Monday, December 8, 2014

Missing the point with Mary

Somewhere in my bible school music training one of the instructors quoted something like the following, which, regrettably, I can't immediately source:
Christians are more likely to sing heresy than teach it.
Well this Christmas, I am guilty. I'm part of a group that will be performing a chant that extols Mary as "Virgo semper intacta" which renders in English as "virgin ever pure." Now in one sense, that of redemption through the death, resurrection, and return of her firstborn, I have no problem ascribing to her any amount of purity. But the literal sense of the Latin doesn't lead us in that direction at all. "Intacta" signifies untouched, by which we may assume that she never, through long years of 'marriage,' ever copulated with her husband Joseph. And that idea I find viciously problematic.

Now the Gospels clearly state that the couple abstained until the birth of Jesus. And I wonder how anyone could extrapolate "never" from such a statement. I mean, why include the limiting preposition "until" if you really mean "never?" But that is by the by. I have been sometimes accused of being a grammar cop, but I shall try to avoid that here.

It's not the misuse of the text that is so problematic, but the damage that the eternal "purity," and (let's go ahead and say it) 'Immaculate Conception' of Mary does to the whole story of Incarnation. To me the point of Jesus' coming was for God to come as an everyman and not have any advantages that could compromise the worth of his sinless life. Think how much easier he had it, if throughout his whole upbringing, his mother was without any faults. How is that fair? And take yourself back to the time he lived in and imagine that he was the only boy in his neighbourhood of probable one room dwellings who had not experienced the childhood trauma of waking up to the sound of his parents' revels at midnight. "Go back to sleep, son -- no, everything's alright, we'll explain in a few years..." Paul's idea is "tempted in every way that we are" and I think he's right. I think he gets the Incarnation in a way that those who wish to ascribe all sorts of fairy tale virtues to Mary just don't.

In black and white, then, the more we embellish the character of Mary, more we detract from the redemption. If Jesus had some unique advantage, he can't be our Saviour and he can't be our Example.

But the quote stands. I will, as agreed, sing this heresy. But not without comment.


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