Mary highly-favoured mother of the Son of God

One of the reasons why Mary, the mother of Jesus, has such an exalted position in the Roman Catholic Church is that she is called “Mary full of grace.” Here is an explanation of this term from Catholic Answers:

The Fathers of the Church taught that Mary received a number of distinctive blessings in order to make her a more fitting mother for Christ and the prototypical Christian (follower of Christ). These blessings included her role as the New Eve (corresponding to Christ’s role as the New Adam), her Immaculate Conception, her spiritual motherhood of all Christians, and her Assumption into heaven. These gifts were given to her by God’s grace. She did not earn them, but she possessed them nonetheless.

The key to understanding all these graces is Mary’s role as the New Eve, which the Fathers proclaimed so forcefully. Because she is the New Eve, she, like the New Adam, was born immaculate, just as the First Adam and Eve were created immaculate. Because she is the New Eve, she is mother of the New Humanity (Christians), just as the first Eve was the mother of humanity. And, because she is the New Eve, she shares the fate of the New Adam. Whereas the First Adam and Eve died and went to dust, the New Adam and Eve were lifted up physically into heaven.”

In Luke’s Gospel, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says:

Luke 1:28 The angel went to her (Mary) and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Jerome translated the Greek charitoō (highly favoured) as “full of grace.” This Vulgate mistranslation of the Greek is one of the buttresses of the Roman Catholic doctrines about Mary such as she was conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) and she was taken up bodily (assumed) into Heaven (the Assumption), and several more. 

The question is why would Jerome make such an obvious translation error? The problem was almost certainly not an ignorance of Greek. Was it his compunction – encouraged by other sympathisers – to fill the mother of Jesus with grace, because he confused Jesus the “Son of Man (humanity)” with Jesus the Son of a man (masculine gender). Men can be so stern about things of the heart.

A man knows about courage, truth, strength, wrath, but what does he understand about gentleness, lovingness, virgin purity and affection? That’s the woman’s domain, isn’t it? Mary, the meek, loving, obedient highly favoured woman, pierced by sorrow becomes the Mother of God, “Can we not feel that it must have been so right…a living object of devotion, faith and hope” (F.W. Robertson, 1924. “The Glory of the Virgin Mother” in Sermons on Bible Subjects, p. 224. Everyman’s Library).

When I was a devout Catholic, I used to feel that it was so. I never cared about biblical exegesis. Like most Catholics, I didn’t read the Bible much. There was no need to; the Church said it was so, and that was that. Besides, the mother of Jesus had that feminine touch that no man – not even Jesus – could match. But is this true? The Son of Man was a perfect embodiment of both the masculine and the feminine of humanness. Here is what I consider one of the best descriptions of the Son of Man’s “womanly heart.” It appears in “The Glory of the Virgin Mother” by Frederick W. Robertson (1924. “The Glory of the Virgin Mother” in Sermons on Bible Subjects, p. 224. Everyman’s Library):

Now let us see what is implied in this expression Son of Man. It contains in it the doctrine of the incarnation: it means the full humanity of Christ. Lately I tried to bring out one portion of its meaning. I said that He belonged to no particular age, but to every age. He had not the qualities of one clime or race, but that which is common to all climes and all races. He was not the Son of the Jew, nor the Son of the Oriental-He was the Son of Man. He was not the villager of Bethlehem: nor one whose character and mind were the result of a certain training, peculiar to Judea, or peculiar to that century-but He was the Man. This is what St. Paul insists on, when He says that in Him there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free. A humanity in which there is nothing distinctive, limited, or peculiar, but universal-your nature and mine, the humanity in which we all are brothers, bond or free. Now in that same passage St. Paul uses another very remarkable expression: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female.” That is the other thing implied in His title to the Son of Man. His nature had in it the nature of all nations: but also His heart had in it the blended qualities of both sexes. Our humanity is a whole made up of two opposite poles of character-the manly and the feminine. In the character of Christ neither was found exclusively, but both in perfect balance. He was the Son of Man-the Human Being-perfect Man.”

There was in Him the woman-heart as well as the manly brain-all that was most manly, and all that was most womanly, Remember what He was in life: recollect His stern iron hardness in the temptation of the desert: recollect the calmness that never quailed in all the uproars of the people, the truth that never faltered, the strict severe integrity which characterized the Witness of the Truth: recollect the justice that never gave way to weak feeling-which let the rich young ruler go his way to perish if he would-which paid the tribute-money-which held the balance fair between the persecuted woman and her accuser, but did not suffer itself to be betrayed by sympathy into any feeble tenderness-the justice that rebuked Peter with indignation, and pronounced the doom of Jerusalem unswervingly. Here is one side or pole of human character-surely not the feminine side. Now look at the other. Recollect the twice-recorded tears, which a man would have been ashamed to show, and which are never beautiful in man except when joined with strength like His: and recollect the sympathy craved and yearned for as well as given-the shrinking from solitude in prayer-the trembling of a sorrow unto death-the considerate care which provided bread for the multitude, and said to the tired disciples, as with a sister’s rather than a brother’s thoughtfulness, “Come ye apart into the desert and rest a while.” This is the other side or pole of human character-surely not the masculine.”

When we have learnt and felt what is meant by Divine humanity in Christ, and when we have believed it, not in a one-sided way, but in all its fullness, then we are safe from Mariolatry-because we do not want it: we have the truth which Mariolatry labors to express, and, laboring ignorantly, falls into idolatry. But so long as the male was looked upon as the only type of God, and the masculine virtues as the only glory of His character, so long the truth was yet unrevealed. This was the state of heathenism. And so long as Christ was only felt as the Divine Man, and not the Divine Humanity, so long the world had only a one-sided truth.”

One-half of our nature, the sterner portion of it, only was felt to be of God and in God. The other half, the tenderer and the purer qualities of our souls, were felt as earthly. This was the state of Romanism. from which men tried to escape by Mariolatry. And if men had not learned that this side of our nature too was made divine in Christ, what possible escape was there for them, but to look to the Virgin Mary as the incarnation of the purer and lovelier elements of God’s character, reserving to her Son the sterner and the more masculine ?”