Monday, October 15, 2007

Veritas Caput

If you'll remember from the post before last in this thread, I'm looking back at the earliest interpretations of Mary in Christian thought. The first place to look is obviously Scripture, but I trust the reader is already familiar with most of what Scripture has to say about her. The basic passages, if you want to read them, are Matthew 1-2; Mark 3:20-34; Luke 1-2; John 2:1-12; 19:25-27; and in her final appearance, Acts 1:13-14.

In Scripture and in the earliest extrabiblical Christian writings, Mary chiefly shows up as a secondary point in an argument the author is making about Jesus. For example, Paul in Galatians 4:4 emphasizes that Jesus was the Son of God born of a woman. This is the way Mary shows up in the Apostolic Fathers, as the source of Jesus' humanity. Take Ignatius of Antioch:

Under the Divine dispensation, Jesus Christ our God was conceived by Mary of the seed of David and of the Spirit of God.
Or take Irenaeus, writing in the late AD 100s:

To say [Jesus'] appearance was only seeming [i.e., he only appeared to be human] is the same as to say that he took nothing from Mary. He would not have had real flesh and blood, by which he paid the price [of our salvation] unless he had indeed recapitulated in himself the ancient making of Adam.

In these passages, Mary is important because she indicates that Jesus was a real human being. This is a crucial point in how the first Christians made sense of the mysterious horror of Jesus' execution, which they came to see as the central event of religious history. Irenaeus's point about recapitulation takes us right into the heart of that issue. It will require some unpacking, and will shed some more light on Mary's importance, but that will have to wait for another day.

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