Blessed Virgin Mary

Blessed Virgin Mary

:"This ecumenical article is about general Christian views on and veneration of the Virgin Mary. For specific views, see Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic), Mary (mother of Jesus), Anglican Marian theology, Protestant views of Mary and Islamic view of Virgin Mary. For the religious order BVM, see Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The Blessed Virgin Mary, sometimes shortened to The Blessed Virgin or The Virgin Mary , is a traditional title used by most Christians and most specifically used by liturgical Christians such as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, and some others to describe Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

Since the first century, devotion to the Virgin Mary has been a major element of the spiritual life of a vast number of Christians. From the Council of Ephesus in 431 to Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Redemptoris Mater", the Virgin Mary has become to be seen, not only as the "Mother of God" but also as the Mother of the Church, a Mediatrix who intercedes to Jesus Christ and even a proposed Co-Redemptrix.

The key role of the Virgin Mary in the beliefs of many Christians, her veneration, and the growth of Mariology have not only come about by the Marian writings of the saints or official statements but have often been driven from "the ground up", from the masses of believers, and at times via reported Marian apparitions, miracles and healings.

Veneration of the Virgin Mary

There is a long-standing and widespread Christian tradition of giving special honour and devotion to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.


Over considerable resistance, the Council of Ephesus in 431 formally sanctioned devotion to the Virgin as Theotokos, Mother of God, (more accurately translated as "God bearer"), sanctioning the creation of icons bearing the images of the Virgin and Child. Devotion to Mary was, however, already widespread before this point, reflected in the fresco depictions of Mother and Child in the Roman catacombs ("illustration. left"). The early Church Fathers saw Mary as the "new Eve" who said "yes" to God as Eve had said no. [ and . The meaning of the word "adelphos" in the original Greek texts is disputed, viewed on the one hand as literally meaning brethren/brother, or by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches as meaning male cousin, male friend, etc. Within the New Testament the word appears over 346 times. Alternatively, many Eastern (and some Western) Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) teach that the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus referenced in the Scriptures were children of Joseph from a previous marriage.

While the perpetual virginity of Mary is seen as having immense importance to Catholic teaching, Protestants' rejection of the doctrine is not considered spiritually significant for them. Although they object to what they see as extra-Biblical traditions, it is of no consequence to Protestant Christianity whether Mary did or did not have other children after Jesus. Protestant theology teaches that God intended Mary and Joseph as husband and wife "to become one flesh" (Genesis 2) and that the New Testament commanded Mary to fulfill her marital role to her husband Joseph. (1 Corinthians 7:5)]

The Immaculate Conception

Mary was conceived without original sin (De Fide). The Roman Catholic dogma concerning the Immaculate Conception of Mary teaches that Mary – unique among all human beings in history – was born without Original Sin, and never sinned throughout her life. Although the sinlessness of Mary had been held by the church since the earliest times, the means by which this came about had long been a matter of dispute. The belief that Mary must have been freed of Original sin at the very moment of conception gained acceptance in the 13th century. The doctrine was finally made binding by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854. The official Papal Bull entitled Ineffabilis Deus states:

* " We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful"

This doctrine should not be confused with the miraculous conception of Jesus. The "Immaculate Conception" refers to Mary's own conception and birth – not to the famous miracle by which Jesus was conceived within her. Mary still needed a savior, since without Christ she would not have been preserved from original sin.

[Scripture verses sometimes used to show her Immaculate Conception include Luke 1:28 and

"So I made an ark of boards of incorruptible wood, and I hewed tables of stone like the first, and I went up to the mountain, and the two tables were in my hand." (Deuteronomy 10:3 Breton LXX)
Other translations use the words "setim", "acacia", "indestructible", and "hard" to describe the wood used. In any case, Moses used this wood because it was regarded as very durable and "incorruptible." The Ark of the Covenant has been regarded by both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians as being the "type" in typological terms in the Old Testament of Mary and therefore it would seem fitting that the New Ark likewise be made "incorruptible" or "immaculate."

This belief dates back to the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church. The inclusion of the feast of an individual's birthday indicated that they were regarded as sanctified from the womb. Only three figures in the Christian tradition have their birthdays celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus, John the Baptist - both of whom are described as sanctified before their birth in Luke's Gospel - and Mary.

Protestant and Orthodox Christians alike denounce the dogma for different reasons, and such differences have had major effects on history through the Great Schism and the Reformation. They view it as an example of Papal "hubris". Protestants hold that the dogma means that Mary has no need for a savior, and is in violation of Romans 3 where it is declared that all have sinned and that no one is righteous (unless saved by Jesus).

The concept of Mary as born sinless is driven by various views of Original Sin. Given that Catholics believe in Original Sin as placing actual guilt upon human beings for the sins of their ancestors, including Adam and Eve, Catholics conclude that Mary also would be stained by the actual guilt of sin. They believe that Jesus could not have been born into a sinful vessel. Thus, a sinless Mary becomes necessary to accommodate Jesus' birth. And therefore Mary must have been without sin.

