January 27, 2020

The Second Joyful Mystery: the Visitation

This is the second in a series by our own Martha of Ireland on the mysteries of the rosary. Part one can be read here

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,  and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me,and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home (Luke 1:39-56).

The Feast of the Visitation is celebrated nowadays on 31st May.  It used to be celebrated on various dates, most recently 2nd July, but in 1969 Pope Paul VI moved it to 31 May, “between the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (25th March) and that of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24th June), so that it would harmonize better with the Gospel story.”  These words of Elizabeth make up the second part of the first half of the “Hail, Mary” when combined with the angel’s salutation.  (Hail, Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.)

This event, where Mary went to visit her pregnant kinswoman Elizabeth, has been used as an example in various ways, usually to point out that the Christian should be zealous in doing good and in the same way that Mary bore Christ within her to Elizabeth, so we should bear Christ to the world.

My friend Dante uses this example in the “Purgatorio”, Canto XVIII, where on the Terrace of the Slothful, the souls purging their “past negligence and sloth in being lukewarm to do good” run around the circuit of the mountain unceasingly, crying out instances of historical characters who acted promptly and decisively to encourage themselves (Mary going to the hill country to visit Elizabeth and, unusually, Julius Caesar):

Soon they were upon us,

for the whole turbulent mob was running,

while two in front, weeping, cried out:

“Mary ran with haste into the mountains,”

and “Caesar, to subdue Lèrida, thrust at Marseilles

and then raced on to Spain.”

“Quickly, quickly, lest time be lost for lack of love,”

the others cried behind them.  “Let our zeal

for doing good make grace grow green again.”

So, following on from the Annunciation, we have Mary going to visit Elizabeth, who is in her sixth month of pregnancy, just as the angel told her.  Why did Mary set out on this journey?  Part of it at least must have been to discuss with her kinswoman this miraculous message that had come to both of them.  Here is the proof that what the angel had said was true, for Zechariah and Elizabeth can confirm that John’s conception and birth were announced by an angel.  Zechariah was rebuked for his lack of faith by being struck dumb, which seems a bit hard on the man.  On the other hand, when you are a priest serving in the temple before the Lord and an angel appears to you, maybe you are held to a higher standard of accountability than the laity.  Particularly when you have the story of Abraham and Sarah before you, a couple who also were elderly and considered beyond childbearing, yet this happened for them, so you don’t get to plead ignorance?

So Mary is getting advice and help in her turn, as well as giving aid to her cousin.  And we, with our skeptical sensibilities and unconscious chronological snobbery (after all, the primitive folk of the past can’t be blamed for their simple beliefs, but we – the fortunate children of the 18th/19th/20th/21st centuries – know so much better nowadays), don’t get the easy out that we still insist upon today: this pregnancy, this child that Mary is bearing, is not the fruit of “Oops!  We anticipated the wedding night!” or “So that’s how babies are made?  Who knew?” or “Okay, my boyfriend got me pregnant, ran out on me, and now my family are marrying me off to the first dupe they can find to keep it respectable.”  Oh, yeah, I’ve seen some doozies when it comes to explaining away the inconvenient miraculous element in the scriptures, and at this stage I much prefer the honest atheists who say flat out, “It’s all nonsense and the people responsible for writing these texts invented the whole thing out of thin air to sell their fake god” rather than the tactful friends who try and come up with rationalisations to save the appearances that are even harder to believe than the bare miracles.

C.S. Lewis encountered this same mindset, when he speaks of a man he knew trotting out the same old line about the simple folk of yesteryear being able to swallow miracles but we knew better; he pointed out to the man that, when denying (for instance) the Incarnation, that attitude involved the belief that people back then didn’t know where babies came from, which was quite obviously not the case.  The man had never quite considered matters in that light and had no real answer, but that’s beside the point.

Notice in this painting by Botticelli called “The Virgin of the Magnificat” (because the text Mary is writing is the Magnificat from the Gospel above) that there are several elements combined.  We have the coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven, the angels upholding the crown above her, because, “He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly”.  See how the Child Jesus’s hand rests partly on the page and partly on His mother’s arm; in an inversion of how a parent holds a child’s hand to teach it to write, the child is teaching His mother the words to write.  Divine Scripture, and those who write it, are inspired of and by God.  Mary is not glorious by her own unaided merits, but through her Son.  The pomegranate that both are holding is a symbol in art of the Resurrection; while still a child, before even the Passion, the victory over death has been won for all humanity (and Mary, as representing redeemed humanity, is the first to share in that resurrected life after the Resurrection).  So you can see how Marian motifs are inextricably tied to Christological ones.

