Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Mark Shea and the Desperate Defense of Marian Mythology
07/02/2009 - James WhiteI just received my set of Mark Shea’s three volume set, Mary, Mother of the Son. I began looking through it a bit Tuesday evening, and noticed no personal references in the indexes. But, as I looked at his attempt to force Revelation 12 into one of the few supports for the edifice of Marian theology I noted that either his publisher did not include footnote references in the index, or, they just didn’t want to include my name. In any case, ironically, yesterday morning I was sent this from Shea’s blog:
I'm happy to report that I have not yet seen a single negative review! Catholic response has been uniformly thumbs up, which makes Papa proud of his baby. (Of course, there will *be* negative reviews from guys like James White, Eric Svendsen, James Swan and the other nattering nabobs of anti-Catholicism, whose *job* is to give a negative review to stuff like this.) But once you get away from the anti-Catholic fever swamps, I will be interested to see how the book fares in place like Christianity Today, where you have honest Evangelicals who are serious about trying to engage Catholics, well, honestly.Well, isn’t that special? Shea is one of the more acidic Roman Catholic apologists, and, of course, we see he is one of the less honest ones, for he, like so many others, dehumanizes his opponents through the “anti-Catholic” moniker, that arrogant mark of the Roman Catholic who is so enamored with the Papacy that they are willing to define others solely upon the basis of their relationship to Rome. I doubt he sees how inane the constant use of the “anti-Catholic” cudgel is in light of the wide range of work I have done over the years. I can just see a Muslim reading Shea’s words with a bemused look of confusion as to why Shea would be so narrow minded. Combine that with an implicit accusation of personal dishonesty, and you have another example of why I have repeatedly said that “Things aren’t very good in the Roman Catholic apologetics community.” I suppose it is a positive for Shea that at least he hasn’t been investing his life in digging out old posts from years ago to put them back on his blog, like Dave Armstrong has been doing the past few weeks in his on-going jihad against Tim Enloe (a spectacle in and of itself).
In any case, I would not wish to disappoint Mr. Shea. Let me begin by talking about...global warming. You see, there are many, many people in Western Culture who are absolutely convinced that mankind is harmfully warming the earth through the production of carbon by-products, especially carbon dioxide, the chief of the “green house gases.” And those folks are now in charge in most Western nations, and they are ravaging the economies of those nations in an attempt to “save the planet.” So rabid are the devotees of this position that they have become dogmatic in their demands that everyone agree with them. They brook no opposition. They will not debate the viewpoint. They have declared all opposition null and void, the discussion is over, the facts are all theirs! Despite a wide and deep variety of counter-evidence that demonstrates their position to be mythological in nature, not factual or scientific, they boldly proclaim their position to be the truth, and all who would dare oppose it are censored. As some may know when the High Priest of Global Warming, Al Gore, “testified” in Congress recently, the “other side” was not even allowed to respond. And just this past week news broke (thankfully!) of the gross bias of the EPA in suppressing a study that demonstrates that carbon dioxide and water vapor actually can function to suppress the warming process in global weather systems.
So why do I mention the global warming myth in response to Mark Shea? Because of the parallels I see between the wild-eyed fanaticism of the global warming proponents, who can twist any fact, any statistic, into evidence of global warming (a new record high? Global warming! A new record low? Global warming! A cat-5 hurricane? Global warming! Few hurricanes in a season? Global warming! Record cold beginning of the summer in many places? Global warming! Cardinals play in the Super Bowl? Global warming!), and the dogged, devoted, fanatical re-reading of all of history, logic, and theology that is needed to pry the Marian doctrines into the Bible, the teachings of the Apostles, and the early church. Just as the global warming advocate will trot out his “facts,” which are almost always either 1) irrelevant, 2) localized, or 3) a-contextual, so too the Marian devotee will comb through the entirety of the Bible and the corpus of ancient writers looking for anything to substantiate the massive cathedral of Marian theology that has been produced by Rome over the past centuries. And once again, most of the time the “facts” they produce are irrelevant or a-contextual as well. Though the broad body of current data, if interpreted without a horrific bias, speaks loudly against the current mania to “save the planet,” the global warming advocate has no ears to hear; he or she can only “see” the facts that support his or her theory. In the same way, the Bible and the writings of the early church together testify loudly that the Marian dogmas were unknown to the Apostles and only slowly developed as concepts over time, first outside the faith, then slowly infiltrating into the external church, eventually reaching the status of “dogma” only through a process of evolutionary degeneration and change. Just as global warming is not the “clear verdict of the scientific evidence,” so too the Marian dogmas stand against the entire weight of the evidence of sound biblical exegesis and fair-minded, non-anachronistic reading of the patristic literature.
