The doctrine of Virgin Mary through the generations
The dogma of Virgin Mary throughout the ages
The Coptic Orthodox Church gives the proper honor to Virgin Mary without exaggeration or decreasing. She is the honored saint canonized from who is in heaven and who is on earth. She is perpetually virgin, our trusted advocate, the second heaven and the Mother of the True light for she brought forth unto us the savior of the whole world; our lord Jesus Christ.
God waited for thousands of years till he found Virgin Mary the only human being who deserved to have this honor, "the Divine Incarnation", by Angel Gabriel's saying "the Holy Spirit will come on you, and God's power will rest upon you. For this reason the holy child will be called the son of God" (Luke 1:35). That's why Bible says about her "many women do noble things, but you surpass them".
Virgin Mary is the saint whom God intended from the beginning to choose to be the Mother of God; when God promised Adam and Eve to redeem them, he said "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head...” (Genesis 3:15). This woman is Virgin Mary and her spring is Jesus Christ who bruised the head of the snake through the cross.
Firstly: Virgin Mary in the Catholic Theology
Catholics believe that Mary Worship is the greatest way to save chastity and piety and they also believe that they should serve worship to Virgin Mary the same to the Eucharist; the Holy Sacrament.
To worship Mary is to give her your spiritual treasure; your rewards, graces, virtues and atonement or which is called the surplus of the saints' virtues. In the Catholic perspective, Catholics believe that they can get virtues or pardons through the ecclesiastic penalties or through saying certain prayers. If they have surpluses of these virtues and pardons, they can grant them to the tormented souls in the Purgatory to save them from being condemned to fire. So those sinners can be helped by the suffrages of the faithful in order to get back to God's grace.
Immaculate Conception of Mary:
On the eighth of December every year, Catholics celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary. They believe that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of the original sin (Adam's sin) through a special grace from God depending on the verse saying "the Most High has sanctified His dwelling"(Psalm 45:5). They believe that Mary was filled with the sanctifying grace from the start to be prepared to conceive the son of God. This doctrine was held in 1854.
There is only one way to be redeemed which is the blood of Christ Jesus "sins are forgiven only if blood is poured out …."(Hebrews 9:22). This concept was in the Old Testament through the Atonement Sacrifices to cover the penalty of sin. That's why we wonder how was Virgin Mary redeemed before the blood of Christ Jesus being poured out and how she was born free of the original sin?! And if it is possible for a human being like Virgin Mary to be delivered from the original sin without Jesus Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, death and resurrection, so why did not God deliver all the human beings through this way through his sanctifying grace which Virgin Mary got??! And why did God need to take on human body and nature to be crucified and die???
There are a lot of verses verify that there is only one way for salvation; Christ's deliverance of the human beings from sins on the cross:
"But by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with through Christ Jesus, who sets them free"(Romans 3:24).
"And so he is able, now and always, to save those who come to God through him because he lives forever to plead with God for them"(Hebrews 7:25).
"…if any one does sin, we have someone who pleads with the father on our behalf Jesus Christ, the righteous one. And Christ himself is the means by which our sins are forgiven, and not our sins only, but also the sins of everyone"(1 john 2:1-2).
"Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us"(Luke 4:12).
Then if Virgin Mary was delivered from the original sin, why she said "my soul is glad because of God my savior….."(Luke1:47).
Catholics believe that from the moment when Mary was conceived in the womb, she was pious and virtuous because God gave her a special grace. She was preserved from the lack of the sanctifying grace and virtuousness that afflict mankind and even the saints. Pope Pius IX defined that Virgin Mary, from the very first moment at her conception, was preserved immaculate from original.
Virgin Mary is God's dwelling not a goddess. Virgin Mary is the saint of all generations to the end of all ages. Virgin Mary being the saint of all generations does not mean that she was immaculate and completely preserved from mistakes. No other woman on earth is like Virgin Mary in her holiness and virtuousness not because of her being immaculate and preserved from mistakes as Catholics believe but because of the holiness she got when she conceived by the Holy Spirit and because of God's power that rested upon her as she carried the holy God in her womb.
If the sanctity of Virgin Mary was out of her being immaculate from mistakes from the start of her existence, it would be possible for other saints before her existence to get the same grace from the Most High.
To believe that Virgin Mary gets her sanctity by God's special grace for her to be immaculate from mistakes not by her own virtues is underestimating her value as a saint.
