MODERN CHRISTIAN: Well, it’s been a while since our last discussion, but I have been thinking about many things since we last spoke. I am wondering about what the early Christians thought about Mary. I see so many things that I can’t accept with Catholics and even Orthodox Christians. The Catholics elevate Mary to a point where she is really a co-redeemer with Christ; it makes me uncomfortable. Then, the Orthodox raise her to the level of the highest saint, but she did not do anything that important not like the Apostles or the earliest preachers. Why is there such an emphasis on her like that today?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You have a lot of questions in there, so I will address them one by one.
Photo of Stain Glass by elizaraxi
First of all, Christ is the only Redeemer. There is no other with him. If the Catholics of today do indeed see her as a co-redeemer, then I will be uncomfortable too. That is simply too much to claim of anyone beside our Lord.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: I am glad you agree. There’s a bit more than that too. They have this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived immaculately.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: No, no. It is not referring to Jesus here, but to Mary.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: What? What do you mean?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: The Catholics say that Mary was conceived immaculately when her parents conceived her.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: But that means she was born without ancestral sin.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: That is what they claim.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: I cannot accept that either; that was not taught in the early church. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24). This is why there is a Redeemer, our Lord. If the Immaculate Conception is the case, why did our Lord Jesus become Man to save us? God simply could have willed that all are to be born without ancestral sin and then start over instead of sending our Lord to redeem us and wipe out the sin that our parents Adam and Eve had committed.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: See, I am glad you agree with me. I knew they could not be right. Further, it gets worse than that.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: How so?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: They have prayers to Mary.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You mean they ask Mary to pray for us?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: No. They pray to her. They say things like “I consecrate myself to you, O Mary.”
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Oh no, that draws the line there! How can we consecrate ourselves to someone who has consecrated herself to God? That defeats the point.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: See, then, this whole business of making Mary the highest saint crumbles down. I mean what did she do that was so special?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Wait a second. Now, you yourself have leapt a bit too far. You have fallen into the opposite extreme.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: How so? With all these things shown to be wrong, she cannot be considered the highest saint. I mean, what did she do that was so important and special?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Even without all those teachings, she is still the greatest saint. I do not accept those teachings, and neither did the Christians of my day, but we still held her to be the highest saint. It is because of what she teaches us by her life when it comes to our relationship with God.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: What does she teach us?
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: First of all, she teaches us how to love our Lord Jesus Christ. I overheard a conversation between three people recently. One man and his mother were talking to this other man. They had just met him more than a few months prior, and he said to the man whose mother was there, “Your mother loves me more than you.” Both the man and his mother were generally upset at this comment, and rightly so. How can anyone love a person more than his own mother if the mother truly loves him? Saint Mary is our Lord’s mother, and she loved Him more than any other has loved Him or indeed, can love Him. God would not have sent His son to be born and raised by someone who was not going to be a real loving, spiritually minded, mother.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: How can you say that? The Apostles died as martyrs according to your own tradition….
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: You mean history, not simply tradition; it is documented.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Whatever. The Apostles died as martyrs for Christ. She didn’t. That shows that others loved Him more than His mother.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: She may have suffered more than the martyrs.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Are you out of your mind?!
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: No. Think about this. What would be more torturous for a mother: to die for her child or to see her child die in front of her?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Oh…. Definitely to see her child die in front of her.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: Now, think about this. She did not just see our Lord, her Son, die in front of her, but she saw Him die the death of the Cross. A slow and excruciatingly painful death, a death preceded by multiple trials, all of them unjust and full of suspense in the dead of the night through the early morning. All of which did not come to the legal conclusion of execution, much less Crucifixion. A death that was preceded by multiple tortures like the crown of thorns that pierced through His skull, then the scourging by whips with bones and metal at their ends until his back resembled raw ground beef. A death that saw him covered in blood like someone covered in water after coming out of a pool. A death that was slow and full of agony. She saw Him walk with the instrument of His execution across the streets of Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover when people from all over Israel and the world came to Jerusalem. Instead of arriving to see a feast, they saw this spectacle. He was humiliated and condemned as a spectacle for all these people to see. Then, she saw Him get nailed and raised on the Cross. She heard His shouts, she saw His pain, she saw His blood running down His body like the rain runs down the side of a house, she heard Him struggle to breathe as He hang on the Cross. She felt her stomach burning as many of us do when we see our loved ones suffering, but imagine seeing Him slowly executed unjustly. Then, she saw Him die, and others bring His body down from the Cross, cover it in a shroud, place in a tomb, and then seal it. He had no funeral, no gathering of loved ones, no reflection about His life. All his dear disciples had fled like cowards except one, John. Then, night came quickly, the night of the Sabbath, when you cannot travel outside of the city for so many steps or do any type of work. She could not even stay by His body or even outside of the tomb. Instead she saw guards waiting for them to leave so they could remain by it as if they were guarding a prisoner as if it were not enough that they had executed him like a criminal, like a murderer, the one who came to preach life and indeed give life. I believe a martyr’s death for her would have been much less in its suffering than her watching Him slowly die in front of her. The one who was promised by God; the one she guarded and raised, the one whose tears she wiped, the one who slept on her bosom as a helpless baby, the one she rocked to sleep, the one who was always in her thoughts, the one whose miracles she saw, the one who was prophesied about by so many, her own Son. The one she saw preach the words of grace and heal so many who were hurting not only in their bodies but in their hearts.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: I have never thought about it that way before.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: We, in the ancient world, did. It is something that was often on our minds and we reflected on it.
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Yet, the Apostles died as martyrs; their faith was strong.
ANCIENT CHRISTIAN: They ran away from Him at the events leading to the Crucifixion; she ran after Him. They had weak faith that was only strengthened when they saw Him raised from the dead, ascend into Heaven, and send the Spirit. She already had that strong faith, so much so, that she accepted for a Child to be conceived in her womb against all human understanding (how can you have a conception without a father)? She said, “I do not know a man,” (Luke 1:34) yet she believed the word of the angel that this would happen without a man. Others would have laughed, but she took it seriously. I even believe that her faith became stronger than the Apostles because they did not see how much He was tortured and how He died before He rose from the dead, but she and the Apostle John, and a couple of others did. So, she could bear a stronger witness with a firmer conviction of how glorious His Resurrection was.
We can learn from that faith and love.
Then, if all these things were not already enough, she went to the tomb first thing in the morning on the day after the Sabbath, on Sunday, to continue putting spices on His body. The Apostles hid like wimps. She had the courage to go, a woman, but they, men, locked themselves up in a house on the other side of Jerusalem. She bore witness of the Resurrection before them and to them.
So, then, there is her witness too. She had immensely strong faith, she had more love than any could have for our Lord (otherwise you are saying that someone besides His mother loves Him more; and her love for Him cannot be doubted), and she bore witness directly to the Resurrection seeing the empty tomb and the angels proclaiming that He had risen. This then filled her with hope.
Faith, hope, love, courage, and witness. Aren’t we are called to live this way? Can’t we then learn from her and imitate her in her relationship with our Lord, God, and Savior?
MODERN CHRISTIAN: Oh my. Wow! I am at a loss for words. Give me a minute.
After a few minutes, the MODERN CHRISTIAN came back.
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