A Protestant Thinks About the Blessed Virgin Mary

Talking about Mary can feel dangerous, especially if you are a Protestant who adheres to Protestant orthodoxy. Sure, we sing about Mary at Christmas, feel her pain on Good Friday, and maybe even read a little about her in the gospels. But for most American Protestants, almost any other interaction with Mary is borderline Catholic. So we don’t talk about Mary, we don’t engage with Mary, and we don’t think about Mary. Life seems easier that way. But in truth, this approach is historically and theologically problematic.

Some Protestants are aware that there is more to the story of Mary than American Protestantism often lets on. Some might know that the Protestant reformers, for example, held views on Mary different than most Protestant churches today. Martin Luther affirmed Mary’s divine motherhood, perpetual virginity, and immaculate conception. Likewise, John Calvin affirmed the perpetual virginity and espoused (with qualifications) a view of Mary as the “mother of God.” Although these Reformers did not advocate the same robust Marian theology that Rome and the East did in the 16th century, these perspectives are nonetheless quite different than those of their spiritual descendants.

To assume—as many Protestants do—that everything the Church has always believed about Mary should be excoriated as a “Catholic corruption” is simply an error. We must take seriously the biblical and historical insights on who Mary is—and how she is to be approached. Modern Protestants cannot simply be content to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Continue reading

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The Wilderness and Early Christian Monasticism

st-antony-agains-the-demonsIn the sixth chapter of his The Word in the Desert, Douglas Burton-Christie reflects on the influence of eschatology, compunction (penthos), asceticism, and the struggle against evil on the shape of the scriptural interpretation of the Desert Fathers (and Mothers). Highlighting monastic awareness of coming death and judgment (182-3), compunction and the power of scripture (187-91), and the dual (internal and external) nature of struggling against evil (192-5), Burton-Christie outlines the desert reading of the scriptures, remarking on the centrality of allegorical interpretation (196), the recapitulation of Jesus’ time in the desert (198), the power of the words of scripture (199), vigilance and guarding the heart (203-5), and the lack of relations (207). In light of a course devoted to the study of wilderness traditions, while Burton-Christie’s work remains intriguing, this treatment against raises questions about why early Christian monastics did not draw upon and/or develop further Israelite wilderness traditions. To my mind, the Father who asked, “Did Satan pursue them like this in the early days?” could easily have turned to Israel’s wilderness testing for some type of answer. Instead, figures such as Abraham, David, and Jesus were regularly utilized, at least according to Burton-Christie’s presentation. Although the Fathers were clearly aware of Moses—and, it seems, the language of the Pentateuch, at least exhortations to “watch yourself” (Gen. 24.6; Ex. 23.21)—these narratives were not meaningfully employed in the monastic resistance of evil. Could it be that Israel’s time in the desert was viewed more as a model of what not to do in order to avoid temptation? Perhaps. But Burton-Christie’s reflection on desert interpretations of scripture doesn’t address possible wilderness interpretations of Israel in the wilderness. Continue reading

SSP: The “Third Part” of Patrick’s Bible

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Early Church FathersBefore turning to our examination of the form of Patrick’s Bible, a brief word must be said concerning Patrick’s relationship with the “third part” of the New Testament:[1] the writings of the Church Fathers. While Hanson argues that Patrick was literally a man of one book who was not exposed to any substantial literature apart from the Biblical text,[2] many readers of Patrick have noted in the Confessio echoes and references to a number of non-canonical early Christian writings. Continue reading

SSP: The Vulgate

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

Vulgate

Vulgate

The second major Latin version of the Bible circulating in the Middle Ages was the Vulgate. Commissioned by Pope Damasus in 383 CE, the Vulgate is commonly attributed as the work of Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus or, as he is better known, Jerome.[1] Jerome’s real contribution to the Vulgate came through his translation of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament (contra the Vetus Latina, which was largely translated from the Septuagint).[2] His revision of the Vetus Latina New Testament was just that—a revision—and in some of the later portions of the New Testament, even that term seems a bit strong for the way in which Jerome used the Vetus Latina to produce a “new” translation.[3] This leads to the complication that, for later portions of the New Testament, it is often quite difficult to distinguish between the Vetus Latina and Vulgate versions.[4] Continue reading

SSP: Vetus Latina

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Scriptures of Saint Patrick of Ireland.

