Is it Idolatry to say that Mary Saves Us?

A Protestant friend e-mailed me, troubled by something he’d read in an article about the Rosary, in which the author said:

The will of the Blessed Virgin is completely conformed to that of Her Son, in other word – God. She is the most humble and chaste spouse of the Holy Ghost and will never do anything contrary to the will of God. Thus, we ought to trust the Blessed Mother just as God has, because She ultimately brings us to God. Mary is our Salvation, and Christ is the source of our Salvation. Mary is the Gate and Christ is the Key. It is only through Her that we are saved.

This, he said, sounded like pure idolatry.  Is it?  Let’s consider (1) what this claim doesn’t mean, (2) why it’s not blasphemous or idolatrous to say that Mary saves us, and (3) the manner in which Mary saves us.

I. Christ’s Unique Role in Salvation

Cristo Rei of Dili

As the Catechsim explains (CCC 613-14), Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross is both the definitive redemption of men, and utterly unique.  No sacrifice before or after can ever compare with God the Son giving His Life for the sins of the world:

613 Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29; cf. 8:34-36; 1 Cor 5:7; 1 Pet 1:19), and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him to God through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28; cf. Ex 24:8; Lev 16:15-16; 1 Cor 11:25).

614 This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices (Cf. Heb 10:10). First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself. At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience (Cf. Jn 10:17-18; 15:13; Heb 9:14; 1 Jn 4:10).

So Christ is simply irreplaceable.  You couldn’t just crucify Mary, or any of the Saints, in His Place. In fact, the very reason that we have Mary and the Saints is through the merits of Christ.

So before we speak of the sense in which Mary saves us, we need to speak of the sense in which she doesn’t.  Mary doesn’t perform Christ’s role.  Only He can do that.

II. Is it Idolatrous to Say that Mary Saves Us?

Masaccio, Baptism of Neophytes (1425)

Given what I’ve just said, it seems as if there’s not room to speak of anyone saving us but Christ.  But in fact, Scripture is quite clearly to the contrary.  True, Christ’s Atoning Death on the Cross, and that alone, has the power to save us. But the application of His Atonement are applied in our lives in various ways, and Scripture properly speaks of these things as salvific, too.

So, for example, we hear about Baptism saving us (1 Peter 3:21), as well as grace (Acts 15:11), our faith (Luke 7:50), and so on. In fact, Scripture refers to individuals other than Christ as saving us, and refers to our ability to save others.  For example, Jude 1:22-23 says:

Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Obviously, St. Jude isn’t suggesting that we’re going to die upon the Cross for our neighbor, personally atoning for their sins. So we don’t save them in that way. Rather, we save them by bringing them to Christ. It’s not dissimilar from Ezekiel 3:18-19, in which God says:

When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.

Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)

And St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:16,

Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

What do all of these things have in common?  In each case, what’s meant is that these are the means by which salvation reaches us. It’s similar to how we can say both that Oswald killed Kennedy, and that a bullet killed Kennedy. One was the instrument of the other, so there’s not even a slight tension between those two claims.

Whether they recognize it or not, this is a distinction that Protestants recognize all the time.  Nobody (at least, nobody I’ve heard), says, “I got saved in 32 A.D.”  But, of course, there’s a sense in which that’s when Christ saved all of us.  Rather, people speak of the point in their lives in which they were saved (whether at the moment of their conversion, or at their Baptism), they’re pointing to the application of Christ’s Atonement in their lives.

So yes, Christ saves you, but also, Baptism saves you, faith saves you, the Gospel saves you, perseverance in sound living and doctrine saves you, those who bring you the Gospel save you, and so on.  To treat any of this as idolatrous or blasphemous would be completely absurd.  So why is it wrong for Catholics to say the exact same thing of Mary?  The problem here seems to be Protestant Mary-phobia, rather than any coherent problem with speaking of someone or something other than Christ saving us.

III. How Mary Saves Us

Okay, so it’s not blasphemous to say that Mary saves us, as long as we don’t mean that she occupies Christ’s place.  She saves us by bringing us to Christ — which is probably what the original commenter meant by saying that “Mary is our Salvation, and Christ is the source of our Salvation.”  She’s the nurse bringing us the antidote to sin.  Christ is the Antidote.

Here’s how Lumen Gentium describes Mary’s role in saving us:

Antonio da Correggio, Adoration of the Child (1520)

61. Predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin was on this earth the virgin Mother of the Redeemer, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth and nourished Christ. She presented Him to the Father in the temple, and was united with Him by compassion as He died on the Cross. In this singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Saviour in giving back supernatural life to souls. Wherefore she is our mother in the order of grace. 

62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.(15*) By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.(16*) This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.(17*)

For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source. 

The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.

