it is not right to ridicule universally respected views, for by so doing, you will not convince your adherents, but only offend them.
(L. de Vovenarg 1715-1747)
When we look at the history of world culture, we see that for long ages, in all nations touched by Christian civilization, Mary the Mother of Jesus has become the personification of the most sublime femininity, and a girl's and mother's most beautiful ideal. She is, at the same time, the irrrnaculate virgin and the noble-hearted mother consenting tc her Son's sacrifice for humankind. Delete from the picture of. human culture art, poetry, custom -- everything inspired by the irrrnaculate youth and mysterious, unwonted motherhood of Mary -- how the picture of woman and mother pales!
From the 4th Century hymn of the Syrian Deacon, Ephriam, to Mary; through Dante, Petrarch and Novalis; through the "I will not allow you to demean the name of the Mother of God!" uttered by the hero in Adam Mickiewicz' All Souls'; to the youths' cry to their friend in the contemporary Lithuanian Soviet sketch, "You be Mary!", runs the veneration of the ideal of Mary. Thanks to her, generation after generation has known where to turn its gaze, from whom to learn beauty of spirit, even in the lowliest circumstances of life and work.
Today too, the example of the mother of Jesus continues to have a direct and conscious effect on people who are acquainted with religion, and an unconscious effect on those who are not through works of art and music, through the Ave Maria, Stabat Mater, Magnificat and Salve Regina.
And now, a woman's journal has undertaken an attack on the noblest of women... A representative of an institution of higher learning, training educators, has undertaken to demolish respect for the ideal mother... The aim of the action is to trample on Mary's honor, to snatch away the crown of her virginity and divine motherhood.
Why is this being done? Apparently for no other reason than to demolish religious belief, regardless of the means used or the results which will follow (an unfiliable spiritual void). In whose name is it being done -- perhaps in the name of objective science? Alas, the article has nothing in common with objective science.
Since the article demeaning the honor of Mary is based on texts from the translation of the New Testament which we prepared, we feel an obligation and a right to respond and to discuss the accusations to some extent.
1."Jesus could not have been conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit because in Aramaic the word ruah, like the Lithuanian word dvasia, is of the feminine gender." As though readers did not know that the grammatical gender does not have to agree with biological gender. (A football star --Lithuanian, žvaigždė, feminine (Trans. Note)-- is, nevertheless, a man.) Then again, the question of sexual identity in the case of a divine intervention is entirely out of place, since we are speaking, not about physical relations, but about an extraordinary miraculous action, concerning which the angel said to Mary, "... for nothing is impossible to God." (Lk 1,37)
2.The author cites an alleged tale recounted by Professor Antanas Maceina in the overseas journal of cultural life, Aidai, concerning the rape of Mary in the hills. Most probably Maceina also refutes this unsupported speculation in the same article, but Balkevičius does not mention a word about that. Apparently, it is important to him to confuse rather than to explain. Neither we nor the general public have access to the stacks where the volumes of Aidai are kept, but we can point out a reply in the New Testament itself. This is the scene of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Lk 1, 39-56). Elizabeth greets her young relative as the mother of the Lord, and Mary responds with the hymn of exultation, the Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit exults in God, my savior..." Are these the sentiments of a girl who has been exploited or raped?
3.The platonic Roman philosopher Celsus is known as an enemy of the Christians, but not as a historian. The Talmud is a "collection of religious and juridical and moral norms of Judaism." (Lietuvos tarybinė encykIopedi ja --Soviet Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 82). Thus it is a religious, not a historical document. The tale from these two sources about some soldier named Panterus or Panderus as the putative father of Jesus does not negate the fact of Mary's virginity, but rather confirms the virginity of Mary: "Panderus" or "Panterus" originated by metaphysis from the word parthenos, meaning virgin. The Christians used to repeat so often that Jesus was born ek Marias teis parthenou, that the enemies of the Christians seized upon this title to create their own version.
