Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mary the Queen Mother In Catholicism

While I'm at it, I'll go ahead and finish up my posts on Mariology with this one. This post follows a post on extra biblical doctrines which follows one on the 'full of grace' translation from Luke as support for the doctrine of the immaculate conception.

Disclaimer: I am not rejecting the 'Queen Mother' title or the Catholic churches teaching on Mariology. Just pointing out that it's not biblical (at least not nearly as much as some would like to believe it is).

This was originally written as a rebuttal to the book, ‘Queen Mother’ by Edward Sri edited by Scott Hahn.

When I started entertaining the idea of converting to Catholicism, I began reading a lot of Catholic apologetics to see if their ‘apologetic’ material held water. I was very surprised to find that Catholic apologetics were excellent. However, I anticipated that my biggest stumbling block coming into the Church would be Mariology. I was right. The Catholics I met were unable to provide any good arguments in support of Mariology and what I’ve read has been thin and weak. The book Queen Mother is well written and has a lot of truth in it. However, much of it is misleading and the over all strength of the apologetic value of the book is very weak in my opinion.

I try to be as objective as possible although I am surely somewhat biased. Though, I would love nothing more than to find some strong proof for Mariology because then I could accept completely the teachings of the Church. Let me state now that I accept the Church’s teaching and submit to it’s authority (on the strength of it’s other apologetics). However, like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux,(1) I reject from a logical standpoint much of what is practiced in the realm of ‘Mariology’ today.

I view the issue as comparable to this metaphor: A friend of mine has a brother who says something extremely insulting to me. When I tell my friend about it, in order to protect his brother he makes an elaborate apology for why his brother meant nothing insulting at all. And while his apology in some regard seems rational and coherent… damnit I know what was said. I know that much of Mariology is somewhat historical within the Church and the teachings of it’s saints as shown in the early section of the book. But it cannot be argued that this doctrine was not a developmental belief. That is, early quotes seem to point to her as immaculate and even some (not so early) quotes seem to point to a queenship. But what the early church fathers said in no way detracted from the worship and the role of any member of the godhead. However, as we look more recently in history we some serious violations even by popes:
One can justly say that with Christ, she herself redeemed mankind.
- Pope Benedict XV(2)

Our salvation is based upon the holy Virgin... so that if there is any hope and spiritual healing for us we receive it solely and uniquely from her.
- Pope Pius IX(3)

I have problems with virtually every aspect of Mariology. While I’m willing to ‘honor’ her as the Catholic Church claims to do, I cannot place her on the pedestal that many Catholics do and I absolutely must (by order of my conscience) utterly reject such statements as those above. I have constantly observed this happening: Popes and other authoritative sources in the Church say something bordering blasphemy about Mary (in the cases cited above I fail to see how you could call that any less than blasphemy) and well meaning theologians apologize for it. I see this happening in the book as well especially the first part. The theologians try and paint a picture of Mary that is “easier to swallow” than the one that some popes and other church sources have previously painted. “When he said Mary saves us he didn’t mean that she SAVED us. Just that she was there while Jesus saved us” that kind of reasoning… That doesn’t fly with me. Just say what you mean.

However, the purpose of this essay is to specifically refute the book “Queen Mother” and not the other issues of Mariology. And I don’t even mean to refute the entire book as I agree with some of it and it brings up interesting points. Furthermore, I don’t intend to refute the doctrine of Mary as the queen mother. I just simply want to point out that such an idea is not nearly as ‘biblical’ as the author of this book makes it seem.

Before beginning let me restate that the book is well written. Being edited by Scott Hahn and from the words themselves I think I can assume that this among the best defense there is available for the “queen mother” concept. The problem with defending false concepts is that the best available apology is still very thin & weak regardless of the scholarly level of the apologist. This book has reinforced my belief that the issue of “queen mother” is far overblown in the Church.

The book is basically broken into two sections. The first section attempts to establish the “queen mother” as a prominent and very important role in the Davidic kingdom of the Old Testament. The second half is built on the first and shows how Mary fills that role queen mother since she is the mother of Christ (the king). The second half would be much more feasible if the first half weren’t so flawed.

The oft repeated Catholic sentiment on the issue: “In Biblical times the queen was the mother and not the wife.”

Despite the book’s misleading attempts at proving such a statement, there is only ONE instance of the mother being explicitly given the title “queen mother” in the bible. Let me repeat that. Despite the book’s misleading attempts at proving such a statement, there is only ONE instance of the mother being given the explicit title “queen mother” in the bible. Try and keep that in mind throughout the remainder of the rebuttal.