So while merely human (unlike her Son), Mary aides in our salvation in the following ways:

    Madonna Palafrenieri (detail) (1606)
  • Her earthly life: If we can speak of a preacher as saving us by bringing us the Gospel (1 Tim. 4:16), we can surely speak of Mary as saving us by participating in God’s plan of salvation.  St. Paul brought Jesus to the Gentiles, figuratively speaking.  Mary brought Jesus to the entire world, literally.  Just as Eve took the fruit of sin from the tree and gave it to the first Adam, Mary took the fruit of her womb, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), and led Him to the Tree (1 Peter 2:24; John 2:4-5).
  • Her Motherhood:  Mary is the Mother of Christ (Luke 1:43), and the Mother of Christians (Gen. 3:20; John 19:26-27).  Having God as Father means having Mary and the Church as Mother (Rev. 12:17), and other Christians as brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:48-50).  So you can’t have Jesus without Mary, any more than you can love God while hating a brother or sister in Christ (1 John 4:20).  God doesn’t just invite us into a one-on-One relationship with Him. He invites us into a family, and Mary plays a vital role in that family.
  • Her Intercession: As a good mother, Mary intercedes on our behalf, just as Abraham did for his nephew Lot (Gen 18-19).  James 5:16 says that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” tying the effectiveness of intercessory prayer to the sanctity and righteousness of the person praying.  All of this points strongly towards Mary.  After all, which of Christ’s followers was more righteous than Mary?  And which of Christ’s followers loves the Church and Her fallen members more than Mary?
So Mary plays a unique role in our salvation, because of her role as Mother of God, bringing Jesus Christ to the world; as Mother of Christians, prayerfully caring for her children; and as a sinless Saint in Heaven, interceding for us all constantly.  None of these diminishes the Cross – not even a little bit.  On the contrary, these are all ways that Mary leads us to the Cross.  So yes, Mary saves us, and no, we can’t have Christ without Mary, and no, this isn’t idolatry, or anything like it.


  1. For me, as an ex-Protestant, and perhaps for the Protestant enquirer, the real issue with the quote is the final sentence:

    “It is only through Her that we are saved.”

    The word “only” makes a world of difference.

    I’ve encountered similar quotes in St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion”. Now St. Louis de Montfort had a very Christological world view, but reading some of his works without the necessary context (which unfortunately should include his other writings)can make one slightly apprehensive about Mariology (him being the Marian Doctor and all).

  2. Georg,

    I agree with both of your points. Regarding St. Louis de Montfort, I was very startled by some of his writings when I first saw them. The key to understanding him is captured in this quote found on the homepage of the Memorare Army: “We go to Mary only as a way leading to the goal we seek: Jesus, her son.” —St. Louis Marie de Montfort. (A subtle way of plugging the Memorare Army, right?). Mariology is only important for the sake of Christology. We might have a human interest in Mary from a merely historical perspective, but we have a religious interest in her because of her Son, and her relationship to Him.

    As for the “only,” I tried to grasp that towards the end of the post. Mary’s Motherhood of Christians isn’t an option for Christians. I know that speaking about God our Father and Mary our Mother sounds scandalous, as if we’re putting Mary on the same level as God. But we’re not. After all, Christ speaks of us as His “brothers,” but we’re certainly not His equals.

    But whether you want to say that Revelation 12:17 refers to Mary, the Church, or both, some sort of subordination to our Mother in Christ is necessary.



  3. Thank you for the link. What a brilliant resource!

    Two of your previous posts: “Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant” and “Mary, the New Eve” give excellent context to the “only” part of the quote and St. Louis’ Mariology in general.

    Funnily enough, after being scandalized by and disgusted with “True Devotion” and being very vocal about it for a while, I have come to appreciate and even (heaven-forbid) *like* it. I’ve even asked for St. Louis’ intercession from time to time!

    But Mariology is an altogether dangerous science when dealing with Protestants, if only for its “shock-value”. Best to ease into it.

    Here’s a brilliant video (not sure if you’ve linked to it before?) that sums up a lot of what you were saying. Excuse the URL, I’m not very computer savvy:

  4. I never realized how faintly I believed in Christ’s true humanity until I considered the Marian doctrines carefully. (Hitherto, no matter how I tried, I would lapse into thinking of Him as “God in a flesh suit” or as an Avatar (as in the film of that name.)

    If I may add a plug also, Mark Shea’s “Mary” trilogy was very helpful to me as a convert from Protestantism. (I read Louis de Montfort first, and recoiled in alarm at the rapturous language.)


  5. I seem to be an odd-ball in conversion circles, coming from a protestant background, Mary was one of the simplest doctrines to understand and come to terms with.

    If one believes that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, then that human side of him must have a mother. Show me a human being walking this Earth today who got here without a mother, and I’ll shut up.

    The full human experience can’t leave out motherhood and parenting. Take a poll of what the first words a baby speaks, and at right at the top of the list will be “Mommy” (or some variation of that word), showing how important mothers are to humanity.

    Re: “It is only through Her that we are saved.” I recommend focusing on the “only”, but rather the words “through Her”. The way Jesus chose to get to Earth to do what he came here to do is through his Mother, Mary.

