One of the biggest hurdles for many Protestants considering Catholicism is coming to terms with the Catholic Church’s views on the Virgin Mary. Even for the most fair-minded of inquirers, the Church’s claims about Mary sometimes seem to just go too far. Beyond these fair-minded inquirers are countless more Christians who dismiss Catholic beliefs on Mary out of hand as obviously unscriptural, obviously wrong, and (in some cases) obviously blasphemous.
Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in regards to the Queenship of Mary. Catholics believe that Mary is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. On the fringes of Protestantism, you’ll find people claiming that this is a pagan belief: after all, the “Queen of Heaven” is a pagan goddess mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah (Jer. 7:18; 44:17-19, 25). But even for Protestants that don’t go that far, believing Mary is our Heavenly Queen is asking a lot. How is it not worshipping Mary? How can we reconcile this claim with Jesus’ Sovereignty as “King of King and Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16)?
Proving that Mary really is the Queen of Heaven is going to require something different for Protestants than for Catholics. I don’t imagine too many Protestants will be convinced by the fact that Pope Pius XII affirms Mary’s Queenship in Ad Caeli Reginam (that seems more likely to cool Protestants to Pius than warm them to the Regina Caeli). Fair enough. Instead, let me try to make something of a “Protestant case” for the Queenship of Mary, using only sources recognized as authoritative by both sides of the Catholic-Protestant question.
3 Biblical Arguments for Mary’s Queenship
First point: reigning with Christ is Biblical. Many Christians are surprised to learn that Scripture repeatedly speaks of the Saints in glory reigning with Christ. But the Bible teaches this, repeatedly. In Revelation 3, Jesus says to the Church of Philadelphia:
I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut; I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
That’s Christ affirming that the faithful will be exalted, and crowned, and will have their persecutors kneel before their feet. As Saint Paul tells Timothy, “the saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11-12a). He doesn’t need to teach Timothy that the Saints will rule with Christ: it was already a belief of the Christian community at this point. Paul just affirms that this belief is true.
In reigning alongside of Christ, Scripture also points to ranks of glory. For example, Revelation 20:4-6 speaks of a special judicial role in Heaven for the Martyrs:
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.
Jesus similarly speaks of exalted positions for the Twelve Apostles (Luke 22:28-30): “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So the Biblical depiction of Heaven is one in which there’s a heavenly hierarchy of the Saints reigning alongside their Redeemer.
Second point: Honoring the Queen Mother as Queen is Biblical. Old Testament Judaism treated the mothers of the kings with great reverence. That’s unsurprising. After all, one of the Ten Commandments is to “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12), and kings aren’t exempted from this Commandment.
A revealing illustration of the reverence paid to the Queen Mother is in 1 Kings 2:13-20, in which Adonijah (King Solomon’s half-brother) uses King Solomon’s mother Bathsheba to try to advance his political ambitions:
Then Adonijah the son of Haggith came to Bathsheba the mother of Solomon. And she said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably.” Then he said, “I have something to say to you.” She said, “Say on.” He said, “You know that the kingdom was mine, and that all Israel fully expected me to reign; however the kingdom has turned about and become my brother’s, for it was his from the Lord. And now I have one request to make of you; do not refuse me.” She said to him, “Say on.” And he said, “Pray ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you—to give me Abishag the Shunammite as my wife.” Bathsheba said, “Very well; I will speak for you to the king.”
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.”
Ultimately, Solomon does refuse his mother: he realizes that Adonijah is using his mom to mount a coup, and he responds by having Adonijah killed (1 Kings 2:23-25). But the unpleasant outcome of this episode shouldn’t distract us from the incredible honor that Solomon, the sitting king, shows to his mother. This raises the obvious question (not yet answered): does Jesus show less respect to His Mother than Solomon showed to his?
Third Point: Mary as Queen of Heaven is Biblical. The answer to the question I posed a moment ago can be found in Revelation 12:1-6,
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
The Child, of course, is Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:5-6 makes this identification explicit). As for the Mother, the one seen enthroned in Heaven, there are two readings of this passage. One is that it refers to Mary, as it appears to; the other is that it’s a metaphor for the Church in Glory.
Frankly, there’s no reason that it can’t be both, given that we’re dealing with layers of mystical imagery. For example, although Christ is the One who rules with an iron rod (Rev. 19:5-6), that imagery can also be applied to the Saints who rule with Him (Rev. 2:26-28).
But let’s take the most extreme scenario, that Revelation 12 refers only to the Church reigning in heavenly glory. First of all, Mary is part of that Church: in a very real sense, she’s the first Christian. Second, it would mean that when God wanted to depict His Church in Glory, He did so by employing the image of the crowned Mother of Jesus reigning in Heavenly glory. Either way, it points to Mary’s Queenship. If Mary isn’t Queen, and if she shouldn’t be thought of in that way, why on earth would He have chosen that particular image to depict the glorified Church?
3 Biblical Answers to Standard Protestant Objections
First objection: Doesn’t it detract from Christ’s Sovereignty and Glory? Nope. Christ calls us to be like Him. He’s not threatened by the fact that some succeed in doing so…. or more accurately, succeed in allowing themselves to be conformed by Him. I don’t know how to make this any clearer than Romans 8:15-17,
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
He’s only too happy to share His glory and His kingship.
Second objection: Isn’t “Queen of Heaven” a pagan title? Sure it is. But so is “God the Father.” That’s what the pagan god Jupiter‘s name literally means (Zeus, God, + Pater, Father). That’s the thing about language: the same words can be used to describe more than one person. When Christians pray to God the Father, they’re not praying to Jupiter, even though he was invoked under the same title. And the same is true when we’re talking about the Virgin Mary: she’s (obviously) not the pagan goddess of the Book of Jeremiah, given that Jesus isn’t the Son of a pagan goddess.
Third objection: Doesn’t this elevate Mary over Jesus? Sometimes, Protestants are hesitant about honoring Mary in this way as an understandable reaction against a certain kind of saccharine devotional language that makes it sound as if Mary “overrules” her divine Son, or if she outdoes Him in mercy. Sometimes, Catholics can speak as if the Justice of Jesus our Judge is juxtaposed with the Mercy of Mary our Mother. Obviously, there’s no truth to that: Jesus is Almighty God, and a perfectly, infinitely good God at that.
Of course, even that problematic devotional imagery captures something real of the dynamism of prayer, and it’s not terribly far off from the way that Scripture presents Abraham interceding for Sodom (Genesis 18), or Jacob wrestling with the angel (Gen. 32). In those (and countless other) cases, Scripture speaks as if created beings convince Almighty God to be merciful, even though we know that’s not literally true. When we might speak of “wrestling with God in prayer,” or appealing to God’s mercy, we don’t understand by this that we (or Mary or the Saints) need to somehow make God better or more merciful, or that we can subordinate His will to ours.
So we can and should affirm that Mary is the Queen of Heaven without belittling Christ’s Sovereignty, Goodness, or Mercy.