Monday, April 14, 2008

Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin

And now a not-so-succinct presentation on the legitimacy of the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of Jesus Christ. I apologise in advance for the terribly lengthy collection of thoughts and ideas herein contained. I pray these thoughts will be useful to you and helpful as you form your own mind on this important subject.

For Anglicans, the theologumenon, or theological opinion, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was a Virgin 'before, during and after' (to quote Saint Augustine) the conception and birth of Our Lord, is not held to be an absolutely necessary dogma of the Catholic Faith, to be held definitely, de fide tenenda, that is, for salvation as pertaining to the essence of the Faith of the Scriptures and Creeds. Anglicans who do not believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady are still considered to be practising Catholic Christians in good standing and in full communion with the Church. Never fear! Having said that, however, it must be asserted quite honestly that the onus of responsibility and burden of proof lie with those who reject the doctrine to demonstrate that the belief should not be held as an edifying and congruous article of Faith and that it is not actually part of the Apostolic Tradition inherited from the earliest Church and, additionally, an ancient and universally-accepted belief related directly to the Creeds themselves. The doctrine was so important for earlier generations of Christians that even Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and John Wesley all continued to believe in the Perpetual Virginity of the Holy Virgin, even as they began and promoted their various reformations. Historically, classical magisterial proetstantism professed the Perpetual Virginity. The doctrine was never seriously questioned, even by protestants, until the advent of modern biblical scholarship and criticism, the so-called 'historical-critical' method of biblical interpretation. Anglicans who adhere to belief in Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin keep very good company indeed. In short, I should say that although Anglicans don't strictly have to believe it, they should.

Here are a few splendid examples of the early protestant orthodoxy on this question:

Martin Luther

'Christ, our Saviour, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb. This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.' Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)

'Christ was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him. I am inclined to agree with those who declare that 'brothers' really mean 'cousins' here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.' Sermons on John, chaps. 1-4 (1539)

'A new lie about me is being circulated. I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ.' That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)

'Scripture does not say or indicate that she later lost her virginity. When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her. This babble is without justification; he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom.' That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew (1523)

John Calvin

'Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ's 'brothers' are sometimes mentioned.' Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562)

'The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words; as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called 'first-born'; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us. No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.'
(ibid.)

'Under the word 'brethren' the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.' Commentary on John (7:3)

Huldrych Zwingli

'To deny that Mary remained inviolata before, during and after the birth of her Son, is to doubt the omnipotence of God, and it is right and profitable to repeat the angelic greeting - not prayer - 'Hail Mary.' God esteemed Mary above all creatures, including the saints and angels - it is her purity, innocence and invincible faith that mankind must follow.' This is from the Fidei expositio, the last pamphlet from his pen. There is a special insistence upon the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, September 17, 1522

Zwingli printed in 1524 a sermon on 'Mary, ever virgin, mother of God': 'I have never thought, still less taught, or declared publicly, anything concerning the subject of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered dishonourable, impious, unworthy or evil. I believe with all my heart according to the word of holy gospel that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity.'


John Wesley

I believe Jesus Christ was born of the blessed Virgin, who, as well after as she brought him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin.' 'Letter to a Roman Catholic'

The vast majority of Christians living and dead have held and do hold that the Blessed Mother was preserved in her physical dignity, integrity and chastity the unique and singular human agent of the Incarnation. The doctrine is unquestionably part of what we call the consensus fidelium, the whole faith of the whole People of God, the universal, ancient and consentient belief of the whole Church in every time, place and age. The consensus of the Church's greatest Saints, Doctors, Confessors, theologians, teachers and witnesses has always been that the Perpetual Virginity is a genuine teaching of the Gospel. That puts Anglicans who might dissent in a tight spot!