Mary and Indulgences:
Indulgences are the remissions granted by the Popes to those who say certain prayers or visit certain places within specified times. Virgin Mary got a lot from the three kinds of Indulgences.
- Indulgences for certain periods:
The Catholic Church holds Marian devotions during the month of May honoring Virgin Mary and they consider this month "The Marian Month". It is verified by Pope Pius VII. Pope Pius VII encouraged the faithful to practice these Marian devotions by granting Indulgences 300 days for each day the Christian attends the church or celebrates the Marian devotions anywhere and a Perpetual Indulgence to the Christian who celebrates the Marian devotions throughout the whole month.
- On the other side the month of March is dedicated to Saint Joseph, the fiancé of Virgin Mary.
- Indulgences for certain prayers:
- Indulgences for certain places:
Indulgences 300 days granted to those who say "O, Jesus and Mary" and Indulgences 7 years and 7 forties to those who say "O, Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph".
Indulgences granted to those who visit any church or any place to worship Virgin Mary on December 8 or the feasts days of Mary; Virgin Mary's Birth, Annunciation, Assumption and the Entry into the Temple.
No forgiveness without repentance.
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins, if you do"(Acts 3:19)
"But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live"(Ezekiel 18:21-22).
"That if you do not turn from your sins, you will all die as they did …"(Luke 13:3).
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the lord, and he will have mercy upon him…"(Isaiah 55:7).
Although the prayer of the Pharisee was longer than the tax collector's, the tax collector was the one justified before God. The relationship between God and us through praying is not about what we say like how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did by prolonging their prayers without faith, but about how we pray and talk to God like how the tax collector and the right bandit prayed with faith. So we can pray just few words with faith and go to paradise like the tax collector and the right bandit.
The most important aspects in praying are supplication, understanding and repentance in contrary to what the Catholics believe to specify prayers in certain numbers and on certain days in order to get forgiveness. There is no evidence in the Bible, the scriptures or the sayings of the apostles that the catholic Popes can grant indulgences 300 days or30 years or 7 years to those who pray certain prayers in specified places on certain days.
Virgin Mary; the Lady of the Purgatory:
The Orthodox believe in the striving church on earth and the victorious church in heaven but the Catholics believe in another church; the tormented church in the purgatory. Catholics also believe that Virgin Mary can help the souls in the purgatory by saving them from it or lessening the torment they face there. They also believe in the authority and sovereignty of Virgin Mary in the striving church, the victorious church and the tormented church and that she appears to the tormented souls in the purgatory to aid them in their suffering; they believe that her authority and sovereignty extend to God's. In the feast days of Mary, the purgatory might be empty from the tormented souls the same when some certain prisons release the prisoners in the feasts and the Royal Pardons.
Moreover when we give the surpluses of our virtues to Virgin Mary, she can grant them to the tormented souls in the purgatory in order to lessen their periods there.
The Surpluses of Virtues and Indulgences doctrines:
There is a relationship between these two doctrines; if anyone gets 50 years indulgences and dies after 30 years, so he has an indulgence surplus 20 years that he can grant to any other Christian either alive or tormented dead in the purgatory or grant them to Virgin Mary to distribute to the sinners as she wills.
Reply with some few points mentioned as following:
Is the blood of Christ insufficient for salvation??! If it is insufficient for salvation, vanity is our faith…but if it is sufficient for salvation, the purgatory is not necessary to be.
Are there some sins forgiven through the blood of Christ and some through the torment in the purgatory??!!
In the parables and stories in the Bible, it is clear that God's forgiveness is absolute. In the parable in the Bible about the two men who owed money to a moneylender "one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other owed him fifty. Neither of them could pay him back so he canceled the debts of both"(Luke 7:42), the moneylender forgave both of them. The five hundred silver coins refer to the mortal sin and the fifty silver coins refer to the venial sin.
(Clarification: Catholics believe that there are two kinds of sins; the mortal sin and the venial sin as mentioned in the Bible. They believe that the mortal sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ, but the venial sins are forgiven through the torment in the purgatory.)
What Jesus Christ said about this parable clarifies that the moneylender forgave the two slaves, although neither of them could pay him back either the five hundred silver coins or the fifty silver coins.
- Jesus Christ said to the right bandit "I promise you that today you will be in paradise with me" and it means that the right bandit went to the paradise the day of his death without passing what is called the purgatory.
