Note by Phil Scovell.
The following article was posted just as you read it here on bulletin
boards systems (BBS) before the days of the internet. My rebuttal
is also posted on this website so the reader may judge. the contact
information listed at the end of this article may not, therefore, be
End Of Note.
FACING UP TO MARY
by Fr Peter E. Gillquist
reprinted with permission from Conciliar Press
Is it safe to say that no woman in history is more
misunderstood by modern Christendom than the Virgin Mary?
And is it also probable that in a discussion concerning
Mary between two Christians, if their differences remain
unresolved, most likely it will be due to stubborn refusal to
deal with the biblical data?
If I have heard him say it once, I have heard Billy Graham
say it at least a half a dozen times over the years: We
evangelical Christians do not give Mary her proper due.
There is no doubt in my mind that he is correct. But his
statement raises a crucial question about Mary. What IS her
proper due? Before we look to the Scriptures for some answers,
let us acknowledge right up front a problem which makes our task
much more difficult than it should be. The highly-charged
emotional atmosphere which surrounds this subject serves to blunt
our objectivity in facing up to Mary. Therefore, those of us who
were brought up to question or reject honor paid to Mary in
Christian worship or art often have our minds made up in advance.
That is why we have allowed our preconceptions to color our
understanding even of the Scriptural passages concerning her. We
have not let the facts speak for themselves.
As we attempt to face up to Mary honestly and openly, let
us turn first to the Bible, the source-book of all true Christian
doctrine. We will consider what the New Testament teaches about
her, and then we will turn to the Old Testament.
To understand how the biblical record has been applied
through the years by Christians, we will look specifically at
Church history to understand both how she has been properly
honored, and how excessive beliefs concern-ing her have crept
into the picture.
Lastly, we will look at how we must face up to her in light
of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
THE NEW TESTAMENT RECORD
What is it, then, that the New Testament clearly teaches
concerning the Virgin Mary? The Gospel of Saint Luke, the book
of the beloved physician, gives us at least four crucial answers.
1. Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived.
Whereas our Lord Jesus Christ tells us there is no greater
man to walk the earth than John the Baptist, both the Archangel
Gabriel and the saintly Elizabeth confess to Mary, "Blessed are
you among women" (Luke 1:28 and 42). She is the most
blessed of women for several reasons, the greatest of which is
that she conceived, carried, gave birth to, and nurtured the very
Savior of our souls. The One Who today occupies the heavenly
throne of David, seated regally at the right hand of God the
Father, entered the human race and became our Savior through her
womb. She was sovereignly chosen by the Father to bear His only
In that role, Mary is the first person in all history to
receive and accept Christ as her Savior. You and I are called to
enthrone the Lord in our hearts and lives - to follow her example
in doing so. Early in Christian history she is called "the first
of the redeemed."
I remember entering a Church some years ago and seeing a
painting or icon of Mary with open arms front and center on the
wall (the apse) just behind the altar. My first impulse was to
wonder why Christ alone was not featured at that particular place
in the Church, though He was shown in a large circle that was
superimposed over her heart.
When I asked why she was so prominently featured, the
Christian scholar with me explained, "This is one of the greatest
evangelistic icons in the entire Church. What you see is Christ
living as Lord in Mary's life, and her outstretched arms are an
invitation to you and me to let Him live in our lives as He has
in hers." The power of that icon stays in my mind to this day.
For she has set the pace for all of us to personally give our
lives over fully to Jesus Christ.
Mary is also blessed because she found favor in the sight
of God. Gabriel's words of encouragement to her were, "Rejoice,
highly favored one, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Then he
comforted her by saying, "Do not be afraid, Mary, *for you have
found favor with God*" (Luke 1:30, emphasis mine).
What does one do to become one of God's favorites, to be
favored by Him? Remember Cornelius in Acts 10? He was the first
Gentile convert to Christ, "a devout man and one who gave alms
generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2).
Two verses later he is told in a vision, "Your prayers and your
alms have come up for a memorial before God." The Lord took
notice of his deeds of devotion and brought him salvation. In a
similar way, Mary's purity found favor with God, and she was
chosen to bear His Son.