From the Anglican tradition of Evensong, a 19th century setting of the “Magnificat”, as sung during the Papal visit to Westminster Abbey last year:

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTC8a4vFyek&feature=related’]

What have we here then?  Two women, both chosen by God and graced (or cursed – being exceptional is no picnic, as we will see later) with having sons who will fulfill the prophecies and be great in the service of the Lord and the salvation of Israel.  An older woman who has lived with the reproach (from her society) and the sadness of barrenness in her marriage.  A young woman who is pregnant with her first child.  Both of them in a relationship of mutual aid and comfort, because don’t you think that Elizabeth would have been teaching Mary about what married life and child-rearing entails?  Both of them with extraordinary destinies.

One of them sharing the same miracle as her foremother Sarah, one of them with a unique fate that no woman before or after her would ever share, the bearing of the Son of God.

What do we learn from Mary?  That she neither huddled away in her own home, hugging her specialness to herself, nor went out and about boasting of her favored status.  She went to help Elizabeth, not just be patted and praised.  She also went to test the angel’s words and find out as much more about what she and her child were to do as she could.  And when Elizabeth had her child, Mary did not stick around to soak up the limelight for herself, but went back to apply what she had learned.  That bearing Christ to others doesn’t consist merely in words, but also in deeds.

“And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.”

Comments

  1. Chesterton’s got a good point about miracles:

    The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism — the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence — it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is — that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.

    -Orthodoxy (1908)

  2. Jack Heron says

    There are other reasons to disbelieve the Virgin Birth unrelated to its miraculous nature. Miracles should not present problems to us as Christians – God can incarnate in any way He wants, thank you very much. And as Kate says above, you can’t assume the absence of miracles when considering the question of whether a particular miracle occurred. But there are textual problems with the infancy narrative which lead me to disbelieve the accounts given.

    On the other hand, does that really present a difficulty? It’s never disturbed me in my faith that I don’t think Mary was a virgin. What do people think? If we believe in the reality of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, is the Virgin Birth all that important to our religion? And what might we lose if we say it isn’t?

    • Jack, as a young Catholic woman I thought that the Virgin Birth was some anti-marriage, anti-sex idea dreamed up by crusty old prunes of men in the Church structure. That, because marital sex was so “icky” that our Lord couldn’t be involved with any thing like that in order to make His human appearance.

      Now, I see it all differently. There is nothing wrong with making babies the way men and women do and have for all of history and beyond. Sex is, after all, God’s idea in the first place. BUT….this Baby simply did not need a human father, as He was formed, like Adam, directly by God’s own Hands. I agree that if I am wrong, my faith would remain intact, but as a woman, wife, and now grandmother, I believe that the Incarnation came about in a special way due to Christ being the “new Adam”.

      Now, I have no real reason to think that Mary continued her virgin status once she had delivered, recovered according to the Torah, and was living as Joseph’s wife. THAT would be a clear dishonoring of marital relations, as if the love expressed physically between a husband and wife was somehow dirty. Not to mention all those siblings that get mentioned later…

      For clarity, this is MY PERSONAL TAKE on the matter, as he RC Church stated that Mary died a virgin and the siblings were, in fact, cousins. If I offend any of my fellow Catholics, I am sorry.

      • I used to get angry about the perpetual virginity doctrine too; it seemed so unfair that Mary would have to go through life without ever getting any sex! But the first thing that made me slow down and think, “Wait a minute. Now I get it,” was when I thought about Joseph’s perspective. It did make sense to me that Joseph, a devout man, would recognize that his wife’s body had been set aside by God for a special purpose, and therefore he would treat it as the Holy of Holies – literally, the place where God had been physically present (and where ordinary schmucks were not to go). Whether or not Mary “had” to remain a virgin, I no longer have any problem accepting that she did.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          …literally, the place where God had been physically present (and where ordinary schmucks were not to go).

          Kate, do you know the original meaning of the word “schmuck”?

