Some rather brilliant Presbyterians caused a ruckus the other day by mocking the Catholic and Orthodox doctrine that Mary is “Ever-Virgin.” The post was written by James Jordan, a minister of the Association of Reformed Clergy.
Before diving into it, I’d like thank James Jordan, Jeff Meyers, and the rest of his followers at Biblical Horizons for teaching me the biblical hermeneutic that allowed me to embrace Catholicism. Their approach to the Bible essentially opens the way to read the Bible on a number of levels–similar to Catholicism’s four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. The Presbyterian pastors and laymen at Biblical Horizons emphasize liturgical interpretations of Scripture, Old Testament typology, temple cosmology, the Davidic covenant, and a hermeneutic of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. They also rightly emphasize the role of sacraments and works in human salvation – something rather exotic for today’s Presbyterians who tend to lean toward John Piper and R.C. Sproul’s version of pop-Calvinism.
I personally thanked Jordan in my book The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity for opening my eyes to the Old Testament. Without his brilliant insights (particularly his books Through New Eyes and Sociology of the Church, I probably wouldn’t be Catholic. Mr. Jordan, if you’re reading this, thank you. However, I realize that this is probably gratitude that you would rather not receive.
I also know many good men who have studied James Jordan’s works or worked personally with Jeff Meyers and have now entered into the Catholic Church. Jeff Steel and Al Scharbach come to mind. I’m in contact with others who wish to remain anonymous. Jordan, Meyers, Horne, and the Auburn Ave set claim to be Protestant, but their fruits are proving otherwise. Their one-time adherents are turning to Rome.
Anyway, back to the ruckus. According to James Jordan, Athanasius was wrong for identifying the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. He also mocks Gregory of Nyssa for identifying the burning bush as a type of the Virgin Mary – the unconsumed nature of the bush is like Mary’s unconsumed virginity in bearing the voice of God – the Incarnate Christ. My claim is that Biblical Horizons typology should openly accept these Marian readings.
Moreover, Jordan also rejects the words of the Fifth Ecumenical Council which twice refers to Mary as “Ever-Virgin.” He even rejects Saint Augustine, who interpreted the “closed gate” through which passed the “prince” in Ezek 44 as a type of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Here is the beautiful passage from Augustine describing from Scripture why Saint Joseph and Saint Mary did not consummate their marriage:
“This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall pass through it. Because the Lord the God of Israel hath entered in by it” (Ezek 44:2).
What means this closed gate in the house of the Lord, except that Mary is to be ever inviolate? What does it mean that ‘no man shall pass through it,’ save that Joseph shall not know her? And what is this:
“The Lord alone enters in and goeth out by it,” except that the Holy Ghost shall impregnate her, and that the Lord of Angels shall be born of her?
And what means this – “It shall be shut for evermore,” but that Mary is a Virgin before His birth, a Virgin in His birth, and a Virgin after His birth.”
Saint Augustine was one of history’s best Bible scholars and his interpretation of Ezekiel’s prophecy has been followed by the Catholic Church ever since.
We know that sexual continence, in both the Old and New Covenants, is holy and sacred. Saint Joseph, as Augustine explained, would not have violated the Blessed Mother’s womb which had become a sacred shrine of God’s presence.
Moreover, sexual continence is holy in itself. For example, the sexual continence of David and his companions qualify them to eat the Bread of Presence, which was restricted to Levites. (1 Sam 21:4). David and his men were not Levites, but they were allowed to eat the sacred bread because they had not been with their wives. Hence, their sexual continence loaned them the status of priesthood.
The Catholic Church reads this Davidic account as teaching that sexual continence makes a man into a warrior-priest, one consecrated to the Lord…even Uriah the Hittite understood this:
Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” (2 Sam 11:11).
Saint Joseph (a son of David) was also a warrior-priest who is a dream-prophet like Joseph the Patriarch. Saint Joseph led the true Israel (Christ) into Egypt and back again to the Promised Land. He is the chaste one, just as Joseph the Patriarch remained chaste in the house of his master. Joseph dared not enter the womb that God had already indwelt. Just as the utensils of the Temple in Babylon remained holy to the Lord after the exile, so Mary’s womb remains holy and consecrated.