    I’ve also heard people confused at devotions to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her heart belongs entirely (100%) to Her Son. It can’t not. Ask any mother on the street if their child(ren) aren’t the center of the lives, if they say no, then you have a good candidate for child protective services.

    Why shouldn’t Mary be any different than any modern mothers today?

  6. “Ask any mother on the street if their child(ren) aren’t the center of the lives, if they say no, then you have a good candidate for child protective services.”

    A rocky relationship with my own mother put me back many years in pondering how and why Mary might be my Mother. It’s well-worth thinking through how one’s background might be influencing the things one is even willing to consider.

    Psychologist and Catholic convert Paul Vitz has a good article here: It’s a “sauce for the gander” paper on how atheism might be the fruit of “defective fathering,” but it applies to your comment,mutatis mutandis.


  7. I appreciate that Mariology grounds our understanding of Christ’s human nature, and that without her assent the incarnation could not have happened. We should call her blessed.

    Out of obedience to that call, I have given much time and thought to Marian devotion. I appreciate that doctrine develops over time from principles embryonically present in scripture. However, the post reformation doctrines of the immaculate conception and assumption puzzle me, not because they inherently contradict scripture, but because I cannot find their embryonic form. The barrier that this presents to Christian unity saddens me.

    Most defenses of these doctrines I have seen are made from eisegesis rather than exegesis. In other words, the doctrines are assumed then scripture passages are made to fit.

    I understand that Jeremiah and John the baptist were consecrated in their mother’s womb. But why does are these passages applied to Mary?

    Scripture does give us glimpses of Mary’s past, she is full of grace. But the Holy Spirit’s “overshadowing” is in the future tense in the Magnificat. There is a parallel between the sword passing through Mary’s heart prophesied at the presentation at the temple and the sword divinding faithful from faithless Israelites in Ezekiel 14:17. The labour pains of the woman in Revelation 12 point to a mother who shares our fallen human nature rather than a new and sinless Eve free of the curse of pains in childbirth. I think that Mary as the new and obedient Israel is a much more helpful hermeneutic and highlighting Christ’s unique role as saviour and honouring Mary’s self-chosen titles of lowly handmaiden, and magnifier of the Lord.

    As for the assumption, we are told of Enoch and Elijah, why would we not be told of Mary? When did the teaching first arise?

    This doesn’t dishonour her in my eyes, nor make me value her prayers any less. I do wish that there were fewer barriers to Marian devotion for Protestants, all generations should call her blessed.

  8. I think many Protestants would be helped by an exegetical approach to Mary. I would not agree that they worry about idolatry, but about misplaced devotion.

    Two passages particularly come to mind…

    Luke 11:27-28 in which Jesus seems to direct devotion away from his Mother to His Father’s word:

    “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

    And Galatians 4:4, which contains Paul’s only (nameless) reference to Mary:

    But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law

    so it seems that Mary’s role in Paul’s Christology is that she is ‘one of us’, fully human, and that she is Jewish, ‘under the law’.

    I would welcome links to Catholic exegesis of those passages, I have not found them mentioned in my reading.

  9. Anglican Hobbit,

    I’ve got a post explaining Luke 11:27-28 here. And yeah, Galatians 4:4 says that both Mary (and Jesus) are fully human, and born under the Jewish law. But how does it show that either of them were conceived in sin, or anything else that is contrary to Catholic doctrine?

  10. Thanks for responding JH,

    I agree that Jesus is not rebuking his mother in Luke 11, but nor is he encouraging devotion to her. His focus is on the gift of adoption into God’s family through obedience to God’s word.

    I also agree that Galatians 4:4 does not contradict her sinlessness, it simply does not invoke it as necessary to her role in salvation history.

    Absence of contradiction is not equivalent to affirmation…
    In both passages, we are encouraged to immerse ourselves in God’s word, and its fulfillment in Christ. If there was a passage of scripture that commended the contemplation of Mary’s personal qualities, I would find that very helpful. Anglicans pray the Magnificat regularly, we bless her role in salvation history and look on her as the model disciple. Her motherhood of believers as affirmed in Revelation 12 is a comfort.

  11. Anglican Hobbit,

    While I agree with you about Luke 11 and Galatians 4 not focusing on Marian devotion, I’m not sure I grasp your point. After all, they don’t focus on any number of doctrines we hold. Neither of those passages teaches the Trinity, or teaches Baptism, etc.  But we don’t doubt that these are Christian doctrines held from the beginning.  So to take the converse of your point, the absence of affirmation in a specific verse isn’t the same as contradiction.

    I think a much more reasonable standard is what you suggested in your earlier comment, that we should see at least an “embryonic form” of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. And that, we certainly do.

    I’ve written before on the way that Scripture depicts Mary as the New Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Temple Gate, and the builder of the Temple.  All of these are images of purity and sinlessness, and total consecration to God: Eve was without original or actual sin while she was still named Woman, the Ark and the Temple were made with the finest materials, and consecrated totally to the Lord, and the builder of the Temple had to have hands free of blood (which is why David couldn’t build the Temple).  This is also why Mary is a Virgin: her Virginity is a symbol of her sinlessness, and of her unadulterated devotion to God.  There’s another image that I haven’t done a post on, but hope to soon: the identification of Mary with the Church.  Both are spotless Virgins, and yet both are Mothers — so Mary is a type of the Church.

