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Painting of the Week: Balbi Holy Conversation

Tiziano Vecellio painted this striking piece of Mary and Jesus set in an open landscape with Giorgione influences, like asymmetrical composition and full figures. The piece is true to this period in art—with classicistic, refined characters, harmonious chromatic combinations, and an approach built on the psychological ties of the characters. [Read more…]

Queen Mother: Royal Allusions in Matthew’s Birth Narrative

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash
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In Queen Mother: A Biblical Theology of Mary’s Queenship—currently 50% off on Verbum.com—Edward Sri unfolds common approaches taken to Mary’s role as queen and demonstrates how the “queen mother” theme in the Davidic kingdom sheds light on her presentation as heavenly queen in the New Testament and in the Church.

In this excerpt from chapter three, Sri describes several approaches to interpreting Mary’s role in Matthew 1–2.

One approach to interpreting Mary in Matthew 1–2 in light of the queen-mother figure underscores how Matthew associates Mary and Jesus with the queen-mother-and-royal-son prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. In 1:23, Matthew portrays Mary as the parthenos whom Isaiah prophesied would give birth to the Immanuel child in Isaiah 7:14 (LXX). Thus, “according to the fulfillment of the prophecy, Mary became queen-mother of the Messiah.” In the Isaian oracle, the queen mother of Immanuel brings forth a child who would ensure the perseverance of the Davidic dynasty. Here in Matthew 1, Mary does the same, bringing forth the Davidic heir who would secure the true Davidic kingdom forever. As Serra explains,

Just as she [the queen mother in Isaiah 7:14] gave birth to a son who guaranteed the continuation of the House of David, so Mary gives birth to a son who will reign forever on the throne of David, in the house of Jacob, in the ‘Israel of God’ (cf. Mt. 28:20; 16:18; Gal. 6:16; 2 Sam. 7:16). One notes the royalty of the two women.

Another approach shows the significance of Matthew frequently placing the newborn King alongside His mother. In fact, some have pointed out how Matthew constantly mentioning the child and His mother together—five times in chapter two alone—could draw attention to Mary’s association with her royal Son in a way that recalls the Old Testament queen-mother tradition. Matthew’s recurring phrase “the child and his mother” has “a Davidic resonance” that might bring to mind the way the Book of Kings repeatedly introduces each new Davidic king alongside the queen mother (as discussed in chapter two). As Branick argues:

Matthew has the powerful figure of the Old Testament gebirah or queen-mother in mind as he repeatedly mentions Mary in this story of the birth and infancy of ‘the newborn king of the Jews’ (2:2). Just as the queen-mother was constantly mentioned in the summaries of the Judean and Israelite kings, so Matthew here repeatedly mentions Mary as Jesus’ Mother (1:18; 2:11, 13, 14, 20, 21; 12:46, 47; 13:55).

One more approach to viewing Mary in terms of the queen-mother tradition in Matthew 1–2 examines her position alongside her royal Son when the magi pay Him homage (Mt. 2:11). As mentioned above, this scene involves a number of Davidic kingdom themes: Jesus is called the “king of the Jews” (2:2). The star guiding the magi recalls the star in Balaam’s oracle about the royal scepter rising out of Israel (Num. 24:17). The narrative centers on the city of Bethlehem, where David was born (1 Sam 17:12) and out of which the future Davidic King would come (Micah 5:2). And the magi bringing gifts and paying the child Jesus homage recall the royal Psalm 72:10–11 (cf. Is. 60:6).

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Matthew clearly places his infancy narrative in the context of the hopes surrounding the Davidic kingdom. Interpreting Mary with those Davidic traditions in mind, we can see that, as mother of the newborn Davidic heir, she could be understood as a queen mother.1

For more biblical theological works on Mary, get this month’s free book and other discounted resources.

Editor’s note: This excerpt was slightly adapted for readability. 