    • Jack, you’re undoubtedly going to get some comments that will argue that if you don’t believe all of scripture, then there’s no sense in saying you believe any of it…That seems to be the typical argument with these types of things. Another popular argument against the virgin birth finds its roots outside of Christianity…a book called “Pagan Christianity” points out all the supposed Pagan roots of Christian story and ritual, and is popular amongst a few disgruntled Christian folk I know. The idea is that popular religions of the day had their own virgin birth accounts, so Christianity adopted its own version, in order to capture the culture’s imagination.

      From my standpoint, I have a little difficulty with the concept of “negative proof”…going back to antiquity to try to discern that some event in the Bible did not occur, or that Jesus, in reality, did not exist. Some negative proof seems to be based purely on opinion (see most any of Richard Dawkins’ books for some prime examples…he hates C.S. Lewis’ “proofs”, then goes about trying to disprove Lewis’ proofs with some proofs, and negative proofs, of his own…cheeky monkey, he is…).

      The deeper we dig into the desert sands and the mountainsides of ancient places, the more we seem to have our eyes opened to the reality of things we once considered “myth”…wasn’t that long ago that many scholars considered Hittites and Troy to be figments of the imagination. Fact is, we have no way of proving that the virgin birth did not occur. However, we can look to science, and see that bearing young without sexual intercourse is, indeed, possible.

      I believe in the virgin birth, because it is a part of this amazing story. If the raising the dead, making the blind see, resurrection, and other miracles are true, then it doesn’t stretch my imagination to believe that there was a virgin birth.

      Thanks, Miss Martha, for another great piece.

    • For me the strangest aspect is, where does this leave Jesus, genetically? That is, where did the other half of his DNA come from? Okay, presumably one of the other Persons of the Trinity made it somehow, but how did they determine what genes to give him? Was the logos spermatikos perhaps copied from the genes of some human male?

      • Glenn A Bolas says

        I’ve often wondered that too. Mysterious stuff indeed. No idea how that works. I rather fancy though that maybe Jesus looked more like His mother than most people.

        • Blake and Glenn…finally, some other people besides me who wonder about Jesus’ DNA! Whenever I brought the topic up before, I just got silence. But really…if we say Jesus was fully human and fully divine…how could he be fully human without having DNA like the rest of us humans? So, if he had regular DNA, he had half from a male and half from a female. I guess God could have just whipped up the male DNA on the spot. I don’t know why that is harder for me to understand than the creation of the universe, Jesus resurrecting and other things that have happened, but it hard for me to wrap my head around. And yet, I still somehow choose to believe it. BUT…if somehow it was proven to us by God himself that Jesus was not growing in Mary through any means other than natural…then I would have to think again about what it means for God to become man. It is possible for me to conceptualize it, though.

          • JoanieD, I am awaiting with some cynicism the moment when science (or rather, I should say, SCIENCE!!!!) either finds or invents a method of mammalian parthenogenesis.

            We will then see the “Pregnancy cannot occur without male assistance, so a miraculous Virgin Birth never happened”!” argument segue without any demur into “Pregnancy can occur without male intervention. so a miraculous Virgin Birth never happened!” with no sign of any difficulty.

            I base this on some freethinkers who have said, in reply to “What would it take for you to accept something as supernatural/miraculous?”, that there is nothing because if they saw something happen (e.g a genuine ghost sighting that wasn’t fraud, hoax, hallucination and so forth), then it would only be a natural event that was as yet unexplained by science. God writing His name in the stars? So what?

            I like how whatever way it turns out, believers are idiots 😉

          • But then again…

            Most people assume that Jesus at least had Mary’s genes, if not Joseph’s or the genes from some other male. But if no genes from a male were required, why would Mary’s genes be necessary? If no sperm, why not no egg? That is, Mary was merely a surrogate mother, with the baby miraculously implanted by the Holy Spirit.

            Has this idea come up before? Oh, it must have, I’m not that original…

          • Parthenogenesis would mean that Jesus would be female, no…? Besides,if there is a scientific explanation for it, then doesn’t this contradict the theological requirement that his birth have been miraculous?

            Granting that God can create male DNA from thin air, or do anything at all, the question still remains of what kind of genes God the Father decided to give God the Son for Incarnational purposes. One assumes that he must have looked Jewish…was this only for practical reasons, to help him blend in, or was there more to it? Are certain human physical types closer to the ideal, and more reflective of the divine image? But that way lies Mormonism and Black Zionism.