The gospels, documents of history and faith tested a hundred times, affirm most clearly that the conception of Jesus was special and exceptional, without congress with a male.
4. Jesus Christ, by His divine nature (as Son of God), exists from all eternity. From His concept ion in the womb of Mary, He exists in His human nature. This is something that children, studying their catechism for First Communion, grasp without difficulty. They say: "In heaven, Jesus as God has only a Father, while on earth (as a human being), He has only a mother." This the learned author of the article either cannot or will not understand.
It was the human body of Christ which was conceived of Mary and not His eternal Godhead. Why then talk about the impossibility of God being born of a human being? A previously non-existant God cannot originate from a human being. But if a Son who was God before and remained God after took a body from Mary, then the title of Mother of God befits Mary (the mother-Son relationship is a personal relationship!).
5.Children preparing for First Communion find out that Mary's title "Immaculately Conceived" means that her soul was not touched by original sin, but says nothing about the origin of her body. The Church considers it to have been entirely natural, like all of ours, and honors Joachim and Ann as the natural parents of Mary in the truest sense of the word. The author of the article sneers at the title of Immaculately Conceived, attributing to it, too, the meaning of virginal conception. One who wishes to attack the claims of religion should understand what they mean, otherwise one can make a fool of oneself. Do the editors not place too much trust in the competance of their colleague? (Incidentally, the hymn Most Pure considered by the author to be anonymous in origin has a known author, Bishop A. Baranauskas.)
6.Heos hou eteken hyion- ("Until she bore a Son") (Mat 1,25). The conjunction until indicates the time up to a given point. It says nothing about the time after. Compare: "The girl was faithful to her betrothed until he returned from military service." In these words a statement is made about the entire time the young man was in the army. But does this sentence give one to understand that after that, she was unfaithful? And does the meaning of the sentence change if one uses the construction, "While her betrothed was in military service, the girl was faithful to him." (Compare in the Septuagint, 1 Mace 5,54: "None of them perished until they returned in peace." Nothing is said directly about what happened later, but it is understood that all the more after their return, they did not perish.) Like the earlier translation, "He (Joseph) did not know her until she bore a Son," so also our translation "Without his living with her as husband, she bore a Son," speaks of the entire time before the birth of Jesus and says nothing about what happened afterwards, and does not indicate that later it was otherwise.
The subsequent virginity of Mary is confirmed by the belief of the early ages of Christendom, witnessed to by the Second Century bishops and martyrs, the head of the Syrian Christians, Bishop of Antioch, disciple of the Apostles Ignatius (circa 50-110 A.D.), Iraneus (140-202 A.D.), teacher of the Church Origen (185-285 A.D.) and others, further maintained by the Church. The Christians of the first centuries knew and understood the gospels no les than today's authors, and their belief in the lifelong virginity of Mary was hampered neither by
"until she bore" nor "the brothers of Jesus"'. about which we shalI speak later.
The translator and the editor of the New Testament, acquainted with the style of Sacred Scripture and with the psychology of the deeply religious person, explain that most ancient tradition of the Church (in a footnote, not in the text), and do not distort the Word of God.
7. In the personal opinion of the author of the article, intimate relations between this couple of Nazareth, Joseph and Mary, should have begun at least after the birth of Jesus. In the personal opinion of the author, "otherwise it would not have made sense for Joseph to wed Mary" (our emphasis - C.K, V.A.).
That a non-believing man today sees no sense and thinks that he would never have acted the way Saint Joseph acted is his affair, but that mind set of his does not give him the right to speak for Saint Joseph. The latter had the religious obligation revealed to him by an angel: to be the legal husband of Mary, the legal father of Jesus and the actual protector of both. Therefore he "did as was commanded by the angel of the Lord" (Mat 1, 24).