Painting of the Week: The Denial of Saint Peter

Caravaggio’s Denial of Saint Peter is thought to be one of the artist’s two last works (the other being The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula). [Read more…]

Weakness as the Way to God: In Honor of Jean Vanier (1928–2019)

Yesterday it was announced that Jean Vanier has died. The well-known philosopher, theologian, and humanitarian was 90.

Vanier was best known for founding L’Arche in 1964, a global network of communities where people with and without disabilities live together in solidarity. His experiences in these communities fueled many powerful writings, including the excerpt below.

Pope Francis called Vanier before his death to thank him for his ministry and witness. Vanier uniquely embodied the Lord’s compassion and gentleness in our time. Paired with his gifted writing and intellect, those virtues were an inspiration to millions.

Below is an excerpt from Living Gently in a Violent World, coauthored with Stanley Hauerwas.

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[. . .] When we meet people with disabilities and reveal to them through our eyes and ears and words that they are precious, they are changed. But we too are changed. We are led to God.

Shortly after the genocide in Rwanda, I met with people from the Faith and Light communities there. They came from the villages, and we had a beautiful little retreat in the cathedral of Butare.

During a very moving moment, many mothers of children with severe disabilities came forward during the celebration of the Eucharist and lifted their children up as a gift to God.

Later, we had a meeting with all these women. I asked, “What has Faith and Light brought to you?” And they said, “We no longer feel ashamed.”

When we read Deuteronomy 28, we see that at the heart of the Jewish vision is the belief that disability and sickness are caused by sin. A son with a disability reveals that somewhere in yourself and your family you are doing things against God, against truth and against love. This vision is frighteningly powerful. That is why in the ninth chapter of John the immediate question the disciples ask Jesus when they see a man born blind is, “Is it because he has sinned or because his parents have sinned?” Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents have sinned, but it is so that the work of God may be manifested in him.”

[. . .] Francoise came to our community nearly thirty years ago. She walked only a little and couldn’t eat by herself. She had a severe learning disability. She is now about seventy-five, older and weaker. She has become blind and lives in a little home where there are ten people with severe multiple disabilities. Francoise is really quite beautiful. What touches me is how the assistants wash her and prepare food for her. But she can’t see the way they prepare the food and feed her, and I ask myself, “What is the mystery behind this woman of seventy-five who cannot leave her bed and who cries out now and again?” The assistants say, “She is our mama, our little grandmother.” They love her with tenderness and gentleness. What is the meaning of this mystery of people with severe disabilities?

I know a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman—his life filled with busyness. But he said that when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I keep her. I feed her. I bathe her.” I went to Paris to visit them, and this businessman who had been very busy all his life said, “I have changed. I have become more human.” I got a letter from him recently. He said that in the middle of the night his wife woke him up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, “Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you’re doing for me.” Then she fell back into the fog. He said, “I wept and I wept.”

It all sounds so crazy. But when something is totally crazy, it may be that we have to go deeper. There’s a mystery, and maybe it comes back to the question of who God is and where God is.1

Last Chance for Free Book, Savings on Catholic Works

The month is ending and with it your chance to get a free book on the Gospel of Luke, plus other Catholic resources.

Head to Verbum’s monthly sale page to see what’s marked down this month only. [Read more…]

Isolation, Witness, and Beauty: Three Quotes for Community

In her book Building the Benedict Option, Leah Libresco Sargeant offers some ideas about how to gather together with others to seek God. Let these three selected quotes stir your imagination for the ongoing task of dwelling with God and neighbor. [Read more…]

How We Use Verbum: Andrew Curtis and Original Language Studies

Editor’s note: Andrew Curtis wrote this shortly before moving on to other pursuits. While no longer a Verbum employee, he remains an enthusiastic Verbum user.

This is the third in a series on how Verbum employees use the software in their daily lives and studies. 

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Andrew Curtis, former production manager, Content Innovation Team

Verbum member since 2015

Base packages: Verbum 8 Gold [Read more…]

What We Considered Unworthy, God Made Glorious

The Ascension, by Benjamin West

As God [Jesus] was never without those graces which He received as man, and by that means communicated to our nature; His union with which will by no means affect His Divinity, so as to give it any occasion of soliciting such graces. On the contrary, it highly glorified the nature it assumed, and very richly benefitted the race of man.

