Friday, January 09, 2009

Response to Benedict XVI on Christmas

No, Benedict XVI did not visit this humble blog. No head of state (to my knowledge) has visited this blog. Nevertheless, on December 31, 2008, Benedict XVI provided some comments that are (perhaps) worth addressing:
The birthday of Christ, which we are currently celebrating, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, even as we pause to contemplate the child in the manger, our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother, who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible.
This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations. The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary's divine maternity are indissoluble realities. The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other.
(source)

A few counter-points:

1) To say that the birthday of Christ is "suffused with light of Mary" is to miss the significance of the Incarnation. The significance of the Incarnation is about Christ, not about Mary. Surely, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Christ, but when He was born and laid in a manger, the shepherds came to see Him, not Mary and Joseph. Mary bore witness to the events that happened, but she was not what the shepherds came to see. When the Angel announced, it was "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

Unto whom was born Jesus? Did the angel say "unto Mary"? No! The angel declared "unto you" (pluaral, i.e. the shepherds) this child was born. What was the sign? A child bathed in Marian suffuse light? No! A child lade in the manger. Mary did wrap up Jesus and lay him in the manger, to be sure - but they shepherds were not directed to Mary but to Jesus. The angel mentioned Jesus, but not his mother.

2) To say "our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother" provides some important insight. It is possible to turn one's eyes from Jesus to other things. When Mary is the one to whom we turn our eyes from Jesus, this should be to our shame.

When the shepherds arrived, their eyes had an opposite path: they found Mary, and Joseph, and at last they found the babe in the manger. And when they had seen it, what did they talk about? They talked, says Luke, about the child - "glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." Did they mention Mary and Joseph? Probably so - they mentioned the manger too no doubt - but the focus was on Jesus - not on Jesus and his mother.

3) To say "who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible," is to perpetuate a legend. Scripture does not tell us Mary said "yes" to anything. To be the mother of our Lord was not offered to Mary as a queen, but announced to her as servant, a handmaiden. She was certainly a willing servant, but she was not offered a choice. Instead, Scripture tells us that the Angel came and said: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

"Thou shalt!" It is an imperative. It is not a question. It is not, "Would you mind?" It is an imperative - a command. Mary didn't disobey, but she wasn't given a choice. It is not as though Mary had anything voluntary to do with conceiving anyway. She was not a man whose physical consent is required for conception. In conception she was acted upon - not against her will, but not with any cooperation on her own part.

Mary's first response was not, "Yes, you may," but rather "How can this be?" Once it was explained, Mary did accept the fact, not by saying, "yes," but by stating: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary recognized her place as servant (handmaid) of God. She did not stand there "making things possible," she resigned herself (not gloomily, but humbly) to her task. She was assenting, but her assent was not necessary for God, but for herself.

4) "This is why Christmastide has profoundly Marian connotations." In one sense, this is backwards. One of the reasons for the popularity of Christmas in Catholicism is its appeal to those devoted to Mary, since it is one of the few feast days involving her in some way. Surely there is a baby in the manger, and Joseph is hanging about someplace, but Mary is often the improper focus of attention.

In another sense, of course, the real reason for celebration is Jesus escape from Mary's womb! His separation from her. We are not told that the shepherds bowed down, but if they did, they did not bow down to a woman holding a child, but to the child himself in the manger. Kings of the earth have thrones, but our King was in something used for the animals.

5) "The birth of Jesus, the man-God, and Mary's divine maternity are indissoluble realities." Mary's maternity is of Christ, the God-man. But Mary is not the mother of Christ's divine nature - she is only the mother of his human nature. Before you call me a Nestorian, consider something:

Mary gave life, in some sense, to Jesus - and Pilate took that life away.

But Pilate could only take away what Mary gave: Pilate could kill the God-man, but Pilate could not kill God. Even so Mary could not give what Jesus already had: his divinity. Jesus does not derive his divinity from Mary, only his humanity. His human relationship of son to Mary does not communicate to the Trinity, just as Jesus death did not communicate to the Trinity.

Truly Mary was the Theotokos - she carried the God-man in her womb - but Mary was not the Mother of Christ's divinity. When Jesus was conceived, it was only his humanity that began to be. Jesus was before Abraham, whose daughter Mary was. To say that Mary had "divine maternity" is to confuse categories and to misunderstand the true mystery of the hypostatic union.

6) "The mystery of Mary and the mystery of the only-begotten Son of God, who becomes man, form a single mystery, in which one helps to better understand the other."

There is no parity between Jesus and Mary. Jesus is Mary's Saviour, just as Jesus is the Shepherds' Saviour. Mary is the handmaid, but Jesus is the King. Luke seems to suggest that the account we have of the shepherds is partly provided by Mary. She treasured the memories of her Savior's youth and, we are led to think, relayed them to the evangelist. In that sense, she helps us to understand Jesus better. But there is nothing mysterious about a virgin. What is mysterious is the fact that she is pregnant - that she gives birth to a son without knowing a man. It's a Christological mystery, not a Marian mystery.

