Just when you thought the Anglicans couldn’t stoop much lower, in a disgusting article published, predictably, on Christmas Eve, Anglican priest-journalist Giles Fraser not only publicly denies the Virgin Birth, but he ridicules the idea, proposes that the Blessed Virgin Mary was just another teen fornicator and that it’s probably a good thing that Jesus was a bastard conceived when Mary had a romp with a Roman soldier.
I’m surprised that he didn’t title his article, “That’s Why Our Lady is a Tramp”
The crass arrogance of Fraser’s article in London’s The Guardian is only superseded by its ignorance. Fraser writes,
he earliest polemic against Christianity focused on the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. “We have not been born of fornication,” says a hostile gathering to Jesus in John’s gospel. The implication being: we weren’t, but you were. In the second century, the Greek writer Celsus wrote a book about how Jesus was the illegitimate low-birth offspring of a spinner called Mary and a Roman soldier called Panthera. The implication may also have been that she was raped. Various later rabbinic texts refer to him as Jesus ben Pandera. All of which was intended as an insult: Jesus was a bastard. Obviously the son of God couldn’t be a bastard. So, the argument goes, Jesus was not the son of God.
The idea that Jesus was born of “pure virgin” could well have been a reaction to these insults.
Errm. Were you nodding off in your New Testament class Giles?
Or maybe not. Knowing the Anglican church, your education was more about left wing politics than something called theology or church history. I did my training as an Anglican and I have to admit there was zero talk of the Blessed Virgin and no education about the origins of Marian devotion. I can remember many years later bumping into one of my old tutors who had become an Anglican bishop and was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s right hand man. When he learned I had become a Catholic he said with a straight face, “The Catholics have a real problem with Mariolatry.” I was aghast. The man really thought Catholics worship Mary. When one meets incompetence and ignorance of such a degree at that level one is dumbstruck.
It turns out that Giles Fraser is an expert on Nietzsche and attended the Protestant liberal Ripon College to study theology, so I guess we can’t expect him to have much understanding of Catholicism, and like most Protestants, when it comes to Mary, a first grader in a Catholic school knows more than he does.
To put the record straight, Revd Fraser suggests that Mary’s virginity was a reaction to early polemics against Christianity. Really? Let’s look at the facts.
Celsus was a Greek philosopher who attacked Christianity in his work written around 177 AD. A document Revd Fraser doesn’t mention because I expect he doesn’t even know about it, is The Protoevangelium of James. The Protoevangelium (sometimes called the Gospel of James) is dated, at the latest, at around 145 AD and many scholars think it may be as early as 120 AD using materials and oral traditions from the Jerusalem church from even earlier. The point is that the Protoevangelium of James is our source for the stories of Mary’s birth, childhood and consecration to God. Most importantly the Protoevangelium is a complete defense not only of Mary’s perpetual virginity, but the truth not just of the Virginal Conception of the Lord, but also of the Virgin Birth. (For those who are unfamiliar with the fullness of Catholic belief, Mary’s virginity was also preserved through the birth process.)
So Ronald Hock, a foremost scholar on the document writes,
… a major development found in the Protevangelium of James is this: “Mary, the central character, is no longer a virgin in the ordinary sense of a young woman of marriageable age, but a virgin of extraordinary purity and unending duration.” Hock goes on to argue: “Indeed, Mary’s purity is so emphasized that it becomes thematic and thus answers the fundamental question which guides the narrative: why Mary, of all the virgins in Israel, was chosen to be the mother of the son of God. The answer: no one could have been any purer.
The earlier date of the Protoevangelium and its origins in even earlier oral traditions from the Jerusalem area prove that the idea of the Virgin Birth was not a reaction to Celsus’ criticism, but just the reverse–Celsus was attacking a belief that was already fully established within the Christian community. When you add to the fact that the gospels of Luke and Matthew (which must be dated before 65 AD) clearly affirm the Virgin Birth, Revd Fraser’s shallow and vulgar supposition is shattered.
Revd Fraser may not believe in the Virginal Conception of our Lord or the Virgin Birth, and that is his right. After all, denying these cardinal Christian doctrines is pretty much par for the course with Anglican clergy these days. Of course most of them don’t deny them quite as coarsely and blasphemously as Revd Fraser does. They’re English and middle class. They must preserve appearances. So they usually say that they affirm the Virgin Birth, but what they mean is that “Mary was really just a good Jewish girl.” The dots they never seem to connect are that if Mary got pregnant out of wedlock, then a “good Jewish girl” is exactly what she was not.
Fraser admits this, and not content to impugn the Blessed Virgin’s purity he goes on to rubbish the whole idea of sexual chastity and then fire internet atheist type pot shots at the Holy Family itself…