An introduction to Mary
“Of all the obstacles littering my path toward the Catholic Church, none loomed larger than Mary. She represented diversion from true devotion to Our Lord to a plastic (or ceramic or marble) substitution. She was only the box that held the Present; did it honor the giver to play with the box and ignore the Gift? Depending which Catholic friend I spoke to, I heard qualities attributed to her that bordered on divinity, including titles such as Queen of Heaven and Mother of God. How could I reconcile the love for Jesus which I shared in common with Catholic brothers and sisters with the antagonism I felt towards Mary, his mother?
Kimberly Hahn – ‘Catholic for a Reason II – Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God’ 2nd ed.
Catholics maintain that Mary was sinless even though Scripture teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). In this teaching more than anywhere else, it seemed to me that the Catholic Church was obviously trying to make Mary out to be a goddess – not a sinner like us in need of salvation, but someone free from sin, like God. It seemed to me that from the Catholic perspective, Jesus wasn’t Mary’s saviour, but her partner. But Christ alone is the Saviour of the whole world; “there is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12)
Mary’s holiness is the work of her Son, because Mary alone among all women has a Son who existed before her. ..Those who reject the Immaculate Conception [of Mary] because it seems to raise Mary up to the level of a goddess in no need of salvation have missed the point. Mary is saved by her Son in a manner that uniquely manifests His divine power.
Curtis Martin - ‘Catholic for a Reason II – Scripture and the Mystery of the Mother of God’ 2nd ed.
There are often extreme reactions expressed in response to what the Catholic Church teaches – why is this? We have all heard that many people’s main reason for not believing in God is that religion seems to be at the centre of all wars! Well, that may not be wrong, or indeed such a coincidence if our world-view is that of the Bible-worldview – since there is a powerful and intelligent force of evil whose main purpose is to cause hatred and division, while also looking to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ.
The most recent blatant evidence of Satan provoking hatred in the name of Jesus Christ is the period of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, which went on for decades. On the face of it, this bitter armed civil war within the nation of Ireland was supposedly between Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians – what a scandal!! But only those who are real Christians, knowing about the major condition in the Lord’s Prayer about forgiving your enemy, and many Scriptures about turning the other cheek, realised that these were not real Christians at all and it was bizarre that the participants were allowed to use these Christian labels to murder each other, supposedly in the name of their Church. In reality this was a political and tribal war of bitterness and vengeance for repeated atrocities on either side – each seeking ascendency over the other in a civil war.
“Here was politicised religion masquerading as Christianity, with unionism solidly wedded to Protestantism and nationalism to Roman Catholicism … Political and religious tribalism, condoned if not actively supported by the churches, in the end ‘called the tune’ and Jesus of Nazareth, with his message of love and inclusiveness, was so often left out in the cold. No room for him in the northern inn.”
Victor Griffin – Enough Religion to Make Us Hate – Reflection on Religion and Politics (2002)
The disastrous perception of the rest of the world however, looking on at the frequent news headlines of murder and relatives being comforted, was that the Christian Church is a gathering of hypocrites and completely discredited. Yet the Churches failed to distance themselves from the political violence.
And so, here we are explaining the Catholic beliefs about Mary, and particularly we intend to undo the misunderstandings about Mary using Scripture – which is good for correcting error – let us remove the ‘half-truths’ and all obstacles to unity which evil has used for so long to justify brothers and sisters literally fighting each other.
The animosity against the Catholic Church from other Christians, especially discussion about our respective beliefs is often accusing and unlistening, indeed surely there is ‘a divisive force’ at work – And when we mention ‘Mary: the handmaid of the Lord’ …. Wow, what venom! What absolute contempt and hatred from some Protestants towards Mary! How can a Christian be so furious that he is spitting with loathing when he speaks of the mother of Jesus?
And we could ask Protestants: what is All-Mighty God doing anyway - allowing 1.4 billion Catholics (the largest Christian Church in the world) to honour Mary as they do – is He asleep perhaps?
Or maybe the Catholic Church has retained an insight that has not been grasped by the other Churches, like a ‘baby thrown out with the bathwater’ of the Reformation? When the Reformers were throwing out all veneration of saints in any form in a wholesale way, they threw out Mary too.
“Henry was happy to see images venerated so long as they were not “honoured as God”. Cranmer, in contrast thought images should have ‘no manner of honour’ neither that due to God nor ‘such as is due to his reasonable creatures’.”
