Mary and the early church; blog a book

When you read a very interesting 500 page book on the development of Christian creeds it's hard to write a one blog book report. I have too many pages dog-eared. Instead of a book report, I will do a blog-a-book and highlight some interesting passages. The book under discussion is by J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, the 1978 edition. I've already quoted once from this book in regards to the treatment of adulterers in the early church.
Over and over again I find myself most frequently endeared to the North African Tertullian. He was one of the earliest proponents of Trinitarian theology. He also became a raving charismatic in his twilight years. For some people that's a negative, but I like him even more because of that.
There are a lot of players in the development of church doctrine. Some are saints, some are heretics. No one has it all correct, neither do I. I have given a link to everyone in except for the ones who only show up in Wikipedia. Unfortunately, the nature of the internet means that might disappear tomorrow. Therefore, check the links early, before they become dead ends.

Onto Mary, the God bearer.
But the work which most richly embroidered the gospel narratives and was destined to exert a tremendous influence on later Mariology was the Protoevangelium of James. Written for Mary's glorification, this described her divinely ordered birth when her parents, Joachim and Anna, were advanced in years, her miraculous infancy and childhood, and her dedication to the Temple, where her parents had prayed that God would give her 'a name renowned for ever among all generations'. It made the point that when she was engaged to Joseph he was already an elderly widower with sons of his own; and it accumulated evidence both that she had conceived Jesus without sexual intercourse and that her physical nature had remained intact when she bore Him.
These ideas were far from being immediately accepted in the Church at large. Iranaeus, it is true, held that Mary's childbearing was exempt from physical travail, as did Clement of Alexandria (appealing to the Protoevangelium of James). Tertullian, however, repudiated the suggestion, finding the opening of her womb prophesied in Exodus 13, 2, and Origen followed him and argued that she had needed the purification prescribed by the Law. On the other hand, while Tertullian assumed that she had had normal conjugal relations with Joseph after Jesus's birth, the 'brethren of the Lord' being his true brothers, Origen maintained that she had remained a virgin for the rest of her life('virginity post partum') and that Jesus's so-called brothers were sons of Joseph but not by her...In contrast to the later belief in her moral and spiritual perfection, none of these theologians had the least scruple about attributing faults to her. Irenaeus and Tertullian recalled occasions on which, as they read the gospel stories, she had earned her Son's rebuke, and Origen insisted that, like all human beings, she needed redemption from her sins; ... (492,493)
Tertullian definitely comes across as the church father for Protestants. I was delighted to find out about the fount for much of Marian legend, the Gospel of James c. 150.
To start with the East, the title Theotokos, or God-bearer, applied quite naturally to Mary...was now becoming widely much so that Julian the Apostate mocked the Christians for their incessant use of it...The title 'ever-virgin' was also coming into vogue; but we should note that, while Cyril of Jerusalem was silent on the point, not only the Antidicomarianites attacked by Epiphanius and the Arian Eunomius openly taught that the 'brethren of the Lord' were Mary's sons by Joseph, but Basil of Caesarea, when criticizing the latter, implied that such a view was widely held and, though not accepted by himself, was not incompatible with orthodoxy. Athanasius, however, stoutly defended Mary's virginity post partum, and in addition held her up as the ideal pattern for Christian virgins. While Epiphanius still maintained that 'the Only -Begotten opened the virginal womb', we are not surprised to Chrysostom at one with Gregory of Nyssa in proclaiming Mary's virginity in bearing her child as well as after His birth. It was indeed Mary and her virginity, according to Gregory, that finally halted the long reign of death.
The ancient parallel between Eve, the cause of death, and Mary, the cause of life, continued to be everywhere exploited and was sometimes given fresh nuances. (494, 495)
From this perspective, 1600 years later, I don't understand the contortions taken to defend a minor point and not even explicit in the text of the New Testament. They are arguing over a piece of tissue and whether it was torn or not during birth. I have to give them credit for their literalness though.

Augustine often seems to be the one who holds the keys to church doctrine, rightly or wrongly.
Augustine drew together and refined the now established themes of Mariology. He was an eloquent exponent of her permanent virginity, arguing that since the risen Christ could enter through closed doors there was no reason why He should not emere from her womb without violating it. Like Ambrose, he stressed the special relationship between Mary and the Church, the one a virgin who brought forth Christ and the other a virgin who brings Christ's members to birth. The question of her sinlessness arose in the course of his debate with Pelagius, who had cited the Blessed Virgin as an example of a human being who had remained wholly untouched by sin by her own free will. Augustine denied the possibility for all other men (the saints themselves would have been the first to avow their sinfulness), but agreed that Mary was teh unique exception; she had been kept sinless, however, not by the effort of her own will, but as a result of a grace given her in view of the incarnation. On the other hand, he did not hold (as has sometimes been alleged) that she was born exempt from all taint of original sin (the later doctrine of the immaculate conception). Julian of Eclanum maintained this as a clinching sin, but Augustine's rejoinder was the Mary had indeed been born subject to original sin like all other human beings, but had been delivered from its effects 'by the grace of rebirth'. (497)

Augustine's nuance is too fine for me. I think Pelagius tripped him up here.

Related topics: History, church, theology, book reports,


Liz said…
"Unfortunately, the nature of the internet means that might disappear tomorrow."

Hey John,

Just writing on behalf of the team to let you know that we're not going anywhere... We're glad to be of service for your blogging!

Chief BlogWatcher
jpu said…
Liz you have an awesome job! I'm glad your job exists, i'm glad plans to stick around and I'm glad you stopped by.
God is good

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