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            Ted, you’re probably right, though I couldn’t say for sure. About it coming up before, I mean. The idea reminds me a little bit of Nestorianism, at least in its implications. Perhaps, then, a job for Bishop Cyril and the Council of Ephesus (which, come to think of it, would have made a great name for a 60’s pop group)?

            The problem with Mary as just a surrogate, as I see it, is that it makes Christ a unique and unprecedented creation, effectively a genuine new Adam, totally unrelated to the existing human race. If Christ doesn’t share our humanity (and I do mean OUR humanity, as opposed to some arbitrarily created, superficially identical humanity), that has huge implications for redemption.

          • From an article in “Discovery” magazine online:

            “Could parthenogenesis, or some other scientifically conceivable process, have been at work in the most famous virgin birth story around? Dr. Aarathi Prasad, who’s writing a book about reproduction sans men, The End of Sex, ponders the question of Mary’s virgin pregnancy in the The Guardian. She points out one major problem with Jesus’s lack of paternity: that Jesus was male, presumably with an X and a Y chromosome. Since human females have only X chromosomes, there would be no way for Jesus to acquire his Y from Mary. Unless…

            After speaking with some geneticists, Prasad presents one “implausible possibility”:

            …Mary may have had a condition called testicular feminisation. Women with this condition have an X and a Y chromosome like a man, but their X chromosome carries a mutation that makes their bodies insensitive to testosterone. This leads to their developing as a female.

            Genetically male, and probably sporting ambiguous genitals, Mary would have been sterile. But had she become pregnant spontaneously, her child could have inherited an intact Y chromosome.

            Jesus would also have needed a mutation that reversed the insensitivity to testosterone, inherited from his mother, to prevent him from also appearing female. Another slim possibility is that Mary was a genetic mosaic—the fusion of twins, one of which had a Y.

            Lest you think all this is just fancy talk, consider that scientists have already managed to induce parthenogenesis in a mammal. Kaguya the mouse, named after a mythological Japanese princess, was born 2004 years after Jesus, and like him, she has no father. Kaguya was born after scientists tweaked one set of her mother’s egg genes to resemble sperm genes, thereby overcoming the problem of genomic imprinting.”

            See? No miracles here 🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            “Big Black Nemesis
            PARTHENOGENESIS —
            Everybody happy
            As the Dead come home!”
            — Shriekback, “Nemesis”

            Martha, I have heard all those Parthenogensis explanations of the Virgin Birth at one time or another. And ones even weirder. Mostly from my old Dungeonmaster back in the Eighties, when he was trying to freak me out.

    • Jack Heron says

      Thanks, Pattie and Lee, for a pair of really good responses (and Blake for a lovely idea…). I suppose I should clarify what I mean by my issues with the attestation to the Virgin Birth.

      I don’t *object* to it as some repressive anti-sex thing. Nor do I think it’s impossible or that there’s any reason to go around definitively declaring that it didn’t happen. I believe in miracles, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept all miracles. I believe in elephants, but I don’t believe my cousin when he says he saw one in his garden.

      Put briefly, the infancy narratives are contradictory in several respects – the details of Jesus’ human ancestry and the arrangement of events around his birth. Secondly, the census makes little sense to me: Nazareth and Bethlehem were in different provinces and under different systems of Roman rule; there is no record of such a census elsewhere. Thirdly, Jesus’ family repeatedly ask him to come home during his ministry and worry if he might be mad: this is strange if he were born of a virgin and announced by an angel. Fourthly, the Virgin Birth is presented as fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah 7: a prophecy which, in the Hebrew, does not speak of a virgin. It’s only virgin in the Septuagint.

      None of this denies that the Virgin Birth happened, but it suggests to me that’s it’s more a sort of ‘origin story’ for Jesus written by and for people who believed utterly that he was the Messiah and wanted to hear more about his origins. If people believed that Jesus was the Messiah and that the Messiah must be born of a virgin, then they would believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. And people would be keen to hear how this Galilean was born in Bethlehem in Judea, so people proposed explanations.

      So far none of this disturbs me (we can agree or disagree and that’s fine) but so many people place huge stock upon Mary’s virginity. And this does trouble me: if so many people regard it as an absolute essential of the faith, what implications does that have for those of us who think of it as an ‘optional extra’ based on one’s own interpretation of the Bible?