    The Church Fathers immediately pick up these things, as I’ve noted before in the context of the Eve imagery.  By the time St. Augustine lays out the doctrine of original sin, he’s careful to exempt the Virgin Mary, and doesn’t feel any need to explain why.  The early Church already knew she was sinless.

    This was the universal belief of the Church, and hardly a post-Reformation development of some sort.  Even Luther believed in Mary’s sinlessness (although he was contradictory on whether or not he believed in the Immaculate Conception).  It would be much more accurate to say that the post-Reformation development was Protestantism diminishing Mary more and more.  If you don’t believe me, read the immediate pre-Reformation writings on Mary, and tell me which Church would be comfortable proclaiming those things today.


  12. (cont.)

    As for the Assumption not being recorded in Scripture as a historical event, it probably occurred after the Gospels and Acts were written, and were certainly outside of the time period covered by those writings.  This is true of other significant early-Christian events: namely, the Destruction of Jerusalem, which was of enormous impact for the Church, but which is never described (only prophesied).  There’s a decent chance that the only Book of the New Testament written after the Assumption was the Book of Revelation, and in that Book, we see what appears to be Mary, in her glorified body, enthroned in Heaven.  I don’t think it takes eisegesis to conclude that the woman of Revelation 12, depicted as the Mother of Jesus, is Mary.

    So Revelation 12 seems to assume the truth of the Assumption, although I can certainly see the ambiguity.  In any case, we’re not believers in sola Scriptura.  It’s enough to say that Scripture is consistent with the doctrine of the Assumption, and that the doctrine is of Apostolic origin.  Within the early Church, the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) was celebrated in art and Liturgy throughout various parts of the global Church.  Again, it’s impossible to write this off a post-Reformation development, because the Feast is celebrated by Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts alike, and we haven’t been in a unified Church since the mid-400s.

    Is it possible that the Catholics, Orthodox, and Copts are all wrong on this? I’d say no: to claim that every Apostolic Church is in error is to simply cut oneself from the Apostolic Church.



    P.S. I hope you don’t mind if I modify this to turn it into a blog post.

  13. Phew! I agree, a blog post would be a good format for discussing the immaculate conception. As you probably noted above, I agree that Revelation 12 refers to Mary and could point to the assumption in embryonic form. I also agree that it is catholic doctrine.

    However, the woman in Revelation 12 is nourished by God in the wilderness, a companion to her offspring rather than a powerful queen.

    It is the immaculate conception that is not universally accepted and forms the greatest stumbling block for Protestants in sharing Marian devotion.

    The hermeneutic principles you mention vary in their strength. Scripture does not describe Mary as the New Eve directly, but I understand the principle’s patristic roots. It is Mary’s offspring who crushes the serpent’s head. However, I do not see this pointing to the immaculate conception: it is the old Eve of whom this prophecy is made and it comes true despite the fall.

    I rejoice in Mary’s purity and being full of grace. The phrase ‘full of grace’ does not point to the immaculate conception either… the same phrase is used of Stephen before his martyrdom. It is Jesus who was full of grace and truth who was conceived without taint of original sin.

    Can I give you an example of why I find the immaculate conception unhelpful? In Mark, when Jesus is beginning to provoke murderous response in the religious hierarchy, Mary and his other family members come to take charge of him. Clearly she does not yet grasp the way of the cross. I am encouraged that as her son’s life unfolded before her, she too was tempted to take matters into her own hands and to try to achieve godly ends in her own strength. Of course she did not succeed, and no doubt pondered the conflict in her heart.

    Please compare this reading with your original post, in which you posit that Mary led her son to the cross. The passages cited are used eisegetically in that in their context do not address Mary’s journey of discipleship at all.

    Which approach is more conducive to Marian devotion? One that assumes her sinlessness and perfect actions, then uses scripture out of context, or one that takes into account the Biblical record of her actual journey of discipleship?

  14. Anglican Hobbit,

    I’ll address the two subjects in two separate comments.

    The Assumption: It sounds like we agree on this one. Am I reading your response correctly? The only point of disagreement seems to be this: “the woman in Revelation 12 is nourished by God in the wilderness, a companion to her offspring rather than a powerful queen.

    Look, we agree that Mary is nourished by God in the wilderness, and is a companion to her Son. But she’s also pretty clearly depicted as a powerful Queen: “A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev. 12:1).

    If she’s wearing a celestial crown, how can you deny that she’s a Queen? In case this needs Biblical support, look at Esther 2:17, and what it means for a woman to be wearing a crown.

