A Note on the Text:
This article was originally published about a year ago as a column in “Throwback Theology” in Doxology: a journal of worship and sacramental life. If you are a fellow theology nerd, I encourage you to check out this great publication! Also, do you have a favorite “lesser known” theologian from history? If so, please let me know in the comment section below! I’m always looking for new people to profile in the Throwback Theology Column!
Doxology: a journal of worship and the sacramental life is a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of liturgical scholarship bridging academic and church communities. Founded in 1984, it publishes work by established and emerging liturgical scholars to address historical, theological, and cultural questions about Christian worship and the sacramental life. In 2020, Doxology merged with the OSL’s other journal, Sacramental Life. Distribution is to a number of theology departments and seminary libraries in the United States, individual subscribers, and members of the Order of Saint Luke globally.
Print subscriptions to Doxology operate on a “pay-what-you-want” model. Visit OSLPublications.org to subscribe. Digital editions of back issues are available for free on Google Books and via the OSLPublications.org Periodicals Archive. Print subscriptions are automatically included for contributing members of the Order of Saint Luke.
Introduction to the Text:
I taught an evening Bible Study many years ago during the Advent Season. We were exploring the birth narrative in Luke when one of my parishioners asked, “Did the virgin Mary ever sin?”
This led to a lengthy theological discussion. As we explored the question, one woman shared her story of being a survivor of assault and how the experience intersected with her own understanding of Marian theology. (She has given me permission to write about her and share her thoughts) “For a long time,” she said, “I had trouble connecting to God because I always pictured Him as a man and what men did to me was terrible. I have a complicated relationship with my own father and the idea of a Father in the Sky looking down on me was frightening. I even had trouble with Jesus, but his mother was someone I could empathize with. She was another woman. Eventually, I got to know God through his mother.”
When the evening finally drew to a close, we discovered that we had more questions than answers; however, we all agreed that Mary can be a way that all women, especially those of us who have been injured by men, can connect to the Divine.
I discovered the following piece while I was researching more perspectives to share with my Bible Study group when we meet again in the future. These discussions usually tend to occur around Advent and Christmas and I am always interested in learning from the experiences of others.
The following piece is excerpted from Our Lady Saint Mary by Reverend Joseph Gale Hurd Barry, D.D. (1858-1931). Rev. J.G.H. Barry was born on April 19,1858 in Connecticut. He attended Wesleyan University and Berkley Divinity School. He was a prolific writer, but his most popular works include: From a Convent Tower (c. 1919), On Prayers to the Dead (1919), Our Lady Saint Mary (1922), and his autobiography.
Even if you do not agree with all the assertions that Rev. Dr. Barry makes in this piece, I hope that it will give you some interesting food for thought in your own ministry setting this Advent. The section on the sacramental theology of baptism as viewed through a Marian lens is particularly interesting.
–Rebecca L. Holland (M.Div.), OSL
About the Author: Rebecca is a visually-impaired Filipino-American pastor and author serving as an ordained elder in the Susquehanna Conference of the UMC. Her most recent book, Hope for the Broken: Using Writing to Find God’s Grace, is now available from Touch Point Press. She blogs about faith, books, and disability awareness at www.BeckieWrites.com .
Our Lady Saint Mary by Rev. J.G.H. Barry, D.D. Part II Chapter I Mary of Nazareth
The silences of the Holy Scriptures have always provoked speculation as to what is left untold. The devout imagination has played about the hints we receive and woven them into stories which far outrun any true implication of the facts… perhaps the most that we can lay hold of is the fact that S. Mary’s father was Joachim and her mother Anna. The rest may be left to silence.
But if the facts of the external life of Mary of Nazareth cannot be hoped for, certain general truths evidently follow from God’s plan for her and from her relation to our Blessed Lord. There are certain inferences from her vocation which are irresistible and which the theologians of the Church did not fail to make as they thought of her function in relation to the Incarnation. We know that the work of Redemption by which it was God’s purpose to lead back a sinful world to Himself was a purpose that worked from the very beginning of man’s fatal separation from the source of his life and happiness. The essential meaning of Holy Scripture is that it is a history of the origin of God’s purpose and of His bringing it to a successful issue in the mission of our Lord…
It we would understand the Old Testament we must find that its intimate note is preparation, just as the intimate note of the New Testament is accomplishment. God is working to a foreseen end, and is working as fast as men will consent to co-operate and become the instruments of His purpose. The purpose is not one that can be achieved by the exercise of power; it is a purpose of love and can be effected only through co-operating love…
Of all the instruments of this divine purpose, one figure has preeminently fascinated the devout imagination because of her unique beauty, and has been the object of profound speculation because of the intimacy of her relation to God,–Mary of Nazareth… We understand that as God could not come in the flesh at any time, but only when the “fulness of time” had come; so He could not come of any woman, but only of such an one as He had prepared to be the instrument of His Incarnation.