      • Means your not a real Bible beleaving Christian, better join one of them librel churchs.

        Its funny, the next post down talks about churchs dont talk about the gosple no more, then you people go off onto these weard frilly Cathlic things about salutations and visetations and magnificents and I dont know what all. I dont say there the anti christ but its got to where I cant hardly understand you. Dont you think its time to go back to the plane simple English of the Bible?

        • Jack Heron says

          You’re right, Vern. I’m not a Bible-believing Christian. I’m a Christ-believing Christian.

          • Jack, believe me when I say, I do not attend Vern’s church. Please, Lord, tell me that someone posted that tongue-in-cheek…

            You bring up difficult an interesting questions…Do we need to believe in the virgin birth? For that matter, do we need to believe in a literal six day creation? Or that Lot’s wife was turned to a pillar of salt? Or that Jonah lived three days in the belly of a whale?

            There are so many theological and philosophical questions from scripture that I would love to know the answers for…but for now, we have to keep looking through that clouded glass, don’t we?

            I have a friend who has immersed himself in the study of a certain brand of theology over the past 6-7 years, and become quite fanatical about it in the process. I won’t mention any names, but he seems to believe that I John, II John, and III John means John Calvin, John Piper, and John MacArthur, with Piper more than occasionally jumping into the “I John” spot. In his journey of “spiritual growth”, he has lost any semblance of romance, any sense of wonder, any sense of imagination when it comes to scripture…His questions have been answered. I find this most unfortunate.

            I don’t want to come off as ignorant, but I believe in the unbelievable not because I have the answers, but because I’m still able to have some child-like faith. Aren’t we supposed to approach God with some wonder? Even if what we’re wondering is, “How is this possible?”

            I think it’s great to search out answers to our questions, but we have to be careful that we don’t make God into a mathematical equation, so we can debate his wonder and smugly tell the world, “Aha! I figured Him out!”

            Good dialogue today. Thanks for striking this match, Miss Martha…

          • You make a good point about the nature of faith, Lee. But it’s a balancing act.

            On the one hand, we can lose all heart and spend our lives proof-texting, manuscript-analysing and reducing God to a series of logical assertions.

            On the other hand, we can lose all head and never question things. And this too, I think, results in reducing God to a series of faith articles about which reason is not allowed to act.

            We must not be dominated only by what can be proved, because that way faith flies away. But equally, we must not refuse to subject our faith to reason, because that way lies credulity and lack of understanding.

          • Jack,

            Faith does play a big role in what we believe – part of the reason I choose to belong to one of the ancient faith traditions. We can get all funky about old testament stories and events – forgetting that these were transmitted orally for for a few hundred if not a thousand years before being commited to whatever writing medium…

            The new testament was not written by Jesus, or even, if we read the theologians, by any of the apostles. But they were written by communities, again from an oral, albeit more recent for them, tradition. Yes, I have heard that the date of the census does not jive with what is written in the Roman record, and that there are inconistencies between Gospels, but then they were written by men who were inspired by God nd based on what they knew, not God putting men into a trance and channeling through them.

            I agree with Lee above, sometimes Ijust accept what my faith system has taught for 2000 years because in the end, those who wrote it down were a lot closer to the events than I was, understood the cutoms and cuulture because they were still living it, and understood the language from that time period. And because its good for me and for others if I live my faith.

            So in a nutshell there are some things that are non-negotiable – virgin birth, resurrection, trinity, incarnation. Other things are negotiable: Genesis as literal history, Jonah and the whale, etc.

          • Agreed, Jack…one of the big reasons I, like Radagast, became a “post-evangelical”, and gravitated toward a more historical expression of the faith…Anglicanism…scripture, tradition, and reason.

            Great discussion today…and nobody threw anything at the table! Mama would be proud.

          • I’m an Anglican too, though I was never an Evangelical. Scripture, Tradition and Reason is a good combination – much better than either of them working alone.

        • Go back to the Bible..? 😯 Isn’t their enough suffering in the world? And havn’t many Christians been at the root of some of that suffering. I’ll stay away thank you.

    • Jack, if we discount the Virgin Birth, what we are left with is an ordinary event, not even as great as Elizabeth’s conception of John, since Mary was a young and presumably fertile woman who was going to be married.

