Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Joseph as an Older Man in Sacred Art

In a recent post, I suggested Joseph was an older man who became betrothed to Mary in order to act as her caretaker. In a comment to that post, one reader asked how I know he was older. The answer is that it was an understanding of the early church based on various documents of the time, including the writings of church fathers.

I thought it would be interesting to look at sacred art to see how it reflects this ancient understanding. I may keep searching to find even older ones, but these illustrate the point.

Enjoy the gallery...











(early 1423)




(Late 1400s to early 1500s)

(Mid 1400s)

(Mid 1400s)


(Late 1400s)



(Early 1500s)



(Early 1600s)




(Late 1600s to early 1700s)

(Late 1600s to early 1700s)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Evangelicals: Look Deeper. Do Not Be Afraid.

I've been thinking a lot about the blessed virgin, our mother. Both because of Christmas and the readings of the season, and because of a heartbreaking women's Bible study about I attended earlier in December.

I did my best to represent her at the study. I knew I was walking into fire, so DiDi and I prepared in advance. I dug out my Mary binder, reminded myself of writings of the early church fathers and the reformers, and prayed. I identified the key points I wanted to make, and coached myself on keeping my mouth shut as much as possible, other than to stick to these minimal points.

It was more painful than I expected. I think it was even harder for DiDi though; I've been through it before, but this was her first time hearing so much disrespect after coming to understand who Mary is.

The study takes place in a non-denominational evangelical church with baptist roots. The doctrine of sola scriptura is flown like a banner when needed to direct discussion away from dangerous areas. But only then. If issues of Marian doctrine are raised, like the historic ancient understanding of her perpetual virginity, then the Bible-alone flag is tossed into the arena, shutting down further discussion or thought. But history and tradition are readily turned to by the authors of the study materials and by the group leader when the information agrees with their point.

It is, in effect, selective scriptura.

There is no way I could view Mary as this group does, and as hundreds of thousands of evangelicals do; the insignificant girl who just happened to bear Jesus. But I figured the best way to take on the discussion would be to approach it the way they did, by looking at the Gospel accounts alone. I'd disregard her interconnection to the old testament ark and covenant, and references to her in the book of Revelation.

And so we approach this girl, from the perspective of sola Evangealion.

Immediately we run into problems in evangelical doctrine. For example, how can scripture alone believers think that she had other children? Nowhere in the Bible does it say that she did. Scripture lists brothers and sisters of Jesus a number of times in many different contexts. But it never, ever uses the phrase "son of Mary" other than when referring to Christ himself.

So if we are sticking with scripture alone, why is there such mass acceptance of something that is extra-scriptural?

Evangelical tradition.

But here's a more interesting question. The question of whether Mary and Joseph ever actually completed the multiple steps of the ancient Jewish marriage process. In that day, the marriage contract was created at the time of betrothal, followed by a year-long waiting period (or more), followed by the actual marriage and celebratory feast.

Clearly Mary and Joseph were contracted to marry. But Luke 2 tells us that they were still only betrothed when they went to Bethlehem to be registered. According to Luke, they were not married at the time of Jesus' birth.

There is no scriptural reference to Mary and Joseph's actual wedding. There is no record of her ritual preparations, of the ceremonial waiting, of his stealing her away in the night. No record of his spending seven days with her in the chamber prepared in her father's house, whereupon the marriage would be consummated. There is no description of a wedding feast.

If I subscribe to the doctrine of sola scriptura, I would be wrong to assume that the marriage was completed. There is no record of it. It would be an assumption to think that it had been.

And weddings were a big deal; just look at the recounting of Cana.

Weddings are such a big deal that Holy Writ repeatedly describes our relationship with God as marital. The church is the bride. The Lamb's supper is a wedding banquet. Jesus first miracle took place within the context of a wedding celebration.

Weddings were a very big deal. Marriage was a big deal. Ceremony and ritual were a big deal.

They still are. Our God is a God of covenantal relationship. But the wedding of Mary and Joseph? Never mentioned. Never described.

How does the evangelical mindset deal with this? What implications does it have for the extra-scriptural belief that Mary and Joseph had children?

And why should it be wrong to contemplate these questions?

Extra-Biblical dogma is alive and thriving in the evangelical world. Every denomination has tradition, just as the Roman Catholic church does, except few people point it out to them. Most of the faithful don't even know it, they simply accept what they are taught, assuming these beliefs must be scriptural because the church they attend says they rely on the Bible alone. They accept it as they are fed it because they love Jesus and want to be His faithful followers. When questioned about the foundations for various traditions, many react with fear or defensiveness, unwilling to even enter into discussion.

But it is not wrong to question. It is not wrong to dig. It is not wrong to look to history and the church fathers and doctors when asking the Holy Spirit to grant us revelation about His holy word.

And it is not wrong to venerate the holy mother of God himself. 

As for me and my house, we will follow the lead of the archangels. We will not be afraid. And we will call her Full of Grace.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Witnessing Goes Two Ways

Two lovely Jehovah's Witness ladies stopped by today. I overheard them talking to the neighbor while I was out on the porch, and invited them to come up.

It was interesting to find that they didn't want to go into any tenets of their faith other than the basic message of Christ's kingdom eventually reigning. I don't know much about it, and so wanted to hear more. Apparently the approach is to walk you step by step, first with literature, then with a Bible study offered in your own home, then... what?

I took a few pieces of literature. Should be interesting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mary, Help of Christians...

I'm becoming reacquainted with Mary. I studied her intensively back in 2005 but it's been awhile since I took time to contemplate the depth of her holiness. Re-reading the writings of the early fathers of the church (Irenaeus, Ignatious of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Augustine, etc.) and the Protestant reformers (Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Wesley) brings back the sadness I felt six years ago. The reformers maintained the views of her that the early church held and that the Catholic, Orthodox church, and some Anglican's continue to hold. 

But what happened over the last few centuries since the reformation?

Mary's purity, her holiness, her spousal relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit, her role as mother of the church and mother of God, all have been stripped away in many Protestant denominations. She is reduced to some random girl who happened to have been chosen to carry the baby Jesus to term.

It hurts my heart.

I attend a women's Bible study group on Wednesday mornings at a lovely non-denominational church with Baptist roots. This week we will discuss Mary. These women do not know who she is. I covet your prayers that I bring forward what Mary's son would have me bring forward, and that I would keep my lips closed about anything He would not.

Mary help of Christians, pray for us.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Priceless Work of Art

What he's been creating, since the first beat of your heart, is a living, breathing, priceless work of art. -- Steven Curtis Chapman