The theological reason why the Church understood from the beginning the history of salvation and the content of Holy Scripture as teaching that the Blessed Mother is Ever-Virgin is the recognition that authentic belief in the Divinity of Our Blessed Lord is intimately connected to, and quite inseparable from, a right belief about the role and ministry of His Mother. The Creeds canonise the title 'Virgin' for the Theotokos, clearly implying as a dogmatic statement of fact that Mary remained a Virgin after Our Lord's miraculous conception and birth. If Mary had had natural marital relations with Saint Joseph and had conceived and birthed other children, the permanent title 'the Virgin Mary' would make little historical or theological sense. The Helvidian doctrine would have necessitated such language as 'Mary who was the Virgin.' Why would Mary remain a Virgin? To remain forever a living testimony in her bodily chastity to the unique Deity of Jesus Christ as the only-begotten Son of God. In the Incarnation, Mary became not only an instrument or channel for God the Son, in which and through which He became Man: in the miracle of the Incarnation Mary became God's Mother, the Temple and Throne of God. Her sacred body, and her life, would remain the utterly unique means by which God became Man - Christ having consecrated and sanctified Our Lady's body by His presence in her womb. Out of reverence for her, for the mystery of the Incarnation, and for the received interpretation of the Gospel narratives, the Church has always called Mary aeiparthenos, Ever-Virgin. As Father Alexander Schemmann, the famous twentieth-century Orthodox theologian once quipped when a student challenged the Perpetual Virginity, 'What? Do you think the Blessed Virgin was bored with God?' His point was well taken, and it still is today! Mary gave her life, body and soul, totally to Jesus – and that is the heart meaning of the Ever-Virginity.

The biblical data tells us, if read within the Tradition of the Church, that Mary was the unique Mother of the unique Son, and so the Church ever held until modern times. The strongest evidence in the New Testament regarding the ongoing virginal state of Our Lady is Saint John 19, where we read that the beloved disciple, Saint John, took the Blessed Mother into his home to care for her upon the death of the Lord. The Lord commended Mary to the care and guardianship of John. If Our Lord had had other natural brothers and sisters born of the Blessed Mother, Jewish Law and custom, the goel tradition, would have required Him to commend His Mother to the care and safekeeping of His own blood siblings. The fact that Our Lord did not commend the Virgin to one or more of His brothers or sisters illustrates the fact that He did not have any to whom He could give His Mother, and so the Church has ever held. The references to the 'brothers and sisters' of Jesus in the New Testament have been understood in basically three different ways, only one of which has been deemed heretical by the Fathers of the Church.

1. The teaching of Helvidius and Jovinian: This doctrine is the modern protestant view, condemned as heretical by Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Jerome, which understands the references to the 'brothers and sisters' of Jesus Christ in the literal sense as biological children of Blessed Mary and Saint Joseph, and hence biological brothers and sisters of Jesus. This interpretation of Scripture was held to be entirely novel, and erroneous, by the Church of the fourth century.

2. The teaching of Saint Jerome: Saint Jerome, the biblical expert thoroughly familiar with Jewish tradition and history, as well as Hebrew literary styles and forms, instructs that the references to Our Lord's sisters and brothers are in truth references to blood relations of Our Lord, members of His extended family who are not biological children of Mary and Joseph. Hebrew terminology lacks a specific word for a cousin or more distant relation, and so the New Testament utilises the Greek word adelphos, 'brother', to describe a biological brother or a cousin, a relative in the family unit. Saint Jerome's biblical exegesis takes into account the Hebraicism of the New Testament. Saint Jerome's version is the view usually maintained in the Roman Catholic Church.

3. The teaching of Saint Epiphanius of Salamis: This venerated fourth-century monk and theologian of the Eastern Church asserts that the ancient tradition reveals the brothers and sisters of Jesus to be children of Saint Joseph sired by him in a previous marriage. Ancient Christian traditions describe Saint Joseph, the guardian and foster father of Our Lord, as a much older person than the Blessed Virgin, which explains his rather brief appearance in the Gospel narratives and his quick disappearance from the story of Our Lord and His Mother. Saint Epiphanius teaches that Saint Joseph married earlier in life and had children by his first wife, who later died. Saint Joseph was then called to marry the Blessed Virgin in order to protect her and her Divine Son. The brothers and sisters of Jesus are therefore held to be the step-brothers and step-sisters of Jesus, children of Saint Joseph but not of the Blessed Virgin. Saint Epiphanius' doctrine is today generally held in the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Whatever the specific historical situation may have been, the Undivided Catholic Church, without elaborating the precise relationships in the Lord's extended family, proclaimed the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin a dogmatic truth at the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople II in AD 553. Before that time the doctrine was proclaimed a truth of the Gospel by a multiplicity of local and regional synods and councils of the Church Catholic, such as the Synod of Rome in AD 340. All of the ancient apostolic Churches descending from the Undivided Church of the first millennium, with the possible exception of the Anglican Church, dogmatically profess that the Blessed Virgin was the only Mother of her only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord: the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian and Old Catholic Churches all maintain the doctrine as part of the deposit of faith.

