VIRGIN MARY (The Mother of Jesus)

VIRGIN MARY (The Mother of Jesus)

VIRGIN MARY (The Mother of Jesus)

In Christianity and Islam, Mary (Judæo-Aramaic מרים Maryām “Bitter”; Septuagint Greek Μαριαμ, Mariam, Μαρια, Maria; Arabic: Maryem, مريم ) was the mother of Jesus of Nazareth who at the time of his conception was the betrothed wife of Joseph, awaiting the customary “Home-Taking” that would permit them to start living together and to consummate their marriage (cf. Matt 1:18, 20). Most Christians and Muslims understand the Gospel account in this respect to mean that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus through a miracle of God. Mary is the subject of much veneration in the Christian faith, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, and is also highly regarded by Muslims. The area of Christian theology concerning her is Mariology.


Most, though not all, historians accept that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure, even if they accept nothing or almost nothing of the account of his life in the Christian Gospels. Mary is mentioned by name in three of the four canonical Gospels, and the Book of Acts; the Gospel of John does not mention her by name.

Whilst the teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was a virgin is not accepted by a number of Christian scholars who argue that the Greek term parthenos in Luke 1:27 does not necessarily have to mean “virgin [intacta]” but that there is also evidence for it signifying any “young woman”, it is generally agreed that Mary was very young when she conceived Jesus. Some insight into traditions concerning her later life, e.g., that she died between three and 15 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, can be found in the New Testament Apocrypha. Assuming that Jesus died in his 30s, there is also little reason to doubt that his mother could still be alive at the time of his death, or that she could have witnessed it (cf. Jn 19:25). Beyond the accounts given in the Gospels and a few other early Christian sources, however, there is no independent or verifiable information about any aspect of Mary’s life. An account of the childhood of Mary is given in the mid-second century non-canonical Gospel of James. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions built around the figure of Mary, and the centuries of Marian cult derived from the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, are based on faith, traditions of the Church Fathers (including the Gospel of James), and their interpretations of the Scriptures¹.

Mary is also directly named in the Qur’an, although this was written some six hundred years later.

Christian records

Little is known of her personal history from the New Testament. She was a relative of Elisabeth, who was of the lineage of Aaron (Luke 1:36). She resided at Nazareth with her parents, while betrothed to Joseph. During her betrothal, the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the mother of the promised Messiah while remaining yet a virgin (the Annunciation, Luke 1:35). After this she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth, who was living with her husband Zacharias (probably at Juttah, Josh. 15:55; 21:16, in the neighbourhood of Maon), at a considerable distance, about 160 Km, from Nazareth. Immediately on entering the house she was saluted by Elisabeth as the mother of her Lord, and then forthwith gave utterance to her hymn of thanksgiving (Luke 1:46-56; comp. 1 Sam. 2:1-10) commonly known as the Magnificat. After three months Mary returned to her house. Joseph was told in a dream (Matt. 1:18-25) of her condition and took her to his own home. Soon after this the decree of Augustus (Luke 2:1) required that they should proceed to Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), some 80 or 90 miles (about 130 kilometers) from Nazareth; and while there they found shelter in the inn provided for strangers (Luke 2:6, 7). But as the inn was crowded, Mary had to retire to a place among the cattle.

There Mary gave birth to her son, whom Joseph in accordance with the angel’s instruction called Jesus (Matt. 1:21), because he was to save his people from their sins. This was followed by Jesus’s circumcision, his presentation to the Lord, the visit of the Magi, the family’s flight into Egypt, their return after the death of King Herod the Great about 2/1 BC and taking up residence in Nazareth (Matt. 2). Mary apparently remained in Nazareth for thirty uneventful years. During these years only one event in the history of Jesus is recorded: his going up to Jerusalem when twelve years of age, where he was found among the doctors in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). Probably also during this period Joseph died, for he is not mentioned again.

After Jesus’s baptism by John and his temptations in the desert, Mary was present at the marriage in Cana, where Jesus worked his first public miracle at her intercession (John 2:1-11). After this event, there is little mention of Mary in the Gospel accounts, until we find her at the cross along with her sister Mary, and Mary Magdalene, Salome and other women (John 19:26). Mary cradling the dead body of her son is a common motif in art, called a pietà.

