A Reader's Question
On 24 July 2001 I received an email, a portion of which read:
. . . I have been searching the internet for some information and came across your website. I need some help in trying to locate some information about Mary, the mother of Christ . . .
I have not done much research about Mary, but I offered a few observations as follows.
At the beginning of the middle ages (6th and 7th century) there developed in the Catholic church something we now call the "Cult of Mary," which greatly elevated her status in the theology. The influence of the "Cult of Mary" can still be seen today in many Catholic churhes were pictures and statues of Mary are place aboved those of Christ. In Ireland, Mary is given the title, "Queen of Ireland" by Catholic worshippers. Another example is the number of children in Latin countries that are named Maria.
Part of the Reformation was a reaction against the "Cult of Mary." This reaction de-mystified (de-throned) Mary and gave her back the status of a normal human being. To this day, Protestants are relutant to dwell very much on Mary in fear of seeming too Catholic. For this reason, you can find a lot of material about Mary in Catholic literature, but very little in the Protestant literature. Mormons scholars and writers seem to follow in the Protestant tradition, that is, they do not go much beyond what is in the New Testament, lest they seem too Catholic. It is no surprise that you have found little on Mary in Mormon literature. There is little to be had.
For more on the Cult of Mary, go to any search engine (Google, AltaVista) and and you can find sites like this one:
III. MARY AND THE APOSTLES
I know of one very interesting 'Mormon' reference to Mary. It is by Hugh Nibley in his essay entitled, "Unrolling the Scrolls.". Here is a link:
The essay is very long (36 pages), so I will quote the relevant paragraph here (it is on about the 29th page):
In the Bartholomew, there is some very interesting and personal stuff, some having to do with Mary. It is not the miraculous Mary literature in which the chariots of fire and that sort of thing happen. This is very homey, very natural. The apostles are having a prayer circle one day, and Mary asks if she might speak a few words. When she goes over to the altar, some of the apostles don't like it. They say she doesn't have authority, because she's a woman. Should they allow her to speak? But she says, "I have something I want to tell you, something that happened in the temple, because this is the proper occasion for it." Having finished the prayer, Bartholomew says, "She began by calling upon God with upraised hands, speaking three times in an un-known language" (the usual code introducing the prayer). Then, "having finished the prayer, she asked them all to sit on the ground." She asks Peter to support on her right hand and Andrew to supporton her left hand. Then she tells that just before the birth of Christ, the veil was rent in the temple. On that occasion she saw an angel in the temple at theveil. He took her by the right hand, after she had been washed and anointed, wiped off, and clothed with the garment. She was hailed by him as a blessed vessel. "And he took me by the right hand and there was bread on the altar in the Temple and he took some and ate it and gave some to me. And we drank wine together. And I saw that the bread and wine had not diminished." (The same thing happened in 3 Nephi 20 at the administering of the sacrament.) All this happened in the temple. At this point, the Lord himself appeared and forbade Mary to tell any more, since all the creation, he said, had been completed that day.
This is clearly non-doctrinal and you will want to be sure the Spirit approves before using it in a Sacrament meeting.
IV. THE MORMON IMAGE OF MARY
I did a search of the LDS Magazine CD-ROM for "Mary Mother of Jesus" and got 95 hits for the Ensign, 15 for the New Era, and 34 each for the Friend and the Liahona. A cursory glace indicates that all of these stick right to the scriptural references.
Here is the entry out of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, written by Camille Fronk:
Mary, Mother of Jesus
Centuries before her birth, Book of Mormon prophets referred to Mary by name in prophecies of her vital mission (Mosiah 3:8). Describing her as "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins" (1 Ne. 11:13-20) and a "precious and chosen vessel" (Alma 7:10), they prophesied that Mary would bear the Son of God and was therefore blessed above all other women. "We cannot but think that the Father would choose the greatest female spirit to be the mother of his Son, even as he chose the male spirit like unto him to be the Savior" (McConkie, p. 327).
Mary's willingness to submit to the will of the Father was noted in the biblical account. When Gabriel announced that she would be the mother of the Savior, Mary was perplexed; yet she did not waiver in her humble obedience and faith in God. Her response was unadorned: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38).
Had Judah been a free nation, Mary could have been recognized as a "princess of royal blood through descent from David" (JC, p. 90). Being of that earthly lineage, Jesus was correctly called a descendant of David (see Jesus Christ in the Scriptures: the Bible).