You say, "Wait a minute! Are you suggesting human merit
earns salvation?" Not at all! As commendable as it is for us to
live in purity, a devout life never merits salvation. Else why
would Mary be called first of the REDEEMED, or why would
Cornelius be BAPTIZED into Christ by Saint Peter? Prayer and
devotion, however, do gain God's attention. When we seek Him
with all our hearts, we do find Him! Do you want to be favored
of God? Then give Him everything you have, give Him your very
life. This is precise-ly what Mary did, and why she is to be
considered the greatest woman who ever lived.
2. Mary is our model for Christian Service.
While God certainly knew Mary desired to please Him, He did
not take her servitude for granted. The angel explained how she
would bear Christ. "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the
power of the Highest [God the Father] will overshadow you;
therefore, also, that Holy One Who is to be born will be called
the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
Now Mary had a decision to make. Was she willing? Hear
her answer, for it is the doorway to the life of spiritual
service for all of us. "Behold the maidservant of the Lord!" she
said. "Let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).
Even if we are totally sincere about wanting to follow God,
He will never conscript us apart from our consent! This is why
He is called "the God of all grace" (I Peter 5:10). We are to
choose freely to obey Him and do His will. Some thirty
years later, by the way, Mary again had opportunity to exalt her
Lord. She was with Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The
servants who were in charge of the celebration discovered they
were out of wine. Mary had no doubt as to who could solve their
problem. Referring to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, she
advised them, "Whatever He says to you, do it" (John 2:5).
3. Mary is the Mother of God.
Now things get a bit more touchy for some of us. Here is
one of those emotional trouble spots I mentioned earlier.
Whether we like to face it or not, the Bible teaches Mary is the
mother of God. First let's look at the text, then we will
discuss why this title is so important to our lives as Christians
in the Church.
After Christ had been conceived in her womb, Mary paid a
visit to the home of relatives Zacharias and Elizabeth, soon to
be parents of John the Baptist. When Mary greeted her cousin,
Elizabeth called her blessed and said, "Why is this granted to
me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke 1:43).
Elizabeth knew that her Lord, the Messiah of Israel, was in the
womb of Mary.
This title took on great importance in the fourth century,
when a heretic named Nestorius - a man who held high office in
the Church - claimed that the one in Mary's womb was certainly
man, but that He was not God. Orthodox Christians, with one
accord, said, "Wrong!" To see Jesus Christ as something less
than God in the flesh is sub-Christian. For unless the one in
Mary's womb was and is God, we are dead in our sins. To
safeguard the full deity of Christ, the Church has always
insisted that Mary be rightly called -as Elizabeth called her -
the Mother of God. This title, of course, does not mean mother
of the Holy Trinity, for the Holy Trinity has no mother. Neither
does it mean she originated the Person Who is God the Son. It
refers instead to Mary being the Mother of the Son of God, Who
assumed full humanity in her womb.
Just as we insist on the Virgin birth of Christ, we also
insist that for the nine months she carried Him in His humanity
He was at every moment fully God as well. Thus we say boldly and
with great insistence that Mary is the Mother of God, Theotokos,
God-bearer. To say anything less is to side with those who deny
When a man buys a large plot of land and turns cattle out
to graze on it, he fences in his acreage. He does so to protect
his cattle, to keep them from wandering off, and to discourage
rustlers. Similarly, the Church sets doctrinal fences around its
foundational truths. And nothing is more basic and important to
us than the deity of Christ. Because Christ is God, we set a
firm and non-negotiable fence around His divinity by our
unmovable confes-sion that Mary is Mother of God.
4. We are to honor Mary and call her blessed.
Now comes the toughest test of all. Not only is Mary the
most blessed of women, our model for obedience, and the Mother of
God, we are called to honor her and to bless her. How do we
know? The Bible tells us so. During her three-month stay
at Elizabeth's house, Mary offered one of the most beautiful
prayers of praise to the Lord in all the Scriptures. It begins,
"My soul magnifies the Lord," and thus it has become known as
In that prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary
prophesied, "hence-forth, all generations will call me blessed"
(Luke 1:48). Essentially, all generations in Church history have
done so; only the last two centuries have faltered. Our
generation of American Christians is filled with those who refuse
to bless her, and we must change our ways. For some Christian
bodies have come to stand dogmatically against Christ and the New
Testament by refusing to bless her.
