Common Sense Mariology
  by Mark Alessio

Transcribed from the December 1997 and January 1998 edition of the 
Catholic Family News.

Mary's Perpetual Virginity

   The Protestant objection to Our Lady's perpetual virginity provides any observer of history with a perfect test case on the nature of  "contrariness".  While rejection of this perpetual virginity isn't a Protestant "tenet," many sects teach as a matter of course that Mary gave birth to other children after our Lord was born.  when the common sense arguments are laid out and examined, it becomes clear that Protestant objection to this doctrine is based not on Scriptural or philosophical ground, but on "contrariness . . . i.e., these sects teach that Our Lady bore other children simply because this idea is the direct opposite of what the Catholic Church teaches.  Are there examples in the Bible of places or objects that are considered  "holy", that are set apart, intended to be treated with a measure of respect and deference beyond that accorded to other places or objects?  In the Second Book of Kings (Chap. 6)  it is related how, after the defeat of the Philistines, King David retrieves the Ark of God and carries it away in procession, in the accompaniment of rejoicing and music.   one of David's men, Oza, seeing the Ark leaning in it's cart, put up a hand to steady it, so that it wouldn't fall.  The moment Oza grabbed the Ark, he was struck dead by God  "for his rashness".

Again, in the Book of Genesis (Chap. 3) Moses, going to the spot where he spied the burning bush, is warned by God: "Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from they feet, for the place here on thou standest is holy ground". Is it possible that a construction made of earthly metals and wood or a clump of rocky earth could be more holy that the womb wherein the Second Person of the Holy Trinity dwelt for nine months? If the womb that housed God Himself were not a sacred and sanctified object, than what would fit that definition? The mentality that imagines "business as usual" for Joseph and Mary after the Incarnation of the Savior fails to recognize that God often calls people to consecrate themselves to His service in unique ways.  We see Him set certain people apart, whether it be the Prophet Elias, St. John the Baptist or St. Paul.  Surely if the Incarnation of the Word was in the Divine Plan from the "beginning", so was the Mother to whom this Son would be born.

   The Scriptural arguments in favor of Our Lady's perpetual virginity have been well documented.  Any reliable book on the Blessed Virgin will spell them out clearly, in the very same arguments used from the first centuries of our Faith. Writing in the 4th Century, St. Jerome pointed out, in practical fashion, that: "We believe that God was born of a Virgin because we read it; because we do not read it we do don't believe that Mary wedded again after the birth of Her Child". In a letter to a certain Helvidius, who denied Mary's perpetual virginity, St. Jerome didn't mince words in Our Lady's defense: You have set on fire the temple of the Lord's body, you have defiled the sanctuary  of the Holy Spirit from which you are determined to make a team of four brethren and  a heap of sisters come forth.

In a word, joining in the chorus of the Jews you say, "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not  His Mother called Mary? and His brethren James  and Simon and Judas? and His sisters, are they not all with us? The word 'all' would not be used if there were not a crowd of them". Pray tell me who, before you appeared  was acquainted with this blasphemy?

   Writing to the Bishop of Thessalonica and the end of the 4th Century, Pope Siricius called the denial of Mary's perpetual virginity "that Jewish falsehood which holds that He (Jesus Christ) could not have been born of a virgin".

    Recall Cardinal Newman writing of the Protestants' lack of insight into the two natures (Divine and human) found in one Person of Christ. Just look at the manner in which the body of a normal mother is honored by her son.  It is made sacred by motherhood, set apart and meant to be protected. Imagine then the womb of the Mother of God, the first Tabernacle upon which all other tabernacles are modeled, espoused to the Holy Ghost, chosen by God the Father and inhabited by God the Son. It is an amazing fact that the sanctity of Our Lady's body should even have to be defended. Cannot even the densest intellect understand, via simple intuition, that Mary'sperpetual virginity is the only rational condition for the Mother of God, after She gives birth to the Incarnate God-Man? Is the denial of Our Lady's perpetual virginity the conclusion of careful Biblical study, or a mere projection, an attempt by sinful men to justify their own inability to observe Chastity?

   After the seventy-two disciples returned to Jesus, flushed with excitement of their first missionary forays, Our Lord offered this prayer to His Father:  I confess to Thee O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones,
(St. Luke 10:21)

There are "scholars" who spend their days and nights try to disparage the Marian dogmas taught by the One True Church Armed with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, alternate translations and volumes of dubious commentaries, they spend valuable hours trying to drag the Holy Mother of God down to their own level. This is sin at work. What else could drive someone to devote himself not to the honor of the Blessed Virgin, but to the task of placing Her in carnal scenarios?

