage them. I wonder how many monks and nuns are in their ministries because of their devotion to the Theotokos… I can’t guess, but I think it likely a formidable number.
    I’m on Frederica Matthewes-Green’s email list and she recently wrote about the complimentarian/egalitarian discussions in the evangelical world. She said essentially that she’s all for Protestants encouraging women in ministry. She has written before that she has a greater platform and voice now than she did as an Anglican priest’s wife.
    Michael: I don’t understand the distinction you are trying to make. I’ve already pointed out that the Orthodox do celebrate St. Mary’s faith, her obedient submission, and honor her sacrifice in bearing our Lord and having her heart pierced as a result. It is not only her “biological connection” (a funny way to characterize the mystery of the Incarnation…) that is the “organizing principle” (pray what does that mean anyway??) of devotion to her. However, naturally her role as Jesus’ mother sets her above other saints, just as the apostles are set above because they walked with Jesus and received their ministry from Him. This seems so natural and obvious to me, I don’t understand the objection. Veneration of the Theotokos is part and parcel of worship of Jesus Christ, as is evident if you read Orthodox liturgies. This does not mean that she is not also recognized in her own right.
    Your earlier statement that the church only honored women “for being mothers of great men” would hold if there were not many other women, of various accomplishments, that are also venerated. Since Sts. Joachim and Anna are remembered, you might even say that the church honors those who bear great women. 😉 I find the comment, in any case, a backhanded slight against the role of motherhood. We remember the mothers of men like Sts. Timothy, Augustine, and Constantine the Great not only because of a “biological connection,” but because they taught their children the way of Christ. “The hand that rocks the cradle…”

  • BTW Michael, what is the “plain reading” of Jesus’ words from the cross to St. John the Evangelist and St. Mary “this is your mother,” “this is your son”- if Mary had other sons living? Perhaps Scot deals with this somewhere in his book.
    For us, the “plain reading” is that which was understood by those closest to Christ and the apostles, who heard the Word spoken and not only mediated by texts. That the Reformers, in flight from Rome, could generate a “plain reading” is something no good pomo should take as granted. 😉

  • My own experience of effective leadership in the RC tradition is that the women who enter the various orders prove to be the backbone of some very positive social action. I’m not at all sure that the veneration of Mary in any way detracts from this fact for the two seem to go hand in hand.
    In India, some of the very best rural hospitals, orphanages and schools are run by nuns and there is rarely anything even remotely equivalent from the protestant side. Mother Theresa was a very visible minister but there is masses of very quiet work going on. Another area where the women in the RC stand far above others is in disaster relief. i have personally witnessed this on a number of occasions after cyclones, earthquakes, and the recent Tsunami.

  • Gina #114
    #114 Gina
    Back to the last two sentences in #93, I am critical of RC/Orthodox AND Protestant heritages on the issue. Protestants treat Mary as the invisible woman. She had Jesus then disappeared. On that we agree. I’ll take another shot I trying to delineate my objections in the other direction.
    Mary was a woman of exceptional character. She is faithful, insightful, courageous and obedient. Because of her character, God chooses her for a special mission. It is her character, not her specific mission that makes her noteworthy. In a sense, her role as Jesus mother is secondary. I am saying that what is paramount is not the role itself but the character she exhibited within that role. It is the difference between saying she was the “God-bearer” who exhibited great character and saying she was an exceptional disciple whose role was to give birth to Jesus Christ. I am dichotomizing here to achieve clarity not to establish an absolute polarity. I believe the second characterization is more accurate.
    The veneration question is a big piece of this. (More about this in a following comment.) To be a bit crass, it is the distinction between superhero and hero. Superheroes have extra-human powers. While I might fantasize about being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or move faster than a speeding bullet, in the end I understand this is fantasy. Superheroes like Superman have powers not invested in any mortal. On the other hand, I can see a hero like William Wilberforce and aspire to be the kind of person he was and exhibit the perseverance and vision he had. My take is that, in RC/Orthodox circles, Mary is essentially a superhero. In Protestant circles she is all but invisible. I think she is a great hero. (More about saints and veneration in a following comment.)
    You wrote:
    “I find the comment, in any case, a backhanded slight against the role of motherhood.”
    The physical bearing of children is a biological function shared with countless mammal species on the face of the planet. Childrearing, nurturing and training children into maturity is a distinctly human endeavor that is the responsibility of mothers and fathers. We praise men for what they accomplish themselves. We praise women for what their children accomplish. The issue is not to devalue mothering. The issue is not to reduce the foundational identity of women to being a mother. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” Women are productive, rational, creative, volitional, and discerning human beings who accomplish great things apart from parenting every bit as much as men.

  • Gina #114
    “However, naturally her role as Jesus’ mother sets her above other saints, just as the apostles are set above because they walked with Jesus and received their ministry from Him. This seems so natural and obvious to me, I don’t understand the objection.”
    My take is that there are no saints in the sense you are using the term “saints.” “Saints” (hagios) in the Bible means identifies people who are holy, set apart for God. In the NT, saints always refers to the laos tou theou, the people of God. Clearly there are heroes but there is no subclass of super Christians.
    Similarly, there is no laity, only clergy. Kleros is the Greek word from which we draw the word “clergy.” Laikos is the Greek word we translate “laity.” It means of the common people. The first known mentions of laikos come from about 300 BCE. It was an adjective used in papyri to describe the profane things of the rural people in Egypt. It is a close synonym for the word idiotes meaning “unprofessional.” (It is the word from which we get “idiot.”) Laikos is not in the NT. We don’t find it taking root in Christian literature until the third century. When kleros is used it is used to in reference to the laos tou theou. “Clergy” and “the whole people of God” is the same thing.
    It is my position that upon Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, he became the priest, prophet, and king to the world. The Church as his body is priest, prophet and king to the world. No individual occupies an office by these titles but individuals carry out functions of these offices on a daily basis as the Spirit gifts and empower them. God also raises up leaders from among the people to serve as one of the people, not as someone who exists as specially separated class of Christians.
    Furthermore, Jesus selected the twelve Jewish men as symbols of the old Israel. To have selected any women would have violated the symbol he was flashing. (Like an American flying a red, white and black flag with squares where there should be stars.) Post resurrection, the Spirit is poured out on men and women. Initiation into the old Israel comes by circumcision (available only to males) but in the new Israel is by baptism (available to all.) Paul writes:
    “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:28-29 NRSV)
    There is a new ecclesiology where everyone who is baptized is kleros. They are corporately priest, prophet and king through their integration into the body of Christ, executing this functions in the world.
    It is my position that over the early centuries of the church, Greco-Roman values crept into the Church. Sacred/secular dualism and views about women are at least two examples. Drawing on cultural inclinations, communion became an increasingly mystical event requiring a person of special qualifications to officiate. As the state and church merged, Greco-Roman values about women and leadership were interjected. Therefore, all are saints, all are clergy and all we are all one in the body of Christ.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Michael
    Sorry about the timing of my response. I work in a fine dining restaurant and am quite busy on the weekends with my work.
    Monday afternoons on the other hand are a good time for a flavoured coffee and meditation on the mysteries of our faith. 🙂
    Michael, I’m a simple layman with no formal training in Scripture or Canon ( Catechism of the Catholic Church). My understandings therefore are sure to be limited but hopefully useful.
    Michael, regarding your concern that the RC traditions place more emphasis on Mother Mary’s virgin status and her reproductive role then in her declaration of faith, please be advised that the official position of the RC, as articulated in canon law, does not support your contention.
    (canon 506)- ” Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith, “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her undevided gift of herself to God’s will. It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Saviour. “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ.”
    Your other concern, that adoration of and prayers to Mary creates something of a “virtual quadrinity”, is wholly understandable. On the “face of things” a simple assessment of Mary’s role within RC traditions can lead to such misunderstandings. Misunderstandings that are found outside the Church among our Protestant bretheren and inside the Church among those who sometimes erroneously confer upon Mary authorities she does not possess.
    Again the catechism is clear in it’s distiction. (canon 969-970)
    “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows it’s power. The Blessed Virgin’s salutory influence on men flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it.” No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by His ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather give rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source…..
    “…Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.”
    Hope that helps.
    Blessings to you and your family,
    Paul Johnston.

  • Michael:
    It is her character, not her specific mission that makes her noteworthy. In a sense, her role as Jesus mother is secondary. I am saying that what is paramount is not the role itself but the character she exhibited within that role.
    Here I think you are both splitting hairs and protesting too much. The Incarnation is secondary? (!!) Naturally, no one is honored merely because of association with Jesus without showing the fruit, as in the case of Judas Iscariot. It’s ironic that you usually here veneration of Mary is a “downgrade” of Christ; here you seem to be downgrading Christ in order to try to upgrade the “status” of women. The assumption of a pernicious patriarchy in the church leads to distortion, and here I see an example.
    To be a bit crass, it is the distinction between superhero and hero. Superheroes have extra-human powers.
    I have said it and will repeat: St. Mary was human as we are, and she is an example of the theosis that we all must in God’s mercy undergo. As I said at the beginning, if she is not human, then we are lost. If she is superhuman, then it is only because we all can attain “superhumanity” by participation in the divine nature. You simply are wrong in your assumptions about the Orthodox treatment of her.
    My take is that there are no saints in the sense you are using the term “saints.” “Saints” (hagios) in the Bible means identifies people who are holy, set apart for God. In the NT, saints always refers to the laos tou theou, the people of God. Clearly there are heroes but there is no subclass of super Christians.
    Similarly, there is no laity, only clergy…

    Here we are simply retreading Reformation saws, which in some cases do not even apply to Orthodoxy and thus you’re preaching to the choir. The Orthodox do not have any formal canonization process- “saints” does refer to all the people of God, though certain ones are recognized and revered more than others, based on their faith. This is a natural distinction, not a formal one. Similarly, though you neglect the Scriptures that do establish the offices of the clergy, the Orthodox do not make the kind of formal distinctions between clergy and laity that can be found in the western church. Here I refer you to this essay by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

  • First, typo in my 1st paragraph: “hear” not “here.”
    Second, I apologize for my impatient tone in the previous post. One does weary of covering the same ground, but that’s no excuse.