    Here, it sounds like we’re running into a common impasse. Protestants tend to think that a strong Mary means a weak Jesus — that Mary is some sort of usurper. That assumes Mary has some sort of strength other than her Son. She doesn’t: just listen to the Magnificat. We have a strong Mary because we have a strong Jesus.

    Look at how Jesus uses the Apostles, the Church, and all sorts of other intermediaries through which He channels His power and His love. I think the Catholic view (a strong Mary means a strong Jesus) is more consistent with how the New Testament describes Jesus, and His willingness to work through others.

  15. The Immaculate Conception: You asked:

    Which approach is more conducive to Marian devotion? One that assumes her sinlessness and perfect actions, then uses scripture out of context, or one that takes into account the Biblical record of her actual journey of discipleship?

    I think this is a loaded question, don’t you? You’re starting from the assumption that “the Biblical record of her actual journey of discipleship” is somehow contrary to Mary’s sinlessness.

    But this appears to be based on nothing more than your own exegesis of Mark 3:31-35. At the least, I think we can agree that Mark 3 doesn’t disprove the Immaculate Conception, right? After all, it’s not a belief in Mary’s omniscience or omnipotence. It’s a belief in her sinlessness, so unless you see Mary as sinning there, I don’t see how it’s incompatible with the Immaculate Conception.

    Even though she was immaculately conceived, Mary still grew in the process of discipleship. There’s no tension there. After all, Luke 2:51-52 says,

    “Then He [Jesus] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them [Mary and Joseph]. But His Mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

    So if Jesus can grow in wisdom, despite being sinless, why does the Immaculate Conception foreclose the possibility of spiritual growth for Mary?

    So I’d suggest that here, too, you have some misconceptions about what an immaculately-conceived Mary looks and sounds like.

    If nothing else, isn’t it at least a bit intriguing that (a) Scripture doesn’t include any account of her sinning (unlike the Disciples and numerous other followers of Christ), and (b) the early Church was quite convinced she was without sin?

    If this is eisegesis, as you claim, where did this heresy come from, and how did it dupe the Church?



    P.S. Earlier, when I asked if you thought it was possible for the entire Church to get a doctrine wrong, the question wasn’t rhetorical. I’m genuinely unsure of your view on this issue.

  16. Busy day! Lots of food for thought. I will follow your lead by breaking my comments into two sections, beginning with where there is most agreement

    On the Assumption:

    Protestants tend to think that a strong Mary means a weak Jesus — that Mary is some sort of usurper. That assumes Mary has some sort of strength other than her Son. She doesn’t: just listen to the Magnificat. We have a strong Mary because we have a strong Jesus.

    I think it is Catholic teaching on the nature of Mary’s power that Protestants find problematic. The title ‘Heavenly Queen’ seems to lead to the parallel between Mary the same power over Jesus that Solomon unwisely gave Bathsheba.

    In practice it seems to lead to prayer that sees Mary the merciful placating her son the judge. So ‘powerful queen’ may be an image that needs redefining rather than discarding.

    I understand Mary’s heavenly appearance to symbolize her having received the fruition of God’s plans for creation in general and Israel in particular. So I see her as receiving gifts rather than exercising power. When the woman flees to the wilderness she is nourished by God and protected from the dragon’s flood. Rather than a position of power, she seems to be our companion and mother. I am thankful for her care and intercession.

    So I think it is the type of devotion encouraged by RC teaching on Mary as Queen that I find a stumbling block.

    On the Immaculate Conception

    You are right, the gospels do not record Mary sinning, but Paul does tell us in Rom 3:23 that all have sinned, and he makes no exception. Taken with his reference to Mary as a woman under the law, Protestants do not need to specify when or how, Mary sinned but we do not find room for the immaculate conception in Paul’s teaching.

    My point in contrasting Mark 3 with your previous teaching that “Mary led Jesus to the cross” is that the sinlessness Immaculate Conception can seem to blur the lines of her journey as found in Scripture, as if we needed to write her a more perfect script. I do not mean to aim loaded questions, but to cultivate a love for hearing God’s word as Jesus encouraged.

    I agree that the doubt that Mary acted on is not necessarily sin and that Mary’s pondering is analagous to Jesus’ growing in wisdom.

    Neither have I made accusations of heresy nor implied that anyone is being duped. I do not find such polemical terms helpful.

    What I did observe is that the immaculate conception is not common to all Christians, for example the Orthodox. Nor was it common to all Church Fathers, neither Augustine nor Aquinas found it necessary and the Dominican order did not withdraw their opposition to the doctrine until 1847.

    Thank you for taking the time to listen and reflect.

  17. One last observation on Patristic Maryology , just to emphasize that I am not levelling charges of heresy or duping

    As I understand it, Mary’s sinlessness became an important theological point to clarify in the face of Arianism. In order to defend Jesus’ truly human and yet sinless nature it was important to define his mother’s sinlessness.

    At the time, the understanding of human reproduction posited that the male active principle took root in feminine passive substrate. And so all of Mary’s being needed to be declared sinless in order for Jesus’ nature to be declared fully human and yet sinless.

