Saturday, December 24, 2005

Kicking Sand at Mary and the Babe in the Manger During Christmas Week

One might be used to the image of an ACLU Grinch throwing a fit over "Merry Christmas" or Newsweek choosing this time of year to educate the American public about why the Bible doesn't really mean what your church taught you it did. What continues to amaze, however, are the words directed from the cultured despisers of the Word of God who hail from within (more or less) the "family."

This Christmas week, Chole Breyer, Episcopal priest at St. Mary's Manhattanville Church in West Harlem, New York, took aim at the Virgin Birth. She is the daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer and author of The Close, a smuggly liberal reflection on her first year at General Theological Seminary in New York City.

One reviewer denominates her as "the Platonic ideal of the contemporary liberal bourgeoisie." Witty, well-spoken, and possessing some of the most impressive political connections as a SCOTUS offspring, she nevertheless richly deserves the designation given her by one reviewer as a "nitwit" and a "snob" (

But, it is not her cozy comfort with self-conscious liberal foolishness that diminishes her work. Ms. Breyer has little regard for the Word of God or the faith of the Apostles. Paul's writings (a full 48% of the books in the New Testament!) are consigned "into the category of things despite which I call myself a Christian.”

What does this unconventional Episcopal Priest want to communicate to the American public via the Internet during Christmas Week?

At Christmas, Christians celebrate the birth of God's only son. Some believers, however, wonder if Jesus Christ is God's son only. The ancient "illegitimacy tradition" and its modern proponents propose that Jesus may have had a human father. That idea upsets one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith—the virgin conception. But it's entirely in keeping with more essential tenets: Jesus' role as the Messiah, and God's love for the poor and downtrodden. What's more, the illegitimacy tradition responds to many strange utterances about Jesus' birth in the Scriptures themselves . . .

Can a loyal Christian believe that Christ was not born of a biological virgin? Perhaps it's worth posing a different question: Why is church authority so intent upon Mary's virginity as a historical fact? Would Jesus be any less God's son if he had an earthly father? The central message of the Gospel is that God raised up and redeemed his servant from death by crucifixion—the Roman style of execution reserved for the lowest of the low. Why couldn't God have sent the same message of divine solidarity with the world's outcasts by making a Messiah out of a man whose conception was also taboo?

Some church leaders feel the pull of the illegitimacy tradition but fear its impact. "Undoubtedly, some sophisticated Christians could live with the alternative … [but] for many less sophisticated believers, illegitimacy would be an offense that would challenge the plausibility of the Christian Mystery," Brown writes. However well-intended, that fear may be misdirected. When she published her book, Schaberg got seven grateful or supportive letters for every angry one she received. More than a century ago, Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, "If a heavenly father, why not a heavenly mother? And if an earthly mother, why not an earthly father?" She continued, "I think the doctrine of the Virgin Birth as something sweeter, higher, nobler than ordinary motherhood, is a slur on all the natural motherhood of the world." An unveiled illegitimacy tradition offers this Christmas gift: the restoration of natural motherhood to its rightful place in the miraculous.

How much better the faithful restraint of the early church father who wrote: "The One whom the world was neither able to contain or worthy to receive, Mary alone was able to hold as it were in the little chamber of her womb."

Chrysostom's words apply not only to Breyer but to all who would diminish the truth of the incarnation as revealed by God. "Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high! For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands. What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation?" (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 4.3)

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