21 October 2009

On Mary

The question was posed in Catechesis on Sunday: Why Mary? Why did God choose her?

I think there are many ways to answer the question, but the one that came to mind first was this: because He knew it wouldn't destroy her.

Think of the overwhelming pride that would engulf us if an angel informed us that we had been chosen for such a task and such an honor! Our fat heads would be fatter than ever. But not she.

She marveled that God would so lift up the lowly, for that is how she continued to think of herself: as the lowly servant of the Lord, who consented to her Lord's bidding in faith. God chose a mother for His Son who was by God's unspeakable grace a truly humble person. Like her Son after her, she thought not of privilege and power but of undeserved favor and service.

O Blessed Trinity, lift us to the humility of the Mother of God!


Pr. Lehmann said...

That is a fantastic answer.

Phil said...

So one could say that Mary was chosen by God according to her merit?

William Weedon said...

Only if one remembers that every "merit" is but a divine grace received and used in faith, and thus in the words of St. Augustine, God crowns his gifts in us. Mary certainly does not praise her merit in the Magnificat; she praises God's unspeakable grace to her.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I think that William's point is exactly the opposite, Phil. She was chosen according to His mercy.

Scott Larkins said...

Better yet....could we say God prepared his chosen vessel by preserving her from original sin?

Is it possible?

Pr. Lehmann said...


Theoretically, yes. God can do anything. But I think the Magnificat precludes this conclusion (and, yes, William... I realize I'm disagreeing, in part, with Luther) when the Mother of God calls Him her "Savior."

Scott Larkins said...

Luther on Our Lady....

It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin"

(Sermon: "On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God," 1527).

Pr. Lehmann said...

Even my favorite Augustinian can be wrong, and I think that on this point he and the Dominican originator of this particular version of the idea (Aquinas) were both wrong.

Romans 3:23 is also instructive.

I wish my Roman Catholic friends would take a cue from me on this and leave the hobby of making exceptions to "all" to the Calvinists. :-)

Scott Larkins said...

I think all would agree that Missouri Lutherans have developed a bizarre fundamentalist style allergy to any pious or reverent talk about the Blessed Virgin.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I'm not one of those people, Scott.

But the immaculate conception is precluded by Scripture.

That doesn't mean I don't have a deep love and respect for the blessed and holy theotokos.

Scott Larkins said...

Pr. Lehmann,

My comment wasn't directed toward you. I was referring to American-style low church Lutheranism in general.

Past Elder said...

Sorry I'm late to the party, been engaged in a shoot-out elsewhere in the blogosphere.

The whole Immaculate Conception thing is a strange story. There was a feast of the Immaculate Conception for hundreds of years before the was a doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. How about that?

The feast (8 December, unless Rome changed it lately and we follow in wannabe suit) was established by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476, that it was not dogma but an optional belief was stated by Trent, and the doctrine was promulgated 8 December 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

Aquinas actually was against the idea, as was Bonaventure, and if that isn't enough, which it may not be since they were bloody friars and not proper monks, Bernard of Claivaux, a true monking monk in the Benedictine tradition, was against it too. All of which may have been factors in Sixtus threatening anyone on either side of the controversy with excommunication if they accused the other side of heresy, and in Trent stating its optionality.

Why so long then for the formal definition? As I was taught it, pre Revolution, er, Vatican II, God waited for his church to formally define the doctrine until the ideas became common that Man is not a creature of God (Origin of the Species, 1859) and Man is working his way to perfection under historical inevitability not the grace of God (Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Now, one may buy that or not, neither is necessary to point out what PW is getting at, that Mary's acceptance of the Annuciation, at great personal risk to herself, was no occasion of pride for her but marvel at the grace of God which, whether that entailed a conception without sin for her or not, fulfills the Song of Hannah and models faith for all of us.

Personally, that being the case, I don't think she'd be interested in the least in speculation on how God worked this out re her. She was all about re him!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

The thing I don't understand about Marian positions is if she is without sin, how do I learn from her? If is is the eternally virginal wife, how does a wife learn from her?

Mary is such a wonderful example of humility - as is rightly pointed out. I just fear sometimes in our desire to point out how wonderful she is if we don't inadvertently. . . elevate beyond our ability to emulate.

Past Elder said...

In Judaism, betrothal constitutes the vow; engagement is simply the time in between then and when a ceremony can be arranged.

So here she is, Joseph as the head, agreeing to get pregnant and not by him. Unless he buys the Don't get upset honey God did it thing, Joseph has the legal right to have her put to death as an adulteress. At the time she said Yes to the announcement of Gabriel, the announcement said nothing about Oh and don't worry Miriam God will take care of Joseph, she had to trust in his faithfulness and his headship and in the God they both believed in.