  • Paul #119
    “I work in a fine dining restaurant and am quite busy on the weekends with my work.”
    Very cool! A diakinos (one who waits tables) or “minister” in the most literal sense of the word. 🙂
    Paul, thanks for the Canon statement. I think it is important to see the official teaching. I am aware of this teaching and I have RC friends who I have discussed this with on multiple occasions. I apparently am still not coming across clearly about my concern.
    I understand that the RC/Orthodox traditions hold Mary to have been a living breathing human being (although I think these traditions, in differing ways, distort aspects of her life. I find claims like “sinlessness” and “unadulterated by any doubt” very problematic.) With this I am in agreement. I am in agreement that she is a noteworthy disciple of Jesus, worthy of emulation. Here I stand with RC/O friends and in disagreement with my Protestant friends who seem to make her invisible. So we are in agreement: Mary was human and Mary is a model disciple.
    You closed your comment with
    “…Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress and Mediatrix.”
    Bingo! That is what I am driving at. Exalted Mary is elevated to something superhuman. (More than human, less than God.) I see nothing in scripture that suggests that we are to pray to others (saints, Mary or otherwise) to intercede, advocate or mediate (RC tradition) for us in any way. At the very minimum, I think Mary in these tradition is made an exalted person with special influence. At most she is treated as having supernatural power of her own accord. She is human plus. It is this plus that I think distorts and obscures her reality in the biblical narrative.

  • Gina #120
    I hope you read #122 to Paul as background for this comment. I hopped over to the Orthodox Research institute site and found their post about Mary’s veneration.
    “The Orthodox Church honors and venerates the Virgin Mary as “more honourable than the Cherubim and more glorious without compare than the Seraphim……….” Her name is mentioned in every service, and her intercession before the throne of God is asked. She is given the title of “Theotokos” (Greek for “Birth-giver-of-God), as well as “Mother of God”. She has a definite role in Orthodox Christianity, and can in no way be considered an instrument which, once used, was laid aside and forgotten.”
    So again I say, Mary Human? Yes (Although I will say she was flawed and not without sin.) Mary a noteworthy disciple? Yes. Mary exalted above the Cherubim and Seraphim in a way other’s who have died in the faith are not, or Mary as exalted intercessor? No. I am calling this human plus.
    The Incarnation is secondary? (!!)
    I did not say, imply or intimate that the Incarnation is a secondary event. In the passage you quoted I was writing about what makes Mary noteworthy and her role in the incarnation. It is her character more than the role she played. I am mystified how you get that I am saying the incarnation is secondary event.
    …though you neglect the Scriptures that do establish the offices of the clergy…
    But I can’t neglect what isn’t there. 🙂
    I am aware of the differences between the two traditions on saints and clergy. Yet there is still the idea of a priesthood set apart within Orthodoxy, yes? (In my Presbyterian community we talk a big talk about the priesthood of believers but the clergy/laity language is ubiquitous.) My human plus concern, which I have been laboring to articulate still holds.

  • I see nothing in scripture that suggests that we are to pray to others (saints, Mary or otherwise) to intercede, advocate or mediate (RC tradition) for us in any way.
    You don’t intercede on behalf of others?
    I think this division in the church is unwarranted and unnatural, unfeeling- but there’s just no point going further down this road. I’ve come to realize, through my own experience and in discussing the subject elsewhere, that the communion of saints is something learned in the heart and not the head. Though a healthy skepticism of the materialist/rationalist influence over the Reformation helps.
    Mary exalted above the Cherubim and Seraphim in a way other’s who have died in the faith are not, or Mary as exalted intercessor?
    Did it say that others have not also attained theosis, do not intercede?
    It is her character more than the role she played.
    The role she played can’t be underestimated. The veneration of the Theotokos is deeper than just the woman- it is soteriological, eschatological in nature. It does not overshadow her hummanness to celebrate the typology of her role or what it means for our salvation. [Perhaps this essay on the centrality of the Incarnation in Orthodox soteriology will give some insight.]
    In our culture, it’s considered unseemly to honor someone too much- my own father forbade us kids to say “ma’am” or “sir” to anyone. How dare we think someone else might be elevated above us? This has its good points, but also its bad. Our culture’s informality all too easily becomes superficiality, vulgarity… in worship, too. Yet there are times when it is appropriate to bow, to kiss someone’s hand, and to say “thank you” or “please help me.” There is also health in it.

  • Gina #124
    “You don’t intercede on behalf of others?”
    I do intercede for others and I ask for others to interecede for me but I do not pray to the departed. I don’t read anything in scripture that suggests that we have access to the departed. I don’t see evidence of people in scirpture praying in such a way.
    “Though a healthy skepticism of the materialist/rationalist influence over the Reformation helps.”
    I agree that this skepticism is warranted. But I also am concerned about the influcenes Greco-Roman values had on influencing the church in the early centuries.
    I resonate with your concern about debasement of culture. Honor and respect are greatly lacking. I question any direct link between a disinclination to venerate saints and the emergence of this is all.
    (BTW, thanks for the links as always.)

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey Michael,
    Thanks for “diakinos.” It stands as a significant improvement over “name tag guy.” 😉
    Michael if scripture doesn’t provide for you a means to justify a “priesthood set apart within orthodoxy,” how do you explain *Leviticus chapter 8, (The Rites of Ordination) and it’s subsequent chapter 9, (Aaron’s Priesthood Inaugurated) against your claim. Further I’m curious to know what you think of the statement in Leviticus 9:22 “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them…”
    *NRSV- Catholic Edition
    With regard to the Virgin Mary perhaps it might help with your understanding if you could believe as I do that our Holy Mother is the first fruit of the “New Creation”. Believe in a doctrine of “Assumption” whereby the “Blessed Virgin” has singularly participated in Her Son’s resurrection as we hopefully await that same resurrection for ourselves and others. And believe also that this “Assumption” is simply not a consequence of Mother Mary’s biological relationship with our Lord, but rather as a consequence of her, *…”complete adherence to the Father’s will, to His Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit. The Virgin Mary is the churches model of faith and charity. She is pre-eminent;…indeed, she is the “exemplary realization” of the church.”
    *CCCB (canon 967)

  • I don’t read anything in scripture that suggests that we have access to the departed. I don’t see evidence of people in scirpture praying in such a way.
    Ah yes, the search for “evidence”… The early fathers and mothers of the faith give evidence in their writings that they accepted this as a matter of course and that it was an ancient practice. But I agree that in the first century, as evidenced by St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s assurances to believers about what death means, that this was something the early believers had to learn. There the apostles were specifically countering the Greco-Roman influences you worry about, so I don’t see any call to charge that the church got it wrong up until our more enlightened modern era.
    This division in the Body of Christ imagined by the Reformation is really a division we put on ourselves, too, by seeing heaven as only “the great beyond.” See this very excellent blog entry on the significance of death, with more from Fr. Schmemann (who’s probably the most definitive Orthodox teacher of the 20th century).

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi again Michael,
    In rereading your concerns I realize I’m not addressing one of your foundational motivations. If I understand you correctly, the fact that there is no biblical precedent supporting the exalted spiritual status of Mary (and/or the saints)you cannot support an orthodoxy that does. It is a reasonable “sola scriptura” perspective and one worthy of response. Not neccessarily for the purpose of refution but more to illuminate a different perspective.
    Michael, for me scripture is not the sole means by which I discern God’s intentions. While I hestitate to use the word subordinate, the Bible, for me at least, takes direction from and owes it’s character to, the pre-existing Apostolic community under the direction of the Holy Spirit. I believe, through my understanding of the Gospels and “Acts of the Apostles” that it was crucial to our Lord that he first resecure and reinvigorate an Apostolic community before His glorious Ascension. Further His great gift of the “Holy Spirit” at Pentacost underscores for me that only a true Apostlic community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit could rightly first create and subsequently interpret, the “written word”.
    The Father in the old covenant saw fit to give, through Moses, specific commandments, etched in His very hand. His Son in the new covenant first gives us community and the Holy Spirit. Scripture comes later and is a by-product of that same Spirit and community. Scriptural discernment apart from Apostolic community under the direction of the Holy Spirit is not our Lord’s legacy as I see it.
    Respectfully I submit to you that “Sola Scriptura”, at least as I understand it, is more in keeping with the ways of the old covenant; not with the new.
    As this pertains to Mother Mary and the Saints, and the fact that I can believe in a tradition not specificly foreshadowed in scripture, I simply say it is the right interpretation of the Apostolic tradition as directed by the Holy Spirit.
    On a more personal note it is a belief that brings me great inspiration and joy. It is one of the best ways I know of dealing with the spirit of unbelief that lurks in the shadows of my faith. In a world so blanketed with material perspectives and rationalist philosophies that mock our spiritual beliefs, believing that our Lord mediates an ongoing dialogue with our spiritual forefathers and mothers, once imperfect and struggling humans just like us, allows me to experience little “tastes of heaven”, in the here and now.
    And for that grace I am forever greatful.