But a fair, non-anachronistic reading of either the Bible or the early church is not what you are going to find in Shea’s 3 volumes (which, I note, could have easily been a single larger volume). This is the work of a Marian devotee, so do not expect any fair handling of the objections to the rise of the Marian dogmas. Any reference to Mary, even if it is not amplified by the early writer from whose work it is culled, is anachronistically expanded into a wildly major element of that writer’s theology, and, hence, emblematic of a widespread Marian devotion or belief. It is not like Shea can avoid such manhandling of the patristic materials: it is the bread and butter of all Marian devotees, and hence much of modern Roman Catholic historiography, at least that which comes from the conservative elements of Rome. Anachronism is the necessary result of Rome’s dogmatic claim of infallibility and patristic consensus: those who defend Rome must “see” in the patristic sources what their ultimate authority has dogmatically defined to be there. So Shea can repeat the party line about Ignatius and the concept of the literal bodily presence of Christ as if Ignatius holds to the modern Roman dogma. We have demonstrated this is a horrible misreading of Ignatius, unsustainable for anyone who reads the text in its context, here. Now it must be remembered, Shea has already expended a lot of energy in his previous writings laying a foundation for the utter muddling of exegesis. No context is clear enough to overthrow his appeal of the “senses” of Scripture. Clearly, Scripture is but a pile of clay in the hands of the follower of Rome who wishes to “find” in its words something to substantiate what is, in reality, the teaching of the Magisterium and nothing else. So we are hardly surprised to find a world of difference in Shea’s excuse making and circular reasoning and the sound exegesis to be found in classical Reformed works relating to the Bible or church history. Again, he can’t help it: when you seek to promote that which is a-historical, that kind of thing happens. It “comes with the territory.”
In any case, I turn to the text I ran into while thumbing through the books when they first arrived. I was naturally drawn to the chapter where Shea attempts to provide a biblical basis for his Marian doctrines. This is truly where the wheels fell off for Gerry Matatics in New York in the mid 1990s, for the only way to make the Bible teach what Rome teaches today about Mary is to twist and distort it to a massive degree, and that is harder to do in a debate where the other guy has equal time to point out your errors. In any case, Shea pulls a fast one on his readers, starting with pages of discussion of how the New Testament reads the Old Testament--an obviously important issue. But he then attempts to utilize his conclusions on that matter as a springboard for reading Marian fulfillments into New Testament passages. There is one problem: the New Testament writers never even attempt to make the application Shea does. That rather major discontinuity should not be forgotten.
What follows is the standard issue “Mary is the Ark of the Covenant” presentation made by modern Roman Catholic apologists. I have dealt with this many times in the past (Shea shows no familiarity with the rebuttals offered). He even repeats some of the same errors Matatics did in the initial presentation of this material I heard back in 1994 or 1995. He correctly states that the verb επισκιάζω appears in Luke 1:35 relating to the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit, and says the same verb is used of the Shekinah glory overshadowing the “place where the Ark was kept” in Exodus 40:35 and 1 Kings 8:10 (p. 110). And just as Matatics did fifteen years ago, he moves quickly on, seeking to create a “wave” effect by throwing an entire series of claims together, hoping the combined weight will have the desired impact upon the reader. But just as I did back in 1994 or 1995, once again I stopped the freight train and began examining each point of the argument for consistency and truth value. And immediately we find problems.