      That then leaves us, not with the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, Begotten not Made, but (1) a prophet, like John or Samuel; a great and venerable and worthy prophet, as Islam considers him, but not God made Man (2) a wisdom teacher rabbi (3) we are all sons of God (4) some kind of Gnostic flavouring.

      What we don’t have is Christianity.

      • Jack Heron says

        Necessarily, though? I’m not an expert on Incarnation, but then I don’t think anyone this side of the Fall is. Who are we to say how the Son can or cannot be made flesh? I agree there are potential issues with certain flavours of non-virgin birth (implantation is an obvious one, Jesus simply being a prophet another), but I’m not so sure of the mechanics of the Trinity as to certifiably pick one means by which God can become man.

        • Many of these notions were thrashed out in the early centuries of the Church; the amount and range of what were declared heresies is amazing (and often turn on hair-splitting of a tiny degree).

          For instance there are several varieties of Adoptionism. There seems to have been one early view that Christ only became the Son of God at His baptism (i.e. when the heavens opened and a voice declared “This is my son”); that was the instant when Christ became divine (and he was not divine beforehand nor was he pre-existing).

          A later version, called Spanish Adoptionism, held that Christ was adoptive in His humanity, i.e. the divine Christ assumed human flesh and emptied out his divinity, so that the human nature of Christ was adopted (in other words, there is the divine Son and the ‘adopted’ human Son).

          The point being that it’s not a new or modern thing to come up with these views. People have argued over and misunderstood the exact means by which the two natures of Christ, or the relationship of the persons of the Trinity, or the means by which God could become incarnate, worked. It’s not like these have never been considered until 19th or 20th century theologians decided to make Christianity rational by stripping out the mythological.

          • They were “thrashed out” in the sense that heretics were purged, and a course decided for Christianity by the powers in charge of it. However, it is possible to doubt the spirit by which such things were deliberated, or the ability of the participants to know anything about the subjects over which they proclaimed certainty.

            Really, what it boils down to is this: if you refuse to believe the creeds, then you miss out on being a part of most Christian churches–or at least, the fit will be uncomfortable. It must be like being a Log Cabin Republican.

          • Jack Heron says

            That pretty much sums up my view, Blake. I don’t doubt the intelligence of those who decided upon orthodoxy, not do I doubt that many heresies would indeed have produced diluted versions of Christianity. But I suspect Western Christianity of rather over-egging its theological puddings, if you’ll forgive the degree of Englishness in that sentence.

          • Glenn A Bolas says

            The heretics weren’t the only ones who got purged, nor were the (retrospectively defined) orthodox always the ones deciding a course for Christianity. Exhibit A: 357AD

            It seems to me it depends on what you take to be ‘the powers in charge of’ Christianity. I suppose it’s possible to create a sort of Deist version of Christianity where God sets the thing in motion then steps back and lets it run. In that case, you could disregard the creeds, traditional beliefs like the Virgin Birth and whatever else. I can’t really argue with that, except to ask what will be left over.

            On the other hand, I myself think, along with others, that God has not been absent at any point from Christian history and that, despite bloodshed, mutinies and other assorted nastiness, the rudder and sails are still intact and the ship has somehow maintained the course it was always supposed to. Accordingly, I’m inclined to accept the consensus regarding, for example, the Virgin Birth, despite the fact that, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem logically or theologically necessary.

            Of course, there’s no way to prove either position from the events of Christian history themselves. What it really boils down to is a far more fundamental theological question: What is God like and how does He operate?

          • Jack Heron says

            You’re quite right, Glenn. I have little patience for stripped-down versions of Christianity where everything either has a scientific explanation or didn’t happen. If the Cross tells us anything, it is that God does not stand back.

            But the uncomfortable position is for those of us who neither wish to abandon the Creeds and traditional Church teachings, nor wish to accept everything either. It’s not stripped-down Deism versus the full spectrum of Christian history. It’s both of those and everything in between, and that leaves an infinity of places to stand.

            Perhaps oddly, I’d actually be more willing to accept that argument of tradition and authority for the Virgin Birth than anything else. It basically says ‘yes, we know the attestation is a little off, but trust us: it happened’. I can get behind that kind of honesty.

