- Greg Smith
A Protestant Asks About the Virgin Mary
Someone has quipped that the three biggest barriers to Protestants converting to Catholicism are 1) Mary, 2) Mary, and 3) Mary.
That was my experience, for sure. Mary was a huge hill to climb on my Road to Rome, in many ways the last hill. It’s not exactly Mary that Protestants are repelled by, but by all the Catholic Marian doctrines and devotions. Catholics, raised with these beliefs and practices, don’t grasp just how alien they appear to the Protestant mind. Five hundred years of Protestant theology, pounded into our heads through Sunday school, youth group, sermons, devotional guides, Christian radio, and lots and lots of sharing and warnings from Protestant family and friends have weirded us out on how Catholics “worship Mary.” Or worse, they worship statues of Mary!
Protestants have been taught, repeatedly, that Catholic Marian devotion is a holdover from Paganism. Like most Protestants, I was told that when the Roman Empire “converted” to Christianity, they only half-converted. Supposedly, the people held onto their worship of pagan goddesses, and/or the cult of the Vestal Virgins in the city of Rome, and/or Celtic matriarchal cults, agreeing to worship Jesus, but creating a parallel pagan mythology about Mary as the “Mother of God,” “Queen of Heaven,” etc. The Roman Catholic Church, we were told, is a pagan cult that mocks the one true Lord in Jesus Christ by worshipping a goddess they invented named “Mary.” We were warned that converting to Catholicism is walking away from salvation by faith in Christ and his Word.
To drive this home, Protestants downplay the Marian passages in Scripture. They argue that the Bible only presents her as a teenage girl, a good teenager for sure, who is scared and doesn’t really understand what’s happening to her, or her son’s real identity and mission. She appears only a handful of times in the Bible, and beyond the nativity and losing him on the family trip to Jerusalem when he was 12 years old, plays no significant role. He changes the water into wine at Cana to stop her from nagging him, calling her “woman.” After she had Jesus, they argue, she and Joseph had other children and her role fades away. They point out that the epistles of the New Testament are silent on her, Paul making no mention of her in his theology. And they argue that the woman with a crown of twelve stars who giving birth to the Messiah in Revelation 12 is actually a metaphor for the nation of Israel.
So, yeah, for a Protestant considering Catholicism, Mary is a huge hill to climb.
Which is why it has taken a while for my Protestant friend Ed and I to get around to this topic in our Church Chats with Ed segment on the podcast. So far, we’ve covered all the relatively “easy” topics, but in the next few episodes, we’re going to get to the hard stuff.
And so, in today’s episode (#29) Ed finally asks about Mary. In particular, he asks about this wacky “immaculate conception” thing that Catholics believe; that somehow Mary was divinely created like Jesus, a kind of demi-goddess.
Take a listen to hear how I responded…