Secondly: Virgin Mary in the Protestant Theology
The Protestant Church has many several interpretations of the Bible because Martin Luther gives the right to any faithful Christian to interpret the Bible as God's Holy Spirit guides him in contrary to the beliefs of the Catholic Church.
That's why there are different protestant denominations because there are several interpretations of the Bible.
Although Protestants deny the perpetual virginity and the intercession of Mary, they honor her a lot in their writings and sayings.
Virgin Mary as a vessel embracing the jewel:
Although the Protestants grant honorable words to Virgin Mary in their books, they describe her in their preaches like the vessel embracing the jewel which they take and then throw the vessel, or like the egg which they peel and then eat the egg. Moreover, some Protestants dare say "our sister" about Virgin Mary.
This similarity is theologically wrong because the jewel is from one material and the vessel from another like the shell of the egg is different in its material from the egg itself. So if Virgin Mary was like the vessel of the incarnation, the body of Christ was not taken from her but just carried in her as clarified in the Bible; "since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death"(Hebrews 2:14) and in the orthodox creed that Jesus Christ "was incarnated of the Holy Spirit and of Virgin Mary, and became man". Although the vessel is not as value as the jewel, it does not underestimate its importance in embracing the jewel.
The intercession of Virgin Mary and the saints:
Protestants think that asking the intercession of Virgin Mary and the saints for us is not proper because Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between man and God.
We must differentiate between the Christ's atonement by which our sins are forgiven and the intercession of the saints and their prayers on our behalf.
The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (the marriage of Virgin Mary after Jesus' birth:
Protestants believe that Virgin Mary got married to Joseph after giving birth to Jesus Christ. They also believe that she had other sons depending on some verses in the Bible:
"..And know her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and be called his name Jesus"(Matthew 1:24).
"When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, woman, behold thy son!!"(John 19:26).
Moreover the names of the four brothers to Jesus Christ are mentioned in the Bible:"aren't James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brother?"(Matthew 13:55-56)
Firstly: "and know her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son"(Matthew 1:24).
- "And know her not" does not mean that he had sexual relationship with her after giving birth to her son but it means that he does not know her dignity, value and place except after giving birth to her son 'Jesus' without being married.
- "Till" has two meaning in the Bible; "till that" or "albeit". In this verse "till" does not mean that Joseph did not know her or get married to her till that she gave birth to her son.
Like what the Bible mentions about Michal, David's wife:"therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death"(Samuel 6:23).
"..And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth"(Genesis 8:6-7). This verse does not mean that the raven went back to the ark after the waters were dried up.
God's saying to Jacob:"for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" does not mean that God left Jacob after that.
"..Surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till you die, said the lord God of hosts"(Isaiah 22:14). This verse does not mean that God forgives our sins only after death.
- "Her firstborn son" is not about Jesus Christ being firstborn son among many brothers of Virgin Mary after giving birth to him because his being firstborn does not mean that he had brothers but means that he was the first son. As mentioned in the Bible "sanctify unto me all the firstborn whatsoever openeth the womb"(Exodus 13:2); in this verse the child was sanctified to God as being the firstborn child without having brothers like Isaac who was the firstborn baby without having brothers.
Secondly: Jesus' saying "…woman" to Virgin Mary.
Some think that this word "woman" means the married woman depending on the difference between Mrs. And Ms., but the word "woman" in the Hebrew language means (lady) no more. It was so common to call any lady with "woman" in that community at that time.
The apostle Paul says in Galatians that "God sent forth his son, made of a woman"(Galatians 4:4). Paul's saying "a woman" does not mean that she is not virgin because Mary was virgin even at the time of Jesus' birth. The same when the Bible says about Eve "she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man"(Genesis 2:23) before going out from the Garden of Eden.
Therefore, the single or the married is called woman as the single male or the married one is called man.
Thirdly: Jesus' brothers.
In (Matthew 13:55-56) and (Mark 6:3) it is mentioned four brothers to Jesus: "James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas". So who are those mentioned brothers in the Bible??
1- The apostle Paul says in Galatians "but other of the apostles saw I none, save James the lord's brother"(1:19). Therefore, this verse clarifies that there was one of the apostles called "James the lord's brother". There are two disciples, mentioned in the Bible, are called with the same name "James"; the first one is James son of Zebedee, the brother of John, who was put to death by the sword by king Herod and the second one is James son of Alphaeus, the brother of Judas (who was called Thaddeus). James son of Alphaeus and his brother Judas were just two of Jesus Christ's disciples as mentioned in (Acts 1:13) and (Luke 6:16) because there was no blood relationship between Jesus Christ and Alphaeus.