Yet Protestant Churches hold that Jesus' mission to Earth was to overcome sin and do not recognize the difficulty in Jesus being born to an ordinary woman which Catholics view as impossible. Protestants argue that conquering sin and cleansing the world from sin was Jesus' purpose in entering a fallen and sinful world, and do not view Jesus as needing a birth mother to be anything but an ordinary woman. What Catholics categorically reject does not gather much attention from Protestants, who readily dismiss the problem with the idea that "with God all things are possible."

Meanwhile, Orthodox Christians and many Protestants view the dogma as erroneous and unnecessary because they do not see Original Sin, or First Sin, as a stain on one's soul. Most Protestant Christians and Orthodox Christians view Original Sin as imposing a tendency toward evil and an inclination to sin, drawing people towards sin. But they believe a person is actually guilty only for his own actions. So, Mary, being of human and not of Divine nature, would have this inclination to sin but she remained sinless because she did not commit any sins; instead, she dedicated her whole life to God from the beginning.]

The Assumption of Mary

Mary was assumed with body and soul into heaven. (De Fide) The Assumption of Mary – meaning that, at the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken directly into Heaven – has been held by both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches since at least the 6th century. However, it was not until 1950 that it was officially pronounced a dogma by Pope Pius XII in his Papal Bull Munificentissimus Deus. The Pope defined the dogma in these words:

:"We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory."

While Pope Pius XII deliberately left open the question of whether Mary died before her Assumption, the more common teaching of the early Fathers is that she did. [ [ Nicea II Session 6 Decree] ] [ [ Nicaea II Definition, "without blemish"] ]

Mother of the Church

The title, "Mother of the Church", which is not a dogma in the narrow sense, was a theme of the writings of Augustine of Hippo. It was proclaimed by Pope Paul VI at the Second Vatican Council in 1964. The title, Mother of the Church is a parallel to a more ancient title, Mary, "Mother of all Christians" which is based on a traditional Catholic interpretation of John 19:25-27:

:Jesus' mother stood near his cross... Jesus saw his mother. He also saw the follower that he loved very much standing there. He said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son." Then Jesus said to the follower, "Here is your mother."

The traditional Catholic interpretation is that the "beloved disciple" is a type for all Christians who are beloved disciples. Thus, Jesus gives all Christians his mother as their own. As Mother of all Christians, Mary is Mother of the Church. An alternative interpretation is that Jesus was referring only to the Apostle John, asking John to fulfill a son's duty.

In his encyclical "Redemptoris Mater", on March 25, 1987, Pope John Paul II said: :Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church. In this sense Mary, Mother of the Church, is also the Church's model.

The title "Mother of the Church" was again affirmed by him at a general audience on September 17, 1997. [ [ Blessed Virgin Is Mother Of The Church] ]

Marian shrines

In the culture and practice the Roman Catholic Church - a shrine to the Virgin Mary or Marian shrine is a shrine marking an apparition or other miracle ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, or a site on which is centered a historically strong Marian devotion.

Some of the largest shrines are due to reported Marian apparitions to young and simple people on remote hilltops that had hardly been heard of prior to the reported apparition. The case of Saint Juan Diego's reported vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 is similar to the case of Saint Bernadette Soubirous's vision in 1858 of Our Lady of Lourdes. Both saints reported a miraculous Lady on a hilltop who asked them to request that the local priests build a chapel at the site of the vision. Both visions included a reference to roses and led to large churches being built at the sites. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, Our Lady of Lourdes is a major Catholic symbol in France. Both young people were eventually declared as saints.

Major Marian shrines

A large number of shrines to the Blessed Virgin exist on all continents, and they draw a large number of pilgrims every year. Major shrines considered most significant for their apparitions and miracles include:
* The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France
* The Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City
* Our Lady of Fátima in Fátima, Portugal
* Loreto, Italy
* Black Madonna of Częstochowa in Częstochowa, Poland
* The Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland in Knock, Ireland

Other reported apparition sites include Međugorje, which is not considered a shrine by the Holy See, yet receives a large number of pilgrims every year. The number of pilgrims who visit some of the approved shrines every year can be significant. E.g. Lourdes with a population of around 15,000 people, receives about 5,000,000 pilgrims every year and within France only Paris has more hotel rooms than Lourdes.

House of the Virgin Mary

The visions of Jesus and Mary reported by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and written by Klemens Brentano in 1852, led a French priest Abbé Julien Gouyet to discover a house near Ephesus in Turkey in 1881. This house is assumed by some Catholics and some Muslims to be the House of the Virgin Mary. The Holy See has taken no official position on the authenticity of the discovery yet, but in 1896 Pope Leo XIII visited it and in 1951 Pope Pius XII initially declared the house a Holy Place. Pope John XXIII later made the declaration permanent. Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 visited the house and treated it as a shrine.