Now I am by no means denying that there was a legitimate office for the matriarch of a king in ancient Israel. It is obvious that there was. The book however is misleading in regards to how important that role was. What we have painted in this book is a skewed picture of the Davidic kingdom.

Also keep in mind that when we say “queen mother”, this is just our translation for the Hebrew word “Gebirah” which can mean several different things depending on the context & English probably doesn’t really have a suitable word. The word means something like the feminine of Lord. (It means something similar to our word Queen but since this office (gebirah) can be held by both the wife of a queen and a matriarch, the word Queen is not suitable since that English word means specifically the wife of a king).(4)

The word Gebirah (translated as “queen mother”) is mentioned in connection with THREE different women in the Old Testament.

1. Queen Tahpenes (Wife)(5)
2. Maachah, King Asa’s grandmother(6)
3. King Ahaziah’s mother(7)

Already we should be raising an eyebrow and asking ‘is this role so important?’ being only mentioned with three women and only one of which fitting the description of which we’re trying to fit it to? Let’s get down to specifics:

Chapter 2 pg 48 says:

“In the Old Testament, gebirah is often used as a title for the mother of the king but it is never used to describe the wife of an Israelite king.”

Often? The word is used 6 total times in the entire bible!!! Of those, 2 are ambiguous (prophetic writings Jeremiah 13:18, Jeremiah 29:2) and 2 specifically speak of someone other than a mother (1 Kings 11:19, 1 Kings 15:13)!!! You can see already how the book is misleading.

He says 'an Israelite king' deceivingly. If ‘gebirah’ had been mentioned 95 times and 45 of those times were describing Israelite mothers of kings and the remaining 50 times were of other nations containing both mothers & wives or just wives then he may have a point. But this is not the case. We have only ONE example of this being given to a mothe. So it is insignificant that it is used of a mother or grandmother EVERY time in connection with Israelite kings because there are only 2 examples! It is also insignificant that it applies only to the wives of foreigners since it is only used once. However, he takes for granted from this point on that every time it mentions gebirah it is talking about the mother. This is a glaring error and easily misleads the reader.

Let’s break it down mathematically:

Here are the three different women and their relationship to the king that are awarded the title “queen mother” or “gebirah”:

1. Mother
2. Grandmother
3. Wife

We’re only interested in whether or not it’s the mother though so let’s simplify it:

1. Mother
2. Not Mother
3. Not Mother

So we can see that ratio wise: 1/3 of the time it is mentioned it's talking about mothers and 2/3 of the time it is mentioned in connection with NOT mother or someone other than the mother. So in unknown circumstances, employing the methods of probability we can safely determine that most of time, when using the word ‘gebirah’ we are talking about “Not Mother”.

Chapter 2 pg 49 says:

First, the narrative of 1 and 2 Kings views the king's mother as having such an important role that it mentions her name while introducing almost every new monarch in Judah (all except three).

What he says is true. But it’s misleading! It is interesting that the mother’s name is usually mentioned. I am sure this does have significance. But keep in mind that none of these women are given the title ‘gebirah’ or ‘queen mother’.

On page 52 he says:

"Finally, the prophet Jeremiah tells how the queen mother possessed a throne and a crown"

Again, he is basing this on the faulty premise that the word ‘gebirah’ always means the mother of a king. The 2 times the word is used in Jeremiah are both ambiguous as to whether or not they are speaking of a mother or a wife. (He is taking for granted that it must be of a mother or grandmother) since it is speaking of Israelites but this is faulty logic as I have previously shown).

On page 54 he says:

"in this section, we turn our attention to two Old Testament passages which bear witness to the importance of the gebirah in Israel's traditions: Isaiah 7:14 and Genesis 3:15"

This is highly misleading as neither of those passages even use the word gebirah!

So we have shown how he has been misleading concerning the word translated as “queen mother” but what about the word “queen”? Ah hah! We conveniently forgot about that word didn’t we. (He never mentions it). Remember the original Catholic proposition?

“In Biblical times the queen was the mother and not the wife.”

We’re interested in the word queen. This is a completely different word from the word misused by Mr. Sri. The Hebrew word for queen is “malkah”. This means (as our word does) the wife of a king of course. Which of these offices were more important in the culture? Judge for yourself:

Gebirah (queen mother - mother, grandmother or wife) is mentioned 6 total times

Malkah (queen - the wife of a king) is mentioned 35 times

(There’s also another word “shegal” mentioned twice abstractly in Pslams which according to Strong’s meant exclusively the wife of a king)

It is clear that ‘queen’ means the wife even in that culture.

