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At Luke 10:40-42 we read : " But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

But, at John 11:20, we see Martha taking the lead role in the events which lead to the resuscitation of Lazarus by Jesus : " When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary sat in the house "

My question is: Has the Catholic Church made any comparative study of the faith of Martha vis-a-vis that of her sister, Mary, though the words of Jesus at Luke 10: 42 would have one believe that Mary was better at expressing her faith?

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    The Church traditionally use the examples of Martha and Mary to distinguish the ways of perfection in the interior life of prayer. – Ken Graham Apr 1 '17 at 20:43
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    Theologians throughout the centuries also use the pericope to model the contemplative life vs. the active life, with most (all?) except Mesiter Eckhart claiming that the contemplative life is a higher state. – zippy2006 Apr 1 '17 at 21:07
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Catholic theologians have compared Martha and Mary. The distinction they make is between the active life (of Martha) and the contemplative life (of Mary), not between their degrees of faith.

For example, St. Thomas Aquinas has a question on the active life in comparison with the contemplative life in his Summa Theologica II-II q. 182, where he mentions Martha and Mary frequently.

Addressing "Whether the active life is more excellent than the contemplative?" (a. 1 c.), he says:

…the contemplative life is simply more excellent than the active.

He mentions several reasons, some of which are:

  1. because the contemplative life is more delightful than the active; wherefore Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. Serm. ciii) that "Martha was troubled, but Mary feasted."

&

  1. because in the contemplative life man is more self-sufficient, since he needs fewer things for that purpose; wherefore it was said (Lk. 10:41): "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things."

&

  1. because the contemplative life is according to Divine things, whereas active life is according to human things; wherefore Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. Serm. civ): "'In the beginning was the Word': to Him was Mary hearkening: 'The Word was made flesh': Him was Martha serving."

In a. 2 he shows that the contemplative life of Mary is more meritorious than the active life of Martha because (ibid. c.):

the root of merit is charity; and, while…charity consists in the love of God and our neighbor, the love of God is by itself more meritorious than the love of our neighbor

So, although Martha and Mary might have the same degree of faith in God, the contemplative life of Mary is superior to and more meritorious than the active life of Martha (cf. Lk. 10:42: "…Mary hath chosen the best part.…"). Mary is not divided (cf. 1 Cor. 7:33) between God and the world, but can devote herself 100% to God.


An excellent work on the relationship between the active and the interior/contemplative lives, the necessity of the latter for the former, etc., is:

Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. discusses the necessity of contemplation for all Christians, because the "infused contemplation of the mysteries of faith and the union with God which results therefrom" is "in the normal way of sanctity" (i.e., everyone must pass through this way to become a saint / go to heaven). Cf. his works:

and

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Both Mary and Martha had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and both are recognized saints in the Catholic Church. Mary's faith lead her to a more contemplative form a prayer, while Martha's life of prayer combined both work and prayer. Both forms are excellent in their own way. However Mary is a more contemplative soul.

The Church needs contemplative souls, but also contemplative souls that need to work towards perfection through work and prayer.

In her later work, The Interior Castle, Teresa describes the journey towards God as moving through seven rooms, or mansions, of a castle, with the seventh room, the centre of the castle, representing the centre of the soul where God resides. Professor McGinn: “God lives and glows within the centre of the soul, because this is the part of the soul which has been created in the image and likeness of God.

“This is the highest level of union where a spiritual marriage takes place between God and the soul. One of the effects of this is the perfect uniting of Mary and Martha. Teresa writes: ‘Believe me, Martha and Mary must join together in order to show hospitality to the Lord and have him always present and not host him badly by failing to give him something to eat. How would Mary, always seated at his feet, provide him with food if her sister did not help her?’

“What is fundamental to recognize is that for Teresa action and contemplation are not opposed modes of life, but are interdependent and united….” - The power of uniting Mary and Martha

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In the Old Testament, Leah and Rachel represent the active and contemplative lives, respectively, just like Martha and Mary do in the New Testament.

See ch. XIX ("Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her. (v.28)") of St. Albert the Great's The Valiant Woman (De Muliere Forti): A Medieval Commentary on Proverbs 31:10-31 for the spiritual/allegorical/analogical interpretation of Leah and Rachel, Leah's fertility and Rachel's infertility, etc.

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The issue of Mary and Martha's Faith requires no comparative study as both Martha and Mary have a Great abundance of faith as described in the case of the hard working Martha in John 11:27

John 11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

This confession was almost as great as Peter's in Mathew 16. The issue between Martha and Mary in Luke 10 is not one of faith, but Christ simply pointing out that in the situation Martha was concerned about, were things less important then what Christ was teaching.

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    This just quotes Scripture, but you have not referenced any Catholic interpretation supporting your answer. – Geremia Apr 1 '17 at 20:59
  • @Geremia the passage does not concern faith – Marc Apr 1 '17 at 21:10

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