  • For those who don’t follow links :)… here is the bit that I think most applies, emphasis mine:
    “We teach about life without relation to death, and about death as unrelated to life. When it considers life only as a preparation for death, Christianity makes life meaningless, and reduces death to ‘the other world,’ which does not exist, because God has created only one world, one life.

  • Benedict

    Scriptural warrants for veneration of Mary include the explicit: the Magnificat (“All generations shall call me blessed” — it does not get much more explicit than that)
    and the interpreted: Lk 11:27-28, where Jesus replied to the woman who venerated his mother because she was HIS mother (that is, venerated him by venerating the woman who birthed and nursed him), with “yes, rather, bless her and bless all who hear and keep the word of God” (referring to Lk 1-2 where Mary is the prime example of “hearing and keeping the w/Word.”
    No need, Gina, to give away the store. No need to defend Orthodox veneration of Mary by distancing it from Latin Catholic veneration on Mary’s sinlessness or immaculate conception–we really are in this together on this issue. Veneration of Mary is not post-NT but explicitly and implicitly NT.

  • Paul I will get to the priesthood question in #126 shortly but I wanted to jump to #128 first. You indeed hit the nail on the head concerning the differences between my perspective and a RC or Ortho perspective. I understand the scripture to have emerged out of the community as you describe. Where we likely depart is that I see the community identifying, through corporate discernment, that which was divinely inspired and setting it apart from that which was merely helpful or possibly in error. Thus, the books of the Bible are of a category above and beyond later commentary and formulations of ideas. So in that sense, I do believe that Scripture trumps Church tradition.
    That said, I am also very critical of vast numbers of Protestants that have bought into a “me and Jesus” approach to scripture that says I can open the Word in isolation from others and just expect to fully comprehend the “plain reading” of the text by leadership of the Holy Spirit. Individual Bible study is fine but it is a book of the community and is meant to be understood in community through the Spirit. The community includes not just my immediate circle of believer but the faithful down through the ages. The creeds and writings of the faithful are a way of being in community of the Church of past ages. They have a vote and input into the decisions we make today. If more Protestants took seriously the writings of past eras we would not likely be embroiled in debates over errant notions like the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father.
    In the Presbyterian Church, USA, we say we have three books as part of our Constitution, ranked in order of authority: (1) The Bible, (2) the Book of Confessions (contains 11 creeds/confessions including Apostle’s and Nicene), and (3) the Book of Order. I place church tradition at lower level of authority, fully capable of serious error. But it is never the less an authority. This makes all the difference in the world to how we come at some of these issues. That is why I frequently say in these discussions “I know what my RC/O friends will say but what about Protestants who teach XYZ?”
    Some Protestants hold non-Protestant views of ordination and ministry and on that basis exclude women from leadership. The funny thing is that the moment I begin to press them on these issues, someone who is RC or Orthodox reading the posts jumps in and defends the non-Protestant view. 🙂

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Michael,
    I can appreciate the irony of your last sentence in #131, and it made me smile.
    All I can tell you is that when conversations start to revolve around our Blessed Mother you can pretty much count on a RC to “push his way to the podium.”….
    Michael, am I right to say that we agree that the Apostolic community and Holy Spirit begat Scripture. (historicly pre-dating NT and revealing the fullness of truth intended in the pre-existent OT)
    If that is so, would it not hold that the same combination of community and Spirit could then likewise permeate subsequent interpretations/applications of scripture so that all expressions of canon/law/tradition are wholly reconcilable and a complete fullfillment of God’s will for us?
    Would not these volumes, these tomes be simply a transcendant expression of a right understanding of God and of do’s and dont’s irrespective of time, place or culture? And if they could be, are they then not just as important as the Scripture from which they came?
    For me this is truth, Michael. Consequently Scripture and catechism are two different sides of the same coin. One reflecting the reality and truth of the other.

  • Gina #129
    I fully agree with you bolded statement. I don’t see the connection to the discussion. At the resurrection we will all be raised from the dead to live eternally with God in this one world.

  • Paul #126
    The Priests, the Levites, and the temple practices were ordained by God under the old covenant. The role of the priests and Levites was relegated almost entirely to the temple rites. When God chose to instruct and the lead the people his typical mouthpiece was not the priest but prophets and prophetesses.
    When the temple veil was torn into (Mat. 27:51; Mark 15:38) it symbolized the end of the temple sacrificial practices and the God’s separation from the people in the Holy of Holies. The sacrifices foreshadowed the sacrifice that would come in the Lamb of God. No more sacrifices are needed. Jesus is the new royal High Priest foreshadowed by the King-Priest Melchizedek (Heb. 5, 7) Jesus is also THE prophet. The offices of priest, prophet, and king are taken up in him. Individually and corporately we execute functions of these offices as his body in the world.
    1 Peter 2:4-5, 9
    4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. NRSV
    Clearly v.9 is harkening back to Exodus 19:6 where the people of Israel are called a “kingdom of priests” in that they were to mediate God to the world and the world to God. But without Jesus’ sacrifice being paid there was need for the cultic temple rituals to mediate on behalf of these priests to the world. With Christ, the temple practices are obsolete. The physical temple becomes a living temple with living stones in whom God dwells by the power of the Spirit given at Pentecost. There is no need for sacrifices and no need for mediators: (1 Tim 2:5) We all are priests before God. We offer sacrifices of service daily (Rom. 12:1-2) through acts of work and worship. We intercede for the world.
    For New Testament Christians who were trying to organize their community life, what would be the most logical model to turn to as basis for the new community? Would it not be the structures of Judaism? Look at the list of words used to describe leaders:
    Proistemi – “The one who goes before.” (Rom. 12:28) He notes it is a verb not a noun.
    Kybernesis – “Administrators.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
    Episkopoi – “Overseers” (Philippians 1:1, Acts 20:28, 1 Timothy 3:1) Stevens remarks that this is “a term for minor responsibility” without elaborating.
    Diakonos – “Servant” (1 Timothy 3:8) Position of lower status.
    Presbyteroi – “Elders, or older wiser people” (Titus 1:5)
    Poimenes – “Pastors or shepherds.” (Ephesians 4:11)
    What obvious word is missing form this list:
    ‘priest’ (hiereus)
    Until the end of the second century it is reserved for Christ and the people of God. It is my position that communion began to take on increasingly mystical qualities in the second to third centuries and these mystical qualities begged for specially initiated elites to preside over these mystical rituals (just as in the pagan temples of the time). The imagery of the OT priest was hard to resist. This reversion to the priesthood, combined with the need for creating institutional order and the convergence of the church with the Empire cemented what I see as a throwback view. It divided the body into clergy and laity and distorted the NT vision of the living temple and the Royal Priesthood. That is my take.

  • Paul Johnston

    As an aside, I would like to confirm what must be a source of frustration for Gina that was so succinctly articulated by Benedict in #130.
    While it is true that almost all of RC and EC beliefs are reconcilable perhaps our biggest disagreement revolves around our individual understandings of our Blessed Mother. RC’s hold to an understanding that affirms “full of grace” to mean that unlike any other human before or since, Mother Mary, was absolved of the stain of origional sin. Likewise we believe that Jesus was immaculately conceived and that Mary was and always remained, a virgin.
    In that context the EC perspective so poigniantly expressed by Gina, is very different from the RC perspective and in fact is much easier reconciled with Scot’s origional “Marian” perspective and Michael’s subsequent concerns.

  • #132
    “Michael, am I right to say that we agree that the Apostolic community and Holy Spirit begat Scripture. (historicly pre-dating NT and revealing the fullness of truth intended in the pre-existent OT”
    “If that is so, would it not hold…[and following]”
    I don’t see that one of logical necessity requires us to conclude the other. I think the historical evidence points to the contrary. It is one thing to discern what had God has inspired as his testimony. It is another to believe that a community can discern with infallibility matters of ethics, doctrine or ecclesiology that are beyond the testimony God has revealed of himself.

  • Benedict

    Actually as many, indeed, I would have to say more, Orthodox hold to Mary’s sinlessness as do not hold to it. Some might say they do not hold to Mary’s sinlessness when they really mean they reject Immaculate Conception–but that’s really a rejection of original sin and misunderstanding the consequences for Mary’s sinlessness.
    The Fathers were divided over whether Mary was sinless–Chrysostom and Basil say no, but there is a very strong Eastern tradition in favor of it, going back to Irenaeus and the New Eve theology.
    To introduce the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception is a red herring because the underlying difference is original “sin”–the Orthodox who do believe Mary was sinless do not believe in IC simply because IC is simply the basic belief in her sinlessness extended to belief in original “sin.”
    The West did use the word “sin” for the original condition and meant it unqualifiedly up to the high Middle Ages but since then “sin” is used for original condition only in a qualified way.
    There’s no need to drive a bigger wedge than exists between Orthodox and Catholic. Orthodox and Catholics really don’t differ much on what the original state is like, they are arguing over whether one ought to use the word “sin” or “mortality-that-invariably-leads-to-sin” for it.
    For those who do think Mary was not sinless, the sin she is thought to have committed (based on Chrysostom and Basil) is at best a moment of doubt about her Son or not understanding and hence being an obstacle to his ministry.
    But no one in the East builds that out to Mary being “sinful” in any drastic sense. The Eastern liturgies proclaim her again and again as All-Holy, pure–essentially the same language as the sinless-Mary tradition, full of grace tradition of the West. That’s hugely different from some Protestants who insist that Mary was a sinner just like the rest of us (with no biblical warrant). Orthodox and Catholics are a hundred times closer on this either is to the conventional Protestant view.
    So please don’t throw your fellow Catholic under the bus so readily.

  • Benedict #137
    “That’s hugely different from some Protestants who insist that Mary was a sinner just like the rest of us (with no biblical warrant).”
    So we assume people in the Bible are without sin unless given notice to the contray? 🙂

  • Paul #135
    “RC’s hold to an understanding that affirms “full of grace” to mean that unlike any other human before or since, Mother Mary, was absolved of the stain of origional sin.”
    and #137
    The Eastern liturgies proclaim her again and again as All-Holy, pure–essentially the same language as the sinless-Mary tradition, full of grace tradition of the West.
    This takes me back to my first few paragraphs of #106. Even noted Catholic scholars like Jesuit Raymond Brown note that the “full of grace” interpretation of Luke 1:28 is errant. I think you have to form this perspective from outside scripture and bring it to passages to get this interpretation.

  • Paul Johnston

    Wow! #134 is an awesome answer to a challenging question. Well done ,sir.
    The new covenant, supercedes the old, on that there is no disagreement between us, nor do I believe between our different faith communities. I guess the “rub” so to speak, is in the the way we understand the new priesthood “after the order of Melchizedek.”
    While Catholic teaching sees only Jesus as “High Priest” and only one, “royal priesthood” of believers, it devides the one royal priesthood into two groups of priestly people. The common priesthood called to *…live a life of faith, hope and charity, a life according to the spirit*… and the ministerial priesthood *…acting in the service of the common priesthood as a means by which Christ builds up and leads His Church…*
    Thus for reasons of **…teaching devine worship and exorcising pastoral governance…** (shepherding) and not as a means of atonement, the RC tradition mimics a “levitican hierarchy.”
    I guess, in the end, all our traditions defer to some form of mediation. Even St.Paul in his letter to St. Timothy speaks of Bishops and Deacons, thus making distinctions between the body and it’s ministers.
    Thank you, Michael for a very engaging and informative exchange. Thanks also to Scot for a great cite that facilitates lots of interest and dialogue and is very, very tolerant of meandering conversation. (in relation to origional posts)
    Peace to All.
    *CCCB (exerpts from canon 1547)
    **CCCB (excerpts from canon 1592)

  • Benedict

    No Michael, as with so many things, Scripture is ambiguous on this point. Those who think she sinned interpret certain passages to support their position, the sinless advocates interpret other passages. Nowhere is she shown definitively and deliberately sinning. Period.
    The appeal to authority is the weakest of arguments and of authorities, Raymond Brown, when wearing his Scripture scholar’s hat, is not speaking as a Catholic, so please don’t cite him at us. In fact, his methodology is rapidly disappearing into the dustbin as the cutting edge of Scripture scholarship, both Protestant and Catholic, is to recover exactly the methods that led to the New Eve sinlessness interpretation–patristic methods. Witness not one but two neo-Patristic commentary series from Eerdmans, one by Tom Oden whoc can’t be accused of Catholic bias, the other edited by Bob Wilken. So, in terms of argument from authority, I’ll see your Ray Brown and raise you an Oden-Wilken. For a review of exegesis supporting “full of grace” take a look at John Paul, _Mother of the Redeemer_. And then there’s a guy named Ratzinger who incorporated Brown’s critical method but as part of a large whole–which is far more satisfying than Brown’s tunnel vision.

  • Dennis Martin

    Michael (# 139). You wrote “Even noted Catholic scholars like Jesuit Raymond Brown note that the “full of grace” interpretation of Luke 1:28 is errant. I think you have to form this perspective from outside scripture and bring it to passages to get this interpretation.”
    Now, here is footnote 21 from John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, listing the Church Fathers whom Ray Brown has waved aside so facilely regarding how to translate kecharitoméne
    21. In Patristic tradition there is a wide and varied interpretation of this expression: cf. Origen, In Lucam homiliae, VI, 7: S. Ch. 87, 148; Severianus of Gabala, In mundi creationem, Oratio VI, 10: PG 56, 497f.; Saint John Chrysostom (Pseudo), In Annunhationem Deiparae et contra Arium impium, PG 62, 765f.; Basil of Seleucia, Oratio 39, In Sanctissimae Deiparae Annuntiationem, 5: PG 85, 441-46; Antipater of Bosra, Hom. II, In Sanctissimae DeiparaeAnnuntiationem, 3-11: PG 85, 1777-1783; Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem, Oratio 11, In Sanctissimae Deiparae Annuntiationem, 17-19: PG 87/3, 3235-3240; Saint John Damascene Hom. in Dormitionem, 1, 70: S. Ch. 80, 96-101; Saint Jerome, Epistola 65, 9: PL 22, 628, Saint Ambrose, Expos. Evang. sec. Lucam, II, 9: CSEL 32/4, 45f.; Saint Augustine, Sermo 291, 4-6: PL 38, 131 8f.; Enchiridion, 36, 11: PL 40, 250; Saint Peter Chrysologus, Sermo 142: PL 52, 579f.; Sermo 143: PL 52, 583; Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, Epistola 17, VI 12: PL 65 458; Saint Bernard, In laudibus Virginis Matris, Homilia III, 2-3: S. Bernardi Opera, IV, 1966, 36-38.
    And here is the paragraph in ch. 1 of the Encyclical, at the end of which paragraph footnote 21 appears. As you will see, the “full of grace reading for
    Mary is definitively introduced into the mystery of Christ through this event: the Annunciation by the angel. This takes place at Nazareth, within the concrete circumstances of the history of Israel, the people which first received God’s promises. The divine messenger says to the Virgin: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28). Mary “was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk. 1:29): what could those extraordinary words mean, and in particular the expression “full of grace” (kecharitoméne).
    Have you ever read Redemptoris Mater, Michael? It’s biblical from start to finish. Of course, it comes to different conclusions in its biblical interpretation than you do. But both Orthodox and Catholic exaltation of Mary is based deeply in Scripture. Every single “high” doctrine (perpetual virginity etc.) involves ways of reading Scripture (e.g., one actually can make better sense out of Mary’s reaction to the angel’s announcement if one assumes she had intended a virginal marriage with Joseph than if one assumes she had not).
    Far from elevating Mary ethereally, when the great liturgies of every single ancient church–Byzantine Greek, Syriac (if you think the Greek tradition exalts Mary, what in the world will you do with Ephrem the Syrian–his liturgical tradition, in the very language Jesus spoke, goes right back to Antioch and Peter where the followers of the Way were first called Christians), Coptic, Armenian, Latin, Georgian–unanimously exalt Mary in what you wave off as ethereal exaggeration. Can all of these ancient liturgies all be wrong when they call her All-Holy and Queen of Heaven and all the other titles?
    Elevating her above the angels is really not as high as you seem to think. Angels serve God and humans. Of all God’s creatures, we men and women are already the highest, the center, the microsm. By saying Mary is Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels etc. we are simply saying she is the highest of all human persons (Jesus was not a human person but a Divine Person in human and divine natures.) And that simply derives from her unique, unequalled mission of being the Mother of God, all the way to the Cross and beyond, to the Upper Room and beyond.

  • Welcome back, Dennis. I wondered if you might be reading this post.
    While we do differ on some particulars here, the only point I wish to raise here is this one: I don’t think it is wise to translate “full” of grace — the perfect ptcp doesn’t mean “full” so much as action conceived as finished. So, I like to translate “engraced.” Mary, “the one engraced by God.” Adding the quantitative measure to this adds to the substance of the verb/ptcp. Even “favored by God” or “blessed by God” or “chosen by God” are legitimate dimensions of kecharitomene, but quantity is not inherent to the word itself. It must be added.

