Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Lost Gospel of Mary - Intro

So. I know I said that my next non-fic book was the Giant Ghost Book, but I remembered why I've never manged to finish it. It's like the dictionary. It's nice to have and it looks pretty neat having such a big thing on your shelf but it's boring to read all the way through. I'm still reading it but it'll be bite size bits at a time. In the mean time I've pulled another book from the 'hat'. As you can guess by the title of the post it's about the Virgin Mary.

It's by Frederica Mathewes-Green and it's a little book, only 159 pages. I guess I must have picked it up on a sale or something. Anyhow.

"It's hard to see Mary clearly, beneath the conflicting identities she has borne over the centuries. To one era she is the flower of femininity, and to another the champion of feminism; in one age she is the paragon of obedience, and in another the advocate of liberation. Some enthusiasts have been tempted to pile her status so high that it rivals that of her Son. Others, aware that excessive adulation can be dangerous, do their best to ignore her entirely."

I'm sure you guys can guess which party is which above. The thing that hit me while I was reading this this morning is that each attitude describes an extreme. But between the two is the 'middle road'. It's very easy to drift to one side or the other of a path and wind up in an extreme that was never intended by those who laid the path. But it's harder to get from two extreme opposites to a middle path. Which, for those of you who don't live in my head means that I think if a 'middle' exists between two attitudes then it's more likely that that middle was the original idea and the two extremes developed out of it than that either extreme was the original belief and that the other extreme and the middle path grew out of it.

I think, and it seems that Frederica does too, that sometimes we forget that Mary was a human woman and a mother, behind the notion of her being the Virgin Mary. I held a baby in my arms today (not mine, obviously!) and giggled and played with him, letting him grab onto my fingers and push himself up on my legs, letting him gum and drool and coo and do all sorts of baby things. Remember that before Christ's public career began, before His trials and His Crucifixion, before the Resurrection He was her son. She carried Him and loved Him as every mother ever has loved their child. Above being the Savior and God Incarnate, He was special to her because He was her son. 

When Christ gave Mary to St. John He also gave her to all of us. He loved her in the way that a son loves his mother and He wanted (on top of everything else that He had given us - salvation, existence) to give her to us. His beloved mother.

The love of Christians for Mary goes back to the early days of the faith. Frederica proposes to show us this early love of Mary, to prove that it is not a 'modern' (for certain values of the term modern, meaning medieval) invention by examining three ancient texts dealing with Mary. These texts, while not within the canon of the Bible are valuable because the writers had "this practical advantage: they were still living in the culture that produced the Christian Scriptures. The Greek of the New Testament was their daily business language. They lived in the Middle East, or along its gossipy trade routes. Their parents or great-grandparents had been alive when Christ walked the earth. The history of these things was the history of their backyard, and some things that scholars now struggle to comprehend were as familiar and as obvious as their own kitchen table."

The first work we will be presented with is a 'gospel' or narrative of Mary's life beginning with her conception by Anna and continuing on through the birth of Jesus. The copy being used was written by AD 150, but the author (and others) believe that the written form was predated by oral stories passed through believers. Just like the biblical Gospels and so many other ancient works. Given the assumption that they were originally passed along orally there is no way of knowing how far back they may go. The text was named the Protoevangelium of James by a translator in the 16th century. Frederica has renamed it the Gospel of Mary because "today we expect a title to identify a work's contents, rather than its author." She says that she'll explain the 'Lost' bit later on.

The second work will be a brief prayer to Mary discovered in Egypt about a hundred years ago. The artifact is dated to AD 250, but again that is merely the date of the oldest surviving written copy. It was likely in circulation long before that. This prayer is the oldest known prayer to Mary and is actually still in use today in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

The third work is a lengthy, complex and beautiful hymn written by the deacon and hymnogropher St. Romanos who was born in Syria around AD 475. It is known as the Akathist Hymn and is sung during Lent, near the March 25th Feast of the Annunciation. Frederica calls it the Annunciation Hymn, again with the aim of identifying its contents.

"Many Western Christians are unfamiliar with Mary, and somewhat leery of her; they suspect that it's possible for devotion to her to get out of hand, and even eclipse the honor due to God. It is true that, over time and in other lands, praise of the Virgin that had been intended as lovingly poetic developed into something more literal, and consequently less healthy.

"In Europe from the twelfth century on, strains of Marian devotion were arising that held that she could manipulate or even overrule her Son, that he was perpetually enraged but she was merciful, that she could work miracles by her own magical powers, that mechanical repetition of prayers to her guaranteed salvation, and that she had facilitated Christ's work by her presence at the Crucifixion. The effects of these mistaken ideas lingered for centuries, and have not been wholly eliminated.

"But, as we shall see, the early Middle Eastern church is not the medieval European church. All that sad confusion lay a thousand years from the time of the first love-notes to Mary, the time that we are entering now."


  1. I enjoyed this! I remember when I was listening to one of the YouTube videos on Orthodoxy, the guy said something about Mary and the two extremes such as you mentioned here. Thanks for the reminder and the other tidbits you added from this book!

    I think the thing that made me most teary while watching The Passion of the Christ was the flashbacks of Mary seeing her son as HER SON. It was very touching to me as I put myself in her shoes and tried to imagine how difficult it was to see her son suffer.

  2. Susanne,

    It's a good book so far. I lose points if I admit that I've never seen The Passion of the Christ? I actively cannot stand Mel Gibson and refuse to support him in any way, shape or form. So I've never seen it. My family watches it like, every Easter.