From the beginning of recorded Christian worship, Orthodox
Christians have taken special care to venerate of honor Mary in
the Liturgy. There is an ancient hymn which begins, "It is truly
right to bless you, O Theotokos (Mother of God)." she is also
called in this hymn "Ever-blessed and most pure." The biblical
injunction to honor Mary is followed and taken seriously.
We do not, of course, worship Mary, for worship is reserved for
the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But she is most
certainly to be honored and venerated. And because Christ is our
elder brother, the first born of many brethren, we honor the
Virgin Mary as our Mother, our lady, as well. Just as Eve was
mother of the old Adamic race, so Mary is the true Mother of the
new race, the Body of Christ, the Church.
Perhaps in part because we refuse to honor Mary, our
generation seems to struggle with honoring anyone. For example,
next time a Presidential news conference comes on T.V., watch
closely how most of the press-corps behave! Far from merely
trying to get the story, many are out for intimidation and
While God's word tells us to honor the king (Daniel 4:37)
and to give preference to each other (Romans 12:10), our
generation seems to delight in challenging and humiliating other
people, especially those in authority. Not only are we who are
Bible-believing Christians urged to "give honor to whom honor is
due" (Romans 13:7), we are called by God in no uncertain terms to
bless the Mother of our God. We cannot get around that point in
THE OLD TESTAMENT AND MARY
We know that the Old Testament is more than just an
inspired account of the history of mankind, or of Israel in
particular. In its pages - indeed central to its message - is
also the prophetic record concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. He
is typified throughout. Moses is a type of Christ, in that he
leads the people out of bondage into the land of promise. David
typifies Christ as King of Israel. Adam was a type of Christ as
head of the human race.
Often overlooked, however, is the fact that the Virgin Mary
is also seen in the prophetic pages of the Old Testament. Most
Christians are aware that the Prophet Isaiah predicts Mary's
virgin conception of Christ when he writes: "Therefore the Lord
Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive
and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).
But there are numerous other passages which speak of Mary as
From the very early years of the Church, Mary was called
not only Virgin, but Ever-Virgin. She was seen as never having
had a sexual union with Joseph, before or after the birth of
Christ. Ezekiel 44:1-2 is a passage often referred to by the
early Fathers in this regard. It states: "Then He brought me
back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the
east, but it was shut. And the Lord said to me, 'This gate shall
be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it,
because the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it
shall be shut.'"
In traditional interpretation of this passage, Mary is the
temple and Christ is the Prince of Peace. The gate mentioned is
seen as a picture of Christ's passage through the door of Mary's
womb. You might not find that interpretation in some of today's
commentaries, but it was held by the great majority of early
Church Fathers, as well as many of the Reformation leaders.
At this point, however, a very valid question can be raised. If
she remained a virgin, why does the Gospel of Matthew tell us
that Joseph knew not his wife until after Christ was born
From a Scriptural standpoint, the presence of the phrase
"until she had brought forth her firstborn Son," does not
automatically mean that Joseph must have known her afterward.
This is because in both Greek and Hebrew the word 'until' or 'to'
can have several different meanings. We find it in II Samuel
6:23: "Michal, daughter of Saul, had not child to (until) the day
of her death." It is used again in Matthew 28:20 where the risen
Christ says "Lo, I am with you always, even to (until) the end of
the world." And in Deuterono-my 34:6 we read "Moses was buried
in a valley in the land of Moab, but no one knows his grave to
(until) this day."
Obviously the use of the word in these passages does not
imply that Michal had a child AFTER her death, that Christ will
DEPART at the end of the world, or that Moses' burial place was
discovered THE DAY Deuteronomy 34:6 was written. By the same
token, the word 'until' in Matthew 1:25 does not mean that Joseph
and Mary began a sexual union after Christ was born. Such a
teaching is found nowhere in Scripture and is contrary to the
consistent voice of the entire early Church.