2- There are 3 Maries mentioned in the Bible; Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph in (Matthew 27:56), (Mark 15:40) and (Luke 24:10). "Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene"(John 19:25); Mary the wife of Clopas and the mother of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas is Virgin Mary's sister, so James, Joseph, Simon and Judas are called Jesus' brothers because they are the sons of his aunt and also the sons of his uncle as Clopas and Joseph the carpenter are brothers.
3- Jews consider that the relative is like brother as in the following verses:
- Abram's saying unto Lot "let there be no strife…. between me and thee …; for we be brothers" (Genesis 13:8).
- Jacob's saying to Rachel that "he was her father's brother, and that he was Rebekah's son.” (Genesis 29:12).
- Laban's saying to Jacob "because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought?" (Genesis 29:15).
4- Some logical points:
- It is unreasonable that Virgin Mary had all those children and then Jesus Christ entrusted Virgin Mary to John's charge by saying "he is your son…she is your mother"!!
- Those four children were not mentioned through the Holy Family trip to Egypt and their trip to Jerusalem; Jesus Christ was 12 years old at that time.
- It is not true that those four children were Joseph's sons from another woman because their mother was there beside Jesus' cross.
- Mary was perpetual virgin even after the birth of Jesus as Ezekiel said "then said the lord unto me; this gate shall be shut, It shall be not opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut"(Ezekiel 44:4). So the Orthodox Church uses in the prayers "te barthenos ansiou neven" (it means the virgin all the time) to prove this doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.
- No one of the angels dared sit in the midst of the tomb where Jesus Christ was buried as no one dared to be conceived in Virgin Mary's womb where Jesus Christ was conceived in.
Thirdly: Virgin Mary in the Aryanism (the Council of Nicaea of 325):
Arius asserted that the son of God did not always exist, but was created by God the father and emphasized the father's divinity over the son. So when he denied the Trinitarian Christological doctrine and Virgin Mary's being the Mother of God doctrine (Theotokos), Pope Alexander and Saint Athanasius resisted his heretics.
Fourthly: Virgin Mary in the Nestorianism (the Council of Ephesus of 431):
Nestorius emphasized the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ. He held that the two natures of Jesus Christ were divinely separated; the human nature as the born son of Mary and the divine nature as the son of God. Therefore he asserted that Virgin Mary is the mother of the human nature, not the mother of God but the dwelling of God by giving birth to Jesus. His teachings were condemned as heretical at the first Council Ephesus in 431.
Pope Cyril I, the Pillar of faith, excommunicated anyone who held that Virgin Mary is not the mother of God. In the Council of Ephesus of 431, Pope Cyril I put the introduction to the Creed.
Fifthly: Virgin Mary in the Orthodox Church as the mother of God; Theotokos doctrine:
Nestorius was the first one who denied the Theotokos doctrine because he thought that Jesus Christ had two natures; the human nature and the divine nature, therefore, he asserted that Virgin Mary as a human bore the human nature and was the mother of Jesus not the mother of God. Pope Cyril I, the Pillar of faith, resisted him assuring that calling Virgin Mary as the mother of God is theological necessity out of the Divine Incarnation. The Divine Incarnation in the Orthodox Faith is complete union between the human and divine natures as the begotten Jesus of Virgin Mary is the incarnated son of God, but not just a human.
Explanation: the spirit and the body are composed and developed together in the womb, although the spirit is the offspring of the woman as the incarnated son of God's human nature was developed inside the womb of Virgin Mary, although he was not just a human but his body was united with the divine nature; the Logos. If Jesus Christ, the son of God and the second person of the Trinity, had been just a human, his body would have been like the prophets' bodies as Moses. The human nature and the divine nature were perfectly united making Jesus Christ both truly God and truly man.
Far be it from saying that the logos, the second person of the Trinity and the son of God, existed only by being begotten of Virgin Mary because Jesus existed before all ages as mentioned in the Bible "in the beginning was the word"(John 1:1). The second person of the trinity, the son, has two births; one eternal birth with the father and another birth as begotten of Virgin Mary.
"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law"(Galatians 4:4).