  • Paul #140
    Thanks for your affirmation. The curious thing in this that as I have read some material by Catholic writers in recent years is that I think in many Catholic circles, what you would call the laity are living (or at least being called to live) something that more closely resembles what I see as the priesthood of all believers. I have seen writers decrying how the church has preoccupied the laity with matters relating to church governance instead of sending them out into the world in mission. Meanwhile, we Presbyterians (and other Protestants), with a heritage of the priesthood of believers, have adopted our own bifurcation with “professional Christians” “doing ministry” and little connection is being made between our work-a-day existance and the mission of God. Minstry is reduced to what happens in the four walls of church instead of being seen as the daily acts of the faithful dispersed throughout community during the week. So who has it right?
    One of my favorite stories from Genesis is the story of the incredibly dysfunctional family of Isaac and Rebekah. First we have Esau, that pillar of a man with priorities in place. He sells his birthright for a meal. He marries two Hittite women despite God’s revelation that the promised line of descent will come through parentage of Abraham’s tribe. Second, we have parents who have chosen up sides between their two sons. Isaac, knowing full well what Esau has done and who Esau has married, is still intent on giving him his blessing. Rebekah, instead of confronting Isaac, concocts a plan to deceive her husband and help her favored son get the goodies. Then there is Jacob “the supplanter” who executes the deception upon his father and steals his Esau’s blessing. Out of this stellar family God decides to form a nation that will be his chosen instrument for redeeming the world. Go figure.
    My point is that I think it is important to discern God’s mission in the world and to discern how God would have us organized for mission. I like discussions like the one on this thread. However, God uses some really messed up human stuff for his own purposes and, as Revelation 2 points out about Ephesus, he sometimes cannot use communities that have all the doctrine and ecclesiology in perfect working order. So just know that as for me, my disagreement with someone’s take on doctrine or ecclesiology is not a statement on the status of their mortal soul or their ultimate contribution to the work of God in the world. I take it as a warning not to get to cocky even should I understand everything just right and not to become to dismissive about those I suspect have it all wrong. God even uses jackasses (ask Balaam)…and I just may be the jackass.

  • Dennis Martin

    Scot, I thought Benedict needed some reinforcing! Plena, full and “finished engraced” are the same, effectively. “Full” does not mean quantity–grace is not quantitative and nothing in the tradition that translates it as “full of grace” has ever seen it as quantitative. Reading “full” as quantitative results from present-day English assumptions. A Latin speaker or Greek speaker of the same era did not necessarily hear quantity with the terms plena–it would depend on whether the object the plena/us/um adjetive modified was a quantifiable thing or not. Grace is not.
    When we say something is “perfect” it has a very strong, absolute meaning in contemporary English. But in Latin it simply means, “finished”–per-factus, perficio. If I know that readers of my translation will hear “perfection” in one way but I want to be sure they know that the text from the 600s that uses it means merely “finished,” I won’t translate it as “perfect”. If “full” has come to be exclusively quantitative, then it should not be used to translate Lk 1:28. But when “full” was first used to translate Lk 1:28–the KJV does so, does it not–“full” did not have exclusively quantitative meaning. I’m not convinced it does today, but that’s a different debate.
    So, go ahead, translate it as “engraced perfectedly” or “engraced fully”–our Catholic theology of Mary will not be affected in the slightest.
    Mary’s sinlessness does not stand on any one proof-text but on a way of networking and interpreting Gen 3:15 with Lk 1:28 and Ephesians 1 (John Paul does that in Redemptoris Mater) and so forth. That’s what the Fathers did, that’s how they interpreted Scripture. Is it the only network and interpretation one can construct? By no means. Origen, Chrysostom and Basil networked various passages in such a way as to assert Mary sinned in a very minor way, as Benedict pointed out. But far more Fathers took the New Eve principle in the other direction.
    The point here is that neither position, for or against sinlessness, is operating from explicit Scripture smoking gun prooftexts or totally externally as Michael asserted. Everyone is biblically based, deeply so, but coming to different interpretive conclusions. Benedict should have been more cautious in saying “no biblical warrant”–no simple/clear biblical warrant for Mary the Sinner exists, rather, the Sinful Mary folks take “All have sinned . . .”, read into it an absolute intention, combine it with a negative reading of the “irritant passages,” or some other combination to come to their conclusion. The Sinless Mary folks employ a different network and different reasonings.
    Regarding the irritant passages, Hans Urs von Balthasar in an essay found in the book, _Mary: The Church at the Source_, composed of essays by Ratzinger and von Balthasar, has a very interesting take on this that turns Chrysostom/Basil/Origen on their heads: he argues that Jesus was the first to employ the sword that pierced Mary’s heart, to test her faith and build up his mother’s faith, rcognizing the final test both he and she would face (which is exactly what Gibson did in The Passion of the Christ–portraying Mary’s faith that kept her going when otherwise she would have been totally crushed). He then concludes that she did not sinfully doubt but grew in faith in those ambiguous irritant passages. Remember, doubt comes in various forms, some doubt is salutary if by grace we believe despite doubts, hope against hope; only if we give up on belief, if we Doubt-Doubt, is it a sin. To say that Mary sinned by doubting in those irritant passages is every bit as tenuous a reading into Scripture as to claim that she maintained faith sinlessly through her doubts all the way to the Cross. Quite frankly, the “Mary sinned” in the irritant passages interpetation that Chrysostom/Basil offered strikes me as implausible–it takes more faith for me to believe that than to believe she was sinless, but either way, it’s an interpretive conclusion.

  • Scott M

    As Scot has pointed out, the predominant idea through the entire span of Christian history, in EO, RC, and Protestant circles (and pre-dating them all) is that Mary was sinless. While it’s not something that is or has been unanimous, it is certainly dominant. On the Protestant side, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley all believed Mary was sinless.
    Since everyone on all sides who have ever held she was sinless all agree that it was through grace and not of her own merit, I find I can’t see any reason to believe it is a matter of any fundamental importance. But the burden would seem to be on those who assert she wasn’t. And I’m not sure I really see anything in scripture to strongly support such an assertion. Certainly not strongly. And no matter what, scripture is clear we are to hold Mary in high esteem and honor her. That seems to be what matters.

  • #141 Benedict
    Benedict, I am reflecting on passages like Romans 3:23 where it is written “…23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (NRSV) “All” is a very inclusive word. 🙂 My default position is that everyone (including Mary) is included in that pronouncement unless stated otherwise. It seems that such a central core doctrinal issue would have some direct (or nearly so) evidence in scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Word but evidence of it is everywhere. I just don’t see this same evidence for a sinless Mary or a Mary who is elevated above all other humans.
    As to Luke 1:28, my intention for mentioning Brown was less about appealing to an authority and more about showing that what I am saying is not just the ramblings of a whacky Protestant. I am aware of Oden. I have not read some of his most recent work. I probably have similar feelings about his paleo-orthodoxy that you do about Brown but I will explore more of what he has to say on this issue. I am taking my cue from Dr. Kenneth Bailey and other scholars I have found trustworthy.

  • Dennis Martin

    Michael, the priesthood of all believers is a cornerstone of Catholic doctrine. It makes up a whole chapter of Lumen Gentium but it was not invented then. I have published several articles showing how it was taken for granted by the medieval Carthusian monk and bishop, Hugh of Lincoln (d. 1200).
    Indeed, Catholic theology makes the baptismal priesthood (that’s priesthood of all believers in your terms) primary and the ministerial (ordained) priesthood secondary. Mary is the center of the Church out of her baptismal priesthood (she is baptized by the grace showered on her at and preceding the Annunciation; she is the first believer) and John Paul II, von Balthasar and many, many others have insisted that unless ordained bishops (priests derive from bishops) find their first and most basic identity in the example of Mary as the first believer, first Christian, mother of all us believers, they will utterly fail in their secondary role as priests or bishops.
    Moreover, the Church can survive when ordained ministers (bishops, priests) mess up sinfully. (Augustine to the Donatists: the office-ministry is really Christ’s ministry and even when the ordained minister messes up, Christ’s sacraments cannot be invalidated.) But the Church cannot survive if baptismal ministers (parents, people at all kinds of jobs in society) mess up sinfully. The baptismal priesthood simply put, in Catholic theology, is superior to the ordained priesthood.
    There’s a good article about this by Robert Conner in _Communio_ (the Ratzinger/von Balthasar-founded journal): Robert A. Connor, “Why Laity Are Not Ministers: A Metaphysical Probe,” Communio 29 (Summer 2002), 258-285. I have a summary of it that I can email if you wish. I can also supply electronic copy of the article I published on the priesthood of all believers in medieval Catholic spirituality.
    Basically Conner’s point is that the ministry of the lay person (including Mary) is to do in a Christian way whatever their job or mission is: raising a family, cutting meat, programming computers, fighting to defend the innocent, crafting legislation etc. Well, if they do their ministry well, then they will shape and form every single priest and bishop at the crucial, early stage, in a deep, authentic Christian faith. And that is the key to a healthy ordained ministry. Thus the lay person, above all parents but also teachers and just plain friends and colleagues, are prior in importance to the clergy.
    But the clergy are indispensible, only because Christ gave them the authority to govern–contrary to your assertion earlier in the thread that there’s no NT warrant for clergy, it is among the clearest of warrants: Mt 16, John 21 where Jesus gives the power of governance and sanctification (“receive the Holy Spirit” and “whose sins you bind/loose” etc.). Now, you do not read these passages in the same way, I understand. But surely you can at least recognize that these passages could plausibly be interpreted as Orthodox and Catholics do?
    The fallacy for most modern folks (including many clericalized Catholics) is to think that the governing office is more important than the lay office. This is simply not true. Governors (senators, presidents,kings, bishops, pastors, vestries, church councils) will govern well only insofar as they are humble, honest, selfless people. Where do they learn that? From parents, teachers etc. Gregory the Great, who wrote the book on governing and leadership that lasted for 1000 years but which most modern pastors don’t even know existed, pointed out that if you have not been shaped and formed well before being given power and authority to govern, you will inevitably abuse the power. The only hope of avoiding injustice in leadership rests in the already-formed solid, prudent, courageous, selfless character of the governor.
    I’m glad you had a shadowy awareness that we Catholics, amazingly, also believe in the priesthood of all believers. But that illustrates the problem–you assumed things about what we teach about clergy and laity, that we think clergy are the most important. Your misunderstanding is excusable because, sadly, a lot of Catholics think the same thing. It’s called clericalism and a lot of pastors encourage it (which is an abuse of their office). Yet for all that clericalism, still, long before Vatican II and Lumen Gentium, devout and well-formed Catholics had it drilled into them that their ministry was to do their job well, Christianly, above all, to raise their children well. I know because I number among my friends Catholics formed before Vatican II who live out of that principle. Today it is being taught, often behind the scenes, in very effective ways, by the various ecclesial movements.
    There’s an awful lot more nuance, richness, complexity on issues of office, hierarchy, complementarity of men and women than outsiders realize. (JPII’s Theology of the Body is an awesome work of neo-patristic exegesis that addresses the modern situation in ways that is already transforming the younger generation of Catholics, including young priests and eventually bishops–it offers a profound answer to the problems of marriage, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, divorce etc. that plague our culture–but it can’t be read in an afternoon; it has to be read ruminatively and above all, it must be read in the new edition by Michael Waldstein, with a modified title: _Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body_. The earlier edition had subdivisions and headings that confuse the reader–no wonder people had so much trouble with it; Waldstein discovered the original outline in Polish, which Wojtyla had completed just before he was elected pope, and has used it to clarify the book in the new incarnation.)
    As with any foreign or different culture, religious tradition or ideology, if one really has not yet probed deeply into it and if one doesn’t have time to do so, which is understandable, then one ought to be circumspect, chastened, cautious in making assumptions based on impressions filtered through other outsiders’ claims about the foreign or strange culture or group.