The Catholic Church has never even toyed with the idea that Our Lady bore other children.  The Lateran Council of 649 A.D. anathematized anyone who refused to confess that the virginity of Mary remained "inviolate also after parturition".  The Sixth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (680 A.D.) decreed that "The virginity of Mary . . . remained before, during and after parturition." Ultimately, the Catholic understanding of Mary as "Ever-Virgin" rests on a combination of revealed Truth and common sense on man's ability to observe relationships in the natural sphere and translate his findings into the supernatural one, an ability described by St. Paul as a coming to a knowledge of God through His works.  When all the treatises and essays are put aside, it's the power of old fashioned Reason, illumined by Faith and a sincere good will,  that touches the heart with certainty and conviction. The best defense for any Catholic doctrines is ultimately the most simple and straightforward one. This is clearly seen in the following works of St. Ambrose (339-397) in defense of the Blessed Virgin's perpetual virginity:
 And Joseph, the just man, assuredly did not so completely loose his mind as to seek carnal intercourse with the Mother of God.

The renowned Bishop of Milan obviously understood that, sometimes, a good one two punch hits the mark better than a dozen learned commentaries could.  Our Lord Himself, when He evicted the money-changers from the Temple, taught us that Truth isn't always best served by being "nice" in the face of sacrilege.  Following this Divine example, St. Hilary of Poitiers angrily called those who rejected Mary's perpetual virginity "irreligious, perverted, knowing absolutely nothing of spiritual truth."


The Assumption

Try to imagine for a moment the mind-set that resents Our Lady's bodily Assumption into Heaven.  Imagine the Catholic world rejoicing at this wonderful vision of an eternity with God, joining their gratitude to that of the Heavenly Court and the Mother of God Herself.  Imagine the smiles of joy on the faces of both clergy and laity as they set aside the tribulations of earthly life for a day to celebrate the definition of this Dogma.

   Now imagine if you will, the grim, angry visages of the anti-Catholic "Christians" to whom this glorious privilege is a source of nagging resentment.  Imagine the outrage and muttering of ministers and "scholars" as they flip through their incomplete, butchered Bibles in the hopes of halting the Mother of God at the gates of Heaven and dispatching Her back to the grave.  If the mark of a Christian is "joy". which of the above scenes will please the Holy Trinity?

   It is further ironic that the "technical" approach to Our Lady's privileges actually confirms the teachings of Catholicism rather than those of the anti-Catholics.  One example of this confirmation is found in the Gospel of St. Luke, in the Angel Gabriel's salutation to the Blessed Virgin.  The phrase familiar to us as "full of grace" was rendered in the Latin Vulgate as gratia plena.  However, in the original Greek, the Angel addresses Mary as Kecharitomene. Although "full of grace" is an acceptable translation for the word, the term itself expresses much more and is untranslatable into English. The root of this word is charis ("grace") and, as this term expresses the perfect tense in Greek, the meaning is not only "full of grace", but  an abiding state of grace.  The term implies that the one addressed thusly has always existed in a state of grace and that this plenitude is permanent and stable. Thus, Kecharitomene, the name given to Mary by God (and passed on to the messenger Gabriel), is not only a designation, but a word that reveals something essential about the one who bears it, just  as "Isaac" meant "laughter" or "Peter" meant "rock". So, in the end, the "technical" or scientific" approach to the study of Our Lady confirms the Traditional, common sense Catholic teachings, such as the sinlessness of Mary or Her Immaculate Conception.  This is something to keep in mind when dealing with non-Catholic "scholars".

   Few men have written as exquisitely of the Virgin Mary as Bishop Jacques Benigne Bossuet of Meaux (1627-1704).  Writing of the Assumption I his classic "Substance of All the Sermons for Mary's Feasts Throughout the Year,"  Bossuet says:

 Mary's sacred body-----the throne of Chastity, the temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the Instrument of the Holy Ghost, the seat of the Power of the Most High-----could not remain in the tomb.  Her triumph would be incomplete if it took place apart from Her holy flesh; for this, expressly sanctified to form the body of Christ, had been as it were the source of all Her glory.