As I am sure you can tell by now, I am one of those driven Anglo-Catholics who indeed believe, with the rest of the historic Church, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Virgin, before, during and after the birth of Our Saviour. Thank you so very much for your extraordinary patience in persisting with me to the end of this meandering letter. You are most gracious and kind to read all of this. I only hope the perspective exhibited in this dossier will assist you in your Christian pilgrimage of faith. I always certainly welcome your reflections and feedback.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Oprah-ism

My dear friends,

Thank you for your letter and the provocative news article on Oprah Winfrey and her disturbing involvement in the New Age movement. She seems to have succeeded Shirley MacLaine as the popular effervescent spokeswoman for an ever-changing and up-to-date version of that most ancient error of gnosticism! I do not think it is too strong a description to characterise her as a modern pagan. The New Age movement is a carefully and suavely repacked form of the religion of Genesis 3, the primordial, primeval disobedience of man to the life-giving Commandments of God. Called by many names, at heart it is the heresy of gnosticism, an esoteric religious system which offers to its followers the promise of spiritual enlightenment and escape from suffering and evil through a secret knowledge provided only to the initiated. The popular book and motion picture she promoted last year, The Secret, is a perfectly self-described manifestation of the gnostic error, which teaches that man is in fact divine, or a 'spark of the divine,' a being of pure spirit trapped in human flesh and the material world, to be released and liberated from the prison of matter only through the acceptance of secret spiritual truths which only the enlightened and initiated can possess.

The serpent lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden with the same proposition now proffered by limousine-riding multi-millionaires to unwary and naive modern Westerners: 'you will not die, but will be as gods, knowing good and evil.' The religion of the New Age movement is in truth the idolatry and deception of Eastern religious philosophy, Hindu paganism, redressed in western garb and expressed with very Christian-sounding western terminology. Faithful Christians should utterly abhor and reject this false religious system. Many religions and religious movements embraced elements of this variety of the occult long before the advent or domination of Christianity: one thinks immediately of Platonism in ancient Hellenic culture and its related Persian and Middle Eastern cousin, Manichaeism, founded by Mani, the rigourist puritan prophet of the early Christian era. (Even Saint Augustine fell into the gnostic Manichaean sect before his conversion to the Christian Faith). Occultic gnosticism was rampant in the ancient world during the early years of the Christian Church, and for this reason Saint John and the other Apostles forcefully address this error in the New Testament. Many quasi-Christian and pseudo-Christian cults, now mercifully long gone, practised gnosticism to a dizzying degree of different levels of complex mythologies, and their challenge prompted the Fathers of the Church, such as Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, to combat this heresy - from the second all the way to the seventh or eighth centuries... and even today. The Nag Hammadi library of early Christian Coptic Egypt displays the widespread influence of gnosticism in the ancient world - Elaine Pagels mistakenly claims in her popular New Agey books that the earliest, most authentic Christianity was gnostic, but she is dreadfully wrong. Most gnostics held that 'god' was male and female, an androgynous god-force incorporating aspects of human sexuality into the divine. For this reason most pre- and post-Christian gnostic sects ordained women; some of them, either purportedly Christian or explicitly pagan, even employed sexual ritual and temple prostitution - so that men and women could contact the divine male-female force through sexual union (you should recognise this aspect of gnosticism from Dan Brown and his
DaVinci Code).