8. The author of the article ignores completely many facts and circumstances proven by history; for example, the fact that among the Jews a patriarchal system prevailed in which the head of the family was the man and upon his death, not the mother but first-born son. Thus, upon the death of Joseph, Jesus became the head of the family in Nazareth, and when He left to proclaim His doctrine, His mother, left alone, had to accept the help of her male relatives and those of Jesus. The gospel does not mention Jesus' uncles. Apparently, they were no longer alive. It mentions the sisters of Mary -- these could only be sympathetic and provide comfort, but not act as her guardians. The only ones remaining were the elder cousins of Jesus who, being the guardians of Jesus' mother, and not understanding His work or mission, felt that they could "admonish" Jesus also.
The patriarchal system did not allow a younger brother to order an elder brother around. The fact that "His own" tried to oversee the behavior of Jesus indicates that they were older than Jesus, so they were not the true brothers of Jesus, for Jesus was the first-born.
The author unconsciously or through oversight confuses the issue by including His Mother among those "doing the admonishing", as if she too, did not believe in Jesus' mission. The gospel does not say this. The gospel mentions Mary coming with His "brethren" to speak with Jesus, but does not mention her in the passage which speaks about "admonishing Him".
The Acts of the Apostles tells how after the resurrection of Jesus, those so-called brothers of Jesus joined the group of apostles. This means that they, too, were convinced by the resurrection of Christ concerning His divinity. There is nothing strange about the fact that the relatives were the last to believe: They were prevented by the everyday familiarity till then.
9. In the prologue to John's Gospel (Jn 1, 1-14), cosmic questions are treated: the coming of the Eternal Word into the world and the unwillingness of sinful humanity to receive his light. So he says that when he came to his own creatures (eis ta idia), his own did not wish to receive him (kai hoi idiei auton ou pareiabon). Mark 3, 21 speaks of a concrete situation, of the physical relatives of Jesus (hoi par autou). That is why John 1, 11 is translated "his own", and Mark 3,21 as "his own relatives". To say that John 1, 11 speaks about His relatives or His mother is quite unscientific, but the author is not afraid that readers might check the New Testament text: It was published fourteen years ago in an edition of 6,000 copies, while Soviet Woman has a circulation of more than half a million. Unless, in other words, every fiftieth person could check.
10.Ancient Jews were not the only ones who called cousins "brethren". (Note: Cousins are called "brethren" at least in the following places of the Old Testament : Genesis 13,8 and 29,12; Leviticus 10,4; 1Chronicles 23, 22.) Even today, in the Slavic languages, they are so-called (Russian, Byelorussian, Polish: brat, and only when it is necessary to specify is dvojurodnyj, stryjeczny, etc., added). The fact that the "brothers" mentioned in the gospels are not the children of Jesus' mother can be seen by comparing Matthew 13, 55 and Mark 15, 40. In the latter text, among the women looking on from afar at the crucifixion, is a woman also named Mary, the mother of James the Younger and Josias (Joseph) (sic), who in the other texts were numbered among the "brothers" of Jesus. In our New Testament commentary, similarity is noted, but it is not helpful to the thesis of the article's author, so the author does not mention it, contenting himself with the first quotation. Instead of objective or historical analysis, the author constantly offers his own reasoning: It is "sensible", "not sensible", "it would mean little", "what sense would it be", etc.
11.It appears to the author that "it is clear to everyone that the concept 'first-born' is meaningful only in the event that after the first child, there are more children". Does the author not speak too readily for "everyone"? Perhaps he thinks that none of the readers of the magazine have any notion of the religious or juridical meaning of the concept "first-born" in the Jewish nation. Male first-born must be dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 13,2). The first-born is the heir and the continuation of the line, and the head of the family after the father's death. And Jesus is the first-born, not in "an analogical sense", but in the very real sense (He is, after all, not the second, nor the fifth nor the ninth). If Jewish law is not enough, let us recall the following fact: In the Middle East in 1930, an inscription was found on a tomb from the time of Christ, honoring a mother who died giving birth to her first-born --that is her only-- son.