  3. Wow, I've seen a movie that you haven't! *faint*

    I only saw it because my friend realllllllly wanted to see it and asked if I would go. So I did. I had not planned on seeing it.

    I agree...Mel

    (In it Mary sees flashbacks of Jesus at various times in his life. I just remember a few of them bringing tears to my eyes.)

  4. And then while playing around I deleted my own comment. *headdesk*

    Anyway: Like I said before, it was bound to happen eventually. :)

    I've heard that The Passion is actually a really well done movie and very moving.

  5. Hey, I know I'm very late, but just wanted to say this book sounds really interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of it. A very interesting topic indeed.

  6. Becky,

    It's a very interesting book. I've done a fair amount of posts on it already, but it's an ongoing thing still. :)

  7. Yes I can see that, they're all marked in my 'read it later', and I read a couple at a time, in between everything else I need to read, and I'll catch up eventually (though you might be done with the book by then).

  8. I keep wondering if I should make a tag for each book I talk about to make finding the posts easier, but then I never do.

    between everything else I need to read,

    My word! Do you mean the people on the internet have other things to do? I am shocked! :D I though we all lived on here...

    Personally, it doesn't matter if I've finished the book by the time you read the posts. If you have something to say, please say it! :)

  9. Well yeah I do practically live on here ;) Well, I just subscribed in my Google Reader, so that made it fairly easy to glance over the list of posts and then just open those that were related. But tagging is always good. Says the girl who tags waaaay too much. I also tend to make one page where I save all the links to each chapter when I do these things. Though that of course takes even longer than tagging ;)Yeah I try to keep up with all the new posts, though it often takes me a few days, and then try and catch up on old posts and... gosh, there's way too much interesting information out there!

    I'll keep reading and post new comments when I have anything to add.

  10. I'm thinking of having a direct feed of the net piped into my brain. I'm just worried it'll turn me into a cyborg and then we're a short step away from Terminator land.

    I should be better about tagging. I should. But I'm not. I make general tags and just throw everything in those. The chapter post is good, but then don't you have to link to that post every new post? Meh. Too much trouble for me. I'll just resolve to be more specific with the tags.

  11. Yup, you do... which I'm very bad at doing. But then I do a couple and then go and edit for all the ones I'd forgotten

    And somehow I think I tried to email you that comment instead of posting it. Brain is confused, not quite awake yet :P

    The instant feed idea is interesting, if a little scary.

  12. When do you sleep? I know you're in a really different time zone, but you seem to be up all the time! :)

    I'm going to go back and make tags for the books. It's my 'at work and yet not always working' project for the day. We'll see how long that lasts...

  13. I usually sleep between 10-6am give or take a couple of hours. So, depending on where you are in the US that's around 4pm-12am in New York, 5pm-1am in Chicago and I have no idea about LA :P nor your fancy names.

  14. Oh, that explains the overlap! I'm on EST time, so basically New York time but I live in Florida, which is much nicer. :)

    So for me it looks like you're up at all hours because you're posting in the middle of the night/early morning and then pretty much all through the day.

  15. Awww I'd love to go to Florida one day, though I'm worried it might b e a litte too hot for me, what would be the best time of year to go?

    Yeah I'm in Denmark, so we're at +1 (1 hour ahead of GMT, which is the UK time)

  16. Also, you have to consider I'm a student, so I get to be on at all times of the day ;)

  17. Mmm...Summer's do get hot. 80s and 90s usually, but sometimes up into the 100s. I think the best time of year to come, weather wise is the fall, but most people don't because they come for the sun and the beach and it starts getting chilly in the fall obviously. Tourists come in the summer and snow birds come in the winter. Snow birds are people (usually elderly) who live up north and come down here during the winter to avoid the snow and really cold temps.

    Psh. So what's my excuse for being on all the time? I'm not a student. :)

  18. Your excuse is... you are a seeker of knowledge! EXCELLENT excuse!

    Meh, I prefer temps in the high 60's lower 70's... then I'm happy... nice sunny summer day :P hahahahahaha But then again, I'm Danish, anything above 77 is considered a heat wave if it goes on for more than 3 days in a row... then schools start closing ;) But also, we don't really have air con in most places, so that does make the heat pretty unbearable.

  19. Becky, I think Florida is a great place to visit in the fall, winter or spring. Summer is good if you plan to stay in the water, but otherwise it's hot down there. But it's GREAT in the off season especially if anything over 77 is a heatwave (hahahahahaaa!) so if you go, go then. :)

  20. Then I'd say the fall would be best.

    Though I should point out that, being Florida, pretty much everywhere is air-conditioned. It's only in older houses that they might not have central air, and even then they usually have window units in all the rooms.

  21. Well I don't want to come to Florida just to stay indoor all day ;) But I'm also double affected, since my ability to sweat is almost nil, so my body really sucks at regulating temperature in heat (I basically get a fever).

  22. *lol* What I meant was if you got too hot pretty much any building you went into would have a/c! :)

    O.o I've never heard of that. It's a good thing you don't live here then. You'd be stuck indoors most of the year.

  23. It is really rare and they have no idea why. Actually the doctors didn't believe me (despite my Dad and his sister, my aunt having the same issue) until I found a doctor who had the same problem - and even she had no idea what could be the cause of it. I have spoken to a nutritionist who says it might stem from allergies, but I don't know.
    But yeah, seriously no fun, once the temp do go over 77 (sorry for picking such a fun number, it's just that 77F is 25C so that's what I'm used to thinking about) I start to get really uncomfortable - especially since there's no air con here! So I just lay there and suffer... hahahahaha


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