(Eamon Duffy – The Stripping of the Altars – Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580)
Please! … Let us recognise the work of the Accuser of the Brethren by its fruit of division and hatred, especially when the result of such an un-listening contempt is to further divide the church of Jesus Christ, the unity of which will be such that the world will believe in Jesus …!
Ephesians 6 says: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
So let us please be suspicious of anything which causes good Christians to rise up in furious accusation against other Christians, and recognise the smoke of Satan at work. In his book ‘The Great Heresies’ the Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc writes that the worse of the characters triggered by any reform of any institutions is:
“…there appear among the revolutionaries an increasing number who are not so much concerned to set right the evils which have grown up in the thing to be reformed, as filled with passionate hatred of the thing itself – its essential, its good, that by which it has a right to survive.”
(Hilaire Belloc – The Great Heresies)
In future no doubt, surely we will not be deceived a second time into hating and killing our brothers and sisters in Jesus.
Some Christians use the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed to discern who are Christians when considering a different grouping to their own, but Satan uses a different measure – those who keep God’s commandments and keep the testimony of Jesus, are those who he hates .
Revelation 12:17 'Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.'
(As an aside, it could be asked: “Why is it that Satanists blaspheme the Catholic Mass in their Black mass ceremonies and seek to profane a Consecrated Eucharistic Host in filthy ways?”)
The Catholic Church recites the Nicene Creed at every celebration of Mass; and teaches that the deliberately breaking any of the Ten Commandments is such a serious (mortal) sin, that the penalty is eternal damnation if you should die without repenting of that sin. Another biblical test of whether a Church is Christian is described in 1 Corinthians 12:3 'Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says 'Let Jesus be cursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit.' (cf. Nicene Creed, said during every Mass)
These biblical proofs of what is Christian are being emphasised, because some Bible Christians actually try to justify their hatred and contempt for the Catholic Church by saying that they don’t consider the Catholic Church to be even Christian. This is a blatant lie used to justify tribalism, since we followers of Christ are even called to love our enemies, be they Christian or not:
Matthew 5:44 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,'
Historically speaking, the Catholic Church is the 2000 year old parent Church of all the other Christian churches, Orthodox and Protestant - including those Reformed Churches that seem to look upon it with such un-listening contempt – almost like children who have bitterly disagreed with their parent.
So as a basic starting point, let us recognise that the Catholic Church and Reformed Protestant Churches are all Christian Churches, with diverse histories, who are in fact brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ and in His Mystical Body the Church. When Saul (later Paul) was persecuting and stoning the early Christians in the name of ‘truth’, Jesus asked him ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ (Acts 22:7). Jesus explained that in persecuting the Christians, Saul was persecuting Jesus Himself – in His Mystical Body the Church.
Returning to Mary, it is a bizarre and surprising realisation that Mary this quiet mother of Jesus, has somehow become, one of the biggest sources of division amongst the followers of her Son. Surprising that is, until we recall the prophetic Scripture from the book of Revelation referring to the dragon’s (Satan) action towards the woman who is the mother of Jesus:
Revelation 12:15 'Then from his mouth the serpent poured water like a river after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood.' (AMP)
We shall see below that Catholics recognise Mary as ‘The Woman’ of Genesis and Revelation, which would explain why Satan, the instigator of division in the Church, has caused so much furious accusation and division about her.
Note: If 2000- years of unwavering Catholic teaching about Mary’s role is correct, and we will try to show on this website that the evidence is strong and Scriptural insights valid, then all Christians should realise that her role is extremely important to them and their families – So let’s please be open-minded and take a good look, then decide either way.
Hostility encouraged by half-truths and peer-pressure, often passed down the generations as ‘hearsay’ oral tradition, mean that many Christians honestly do not understand what Catholics believe about Mary - and especially ‘Why?’
Amidst steady progress towards unity amongst Catholic Christians and Protestant Christians in recent decades (see ‘A Call to Unity’ on this website) the role of Mary in God’s plan for the Church, seems to be one of the remaining obstacles to the Church unity, which Jesus asked His Father for:
John 17:11 'Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.'