The accusation that in translating Matthew 1, 25 we left out the word "first-born" is ill considered. It suffices to glance at the critical Greek edition of the New Testament, to learn that this word is not found in the oldest manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel (e.g., The Greek New Testament, edited by Kurt Alland, etc., UBS3. 1975). Why does the author not mention that we had no trouble allowing this word to stand in Luke 2,6?
12. The author does not only choose his quotations tendentiously, mentioning some and omitting others dealing with the same question, but he also arbitrarily truncates them. Here is an example from the childhood of Jesus: The twelve-year old Jesus remains in the Temple of Jerusalem after the Passover Festival. When, on the third day, his mother finding Him there questions Him, He replies, "Why did you seek me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's affairs?" (Lk 2, 49) The author seizes only on the first part of Jesus' reply, "Why did you seek Me?", considering it suitable to support his thesis of a disobedient runaway boy. But he passes over the second part, showing His unchildish self awareness.
From that second part, it can be seen that the twelve-year-old Jesus already knows that He does not have a father on earth, that He is the Son of God and that He must be about the affairs of His Heavenly Father. One line later, the further relationship of Jesus with His mother and Saint Joseph was briefly described: "He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority..." (Lk 2, 51).
After quoting the lengthy scene of the meeting in the temple, the author found no need to exhaust the subject to the end, and the editors did not require it of him.
13. Jesus' parable of the obedient and the disobedient sons (Matt 21, 28-31) shows that in public children address their father as "Lord" (Sir). The saying "What is it to me and to you?" was often used in various ways, and its true meaning would be clear from the context or intonation. Equally respectful is addressing the mother as "woman" (Madam). Jesus' words, "What is it to you and to me?", the mother understood favorably, for she immediately said to the servant, "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2, 5).
Nor was Jesus' addressing His mother standing beneath the cross with the Beloved Disciple John "Woman, this is your son... this is your mother" (Jn 19, 26-27), impolite, but respectful. These words show two important facts: One that Jesus, suffering and dying, does not forget His mother, does not leave her to the care of even the most loving of relatives, but as it were by legacy, assigns her a loving protector. Secondly, this legacy most clearly confirms the fact that Mary had no other children but Jesus, since the latter, dying, must provide her a protector.
We are unfortunately led to conclude: First: the author is unacquainted with the Greek New Testament , on which he tries to rest his arguments. Similarly, he has not acquainted himself with the law and customs of the ancient Israelites, or many concepts of Catholic theology, and his logic and scientific integrity is badly wanting.
Second: The most popular magazine in Soviet Lithuania, popular especially for its fashions, home economics and family advice, published in two languages with a circulation of more than half a million, so reaching almost every family speaking Lithuanian or Polish, appears to seriously disregard its readers (most of them are believers!), since it has published an insu11ing paper of very low quality, sarcastically written, of which they should be ashamed.
It is true, we hear, that many readers, especially the intelligentsia, are immune to anti-religious propaganda, and simply do not read anti-religious articles (especially by this author), not expecting to find in them objective information. Among the less educated, there are many people who have not learned to be skeptical, at least in part, of any printed word. In publishing an article so uncritically thrown together, the editors have shown that they consider their readers also uneducated an uncritical. Believers in general could, perhaps, rejoice that their views (beliefs) are attacked in such an unqualified fashion, but believers and the Church do not doubt the nation's culture and justifiably wish that the struggle of ideas (if it is unavoidable) be conducted honorably, that it should rather become a polite dialogue.
We can only regret that a women's journal has undertaken to insult the bright ideal of Mary, Virgin and Mother, and that people with such doubtful ethical qualifications as the author of the article under discussion is being entrusted to educate the future pedagogical cadres of Lithuania.
Father Česlovas Kavaliauskas New Testament Translator
Father Vaclovas Aliulis
New Testament Translation Editor
Molėtai Joniškis-ViInius Apr i I 30, 1986