American Protestants are normally confused about Mary. Attention to Mary is more of a Catholic Christian endeavor, and therefore, non-Catholic Christians simply stay away from what their newer traditions believe are “traditions of men”.
I was a youth ministry intern in college for a Protestant Church of Christ, and I was responsible for teaching – as assigned – “a class about a great woman from the Bible” for a Vacation Bible School. I wanted to teach a class about Mary, but the elders were afraid I might communicate an affinity for Catholicism. The elders decided I should teach a class about Esther instead. They didn’t know how Esther was actually a type of Mary – a Queen that intercedes on our behalf with the King. Esther points us to Mary. (It’s actually quite difficult to teach a class about any great woman from the Bible that doesn’t point to Mary!)
Protestantism’s allergen to Mary and Catholicism shapes its view of Scripture – it forces modern assumptions onto the pages of Holy Writ. But not all Protestants are so afraid; many poke their heads out of the fortress! The following list of short “Pat answers” are for those kinds of people; they’re questions that I’ve enjoyed addressing over the years with many pilgrims.
Q: How does Mary make us more Christian? What is the purpose of Marian Devotion?
Pat Answer:A greater love for Mary is the natural result of becoming more Christ-like. I believe the inverse is true as well: demoting her to “just a good woman” is a result of not becoming more Christ-like.
Are men not better husbands when they come to love what their bride loves? Do people not love others more when they view them through the eyes of those who already love them? Is Jesus not our Brother, and would Mary not be our mother? Are we not better brothers when we love our mother together? Does obedience not cause understanding, and are we not meant to honor our mother? Do God’s people of every generation not call her blessed? In other words, Marian piety is a part of being Christian–she is not a barrier, a burden, or an aspect to weigh against our journey.
Mary allows us to see Jesus as God chose Him to be seen. God chose Mary to give Jesus flesh, and Mary’s perfect faith and cooperation is what made her become the deliverer of the Deliverer! She was the first Christian, she loved Him before anyone, she saw the face of our Lord more perfectly than any of us, she gazed into His eyes while she nursed Him, loved Him perfectly, and we Catholics want to love Him perfectly as well. And with Jesus as our Brother, we have the same mother who nurses us as we too gaze back into her eyes. We do that as St. John had, by taking her into our home. And it is St. John, the disciple whom Jesus gave His mother to, who spent the most time with her, who probably loved her most, and was ultimately able to see her enthroned as Queen of Heaven (cf. Rev 12). We see her crowned in heaven, and a crown is the prize; she is the sign written in Revelation and in the stars that keeps us fixed on our journey.
Q: Why do depictions of Mary seem to always portray her in blue (or red)?
Pat Answer:Imagery in Catholicism is also catechetical – it teaches the Faith. Catholic icons aren’t meant to portray physical realities; they’re meant to portray theological truths. Consider my favorite iconic image: the Burning Bush. The early Church recognized the Burning Bush of the Old Testament as a type of Mary. The Church viewed Mary as the woman who could contain God but not be consumed by Him. In other words, the early Church knew Mary was without sin, and therefore could contain God without burning. Christ pre-emptively purified His mother; a perfect Savior, in one instance, saved most perfectly.
As with the Burning Bush icon, icons of Mary portray theological truths by presenting her in specific colors. Icons normally depict Mary predominantly in blue or red. Specific colors are a result of geography (East or West). Red was a color that symbolized humanity, and blue symbolized divinity; but in other areas blue symbolized humanity and red symbolized divinity. The colors, themselves, don’t matter. What matters is the relationship of the colors!
When you look at images of Mary, notice how she usually has an outer and an inner garment. The outer garment (in most cases) is blue, but her inner garment is red. The theological lesson is that Mary is a created human being (red) who was clothed with God (blue). The lesson becomes even more evident when icons depict Mary with her Son, Jesus. Both Mary and Jesus wear outer and inner garments, but the colors are inversed. Mary, again, is a created being who is clothed with Christ, but Jesus is divine and clothed Himself with humanity.
Q: Why do Catholics call Mary the Mother of God?
Pat Answer:As illustrated in this post’s introduction, many modern American (not original) Protestants are largely formed by an anti-Catholic agenda, and the language St. Elizabeth used in Luke 1:41-43 is very Catholic. Luke’s Gospel reads:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
St. Elizabeth called Mary the Mother of the lord – theotokos – the “God Bearer”. Many Protestants have no issue with St. Elizabeth’s descriptor of Mary, but many American Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe it gives too much glory to Mary because God is eternal, and He cannot be born; a divine Being can’t have a mother.
But Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. Jesus has two natures! The Catholic Church doesn’t believe Mary is mother of Jesus’ divine nature; the Church teaches that Mary is exactly what the Bible suggests: the mother of our Lord. Jesus’ blood is Mary’s blood.