First, the cloud under discussion in Exodus 40:35 settled upon the tent of meeting, not merely upon the Ark of the Covenant. There were lots of other items in the tent of meeting other than the Ark: why are they not relevant? Why can’t we find a picture of Paul, or James, in, say, some piece of the furniture found in the same location? Secondly, the cloud was that which indicated the presence of Yahweh; when the cloud lifted, the people moved. It gave direction, guidance. Shall we try to read something into this, as well? But what is more, just as Matatics was in error fifteen years ago to say that the very same term is used in 1 Kings 8:10, Shea remains in error today. The verb found there is επλησεν from πίμπλημι,to fill.” I suppose the second reference could simply be to something “filling” the house of the Lord, but again, it is not the same term. So what is the relevance of 1 Kings 8:10? We can’t tell.
So, the first part of the argument, one that Shea is going to claim is as “plain as day,” is that if the cloud settled on the tabernacle of meeting, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, then clearly, Mary is the tabernacle of meeting...no, wait, she’s the Ark of the Covenant.
Next, 2 Samuel 6:9 is cited, where David is afraid of Yahweh because of the Uzzah incident, and he asks a rhetorical question about how the Ark could ever come to him in Jerusalem in light of what has happened in striking Uzzah dead. This is forced into a position of parallelism with Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth asks, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The only parallel is “to me” (the verbs “to come” are different---if Luke was trying to parallel, why did he not use the same words?), while the contexts are completely different, one expressing fear and frustration, the other blessing and honor. One’s credulity is truly strained at this point, but Shea presses on.
At this point we find Shea using another tactic so clearly illustrated by Matatics, that of the convenient “insertion” of text into a citation. He writes, “In 2 Samuel, we’re told ‘David arose and went’ to the hill country of Judah, ‘to bring up from there the ark of God’ (2 Sam. 6:2; emphasis added). (ibid). Notice that “to the hill country of Judah” is not a quotation, because, if you actually take the time to read 2 Samuel 6:2 (and most folks reading Shea’s book will not do so) it nowhere mentions the “hill country of Judah.” It mentions not a single person going up, but, David and “all the people” went to “Baale-judah.” While it is quite possible to place this location in the general area of “hill country” (most of the region could thusly be described), it is necessary for Shea to insert the parallel language, something the readers of Luke’s gospel would simply never do. In any case, he then notes that the Ark stayed in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months, and then provides the parallel:
Not accidentally, Luke notes that Mary “arose and went to the hill country of Judah” (Luke 1:39) where she remained with Elizabeth for “three months” (Luke 1:56; emphasis added).If people were not in the habit of “arising and going” a whole lot in the Bible, we might find that a truly compelling argument. Evidently, the fact that Mary did so hurriedly (and David did not) is not relevant (there really are no rules to this kind of interpretation); the verbs are amongst the most common in the Scriptures, of course. For some reason Shea does not mention that Luke says Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months--one would think (again assuming Shea’s conclusions) that Luke would be far more specific if he were attempting to do what is being suggested. Why not use specific terminology, rather than vague, every-day language? Why show a lack of concern for the specific time frame, “about” three months?
The last attempted parallel Shea brings forward comes from paralleling David’s “leaping and dancing before the Lord” in 2 Samuel 6:16 (ὀρχούμενον καὶ ἀνακρουόμενον ἐνώπιον κυρίου) with Luke 1:41 and the baby leaping in Elizabeth’s womb at the greeting of Mary (ἐσκίρτησεν τὸ βρέφος ἐν τῇ κοιλίᾳ αὐτῆς). Once again, however, the parallel is in the English, not in the original tongue. Luke uses a different verb (again, very odd if we grant Shea’s conclusion that Luke is “plainly” seeking to draw these parallels); David is worshipping, the baby is (by the Spirit’s intervention) giving testimony to the presence not of Mary but of the Son of God in Mary’s womb (a major disjunction that only a devoted follower of Mariolatry would miss).
