Saturday, May 09, 2009

Veneration of Mary Debate - Thoughts on Reflection - Part 2

Not every point that Mr. Albrecht raised during the debate was as unusual as his "titular form" argument addressed in my previous comment (link). For example, Mr. Albrecht made at least some oblique reference to one typical argument that we hear from Roman Catholics: the argument that Jesus honored his mother consistent with Jewish law.

As a preliminary matter I'm always puzzled when people suggest that honoring one's parents is somehow distinctly Jewish. The fifth commandment, "Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee," (repeated and amplified at Deuteronomy 5:16 Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.) is part of God's moral law: it is not just relevant to the Jews but to all humans. Indeed, Paul specifically repeats this law in Ephesians 6:2 ("Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;").

But yes, Jesus did honour his mother. This kind of honour, however, has nothing to do with religious veneration. Even if it could be said to be a form of veneration more broadly defined, familial honor (the honor due to one's parents) is distinct from religious veneration.

What is especially interesting is that Mr. Albrecht had claimed he was just going to repeat what the Bible has to say ("My goal is to simply see what the Bible says about the blessed virgin Mary, and to repeat it.") Nevertheless, within 20 seconds Mr. Albrecht is appealing to something that is only implicit from the text of Scripture.

Now, to be sure, Jesus did perfectly obey the moral law. Nevertheless, we don't actually have much Scriptural discussion of Jesus honoring his mother, aside from his making provision for her welfare (by requesting that John treat her as his mother) while Jesus was on the cross. Certainly, of course, it is not disputed that Jesus did honor her as a son should honor his mother, but this did not involve any "veneration" at least not in the sense relevant to a debate between Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics.

More to the point, the duty of honoring one's father and one's mother does not extend to religiously venerating them. Such is the error of the pagans. It is particularly famous among the Japanese who give religious veneration to their ancestors within the Shinto religion.

Instead, the duties of children to their parents are duties of love, respect, obedience, and (when appropriate) care. This is a moral duty, but it is not a religious duty. It is part of the general provision of the second table of the law, that we love our neighbours as ourselves. One's parents are a special case of that law of love, with heightened duties and more serious consequences for disobedience.

Of course, the bottom line is that Jesus did obey his mother and cared for her needs via his beloved disciple, John. On the other hand, that was not religious veneration. The idea of God incarnate giving religious veneration to a mere human like Mary would be a truly remarkable, if not absolutely shocking, claim to make.

Related to this claim was a claim of transference: Jesus honored his mother, therefore we should honor Mary, because she is also our mother. Albrecht phrases it this way: "We come to the question whether it is the Christian's duty to honor his mother, Mary."

However, Scripture does not call Mary our mother and does not suggest she is our mother. As I noted in the debate, the only thing described as the mother of us all is the heavenly Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26).

There are really two ways to attempt to justify this claim. One was used by Albrecht during the debate, and the other was not. The one used by Albrecht during the debate was an appeal to Jesus' dying comment to John "Behold thy mother."

However, as we brought out during the debate, this was a command that was made uniquely to John. John's reaction to this command by which he was essentially adopted as a son of Mary (or Mary was adopted as his mother, depending on how you look at it), is seen in the Scriptures: "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home." (John 19:27)

John took care of Mary as though Mary were his own mother - but the command was uniquely to John. Notice that it does not say that "And from that hour all the disciples took turns having Mary over" but "And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."

There is another argument out there, which is that we become united to Christ and therefore we have a mother-son (or at least something like a mother-in-law) relationship with Mary via our union with Christ. Of course, Scriptures nowhere suggest that Jesus' biological connections are to be attributed to us via our union with Him. Furthermore, Jesus' own appointment of John to be Mary's son seems to be substitutionary: i.e. as though Jesus was appointing John as Mary's son in place of Jesus.

Even if, however, through our union with Christ or even through the command to John, we were to treat Mary as though she were our own mother, we are not to give religious veneration to our parents, so it would not follow that we should give honor equivalent to veneration to Mary even if Mary were our mother.



orthodox said...

You are the one who claims there is such a concept as "religious" veneration, which is distinct from non-religious veneration. But these are categories the bible knows nothing about.

But I guess sola scriptura only needs to be followed when it supports your position.

Turretinfan said...


a) Yes, other folks besides me recognize the difference between religious and non-religious veneration.

b) Even folks outside the Reformed tradition recognize that there is such a distinction.

c) You yourself recognize that there is such a distinction, even if you like to pretend (with some of the Romanists) that there is no distinction.

d) The Bible does provide the basis for the distinction as can be seen from contrasting the first table of the law ("Love the Lord thy God") with the second table of the law ("love thy neighbor as thyself").

e) Improve the tone of your comments, please.