Orthodox views of Mary

A great many traditions revolve around the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, in Orthodoxy. It is believed by Orthodox Christians that she was and remained a Virgin before and after Christ's birth. Many of the Church's beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary are reflected in the apocryphal text "The Nativity of Mary", which was not included in scripture, but is considered by Orthodox faithful to be accurate in its description of events. This tells that the child Mary was consecrated at the age of three to serve in the temple as a temple virgin. Zachariah, at that time High Priest of the Temple, did the unthinkable and carried Mary into the Holy of Holies as a sign of her importance – that she herself would become the ark in which God would take form. At the age of twelve she was required to give up her position and marry, but she desired to remain forever a virgin in dedication to God. And so it was decided to marry her to a close relative, Joseph, an uncle or cousin, an older man, a widower, who would take care of her and allow her to retain her virginity. And so it was that when the time came she submitted to God's will and allowed the Christ to take form within her. It is believed by many Orthodox that she, in her life, committed no sin; however, the Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate conception. In the theology of the Orthodox Church, Christ was, from the very moment of conception, was fully God and fully man. Therefore Orthodox Christians believe that it is correct to say that Mary is indeed the Theotokos, the Birth-giver of God, and that she is the greatest of all humans ever to have lived except for Christ her Son.

After the birth of Jesus the Orthodox Church believes that she remained a virgin, continuing to serve God in all ways. She traveled much with her son, and was present both at his Passion on the Cross and at his ascension into heaven. It is also believed that she was the first to know of her son's resurrection – the Archangel Gabriel appearing to her once more and revealing it to her. It is believed she lived to the age of seventy and called all the apostles to her before she died. According to tradition Saint Thomas arrived late and was not present at her death. Desiring to kiss her hand one last time he opened her tomb but her body was gone. The Orthodox believe she was assumed into heaven bodily; however, unlike in the Roman Catholic Church, it is not a dogmatic prescription, and the holy day is usually referred to as the Feast of the Dormition, rather than the Assumption.

Theologians from the Orthodox tradition have made prominent contributions to the development of Marian thought and devotion.

* John Damascene (c 650 - c 750) was one of the greatest Orthodox theologians. among other Marian writings, he proclaimed the essential nature of Mary's heavenly Assumption, or "dormition", and her mediative role. :"It was necessary that the body of the one who preserved her virginity intact in giving birth should also be kept incorrupt after death. It was necessary that she, who carried the Creator in her womb when he was a baby, should dwell among the tabernacles of heaven..." [ Damascene, John, "Homily 2 on the Dormition 14; PG 96, 741 B]

:"From her we have harvested the grape of life; from her we have cultivated the seed of immortality. For our sake she became Mediatrix of all blessings; in her God became man, and man became God." [ Damascene, John, "Homily 2 on the Dormition 16; PG 96, 744 D]

Protestant views

Protestants typically hold that Mary was the mother Jesus, but was an ordinary woman devoted to God. Therefore, there are virtually no Marian veneration, Marian feasts, Marian pilgrimages, Marian art, Marian music or Marian spirituality in today's Protestant communities. Within these views, Roman Catholic beliefs and practices, which endured more than 1500 years after Jesus' death, are at times rejected as heresy, e.g. theologian Karl Barth wrote that "the heresy of the Catholic Church is its mariology." [Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik, I, 2, 157]

Some early Protestants venerated and honored Mary. Martin Luther said Mary is "the highest woman", that "we can never honour her enough", that "the veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart", and that Christians should "wish that everyone know and respect her". John Calvin said, "It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." Zwingli said, "I esteem immensely the Mother of God", and, "The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow". Thus the idea of respect and high honour was not rejected by the first Protestants; but, they came to criticize the Roman Catholics for blurring the line, between high admiration of the grace of God wherever it is seen in a human being, and religious service given to another creature. The Roman Catholic practice of celebrating saints' days and making intercessory requests addressed especially to Mary and other departed saints they considered (and consider) to be idolatry. With the exception of some portions of the Anglican Communion, Protestantism usually follows the reformers in rejecting the practice of directly addressing Mary and other saints in prayers of admiration or petition, as part of their religious worship of God.

Today's Protestants acknowledge that Mary is "blessed among women" (Luke 1:42) but they do not agree that Mary is to be venerated. She is considered to be an outstanding example of a life dedicated to God. Indeed the word that she uses to describe herself in Luke 1:38 (usually translated as "bond-servant" or "slave") [ [ Doulos] - Strong's Concordance] refers to someone whose will is consumed by the will of another - in this case Mary's will is consumed by God's. Rather than granting Mary any kind of "dulia", Protestants note that her role in scripture seems to diminish - after the birth of Jesus she is hardly mentioned. From this it may be said that her attitude paralleled that of John the Baptist who said "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30)

See also

* Ecumenical views of Mary
* Marian theology
* Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church
* Protestant views of Mary
* Mariology (disambiguation)


External links

* [ The Mary Page] (The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton)
* []
* [ Memorials of the Blessed Virgin Mary]
* [ Mary's Intercession for us]
* [ The Virgin Mary in the Bible]
* [ Grace, Original Sin and Mary]
* [ Immaculate Conception]
* [ Queenship of Mary]
* [ Mary Defended]
* [ Heart of Mary]
* [ Virgin Mary's Heart]

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