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The joy of miniatures

Ave Maria! Brant Pitre's Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary

When I began my religious instruction on the teachings of the Catholic Church, I admit that I was a little leery of the veneration accorded Mary, the mother of Our Lord.

Part of it was the residual Protestantism that still pervades American society, but there was also a profound misunderstanding of the difference between veneration, worship and intercession.  My instructor broke it down in the simplest terms: if you want a guy to do you a favor, it sure helps if his mother is also asking him to do it as well.

In many ways, I'm a very simple man, and that explanation was really all I needed to say the "Hail Mary" with confidence.  I knew that there was much more in terms of sacred scripture and Church tradition, but that merely served as fodder for me to debate unbelievers - personally I was already sold.

Oddly, there are a number of Protestants who have serious problems with this.  Some even fancy themselves Bible scholars.  I've taken a few pot shots at these charlatans before, but Brant Pitre has provided me with an arsenal of theological thermonuclear warheads.

He has written a short, informative book on the topic: Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.  It is a quick read, and somewhat repetitive, but it is set up that way to ensure that even the most casual reader can understand his point.

What he does is take the usual arguments against Mary's significance and not only nuke them, but make the rubble bounce before making their shadows glow.  It is a methodical clearing operation, and by the time he's done, there's nowhere for the "Mary skeptics" to stand.

For those who aren't fanatically opposed to Catholic teachings, Pitre could probably have just written a long essay, but he's actually trying to reach non-believers, which is laudable.

His tone is generally mild, but he does get in some jabs when they are absolutely necessary.

And to be honest, they are.  For 1,500 years the Catholic and Orthodox Churches venerated the Holy Virgin, and then one day an angry Augustinian monk decided he knew better.

I see in this a precursor to the current plague of presentism, which is the idea that everyone who came before the current enlightened generation was really, really stupid.  It is a particularly corrosive form of pride.

When the intellectual battlefield shows Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Athanasius and countless other intellectual giants on one side vs someone with a King James translation, I think the struggle is pretty uneven.

And indeed, Pitre reminds us that Mary's critics generally don't know what they don't know.  They disdain "non-canonical" works as if they have nothing to teach, when they are in fact essential to understanding Church history.  A well-versed student of the topic should not just consult what Protestants consider the Apocrypha, but also Roman and Greek historians as well.

Pitre does this, and in a couple hundred pages creates an unassailable document that should reassure the faithful and give heretics some pause.


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