This Child that you’ve delivered, will soon Deliver you

Here’s a little ditty that I composed this morning while yard-saling with my lovely mother, which I submit to you as a few words to keep my plants watered. It comes in response to our good friend Eugene, who seems to struggle with the concept of figurative speech, this time with the term for Blessed Mary, “the deliverer of the Deliverer.” He has had the good faith to delete my comment, so I will share it instead with you, dear readers. I am well prayed up and in a fine mood this morning, and will not let the short-sightedness of my dear brother steal my joy! My lumbering ogre of a thesis is still lumbering along, and with hope, I pray, he may be able to rest soon.


Adoration of the Shepherds

Gerard van Honthorst. Anbetung der Hirten (Adoration of the Shepherds). Oil on canvas, 1622. [Wikipedia]

The phrase “deliverer [note the lowercase d] of the Deliverer [note the uppercase D]” is a play on words — playing on the multiple meanings of the word “deliver.” Words sometimes mean more than one thing, no? Mary delivered (i.e. gave birth to) the Deliverer (i.e. the One who saves us). Nobody is saying that Mary did anything more than that. Christ could have entered the world any way He pleased — He could have just appeared — but He chose to humble Himself, to take on human flesh, to become a defenseless child, and to be born of a human Virgin — and for that, he needed the cooperation of the Virgin, to give herself up to God’s plan, and of her spouse Joseph, who together with Mary cared for Jesus and nourished Him and raised Him. Jesus didn’t have to do it that way — Mary and Joseph didn’t have to submit to it (God respects our free will) — but He did and they did, of their own choice and will, and that is why we honor them.

I also recall your attention to a few words of Pope St. Leo the Great, “Why Christ Was Born of a Virgin.” And to the words of another fine Christian, Mark Lowry:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/AZt9B9biL7Y]

A few words on the Blessed Virgin Mary as “Co-Redemptrix” or “Co-Mediatrix”

In some Catholic writings and documents of the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as a “co-redemptrix” or “co-mediatrix” in salvation through Christ. Those are words and concepts that many Protestants have a hard time with. Here are a few brief words I whipped up on that matter, in response to my new friend Eugene.


Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

The term “co-redeemer” does not imply that the Blessed Virgin Mary had a role in salvation in any way similar, equal, or comparable to that of Christ. No one in the Catholic Church intends to share with Mary anything that is rightly Christ’s — rather, we think Christ’s glory is so bright that it illuminates everything around Him, including his mother. Any honor we give to Mary is just a greater way to more greatly honor Him. Jesus loved His mother, and so we do, too. And she did cooperate in a profound way with God’s plan of salvation.

Now, you have to remember that many Catholics of the past were not speaking English — they were speaking Latin. And the Latin language has different rules and conventions than the English language. One major difference, as I mentioned before, is that the Latin brain likes to put prefixes on things. In many cases where an English speaker would use a preposition, a Latin speaker puts a prefix on a noun or verb. For example, the word “convene” comes from the Latin cum + venio, to “come together.” Rather than say “we come together” as an English speaker might, the Latin speaker would say convenimus. The word “cooperate” is another apropos example. It comes from the same prefix — cum + opero, to “work together.”

Virgin and Child with Rosary, 1655 (Murillo)

Virgin and Child with Rosary (1655), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.

In English we are used to the prefix “co-” meaning that people share in equal responsibilities in a job — “co-contributors,” “co-chairmen,” “co-instructors” are all people equally pitching into their jobs. But in Latin the prefix doesn’t imply that. It just means that people are doing the job “with” each other. To say that Mary cooperated (“worked together”) with salvation is quite a different proposition (in both English and Latin) than saying Mary “worked” salvation herself. Similarly to say that Mary is a “co-redemptrix,” as she is sometimes called in Latin, in no way implies that she is on the same level as Christ the Redeemer, is “another redeemer,” or shares in His glory or responsibility. There is only one Redeemer, and that is Christ. To call Mary a “co-redemptrix” only means that she “worked together” — she “cooperated” — with redemption. Remember, she herself had to be redeemed, too!

(Because of this linguistic confusion, it’s not very common for people to use the term “co-redeemer” or “co-redemptrix” in English these days. You will mainly find that in older writings, especially those that were translated directly from Latin. You will not find that term in the present Catechism or in any other recent teaching of the Church.)

Here is a recent teaching of the Church on this very question, from the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium (§62) [which speaks at length about the Catholic Church’s beliefs about Mary and her role in salvation and relationship with the Church]:

This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation [that is, the “Announcement” by the angel Gabriel of Jesus’s coming] and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.

The Assumption of Mary: Scriptures and texts

The Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin (1670), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. (WikiPaintings.org)

Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. We Catholics believe that at the end of her earthly life, the Blessed Virgin was assumed body and soul into Heaven. The Assumption is one of the most controversial Catholic doctrines to Protestants, since it is one of the most poorly understood, one of the least obvious from Scripture, and one of the latest dogmata to be defined. Pope Pius XII declared the Assumption a dogma in 1950; but that doesn’t mean that Catholics (or Orthodox) just recently made it up. The Feast of the Assumption has been celebrated in the East since around the beginning of the seventh century (ca. A.D. 600), and was celebrated in the West by that century’s end. (In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Assumption is known as the Dormition, or the going-to-sleep.) Belief in the Assumption is documented in apocryphal eastern texts as early as the third century; there were likely even earlier texts that don’t survive. And the idea has developed over the centuries in scriptural exegesis and in theology. It would take a while to give a thorough defense of the doctrine, but in this article I’d like to offer a few texts that demonstrate the doctrine’s ancient origin.

The Reason for the Assumption

Van Dyck, The Assumption of the Virgin (1627)

The Assumption of the Virgin (1627), by Anthony Van Dyck. (WikiPaintings.org)

The bottom line, theologically, of our belief in the Assumption is a logical progression: we believe, as the Church has since the very earliest days, that Mary was a perpetually a virgin and preserved from sin in her earthly life. We believe that by the prevenient grace of her Son Jesus Christ, she was immaculately conceived free from the stain of original sin. This gift was not on account of any merit of her own, but only of Christ’s overabundant grace and love for His obedient handmaiden and Mother. Mary was the firstfruits of Christ’s salvation: Just as He saves us and cleanses us from original sin through our Baptism, He saved Mary and cleansed her from the moment of her conception. Therefore, because she did not see the corruption of sin in her earthly life, her earthly body was not subject to the corruption of decay and the grave. The all-holy vessel that bore our Savior and hers into this world — the Ark of the New Covenant, as the Fathers hailed her — could not lie in any earthly tomb. And so at the end of her earthly life, Christ bore her to be with Him in Heaven.

Guido Reni, Assumption of the Virgin (1580)

Assumption of the Virgin (1580), by Guido Reni. (WikiPaintings.org)

I used to think that the Assumption of Mary was just a fanciful story, the product of the Church’s overactive Marian imagination, a belief entirely extraneous to the Gospel of Christ. But today the Mass, and Father Joe’s homily, drove home to me how essential it is, and how precious and how beautiful. Mary’s Assumption doesn’t just mean that there’s something special about Mary. Even more important, it means there’s something special about us, about humanity; something worth saving even in this corruptible flesh of ours. It wasn’t mere coincidence that Pope Pius declared the Assumption dogma in 1950, to a despondent world that had witnessed the horrors of war, the depths of cruelty, genocide, and mass destruction. The world at that time needed to be reminded that there is something worth saving in us; there is something lovable and redeemable in humanity: the potential for peace and love and goodness and wholeness, not just depravity and hate. Just as Mary was saved and filled with grace, we too are called to be saved and filled with grace. Just as Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven, we too are promised eternal life and bodily resurrection on the last day. Mary is the mark of that promise. Because of the grace poured out on Mary, we have assurance of the glorious future that awaits us also.

I can’t put it more perfectly than the liturgy of the Mass today:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give You thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For today the Virgin Mother of God
was assumed into heaven
as the beginning and image
of Your Church’s coming to perfection
and a sign of sure hope and comfort to Your pilgrim people;
rightly You would not allow her
to see the corruption of the tomb
since from her own body she marvelously brought forth
Your incarnate Son, the Author of all life.

In Scripture

The key scriptural text that demonstrates to us the Assumption is in Revelation:

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. . . . And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days. . . .

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

Correggio, The Assumption of the Virgin (1530)

The Assumption of the Virgin (1530), by Correggio, painted on the interior of the magnificent dome of the Cathedral of Parma. (See detail at WikiPaintings.org)

It is clear even to Protestant interpreters that the male child is Christ Himself. All agree that the symbolism of the Revelation is taking place on several levels and layers: but if the Fathers are correct in their reading of Mary as the ark of Christ’s covenant, then certainly the juxtaposition of that ark, seen within God’s temple, with the mother clothed with the sun giving birth to the Christ is meaningful here.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, of happy memory, taught that in John 14:3, Mary is the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to take us to Him:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

If Mary was the firstfruits of Christ’s salvific grace and redemption, then we believe she was also the firstfruits of His resurrection. God did it “out of order” with Mary: He redeemed her from the moment of her conception; so it follows that He would bring about the rest of her salvation out of order, too. He brought her to Him, before the rest of us, as our promise of what awaits us all — to be our beacon of hope and our most gracious advocate on this side of humanity.

In the Fathers

Aside from apocryphal texts, the earliest Church Father to speak to the Assumption of Mary is St. Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403). He does not mention the Assumption explicitly, but the fact that he raises the matter of Mary’s earthly end attests that there was some question:

Tintoretto, The Assumption of the Virgin (1594)

The Assumption of the Virgin (1594), by Tintoretto. (WikiPaintings.org)

If anyone holds that we are mistaken, let him simply follow the indications of Scripture, in which is found no mention of Mary’s death, whether she died or did not die, whether she was buried or was not buried. For when John was sent on his voyage to Asia, no one says that he had the holy Virgin with him as a companion. Scripture simply is silent, because of the greatness of the prodigy, in order not to strike the mind of man with excessive wonder.

As far as I am concerned, I dare not speak out, but I maintain a meditative silence. For you would find (in Scripture) hardly any news about this holy and blessed woman, of whom nothing is said concerning her death.

Simeon says of her: “And a sword shall pierce your soul, so that thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Luke 2:35). But elsewhere, in the Apocalypse of John, we read that the dragon hurled himself at the woman who had given birth to a male child; but the wings of an eagle were given to the woman, and she flew into the desert, where the dragon could not reach her (Revelation 12:13-14). This could have happened in Mary’s case.

But I dare not affirm this with absolute certainty, nor do I say that she remained untouched by death, nor can I confirm whether she died. The Scriptures, which are above human reason, left this question uncertain, out of respect for this honored and admirable vessel, so that no one could suspect her of carnal baseness. We do not know if she died or if she was buried; however, she did not ever have carnal relations. Let this never be said!

. . . If the holy Virgin is dead and has been buried, surely her dormition happened with great honor; her end was most pure and crowned with virginity. If she was slain, according to what is written: “A sword shall pierce your soul,” then she obtained glory together with the martyrs, and her holy body, from which light shone forth for all the world, dwells among those who enjoy the repose of the blessed. Or she continued to live. For, to God, it is not impossible to do whatever he wills; on the other hand, no one knows exactly what her end was. (Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion [Adverus haereses], LXXVIII.11, 23 [PG XLII, 716 B–C, 737])

The first concrete testimony we have in the West to Mary’s Assumption is St. Gregory of Tours (c. 538–594), who cites an apocryphal Greek text, handed down to him in a fifth-century Latin translation, now lost:

Duccio, Assumption fragment (1311)

Assumption (fragment) (1311), by Duccio. (WikiPaintings.org)

Finally, when blessed Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was about to be called from this world, all the apostles, coming from their different regions, gathered together in her house. When they heard that she was about to be taken up out of the world, they kept watch together with her.

And behold, the Lord Jesus came with his angels and, taking her soul, handed it over to the archangel Michael and withdrew. At dawn, the apostles lifted up her body on a pallet, laid it in a tomb, and kept watch over it, awaiting the coming of the Lord. And behold, again the Lord presented himself to them and ordered that her holy body be taken and carried up to heaven. There she is now, joined once more to her soul; she exults with the elect, rejoicing in the eternal blessings that will have no end. (Gregory of Tours, Libri miraculorum I, De gloria beatorum martyrum IV [PL LXXI, 708])

Finally, to see the full flowering of the tradition of the Assumption, we turn to St. John Damascene (d. 749):

El Greco, Dormition of the Virgin (1566)

Dormition of the Virgin (1566), by El Greco. (WikiPaintings.org)

Your holy and all-virginal body was consigned to a holy tomb, while the angels went before it, accompanied it, and followed it; for what would they not do to serve the Mother of their Lord?

Meanwhile, the apostles and the whole assembly of the Church sang divine hymns and struck the lyre of the Spirit: “We shall be filled with the blessings of your house; your temple is holy; wondrous in justice” (Psalm 65:4). And again: “The Most High has sanctified his dwelling” (Psalm 46.5); “God’s mountain, rich mountain, the mountain in which God has been pleased to dwell” (Psalm 68:16-17).

The assembly of apostles carried you, the Lord God’s true Ark, as once the priests carried the symbolic ark, on their shoulders. They laid you in the tomb, through which, as if through the Jordan, they will conduct you to the promised land, that is to say, the Jerusalem above, mother of all the faithful, whose architect and builder is God. Your soul did not descend to Hades, neither did your flesh see corruption. Your virginal and uncontaminated body was not abandoned in the earth, but you are transferred into the royal dwelling of heaven, you, the Queen, the sovereign, the Lady, God’s Mother, the true God-bearer [Theotokos].

O, how did heaven receive her, who surpasses the wideness of the heavens? How is it possible that the tomb should contain the dwelling place of God? And yet it received and held it. For she was not wider than heaven in her bodily dimensions; indeed, how could a body three cubits long, which is always growing thinner, be compared with the breadth and length of the sky? Rather it is through grace that she surpassed the limits of every height and depth. The Divinity does not admit of comparison.

O holy tomb, awesome, venerable, and adorable! Even now the angels continue to venerate you, standing by with great respect and fear, while the devils shrink in horror. With faith, men make haste to render you honor, to adore you, to salute you with their eyes, with their lips, and with the affliction of their souls, in order to obtain an abundance of blessings.

A precious ointment, when it is poured out upon the garments or in any place and then taken away, leaves traces of its fragrance even after evaporating. In the same way your body, holy and perfect, impregnated with divine perfume and abundant spring of grace, this body which had been laid in the tomb, when it was taken out and transferred to a better and more elevated place, did not leave the tomb bereft of honor but left behind a divine fragrance and grace, making it a wellspring of healing and a source of every blessing for those who approach it with faith. (John Damascene, Homily 1 on the Dormition 12–13 [PG XCVI, 717D–720C]).

I think it’s telling that for all the thousands of apostolic relics churches around the world claim to have, no one claims to have any piece of body of the Virgin Mary. These beautiful reflections bring me to love my Holy Mother and cherish her Assumption ever more.

[Patristic texts from Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991).]

Why Christ Was Born of a Virgin

St. Leo the Great, by Herrera

Pope St. Leo the Great, by Francisco de Herrera the Younger (1622-1685).

Maria, by Cano

Maria (c. 1648), by Alonzo Cano.

Continuing my Saturdays with Mary, here is a quote from Pope St. Leo the Great (c. 391–461):

He was engendered by a new kind of birth, conceived by a Virgin, born of a Virgin, without a father’s carnal concupiscence, without injuring his Mother’s integrity. Indeed, such a birth was appropriate for the future Savior of men, Who, while sharing the nature of human substance, did not know the contamination of human flesh. The Author of God taking flesh is God himself, as the archangel witnesses to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring born of you will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In His origin unlike us; in His [human] nature like us — our common human customs are of no help here. It was decided by God’s almighty power that Mary should conceive as a virgin, give birth as a virgin, and remain a virgin. Do not think about the condition of his Mother, but consider the decision of the Son, who wanted in this way to be born a man and so brought it about. If you seek the truth about His nature, then recognize the matter as human; if you want to find the secret of His origin, then acknowledge the divine power. For our Lord Jesus Christ came to take away our infection, not to be infected by it; He did not come to succumb to our vices but to heal them. He came to heal the malady of our corruption and all the wounds of our scarred souls. For this reason He had to be born in a new manner, since He was bringing the new grace of spotless integrity to our human bodies. He had to keep His Mother’s original virginity intact, and it was necessary that the power of the Holy Spirit should safeguard the defense of her modesty, which He was pleased to call the dwelling place of holiness.

For He had decided to raise up what was fallen and restore what was broken apart and to strengthen purity for overcoming the seductions of the flesh, so that virginity, which in others cannot be preserved after childbirth, might be imitated by others, in rebirth.

—Pope St. Leo the Great
Sermo 22, 2 (Migne, Patrologia Latina 54, 195-196)
in Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church
(San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), 309

Too Many Jameses: Untangling Jesus’s Family and Friends

Apostle St. James the Greater, by El Greco (1606).

Apostle St. James the Greater, by El Greco (1606).

This is a little reflection I meant to make a few months ago on May 3, the Feast of Saints Philip and James, regarding the confusion about who that particular Saint James, the son of Alphaeus, actually is. But I got busy that day and didn’t post. Today is the Feast of Saint James the Greater, the son of Zebedee, and while there’s no confusion about who he is, this post is still nibbling at me, and I don’t want to wait until next May 3. It’s still kind of relevant.

Because there are at least two or three men in the New Testament named James. And that’s really no surprise — because there were no doubt thousands of men with that name in Judea in the first century. The name translated James in English comes from the name Ιάκωβος (Iakōbos) in the Greek New Testament. Yes, you guessed it; that’s the name יעקב (ya‛ăqôb) in Hebrew — the Old Testament Jacob in English. James is named for Jacob, Israel himself, the patriarch of the Jewish people.

James II, by Peter Lely

James II of England, by Peter Lely.

Francis II, Jacobite King

All hail His Majesty King Francis II, our rightful king.

(The name becomes Iacobus or Jacobus in Latin, giving rise, in English history, to the terms Jacobean, pertaining to the period of King James I's reign, and Jacobite, the name for the restorationist followers of the deposed King James II and his line of Stuart pretenders to the throne. James was removed for being Catholic, and for his tolerance toward English Catholics, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which I now see to have been not so glorious. Some of my ancestors, apparently, were Scottish Jacobites, and were exiled to America for taking part in the failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, in support of James’s grandson Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie.” Maybe I have some Catholic ancestors after all? Bonnie Prince Charlie and his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, styled James III by the Jacobites, are buried (1) in high Catholic honor (2) in the Grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m no longer sure how I feel about the “Glorious” Revolution or the Jacobites. James II was pretty well lawfully usurped, at least in as much as usurpation is ever lawful. I now see, though, that this is a history of which I know very little. The intolerance and persecution toward Catholics that spurred it was certainly not a good thing. I hope you have enjoyed this rabbit trail as much as I have.)

Anyway — to the matter at hand. There were a lot of Jameses in Judea at the time of Christ. James the Greater, the Apostle celebrated today, was so called to distinguish him from the other Apostle named James, the son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15). James the Greater, we know, was the son of Zebedee (Mark 1:19, 3.17, etc.) and the brother of John. He and John were called by the Lord Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17). In Jesus’s Aramaic, scholars reckon, this was probably בנירגיש (bnê•rğaš), lit. “sons of tumult,” or בנירגז (bnê•rğaz), lit. “sons of anger” — or as Aramaic scholar Maurice Casey supposes, בנירעם (bnê•r`am), the most literal Aramaic translation of “sons of thunder,” the result of a poor transliteration from Aramaic into Greek. So apparently, James and John were rather hot-headed, as we see in Scripture (Luke 9:51–56).

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were fellow fishermen with their father, and the associates of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew — or possibly their competitors (Mark 1:16–20). They were among the first disciples to follow Jesus, and with Simon Peter, formed His most intimate circle, who were chosen to witness His Transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36, etc.). We know that Saint James was the first of the Apostles to suffer martyrdom (Acts 12:1–3), about A.D. 44, perhaps having provoked Herod’s wrath on account of his temper.

Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-slayer)

Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor-slayer), according to Spanish legend, appeared at the Battle of Clavijo to fight the Moors alongside the Spanish Christian army.

Saint James is the patron saint of Spain. According to Spanish legend, James ministered there, then sailed back to Jerusalem to meet his martyrdom. His relics were then transported back to Spain, either by his disciples or miraculously by angels, where they are said to be venerated in Santiago de Compostela (the Spanish name Santiago is actually Sant’Iago, or Saint James). Saint James’s patronage is a pious legend of the utmost importance to the Spanish, as fanciful as it seems. It is not out of the question that James went to Spain, a province of the Roman Empire; travel there in the first century was certainly possible. Paul desired to minister there, according to his Epistle to the Romans, written ca. A.D. 57 (Romans 15:22–24). According to the tradition of the Early Church, he did before his death.

So what of the other Jameses? There are three others mentioned in the New Testament: James, the son of Alphaeus, one of the Twelve (Mark 3:18, etc.); James, the brother of the Lord (Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19); and James, the son of “the other” Mary (Matthew 27:56, etc.). Depending on what scholar you ask, two of these — or even all three — may refer to the same person.

Saint James the Just

Saint James the Just.

In history we say that there are lumpers and splitters. Catholic biblical scholars, especially the early ones, tended to be lumpers, desiring to make connections in Scripture, identify people and places with each other, and generally to lump ideas together. Protestants, on the other hand, perhaps by their very nature, are splitters, inclined to tear apart and question what is traditional and speculative and what Catholics have put together, especially where there lacks explicit evidence. The study of the biblical Jameses is a prime example of these tendencies.

There is very little known about the three other Jameses, aside from the few times they are mentioned in Scripture. Both Catholics and Protestants tend to agree that James, the brother of the Lord, was known in the Early Church as James the Just, and was the first bishop of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1–13) and the author of the Epistle of James.

Catholic tradition records little about the Apostle James the Less, the son of Alphaeus. Orthodox tradition tradition holds that he first ministered in southwestern Palestine, then in Lower Egypt, where he met his martyrdom at Ostracine. Beyond this point, there is much Catholic conjecture.

Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

Madonna and Child, by Carlo Maratta (c. 1660).

First, Catholics and Orthodox do not believe that James the Just, the “brother” (ἀδελφός) of the Lord, was actually the brother of the Lord, or the son of Mary, who never bore another child. There is scriptural evidence to support this. When Joseph and Mary journeyed with the boy Jesus to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41–51), there is no mention of any other children. When Jesus, from the Cross, entrusted his mother Mary to John (John 19:25–27), it would make little sense for John to take Mary into his home if she had other children living. There are at least two views, then, of who the “brethren of the Lord” are: Either they are children of Joseph by a prior marriage (tradition holds Joseph to have been an older man and widower), or they are other close kinsmen of Jesus, perhaps cousins. The Aramaic language has no word for “cousin,” and used the word for “brother” instead, which could connote any relative. According to this view, when the Gospel was recorded in Greek, it followed this linguistic convention (the word ἀδελφός in Greek likewise can connote any relative).

St. James the Less, by El Greco.

St. James the Less, by El Greco (c. 1595).

And with this, the plot thickens considerably. If the “brethren of the Lord,” and our James the Just, are in fact Jesus’s cousins, who are their parents? Catholic scholars, beginning with the earliest of the Church Fathers, have made inferences based on these three verses of Scripture:

  • “. . . but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19:25)
  • “. . . among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” (Matthew 27:56)
  • “There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger (ὁ μικρός, young, small, less) and of Joses, and Salome.” (Mark 15:40).

If we suppose, as appears to be the case, that all three verses refer to the same group of women who witnessed the Crucifixion, then it appears:

  1. Mary the mother of James and Joses (or Joseph) in Matthew and Mark, is the same woman as Mary the wife of Clopas in John.

  2. Salome in Mark is the same woman as the mother of the sons of Zebedee in Matthew.

  3. Depending on how one punctuates the Greek of John, either Mary the wife of Clopas (#1) or Salome the wife of Zebedee (#2) is the sister of our Lord’s mother in John. (The former would require that Mary had a sister named Mary, but this would not be unheard of, since Mary, or Miriam, was also a very common Jewish name, and one or both of the women may have had other names.)

  4. That would mean that either James and John, the sons of Zebedee and Salome, are the cousins of Jesus; or that James and Joses (or Joseph), the sons of Clopas and Mary, are the cousins of Jesus. The former would make some sense, since Jesus clearly had a close relationship with James and John, and entrusted his mother to John, who would have been her nephew.

  5. But the latter makes possibly more sense, since we are told that two of Jesus’s “brethren” were named James and Joses (Mark 6:3) or Joseph (Matthew 13:55). Mark refers, at the Crucifixion, to the “mother of James and Joses,” and Matthew refers to the “mother of James and Joseph.” It seems remarkable that Mark would spell the latter name Joses (Ἰωσῆ) both in reference to the Lord’s “brother” and to the second of the latter pair, when he was perfectly capable of also using the name Joseph (Ἰωσήφ) (Mark 15:43). It would appear, then, that this James and Joses, the Lord’s “brethren,” were in fact the children of Clopas and Mary.

  6. We can presume from the fact that the Evangelists identified “the mother of James and Joses” that James and Joses were people with whom the Early Church was familiar. Certainly the Early Church was familiar with James the Just, bishop of Jerusalem. If this James the Less (ὁ μικρός) is in fact implied to be James the brother of the Lord, then it seems James the Just and James the Less are the same person.

But is this James the Less (ὁ μικρός) the same man as the Apostle often referred to as James the Less? What of this last James, the son of Alphaeus? Some Catholic scholars, in their endless lumping, have suggested that Clopas (Κλωπᾶς), the father of James and Joses above, and Alphaeus (Ἀλφαῖος) are in fact the same man — meaning that all three of the obscure Jameses, James the Just the brother of our Lord, James the son of Clopas and Mary, and the Apostle James the Less, are one and the same man. The supposition that undergirds this is that Clopas had two names. Some have suggested that Clopas and Alphaeus were different transliterations of the same Aramaic name; but this doesn’t seem likely (the difficulty of this issue is discussed in Clopas’s article in the Catholic Encyclopedia). A secondary name, though, isn’t out of the question.

Apostle Judas Thaddeus, by Van Dyck

Apostle Judas Thaddeus, by Anthonis van Dyck (c. 1620).

Further, we know that Jude, author of the Epistle of Jude, is the brother of James (Jude 1), certainly James the Just, making him also the “brother” of the Lord, the Judas mentioned by Mark and Matthew. Catholic scholars have also identified this Jude with the Apostle Judas Thaddeus (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:16). Most recent English translations of the Bible (including Catholic ones) translate Jude in Luke’s lists (here and in Acts 1:13) as “Judas son of James” — but the Greek actually reads Ἰούδας Ἰακώβου, literally Judas of James, with no relation made explicit. Jude may have been so identified by relation to his brother, the better-known James the Just, since James had already been listed; and traditional Catholic translations (the Douay-Rheims) read Judas brother of James. Jude likewise identifies himself by relation to his brother James in his epistle.

St. Simon the Zealot, by Rubens

St. Simon the Zealot, by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1611).

But we Catholics aren’t quite done lumping. The last of Jesus’s “brethren” (Mark 6:3) was named Simon. Wasn’t there another Apostle named Simon, Simon the Zealot? James son of Alphaeus, Judas Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot (or the Cananaean) are always listed together in the lists of the Apostles. Some Catholic scholars have taken that as a hint, together with the coincidence that Jesus also had “brethren” named James, Judas, and Simon, and supposed that the two sets might be connected. They have identified Simon the Zealot as another “brother” of the Lord. Further, some have also identified him with Simeon (or Simon), who succeeded James the Just (his brother?) as bishop of Jerusalem.

Paul lends some credence to the notion that at least two of the Lord’s brothers were members of the apostolic party: “Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Corinthians 9:5). In increasing order of importance, Paul lists: (1) the other apostles, (2) the brothers of the Lord, and (3) Cephas, or Peter, the chief Apostle. Together, this statement seems to refer to the Twelve, and includes “the brothers of the Lord” among them.

All in all, it seems as if Jesus’s evangelic enterprise may have been something of a family affair. Two sets of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John; and possibly three of His own “brethren.” Of course, none of this is verified or can ever be verified. But it is traditions like these, enriching to the story and harmless if untrue, that make our Catholic faith full, rich, and beautiful.

