Thursday, July 28, 2011

My understanding of Mary's story...

In response to my previous post about the ever-virginity of Mary, a fellow on one of the forums I frequent asked:
I'm wondering why Mary would choose to get married if she took that vow of virginity.

Here is my response, the historical bits of which I drew from On Orthodox Veneration of Mary, by St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. I also include my own speculation about the motivations of the priests, and several other things, based on the facts of the historical bits.

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/begin forum post answer

This is a very good question, and one that is not answered in the Scriptures. It is, however, answered by the teaching of the Church.

Here is the answer, as best as I understand it:

According to the Tradition, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, were aged and barren. They asked God for a child, and an angel informed them that they would bring forth a daughter. Overjoyed, they promised to consecrate their child to God, as Samuel was consecrated by Elkanah and Hannah in ancient times, under the same circumstances.

Like Samuel, Mary was delivered to the Temple service at age three. Upon arrival, she walked straight into the Holy of Holies, taking the grace of God which rested upon her into the Temple, which until then had been without grace. (This was the newly-built Temple into which the glory of God had not descended as it had upon the Ark of the Old Covenant, and on the Temple of Solomon.)

While she was given a place in the quarters specifically set aside for the virgins such as herself, she spent so much time in prayer in the Holy of Holies that one might say she lived in it. (Note that this is totally appropriate, if she is, as I have shown above, the Ark of the New Covenant.) So that nothing might distract her from prayer and heedfulness to herself, Mary gave to God a vow of virginity, in order to please only Him her whole life long.

Now, officially consecrated Temple service such as this ended at 12, so that the young ones might take their place in society. Once she reached that age, she was no longer permitted to stay in the Temple. Normally, for a female, the priests arranged a marriage to someone with good prospects, etc., like the parents would have if she were still under their care. If the parents were still living, their wishes would be taken into consideration as well.

However, the priests knew of Mary's vow. Because of it, they understood that she could not enter into a normal marriage. They also knew that they had to marry her off so that she would be taken care of according to both law and custom.

What to do, what to do?

They would solve their dilemma by betrothing her to an elderly widower (with his permission and understanding, of course). The two would be married for society's (and the law's) sake, but remain physically separate for her vow's sake.

But whom to choose?
[Edit: here is where I begin my own speculation]
Now, the priests knew several things. First, they knew that according to the Scriptures, Messiah would come from the house of David. Second, they also knew that according to the same Scriptures, He would be born of a virgin. Third, they knew that the time for that to happen, according to the prophet Daniel, was upon them.

They also had this fellow, Simeon, who had been told that he would see the Messiah in his lifetime, which was already dragging on a bit.

Additionally, because of the promises to the fathers, geneologies were some of the most important records they kept, and they kept them quite fastidiously. (Where else did you think Matthew and Luke got their information? After all, also according to tradition, Matthew's younger brother was a priest, with full access to the archives.) So they knew that any offspring of Mary was "first in line", if you will, for the throne of David, as far as the lineage from Nathan was figured (the secondary line).

They also knew from their records that Joseph was "first in line" for the throne, as far as Solomon's line -- the main line in the first place -- was concerned. And -- oh, look! -- he happens to be an elderly widower, too!

The priests were not stupid. They had "connected the dots" already -- probably as soon as Mary walked straight into the Holy of Holies without being killed, if not before.

How much of all this the priests bothered to tell Mary is not known. I assume not much, since they she seems to be rather clueless when Gabriel makes his announcement to her.

(Joseph doesn't seem particularly surprised. In fact, he seems somewhat hesitant, which would seem to indicate that he knew and believed what was going on. He maintains this humble hesitancy up to the point where Gabriel shows up and tells him to knock it off. This only makes sense if he knew way more than we initially tend to assume, based solely on Scripture. Which would make sense -- how else would he have agreed to this whole thing, unless the priests filled him in?)

But still, Mary and Joseph's ignorance notwithstanding, something tells me the whole birth of the Messiah thing wasn't that much of a surprise to the priests. Well, to a few of them, anyway.

They had all the ingredients in place. The only thing left to do was actually betroth the second in line (Mary, a virgin to boot) to the first in line (Joseph, who also "just happened" to be an elderly widower), and voila! out pops the Messiah. And so they did. And He did.

Suddenly a lot of things make way more sense (to me, anyway). It explains why the priests later on got so upset when Jesus didn't turn out to be quite the kind of Messiah they were hoping for -- they had put a lot of time and effort into setting the whole thing up!

Additionally, the sting of Jesus' rebukes of the scribes and Pharisees seem even more justified with this view in mind. Not only could they have figured out Who He was -- they themselves had set up the circumstances for Him to come! He wasn't condemning them for lazyness -- e.g. "You guys need to get off your duff and figure this out!" No, they knew Who He was. And they still rejected Him.

This scenario also answers one of the nagging questions I had about His visit to the Temple at age 12. How is it that a 12 year old boy from a backwater town is even given an audience among the most learned doctors and scribes of the day? Because they knew even then Who He was.


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Sorry for being so long-winded, but this reads better as a story than as a straight academic answer, IMHO. :)

/end forum post answer

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