But doesn't the Bible also mention other brothers and
sisters of Christ? Who are they and where did they come from?
For one thing, they are never directly called the sons and
daughters of Mary and Joseph. In several passages the Bible
speaks of the children or relatives as "brothers." Abraham and
Lot are called brothers, although Lot was actually Abraham's
nephew. And Jacob and Laban are called brothers, even though
Jacob was the son of Rebecca, Laban's sister.
Scripture is therefore silent concerning the nature of this
relationship between Christ and these brothers and sisters.
Early Fathers differed slightly in their understanding of what
the terms meant. Some, such as Saint Ambrose, believed that they
were children of a former marriage between Joseph and a wife who
died prior to Matthew chapter 1. Others taught that they were
cousins. But on one point, almost everyone is in agreement:
Mary and Joseph had no sexual union whatsoever, before or after
the birth of Christ.
I must say in all candor that had my betrothed been the
woman chosen by the Father to bear His eternal Son in the flesh,
my view of her would have been utterly transformed and my honor
for her infinitely heightened. Imagine being betrothed to the
Mother of God. It was so with Joseph. His betrothed was ever-
If we as the Church are called to be "without spot or
blemish or any such thing, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians
5:27), does it not follow that she who is the progenitor of the
Lord of that Church should be of that same holy character? Not
only has Mary by the mercy and power of God conquered both sin
and death, the Psalmist sees a glimpse of her in heaven through
prophetic eyes. For in Psalm 45:9, Christ is King and Mary is at
His side as Queen - and rightly so. If God can make us "kings
and priests" (Revelation 1:6) for all eternity, certainly He has
the prerogative to crown her with higher honor in heaven's royal
Little did John and James realize the day they argued about
which of them might occupy the seat of honor at Christ's right
hand in the Kingdom, that God the Father had already reserved
that space for the marvelous woman He chose to bear His Son for
our salvation. The honor is appropriate for the most blessed of
all women, the one who is our very icon of holiness. Who else
could be more rightly rewarded? Thus the Psalmist is well within
the mark when he writes of Christ, "At Your right hand stand the
There are two other beliefs concerning Mary that must be
briefly mentioned and addressed. The first is her bodily
assumption into heaven, the other her immaculate conception.
It was widely reported in the early Church that shortly
after her death, Mary's body was assumed into heaven. In later
centuries, the Roman Church ratified this belief as dogma, while
the Eastern Church withheld such an official imprimatur. Most
Christians agree that such a miracle is within the realm of firm
biblical precedent, Enoch and Elijah being two examples.
Further, there is no known record of any gravesite or relics of
the Holy Virgin. The assumption of the Virgin is safely seen as
an historic Christian tradition, though not recorded in the
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a doctrine unknown in
the ancient Church and unique to the modern Roman Church. In an
effort to distance Mary (and protect Christ) from the stain of
sin, the Immaculate Conception holds Mary was conceived and born
without sin. This teaching has no basis either in Scripture or
in the Creeds of the Church.
Whatever other excesses may have cropped up in history, the
Roman Church has never believed or officially taught that Mary
was in any way coequal with the Trinity or was to be worshipped
with the Trinity. Such allegations are sometimes set forth by
critics of the Roman Church, but without basis in fact.
THE VESPERS PRAYER
Near the end of Vespers in the Orthodox Church the
officiant says, "O holy Mother of God, save us." What does this
The Orthodox Church has taught from the very beginning that
Mary is the supreme example, or proto-type, of what happens to a
person who fully places trust and faith in God. Everything we
aspire to become in Christ, she already is. We are all to
"receive" Christ (John 1:12). And as we noted previously, Mary
was the first human being who did receive Christ. Out of the
millions of "decisions" made for Christ, Mary's was the first.
Therefore, whatever promises the Holy Scriptures hold for us,
Mary already possesses. If the sacred Scriptures declare
that we are all kings (Revelation 1:6), is it so strange that the
Church refers to Mary as Queen? If the Holy Bible promised that
you and I shall judge angels (I Corinthians 6:3), is it so odd
that the Church should sing that Mary is "More honorable than the
cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim"?