  • Scott #146
    “But the burden would seem to be on those who assert she wasn’t. And I’m not sure I really see anything in scripture to strongly support such an assertion.”
    Scott, I don’t by any means hold myself out as an expert on all this. My understanding is that “sinless Mary,” as a widely shared idea goes back to probably at least the fourt century and probably earlier. It is not clear to me that is was so widely shared as you suggest in the first two or three centuries. But most importantly for me, I see nothing of this in the Word itself.
    Everthing in my Presbyterian body recoils against your above statement. 🙂 We start with the Word and work outward, not with a consensus about a doctrine we think we find in the Word and then challenge the Word to refute it. So I am directly opposite your take. Show me from the Word where the doctrine comes from and then we will evaluate the teachings that followed.

  • Dennis Martin

    If I may jump in (perhaps Benedict will also respond),to Michael’s # 147, as a principle of exegesis, your assumption won’t hold. Take any of numberless passages where it says, “and all the people of Israel” did X or Y–just the opposite obtains–we assume that, unless the passage says, “and all, every single one, no exceptions at all” there might have been an exception. In the case of Romans 3:23, there simply is no possible way to be sure because, the pro-sinlessness side’s claim that Mary is excepted here rests on the axiom that she had a mission absolutely unique and different from _all_ other men and women. No matter how “absolutely” you take the “all” of Romans 3:23, _all_ bets are off in the case of the Mother of God.
    That doesn’t mean that the simple fact that she was the Mother of God absolutely means she is an exception to the “all” in Rom. 3:23. The proponents of sinlessness do not argue absolute necessity of sinlessness but plausible, fitting necessity, underscored by their network of supporting passages. If one takes that entire network and the reasonable fittingness that Mary’s exceptional mission required exceptional preparation, then reading “all” in Romans 3:23 is perfectly plausible. Not proven, but not disproven. Only if St. Paul had said, “all have sinned, including even the Mother of God” would the case be closed, Scripturally. Since he did not, you are free to assume that he meant to include Mary under the sinners, but it is, Michael, it truly is, an assumption, which you acknowledged: “My default position is that everyone (including Mary) is included in that pronouncement unless stated otherwise.” To you that makes perfect sense, but the converse is just as legitimate, every bit as legitimate.
    The rest of your argument is ab silentio: Mary’s sinlessness is a major doctrine; it should have been mentioned here by excepting her. You recognize that the same objection could be raised for the Trinity. How to you meet that objection? You see evidence for the Trinity everywhere in Scripture, even if it is absent explicitly.
    But Michael, we say exactly the same thing. We see evidence for Mary’s sinlessness everywhere. You don’t. I don’t really much care whether you are persuaded to my position. The only thing I really hope you might grasp is that both sides are doing interpretation, the issue cannot, simply cannot be resolved from Scripture alone and each side employs networks of Scripture for it’s case.
    But on one point I think you are scripturally incorrect. “Blessed art thou among women,” Elizabeth said under Holy Spirit inspiration. “All generations shall call me blessed,” Mary said, under Holy Spirit inspiration. I could offer a few more; Benedict already did. There is direct, expressis verbis Scriptural support for exalting Mary above all other humans. Wait, I hear you say, Elizabeth and the Magnificat only say Mary is blessed, not that she is blessed above all others.
    But let’s do contextual exegesis: why did Elizabeth say “blessed art thou among women”? Why did Mary say,”All generations shall call me blessed” (all generations gets darned close to meaning “all men and women throughout history)? Because she had been told and Elizabeth’s own baby in her womb told her that Mary was one-of-a-kind. When you combined the exact words of Lk 1 that I quoted with the simple, objective fact that Mary was the mother of the Redeemer, together they simply do exalt her, whether we like it or not, lift her up above the rest of us.
    Could we agree about that much? We can disagree about other aspects, but couldn’t we just agree with Ephesus in 431, with Irenaeus and a host of other Fathers, that simply being the mother of God puts Mary in a position different from everyone else. Can it possibly be a lower position? Can it possibly be an equal position? What’s left?

  • Dennis Martin

    Correction to # 150, 2nd paragraph:
    “then reading “all” in Romans 3:23 is perfectly plausible.” should be “then reading ‘all’ in Romans 3:23 as having an exception is perfectly plausible.”

  • Dennis #145 and 148
    Thanks for your always insightful and well documented comments. I am aware of the teaching that the baptismal preisthood is to considered to be the higher role. (But it does strike me as ironic that they are the “lay Chrisitans” as in the “less professional,” “less educated,” “less accomplished.”) I am also aware that the concept of priesthood of believers predated the sixteenth century, although it is interesting learn some more history. I have read a lot on this issue in recent years. I even have Yves Congar’s “Lay People in the Church” staring at me from the shelf. It is coming up on my list. I will look for the Conner article at a local seminary.
    “Now, you do not read these passages in the same way, I understand. But surely you can at least recognize that these passages could plausibly be interpreted as Orthodox and Catholics do?”
    I could but I don’t want to. 🙂