And what of the Catholic apologetic: “They had multiple wives at that time how could you have multiple queens?” I’m not sure but apparently Solomon found a way:
Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number;(8)

Now that we have shown the faulty premise on which the rest of the book is built, I will make a few comments on the second half (New Testament) portion of his book while trying not to be too redundant. I believe that most of the second part is fairly coherent and some of it can stand on it’s own. But he repeats several misleading themes from the first section and several of the arguments in the second half can only have real significance if the first half be true.

Page 76 suggests that it is significant that Joseph is left out of the narrative with the 3 wise men. He also admits that:

'all throughout the narrative in Matthew 1-2 Joseph is much more prominent than Mary'

and then later quotes Aragon saying

"Her mention in this moment, along with the omission of Joseph underlines that Mary is a person especially important for the narrator"

I fail to follow this logic. He claims that since the wise men found Jesus with the mother and not with the father this has some significance and proves that Mary is “especially important” for the author. Has it ever occurred to them that the Wise men may have actually found Him with Mary and Joseph wasn’t present as the text seems to imply? I fail to see how the random absence of Joseph could have any possible connection with her being the queen mother. Furthermore I find it more conclusive that Mary is decidedly less important to the author than Joseph since he is mentioned 10 times while she is only mentioned 7 times throughout the gospel of Matthew.

Pages 78-83 are devoted to proving that Jesus is from the Davidic line and has a kingly type role to play by birth. I don’t see this proving anything as I’ve already shown that the queen mother (insofar as the Bible teaches) is of marginal importance at best. I see no strong connection simply because He was of a Davidic line.

I find the arguments surrounding the woman in Revelation 12 by far the most convincing of the entire book. (I would still fail to see any real Biblical connection though aside from the teachings of the Church).

Jumping back to the first two chapters of Matthew, I wanted to make another point. The author is making the claim that the queen mother is important to Matthew. Is she really so important to him? In the genealogy of Christ, there are four women mentioned. None of them have ever been given the title “gebirah” and none of them are mothers of a king. This is strong evidence to indicate that not only was queen mother not important to Matthew, but it wasn’t important to his audience (the Jews) either.

One final point that should be noted: The office of queen mother was supposed to be a prefiguration of Mary according to Mr. Sri. Indeed, the Catholic apology for the Queen Mother title rests almost entirely on an argument derived from a prefigurational stand point (I think I just invented a new word). However, both Israelite queen mothers were known only because of the evil things they did. King Asa’s grandmother was deposed of her office for her idolatry and King Ahaziah’s gebirah murdered the entire royal family after he died. Sound like a prefiguration of Mary to you?

My conclusion is not that I reject the teaching of Mary as the queen mother, but that the concept is almost entirely extra biblical.


1 St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s denied the Immaculate Conception (for example)

2 Pope Benedict XV - Encyclical Intersodalicia 1918 AD

3 Pope Pius IX - Encyclical of February 2, 1849 AD

4 All Hebrew Language information is from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

5 1 Kings 11:19

6 1 Kings 15:13

7 2 Kings 10:13

8 Song of Solomon 6:8


mojoala said...

Extra Biblical?

Yes this is true. But people completely ignored Judaic History and culture. King Solomon initiated the position of Queen Mother and after that mpst all of the Geneologies as shown below:

Kings, with two exceptions, the names of the Jewish kings are recorded together with those of their respective mothers; they are as follows: Naamah, the Ammonitess, the mother of Rehoboam (1 Ki 14:21; compare 14:31, and 2 Ch 12:13); Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom (1 Ki 15:2) or Absalom (2 Ch 11:20) the mother of Abijah; Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, the mother (grandmother?) of Asa (1 Ki 15:10; compare 2 Ch 15:16); Azubah, the daughter of Shilhi, the mother of Jehoshaphat (1 Ki 22:42; compare 2 Ch 20:31); Athaliah, the grand-daughter of Omri, the mother of Ahaziah (2 Ki 8:26; compare 2 Ch 22:2); Zibiah of Beersheba, the mother of Jehoash (2 Ki 12:1; compare 2 Ch 24:1); Jehoaddin (Jehoaddan, 2 Ch 25:1) of Jerusalem, the mother of Amaziah (2 Ki 14:2); Jecoliah (Jechiliah, 2 Ch 26:3) of Jerusalem, the mother of Azariah (2 Ki 15:2) or Uzziah (2 Ki 15:13,30, etc.; compare 2 Ch 26:3); Jerusha (Jerushah, 2 Ch 27:1), the daughter of Zadok, the mother of Jotham (2 Ki 15:33); Abi (Abijah, 2 Ch 29:1), the daughter of Zechariah, the mother of Hezekiah (2 Ki 18:2); Hephzibah, the mother of Manasseh (2 Ki 21:1); Meshullemeth, the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah, the mother of Amon (2 Ki 21:19); Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath, the mother of Josiah (2 Ki 22:1); Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, the mother of Jehoahaz (2 Ki 23:31); Zebidah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah, the mother of Jehoiakim (2 Ki 23:36); Nehushta, the daughter of Elnathan of Jerusalem, the mother of Jehoiachin (2 Ki 24:8); Hamutal (Hamital), the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah, the mother Of Zedekiah (2 Ki 24:18). The exceptions are Jehoram and Ahaz.