If we who are called holy brethren (Hebrews 3:1) are
commanded to be holy as God is holy (I Peter 1:15,16) and are to
present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), is it so
unthinkable that she whose holy body was the recipient of God
Incarnate should be called "most holy" by the Church? If Saint
Paul instructs us to "pray always...for all the saints"
(Ephesians 6:18), is it so outrageous to confess with the Church
that holy Mary (along with all the saints who have passed from
death to life and continually stand in the presence of Christ)
intercedes before her Son on behalf of all men? Mary
volitionally relinquished her will to the will of God, thus
cooperat-ing fully with the purpose of God. So the original
question, "Can Mary save us?" leads to another question: "Can we
save others?" Again, the Holy Scriptures speak with resounding
clarity. Here are some examples: "Pay close attention to
yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things; for as
you do this, you will save both yourself and those who hear you"
(I Timothy 4:16).
"Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of
his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude
of sins" (James 5:20). "Have mercy on some who are
doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire" (Jude
Fire saves (I Corinthians 3:15), prayer saves (James 5:15),
angels save (Isaiah 63:9), baptism saves (I Peter 3:21),
preaching saves (I Corinthians 1:21), the Apostle Paul saved
New life in Christ, or salvation, is both personal union
with Him and an incorporation into the wholeness of the Body, the
Church. Salvation is a Church affair, a Church concern, because
we are all affected by it. In another biblical image,
salvation is seen as a family matter - God's family ("...the
whole family in heaven and earth..." - Ephesians 3:15). Every-
body gets in to the act, so to speak. Therefore, under Christ we
each have a part to play in the corporateness of His saving act.
We do not save alone; Mary does not save alone. Jesus
Christ is our wellspring of salvation. And He said, "Apart from
Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). But "If you abide in Me, and
My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be
done for you (John 15:7). Mary has a unique role in our
salvation because she provided the body of Christ and thereby
became the "mother" of all those who would be saved. That is why
Jesus, while on the Cross, said to His mother, "Woman, behold
your son!" and then said to Saint John, "Behold, your mother!"
Many Christians have been grossly misinformed in the last
150 years concerning the historical Church's view of Mary.
Therefore, I would suggest that you keep this booklet [textfile]
and use it to help others when the question arises. And remember
also, that there are things that are unique to the Virgin Mary.
She was the only one who gave her flesh to the Son of God, and
she is uniquely to be "blessed throughout all generations" (Luke
1:48). What we do about Mary is connected directly to what
we do about Church. The community of Christ's followers is
called to act together. Taking action with regard to Mary is not
simply personal or private; it has to do with responding as The
And where in Christendom has the fulness of truth
concerning Mary been preserved? Even most Protestants - both
liberal and conservative -know she is slighted in their circles.
The answer for Protestants who take the biblical and historical
evidence seriously lies neither within the Protestant Churches
nor in the Roman Church with its questionable late dogmatic addi-
tions concerning Mary.
I urge you to visit and get to know the historic Orthodox
Church which has maintained the biblical fidelity concerning Mary
and Christian faith in general. Within the boundaries of
Orthodoxy, the faith and practice of the Church safeguard true
commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ together with God the Father
and God the Holy Spirit. It is there that the truths of the
Bible are taught in their entirety, where the worship of God is
experienced in Spirit and in truth, and where Mary and the great
cloud of witnesses for Christ throughout the ages are honored and
The hour is at hand for all of us who love Christ and take
seriously the Holy Scriptures to set our hearts and minds to
giving Holy Mary her proper due in the proper Church. We do so
because God has done great things for and through her (Luke
As Christians we do not live by feelings, we live by faith.
Let us once for all rise above those things the devil has sown in
our hearts to neutralize us against this precious woman who gave
birth to our Savior. Bless her in the midst of God's people.
Follow her example in exalting Christ. Confess her as the Mother
of God. Come home to the Church that has kept intact our holy
faith. And may we help turn our generation back to Mary the
honor and blessing which God has commanded.
END OF TEXT
This booklet is published by Conciliar Press. For more
information, please write:
10090 A Highway 9
Ben Lomond, CA 95005-9217
or call 1-800-967-7377.
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