I went to church last Sunday, which was Christmas Day.
The person preaching to us was drawing parallels between Mary and the
church. The angel calls Mary blessed in Luke 1:28, for example, and
there are New Testament passages that call the church blessed. The
preacher was probably drawing these parallels to edify the church.
The parallels caught my attention because I have been reading the
Catholic catechism as of late. In section 492 of the catechism, we read
the following: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created
person in ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places’
and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy,
and blameless before him in love.'”
Immediately, as I read that passage, whatever Berean radar exists or
remains within me went off. I recognized that the catechism there was
quoting Ephesians 1:3-4. But Ephesians 1:3-4 does not mention Mary.
Rather, it is about the church. To quote Ephesians 1:3-4:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the
world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love”
Ephesians 1:3-4 says “us,” not Mary. Is the Catholic catechism
misinterpreting this passage, or trying to pull a fast one on us?
Before I interact with that question, I should explain what I mean by
“Berean radar.” I am alluding to Acts 17:11. The Bereans heard the
apostle Paul’s message and “searched the scriptures daily, whether those
things were so” (KJV). What I was taught growing up and in
conservative Protestant churches and settings is that we imitate the
Bereans when we test religious teachers by Scripture: we see if their
teaching accords with the Bible, and we check the references that they
make to the Bible for ourselves to determine if they are interpreting
the Bible accurately.
To cite a few more biblical texts, there’s Isaiah 8:20: “To the law
and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is
because there is no light in them” (KJV). And there’s Revelation 2:2b:
“thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast
found them liars” (KJV).
Back to the catechism! I find my “Berean radar” to be helpful and
unhelpful. Let me start with where I find it unhelpful. I could read
section 492 of the catechism, compare what it says about Ephesians 1:3-4
with what Ephesians 1:3-4 actually says, conclude that the catechism is
inaccurate, ascribe to the catechists deceptive motives, conclude that I
shouldn’t read more of the catechism because it is false teaching, and
pat myself on the back, seeing myself as a good Berean. But I would
rather not go that route. I want to understand why section 492 of the
catechism is interpreting Ephesians 1:3-4 as it is. I am sure that the
authors of the catechism have read Ephesians 1:3-4 and are fully aware
that it concerns the church. Why, then, are they applying the passage
to Mary? I find a search for understanding the catechism’s
interpretation to be more interesting and fruitful than simply
dismissing the catechism with a proof-text.
It turns out that the Catholic catechism, on some level, does
associate Mary with the church. According to section 966, Mary is a
prototype of what will happen to other Christians: “The Assumption of
the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s resurrection
and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians…” Section
972 makes another connection: “In her we contemplate what the Church
already is in her mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what we
will be in the homeland at the end of her journey.” The section goes on
to quote the 1964 Catholic document Lumen gentium: “…the Mother of
Jesus, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven, is
the image and beginning of the church as it is to be perfected in the
world to come” (LG 68).
My “Berean radar” can hinder a search for answers, and that can be
unhelpful, but where can being a good Berean be helpful? I do believe
that doctrines should be tested according to how well they fit with the
narrative of Scripture, and whether they have Scriptural support. And,
from an academic perspective, not only a religious perspective, I also
believe that what interpreters say about biblical teachings should be
compared with what the biblical teachings themselves say. How do I hold
together my ambivalent Bereanism? I will not thoroughly answer that
question right now, except to say that I prefer Bereanism that enhances
understanding, as opposed to dismissing perspectives too casually.