Loren, a reader, asked some honest questions about Catholic beliefs. As replying to them in the comments section would result in too long a reply, and may result in confusion later on, I decided to respond to her questions in the main blog.
Loren’s first question is on the Virgin Mary.
Q: Mary the physical mother of Jesus is of great importance to Catholics, but the Bible says very little about Mary. Why?
A: Actually, the Bible does say some things about Mary, but much of what Catholics believe about Mary comes from both Scripture and Tradition. The purpose of the Bible is to help us come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah (John 20:31). The verse just before that (John 20:30) tells us that there are a lot that is not recorded in the Bible, because it goes beyond the scope of the Bible.
So what do Catholics believe about Mary? I won’t go too deep into these, but will provide you links to articles for further reading if you’re interested in finding out more. We can discuss these in greater detail if you choose to do so later.
i) We believe that she is Ever Virgin.
We know this through the witness of Scripture and Tradition, that Jesus was Mary’s only child and that she remained a lifelong virgin. This is something that the Catholic Church has always believed in, until Protestants (most notably, Martin Luther) came up with the theory that scripture alone is all that is necessary for salvation. You will notice that Martin Luther’s teaching is not one that is found in the bible…
An important historical document which supports the teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity is the Protoevangelium of James, which was writen probably less than 60 years after Mary’s earthly life ended (around A.D. 120), when memories of her life were still vivid in the minds of many.
Here is an article that goes more in depth in explaining the cultural reasons why Mary was a virgin, and why it is an insult to the Blessed Virgin to say that she bore children other than Jesus Christ:
ii) We believe that Mary is the New Eve, and that she was sinless (full of grace). (called Immaculate Conception)
Man (and Woman) fell from grace because even though they were conceived without Original Sin, they disobeyed God. Mary is the New Eve and she too is conceived without Original Sin. Unlike the first Eve, Mary always obeyed God, just like Jesus who is the New Adam. Whereas the first Adam and Eve died and turned to dust, the New Adam and Eve were lifted physically into heaven. This teaching of the Church existed even before terms like ‘original sin’ had been defined.
iii) We believe that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. (called the Assumption)
Since it is sin that brings about death, then Mary who is sinless cannot have died. The Church teaches that at the end of her earthly life, she was taken up, body and soul, into heaven. This is supported by the lack of relics (parts of the body, or pieces of clothes, taken from a holy person after death). Relics have always been popular remnants of holy people throughout the history of Christianity and even before that.
Jerome, the great biblical scholar, had this to say of relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bown down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order to better to adore him whose martyrs they are”.
Scripture records the bones of Elisha being used to bring a dead man to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). The gospel also records a woman cured of a haemorrhage by touching the hem of Christ’s cloak (Matthew 9:20-22). In Acts 19:11-12, handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from Paul’s body to the sick and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. These are all examples of God’s use of relics to effect cures.
There were no relics from Mary, no body, no tomb, at all, despite the holy life that she lived and was recognised for. This is evidence that she was taken body and soul into heaven.
iv) We believe that Mary is the Mother of God.
One of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus is both human and divine. Jesus is a man who is also God at the same time. Since Mary is Jesus’ mother, it follows that Mary is the Mother of God. We cannot say that Mary is only the mother of the human side of Jesus, for that separates Jesus into two identities.
Although Mary is the Mother of God, she is not the mother in the sense that she is older than God or is the source of her Son’s divinity. Rather, we say that she is the Mother of God in the sense that she carried in her womb a divine person – Jesus Christ, or God in the flesh.
If we deny that Mary is Mother of God, we necessarily also deny that Jesus is human. It is easy to see why Christians (until recent times) have been unanimous in proclaiming Mary as Mother of God.
For additional reading: