Monday, August 8, 2016

Genesis Notes: The Woman: "Seeing" Mary

The Annunciation - Luke 1:26-38
The Visitation - Luke 1:39-56
The Presentation in the Temple - Luke 2:22-35
The Wedding at Cana - John 2:1-11
The Crucifixion - John 19:25-27
A Vision of Heaven - Revelation 12:1-7

We are still breaking away from Genesis with Genesis: God and His Creation to look at the answer to the promise that the woman and her seed would defeat God's enemy.

This look at Revelation and the Catholic interpretation of it may challenge Protestants the most. Yet, it does answer the common protest that veneration of Mary isn't Scriptural. This shows the basis for Catholic belief in Mary's protection of the Church and of us individually.

Madonna on the Crescent Moon, Peter Paul Rubens

A Vision of Heaven - Revelation 12:1-7
The dragon aimed his earthly wrath at "the woman" first. She was protected from his fury by God. So, being angry with the woman, the dragon then went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, those "who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus," which is the Church. Here we are able to see in dramatic detail just what God meant in Gen. 3:15 when He said He would put "enmity" between the serpent and the woman. In this scene from Revelation, she becomes the direct object of his assault, as he lashes out in anger as his time dwindles away. Who is this "woman"? Certainly she is a figure of Mary and the Church. Apocalyptic literature presents special interpretive challenges, but we can see why Christians throughout the ages have read this passage with Mary in mind. The point to note is how determined an enemy the dragon is of both the woman and her offspring. The woman is safe, but her offspring are terribly vulnerable while the dragon's time lasts. No wonder the Church has, down through the ages, given thanks for the special protection and advocacy which Mary gives to her children. This tender relationship is nurtured in the numerous Marian devotions that characterize Catholic life ...

Objections among Protestants to Marian dogma and devotion are usually rooted in their conviction that the Catholic Church teaches many things about Mary that simply aren't in the Bible. They are convinced that Mary has an exaggerated position in Catholic thought, either from over zealous pagan evangelism in the early centuries of the Church or from sentimentality over women in the Middle Ages or from a faulty understanding of redemption since the Council of Trent.

It was not always this way. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, in the 16th century, Protestants continued the 1500-year old tradition of reading the biblical references to Eve and Mary the way we have in this lesson. Even Martin Luther believed that Scripture accorded Mary a unique place in the human story. As time went by, however, a kind of Christian minimalism set into Protestant thought. Some of that was no doubt provoked by excesses and distortions practiced by some Catholics. Because of some abuses which seemed more like superstition than true Christian faith, Protestants gradually insisted on removing everything and everyone in Christian tradition that was not absolutely necessary to salvation. Jesus, of course, is necessary to salvation, so He is always at the center of the Protestant vision of redemption. Mary, we must remember, is a gift to the Church, as we saw in John 19:23-27. Gifts can be declined or left unopened or stored away and forgotten.

Modern Protestants, perhaps not knowing the history of the Church or even their own early history very well, have not been taught to "see" Mary in the Scripture as the New Eve. They are unaware of the fact that during all the years of Christian history before the Reformation, faithful Christians read the Bible this way. They do not realize that a Mary-less vision of redemption is a historical novelty. Mary appears to them to be an intrusion into an icon that has only Jesus in it.

Catholics can take confidence in the fact that, as we have seen in our lesson, there are strong scriptural reasons for retaining the icon of Mother and Son in our hearts and minds down through the ages. Being good students of Genesis, we would fully expect that when God conquers His enemy and restores man to a life of blessing, that life would be presided over by a New Adam and a New Eve, ordering everything as it was always meant to be.
This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.

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