The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an, “Mary,” contrasts Mary with the Bishops. The unparalleled access to Christ provided by Mary is contrasted to the Bishops, the successors of the Twelve Apostles. The Qur’anic author urges the God-wary to turn away from the successors to the Apostles, and look to Mary’s example of making Christ manifest.
“Sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!”
A Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar…
When I returned, there, along the bank of the river, were very many trees on one side and the other. Then he said to me: “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea. When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed. And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
A Psalm, from the Psalms:
They do not know, nor do they understand;
They walk about in darkness;
All the foundations of the earth are unstable.
I said, “You are gods,
And all of you are children of the Most High.
But you shall die like men,
And fall like one of the princes.”
Arise, O God, judge the earth;
For You shall inherit all nations.
A Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles:
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying: Peter, James, John, and Andrew; Philip and Thomas; Bartholomew and Matthew; James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot; and Judas the son of James. 14 These all continued with one [d]accord in prayer [e]and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
A Reading, from The Holy Gospel According to Matthew:
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
A Qur’anic Homily
Moses, Aaron, and Mary
Consider that holy family, the children of Amram. Wee see the way that Jews over the centuries honored Moses and Aaron. But perhaps Miriam — Hebrew for “Mary” — was the greatest sign for us:
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
I redeemed you from the house of bondage;
And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Paul spoke of many gifts of the spirit, including prophecy and priesthood. But Mary is greater than any of these gifts. Follow Mary!
Jesus and Mary
God could have granted Jesus an earthly foster father named Moses or Aaron. God didn’t. Think if this was a sign to what is Real — to what it means to really know what is Real:
That is Jesus, son of Mary, a Word of the Real concerning whom they are in doubt.
Mary is the prototypical submitter-to-God. Mary sister-of-Moses sung of God’s glory when horse and rider were thrown into the sea. And Mary mother-of-Jesus said “Yes!” and did not demand any honor or praise, beyond what was given to her by God. The Qur’anic author elides even Mary’s response — “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” — to emphasize Mary’s lack of pretension or demands on God:
She said, ‘How shall I have a child seeing that no human being has ever touched me, nor have I been unchaste?”
He said, ‘So shall it be. Your Lord says, “It is simple for Me, and so that We may make him a sign for mankind and mercy from us, and it is a matter already decided.”
Mary points to Christ the real in a way beyond how Moses and Aaron could, because she is more perfect than them. The Qur’anic author makes this point by having townspeople (who are accusing Mary of fornication) call her “kinswoman of the Aaronites.” Her namesake Miriam was kinswoman of Aaron. But As Christ’s priesthood is more perfect than Aaron’s, treating Mary as second to Aaron is just absurd.
Then, carrying him, she brought him to her people. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly come up with an odd thing! O kinswoman of the Aaronites! Your father was not an evil man, nor was your mother unchaste.’
Here’s another way to think of Mary’s priesthood. Consider that which makes Christ’s presence real — the Sacrament. While the Eucharist is the source & summit of the Catholic faith, Christ’s presence was even more complete and more manifest when Mary gave birth. Likewise, the true presence requires words from a priest’s mouth:
Take this, all of you, and eat of it:
for this is my body which will be given up for you.
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
for this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new and eternal covenant.
which will be poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this in memory of me.
But when Mary made Christ manifest, he spoke for himself. The Qur’anic author emphasizes the closely of Mary to Christ, by noting that a purpose of the Incarnation was itself kindness to Mary:
Then she pointed to him.
They said, “How can we speak to One who is yet a baby in the cradle?
He Said, “I am indeed a servant of God.
given me the Book and
made me a Prophet. He has made me Blessed, wherever I may be,
and He has enjoined me to the
The Prayer, and
The Alms-Giving (as long as I live), and To be good to my Mother.
And He has not made me self-willed and wretched.
Peace to me the day
I was born,
the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.
The Apostles and Mary
Now consider two groups: the bishops — the successors to the Apostles — and Mary. Which is a surer hope. The ones with worldly power and riches?
When Our clear signs are recited to them, the faithless say to the faithful, ‘Which of the two groups is superior in station and better with respect to company?’ How many a generation We have destroyed before them who were superior in furnishings and appearance!
The Bishops — especially in the middle east, and for three centuries before the Qur’anic author — insisted they were to be treated as “earthly gods.” Is this how we would expect Mary to demand to be treated? Does it give us a clue who is the surer hope?
The bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God trod you in the several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit. He is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honored by you.
For concerning him, arid such as he, it is that God pronounces,
“I have said, Ye are gods; and ye are all children of the Most High.”
“Ye shall not speak evil of the gods.”