063During the course of the Middle Ages two groups of Latin Bibles circulated in the Western world, the Vetus Latina and Vulgate versions. The Vetus Latina (“old Latin”) is a family of locally made Latin translations of both the Old and New Testaments.[1] Two major strands of the Vetus Latina arose almost simultaneously between 150 and 200 CE, one in Roman Africa and another in Europe.[2] In addition to these “original” Old Latin translations, there may have been a fourth-century Italian revision of the Vetus Latina prior to Jerome’s cooption and revision of the text.[3] Continue reading

Bible Translations, Not Inspired (Redux)

Open BibleSome time ago I published a brief reflection titled “Bible Translations, Not Inspired,” in which I argued that we must not assume that our contemporary Bibles—because they are translations—are the same thing as the inspired (inherent) words of God. While I don’t want to disagree with that post, I do want to reflect upon the inspiration of the scriptures, spurned on by Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It?, which I’ve been reading the past couple of days.

Occasionally I will run into someone who holds an unusually high view of a certain version or translation of the Bible. This is true across denomination lines: Catholics have the Apocrypha and the Vulgate, the Orthodox have the Septuagint, and various Protestants have their Scofield Reference Bibles, the King James Version, or the dearly-beloved ESV. And because we have our version of the best Bible, clearly our theology must be more fully informed (and therefore accurate). Continue reading

Numbering the Psalms?

Book of PsalmsThe Psalms have long been the hymnal of Christian worship. Jesus and his disciples sang the psalms of the Hebrew Bible and the practice continued with Paul and other early followers of Christ. In fact, insofar as we can tell, Christians of the first two centuries used the Psalm more than any other book of the Christian Old Testament.[1] As the Church continued to grow and other Christian liturgical materials appeared (for example, the Odes of Solomon and hymns of Ephrem and Ambrose), the Psalms continued to form the basis for much Christian worship. By the fourth and fifth centuries, numerous commentaries on the theological and historical meanings of the Psalms had appeared, further cementing the Psalms as the foundational source for Christian worship of God in Trinity. Continue reading

Book Review: The Body and Society (Brown)

The Body and SocietyIn the updated 20th anniversary edition of his classic work, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Peter Brown examines the “practice of permanent sexual renunciation—continence, celibacy, life-long virginity” that developed in Christian circles from the first through fifth centuries.[1] In this work, Brown examines a vast array of perspectives within the early Christian context, purposing to clarify notions of the human body and society within Christian renunciation and to examine the effects of those ideas among Christian writers.[2] This review will summarize Brown’s work and offer an assessment of the strength of his claim that there was no mainstream perspective on sexuality and the body in early Christianity.[3] Continue reading

Luther and Erasmus: Erasmus on Scripture, Canon, and Authority

This post is part of our ongoing series comparing Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s perspectives on scripture, canon, and authority during the Age of Theological Reformations.
De libero

De libero

Written in 1524 as a response to Martin Luther’s Assertio omnium articulorum, in which Luther wrote that “everything happens by absolute necessity” (Watson, 13), [1] Erasmus’ De Libero Abritrio Diatribe Seu Collatio offers Erasmus’ fullest treatment of his theological anthropology, namely that human freedom must coexist with the divine will in matters of salvation.[2] As much has been written on this topic, our purpose here does not include considerations of Erasmus’ arguments concerning the will. Instead, by our review of Erasmus’ theological construction in this work we hope to demonstrate his perspective on scripture, canon, and authority. He begins this work by noting his limitations, immediately noting the difficulty in examining difficult passages and concepts, arguing that extreme care must be demonstrated in the interpretation of scripture (Diatribe, 35-7). Appealing to the “inviolable authority of the Holy Scriptures” and “decrees of the Church,” Erasmus nonetheless concluded that there are “secret” places in the scriptures that God has not wished men to fully understand, and that attempts to understand such passages lead to confusion of human minds (Diatribe, 37-8). While allowing for a certain degree of probability in the interpretation of scripture, Erasmus made clear his understanding that uncertainty does not necessarily undermine Christian faith, instead functioning as a means of humility and caution (Diatribe, 39). Continue reading