On 12/5/99, someone going by the name "bergson" left the following message in my guest book:
Copied info for a friend who is thinking about becoming Catholic. Need info on Mary being born virgin. Stopper for him. He says Jewish faith says Mary is a sinner. I think he has the Holy Mother mixed up with Mary Magdalene. He does not have a church. Has faith.Since "bergson" did not leave either an email address or a url, I am answering the message on my page, in hopes that s/he returns to read it.
Thank you for your guestbook message. I am very eager to help you answer your friend's misgivings about Blessed Mother.
I am not entirely sure what you mean by "Mary being born virgin". If you mean to say that Mary was conceived and born virginally, like her Divine Son, that of course is not Catholic teaching. Mary came into existence the way the rest of us did; she had a biological human father named St. Joachim.
However, I think you are referring to the fact that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus. I deduce this based on your statement: "He says Jewish faith says Mary is a sinner". So I will answer that charge.
Your friend is referring to a very old slander cast against Jesus and His Mother since the earliest days of Christianity. Some early enemies of the Faith alleged that Mary was a prostitute, and that Jesus was the illegitimate result of her alleged profession. This myth was recorded in various Jewish writings over the centuries, and so is believed by some (but not all) members of that faith to this day.
Your guess that Blessed Mother has been mixed up with St. Mary Magdalene is quite perceptive. Many scholars have suggested that this myth may be related to such confusion! Our Lady and Magdalene both have the same name (Miriam in Hebrew), and people who were antagonistic to Christianity and not well versed in the New Testament could have easily made such a mistake (or even deliberately twisted the Scriptures to make a false association between the two).
Needless to say, Mary Magdalene was not the mother of Jesus. The two are mentioned as standing together at the foot of the Cross in John 19:25, "Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene". They could not possibly be the same woman!
Son of Panthera?
As for the slander itself, it is usually related to another myth that Jesus had a human father: a Roman soldier named Panthera. This is not possible; Panthera is not a Roman name, so no Roman soldier would have that name. The fabricators of this myth were so blinded by hate and malice that it didn't occur to them to give His alleged "father" an actual Roman name!
What does "Panthera" mean? Interestingly, it is a corruption of the Greek word parthenos, which means "virgin"! You see, a common form of mockery back then was to corrupt someone's name. Jesus' early followers used to call Him the Son of the Virgin (that is, "of the Parthenos"). His enemies in turn corrupted that title, calling Him "son of Panthera". They then made up the myth of "Panthera the Roman soldier", Jesus' alleged "father".
There is no truth whatsoever to this allegation. Had Jesus been illegitimate, He could not have been an observant Jew (Deuteronomy 23:2). Since He was an observant Jew, He was certainly not illegitimate. And His Mother was a chaste, devout Jewish woman; Gospel accounts leave no doubt about that!
The only "good" thing about this slander is that it is a sort-of "backhanded" proof that Jesus was virginally conceived. It implies that there was something unusual about His conception; some people were perhaps aware that St. Joseph was not His biological father! Rumors of His alleged illegitimacy may have circulated even during His earthly life*. Jesus' detractors later tried to use these rumors against His followers, embellishing them by fabricating the "Panthera" myth discussed above.
No one can embrace Jesus and His Church while believing His Mother to be a horrendous sinner. It is inconceivable to think that the Holy One would have chosen to be born of a woman who was not virtuous, for such a mother would have been a great dishonor to Him!
The claim that the Virgin Mary was a woman of ill-repute always was and still is an attempt to smear Christ Himself. Mary is His closest relative, from whom He drew His human Body. Any aspersion cast on her character would reflect badly on Him. Proverbs 17:6 states that "parents are the pride of their children". Though Jesus is the all-holy God, it would have redounded to His dishonor had His sole biological parent been a sinner, an enemy of God, a child of darkness! Jesus received all His flesh from Mary's flesh. Had she been a sinner, He would be uniting to His Deity flesh which was once infected with sin. This would be a disgrace to Him!
The Bible says that Jesus is a High Priest who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26). If His closest relative were a sinner, how could we truly say that He is "separate from sinners"?
This is why the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a very important truth. It does not just honor Mary, but ultimately redounds to the glory of Our Divine Lord! It was most fitting that His Mother should never, even for a moment, be a sinner and slave of the devil, so that Jesus could truly be said to be separate from sinners and free from the reproach of having a sinful mother.
Mary was and is the completely sinless and holy Tabernacle, worthy of bearing God Incarnate. It is not fitting that the Holy One of Israel, Who alone is holy (Revelations 15:4), Whose very Name is Holy (Isaiah 57:15), Who demands holiness from His people (Leviticus 19:2) and particularly from those who minister before Him (Exodus 28:6) should dwell for nine months in an unholy woman! "Holiness befits thy house, O Lord" (Psalm 93:5); it was imperative that Mary, like the Tabernacle of old, be utterly pure and holy, completely sanctified and consecrated to the Lord, for she was to be the living Holy of Holies, the sacred dwelling of the All-Holy God.
Please pass this information on to your friend and urge him to prayerfully reconsider what he has been told in the past. God bless you and your efforts to spread the Holy Faith.
* While talking to Jesus, the Pharisees at one point remark "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41). Some theologians speculate that they were referring to a rumor which doubted Jesus' legitimacy. This is only speculative, however.
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