As the Word of God, and as being in the form of God, His creatures always adored Him; and, although He has become man, even the man Christ Jesus, He still exercises an absolute dominion over the whole creation. All bend their knees at this Holy Name, and acknowledge that the Incarnation and cruel death of the Son of God, instead of derogating from, do rather conduce to the glory of God the Father.

For it is indeed to the glory of the Father, that man, created and afterwards lost, should be found again; and should be snatched from death and given life once more, and should become the very temple of God.

How highly is our nature dignified, since the Son of the Most High God is adored Incarnate! Angels and Archangels and all the heavenly host now sing those praises to the Blessed Jesus, which before they had always sung to God the Word.

And so after this, it will not be a matter of such great surprise to the heavenly host to see such bodies as ours, of the same nature and form as our Lord’s, admitted and welcomed into those glorious mansions; as otherwise we may suppose it must have been. For this would not have happened unless He, who is in the form of God, had taken upon Himself the form of a servant, and had been pleased to humble Himself to suffer the cruel death of the Cross.

Behold, then, what men considered unworthy of the Wisdom of God, namely, the infamy of the death of the Cross, has become of all things the most glorious! For the certainty of our resurrection entirely hinges upon this; and hence it is, according to the prediction of the Prophet, not Israel only, but the whole Gentile world renounce their idols, and acknowledge the true God, the Father of Christ Jesus. The impostures of evil spirits are all defeated, and the true God alone is worshipped in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For since, when our Lord is believed on as the Son of God in the nature of man, and by the name of Jesus, and the knowledge of the Father is conveyed to us through Him, it is plain, as has been shown, that not the Word, as such, but our nature receives additional graces and privileges. For it follows from His having a body of the same nature as ours, that we are become the temples and the sons of God, so that even in us the Lord is now worshipped, and they who behold us may cry out in the words of the Apostle, that “God is in us of a truth” (1 Cor. 14:25).

As S. John also says in his Gospel, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (S. John 1:12); and again, in his Epistle, “Hereby we know that He abideth in us by His Spirit which He hath given us” (1 S. John 3:24). And this is an instance of His great goodness towards us that He has thus exalted our human nature by personally uniting it with His Divine nature. This He condescended to do for our sakes, that Almighty God, from whom all our good things do come, should surpass all other manifestations of His favour in enlarging the object of them by the addition of a part for the redemption of the whole.

Our Saviour humbled Himself exceedingly when He took upon Him our frail unworthy nature. He assumed the form of a servant in making that flesh, which was enslaved to sin, a part of Himself. He received no advantage from doing this. It was impossible for the Word of God to do so, whose being is incapable of any improvement. Our nature gained all the benefit, for “He is the Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (S. John 1:9).

Get April’s free bookThe Navarre Bible: Saint Luke’s Gospel.

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This excerpt is adapted from Athanasius of Alexandria, The Orations of S. Athanasius against the Arians (London: Griffith, Farran, Okeden, & Welsh, 1893), 56–57.

Novation on Christ’s Humility: 4 Reflections for Good Friday

Passion of Jesus; sculpture of Crucifixion of Jesus observing Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus (known as Pieta). National Gallery of Slovenia. 14th and 15th century.

[Jesus Christ], who though he was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being made in the likeness of men, and found in guise as a man; he humbled himself, being made obedient even so far as to death, and that the death of the cross: wherefore, also, God exalted him exceedingly, and gave him the name which is above every name; that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord in the glory of God the Father.” — Phil 2. 6–11

Being in the Form of God

“Who though he was in the form of God,” he says. If Christ were man only, He would have been described as “in the image of God,” not “in the form of God”; for we know that man was made in the image, not in the form, of God. Who, then, is this, Who was made “in the form of God,” this—angel? Why, we do not read of the form of God even in connection with angels; there is but One, this Son of God, incomparable and noble above all, the Word of God, Who in all His works is like unto His Father, Himself working as His Father works—He alone is, as we have asserted, in the form of God the Father. Rightly has He been declared to be in the form of God, seeing that He is above all, and holds divine authority over every creature, and is God after the pattern of the Father; yet this is by gift from God, Who is peculiarly His Father, that He might be both God and Lord of all, and God, according to the form of God the Father, begotten and brought forth from Him.

“He thought it not Robbery”

He, then, though “He was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God.” For although He bore in mind that He was God, of God the Father, He never compared or ranked Himself with God the Father, mindful that He was of His Father, and that He holds the place He does, because the Father had given it to Him. Hence it is that both before and after He took upon Him the body of flesh, and again, after His resurrection, He rendered, and does render, all obedience, in all things, to the Father. All this proves that He never thought of His Divinity as a kind of usurpation, that He should make Himself equal to God the Father; on the contrary, He was obedient and subject to His Father’s rule and will in all things, content even to take upon Himself the form of a slave—that is, to be made the Man of Whom we know—and the substance of flesh and body, which He took upon Himself at His birth, as it came to Him from the slavery of the sins of His forefathers according to His manhood.

“He emptied Himself”

It was then that He emptied Himself, not disdaining to take upon Himself the human frailty that His new condition of existence involved. For if He had been born as a man only, He would not have been emptied thereby. A man is made the greater, not emptied, by being born; he begins to be something which could not be his when he did not exist, so that he is not emptied, as we said, but rather is made the greater and the richer. It was not so with Christ. He is emptied by the very fact of His birth, in taking upon Him the form of a slave. How, then, is He man only? If He were, it would have been more true to say that He was enriched by the incident of His birth, not emptied; as a matter of fact, the authority of the Divine Word, condescending for a time to take upon Himself manhood, and laying aside the full exercise of His powers, lowers and deposes Himself, for so long as He bears the manhood which He has taken upon Himself. He empties Himself, so long as He stoops to bear insults and abuse, listens to blasphemies, and submits to indignities.

The “Name above Every Name”

Yet at once His humility bears noble fruit; for He received “the name which is above every name”—the name which assuredly we can only understand to be the name of God. For it belongs to God alone to be above all things; it follows that that name, which is above every name, is His only, Who is above all things. For the name which is above every name is the name of God; this name must then of necessity belong to Him, Who, though He had been in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal to God. Indeed, if Christ were not God, every knee of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, would not bow at His name; things visible and invisible, and the whole creation, would not be in subjection and subservience to a man. It would remember that it existed before man.

The Conclusion from the above Language

To sum up. Christ is said to be “in the form of God.” He is shown to have emptied Himself, even so far as to be born according to the flesh; He is declared to have received from the Father the name which is above every name; it is shown that every knee, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth, bend and bow down at His name, and, strange as it may seem, it is asserted that this redounds to the glory of God the Father. It follows, that He is man, not only because He was made obedient even so far as to suffer death, and that the death of the cross, but not man only, seeing that from all these considerations, which shout aloud the Divinity of Christ, the Lord Jesus Christ is proved, in despite of the wishes of the heretics, to be God as well as man.

Get April’s free bookThe Navarre Bible: Saint Luke’s Gospel.

This excerpt is adapted from Novatian, The Treatise of Novatian on the Trinity, trans. Herbert Moore, Translations of Christian Literature: Series II: Latin Texts (London; New York: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; The Macmillan Company, 1919), 103.

Verbum to Cosponsor Conference in Rome: Jesus and the Pharisees

The team behind Verbum Catholic Study Software will play an active role in the Pontifical Biblical Institute’s upcoming international conference.

Verbum Catholic Study Software will be cosponsoring the upcoming international conference, Jesus and the Pharisees: An Interdisciplinary Reappraisal. The event takes place May 7–9, 2019 in Rome, Italy, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (a.k.a., the Biblicum). [Read more…]

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