    I understand the immaculate conception as a brilliant solution to a pressing problem. Would a different answer have been possible if the Fathers had known of the human ovum, not discovered until the 19th century?

    We do not battle Arianism but secularism. I long for a church whose unity proclaims our Lord’s love. And so I am wrestling with stumbling blocks to that unity in good faith.

  18. on the benefits of time, reflection and good faith, here is a quote from CS Lewis:

    (During) that whole tragic farce which we call this history of the Reformation. The theological questions … could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure.

    Each party increasingly misunderstood the other and triumphed in refuting positions which their opponents did not hold: Protestants misrepresenting Romans as Pelagians (or idolators in your example) or Romans misrepresenting Protestants as Antinomians . (or unwilling to submit to anything but their own ‘private’ interpretations of scripture)

    – C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama), Introduction, p37

    Here’s praying for maturity and saintliness for us all!

  19. and I do hope we can share Lewis’ goal (from the same source)

    Under those conditions formulae might possibly have been found which did justice to the Protestant–I had almost said the Pauline–assertions without compromising other elements of the Christian faith.

    Grace and Peace

  20. Anglican Hobbit,

    In addition to the links I sent earlier on Mary as the New Eve, Temple Gate, and Ark of the New Covenant, I did a separate post briefly describing Mary as Icon of the Church.

    On the Assumption: I understand why it’s troubling to think of Mary interceding on our behalf, seeking mercy for Jesus.  But I don’t see why it’s particularly more troubling than Abraham trying to save Sodom, or any other form of intercessory prayer, which is clearly Biblical.

    Likewise, I’m not sure you answered the point about Mary being crowned in Heaven.  The image of her as Heavenly Queen is solidly Biblical.  So here again, I can understand why it might seem troubling, but we can’t just jettison Biblical imagery to make Protestants more comfortable with Mary.

    You say you think of Mary are receiving gifts, not exercising power.  But that’s something of a false dichotomy.  After all, all power is a gift from God (cf. Jn. 19:11), and all gifts are to be used for the service of others (1 Cor. 12:7).

    So Mary is powerful because she’s received gifts from God.  Again, this objection seems to be built upon the premise that any power Mary has is apart from her Son.  As I said before, “Protestants tend to think that a strong Mary means a weak Jesus — that Mary is some sort of usurper. That assumes Mary has some sort of strength other than her Son. She doesn’t: just listen to the Magnificat. We have a strong Mary because we have a strong Jesus.”

    Finally, you mentioned a point I had considered raising earlier: the Woman of Revelation 12 is depicted as being supernaturally preserved from the Dragon (Rev. 12:13-16).  Do you not see that as pointing towards Mary’s sinlessness?

    On the Immaculate Conception:  Your first paragraph, using Romans 3:23 and Galatians 4:4, could just as easily “prove” that Jesus is a sinner.  He’s also born under the Law.  And if Romans 3:23 means every individual ever is a sinner, without exception, then it’s declaring Christ a sinner.  But obviously, that’s not what either Rom. 3:23 or Gal. 4:4 actually means.  Romans 3:23 is saying that all peoples have sinned (as in, the Jewish and Gentile peoples), rather than each individuals.  Look at the context: Paul’s just finished comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the Jewish and Gentile positions before God.  I’d compare it with something like Psalm 87, describing how Philistia and Tyre will come to be numbered among the sons of Zion. Obviously, the Psalm isn’t prophesying universal salvation, but saying that salvation is open to all peoples.

    As for the rest, I think you risk missing the forest for the trees.  The Church Fathers, with a handful of exceptions, proclaimed the sinlessness of Mary.  The view of Thomas Aquinas was that Mary was freed from original and actual sin from the moment of ensoulment.  So even where there were disputes over the Immaculate Conception, it tended to be over minutae. It wasn’t as if Aquinas (or Augustine, or nearly any of the other Fathers) took the standard Protestant view, that Mary was a sinner in the sense that you and I are.

    Finally, as for the idea that the Immaculate Conception arose in response to the Donatists in the fourth century, that wouldn’t explain why the doctrine was being proclaimed by Origen in 244, before Arius was ever born.  And both Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, in comparing Mary to Eve (“a virgin and undefiled,” in Justin’s words) assume her sinlessness.  And both of them were writing before 200.  So this is an Apostolic doctrine predating Arianism by quite some time.



  21. Hello again,

    I will take the time to respond by paragraph so that we can avoid talking past each other.

    On the Assumption.
    Paragraph 1
    No, I do not find Mary’s intercession troubling. I think it is natural for a mother to intercede for her offspring.

    Paragraph 2:
    On Mary being crowned in Heaven. I have agreed that it is a Biblical image, I am not asking that it be jettisoned. I do struggle with the parallel drawn between Mary and Bathsheba. Just as it is the Lamb who was slain that sits on the throne of heaven, I think Mary’s ‘power’ as Queen is in her willingess to be vulnerable with her children, encouraging them to overcome and take their place in the company of heaven. I do not think it is helpful to pray to her as if she were able to guide her son as Solomon allowed himself to be guided by his mother, nor do I find it helpful to think of her as being inherently more ready to listen or offer mercy.

