bible christianity theology

mary – channel of salvation?

My recent time at Kopua Monastery and my reading this morning of ‘The Church of Mercy‘ (a lovely collection of addresses and ecclesiastical excerpts from Pope Francis) have me pondering the role and place of Mary in Christian faith.  Given that modern protestants say more about the role Mary does not have, than the role she does have, the question arises: What is the most largest role a Protestant could attribute to Mary?

Theologically, there is a bewildering and striking contrast concerning the role of Mary and God the Father in the Incarnation of God the Son.  It goes like this.  In that the Christ the Son was eternally begotten of the Father, he is fully divine; and in that Jesus of Nazareth was temporally begotten of Mary, he is fully human.  What a contrast this is!  The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is one person with two natures, fundamentally depends on both the willful fathering of his divine Father, and the willful mothering of his human mother.  Here we see up close and in focus the gentle omnipotence of God, who would not force Mary to comply; instead she cooperated with the announcement, saying “Let it be unto me according to Your word.”

So we have Mary’s human willingness as a necessary condition for the Incarnation.  That gives her a historical, past-tense, role in the faith.  Way back when, she was willing.  And so, indeed, she said, “Henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.”  But what of an ongoing role in the faith?  And not just in the sense of ongoing acknowledgement of her “blessed” state (though could that acknowledgement be more – pardon the pun – pregnant than we Protestants have admitted?), but is there more to Mary?

Two Johannine scenes from Scripture, one from John’s gospel and the other from John’s apocalypse (or the ‘Revelation’), rise to the fore.  John’s gospel (19:26-27) has Jesus declaring a new state of relationship between his mother and the disciple he loved.  The disciple is the ‘son’ of Mary, and Mary is the ‘mother’ of the disciple.  There is an either-or concerning the interpretation of this declaration.  One sees this new state of relationship as restricted to these two humans; Jesus wants them to have support after he departs.  The other extends this to all disciples being ‘son’ (and daughters) of Mary, and Mary being the ‘mother’ of all disciples.  John’s apocalypse (12:17) speaks of her according to the latter interpretation, identifying “those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony of Jesus” as “the rest of her offspring”.  Are we therefore intended, biblically, from the lips of Jesus, to view Mary, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Revelation 12:1), as our mother?

Consideration of Mary’s role as “co-redeemer”, “mediator” or “advocate” will have to wait, and I admit here my skeptical outlook to those considerations.  But for now, it seems, tentatively, that Protestants, theologically and biblically, can see Mary as not only the God-bearer (Theotokos), but also as ‘our mother’.  Thoughts from other Protestants (or Catholics/Orthodox)?

2 replies on “mary – channel of salvation?”

Thanks, Dale, for another thought provoking piece.
In reading Martin Lings’ book, ‘Muhammad’, Mary must have been ‘up there’ early on in the Christian ‘pantheon’ for Muhammad to misunderstand the nature the Trinity. Of course, it could be that even though there was clear teaching of the Trinity as we read it the NT, the devotion to Mary most probably was adapted from pre-Christian religion.
Interestingly, icons of Mary and the infant Jesus were painted on the inside wall of the Ka’bah in Mecca before Muhammad cleansed it of idols. Also, in Islam, as in Roman Catholicism, not only Jesus but also Mary (through the Immaculate Conception) are regarded as sinless.
The mother role in 1st century middle east (and also today) was a lot wider than It is in contemporary western culture. So in trying to draw conclusions about Mary’s role as mother, care has to be taken in regard those differing contexts.
It will be interesting to read any further comments as to Mary’s role in being a channel for others’ salvation. Something more than what we are as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus? Some how, she does, but does that role warrant any form of worship?

Thanks Bryson,
Yes, I’ve heard that the Mary-with-Child iconography goes back very early. As for worship, I wish time permitted me to dig into catholic/orthodox understandings of marian devotion. Though I struggle to remember Marian devotion at any masses I’ve attended (the mention of her in the eucharistic prayer hardly can be called worship), I certainly experienced it at Kopua monastery, where most of the daily offices end with a ‘Marian anthem’, or another prayer including the phrase “Queen of heaven, rejoice now, alleluia”.

I think a significant hesitance for some of us is not wanting to over-complicate our imagination of heaven. A simple vision of Christ at the right hand of God interceding for us is ‘enough’ for many of us. The protestant insistence on ‘Christ Alone’ being our mediator (not without biblical warrant!) makes it hard to imagine any sense of communication with a ‘heavenly mother’ being beneficial (let alone necessary). However, if Jesus did intend for us not only to have a ‘mother’ but to also speak to her, then we must be prepared to alter our imagination and practice. Life, unfortunately, is a bit full on for the level of inquiry I’d want to give to it. :)

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