Remember is referred to as
"King of the Jews" and
"King of Kings".

Remember who were the first Christians? JEWS.

Remember who Jesus was? A JEW.

The Jewish people of the day that became Christian would have immediately regconized Mary as the Queen Mother.

And have to go to Revelations that Jesus reveals his mother as the Queen Mother in chapter 12 of Revelations. Then God gave us a physical manifestation of this glimpse of Mary being the Queen Mother.

That being the Tilma(cloak) that God created an Image of the Queen Mother as described in Revelations on what is now called the "Our Lady of Guadalupe".

A piece of cloth made from the cactus plant that has a shelf life of only 20 years, which God has preserved for nearly 500 years now.

I would imagine God did this in an attempt to squash the heresies against Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Protestants have even tried to blow it up once but God protected it.
After the explosion, the Cross that was above was bent downward in an arc as if to help shield it from the blast.

God is Awesome in protecting his own and his most blessed.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for your comments. Im not arguing that Mary isnt the queen mother. Im just arguing that you cannot make a biblical case for such a statement. Its solely on the (developed) traditions of the Church that one can call her the queen mother.

I havent yet but done so but I plan to write a blog explaining that prefigurations ALONE cannot be used as evidence for anything. Catholics use the Judaic office of "Queen Mother" as a prefiguration of Mary. This is not sufficient evidence. Besides that fact, all known Israelite queen mothers were evil women and hardly worth of a prefiguration of the blessed virgin mother as explained in my post.

Let me state a few things I differ with you on. You are right to list how the geneaologies list the mother in the Judaic line (in all but 2 cases) and as stated in my post this is interesting but it doesnt prove anything. Furthermore, again none of these women (including Solomon's mother) were ever given the title "queen mother".

However, it is a big mistake to assume that the early Jewish community thought of Mary as the queen mother or recognized her as filling this role. Matthew (in particular) wrote to show how Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and went to great lengths to prove it in each case.. Of course he mentions nothing of the queen mother and barely mentions Mary at all except when absolutely appropriate for the story.

This is a common theme throughout the New Testament even in books written specifically to Jewish audiences like Matthew and Hebrews.

Outside of the gospel Mary is mentioned only once and even then it is just in passing. She was of very little importance to early Christians and this fact is undeniable. The belief in Mary gradually grew. Even according to Mr. Sri's book (highly pro-Mary) the term queen mother wasnt used unil at least several hundred years after Christ. I dont have the book with me anymore and I cant remember the exact time frame but its basic common sense.

Again, not denying that she might be a "queen mother". Just pointing out that its not biblical and you basically have to accept it on blind faith since neither sound reason nor history nor Scripture will back up the claim.

I think Catholics overly venerate Mary, I think Protestants under venerate her. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

Tobias Petrus said...

"She was of very little importance to early Christians and this fact is undeniable. The belief in Mary gradually grew."

I'm glad you converted, but you have a hell of a lot to learn. First, you need to chuck a residual sola scriptura. You cannot infer how important the Blessed Virgin was from the number of times she was mentioned in Scripture. You need to know the significance of those few times she was mentioned. Our Lady was entrusted to St. John on Calvary, and vice versa. St. John writes about her in the Lady of the Sun section of Revelations. The Gospel of St. Luke was written partially on the basis of her testimony to St. Luke. Please pray hard to Our Lady to enlighten you on these points.

Tobias Petrus said...

For instance, the entrusting of St. John to the Blessed Virgin was the moment when Christ entrusted the entire Church to her as Mother. If Christ is King, then Mary is Queen Mother. I wrote that last post so bluntly because you presumed to allege that the Popes have written near-blasphemies. This is truly dangerous ground for a neophyte. If you merely were making public the difficulties of your belief and asking for some help. But to allege blasphemy against what even you admit are "authoritative" sources, and so soon after converting, seems to be an exercise in cognitive dissonance. Perhaps it would be better to go to a trusted catechist of yours rather than going public. (I've never been in that situation, so perhaps I'm being hypocritical in presuming to know what the right course is -- but a public allegation seems drastic.)

Then again, perhaps you've met with a lot of inept answers from clergymen and would-be lay apologists. I can completely see how some people would try to danc around the problematic papal statements you cite. Here is a better source: http://www.christendom-
redemptrix1.htm. The author uses St. Paul to show that Christians (and particularly Mary, as the first and perfect Christian) participate in Christ's work of redemption. Hopefully this will help. God bless.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Yes I have a lot to learn, we all do. I wonder if your tone would be so harsh had I questioned whether Adam prefigured Christ?

I will pray for enlightenment from God and not from Mary. Catholics say we pray to God through Mary (if we want) and so that is what I will do. Why use confusing language? One Protestant friend overheard me say something to that effect and asked "Catholics only ask saints to pray for them and not ask for their own power?" and another Protestant standing by said "no that's just what they say when they're talking to Protestants". I couldnt answer him because he was exactly right.

Now I dont question the authority of the Popes. I do submit to the teaching authority of the Church. That is the ONLY reason why I believe ANY of the teachings on Mariology. (And I do believe all the dogmas)

I understand Mary was used by God in our redemption. Here is my post on the fallacy of solo Christo which says probably close to the same thing that link you sent me says. I will visit it. But I understand the teachings.

Mariology was a huge stumbling block for me and probably will continue to be an issue. Like Scott Hahn said, cradle Catholics do not understand how deeply offensive the doctrines of Mariology are to a Protestant (especially reformed which I was). I believe in the dogmas taught about her like I said but when I see huge statues of Mary above the altar and the main focal point of the Church, I think there is a problem.

This post was one along my way and I have grown a lot since then. I have a lot of growing to do yet. I didnt need you to point that out to me but thanks for doing so.

My point in this post was that the Catholic apologetics on the "queen mother" idea are pretty weak.

Anonymous said...

As a Protestant, I was always fascinated by the Genesis account of the "enmity" God placed between Mary and Satan. And the "woman" was mentioned before the Son. Of course, now I would say "No Mother, no Son" but it intrigued me none the less. It seemed to imply the battle was more between Mary and the Serpent, at least in some manner I could not figure out.
Now I see that we all fell because of a mere moral creature Eve who led her spouse into her error. Because of one creature, we all are born fallen. Because of the obedience of one creature, we are all redeemed; there being no doubt as to the victory of God's Son, (even with His flesh fighting against His Spirit in the Garden of Agony).
I do think the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are dogmas like the Trinity and the Two Natures in Christ: meaning, we know the Church has the TRUTH promised to it and no such promise is made to any other religion or philosophy any where else.

Joseph said...

My friend, as a Catholic all I know is the fourth commandment in the Bible says to honor thy father and mother. And it would be the same as honoring God the father, and honoring the Mother of God, who is not God, but was a means to an end for our salvation. But Mary you surely can attest has one of the highest places in heaven beneath the trinity. I know you know Catholics don't worship her, but she is truly to be honored as the Mother of Christ and that we can fly to her for refuge to ask for her prayers before her son. Yes Jesus is a loving savior, but he also is God and can do as he pleases. Frankly I can see him being very angry at the world, much like God was in the OT. Why not fly to the mother of God, who is in heaven, who loves her children on earth, and ask her intercession before the throne of God, much like Bathseeba did to Solomon. Thank You

Father Thomas Buffer said...

It's important to point out that the "Queen Mother" idea is not an integral part of Catholic Mariology, and was introduced only recently (post 1970) into Catholic discourse. Some authors see it as the basis for all Catholic doctrine about Mary, but in fact it was not used in the development and defense of the Mariological Dogmas. That's just a a historical fact. It would be a mistake to identify the Queen Mother argument with "Catholic Mariology". There is plenty of Catholic Mariology, in fact the bulk of it, that doesn't mention the Queen Mother idea at all.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Fr. Buffer,

Thank you for the comments. I wrote this post while I was still in RCIA and boy are my Protestant colors showing.

I appreciate your insight as well. I wasn't impressed with the book, and still am not, for reasons given above and now what you said makes perfect sense. I don't read the fathers speaking of her that way at all.

With all that said, now as a third year Catholic I am finding that my devotion to the blessed mother grows continuously.