Saturdays with Mary

Stokes, Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child, by Marianne Stokes (1855-1927). This painting was on the cover of Magnificat last December and I like it a lot.

The Church designates each Saturday in Ordinary Time, when there is no other obligatory memorial, as a memorial to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Celebrations on the liturgical calendar have three ranks: solemnities, feasts, and memorials; memorials being the least important of the three. See the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar III. For more on the dedication of Saturdays to Mary, see the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy §188.) So, I’ve been thinking I would begin quoting some of the Church Fathers’ testimonies to the very early devotion to Mary. As historical and as important as these are, many of them are also poignant, moving, and very beautiful. From the earliest days of the Church, the Mother of Our Lord has been beloved and honored.

I’m working on a Bible study that I think will knock some socks off; that won’t be ready for another day or two. I also wanted to ask you all to pray for the peace and comfort of a dear, dear friend of mine who lost her father very suddenly yesterday, and for the repose of his soul.

Here is a reading from St. Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 297–373):

St. Athanasius

St. Athanasius.

O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O [Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them, for it is written: “The earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). But you carry within you the feet, the head, and the entire body of the perfect God.

If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you, for it is written: “Heaven is my throne” (ibid.), while you are God’s place of repose. If I say that the angels and archangels are great — but you are greater than them all, for the angels and archangels serve with trembling the One who dwells in your womb, and they dare not speak in his presence, while you speak to him freely.

If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne of God (cf. Psalm 80:1, 99:1), while you hold God in your hands. If we say that the seraphim are great, you are greater than them all, for the seraphim cover their faces with their wings (cf. Isaiah 6:2), unable to look upon the perfect glory, while you not only gaze upon his face but caress it and offer your breasts to his holy mouth . . .

As for Eve, she is the mother of the dead, “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Eve took [fruit] from the tree and made her husband eat of it along with her. And so they ate of that tree of which God had told them: “The day you eat of it, you shall die” (Genesis 2:17). Eve took [fruit] from it, ate some of it, and gave some to her husband [that he might eat] with her. He ate of it, and he died.

In you, instead, O wise Virgin, dwells the Son of God: he, that is, who is the tree of life. Truly he has given us his body, and we have eaten of it. That is how life came to all, and all have come to life by the mercy of God, your beloved Son. That is why your spirit is full of joy in God your Savior!

—St. Athanasius
Homily of the Papyrus of Turin
(ed. T. Lefort, in Le Muséon 71 (1958): 216–217)
in Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church
(San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991), 106–107

The Roman Catholic Controversy: The Essentials

The Roman Catholic Controversy

The second post in my series on James R. White’s The Roman Catholic Controversy.

In James White’s second chapter, “Cutting through the Fog,” he aims to pierce through the “fog” of obfuscation that both Catholics and Protestants, he acknowledges, tend to get lost in in their debates with one another. Both Catholics and Protestants believe many things about each other that are myths or misconceptions or misrepresentations. He points out that most converts out of a faith — for example, former Catholics and former Mormons — tend to present views of their former faith in the worst possible light. In my case, I consider myself blessed to be a convert from evangelicalism who holds no bitterness for my former faith: just, I like to think, rightful and constructive criticism. More important, having been on both sides of the divide, I hold no negative myths about Protestantism, and, I hope, no rosy myths about Catholicism.

I must thank Dr. White for his honesty, forthrightness, and generosity toward Catholics on several points. In sweeping away the “fog,” he admits the falsehood of some widely-held evangelical myths and prejudices toward Catholics. The Sign of the Cross (“crossing oneself”) is not “pagan,” but is an ancient practice that even some Protestant sects do; the act is not in itself godly or ungodly, but can be wrong when it becomes “superstition.” Liturgy, to the evangelical, may seem stuffy, empty ritual — but White rightly acknowledges that all Christian worship is liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgia, public service), that many great men of God have practiced formal, traditional liturgy, and that evangelical liturgy can be just as empty and devoid of meaning if it becomes merely religious practice without faith. He suggests that “danger” arises “when liturgy, no matter how ancient or well-intended, takes over to such an extent that the preaching and exposition of the Scriptures are minimized or completely done away with.” I wonder if White has ever attended a Roman Catholic Mass?

White narrows on what he believes are the “essentials” of this debate, and what are “nonessentials.” Forebodingly, he casts a rather wide net for what he considers “essential”: “The essential topic in the Roman Catholic/Protestant debate is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A number of issues are [so] closely related to the Gospel that, by virtue of that relationship, need to be classified as ‘essentials.’” In this definition, he manages to encompass the authority of Scripture versus Tradition, the authority of the Church, the doctrine of Purgatory, and teachings about the Virgin Mary as all “essential.” The canon of Scripture, the Apocrypha (or Deuterocanon), and “certain historic events” also have “great importance,” in the context of their relationship to the Gospel. Even the Crucifix, the display of Christ on the Cross, “leads one away from the truth of the Gospel” (acknowledging that the Protestant cross is “a constant reminder of what Christ did for us”). In short, it seems that White leaves little room for “nonessentials”: most everything he disagrees with is “essential” to the Gospel.

In a strict sense, everything the Church teaches is “essential” to the Gospel, since the Gospel is what we teach. And if we believe the truth of our doctrines, then all of these teachings are indeed “essential” (of the essence, fundamental, necessary). But some doctrines, it can’t be denied, are more marginal to the truth of the Gospel than others. The Gospel would still be the Gospel — we would still believe that Jesus saves — without the belief in Purgatory. Purgatory merely offers an extra chance for Jesus to save the sinner, so that even “if [his] work is burned up, . . . he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15). The Virgin Mary is essential to the Gospel in that it is through her obedience that Christ came into the world; but even without the beliefs in her perpetual virginity, her Assumption, or her intercession, Jesus would still be able to save. The Gospel is still the Gospel whether Christ catches up believers in a sudden Rapture, or comes in glory with trumpets, or does so either before or after a time of Great Tribulation. I dare say that even whether one is baptized as an infant or as an adult believer, Christ’s ability to save is uninhibited. With the doctrines of Purgatory, or the Virgin Mary’s intercession, or infant baptism, or the Rature included, the essential message of the Gospel is unchanged; with them excluded, nothing essential is lost. We still teach that Jesus saves sinners by His grace alone, through his death on the Cross and His Resurrection. This is why, at the core, in its essence, both Catholics and Protestants teach the same Gospel.

The Veneration of Mary: An Introduction for Protestants

The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception (1670), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, my favorite painter of the Virgin.

So since I’ve been on the defensive for the past week (really the posts about indulgences were part of the same strand), I thought now seemed the right time to address another major aspect of Catholicism that Protestants have difficulty with, that is very often misunderstood: the veneration of Mary.

This is a huge issue. Part of the reason I’ve never gone there in these pages before is that it’s something that I have struggled with also, so it has been a sensitive spot. But I now feel secure enough to address it. This will be the first of many posts on this subject, I have no doubt. But I wanted to briefly share some basic ideas and explanations, to introduce especially my Protestant brethren to these concepts, and tell how this fits into the story of my journey.

My First Steps with Mary

Despite hearing allegations growing up, I don’t recall ever thinking that Catholics “worship” Mary. Especially as I learned about the Catholic Church in school, I always stood up to defend the Church when such attacks arose. But what I did think, growing up and even recently as I approached the Church, was that Catholics overemphasized Mary, gave her an unbiblical role in the story of salvation and an inappropriate degree of veneration.

In fact, if anything jeopardized my journey or threatened to turn me from my Catholic path, it was doubts about Mary. I had been attending Mass for about six months without a problem, and was just about to begin RCIA (and this blog), when all of a sudden and without warning, they hit, and hit hard. My friends Audrey and Jeff had just given me my first Rosary — perhaps that’s what brought me face to face with my doubts. But then, there they were. I could no longer evade them; it was either go through them, or leave this road.

My deepest doubt about Mary and Catholicism was that so much of the doctrine about her wasn’t in the Bible. Even after I had let go of sola scriptura (which happened fairly early in my quest), it seemed wrong that these ideas seemed to come out of nowhere at very late dates. For example, the doctrines of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Assumption were not declared dogma until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. So what, then? Did they just make these up? I talked to Audrey; I talked to Brad; I e-mailed several other dear Catholic friends; I e-mailed Father Joe, asking questions and searching. I am very grateful for everyone who took the time to talk to me and reply.

But what brought me through these doubts more than anything was reading. My historian’s heart yearned to get to the root of these doctrines. Every other aspect of Catholic doctrine could be traced through the entire history of the Church — could these? I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit guided me to Fr. Luigi Gambero’s Mary and the Church Fathers, a book that seemed to be specifically tailored to my desires and needs. Gambero steps through the entire history of the Church, from the earliest Apostolic Fathers (the first generation after the Apostles) to the end of the Patristic Age (about the eighth century), and taking each Father, examines his thought and writings about Mary.

Through Gambero’s book, I found that every single doctrine that the Church holds about Mary has existed in some form since the very earliest days of Christianity. Some ideas were slow to develop into the fully-bloomed doctrines we know today — but every idea was born in seeds planted by the Apostles. In the days since I’ve discovered this, my love and my devotion for Mary has been ever-growing; she has a very special place in my heart.

The Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin (1670), by Murillo.

Marian Doctrines

What are some of those doctrines, that are particular to the Catholic and Orthodox churches? I will enumerate them here. Many of these, to Protestant eyes, will seem fanciful and far-fetched: I thought so, too. But every one of them can be attested to in Tradition very early on. Many of them have at least some scriptural support. None of them conflict with Scripture. I will, in posts to come, examine each of these doctrines in greater depth, and give quotations from the Fathers to chart the blossoming of these ideas.

  • A prefatory word: Catholics don’t worship Mary. We honor her; we love her; we venerate her; but we fully acknowledge that she was a human just as we are. We venerate her as we venerate the saints, only more so: she was the first Christian, the first one to believe in Jesus, and as His mother, someone who was very special to our Lord, and so she is special to us. She is the most honored of all the saints.

  • Mary’s Perpetual Virginity — The Church believes that Mary was a virgin her whole life; that not only when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but even through his birth, her virginity remained physically intact; and that following Jesus’s birth she never engaged in sexual relations, though married to Joseph, and never bore any other children. Mary’s womb, having borne the Son of God, was a sacred and consecrated vessel. Jesus’s “brothers” and “sisters” (Matthew 12:46, 13:55; Mark 3:31-34, 6:3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12, etc.) — or “brethren” — are not the children of Joseph and Mary: the Greek words αδελφός (adelphos, “brother”) and αδελφή (adelphē, “sister”) could also mean “kinsman” or “kinswoman,” and especially in the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, from which these traditions were originally passed down, there was no word for “cousin.” Jesus’s “brethren” are said to be either children of Joseph by a prior marriage (an early view), or cousins (the current view, with some scriptural support).

  • UPDATE: See my expanded post on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity: “Some light on the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

  • Mary’s Sinlessness — Mary is said to have been a pure vessel, and never sinned in her life. This is the one with which I had the most trouble. The way Brad explained it to me, that really helped, is thus: Jesus was fully God and fully man. He inherited his divine nature from the Holy Spirit, and He inherited his human nature from Mary. For this reason, Mary’s human nature had to be free from the original sin of Adam.

  • Mary’s Immaculate Conception — Many people (even some Catholics) think this refers to the Virgin Birth of Christ, but this is something else that relates to the previous doctrine. In order for Mary to be born without the stain of original sin, she had to be immaculately conceived — through which she was conceived naturally by her parents (who tradition holds were St. Joachim and St. Anne), but shielded by the Holy Spirit from inheriting original sin.

  • Mary’s Assumption — Tradition holds that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into Heaven to be with her Son. Catholic dogma leaves open the question of whether she first died, but the idea is that this was her last moment on this earth. In Orthodox tradition, the Assumption is known as the Dormition (the going-to-sleep), and in this view, she died before rising to heaven.

  • UPDATE: See my expanded post on the Assumption: “The Assumption of Mary: Scriptures and texts

  • Mary as Queen of Heaven — Many Protestants think this is a granting to Mary of heavenly authority, making a goddess of her, but it is in fact a sign of her great honor in Heaven. Her Son is the King; therefore she, as his mother, is the Queen Mother — just as we accord high honor to the mothers of monarchs on earth.

  • Mary as Mother of God — this one really troubles Protestants — and it shouldn’t. The title arises as a translation of her title in the East, Θεοτόκος (Theotokos) — the God-bearer or Mother of God. Giving her this title has less to do with Mary than with Christ: By affirming Mary as the Theotokos, Christians were affirming that Christ was fully God as well as fully man: Mary bore God and not just a man. Anything less, such as the patriarch Nestorius’s preference for “Christotokos,” was interpreted as a rejection of Christ’s full divinity. Especially in the first Christian centuries, when Christological questions and heresies raged about the true nature of Christ, His earthly origins — down to the womb from which he was born — were of the utmost importance and concern.

  • Mary as Mediatrix — Scripture says that there is “one mediator between God and men,” Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5) — and Catholics fully affirm this, that Christ is our one Mediator to God. And we are fully capable of reaching Christ ourselves, through prayer; and He is with us in every Sacrament. But that doesn’t preclude the idea that there can’t be other mediators (i.e. people in between) between us and Christ. Just as we can ask friends and family members and pastors to pray for us to God — making them mediators — we can ask Mary and the saints to intercede for us. And Mary, by her special place and her unique relationship to Christ, is a powerful intercessor indeed, we believe. There is another side to this, Mary as the mediatrix of graces, that I will save for another time.

There are others to talk about, but these are the most prominent. There will be much more to come. If you have any questions you would like me to address or explore further, please do feel free to ask them. I am always looking for blog-fodder.

“Not much brand loyalty”

Last night I attended our Catholic campus ministry’s weekly gathering, to hear a talk by a priest, Father Matthew, who’d been a Protestant convert. He’d spent time as a Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and had even applied for a Lutheran seminary. Describing himself, he said that he guessed he “didn’t have much brand loyalty.” He left me with a lot of food for thought. He seemed to have a good foundation in philosophy, and since he had a good view of both sides of the divide, I wished I could have talked to him longer.

He described himself as a skeptic toward the supernatural, especially toward Marian apparitions and other forms of private revelation. And it struck me how different this was from where I’m coming from. Here was a Catholic parish priest, in a small, conservative, Southern town, admitting to a room full of Catholics that there were things in his faith that he had a hard time swallowing; that his faith waxed and waned; that he even struggled sometimes with doubts about the very Mass he was celebrating. And nobody in the room batted an eye. No one criticized him or expressed disappointment or disapproval. Having doubts and questioning seemed perfectly acceptable and understandable, even for a priest. I would never have expected such acceptance or understanding from an evangelical crowd. He said that the great thing about the Catholic Church and its tradition is that every doubt has already been dealt with by somebody. The reality and efficacy of the Eucharist, he said, had nothing to do with his faith or his weakness, and everything to do with Christ.

Regarding Mary: When he encountered stories of Marian apparitions, the first thing he asked was, do they improve the life of the person? Someone in the audience asked how he dealt with the Marian dogmata in coming to the Catholic Church. He said that with regard to Mary, and to so much in the Catholic faith, you can’t really appreciate it until you’re in the middle of it. It all came down, for him, to his faith in the Eucharist and in Christ’s Real Presence; and when he believed that and longed for that, there came a point at which he had to take a jump; and then everything else followed. He said if you go deep with a belief and struggle with it, it will often end up being among your favorite things in the Church. And in my journey so far, I can certainly say that that has been my experience with Mary. He said he didn’t really know and understand the humanity of Christ until he got to know his mother.

He said that one of the greatest things that drew him to Catholicism was its appreciation for the material aspects of faith. Evangelical and fundamentalist traditions are mostly concerned with a set of beliefs that will get souls into heaven; but Catholicism values things that will bring us closer to God in the here and now, in the material world — beautiful things, such as art and architecture; intellectual things, such as history, tradition, theology. The Catholic faith is wonderfully broad — there is so much you can “do” in terms of spirituality; so many different traditions — but you can’t do everything, or you’ll never find any depth in anything. He himself has followed the Benedictine tradition. It’s a “convert’s danger,” he said, to want to dabble in so many different traditions; but he recommended that if we found something that bore fruit for us, to stick with it and go deep with it. (I know this will be a problem for me — but for now I’m going to enjoy dabbling.)

Regarding his lack of “brand loyalty”: he said that “cradle Catholics” have a deep, emotional connection to the Church, but that as a convert, he didn’t. He said that above all, his was an intellectual attachment, a conviction that the Catholic Church was the true Church of Christ, the oldest and first and the bearer of apostolic succession. “I still choose it because it’s the best among alternatives; but it’s not perfect.” For my part, I believe I will feel much more of an emotional attachment — I already do. I’ve felt an orphan for so long, and admired my Mother Church, and passionately defended her to Protestant critics, even long before I dreamed of making this journey.

Above all, he said, he became a priest because he fell in love with the Mass and wanted to enjoy it as often as possible. “Everybody who goes through RCIA wants to be pope,” he said. And I must confess that this has occurred to me.