It is involved in the very intimacy of the relation which exists between our Lord and His blessed Mother that she should be unique in the human race… Without actual sin, therefore, was Mary held to be from the time that the thought of the Church was turned upon her relation to our Blessed Lord…
For some time this seemed enough… But as the uniqueness of Mary forced itself more and more upon the brooding thought of theologians and saints they were compelled to face the fact that her freedom from actual sin was not a full appreciation of her purity, was not an exhaustive treatment of her relation to our Lord. The doctrine of the nature of sin itself had been becoming clearer to the minds of Christian thinkers. All men are conceived and born in sin, it was seen. After S. Paul’s teaching, the problem of sin was not the problem of sins but the problem of sinfulness. The matter could not be left with the statement that all men do sin; the reason of their sinning must be traced out. And it was traced out, under S. Paul’s guidance, to a ground of sin in nature itself, to a defect in man as he is born into the world. He does not become a sinner when he commits his first sin: he is born a sinner. In other words, the problem of man’s sinfulness is the problem of original sin.
What then do we mean by original sin? Briefly, we mean this. At his creation man was not only created innocent, but he was created in union with God, a union which conferred on him many supernatural gifts, gifts, that is, which were not a part of his nature, but were in the way of an addition to his nature…
We are concerned with this: the effect of man’s sin was, what the effect of sin always is, to separate man from God. To sin, man has to put his will in opposition to the will of God. This our first parents did; and the result of their act was the destruction of their union with God and the loss of their supernatural endowments. They lapsed into a state of nature, only it was a state in which they had forfeited what had been conferred upon them at their creation. This state of man, with only his natural endowments, is the state into which all men, the descendants of Adam, have been born. This is the state of original sin…
There was no precedent for the relation to God into which Blessed Mary had been called. It was precisely this uniqueness of vocation which was leading theological thought to the conclusion of the uniqueness of her privilege: and this uniqueness of privilege seemed to call for nothing less than an exemption from sin in any and all forms. So a belief in the Immaculate Conception grew up despite a good deal of opposition while its implications were being thought out but was found more and more congenial to the mind of the Church. She whose wonderful title for centuries had been Mother of God could never at any moment of her existence have been separate from God. She must, so it was felt, have been united to God from the very first moment of her existence.
But what does this exemption from the common lot of men actually mean? I think that the simplest way of getting at it is to ask ourselves what it is that happens to a child at baptism. Every human child that is born into the world is born in original sin, that is, is born out of union with God, without sanctifying grace. It is then brought to the font and by baptism regenerated, born again, put in a relation to God that we describe as union, made a partaker of the divine nature. This varying description of the effect of baptism means that the soul of the child has become a partaker of sanctifying grace, the grace of union with God. Original sin, we say, is forgiven: that is, the soul is placed in the relation to God that it would have had had sin not come into existence, save that there remains a certain weakness of nature due to its sinful heredity. This that happens to children when they are baptised is what is held to have happened to Blessed Mary at her creation. Her soul instead of being restored to God by grace after her birth, was by God’s special grace or favour created in union with Him, and in that union always continued. The uniqueness of S. Mary’s privilege was that she never had to be restored to union with God because from the moment of her existence she had been one with Him. This would have been the common lot of all men if sin had not come into the world.
In view of much criticism of this belief it is perhaps necessary to emphasize the fact that a belief in Mary’s exemption from original sin does not imply a belief that she was exempt from the need of redemption. She is a creature of God, only the highest of His creatures: and like all human beings she needed to be redeemed by the Blood of Christ. The privileges which are our Lord’s Mother’s, are her’s through the foreseen merits of her Son–she, as all others, is redeemed by the sacrifice and death of Christ. There is in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception no shadow of encroachment on the doctrine of universal redemption in Christ; there is simply the belief that for the merits of the Son the Mother was spared any moment of separation from the Father…
I do not see how any one who has entered into the meaning of the Incarnation can feel otherwise than that the uniqueness of the event carries with it the uniqueness of the instrument…
And as we to-day try to appreciate the place of Blessed Mary in the life of the Church of God must we not feel it to be our misfortune that our past has been so wrapped in clouds of controversy that we have been unable to see her meaning at all clearly? … We shall in fact lose nothing of our hold on the unique work of our Lord because we recognise that His Blessed Mother’s association with it implies a certain preparation on her part, a certain uniqueness of privilege. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus; and all who come to God, come through Him. But they come also in the unity of the Body of many members and of many offices. And the office of her who in God’s providence was called to be the Mother of the Incarnate is surely as unique as is her vocation. She surely is entitled to receive from us the deep affection of our hearts and the highest honour that may be given to any creature.
This text is in the public domain. It was retrieved and edited from Project Gutenberg on October 27, 2021 at https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/12624/pg12624-images.html#CHAPTER_I