Having presented these less-than-compelling parallels, Shea concludes, “To a reader immersed in the Old Testament, these connections between Mary and the ark ar plain as day.” Well, to the devoted Mariolater, these may well be “plain as day,” but to the devoted student of Scripture, they are hardly foundation for the massive edifice of Roman Catholic Mariolatry that has been built up over the centuries.
So it is in this context that Shea grabbed a passing quotation from my 1992 debate with Gerry Matatics (p. 112) where in reference to Revelation 12 I said, “In the early fathers, the Blessed Virgin, the Immaculate Virgin, is always the church, not Mary.” I was here addressing the issue of how one defines the traditions Mr. Matatics was claiming we needed to hold to. I would assume I was praphrasing George Salmon, from his book, The Infallibility of the Church, pp 161-162:
I think it is a very significant fact that early Patristical interpretation is altogether blind to indications of the dignity of the Blessed Virgin. In the Book of Revelation, the woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars, who brought forth the man child, and then was made to flee into the wilderness (chap. xii.), in which description modern Romanists find a prediction of the glory of the Virgin, is by the ancient commentators, with absolute unanimity, understood of the Church.
He gives as an example Hippolytus, On Christ and AntiChrist, 61.
Shea offers two citations in rebuttal of this claim, one from Quodvultdeus of Carthage (d. 450) wherein he says the virgin “signifies” Mary, and makes not an exegetical presentation from Revelation 12, but the claim that just as Mary remained a virgin, so the church gives birth to sons without losing her virginal integrity.
The second is from Oecumenius (sixth century) and his commentary on Revelation. Now I know that Oecumenius’ commentary on Revelation would have been unknown in Salmon’s day. And I would imagine the Quodvultdeus statement would not amount (for Salmon) to Patristical interpretation, i.e., commentary on the text itself, as it is much more an illustration or similitude as he expresses it. But for me, there is a much more relevant issue: when I speak of the early writers, I am thinking second, third, and fourth centuries, not fifth and sixth. Augustine may sometimes be considered “early” but is most often much more of a transitionary figure into the next stage in church history. So in any case, I was speaking of an earlier period than these two citations represent.
But what struck me more than these details was this: doesn’t Shea, and his Roman Catholic readers, see something that is plainly demonstrated by his own counter argumentation? The earliest of his citations, that of Quodvultdeus, is from the 40th volume of Migne’s Patrologia Latina. Forty volumes precede it, and that is just in Latin (that does not include the Greek volumes). How did the early church manage to crank out forty volumes of material (and, of course, even Migne is not exhaustive or complete) over four centuries without once mentioning this interpretation? The fact is, those earlier centuries do witness interpretations of this text, but not the Roman Catholic one. Don’t they see what this means? The answer is, no, they do not. The fact that generations of Christians could live and die without once invoking the name of Mary, praying to her, believing the things modern Roman Catholics do about her, is lost in the scramble to find anything, and shred of evidence, upon which to hang a truckload of modern Roman Catholic teaching. If someone said a single kind thing about Mary, well, of course, they must have believed what we believe about her! They were probably praying to her and celebrating the Assumption, but they just sorta forgot to mention it. And that passage in Revelation? Sure they thought it was Mary. Just a few idiosyncratic interpreters saw it differently, and for some reason, their writings survived, while the ones that supported our view didn’t. Or something like that. When your ultimate authority is Rome’s dogmatic teachings, these kinds of things happen all the time.
So while I had not intended to get to looking at Shea at the moment (far more pressing things to do), his taunt yesterday morning prompted the effort. Now let’s see if he responds to the facts of the matter, or does what he, Ray, and others have been known to do in the past: respond with mockery, derision, and ad-hominem argumentation.