          • So the creeds must be true, because the factions supporting them prevailed over their opponents–and surely a just God would not have permitted otherwise…? The question then arises, how many creeds has God thus guaranteed? Seven, like the Orthodox say? Three, as in the Oriental Orthodox? (Was one of those factions wicked for refusing to go along with the other?) Or since the Catholics are in the majority, all the way to Vatican II? But then surely God would not have permitted the rise of Islam unless he approved of the Prophet Muhammad… Will the real mainstream please stand up?

          • It was not always the majority…. During the time of the Arian Heresy you could count the number of bishops who held the orthodox (trinitarian) view on one hand…. hordes of barbarians were christianized as Arains and an emporer or two leaned Arian as well. But the Holy Spirit prevailed.

            The result of all the free thinking of events 2000 years ago since the Reformation is that we have many fragmented churches. Now that we have the internet we are also free to revive all the old heresies and question the wisdom of all that came before us (because in essesnse no rules apply anymore and individual interpretation now has free reign) and with the internet the ability to link groups with like minds. Heck we can invent new heresies based on our own interpretation of scripture. We can even go one more and start adding and subtracting books from the Canon because we can question the wisdom of those who came before us… oh, that’s right, that’s already been done….

            And so Christianity will continue to fracture into nothingness as long as INDIVIDUALS have an opinion (which is why I support a Magisterium).

            My subjective thoughts….

          • But were it not for free thinking we’d have got a completely different (Arian) Magisterium believing completely different things. In the case of the early Church, if the Spirit was speaking, it was speaking against the Magisterium.

            The absurd fragmentation of Protestantism is one of the reasons I would give to support differences of opinion within the Church. If people are given leeway where leeway is reasonable to give, there will be less of a desire to split off. It’s only when you have to accept all propositions or none that people who disbelieve in only one proposition start seeking elsewhere.

            We are, of course, starting to get rather off topic….

          • Blake, that’s a nice view of the early history of the Church which I’ve seen knocking around: forget the truth, we want to hang on to POWER!!! so the guys in charge crushed the ‘variant Christianities’ which would have been much more tolerant and egalitarian and friendly to women, dolphins, and little green men.

            The flaw in that argument is, for example, Arianism – which had the backing of the Emperor as an acceptable compromise, which garnered plenty of support amongst clergy and local churches, which spread throughout Europe and bade fair, for a while, to be the “official” version of Christianity.

            Didn’t take in the long run.

            Marcion, for another, would not have made it on anyone’s “more tolerant than the Pope” list even at the time, due to his robust attitude to the Jews and the Old Testament.

            Naturally, I believe the Holy Spirit guided the Councils of the Church so that correct doctrine was preserved, but even on a basis of arguing out the philosophy and the theology, both sides presented their cases and used the scholarly apparatus of the time to bolster their arguments. It wasn’t a case of sinister robed prelates whispering in the Emperor’s ear to do down their rivals; they thrashed out the arguments using the technical jargon and principles of theology the same way physicists are currently thrashing out the results from CERN about did a particle actually travel faster-than-light.

  3. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    (after all, the primitive folk of the past can’t be blamed for their simple beliefs, but we – the fortunate children of the 18th/19th/20th/21st centuries – know so much better nowadays)

    Do you mean “the fortunate children of the 20th/21st Centuries” with their Pyramid Power, Aromatherapy, Homeopathic Intictions, UFOlogy, Von Daniken, Horoscopes, Nostradamus, Mayan Calendar 2012, and The Secret?

    (And I’m not letting 21st Century Christians off the hook with their Spiritual Warfare Incantations and Wardings, Hal Lindsays, Bible Codes, and Camping Numerological Calculations of The End…)

    • Headless, we fortunate children of the Enlightenment and the Whig Version of History have SCIENCE!!!! which infallibly teaches us that women can’t get pregnant without sexual intercourse with a male of their species (so you have – for instance, I’ve read this one with my own unbelieving eyes – the unedifying and frankly insulting rationalisation that the birth of Jesus came about by some kind of genetic breeding programme to ‘create’ the Messiah through non-penetrative intercourse and I’m not going any further into this one.

      Dead people can’t rise from the dead! Which means Lazarus, the daughter of Jairus, the Widow’s son of Nain and Jesus weren’t dead themselves; like the parrot in the Monty Python sketch, they were only resting, stunned or pining for the fjords.

      Humans can’t walk on water! So we had the “Jesus was surfing on a conveniently localised ice-floe in the Lake of Galilee” explanation from last year which is so bad, it’s good.