Interestingly, when we consider the beliefs of the Protestant Reformers, who actually led the separation away from the Catholic Church, towards Mary, we realise that they had no such extreme antagonism to her as appears to be widespread amongst Protestants today. Presently, even the mention of Mary’s name by a Catholic will frequently provoke a hostile reaction from any Protestant nearby.
See this excerpt from an article by Catholic Apologetics:
The Protestant reformers on Mary
When Fundamentalists study the writings of the "Reformers" (or founders of their particular group) on Mary, the Mother of Jesus, they will find that the "Reformers" accepted almost every major Marian doctrine and considered these doctrines to be both scriptural and fundamental to the historic Christian Faith.
- Mary the Mother of God -
Throughout his life Luther maintained without change the historic Christian affirmation that Mary was the Mother of God:
"She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God ... It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God."1
- Perpetual Virginity
Again throughout his life Luther held that Mary's perpetual virginity was an article of faith for all Christians - and interpreted Galatians 4:4 to mean that Christ was "born of a woman" alone."
It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a Virgin."2
- The Immaculate Conception
Yet again the Immaculate Conception was a doctrine Luther defended to his death (as confirmed by Lutheran scholars like Arthur Piepkorn). Like Augustine, Luther saw an unbreakable link between Mary's divine maternity, perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception. Although his formulation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not clear-cut, he held that her soul was devoid of sin from the beginning:
"But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin..."3
- The Assumption
Although he did not make it an article of faith, Luther said of the doctrine of the Assumption:
"There can be no doubt that the Virgin Mary is in heaven. How it happened we do not know."4
- Honor to Mary
Despite his unremitting criticism of the traditional doctrines of Marian mediation and intercession, to the end Luther continued to proclaim that Mary should be honored. He made it a point to preach on her feast days.
"The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart."5"Is Christ only to be adored? Or is the holy Mother of God rather not to be honoured? This is the woman who crushed the Serpent's head. Hear us. For your Son denies you nothing."6Luther made this statement in his last sermon at Wittenberg in January 1546.
It has been said that John Calvin belonged to the second generation of the Reformers and certainly his theology of double predestination governed his views on Marian and all other Christian doctrine. Although Calvin was not as profuse in his praise of Mary as Martin Luther he did not deny her perpetual virginity. The term he used most commonly in referring to Mary was "Holy Virgin".
"Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God."7
"Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages of the brothers of Christ."8
Calvin translated "brothers" in this context to mean cousins or relatives.
"It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor."9
"To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son."10
"It was given to her what belongs to no creature, that in the flesh she should bring forth the Son of God."11 "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin."12
Zwingli used Exodus 4:22 to defend the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity.
"I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary."13"Christ ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin."14"It was fitting that such a holy Son should have a holy Mother."15"The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow."16
We might wonder why the Marian affirmations of the Reformers did not survive in the teaching of their heirs - particularly the Fundamentalists. This break with the past did not come through any new discovery or revelation. The Reformers themselves (see above) took a benign even positive view of Marian doctrine - although they did reject Marian mediation because of their rejection of all human mediation. Moreover, while there were some excesses in popular Marian piety, Marian doctrine as taught in the pre-Reformation era drew its inspiration from the witness of Scripture and was rooted in Christology.
The real reason for the break with the past must be attributed to the iconoclastic passion of the followers of the Reformation and the consequences of some Reformation principles. Even more influential in the break with Mary was the influence of the Enlightenment Era which essentially questioned or denied the mysteries of faith.
Unfortunately the Marian teachings and preachings of the Reformers have been "covered up" by their most zealous followers - with damaging theological and practical consequences. This "cover-up" can be detected even in the book: ‘Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective’, an Evangelical critique of Mariology. One of the contributors admits that:
"Most remarkable to modern Protestants is the Reformers' almost universal acceptance of Mary's continuing virginity, and their widespread reluctance to declare Mary a sinner".
He then asks if it is "a favourable providence" that kept these Marian teachings of the Reformers from being "transmitted to the Protestant churches"!17
What is interpreted as "Providence" by a Marian critic may legitimately be interpreted as a force of a very different kind by a Christian who has recognized the role of Mary in God’s plan.”
The subsequent articles in this ‘Explaining Mary’ section will address the justification of Catholic beliefs about Mary, with particular regard to Sacred Scripture, which is the inspired Word of God.
“The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God". God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them. He thus gives assurance that their writings teach without error his saving truth.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church (paras. 135, 136)