  • Dennis Martin

    Scot, # 143: You wrote
    I like to translate “engraced.” Mary, “the one engraced by God.” . . . Even “favored by God” or “blessed by God” or “chosen by God” are legitimate dimensions of kecharitomene, but quantity is not inherent to the word itself. It must be added.
    Of course. See, we have no problem with “adding.” Words have denotative and connotative meanings. All Scripture exegesis involves adding, interpreting, teasing out this particular connotation of word X in one instance and another connotation of word X in a different setting.
    Let’s stick with “engraced” and “favored by God” or “chosen by God.”
    Chosen for what? Blessed for what? Favored for what? To be president of her church sewing circle? When the angel first says kecharitomene (what’s the Aramaic equivalent?) to Mary, she doesn’t yet know for what she is being engraced or chosen. But after she learns her mission and especially for Christian believers after the Resurrection when they began (only just began) to get a glimmer of the awesomeness of what had happened, “chosen for being Mother of the Redeemer of the Cosmos” means she was “full-chosen,” “chosen-big-time,” “awesomely engraced.”
    You’re absolutely right Scot, the “full” or total or big-time part has to be “added.” But is it possible not to add it? Is it really thinkable that God would not give a special “measure” (not quantity but quality) of grace to the woman chosen for this stupendous mission? The idea of degrees of engracedness is perfectly Scriptural–look at the OT prophets. Jesus surpasses all the prophets, not in quantity but immeasurably. To “add” the claim that Mary was engraced awesomely, fully, pleromically for the task of bearing the One in whom the Fullness of the Godhead _dwelt bodily_ (and she’s the Embodier of His body)–is it really going too far?
    Theologically, as von Balthasar makes clear in the essay I referred to earlier, in Jesus’ human nature he needed, really, truly, absolutely needed a mother not only to take care of him physically as a baby but to teach him in his earliest years the Jewish faith, to shape and form him (humanly speaking) in that religious culture. In theory, yes, a sinful-repentant woman could do that. No one is arguing that she absolutely had to be sinless in preparation for this role. We are simply saying that it makes more sense for her to have been prepared sinlessly than sinfully.
    And here perhaps we come to the theological core issue: we Catholics (and the Orthodox) are not forensicists. We can’t really accept the dung hill covered with snow purely imputed righteousness. This is a caricature, to be sure: Lutherans and Calvinists insist they don’t really believe it that way, fine–take whatever graduated sort of forensicism you wish. Someone who believes at least to some degree that righteousness always remains exterior to us, can more readily, perhaps, believe that Mary could have been sinful yet have taught and shaped and formed, in his human nature, the Redeemer. But the danger for the forensicist is that he doesn’t really grant much of a forming, shaping role to Mary–he’d be inclined by his forencism to assume God shaped the human nature of Jesus.
    But that’s exactly why the early Church developed more and more the New Eve principle (you can see it if you study the key passages in Irenaeus). Because the full, really full belief in the true Incarnation of Jesus includes a real human mother who really shapes and forms her child’s human nature. In that case, a non-forensicist would lay greater weight on Mary’s intrinsic righteousness (absolutely by God’s grace but intrinsic, not merely imputed) as fittingly necessary for her mission, her task not merely of birthing but also of nurturing, humanly speaking, her Son.
    Ironically, to address Michael Kruse’s concern, our belief in Mary’s sinlessness actually accentuates her down-to-earth very human mothering role. We do indeed exalt her above all other humans, but only because of her mission and the fact of what she did. And the very same reason we exalt her above all other humans as the unique Mother of God is why we can confidently emphasize that she, in her very human motherhood, mothered, shaped, formed, in his human nature, the Eternal Logos.
    Conversely, by assuming Mary was a sinner extrinsically saved by grace, one is pushed (perhaps not forced, but inclined) to attribute the shaping and forming of Jesus in his human nature less to Mary his human mother and more docetically, to the grace of God.
    But can we go there? Can we say that the grace of God shapes and forms Jesus in his human nature? He has no need of grace because he is sinless in his human nature by virtue of the hypostatic union with his divine nature in one person.
    How would a sinful, even a repentantly sinful, Mary go about grace-fully shaping and forming humanly her son’s human nature? I won’t say it’s impossible, but I am saying that there are some tough theological problems there that Protestants who blithely say, “well, she was a sinner like the rest of us” may not have thought through.
    You see, the Church Fathers thought through this stuff. They meditated, ruminated the Scriptures but more than that, the mysteries the Scriptures teach. The mystery of a human mother bearing and raising the Eternal Logos in his human nature–they ruminated that. And as they did, they concluded to her sinlessness, employing a network of Scriptures combined with theological rumination about what it would be like, what would be fitting, what would be necessary to be the unique Mother of the Redeemer.
    That’s what John Paul does in Redemptoris Mater, what von Balthasar and hundreds of other modern ruminative Catholic theologians do.
    That every bone in a Baptist’s body initially reacts with a shudder against a sinless Mary may be true. But what kind of an argument is that? (You didn’t make it, but it illustrates my point.) It’s a prejudgment–“the idea bothers me” so that miliates against it. But certainly all sorts of good and true ideas may initially seem odd or distasteful, depending on one’s background. We don’t let people get away with merely following their initial reactions on other cultural issues; we expect them to slow down, open up empathetic space for the new, strange, odd.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Benedict,
    Respectfully sir, I do not understand your reply to me in comment #137. Your primary objections seem to be included in paragraphs 1 & 3 but for the life of me I can’t figure out what they mean. (Please feel free to assume that to be a consequence of my limitations as a reader and not a reflection on your abilities as a writer. 🙂
    All I can say in response is that my assertion earlier was with regard to origional sin and not about wether our Blessed Mother sinned in her own lifetime. And to ask you directly if Orthodox beliefs include a belief in the Immaculate Conception.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Michael,
    Loved the moral in #144. Too true, too true…and I love the “jackass” comment, (I’m still laughing)
    Your fellow long eared quadraped Catholic friend,

  • Dennis #150
    You understand me correctly about Rom. 3:23. I am not saying that this passage precludes exceptions. It most be resolved on other interpretive grounds. It does shape my default position short of other evidence.
    My distinction between the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of sinless Mary is this. We find explicit mention of the Trinitarian formulation in the Word (ex. Matt, 28:19, 1 Cor. 12:1-6, 2 Cor. 13:14) and many references about the works of the persons of the Trinity. These must be made coherent. We have a handful of references to Mary being blessed (God gracing her) but I don’t see anything that explicitly or logically necessitates a sinless conclusion.
    As to passages like the annunciation, the conversation with Elizabeth, or the Magnificant:
    A messenger of the Lord speaks to Daniel and says:
    He said, “Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!” (Dan 10:19, NRSV)
    In Judges:
    The angel of the Lord appeared to him [Gideon] and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Judg. 6:12 NRSV
    Gabriel says to Mary:
    And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28, NRSV
    The greeting given to Mary appears to me to be a standard greeting given to someone by a messenger of the Lord who has just terrified the dickens out someone who is about receive an assignment from God. 🙂 Why do we consider this greeting to Mary to be of a different category than these other similar cases? We may conclude that because of the magnitude of the task assigned some type of super-duper “favoring” is going on here but I am doubtful. As Scot suggested, non-quantitative.
    As to Elizabeth speaking to Mary we have the eulogeo vs. markaria problem I addressed in the second paragraph of #106.
    As to the Magnificant “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.” She was blessed… just as Paul was blessed because of the mission he was chosen for or Moses because of the mission he was chosen for, and they will be considerd blessed for all generations. I will go so far as to say that she was blessed (favored, engraced) to fulfill one of the most momentous roles in human history. Of course the generations will call her blessed. But I don’t take this to mean she was of necessity sinless. I don’t take this to mean that she has ascended to something beyond human form with special access and powers. (I know this language may be an irritant but I can’t figure out how to articulate how it comes across as to be me in any better words.)
    I am not trying to persuade so much as to clarify. I esteem Mary very highly, maybe the highest among women, but I am exceedingly reluctant to say this because I do not get the sense that you will hear what I am saying and will read something other than what I mean into the statement.

  • Scott M

    Everthing in my Presbyterian body recoils against your above statement. 🙂 We start with the Word and work outward, not with a consensus about a doctrine we think we find in the Word and then challenge the Word to refute it. So I am directly opposite your take. Show me from the Word where the doctrine comes from and then we will evaluate the teachings that followed.

    The problem is that this is not a discussion about what scripture says. It’s a discussion about interpretation of scripture. You interpret it one way. Others interpret it differently. My point, coming from a hermeneutic still at least somewhat based in suspicion, was that your interpretation seems to be a small minority position over the breadth of the church through space and time. More importantly, it is a predominantly a view of the last couple of hundred years and seems more informed by modern rationalism read into the text than anything else.
    None of that makes your interpretation (and Scot’s from what I’ve heard him say in interviews) wrong. Sometimes the majority is wrong and the minority or the individual are right. Sometimes people looking in across a broad span of time have a better perspective than those more closely tied to that in question. Sometimes.
    I’m always aware how our lenses inform our interpretations of the ‘facts’ we perceive. The larger group can (and often has) attempt to impose its views through power and manipulation. The minority can hold tightly to an interpretation in opposition to the power games of the majority. And I’m well aware of my capability for deceiving myself and operating from hidden motives and agendas.
    And in this particular instance, I don’t find any of the interpretive positions particularly compelling. And I don’t really have a dog in the fight. I would be perfectly content if either interpretation were true. However, when I look at it, it seems to me that those who would refute a long-held interpretation of the Church, in essence crossing all boundaries of tradition, even though particulars differ, and stretching back close — if not all the way to — the formation of the church, bear the larger burden. And nothing I’ve seen or read feels like it has that weight.
    Your argument seems to boil down to the fact that the interpretive grid of those who believe God preserved Mary from sin is not direct or straightforward enough to satisfy you. And that’s OK. But that’s not a particularly solid foundation.
    But I’m a Baptist, and not RC or EO, so I don’t have a vested interest either way. Like I said, I can’t see how a belief one way or another would alter the way I think or act toward the faith in any significant way.
    And I recall your earlier comments about ‘praying to the departed saints’ and the dismissive manner in which you framed your comment. Though I don’t make a habit of it myself, it strikes me that those traditions which practice it actually take scripture more seriously than those which don’t. They radically believe the text when it says that those of us in Christ will never taste or experience death and that we a surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. It’s not ‘prayer to’ in the sense of ancestor worship or human divinization. Rather, it is about asking a brother or sister in Christ to intercede for you, in the case of the ‘saints’ in an area of life in which they excelled. I’m not sure how you can call that unscriptural with a straight face. After all, we are told often to pray for each other and to ask others to intercede for us. If we truly believe that those of us in Christ will never die, is it not a lack of faith that causes us to treat death as a barrier to our communion with our brothers and sisters?
    Scripturally, I can find nothing wrong with at least that aspect of the case for asking anyone in Christ to intercede for us — even if their bodies have stopped until the resurrection of the dead. I don’t do it. But perhaps some day I will try.

