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MARY Her moment of obedience tri^ered

two millennia ofreverence.

n the sixth month of her elderly cousin Eliza- (Luke 1:46-55), but for all God's children. She was the one
beth's pregnancy, a young, betrothed Jewish girl woman, out of all women, through whom God would ful-
was astorkished by a visit from an angel. It was fill his covenant love and promise.
the angel Gabriel, and he greeted the girl Mary How improbable! This obscure Jewish girl became,
with a reverential "Hail" and announced that she had through the work of the Holy Spirit and her willing obedi-
"found favor" with God and was to conceive and bear a ence, the instrument of divine grace. Through her, the
child to be called Jesus. Shocking enough; but there was majesty and unapproachable holiness of God joined the
more: the conception would occur not by natural means, frail impermanence of fallen humanity. She was the chosen
but by the agency of the Holy Spirit (1:35-37). vessel of the Incarnation, at the pi\'ot point of God's saving
Mary responded in obedience. She called herself the plan. How could Mary not loom in the imagination of the
Lord's "handmaiden" (Luke 1:38, 48)—a humble title that church?
set the tone for the rest of the New Testament accounts and
became the foundation for centuries of Marian devotion. The woman and the Word
Mary recognized that she had become, like Enoch (Gen. Although Mary the mother of Jesus is of almost unri-
5:22) and Noah (who "found grace in the eyes of the valed importance in historic Christianity, and although her
LORD" [Gen. 6:8]), one "highly favored" by God (Luke role in salvation history is central, she has a comparatively
1:28, 30). She saw that she would forever after be recog- modest role in the Bible itself. Even where Mary does ap-
nized as one "blessed . . . among women" (28, 42). This pear in the Gospels, she often has only a cameo, and in sev-
blessing was not for her alone, as she sang in her Magnificat eral instances, she does not even get a speaking part.


PARAGON OF FAITH. From Luther on, Protestants have loved to dwell on Mary's faith-filled response to the Annunciation. Historian
Owen Chadwick has said that The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (ca. 1450), for the Dominican priory of San Marco, Florence, has
been "one of the two or three pictures which most helped Protestants, as well as Catholics, to remember St. Mary with affection."

The gaps and silences in the biblical texts have invited nah, a divinely inspired poet. This trait she also shares
speculation, and writers of a number of apocryphal books with her ancestor David, indeed, her spontaneous poem
(p. 18) purport to reveal details of her biography not found recalls the Psalms (especially Psalms 111:9; 103:17; 89:10;
in the canon, inspiring much art and even some doctrine. 107:9; 98:3), just as Elizabeth's words of greeting to her,
The central importance of Mary in Christian tradition, "Blessed are you among women," echo Psalm 1: "Blessed
however, is rooted in the Bible. It is in her role as the is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly."
"mother of Jesus"—or, in Elizabeth's words, "mother of The Ma^iiifical soon entered the liturgy of the church.
my Lord" (Luke 1:43)—that we meet her in the Gospels' Among Anglicans it continues to be recited daily at even-
pages. song, and Catholics use it in worship, where it is often
Luke, of course, tells her story most fully (l:26ff; cf. sung rather than spoken, as in the beautiful version of the
Matthew l:18ff). There we find not only Gabriel's Annunci- Franciscan singer and liturgist John Michael Talbot. In this
ation to Mary, but also her poetic response, the prayer-song context all of the congregation joins Mary in praise: "Holy
known as the Magnifiail (because it begins "Magnificat ivi- is his name."
ima mea Doniinum" or "My soul magnifies the Lord"). Mary's Visitation to Elizabeth, whose fetal child John
The Magnificat reveals Mary as, like Miriam and Han- the Baptist "leaps for joy" in her womb at Mary's approach