Of the roughly 120 people in the Upper Room after the Ascension on the day of Pentecost, on the occasion of the election of Matthias to the vacancy of Judas, she is the only one mentioned by name of the handful of other followers also present (Acts 1:12-26, esp. v. 14). From this time she wholly disappears from the historical biblical accounts, although it is held by many Christians that she is again portrayed as the heavenly Woman of Revelation (Revelation 12.1).

Her death is not recorded in Scripture.

Roman and Eastern Orthodox traditions

Christian theologies hold that Jesus was the result of a virgin birth; denial of this is considered heretical by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox (and Evangelicals) alike. She is often called the Blessed Virgin Mary or Our Lady (this latter, in French, Spanish, and Italian, is rendered Notre Dame, Nuestra Señora, and Madonna respectively). Among Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox she is called Theotokos (Greek for God-bearer) and St. Mary. Catholics also refer to her as Mother of the Church, Queen of All Saints, Mother of God, Queen of Angels, and Queen of Heaven; other Catholic names for Mary can be found in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the Gospel of James, which, though not part of the New Testament, contains biographical material about Mary considered plausible by some Orthodox and Catholic Christians, she was the daughter of Joachim and Anna. Before Mary’s conception, Anna had been barren, and her parents were quite old when she was conceived. They took her to live in the Temple in Jerusalem when she was three years old, much like Hanna took Samuel to the Tabernacle as recorded in the Old Testament (Tanakh, Hebrew Bible).

According to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, between three and fifteen years after Christ’s Ascension, in either Jerusalem or Ephesus, she died while surrounded by the apostles. Later when the apostles opened her tomb, they found it empty and concluded that she had been bodily assumed into Heaven. (“Mary’s Tomb” – a tomb in Jerusalem is attributed to Mary, but it was unknown until the 6th century.)

Veneration of Mary

From 17th century Peruvian cultRoman Catholic, Orthodox and many Anglican Christians venerate Mary, as do the non-Chalcedonian or monophysite Orthodox (such as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt and the Ethiopian Tewahedo Church ). This veneration especially takes the form of prayer for intercession with her Son, Jesus Christ. Additionally it includes composing poems and songs in Mary’s honor, painting icons or carving statues representing her, bowing or kneeling before such images as a token of respect to the one portrayed by them, and conferring titles on Mary that reflect her exalted position among the saints. She is also one of the most highly venerated saints in both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church; several major feast days are devoted to her each year. (See Liturgical year.) Protestants have generally been less enthusiastic about the veneration of the Virgin than their Catholic and Orthodox cousins, often arguing that if too much attention is focused on Mary, there is a danger of detracting from the worship due to God alone. By contrast, certain documents of the Second Vatican Council, such as chapter VIII of the dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium” [2] describe Mary as higher than all other created beings, even angels: “she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth”; but still in the final analysis, a created being, solely human – not divine – in her nature. On this showing, Catholic traditionalists would argue that there is no conflation [3] of the human and divine levels in their veneration of Mary.

The major origin and impetus of veneration of Mary comes from the Christological controversies of the early church – many debates denying in some way the divinity or humanity of Jesus Christ. So not only would one side affirm that Jesus was indeed God, but would assert the conclusion that Mary was the mother of God.

Both Roman Catholics and Orthodox make a clear distinction between such veneration (which is also due to the other saints) and worship which is due to God alone. Mary, they point out, is not in herself divine, and has only such powers to help as are granted to her by God in response to her prayers. Such miracles as may occur through Mary’s intercession are ultimately the result of God’s love and omnipotence. The term worship is used by some theologians to subsume both categories: sacrificial worship and worship of praise: Orestes Brownson in his book Saint Worship is a good example of that usage. Roman Catholicism distinguishes three forms of honor: “latria”, due only to God, and usually translated by the English word adoration; “hyperdulia”, accorded only to the Blessed Virgin Mary, usually translated simply as veneration; and “dulia”, accorded to the rest of the saints, also usually translated as veneration. The Orthodox distinguish between worship and veneration but do not accept a sort of “hyper”-veneration only for the Theotokos.

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 we 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 criticised the 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 Saints’ days and requests addressed especially to Mary, and other departed saints, they considered to be idolatry, and unlawful worship. With the exception of some portions of the Anglican Communion, Protestantism usually follows the reformers in rejecting the practice of addressing Mary and other saints in prayers of admiration or petition, as part of their religious worship of God. Protestants will not typically call the respect or honor that they may have for Mary, veneration, or adoration, because of the special religious significance that these words have for the Catholic practice.


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