Eventually gnosticism emerged as two types: puritan and libertine. The puritan form was strictly ascetic and practiced violent self-mortification and self-discipline, in order that the spirit may be forced to eschew and hate the physical world, including the human body. The Manichaeans were strict rigourists, as were the mediaeval Albigensian-Cathari, who in the High Middle Ages, forbade marriage, sexual union of husband and wife, and the procreation of children. The Cathari even sacralised suicide as the maximum level of spiritual advancement! The opposite extreme, the libertines, allowed their followers to do whatever they pleased, since the body and the material world are of no consequence to the soul which is not meant for the physical world but spiritual freedom and enlightenment. The sex cult version of gnosticism is obviously found in the latter category. I would place Oprah's religion clearly in the second category, for it emphasises the freedom of the individual from all religious creeds and dogma and encourages people to 'find their own path to God,' their own self-deification, a classic gnostic tenet.

This occultic form of religious egoism, the worship and service of self, the desire to become God on one's own terms, takes many forms, but is styled in the Oprah Winfrey fashion of modern, wealthy, comfortable America to appeal directly to the most innate desires of modern people, some of whom are looking for a form of religion without obligation, accountability, or sacrifice - the hallmarks of true religion. The New Age religion is a false Gospel, which offers man earthly happiness and prosperity and the hope of eternal bliss, without making any demands on or requiring moral responsibilities for would-be followers. The fancy shined-up new model of the satanic counterfeit religion particularly appeals to the avarice, self-centredness and narcissism of our current rather debased and materialistic age. A religion of ease, comfort and self for a comparatively easy, comfortable and selfish culture...

The actual character of spiritualism or the occult is most directly revealed by its attitude to our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. His claims to be the unique Saviour and King of the universe and sole Redeemer of mankind though Whom alone we approach unto the Father are immediately spurned and even ridiculed by the gnostic New Age elite. In the pagan system promoted by Oprah's friend's books, Our Lord, although He is not so explicitly described, is held to be an avatar, a guru, a spiritual master, a manifestation of the divine force who comes to bring peace, love and enlightenment. He is kept at a safe distance and transmogrified into a harmless agent of tranquillity and self-understanding, and the way in which that is done is categorically to refuse His true nature and His claims about Himself. In this neo-paganism, you see, there is no God but the individual human being, for the New Age has no god but the personal self.

There is no personal God in a westernised Hinduism, only a divine force, and impersonal 'force-field' which holds together all things - may the Force be with you! - a classic form of pantheism and panentheism, the idea that Creation, the world, is 'god' or a 'world-soul.' The New Age system sees all religious leaders of history, including Our Lord, as manifestations or emanations of this god-world, come to show us the way to true enlightenment, the realisation that we are divine and that our human bodies and human lives, that the physical material world itself, do not in the end count for anything. All of this philosophy is taken directly from the ancient gnostic religion. True enlightenment consists, they say, in loving and serving oneself and finding personal satisfaction, happiness and fulfilment through one's own meditative state, not in being united to One True God, the Father, through the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ His only-begotten and unique Son in the Holy Ghost, the Life-Giver and Comforter.

In Oprah's religion, man is God, a projection of the 'god-self,' and the key to his earthly harmony is to get in touch with, to contact through methods of yogic meditation and mind play, the true inner 'deity' inside. What is most frightening about the religious phenomenon outlined above is that, although its language differs and the presentation is certainly far more palatable, its core belief-system and moral and spiritual priorities are exactly the same as that of Satanism. For example, if one reads The Satanic Bible, an unpleasant task to say the least, one will find in its pages in more brutal and confrontational terms the same religion of self-worship and self-promotion so attractively advertised by the Oprah cult. The goal in both is the same: personal accomplishment through magic, the intentional manipulation of the one's environment through the use of occult means and powers to gain what is favourable to and for oneself apart from God. For both, it all boils down (forgive the pun) to witchcraft.

I guess you can tell I do not hold the Oprah movement in the highest estimation!

May the Most High God, the Holy Trinity, One and Undivided, bless and keep you all in this holy Paschaltide!

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