A Reader Puzzles about Mary being “Full of Grace”

A Reader Puzzles about Mary being “Full of Grace” October 14, 2015

She writes:

Hi Mark, we have your email from when you sent us your book we ordered (Mary Mother of the Son), I got it for my husband as he is in full communion with the faith but still has troubles with Mary at times. Your book has been outstanding (we have been reading it together kinda as a book study and just finished Part 1). His questions and similarities are almost identical to the concerns you had towards Mary, so it has been very helpful and insightful.

I’m delighted to hear that!

Any ways he recently started attending a bible study with his family members who are not catholic and he fully wants to be able to understand translations better from his protestant bible vs. his catholic bible, and better defend his catholic faith. He came across this article (below) that talks about how we catholics are interpreting the Greek words wrong “full of grace” when it is “highly favored” instead…..Anyways this is his email to you and we were hoping someone could help us find an easier more understandable way to explain the catholic teaching/translation of Mary “full of grace” vs. Mary “highly favored”.

Hi. I am a convert to the Catholic Faith. I have found that She contains the truth, yet being a convert I am still constantly in need of proof. I was trying to defend Mary “full of grace” when I came upon this article.

He gives a good basis to St. Jerome getting the Greek translation wrong in Luke 1:28.

I also read this article which I believe does a decent job in explaining the name of Mary that the angel gives.

The two articles just seem to be at odds with what the actual translation is. I believe that Tim Staples is right in his translation and explanation and I’m not exactly sure what I am looking for. But I would like some kind of clarification. That is, I need a way to defend that Mary is full of grace in light of the first article mentioned. Are we actually right in our translation of “Full of Grace” over the more popular “highly favored”? Does this actually mean the same thing in Greek?

Like I said I’m not really sure what I’m looking for I just want to know as much as I can such that I can do a good job of defending my faith.​

Thank you for any help you can provide

The Greek word is “Kecharitomene”.  It’s a title, more than a word, just as if I were to walk up to you and say, “Hail, Big Kahuna” or “Greetings, Your Awesomeness”.  That in itself is significant since angels don’t normally give humans titles in Scripture.  Typically their greeting is “Don’t be afraid” since the response of sinners to angelic glory is a healthy awareness that the angel would be perfectly justified in striking down any member of our miserable sinful species on sight.

But in Luke’s account Mary is, surprisingly, unafraid of the angel, and it is the archangel who is deferential and greeting her with “Kaire, Kecharitomene!”  It is the *greeting*–the title–not the angel, that troubles her.  She is puzzled by it.  As to the title itself, CARM is too simple by a long shot.  The problem is that the Greek word is too full of meanings and connotations to be patient of a single rendering in English, so translators are stuck doing the best they can.  The root of the word is “charis”, a term that can mean “grace”, “favor” or even the very life of God himself.  So the title encompasses “full of grace” (the translation Jerome, the greatest biblical scholar of antiquity, used).  But it also encompasses, “highly favored one” and “one full of the life of God”.  A translator has to pick one, a Greek speaker can hold all three in mind.  But the dumb thing to do is pick only one and demand the other connotations be trashed.  CARM is just engaging in a little Catholic bashing here.

I discuss this some in the chapter on the Immaculate Conception in Mary, Mother of the Son.

Translation is as much art as science and it is not at all uncommon for words and ideas in one language to be too “big” to easily translate into a single word in another, or for one language to have several words while another language has only one.

Take “love”.  For English speakers, “love” covers everything from how you  feel about pizza, to your dog, to your husband, to your best friend, to your child, to God.  For other languages, there are different words for each kind of love and woe betide you if you use the wrong word.  The Greeks have four words for love depending on whether you mean affection, friendship, erotic love, or the love of God.  Some years ago, President Carter went to Poland and gave a speech declaring America’s love for Poland, but the translator used the Polish for “erotic love” and not “filial affection”. It was not a stellar moment in US/Polish relations.

All of which is to say that “Kecharitomene” is patient of the reading Jerome gives it, as well as others. It’s not either/or.

God love you as you seek to serve our Lord and honor her of whom he said, “Behold your mother.” 🙂

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