   Simple logic tells us that the respect plaid to the immaculate body of Mary will be a measure of our respect for the Body and Person of Her Son.  What does the image of the Mother of God suffering the corruption of the grave say about those who hold it?  How does this bodily corruption, this idea of decomposition, reflect the message of the Angel Gabriel to the Woman who is "full of grace"?

   Any normal man will consider a slight or insult to his mother as being done also to himself.  Likewise, he will consider any act of kindness shown to his mother as a favor to himself, even considering himself in "debt" to the one who extended this kindness to the mother.  Ask the common sense question:  How can Jesus Christ be pleased when His Mother is despised?  How can he possibly be pleased when centuries upon centuries upon centuries of pious beliefs concerning Our Lady are discarded with contempt?  It is staggering to suppose that the Incarnate Truth could ever act with such ill-will.  Yet, "churches" have been built on this bizarre supposition.

   We can also carry this understanding over into the larger picture.  Is it logical for God to view a "church" founded by men as equal to the one founded by His own Son?  One morning in the 16th Century, a man wakes up and decides that the Church which preserved the Apostolic Deposit of Faith for over a millennium and , in the process, educated the world, is no longer acceptable.  He decides then that he and his cohorts will simply take over the authority of that Church, or barring such a coup, merely cast it aside and begin their own.  How would the God Who said "I am the Truth" view this series of events, if one of the enduring hallmarks of Truth is consistency.

   Listen to St. John Damascene on Our Lady's Assumption:

 Of old the Lord God banished from the garden our first parents after their disobedience, when they had dulled the eye of their heart through their   sin, and weakened their mind's discernment, and had fallen into death-like apathy.  But, now, shall not paradise receiver Her, who broke the  bondage of all passion, sowed the seeds of obedience to God the Father,  and was the beginning of life to the whole human race?  Will not Heaven   open it's gates to Her with rejoicing?  Yes, Indeed.

   He also addressed the Virgin in these words:

 O what a blessed departure this going to God of Thine.  If  God vouchsafes it to all His servants-----and we know that He does-----what an immense difference  there is between His servants and His Mother.

   It is not only unChristian to reject the Dogma of the Assumption, by implying that Christ would follow the 4th Commandment improperly or in a miserly fashion, it is unreasonable to do so.  Obviously, Our Lord considers this Dogma so important that, with the proclamation of the Bull Munificentissimus Deus in 1950, the members of His True Church are commanded to believe it.  In the text of this Bull, Pope Pius XII quotes this memorable passage from St. Robert Bellarmine:  Oh, who should bring himself to believe it is fallen in ruins, this ark of Holiness, this home of the Word Incarnate, this temple of the Holy Ghost? Does not the mind recoil from the very thought of it, this virgin flesh to be breeding ground of dust, the prey of worms, that had gendered and born, had suckled and nursed a God?  Once again, solid Catholic Doctrine doesn't mince words with a scowling face, but comes out swinging in the defense of Our Savior and His Mother.

Mary:  Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix

The doctrine of "Mary Co-Redemptrix" seems to present the greatest anguish to those who reject God's True Church, when, in reality, it is probably the easiest to comprehend of all Marian doctrines.  For the entire history of  Salvation is filled with example after example of God choosing human instruments to cooperate with Him in carrying out His Divine plan.

   From the moment God assigned to Adam the task of  naming the animals, to Noah building the Ark, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua storming the walls of Jericho, Jonah preaching  repentance to the people of Nineveh, St. John the Baptist calling Our Lord's contemporaries to penance or St. Paul preaching to the Gentiles,  the principle of  "cooperation" has been a consistent method of operation for the Holy Trinity.  Time after time, God chooses His human collaborator, endows him or her with the graces and strength needed for their task, and allows events to run their course. It's truly an amazing thing to see the Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and earth, putting such trust in mere human creatures, inspiring His Prophets to stand firm against entire civilizations, and His Apostles to spread the Gospel and establish His Church  throughout the world.

   In light of these Scriptural precedents, how much more so would the Mother of the Incarnate God-Man participate in the history of our Redemption?  Is it possible that the Old Testament would team with "collaborators" of the Holy Trinity, while the Mother of the Savior, the one unique human being who would bridge the Old and New Covenants, should disappear into the background like a hired hand who had outlived her usefulness?  Such inconsistency, simply cannot be attributed to the God Who so carefully revealed Himself in His inspired Scriptures.

   And Scripture certainly does tell us that the Blessed Virgin was a unique "partner" in the divine plan.   It is one of the unique gifts given by Christ to His Bride, the One True Church, to understand Scripture as a whole.  Unlike the Protestants, Catholics do not see the Bible as a book of Divine "familiar quotations", wherein  phrases can be torn out of context to prove, first one position, then another.  Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Catholic Church finds in the Scriptures a homogenous entity.  She understands the prophecies and foreshadowings of the Old Testament, and their relations to the New. Unlike Luther,  who merely removed those portions of the Bible with which he didn't agree, the Catholic Fathers and Doctors accepted every word of God's holy book, and understood these words as a  whole.   After all, this charism of discernment was promised to the Apostles by Our Lord when He told them that the Holy Ghost would not "remind" them of  what He taught, but would also "teach" them.

   Fr. Emil Neubert, in his study, "Mary in Doctrine", wrote these incisive words:  We must not divide the life of Christ into a series of separate acts:  His existence  constitutes only one long act of redemption of which the culminating point was His passion and death.  Even thought the price of that act, our ransom, was paid only after this last moment,  still it had begun to be merited from the very first moment.  Thus, from the instant that She pronounced Her fiat, Mary was already in truth the co-operatrix of Christ in the  work of our Redemption, and She would have merited His title even if She had died at the birth of Her Son.

   Viewing Sacred Scripture as a whole, can the Virgin Mary be though of as an "incidental" character?  Is it a coincidence that She was the only human being to be present at all of the major events of Our Lord's earthly life:  His Incarnation and Birth, His Escape into Egypt, his first public miracle, His Death on the Cross and the Birth of His Church during Pentecost?  Is any coincidence that She played an active role in these events . . . giving Her fiat to the Incarnation, carrying Our Lord to safety in her arms when His life was threatened by Herod, causing Him to inaugurate His public ministry at Cana (after which His disciples "believed" in Him), receiving the command to view all men as Her "sons "beneath the Cross on Calvary and praying with the Apostles when the Holy Ghost came upon them at the birth of the Church.

   The Gospel of Luke relates an awesome fact that is too easily overlooked amidst all the other Scriptural narratives.  After Mary and Joseph find the young Jesus teaching in the Temple, after searching for him for three days, St. Luke tells us that, "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subjected to them".  Now here we have the inspired word of God telling us that God Himself, the One who destroyed the earth with flood waters, vanquished Pharaoh's  army with a mere thought and caused the sun and moon to stand still for one day at the request of Joshua . . . this God subjected Himself to the authority of a human man and woman.

This Divine revelation is echoed in THE IMITATION OF MARY by Alexander De Rouville (published in Valencia, Spain in 1588):

 It was fitting that She to whom Jesus had given authority even over Himself should have the right to command the Angels and Saints.   How eagerly they vie in giving You the obedience and honor that is Your due!

   The Catholic understanding of the "Woman Clothed with the Sun" form the Apocalypse (chapter 12) is incomplete if taken out of the Marian context.  As we have already noted, The Catholic Church looks at the Scripture as a whole, making connections and references which illuminate the story of our salvation. Andre Feuillet, in his book JESUS AND HIS MOTHER, writes: There is no question that chapter 12 of the Apocalypse does make reference to  Chapter 3 of Genesis, and more specifically to Gn. 3:15.  The great dragon who makes his appearance in the Apocalypse is the old serpent (12:9), to wit, the tempter of Genesis . . . Just like this prophecy, the Apocalypse describes violent  opposition between the Woman and the serpent-dragon.  In the Apocalypse  the dragon appears standing in front of the Woman who is about to give birth  in order to devour her child; this trait corresponds to what is said of the serpent in Gn. 3:15: he watches . . . for the seed of the Woman, ready to attack. 

   Of course, the Woman represents the persecuted Church, struggling throughout the ages. But without the Marian element which ties the Apocalypse to the prophecy of Genesis, we are left with a vision, albeit a potent one, which is somewhat detached from the concrete history of our salvation as recorded throughout Sacred Scripture.

   Our Lady is an active player in the struggle against the Serpent.  Scripture, understood properly and thoroughly, is eloquent in it's presentation of our Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix and, by extension Universal Mediatrix.  We can return to the Fourth Commandment for one last argument in favor of Mary's Queenship.  Though by no means the strongest such argument, it causes us to be careful lest we slight Christ in the slighting of His holy Mother.  It was only the death of the Son of God that could adequately pay the ransom for a fallen Mankind, since only a Sacrifice of  infinite merit would do where an "infinite" offense had occurred.  Our lord, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, paid this ransom perfectly and fulfilled the Law perfectly.  Now, how would the King of Heaven and Earth, to whom nothing is impossible, honor His Mother?

   In the Third Book of Kings (Chap. 2),  we read of King Solomon's behavior to his mother Bethsabee.  A man named Adonais approaches Bethsabee and asks her to intercede with her son, the King, so that Adonais may be permitted to marry Abisag the Sunamitess.  This is how Scripture describes the ensuing scene:  Then Bethsabee came to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonias:  and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upon his throne: and a throne was set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right hand.  And she said to him:  I desire one small petition of thee, do not put me to confusion.  And the king said to her:  My  mother, ask: for I must not turn away thy face. (3 Kings 2:19-20)

   Are we to believe that the Divine King of Heaven and Earth would be less generous in fulfilling the Fourth Commandment that the earthly Solomon?  If Scripture itself presents us with this venerable image of the Queen-Mother, how are we to rationalize the Pro testant view, supposedly based on the Bible, which treats the Mother of the Divine King and Savior as not only menial, but unimportant, in contradiction to Scripture and Sacred Tradition?

In Defense of Our Lady

   Compared to the volumes upon volumes of Marian writings that have illuminated the landscape of Faith over the centuries, this poor article is a drop of water in an ocean. It's aim is to inspire gratitude for this gift of Our Blessed Mother. Unfortunately, where the Mother of Our Savior is concerned, men and women of bad will care as little for the "common sense" arguments proposed herein as they do for the highly-developed technical studies of the masters in the field.  Still, as concerned Catholics, it is important for each of us to know that the Marian teachings of our Church are true.  It's important for us to know this with a conviction and assurance that will not be troubled by opposition or hostility.  We may not be eloquent speakers or gifted scholars. We may stumble in our desire to defend the Truth with the clarity and wit that we would like to display. But Our Lord doesn't call us to "think" our Faith is true, or  "suppose" that it's true or to be "clever" in its defense.  He invites us to trust Him completely, and to know deep in our hearts, that it is true. The doctrines concerning Our Lady are part of this precious Deposit of Faith.

   Mary reigns over men and Angels in Heaven.  She doesn't need our respect in order to complement Her glory.  We do neither Her nor Her Son any "favors" by pronouncing Dogmas in Her honor or celebrating Her feasts and titles. These integral elements of our holy Faith are given to us for our benefit. We honor the Virgin because, not only does She deserve our honor, but we imitate Jesus Christ when we honor Her. And even such and imitation is a weak one, for can any man give the Blessed Virgin even a fraction of the honor that the Holy Trinity did by making Her the Mother of God?  Our Lord said, "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart". Rather than resent or doubt the glorious Marina heritage of the True Church, we should be outdoing each other in praising God's Mother and ours.

   As Catholics, it is not only our duty, but our privilege, to know the doctrines and dogmas of our Faith, these divine legacies given so generously to us for our sanctification, enlightenment and ultimately, for our salvation.  God doesn't lie.  Scripture tells us that  there are times to be submissive, and there are times to be angry. Even before Our Lord forcibly evicted the money-changers from His Father's House or called the Pharisees "whitened sepulchers", we read in the Book of Ecclesiates:

 All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under Heaven . . .  A time of love and a time of hatred. A time of war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8)

   The Book of Ecclesiasticus admonishes us to hold in our hearts a special place for our mothers:   Honor thy father, and forget not the groanings of the mother:  Remember that thou hadst not
 been born but through them and make a return to them as they have done for thee. 
(Ecclesiasticus 7:29-30)

   If these are the sentiments that sacred Scripture enjoins upon us to hold toward our earthly mothers, how much more so should we honor and love Our Blessed Mother, with out whom we would not be reborn as Children of God.  And what better "return" can we make to her than to defend Her whenever She is attacked and, in so doing defend also the honor of Our Savior and our Church as well?

   The next time you hear the Blessed Virgin demeaned, dishonored or s landered, don't be nice about it.  Get angry.  It's the Christian thing to do.

Our Lady,  Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us!!!