(1:39-56), completes the story of the Annunciation. Along sorbed in reading Scripture. Another book, perhaps a com-
with Gabriel's Ave Maria and Mary's Ma^nificaf, the Visita- mentary, lies on the table beside a kind of book bag and
tion confirms that the events Mary is caught up in are in- some notes. Behind her hangs the lalit, or prayer shawl^
deed God's fulfillment of "all that the prophets had spo- presumably of her father Joachim. The vase on the table
ken." Not surprisingly, along with the plethora of artworks holds a lily; on it are visible Hebrew letters; the vase sym-
dedicated to the Annunciation, Christian artists have cre- bolizes Mary's virgin womb. The angel Gabriel has just en-
ated many images depicting this portentous visit. tered the room; the beating of his wings has snuffed out
the candle, and Mary is captured, by the painter's bril-
the Bible student liance, just as she is beginning to shift her eyes toward
Because of the doctrine of the Incarnation, Mary is asso- Gabriel. Intent upon the Law, she is about to be surprised
ciated with the fulfillment of the Word of God and thus by Grace. The Scripture cradled in her arms has its binding
with Scripture. In many Renaissance paintings the Angel protected by a cloth, an allusion to the swaddling cloths in
Gabriel finds her reading the Bible. It is historically un- which she will wrap the newborn Jesus: this touch renders
likely that Mary would have had access to a scroll of powerfully transparent the link between the Word and the
Torah. Yet artists seeking to symbolize her faithfulness pic- Word-mad e-flesh.
tured her as a careful student of the Word of God. This at-
tentiveness to God's written Word was not only a sign of She who was foretold
her obedience, pious artists thought, but also a preparation Christians seeking links between Jesus' birth and Old
for her coming role as the receptacle for his Word made Testament prophecies focused early and often on Mary's
flesh in Jesus. unprecedented virgin conception (cf. Luke 1:34). In this,
Moreover, Mary's supposed study of Scripture would they followed the New Testament sources. Matthew, in his
make her a model for all those who would seek to harbor telling of Jesus' birth (1:22-23), brings the promise in Isaiah
Christ in themselves. So, in Roger van der Weyden's {ca. to bear on Jesus—"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and
1400-1464) Annunciation, Mary's bedroom is imagined as bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14). The
a church sanctuary, and her hand is shown raised over the virginity of Mary became one of the crucial tokens for
Bible. This makes visual her verbal words of faith and obe- early believers that Jesus was "the Christ" long expected.
dience: "Be it unto me according to thy Word" (Luke 1:38). Christian readers of the 1st century would have ex-
Following this line of thought, Thomas Aquinas pected Mary herself to be about 12 years of age—the age
(1225-1274), among others, spoke of Mary as the model ascribed to her by two apocryphal gospels and the com-
and patron saint of all those called to study Scripture. mon age of betrothal. Mary's youthful virginity was
No painting of the Annunciation captures this theme so nonetheless theologically important, as was her lineage as
well, perhaps, as that of Robert Campin (1375/80-1444), a scion of the root of Jesse, the house of David. These mat-
sometimes called "The Master of Flemaille" (below). We ters, along with the spare canonical narratives, gave rise to
see Mary seated on the floor rather than on the bench, ab- apocryphal accounts of her childhood and p.i

T H E WORD MADE TRAP. Through reading the Word, Robert Campin shows us in his Annunciation triptych (ca. 1425), Mary is being
prepared to bear the Word as her Son. Joseph meanwhile is making mousetraps: through the Incarnation, the Devil will be snared.

