In response to this post on what the Magnificat tells us about Marian veneration, a Protestant reader raised a number of objections that I think other readers may be struggling with:
Mary doesn’t day that all people will call her blessed but “all generations.” And I think we can say with confidence, all generations have called her blessed and will continue to do so. I’ve never met a Protestant who would say that Mary was not blessed.What Mary did not say, and neither did the apostles nor the Protestants, was she would be called the Mother of God or the queen of heaven or the queen of the apostles. She also did not say people would worship her or pray to her or ask her to intercede for them. She also did not say she would perpetually be a virgin or she was born without sin or she would be bodily assumed to heaven.The last time we read about Mary in the New Testament is Acts 1: 14. She was in the upper room with the disciples and the brothers of the Lord. There’s not another mention of her after this. In Revelation we read of the consumation of all things and a new heaven and a new earth, but there’s no mention of Mary.Since neither the apostles nor the apostolic fathers, as far as I know, said a word about Mary, is it your position that they had a “Mary problem.”
There’s a lot to address here, but let me address the basics:
- God saved Mary from sin. In the same way, if I catch a vase before it breaks, I’m saving it from being broken. Or in the same way that God saves us from all of those sins that we would commit without His grace. So, yes, Mary is saved.
- I agree, Mary says “all generations,” not “all people.” My point is that the only people honoring Mary for countless generations prior to the Reformation were indisputably Catholic or Orthodox, and took a view of Mary that many Protestants (including this reader) would apparently consider idolatrous. If these generations are to be condemned for their treatment of Mary, why are they praised in Scripture for their treatment of Mary?
- True, Scripture doesn’t say “Mother of God,” just as it doesn’t say “Trinity.” But both doctrines are still true. That Mary is the Mother of God is obvious, in that (a) Jesus is God [John 20:26-28], and (b) Mary is His Mother [Luke 2:51]. She was declared Theotokos, meaning Mother of God (or literally, “God-bearer”) at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, which all generations of Christians between 431 and the Reformation accepted.
- Catholics don’t worship Mary. I understand that it can seem that way to people who don’t understand Catholicism and/or worship, but trust me. We don’t… and we would know if we did, presumably?
- Contrary to the reader’s claim, I’d argue that Mary is mentioned in Revelation. See Revelation 12, where the Mother of Jesus is depicted as battling against Satan, and being supernaturally preserved from evil.
- Mary did claim to be a perpetual Virgin, in response to the angel Gabriel’s Annunciation [Luke 1:34]. This is why she’s baffled at how she can become the Mother of God. The phrase that she knows not man only makes sense in the context of perpetual virginity, since she was already married. Again, Mary’s perpetual Virginity was affirmed for numerous generations amongst the pre-Reformation Church, and even re-affirmed by Martin Luther and Zwingli, as did the early Anglicans and John Wesley (and Calvin wasn’t opposed to the idea).
- The Marian doctrines are described very early on. For example, St. Justin Martyr (c. 160 A.D), Irenaeus (180 A.D.) and Tertullian (160-220 A.D.) each describe Jesus and Mary as the parallel to Adam and Eve. Irenaeus captures this succinctly, in referring to “the back-reference from Mary to Eve,” that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” By way of comparison, the first known use of the word “Trinity” was by Theophilus of Antioch in 181 A.D… after Justin and Irenaeus wrote on Mary as the New Eve. So it won’t do to pretend that this is some late innovation.
- Finally, what to make of the claim that the apostles never said a word about “Mary”? Read the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of John. Mary is repeatedly mentioned. For starters, read Matthew 1-2, John 2:1-11, and John 19:26-27. She also gets an in-depth treatment in the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke, which appear to describe the Nativity and Childhood of Christ through her eyes. I recognize that some Protestant communities emphasize Acts and the Pauline Epistles over the actual Gospels (for whatever reason), but if you read the Gospels, she’s definitely in there.
|Sixth Century Icon of Mary and Jesus|
|Damián Forment, Our Lady of the Chorus (1515)|
So given all of this, I don’t think it’s Catholics who have a Mary problem. We’re consistent with the faith of the Apostles and the faith of historic Christianity. And given that the Magnificat points to historic Christianity’s treatment of Mary in a positive way, that’s exactly where we need to be.