The Protestant objection isn’t derived from the Bible, but it’s derived from a visceral suspicion of Catholic language. If a professing Christian objects to the actual meaning of the Church’s descriptor, then she is denying Jesus’s humanity – in a sense, denying the Incarnation.
Q: Doesn’t the Bible say Jesus had brothers?
Pat Answer: Actually, no. What the Bible communicates is how the “brothers” of Jesus had different mothers; we need understand what “brother” means.
Again, American Protestantism is born out of Americanism, and its linguistic lens is forced onto the Scriptures. Therefore, English Bibles are used to “prove” Catholic tenets wrong (the pursuit to prove Catholicism wrong is nearly a tenet of American Protestantism). There is no theological reason to prove Catholicism wrong in this case; its purpose is its pursuit.
“Brothers” is an English word. The word the Bible uses in every passage that Protestants utilize to argue against Mary’s perpetual virginity is adelphos, which, in most cases, means “cousins.” (Every relational description of Jesus’ “brothers” in the Bible reveals they were cousins.)
A “Bible only” Christian cannot prove from the “Bible only” that Jesus had brothers, because the word “brothers” from the Bible does not mean only “brothers”. What the word communicates is that Jesus had cousins, which the Catholic Church acknowledges. In other words, “Bible-only” Christians who insist Jesus had brothers aren’t really “Bible-only” Christians; they insert their preferred new tradition into the meaning of the Scriptures.
Q: Doesn’t the Bible say Joseph had relations with Mary after Jesus was born?
Pat Answer: No, it doesn’t.
Protestants believe Matthew 1:25 is proof that Mary didn’t remain a virgin. The passage reads: [Joseph] knew her not until she borne a son.
Many Protestants interpret the passage as, “Joseph didn’t know Mary until after Jesus was born.” The problem with that interpretation, of course, is the text doesn’t say that. What it says is Joseph didn’t know Mary before Jesus was born. Period.
The context and the actual relevant words establish how Jesus was born of a virgin. However, the word “until” is what Protestants get hung up on. They believe “until” means there must have been some sort of transition in Joseph’s relations with Mary. But again, the biblical text cannot establish the Protestant assumption. In the Bible, the word “until” is used many times, and the word doesn’t demand a change. In the actual language of the Bible, “until” means “up until that point”. So, what the Bible teaches in Matthew 1:25 is exactly Catholic: Joseph never knew Mary up until the point of Jesus’ birth; Jesus was born of a virgin–the point of the passage is to highlight the virgin birth and not some future sex life. As for what happened after Jesus’ birth is not addressed in the passage.
Q: How do you know Mary remained a virgin?
Pat Answer: Because she indicated her intention to remain a virgin.
Luke 1:27-34 reads:
. . . The angel Gabriel was sent from God . . . to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, . . . and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, . . . Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. . . . And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
The Angel didn’t tell Mary she would soon have a son; he told her that she would have a son at some point possibly in the distant future. What the Annunciation account reveals is that a woman who knew she was going to be married was confused as to how she would become pregnant. If Mary had planned on having relations with Joseph then she would not have asked, How shall this be?
So, again, the “Bible only” supports the Catholic Church.
Q: Doesn’t the Bible call every person a sinner?
Pat Answer: Actually, no.
Like a machine gun, a lot of Protestants just fire away hoping something sticks. They want the Bible to somehow prove the Catholic Church is wrong. And since the Catholic Church maintains that Mary never sinned, Protestants attack that very notion, and they use Scripture to do so. They quote Romans 3:23, which reads, . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
But when the rubber meets the road, Protestants don’t really believe the verse means every person sinned. They would admit aborted babies don’t sin. They would admit some mentally disabled people don’t sin. They would admit Jesus never sinned. In other words, they know the passage doesn’t mean what they say it means when they want to attack the Catholic Church.
Such people are actually hunting for a way to call Mary a sinner. Such people want the world to think they’re “Bible Christians”, yet they’re unable to find a single biblical example of any sin Mary committed. The hunt is more satanic than Christian (cf. Revelation 12:10).
The passage’s meaning, of course, is clear: humanity is sinful, most people sin. Catholics agree, of course, but they don’t force the passage to provide an excuse for people to one day proudly tell our Master face-to-face how His mother is a sinner.
Q: Don’t you think Mary and Joseph would have had a “normal” married life?
Pat Answer: There’s nothing “normal” about Mary and Joseph.
I prefer to believe what is reasonable, not what American Protestants believe is “normal”. “Normal” is Protestant code for “sexual”. But this question reveals a very telling difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholics adhere to revealed truth, so there is no wriggle room to force personal preferences onto truth. Protestantism, however, has no means of knowing truth, so any individual member can call anything “true” – with no contest.
No, I don’t think Mary and Joseph had a “normal” (sexual) married life. There is no Scriptural, historical, reasonable, or theological reason to believe it. Nor is there any reason why a Christian should demand it.
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