Benedict continued:
In such times as ours, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him. It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence.
...
Even though quite a few dark clouds are gathering over our future, we must not be afraid. Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God. This great hope gives us strength to face and overcome the difficulties of life in this world. The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings.
(same source - elipsis in source)

1) "It is Mary, the Star of Hope, who leads us to Him."

The star that lead the wise men to Jesus was not Mary. Our hope is not in Mary - she is not our star of hope. Our hope is in the Lord alone.

Psalm 31:24 Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

Psalm 33:22 Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.

Mary was our fellow human being. She was created as we are. She was only human, not divine, though she bore the God-man in her womb.

2) "It is [Mary], with maternal love, who can lead to Jesus, especially the young, who bear in their heart irrepressible questions about the meaning of human existence."

It is the Word of God that leads men to Jesus. Mary has passed out of this world. She no longer acts in it directly. Yes, some of her words are provided to us in Holy Scripture, but she herself has gone on. The Holy Spirit leads men to Jesus, not Mary. It is the outward call of the Gospel, and the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit that saves.

The answers about human existence are to be found in Scripture, not in Marian devotion. Scripture, beginning in Genesis, teaches what man is to believe concerning God and the duty God requires of Man. It explains the purpose of our existence - to worship our Creator-God.

3) "Our greatest hope as believers is in eternal life in the company of Christ and the entire family of God."

This misses the point that Scripture makes. Our greatest hope is in Christ himself - in his person and work on the cross. Our greatest hope is not in the life to come. Our greatest hope is in God, not in what God gives.

4) "The maternal presence of Mary ensures tonight that God shall never abandon us if we entrust ourselves to Him and follow his teachings."

No. The token of God's promise is the Holy Spirit, not the maternal presence of Mary. She is not present, she is absent. She has gone on to be with her Savior in heaven. What is at the front of so many churches is a painting or statue - it is not Mary. This may seem obvious, but it is important. Mary is no longer among us. She does not have a presence here.

And Mary was a mother to Jesus and to Jesus' brethren, and like a mother to John, but she is not our mother. We were not in her womb, and we did not care for her in her old age. She does not have a redemptive relationship to us. She is not our Savior, and she is not our Mediator: we have one Mediator, Jesus Christ.

Don't get me wrong. She was important to Jesus coming into the world, yet so likewise was Pilate important in murdering Christ, without which we would not be saved. You will say, "But any Roman governor would have sufficed!"

I answer you, "Likewise, so would any virgin of the line of David have done in Mary's place, if it had pleased God." Mary was greatly blessed, not greatly deserving. Mary's relationship to Christ as mother is unique biologically, but not unique spiritually.

Jesus himself stated:

"Who is my mother, or my brethren?" And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."

Mary did the will of God, yes. And Mary is a part of the story of the nativity of Christ, certainly. But Mary is not to be religiously venerated for her role. She is a handmaiden of the Lord, not the Queen of Heaven.

-TurretinFan

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent response to Benedict's Christmas message!

natamllc said...

Yes, TF, I agree, an excellent response to that papal babel.

What about all the incidents with Joseph? He had far more at stake than Mary.

Why don't they elevate a Nun to the papacy?

I believe the error would be more readily seen by doing that and Satan does not tend to look like himself in his down to earth deeds. If he did, he would not have nearly the mass of followers deceived and deluded, as he does now.

Oh, I digressed again!

orthodox said...

The significance of the incarnation is about Christ *becoming human*. Mary provided the human nature of Christ. Christ was there before Mary, but not as the God-man, not as the incarnated one. So the incarnation has everything to do with what Mary did for God.


I fail to see a distinction between Mary's statement of "let it be as you say", and "yes". You're reading into Benedict's "Yes" a lot of straw men.

" But Mary is not the mother of Christ's divine nature - she is only the mother of his human nature."

Natures don't have mothers. People have mothers. If you ever find a nature with a mother, let me know. What Mary gave birth to was God. If you give birth to something, by any dictionary, it makes you their mother.

Turretinfan said...

"Orthodox":

The "yes" vs. "let it be as you said" is significant in two ways:

1) it is a matter of accuracy;

2) more importantly, it is the difference between assent to a command and the granting of a request. B16 would like the reader (or hearer) to imagine that the world hung on Mary's answer. It didn't.

The "natures don't have mothers" argument is already rebutted in the article itself. Not everything about Jesus is communicated to his divine nature. Neither the gift of life or the curse of death was communicated to his divine nature, because Jesus' divine nature is eternal and unchangable.

The God-man was born of a woman and slain by Pilate. But the divine nature was not born of a woman or slain by Pilate.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

O submitted a comment that I have rejected. I want to address part of it, though.

He wrote: "The issue is that what Mary gave birth to was God. She didn't give birth to a human nature that the divine person then entered into. The divine person came out of Mary. That makes Mary his mother by any dictionary definition."

I agree that Mary gave birth to the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. She did not give birth to a human nature that the divine person then entered into. And Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ.

-TurretinFan