  • The objection Michael brings up, about the dogma of Immaculate Conception necessitating (or seeming to?) that the Theotokos is saved in a different way than we all are, is precisely the objection the Orthodox have made to it. It really does come down to a differing view of original sin and its consequences. If anyone is interested in this, I had a thread on The Ooze discussing these differences.
    Ancestral vs. Original Sin
    I’m sorry, Benedict, if it seems to you that pointing out real differences between Orthodoxs and Catholics seems like “throwing you under the bus.” Most Protestants assume the Orthodox are Catholics with beards, but real differences do exist.
    In practice, as others have pointed out, the Orthodox are not shy in proclaiming the Theotokos as All-Holy, incomparable, and various other things that give Protestants heartburn. Thus far we definitely are united.
    Michael: My quote a while back about there being only one life in Christ was to emphasize the continuity of fellowship among Christians over which death itself has no power. How do we commune together as Christians now, visibly? The most powerful bond we have is in the Holy Spirit. That is not a bond that can be broken by physical death. Protestants also express this communion by doing the very sort of thing Scot is doing here- learning about the great men and women of the faith. Yet that is to relegate things only to the intellectual and to the external. As I said, to me this now (on the other side of conversion to Orthodoxy) unfeeling, cold, unnatural, and not theologically sound. I don’t really expect you to understand, and that’s fine. You express your admiration of and gratitude to St. Mary in your way- no arguments here about that.

  • Benedict

    You make my point. The Immaculate Conception is simply the consequence of calling the original condition sin rather than mortality. Your difference is over how to name the original condition. And since we asterisk the “sin” in original sin as different from actual sin, our “defect in original righteousness” for the original condition is not entirely different from your mortality.
    We agree that Mary was sinless as far as actual sin (freely chosen sin) goes, right? Or are you agreeing with Chrysostom and Basil that she did commit an “adult” actual sin?
    Will you grant my point, taken directly from a number of Orthodox websites, that many Orthodox do believe that Mary never committed an actual sin (agreeing with Irenaeus rather than Chrysostom)? Do you really want to insist that all Orthodox agree with Basil and Chrysostom and reject Irenaeus and all the other Eastern Fathers?
    Do you believe that Mary was subject to the condition of mortality? Those Orthodox who follow Irenaeus in asserting Mary never committed actual sin but was subject to mortality, are then making her a unique exception to all other human persons for whom mortality leads inexorably to actual sin.
    In that sense, Orthodox who follow Irenaeus and the New Eve sinlessnes line agree with Latin Catholics: Mary was exceptional. The only difference is that the West talks about original _sin_ rather than mortality, so our “exception” occurs at conception rather than in the movement from original mortality to actual sin.
    Indeed, is there not a long tradition among Orthodox that Mary, though conceived in mortality, was sanctified in the womb and freed from mortality by the power of Christ? John the Baptist and Jeremiah were “exceptional” in their pre-birth sanctification and freeing from mortality (original sin in Western terms). Surely Mary would have, in Orthodox Panaghia, “All-Holy” terms, have been sanctified at least at the same stage or earlier?
    If so, then we agree on her exceptionalism but disagree about whether it occurred at or soon after her conception.
    My point is that Orthodox have it drilled into them that they differ from Catholics on the Immaculate Conception issue. It’s an easy way to delineate the Other’s otherness. But it’s something of a cheap shot. Centuries ago, when many Latin Catholics did believe that original sin was really sin and damned to hell (even if to a minimal punishment), which Jansenists resurrected but were condemned for resurrecting–in those days, there was greater gulf between Orthodox and Catholics over Immaculate Conception.
    But since the high Middle Ages, we have not defined original “sin” as sin in the normal sense, rather, as an absence of original righteousness akin to your original mortality. Orthodox owe to Catholics the courtesy of acknowledging the present Catholic doctrine on original sin and the way that it relativizes the gap over the Immaculate Conception. Yes, we disagree over IC, but nearly as much as the polemicists would have us think we do.
    Throwing under the bus was not directed at you but at Paul Johnston who quickly agreed with you on this matter and took a shot at his fellow Catholics without, I think, fully understanding the entire map of original “sin,” original mortality, actual-sinlessness, sanctification immediately after conception, sanctification at the instant of conception (IC).
    In a subsequent post I will list some quotations from Eastern Fathers about Mary’s sinlessness in order to suggest that to say in a blanket statement that Orthodox do not believe in Mary’s sinlessness is a bit too much.

  • Benedict

    Ephrem of Syria: Mary is more beautiful than anything, immaculate, no stain, no mark (Carmina Nisibena, 27.8; CSCO 219.76; Gambero, _Mary and the Fathers of the Church_, p. 109)
    Proclus (who succeeded Nestorius as patriarch of Constantinople in 434) preached in Nestorius’s presence a homily in honor of Mary the Mother of God, Mary the Bearer of God (Theotókos), praising her as the “immaculate treasure of virginity, spiritual paradise of the second Adam, workshop of the union of [Christ’s two] natures, marketplace of the saving exchange, bridal chamber in which the Word was wedded to the flesh, living bush that was not burned by the fire of the divine birth, the true light cloud that bore the One who, in his body stands above the cherubim, fleece moistened by celestial dew, with which the Shepherd clothes his sheep.” (Oratio 1.1; PG 65:681A-B; Gambero, Fathers, p. 235)
    Even Chrysostom does not explicitly say Mary sinned. He thinks she lacked faith, but exactly when that crosses into sin is hard to determine. Cyril of Alexandria does much the same–he thinks Mary was “scandalized” by the Cross, but that does not have to mean she sinned or was faithless.
    Theodotus of Ancyra [Ankara] (d. before 446) (Gambero, Fathers, pp. 260-271): “The fruit of your womb is not autumnal; rather, it is a shoot of immortality. It is not a harvest that came as a gift of nature but a flower sprung from divine seed. For you gave birth to the Beginning who has no beginning, a child who is before all ages, the Virgin’s Son, the Eternal who is nurtured in your womb, to him who is older than his Mother yet is nursed by him, to him who nourishes all creatures and who clothes himself in human form, to the Splendor of God who presents himself as a pauper, to the King who will have no successor. Therefore I salute you, O Virgin full of grace, Mother among virgins and Virgin among mothers, archetype of both mothers and virgins, but superior to both.” (Homily 6.12; debate over authenticity, but Jugie believes it authentic)
    she is the Virgin Mother (262) and for that role God prepared her (263-64): iron is purified in fire and takes on similarity to the fire (glows red hot, white hot):
    “how much more, in a superior way, did the Virgin burn when the divine fire (the Holy Spirit) rushed in? She was purified from earthly impurities, and from whatever might be against her nature, and was restored to her original beauty, so as to become inaccessible, untouchable, and irreconcilable to carnal things” (Homily 4.6; PG 77:1397B-C; Gambero, p. 264)
    He gives an extended of her upright, sinless, moral character–her obedience, humility, prudence, fortitude (not timid), gravitas (“not light in her mind, but solid in her soul”); her lack of deception or guile or flattery; her cheerfulness, gladness etc.–her interior disposition to right, to holiness as found in the excerpt on pp. 270-271 (from On the Mother of God and on the Nativity)
    Andrew of Crete (d. ca. 740) (Gambero, pp. 391-99): he asserts that Mary lived a spotless life, that she was the “first to be liberated from the original fall of our first parents” (393) Her mother “Anna was . . . from all eternity, . . . destined to be the mother of the chaste Virgin, from whom the Creator was to come forth in the form of a servant. Unsullied Lamb, who alone, from your womb, gave Christ the wool of our nature, we all celebrate your birth from Anna with songs.” (Canon on the Nativity [of Mary], PG 97:1316C-1320 A; Gambero, Fathers, p. 394)
    “Today pure human nature receives from God the gift of the original creation and reverts to its original purity. By giving our inherited splendor, which had been hidden by the deformity of vice, to the Mother of him who is beautiful, human nature receives a magnificent and most divine renovation, which becomes a complete restoration. The restoration in turn becomes deification, and this becomes a new formation, like its pristine state.” (Homily I on the Nativity, PG 87:809D-812A; Gambero, p. 394-95)
    John of Damascus: “But we, who consider God the object of adoration–a God not made out of anything, but existing from all eternity, beyond every cause, word, or concept of time and nature–we honor and venerate the mother of God.” (Homily II on the Dormition, 15; PG 96:744A; Gambero, p. 406)
    Veneration of Mary, higher than the saints, is done solely to glorify God: “If the memory of all the saints is celebrated with panegyrics, who will refuse to praise the font of justice and the treasury of holiness? This is not done to glorify her, but so that God might be glorified with an eternal glory.” (Homily I on the Dormition, 1; PG 96:700A; Gambero, p. 407)
    It is true that Eastern Fathers tended to evade the exact ultimate, final statement of absolute sinlessness more than Western Fathers–the Eastern Fathres use the language of all holy, immaculate, stainless etc., implying total sinlessness, without taking the next step of saying that she never, everr sinned. But Theodotus, Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus do everything but dot the i’s and cross the t’s. The Western Fathers take that final step much more readily.

  • Benedict, these are too long. Long comments are conversation stoppers.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Benedict,
    Sorry if my earlier comments caused offense. I only meant to distinguish what I thought were real differences between RC and EC orthodoxies with regard to the Virgin Mary. It was my opinion, at that time, that my conversation partner was assuming that they were identical.
    If my perspective lacked subtlety please accord that to a lack of understanding on my part and not a deliberate attempt to slight or offend.
    As for throwing you “under the bus”, if I did you sure got up in a hurry and had a lot to say about it…LOL
    ….That’s no intent to insult either, my friend. Just a friendly “shot in the arm”, one Catholic cousin to another. 🙂