      Boy, I’m sure glad to be living in the Era of SCIENCE!!!! and not like those credulous primitives back then!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …the unedifying and frankly insulting rationalisation that the birth of Jesus came about by some kind of genetic breeding programme to ‘create’ the Messiah through non-penetrative intercourse and I’m not going any further into this one.

        By who? The Illuminati, the Ascended Masters, the Ancient Astronauts, the Space Brothers from Clarion, the Reptoids from Draco, or the Dero from inside the Hollow Earth? Or “all of the above” in an even Vaster Conspiracy?

        (I’m sure all the above have been named in some Expose of Secret Knowledge at one time or another. A lot of kooks like to include Jesus somewhere in their convolutions.)

        • Headless, if I remember correctly, it was back in the late 80s in an Irish music magazine (our equivalent – or so it would like to think – of “Rolling Stone”) and the theory as put forward was that the Temple priesthood were running a breeding programme to fulfil the prophecies of a Messiah born of a virgin by tracking family lines in the descent of David and trying to get suitable maidens pregnant by (excuse me going into somewhat lurid detail here) means of introducing semen without sexual intercourse taking place – crude forms of artificial insemination, in other words. This would fulfil the criteria for ‘virgin birth’ as sexual intercourse would not have technically occurred between the man and the woman.

          How such notions get floated, I have no idea, and how the hell I end up reading such stuff, I have no idea either.

          • Well there’s as much evidence of one as the other. And this version at least has the virtue of being scientifically possible.

          • Jack Heron says

            Wait a minute, isn’t that taken from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ series?

        • All of these sodommies stand condemmed by God in “Rod of Iyern” by Robert Barbarian.

      • Or it might mean that the miracles described in the Bible did not really occur, being a bunch of old legends and myths.

        Before anyone tells me “There were witnesses!” I remind you of the witnesses to the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon was taken, whose testimony is usually reprinted at the beginning of the text. (Like Foggy Nelson said to Daredevil, even Bigfoot has witnesses.)

        • The devle is real my frend, cause I seen him. And if you keep on beleaving that there athianism, youle see him too one day, and then you can tell him how much of a myth he is.

          Mormin is not an angle but the name of one of Satins demons. So are pagin gods like Bhuda Mohamed and Wicka. Bigfoot I dont know about but I gess he coud be. Dr. Linsy says Satin has a plan to trick us into beleaving in evalution, so maybe he is related to U.F.O. S (not space ships but demons). He can even apeer in the sky as the Virgin Mary and fool the Cathlics that way.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Mormin is not an angle but the name of one of Satins demons. So are pagin gods like Bhuda Mohamed and Wicka.

            You’re slipping, Vern!
            You forgot the PONIES!

        • Several of the Book of Mormon witness recanted and said they never saw the Golden Plates… That had drunk the LDS kool-aide though… 😉

  4. The main question I have is whether the Virgin Mary ever sinned, even as a little girl. I thought Jesus was the only one who never sinned, but if he was conceived without sin, then I guess Mary can’t have sinner either. But then, what about Mary’s parents? I know Catholics teach the immaculate conception of Saint Anne, but what about her father? And how far back does this go…? At some point, his ancestors start to include murderers and whores–which they have to, since he came to raise up all of humanity.

    They say that whatever Christ did not take on (with his human nature), was not resurrected. That even has to include sexuality. He must have felt temptation, even if he didn’t give into it through self-abuse. Did Mary? Everybody else does, it would be strange if she didn’t, but then how could she be a suitable vessel for the sinless messiah? It’s confusing.

    • Actually the Immaculate Conception applies to Mary as she was born full of grace, hence without original sin…..

      • I understand that she was BORN without original sin, but does that mean SHE never sinned?

        • It means she was free from both the stain of original sin inherited from our first father, Adam and from concupiscence, the inclination to sin. She could resist sin. Jesus also was free of concupiscence and completely free from original sin.

  5. “The Fathers of the Church say that when God created man ‘in his image’ he looked toward the Christ who was to come, and created man, according to the image of the ‘new Adam,’ the man who is the criterion of the human… Jesus is ‘the Son’ in the strict sense – he is of one substance with the Father. He wants to draw all of us into his humanity and so into this Sonship, into his total belonging to God.”
    Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger in JESUS OF NAZARETH.