For let the bishop preside over you as one honored with the authority of God, which he is to exercise over the clergy, and by which he is to govern all the people. But let the deacon minister to him, as Christ does to His Father; and let him serve him blamelessly in all things, as Christ does nothing of Himself, but does always those things that please His Father. Let also the deaconess be honored by you in the place of the Holy Ghost, and not do or say anything without the deacon; as neither does the Comforter say or do anything of Himself, but gives glory to Christ by waiting for His pleasure.
The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, c. 325, II.IV.XXVI
The Qur’anic author has a number of criticisms of the Catholic Church. He seems to have been a heretic — at the time of the writing, his “Arian” beliefs that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages (instead of begotten before all ages) was in its last breaths, and Arian sacraments mediated by the successors of the apostles were nearly impossible to obtain. But were the remaining successors — who called themselves gods — the appropriate thing for the community take?
They have taken gods besides God so that they may be a might to them. No Indeed! Soon they will disown their worship, and they will be their opponents. Have you not regarded that We unleash the devils upon the faithless to urge them vigorously?
But Mary’s goal was not might among men, but quietly allowing her body to do the work of God. Thus did God send the Holy Spirit to Mary, and thus was the perfect child, Jesus, born:
And mention in the book Mary, when she withdrew from her family to an easterly place. Thus did she seclude herself from them, whereupon We sent to her Our Spirit and he became incarnate for her as a perfect human. Qur’an 19:17
Mary is a perfect imitation to and a perfect sign to Jesus, suffering in her birth pains as Christ would suffer in her passion, but while Christ was guided directly by God, it is Christ who even in the womb announces the gospel to His mother (in words that echo the Prophet Ezekiel, who notes that springs will flow from the Temple, in keeping with the traditional view that sees Mary as the perfect Temple).
Thus she conceived him, then withdrew with him to a distance place. The birth pangs brought her to the trunk of a date palm. She said, “I wish I had died before this and become a forgotten thing, beyond recall.”
Thereupon he called her from below: “Do not grieve! Your Lord has made a spring to flow at your feet. Shake the trunk of a palm tree, freshly picked dates will drop upon you. Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, “I have indeed vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today.”
The Qur’an’s view of Mary is very close Taylor Marshall‘s, who emphasizes Mary’s special and greater relationship, not just with Christ but with the Holy Spirit as well:
While the Holy Apostles were generally ignorant of the Holy Ghost, the Immaculate Mary knew Him intimately. Mary had already experienced the descent of the Holy Ghost at her Immaculate Conception since at that moment she was not merely preserved from all sin, but also filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. She was perfectly possessed by the Holy Ghost from the first moment of her existence. This is why Saint Francis of Assisi and other great saints have called Mary “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” The analogy of matrimony is the strongest and best way to signify a union of two persons in their mission.
“The Spirit and the Bride,” by Taylor Marshall
It was obvious in the day of the Qur’anic author, and in our own day, that legitimate apostolic succession is not a guarantee of a shared communion. Today Catholic and Orthodox bishops recognize each others succession, but deny communion to each other. Even dire heresies — like the Arian divide, the Nestorian divide, and so on — had bishops on each side. Following the successors of the twelve men who made up the Apostles have not given us a united community.
[Jesus said,’ “God is indeed my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him. That is a straight path.
But the factions differed among themselves. So woe to the faithless at the scene of a tremendous day. How will they will hear and how well they will see on the day when they come to Us! But today the wrongdoers are in plain error.
Even worth, it has often not given us a gracious community. [Many bishops in the late classical world gave the Sacrament of Reconciliation only once or twice a lifetime. But does anyone believe that Christ would not forgive a repentant sinner the second time? Or that His mother would spurn such a contrite heart?
But they were succeeded by an evil posterity who neglected the prayer and followed appetites. So they will soon encounter perversity, barring those who
repent, believe, and act righteously.
Such will enter paradise and they will not be wronged in the least.
What good is the Sign of Peace from a bishop who will not cooperate with Christ to forgive sins? To be with Mary, to follow the signs to Jesus, means knowing a Sign of Peace that is without vanity, without pretension, but full of grace.
Therein they will not hear vain talk, but only “Peace!” Therein they will have their provision morning and evening. This is the paradise that We will give as inheritance to those of Our servants who are Godwary.
Arian heretics considered themselves catholic, and professed the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They believed that Christ was created at the beginning of all ages, while the rest of the church taught that Christ was begotten before all ages. The successful obliteration of he Arian heresy among Bishops made it impossible for remaining Arian communities to receive the sacraments from an Arian bishop. At the same time, many Catholic bishops in the near east considered themselves “gods” and refused granting the Sacrament of Confession more than once or twice per lifetime — views both well documented and now considered bizarre. The Qur’anic author, caring for an Arian community in this context, urged the faithful to abandon the idea of the “church” and apostolic succession. He urged those who feared God to turn from the bishops and instead seek Mary as a sure way to God.