21 December 2005

Patristic Quote for the Day

Well, okay, not quite, but it's a goodie from G. K. Chesterton:

You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all around that of a new-born child.
You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed, you cannot really have a statue of a new-born child at all.
Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a new-born child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother.
You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother.
If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it followed in history.
We must either leave Christ out of Christmas or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in the old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.
- The Everlasting Man (cited in *For All the Saints*, vol. 1, page 111 - published by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau)


nan said...

Thank you for the reminder that, yes, Christmas is all about the Incarnation of Christ, but within that is the message of New Creation. What God did for Mary prefigures what He would do for us.
Yes, she is unique, but by to deny that God could redeem and make her Holy, we shoot ourselves in the foot---for is not that what we desire Him to do for us? Mary was more than just a container that God borrowed for nine months to carry his Son. She is a sign of Christ's being truly God and truly Man, that His birth was a Divine initiative-God breaking into history, and a sign of the New Covenant, the New Creation. As Christ is seen as the New Adam, Mary is the New Eve.

I was pleased to learn at last Sunday's bible study, that our Pastor, a former priest of the Roman Catholic Church, who has no love lost for much of their tradition/theology, and usually in agreement with the way ELCA is moving, still holds onto the importance of Mary in the Incarnation Narrative-Even to the importance of the Virgin Birth, a sign to Israel, and to all the world, that
the Bride, the Church, in contrast to the unfaithful Israel, through Grace would now be made Holy and set apart for all time and eternity.

An interesting discussion on Mary's perpetual virginity, scoffed at by most Lutherans Protestants, ensued.
Again, the point was not how can she be a virgin after giving birth, and what about Christ's brother's, Mary's other children, etc., but again, Mary's perpetual virginity (spiritual virginity?) is a sign of enduring Holiness and Sanctity of the Bride of Christ, keeping herself pure until the Marriage feast.
You may think some of this is over the top for a Lutheran, but we need to look beyond the sweeping condemnation of Marion Theology, and seek, instead, to find out what this all has to say about The Gospel, Redemption, and our preparation for the Second Advent.
Would be interested on your take on things.

William Weedon said...

Hi, Nan!

I believe that Mary was ever-Virgin and that anyone who takes the Lutheran Confessions seriously is bound to teach so. They express this in Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VIII:24.

Dr. Luther himself preached this in 1541 when he announced that "She remained a virgin before the birth, in the birth, and after the birth."

Mary is indeed not the great exception but the great example - and because she is a type of the Church itself, her virginal fecundity is a mirror of the Church's continual giving birth to children from the virginal waters of the Baptismal font.

Pax Christi!

Eric Phillips said...

The Lutheran Confessions certainly teach that Mary remained a virgin where Christ was concerned. Beyond that, they do not speak to the subject. It is beyond contest, however, that Luther and the Reformers in general believed she remained a virgin the rest of her life.

I strongly suspect it is a pious fiction, myself.

William Weedon said...

Dear Eric,

On this you are simply mistaken. Hermann Sasse, who did not believe in the perpetual Virginity of Mary himself, freely admitted that this is taught in SD VIII:24. He knew perfectly well the force of the German. I've check it with modern Germans; I've checked it with a specialst in Reformation German. They all agree: "ist ein Jungfrau geblieben" means that at least in 1580 she was still a virgin.

The Lutherans included this in their hymnody, they preached it from the pulpit, they taught it in their written meditations.

There is only one reason for saying that it is NOT in the Lutheran Symbols here and that is because one does not wish it to be so. But there it is.

C. F. W. Walther was once asked about his strict insistence on the Lutheran Symbols. He was asked if he knew that by subscribing the Symbols he also subscribed the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity. He said that he was aware of that. He was asked if he believed that doctrine. He said that he did.

Pax Christi!

Eric Phillips said...

I've disagreed with other native _English_ speakers about the meaning of a passage too many times to trust the consensus of a random unscientific sampling of German speakers, just because that's not my first language. I'd rather work through the grammar and the context myself. And having done so, I find that the only thing that passage plainly asserts is that Mary remained a virgin until Christ was born.

Anonymous said...


You are, of course, welcome to your opinion on that, but the fact that both native speakers AND experts in German from Ren./Ref. years tell us it means something else, settles the matter for me.

Anonymous said...


Should also add that checking into this question with the experts also led the editors of Concordia to offer the reading:

"Therefore she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a Virgin."

They certainly had no dog in this hunt, but just sought to offer the best English rendering of the intent of the German.

Eric Phillips said...

"...and yet has remained a virgin" is a good rendering. Probably the best one, as it does not make the exegetical decision for the reader. It remains ambiguous on the question of semper virgo, but allows the reader to see clearly that it could be implied.