As a faithful Jewish woman, she followed the customs of her day. At least forty-one days after giving birth to her first son, Mary went to the Court of the Women, where she became ceremonially clean in the purification rite, offering two turtledoves or two pigeons at the temple as a sacrifice (Luke 2:22-24). In the years that followed, Mary bore additional children by her earthly husband Joseph (Matt. 1:25; 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). One of them, "James the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19), became a Christian leader in Jerusalem.
In the New Testament, Mary is mentioned in conjunction with the accounts of the youthful Jesus teaching in the temple (Luke 2:41-51), his turning the water to wine at Cana (John 2:2-5), his crucifixion (John 19:25-26), and as mourning with the apostles after Jesus' ascension (Acts 1:14).
Doctrinally, Latter-day Saints do not view Mary as the intercessor with her son in behalf of those who pray and they do not pray to her. They affirm the virgin birth but reject the traditions of the immaculate conception, of Mary's perpetual virginity, and of her "assumption" (cf. McConkie, p. 327). Mary, like all mortals, returns to the Father only through the Atonement of her son Jesus Christ.
Bibliography McConkie, Bruce R. The Mortal Messiah, Book I. Salt Lake City, 1981.
V. MARY'S RELATIVES
In the Encyclopedia's entry for James, written by R. Douglas Phillips, we find this reference to Mary:
If their mother, Salome, was a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as is generally believed, then James and John were cousins of Jesus. This may account for Salome's presuming to importune Jesus to grant her sons a special position in his kingdom (Matt. 20:20-23). It may also explain their impetuous zeal against the Samaritan village that denied Jesus' party entry, for which they were called Boanerges ("Sons of Thunder") (Luke 9:52-56; Mark 3:17). James was present with the other apostles in Jerusalem and was a witness of the resurrection of Christ. He was the first of the apostles to be slain, being beheaded by Herod Agrippa I in A.D. 44 (Acts 12:2).
There are also entries for Virgin Birth and Immaculate Conception in the Encyclopedia that might interest you.
VI. MARY'S LIFE
This last quote is from is from Reynolds, Sjodhal, and Reynolds's Commentary on the Book of Mormon (6 vols).
That is the title given to the Mother of Jesus in the prophecy of his birth. (Is. 7:14; Matt. 1:23) There is very little information in the New Testament concerning Mary. But from what is written about her, it is evident that she was a woman of the highest mental and spiritual culture. That she was a regular visitor in the temple, well known by the officials in the sacred edifice, is also indicated by [p.83] the story of the appearance of her divine Son there at the age of twelve years. A boy of obscure parentage would not have had a chance to remain among the learned doctors for several days, as he did.
Early traditions, recorded in the Protevangelium and some other apocrypha, relate that Mary was born at Nazareth, the daughter of Joachim and his wife, Anna. The father is said to have been a very wealthy citizen, known for his generosity and observance of the law. For many years the worthy couple lived together childless. But, finally, they promised the Lord that a child of theirs would be dedicated to the Lord, i.e. to the temple service. Then, in due time, the baby girl, to whom they gave the name of Mary, came. She was the answer to their prayers, the reward for their faithfulness.
When the little girl was three years old-so the tradition avers-she was taken to the temple and, in accordance with the promise made, dedicated to the service of the Lord. From now on, she was raised and educated under the direction of the authorities of the temple. The summer months, it is said, she spent at Nazareth, the rest of the year she served in the Sanctuary.
Now, it seems to have been customary, as regards the young ladies raised for the temple service, to give them an opportunity, when they arrived at the marriagable age, to choose for themselves whether they would continue to remain the virgins of the Lord for ever, or become wives and mothers. Mary's choice was to continue the temple service, but, guided by a special revelation, the high priest selected Joseph of Nazareth to be her legal guardian and husband. (Protev. Chapt. 8) She was then twelve years old.
After the wonderful story of the birth of the Savior of the world the evangelists say little of Mary. She is mentioned in the account of the marriage feast at Cans (John 2), and as one attending a gathering outside a synogogue where Jesus had been preaching (Mark 3:31), and then as standing near the cross, when her crucified Son commended her to the care of John (John 19:25-7). She is, finally, mentioned as one of the women present in the "upper room" in Jerusalem, after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1:13, 14)
Tradition has it that she died in Jerusalem in the year 48 A.D., and that her body also was taken to heaven. The latter "assumption" is based on the story that the apostles, three days after her interment, found the tomb empty.
All this, except the accounts given by the evangelists, is tradition. That the story has an historic foundation is not denied. But to separate the historic element from what is mere fiction, is not always possible at this late day.