References to Mary are in other respects sligbt in tbe Epiphanius (310-403) denounced for offering sacrifices of
first centuries of the Cburcb. From the time of Irenaeus (d. cakes to Mary, saying: "Let Mary be held in honor. Let the
A.D. 200), Christian apologists combated gnostic heretics Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be adored, but let no one
by pointing out Mary's significant place in salvation his- adore Mary." Ambrose (ca. 339-397) similarly cautioned
tory. This allowed them to clarify the biblical case for that worshippers must not divert to Mary the adoration
Christ's human as well as divine nature, over against the due only to God: "Mary was tbe temple of God, not the
gnostics' spiritualizing of Christ. The formula offered by God of tbe temple. And therefore he alone is to be wor-
Irenaeus, that Mary is a "second Eve," becomes standard sbipped wbo is working in bis temple."
in Marian literary typology. Later controversy concerning Mary's role led to various
In 2nd-century frescoes from Roman catacombs, we see attempts by the Fathers to clarify ber specific virtues. Vir-
Mary represented as the fulfillment of the "virgin" in Isa- ginity was already a bigh ascetic ideal for Jerome
iah 7:14. Such representations amount to a statement about (340/2^20), Ambrose, and Augustine (354-430), each of
the two natures of Christ and the purity of his birth—a whom readily celebrated Mary as the premiere example of
statement verbalized and made binding in the Apostles' virginity as a spiritual vocation. Jerome wrote his influen-
Creed, the Chalcedonian Council, the Old Roman Bap- tial Dc perpetua virginitate Beatae Mariae adversus Helvidium
tismal Creed (Hippolytus), and the Niceno-Constantino- (A.D. 383) as a reply to Helvidius, who maintained that
politan Creed (A.D. 381). mention in the Gospels of the "sisters" and "brethren" of
Jesus, as well as the statement that Joseph "knew her not
The trouble with Mary until she had brought forth her firstborn son" (Matthew
By the 4th century, apocryphal Mary narratives had be- 1:25), suggests that the virginity associated with Jesus' con-
come popular among sects such as the Collyridians, whom ception and birth had evidently given way subsequently

HJ V (• Since Christ stands alone as our redeemer, what is Marys role'?

n the late 1990s, some Catbolics Mary has become "the cause of salva-
urged that Mary be acknowledged as tion, both to herself and the human
co-redeemer with Christ. The Vati- race."
can wisely resisted this move. Doing so How are we to interpret the word
would have unduly encroached on Je- "cause"? Irenaeus views "cause" as a
sus' unique role. There is, however, a metaphor and not a doctrine of Mary as
middle ground—hinted at by the 2nd- co-redeemer. He unequivocally places
century theologian Irenaeus: Christ alone in the role of redeemer of
In his work Against Heresies. Ire- humanity: "He therefore completely re-
naeus developed an idea called "reca- newed all things. . . . as our race went
pitulation." based on Paul's words to down to death by a man who was con-
the church at Ephesus: "To bring all quered we might ascend again to life by
things in heaven and on earth together a man who overcame."
under one bead, even Christ" (Eph. Perhaps evangelical Protestants need
1:10, Niv). Christ, said Irenaeus, reca- to recognize Mary's rightful place. Cer-
pitulates the first Adam and replaces tainly she is not the co-redeemer, but
sin and death with righteousness and with Mary's "May it be to me as you
life (see Rom. 5:12-21). have said" (Lk. 1:38), an act of obedi-
Irenaeus compared the garden ence undid the disobedience of our first
events with the cross events in detail. parents. So with Elizabeth, evangelicals
developing a rich typology. Of Christ. DIVINE DO-OVER. Jerome, like Irenaeus, cry. "Blessed are you among women,
he writes, "he by his obedience on the taught that "death came from Eve, but life and blessed is the child you will bear"
tree renewed and reversed what was came through Mary." (Mary and Eve un- (Luke 1:42).
done by disobedience in connection der the tree of the Fall. Furthmeyr. 1481.) This confession is more than a
with the tree." Protestant neglect but less than tbe
Irenaeus related the disobedience of virgin Eve had bound fast through unbe- profession of those Catholics who
Eve to the obedience of Mary: "The lief, this did the virgin Mary set free would make her the co-redeemer. Per-
knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed through faith." haps it is even biblical.
by the obedience of Mary. For what the For this reason, Irenaeus observed, —Robert Webber


to a normal marriage relationship between
Mary and Joseph.
Concerned that such a view might rank
virginity lower than matrimony, for Jerome
an impossible reversion to the patriarchal
system of the ancient Hebrews, he uses the
Pseudo-Gospel of Mary and the Protez'angeliitm
of James {ca. 180) to argue three positions that
subsequently became central to Marian liter-
ature: (1) that Joseph was only apparently,
not actually, the husband of Mary—in par-
ticular, that he was elderly and remained a
virgin (3-8; 21-22); (2) that the "brethren" of
the Lord were actually his cousins, children
of another Mary, the wife of Cleophas (9-17);
and (3) that virginity is spiritually preferable
to wedlock, which entails many hindrances
to prayer.

Perpetual Bride
Since very early in the history of the
church, Christians have dwelt devotionally
on Mary's virginity—often insisting that
that virginity was never violated throughout
her life. Like other Marian themes, this one
had its heyday in the medieval period. An-
thony of Padua (1195-1231), who saw Mary
as the natural human channel for devotion
to the Passion of Christ, championed and
codified the idea of the "virgin bride"—a V I R G I N A L OBJECT LESSONS. Anthony ot Padua's scriptural typology of Mar7 s
common theme in medieval iconography virginity informs this Cologne altarpiece (ca. 1420). Symbols of Christ as phoenix
(see Cologne altarpiece, right), Anthony (a flame consuming heams), pelican (believed to succor its young with its blood).
found "types" of Mar\''s perpetual virginity lion, and unicorn are surrounded by the virgin-symbols of the burning bush.
in many places in Scripture: the burning Gideon's fleece, Jesse's budding root, and the "closed gate" of Ezekiel 44:2, All
bush of Moses that burned without being around, prophets hold Scripture references to the Virgin Birth, and an inscrip-
consumed (Exodus 3:2); the fleece of Gideon tion below Mary reads "Learn through this painting—proof of the Virgin Birth,"
that, as a sign of God's election, remained
untouched by the night-time dew (Judges 6:37-38); and the "church triumphant"—to whom prayer might be ad-
"closed gate" of Ezekiel 44:2, which after being entered by dressed. Even so strict a biblicist as the "morning star of
"the LORD God of Israel" was never again to be used. the ReformaHon," John Wyclif (1324-1384), thought it "im-
Anthony also found Mary's virginity prefigured in the possible that we should obtain the reward of heaven with-
mountain from which, without hands, is hewn the little out the help of Mary. There is no sex or age," he wrote, "no
stone that destroys the empires of this world (Daniel 2:34) rank or position of anyone in the human race which has no
and the "rod out of the root of Jesse" (Isaiah 11:1) which, need to call upon the help of the Holy Virgin."
like Aaron's, miraculously blooms. Perhaps if England had been more influenced by Wyclif
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) had written, in his and Luther than by Calvin and Cromwell, even Reforma-
commentary on the Song of Songs and in a Marian hymn, tion poets might have shied away less sharply from Mary
of the "rosa sine spina"—the rose without thorns. After as a subject for poetry. Calvin's central contention that
Bernard, this became as frequent a symbol for Mary's love- Mary's "virtues and all her excellences are nothing other
liness as the lily was for her purity (as the medieval carol than the generosity of God" (Neio Testament Commentaries
goes, "A roose hath borne a Ully white"). Finally, in one of 1.22) leads him to say that "to this day we cannot enjoy the
the most important papal announcements of the Middle blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the
Ages, the "Llnam sancfam" of Pope Boniface VIII (1302), same time of that which God gave as adornment and
Boniface made the bride of Song of Songs 6:8 stand offi- honor to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-
cially for Mary as representative of the church, thus color- begotten Son," MiraH
ing and amplifying much of the other typology.
Especially after the later Middle Ages, Christians saw DAVID LYLE JEFFREY is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the
Mary as a representative of the church in heaven—the Humanities and Provost of Baylor University.