    Paragraph 3: Regarding Mary’s receiving gifts from, not exercising power. I am not posing a dichotomy. A Queen does receive gifts from her king and her exercise of power is modeled on her king’s. Again, it is the nature of that power that I question. The Biblical picture in Revelation depicts her vulnerable and in the wilderness, not the throne room. The disciples struggled with Jesus’ suffering Messiah and I think we need to see Mary’s role as following her son as a suffering servant Queen.

    Paragraph 4: this would be an example of talking past each other: I am not depicting Mary as a usurper of Jesus power. I long to see us reflect Biblically on how the Magnificat has been fulfilled without using texts eisegetically.

    Paragraph 4: Do I see Mary’s protection from the dragon as pointing toward sinlessness? In a word, no. Her protection reflects God’s promise to deliver his faithful in Israel. Similarly when Mary’s appearance in Revelation being preceded by the Ark of the Covenant I again see her faithfulness and her virgin purity but not sinlessness. The woman in Revelation 12 cries out in labour pains, part of the legacy of original sin.

    On the Immaculate Conception:

    Paragraph 1: I would disagree that Romans and Galatians can be applied to Jesus as Paul is clearly describing the human condition, not that of the son of God. While I agree that the context applies to the Gentile and Jewish people, it also applies to every human. I think ‘all’ means both peoples and individuals and to diconnect the two meanings specifically to exempt Mary is another example of eisegesis. This is probably the biggest single stumbling block for Protestants.

    Paragraph 2:

    I think the ‘forest’ is actually our agreement on Christ’s human yet sinless nature and the ‘trees’ represent trying to work out exactly how his mother gave him that nature. So we agree on the forest, but I question the benefit of detailing the trees. By letting go of the need to understand the details of Mary’s status with respect to original sin, I am trying to accept, with Job, that God’s creativity is beyond my comprehension.

    Paragraph 3: I understand the Donatist heresy to do with the validity of the sacraments offered by unworthy ministers, so I’m sorry if I’m missing the connection to the Immaculate Conception. So rather than quibbling over the relationship of the Immaculate Conception to each of these Fathers, I would agree that the struggle to understand the ‘hypostatic union’ of Christ’s human and divine natures began before Arius but came to a head when his views were represented by bishops in authority.

    Thank you for the conversation… we’ll have to work on endless leisure!

    Grace and Peace!

  22. Anglican Hobbit,

    I’ve enjoyed this conversation, and hopefully, it’s been edifying for both of us, as well as anyone who’s been reading along. A few final points I wanted to touch on:


    1) I agree that it’s natural for Mary to intercede for us. I was just saying that the reality is that humans constantly ask God for mercy. I don’t think that makes God any less Omnibenevolent.

    2) We ask each other to intercede on our behalf with specific requests frequently. I don’t think we have to envision Mary as Bathsheba for prayer to her to make sense.

    3) I like your depiction of Mary as a “suffering servant Queen.”

    4) Good. Sounds like we agree.

    5) I admittedly don’t understand your logic here. The purity and faithfulness images all seem to point towards sinlessness, at least for me. Particularly the fact that she’s supernaturally preserved from the dragon: that looks like a supernatural preservation from sin to me. As for labor pains, suffice to say for now that it’s possible for Mary to experience the natural consequences of the Fall without experiencing original or actual sin (just as her Son did).

    Immaculate Conception:

    1) Your first sentence is troubling. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. So if Romans 3:23 means every human, no exceptions, then it means Jesus Christ, too. And Galatians 4:4 is specific to Christ, so I don’t see how it wouldn’t apply to Him.

    2) Mary’s sinlessness is important for a number of good Christological reasons. Mark Shea does a good job of spelling this out in his Mary, Mother of the Son trilogy. Despite being three books, each are a quick read.

    3) Yeah, I misspoke — I meant “Arians,” not “Donatists” in that bottom paragraph. The point I’d been trying to make was that the Immaculate Conception is believed by Christians before the major controversies over the Hypostatic Union break out. That’s because it’s tied to the idea that Mary is the New Eve, the New Ark, etc. So to understand the Redemption fully, you’ve got to see the unique and fascinating role that Mary plays. [This ties in with (2), of course]

    God bless,


  23. Thanks, yes I have enjoyed it too.

    Again, in the interests of making sure we are not disproving opinions the other does not hold:

    Assumption 5)

    “The purity and faithfulness images all seem to point towards sinlessness, at least for me”

    I hope you can see that by maintaining that those images point to Mary’s virginity rather than sinlessness I do not call her any less blessed.

    “As for labor pains, suffice to say for now that it’s possible for Mary to experience the natural consequences of the Fall without experiencing original or actual sin (just as her Son did).”