That's a lot for me to learn from. Most of the time I'm thinking why is it that it seems like I'm way downrange and the evac unit ain't comin or got wrong co-ordinates or something. And I'm the damn head, or was.

William Weedon said...

Pr. Brown,

What we always can learn from her is her humble and joyful submission to the will of God; her consent to let God's will be done even when she didn't fully understand; her keeping in her heart the words of God and pondering them; her humble service to St. Elisabeth, not presuming to give herself airs even though chosen of God in a unique and unfathomable manner. Much else too, but those come to mind - and would they not be fine for us to follow even IF one granted the opinion that she never committed actual sin as Dr. Luther apparently did?

Chris said...

Pr. Brown,

There's more to marriage than just sex. I'm sure you agree with that. And the Theotokos had lots of other virtues that should be emulated and copied by brides: humility, devotion, submission (not in the negative sense), etc. All those are qualities necessary for a marriage to work and to rear children.

Past Elder said...

Hell yes Chris, in fact sometimes there's so much else to marriage that "just sex" ain't even a part of it!

Like they used to say back at the abbey, let 'em get married, then they'll find out what poverty, chastity and obedience are REALLY all about!

Damn good thing I'm a widower, because if I weren't already sleeping alone, after posting that I would be!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


It's just that none of the other saints are put upon such a pedestal. We see Abraham's folly, and David's folly, and Elijah's despair, and Peter's denial, and Paul's being the chief sinner (not simply that he at one time was but isn't now).

The saints are not just examples of right living, but also examples of contrition and repentance. They are the examples of what I am now - Christ is the example of what I will be like when I see Him face to face (for then I will be as He is). But now - I'm one who is born sinful - and I will always need to be one who repents. I had thought that was part and parcel of every human being.

I. . . just don't like treating anyone on a level approaching "Super-Christian" other than Christ. Or at least elevating one to the level of Superchristian -- but I'm in the Bible Belt. . . that just strikes too close to a "and if you do what ______ does, you'll be a Superchristian too!"

Chris said...

Pr. Brown,

Are you saying Mary did not repent in her life? She's the icon of the saved and salvtion.

You're making a lot of judgments about her I wonder if your quia Lutheranism is suspect. :)

Tim said...

Mary was the Theotokos because God choose her. Thats it. I don't know why, and its none of my business. God chooses whom He chooses, whether or not we understand.

What can the Church (and individual Christians) learn from our Lady? That just as she was chosen to bear forth Christ into the world so we, through faith, bear Christ into the world. We too must praise God for His wonderful works done through and in us. Mother Mary is a wonderful exemplar of these things.

Dixie said...

I think Mary is a "Super-Christian". (Hey...I am Orthodox...would you expect me to say anything else!) Would that I have just an inkling of her humility, courage, love and dedication to God!

You know...that is one thing about keeping the saints before us. They are models of our potential in Christ. Models in active love as well as in repentance and dedication to God. I don't need role models who look like me!

Pastor Brown, one thing I have to say...from what I read here and at Pastor Hall's you are very consistent with Lutheranism as I was taught it. Inch by inch, line by line, no surprises with you...I appreciate that kind of consistency.

William Weedon said...


Luther would agree with you about "super Christian." This is what he preached in 1531 at Christmastide:

"[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ . . . She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures."

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


Um - thanks for the consistency compliment (even if someone disagrees with me, I appreciate if they are at least consistent in their disagreement!).


That is one of the things that I am most concerned about - Mary is the example par-excellence of those who are saved, who though sinful live out the life of faith. She is the picture of what the Church ought be - humble, focused upon her Lord, and committed to the care of the Apostolic Ministry.

It is just that whenever talk of her own worth, or merit, or lack of sin (either original or actual) comes that we can, as Luther would warn us against, doing injury to Christ and the Scriptures.

P.S. I do think many Lutherans tend away from discussions on Mary precisely because the discussions so quickly move beyond, "Behold the great humility she has, behold her obedience - this is what we as well should hope to obtain towards" and into. . . other stuff.

christl242 said...

P.S. I do think many Lutherans tend away from discussions on Mary precisely because the discussions so quickly move beyond, "Behold the great humility she has, behold her obedience - this is what we as well should hope to obtain towards" and into. . . other stuff.

Yes, unfortunately the discussions sometimes do. Even some Catholics will privately admit that over the centuries Marian devotion took on a life of its own and the horse ran off with the buggy, so to speak.

Jaroslav Pelikan tells in his classic work "Roman Catholicism" how missionaries found that the people they were trying to evangelize were not interested in hearing about Christ but were fascinated by the story of Mary.

Perhaps because of the presence of the Great Mother in so much pagan worship.

When we keep Mary firmly rooted in the authentic witness of the Church and Scripture the proper balance will be maintained as Jesus Himself praised her not for her physical maternity but for "hearing the Word of God and keeping it."