    But did Jesus experience the natural death consequent from the fall? Can you see how her labour pains bring her closer to her suffering children without imputing actual sin? This is why many do not need to argue for her preservation from original sin.

    Immaculate conception 1)
    On Jesus’ exception from the ‘all’ who have sinned in Romans 3:23:

    I read Paul as making Jesus the exception in verses 21 and 22, “the righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Because Mary is not part of Paul’s argument here, I do not find it helpful or sound exegesis to assume Paul was excepting her from the human condition. Yes, Jesus was fully human but, unlike Mary, he is fully God.

    I hope you share the goal:

    in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.

    I searched this beautiful maxim’s provenance and was delighted to find it has reached equal acceptance on both sides of the reformation. It originated with a Lutheran scholar in 1627 and was echoed by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

    Wouldn’t that make a good blog title?

  24. The point is still missed. All of your arguments for Mary can be debunked in the word. First, God could’ve brought Jesus upon the earth without Mary, or any other human if he had so wished, much like He said He could raise sons of Abraham from stones. Another, Mary was a human just like us, and she didn’t stay a virgin her whole life, as she had children with her husband Joseph. Also being human, she died, and therefore cannot hear us or our prayers, only God can. Nowhere does it say she was assimilated to heaven, like Enoch. The verses speaking of baptism, and bringing people to salvation speak about those with us, which is why a protestant will say this person led me to Christ, because the person actually spoke to them and invited them to hear the word of God. Yes, Mary gave birth to God in human form, but other than that, she is no different from the rest of us, sinned like the rest of us. She can’t do anything for us. Only one human is referenced in the Bible as having never sinned. Jesus is Lord and savior, and none come to the Father except through Him.

    1. As a former Catholic, I also want to add that I view cathlocism as a religion of tradition and ritual as opposed to what it should actually be. I could hardly believe it when I learned that purgatory, that middle place between heaven and death that ccd teachers always talked about, was actually invented by the pope in the 1300s to raise money for the church. With the news of what the new pope is teaching, and from my view now as a Christian, with a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior Jesus, and actually reading the word for myself, I see that the catholic church is lost by their traditions, and excuses for idolatry and being lukewarm. I’m sorry if any of this offends anyone, but Gods word is truth, and the truth hurts sometimes, but the truth saves you. Remember that with Adam and Eve, the serpent twisted the truth of Gods word, and fell into sin, separating man from God.

    2. B1Springfield,

      Don’t worry about offending anyone: much better that you explain what you believe and why. I’m more concerned about seeing that we both arrive at the truth than worrying about hurting somebody’s feelings.

      With that said, it doesn’t seem like you have a very good understanding of the Catholic teachings that you reject. I don’t say that to place blame: unfortunately, many Catholic parishes and schools don’t do a good job of teaching the faith (as you said, lukewarm is a serious problem for us, as it is for all Christians). So if you don’t mind me probing:

      1) You mention that God could’ve brought Jesus upon the Earth without Mary. How does that debunk any Catholic teaching? It’s like saying that He could have saved us in some way other than the New Covenant, so we’re going to reject the Covenant. It’s a non sequiter. The point isn’t whether or not He had to use Mary as a unique means of salvation (He didn’t), but whether or not He chose to (He did).

      2) What’s your basis for thinking that Mary didn’t stay a virgin?

      3) What would Scripture have to say about Baptism for you to believe it when it says that Baptism saves?

      4) Are you basing your idea that Mary sinned off of Scripture, Protestant tradition, or something else?

      5) You said that none can come to the Father except through Christ. Catholics teach this. What Catholic teaching do you think that this debunks?

      6) You mentioned that Catholicism is a religion of Tradition. Aren’t there Traditions given to us by Christ and the Apostles that we are bound to keep? And doesn’t Scripture teach that Scripture itself is a Tradition (2 Thes. 2:15)? If so, wouldn’t a non-traditional Christianity be heretical?

      7) Where did you get the idea that a pope invented Purgatory in the 1300s to raise money for the Church? What pope? This is completely wrong. Even in the Jewish Scriptures prior to Christ there are allusions to after-death purgation.

      8) You claim that Catholicism is idolatry. When did Catholicism switch from being the Church founded by Christ to an idolatrous Church? Can you show me some sort of historical documentation for your claims?

      God bless,


  25. A thousand popes may say that Mary is the Mediatrix of all grace, and also say that this claim does not contradict the the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man, but these statements remain in contradiction nevertheless. If Christ’s mediation between God and man were limited to just one man, (that is, to the human Mary) so that He mediates to God for her only, and then it is left for her to mediate for the rest of us, the contradiction between these two declarations might be avoided. But this possibility is denied by the fact of the Sacrament of the Altar in which Christ gives Himself to us immediately in His own body and blood. We receive the Person of Christ, do we not? Nor are we taught by the Church to believe that we receive Mary in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Rather we receive the Holy Ghost in Confirmation, and Him immediately; that is: He Himself, and not another spirit. Is this not the Catholic Faith? The Word of God does not traffic in contradictions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *