Monday, March 26, 2007

Why Mariology is So Offensive to Protestants

Like many others, my greatest hurdle to the Catholic Church was Mariology. I have thought about this for some time as I'm now reaching the light at the end of the tunnel for what has been (for me) a very slow and reluctant process; that is - coming to accept Mariology on an intellectual level.

There are a couple reasons why Mariology is so difficult for Protestants. First, its not an easy doctrine. Just like the Trinity, its a little more like trying to eat a very tough piece of meat and a little less like eating mashed potatoes -- it just doesnt go down that easily.

But the other major reason is this (and some Catholics may not like me using this language) but the real problem seems to be that Mary occupies real estate in catholics' hearts that to Protestants belong only to Christ. That is the key issue. It's less about theology and more about roles - who plays what role.

In Mel Gibson's movie "Apocalypto" there was a disturbing scene (to me) where a woman prayed to her mother-goddess and asked protection for 'all her children' or something to that effect. The language was clearly intended to shift our minds towards the blessed virgin.

I'm not sure Gibson's motives there, but it seems to me that he could've chosen to write these lines to show that many different cultures have a mother figure in their world of theology and Catholicism has the true mother of humanity - Mary.

Whatever his intention, I think the end result probably just opens Mariology for more criticism. The anti-Catholic is now all the more likely to accuse us of borrowing the 'motherly deity' from paganism.

Pope John Paul II's famous plea to Mary immediately upon being shot was another well known example of the very issue I'm talking about. I don't think cradle-Catholics can understand how deeply offensive this is to a Protestant. I know; I was one and I was deeply offended.

I knew I would eventually have to come to terms with Mariology, this glaring beast of an offensive doctrine. In my early days exploring the Church, I wondered how the Catholic Church ended up so right on so many issues and yet so wrong on this one...

Later I began to wonder, if there were one Church that had all the right answers to every thing, how likely would it be that I would have arrived at all the same conclusions on my own? I didn't need a calculator for that one.

So for some time, I kept the issue on the back burner. Everytime I thought about the issue or read apologetics, I was dissapointed or worse - angry at the lack of (what I thought to be) clear answers for my questions.

My questions were never - How is it possible that Mary was immaculately conceived? Are there any typological prefigurements of Mary in the Old Testament? Why is the assumption a doctrine since the Bible never talks about it? How come the Bible says there is only One mediator between God and man but Cathoics call her mediatrix? (These are all the questions answered by traditional Marian apologetics - but none of them were really what I was asking)

I think many other Protestants and former Protestants ask the same sorts of questions that I was asking and I've even heard some cradle Catholics ask them. Over time I began to understand that my fundamental issue was this- we have a certain void in our hearts as human beings - vacant real estate if you will. To a Protestant, we fill this void with two things - Jesus(and sometimes God the Father but rarely if ever the Holy Spirit) & the Bible. But Catholics fill this void with the Trinity, the Bible, sacred tradition, the saints and worst of all... Mary!

I say 'worst of all' because I later caught myself being less offended at certain involvements of other saints than I was at Mary. Example: I found myself offended when certain prayers were asking for Mary's 'protection' but later I realized that I was never offended when we prayed to Saint Michael the archangel for protection. I had to do some serious self auditing to find the reasons behind this.

Now about this real estate issue - the best illustration that I could come up with to explain the situation was to compare coming from a Protestant background to a Catholic background to coming from an Islamic background to a Christian background. To a Muslim, considering God as "Father" is a highly offensive concept (or so I'm told). Yet all of us would agree that the term "Father" is a highly appropriate way to describe God's relationship to us.

So I think it's well within reason to assume that some of the difficulties of moving from Islam to Christianity might be just as difficult as moving from Protestant to Catholicism. Likewise, if you've grown up a liberal, it may be extremely difficult and even offensive for you to accept the fact that Christianity objectively teaches that homosexual acts are immoral.

There are many other examples that we could bring up here. But the point is, the degree to which I am offended at an issue has absolutely no bearing on whether its true or not. To be sure, its difficult for anyone to change their 'center of gravity', so to speak, on theological issues.

Realizing, at least in part, why I was so personally offended at the issue of Mariology has helped me deal with the issue head on. I still have a lot of work to do - it hasn't even been 2 years for me. You can't readjust your theology overnight! But with the help of Christ (and the intercession of Mary) I'll be just fine.

Now on the issue of the complexity of Mariology, I'll have more discussion on this topic in subsequent posts but the underlying point which needs to be understood is that Mariology is inseperably linked with Christology and vice versa.


Athanasius contra mundo said...

I used to have trouble with many aspects of Mariology too, even though I am a cradle Catholic

Tiber Jumper said...

Part of the "offense to Protestants" is based on years of indoctrination with a false view of mariology. You can tell a fundamentalist to their face that we don't worship mary and they will say; "Catholics worship Mary." It has happened to me.
One thing that helped me was the simple transitive(?) property :
If Jesus is our Brother, and Mary is His mother, than Mary must be our Mother too!
This is an interesting and helpful post GFF. Perhaps you should consider getting on the CHN forum to copy and paste this as many seekers will benefit from your writing here.

Amber said...

Great post... I can say it was a bit of an issue for me as well... Though I understand it on an intellectual level, my heart has yet to grasp Mary and all that she means...

Johnny Vino said...


I really enjoyed reading that, and I wanted to comment, but my rambling got out of hand! I posted my thoughts at my blog if you want to read them.


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

Johnny - I do the same thing all the time. I'll head on over and check it out.

japhy said...

If Catholics did worship Mary as certain anti-Catholics make us out to, how would we dare deny it?

(Or would we just buy our way out of penance?) ;)

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Good point Japhy, I never thought about that.

I tried to buy myself out of penance and the priest told me Bill Gates didn't have enough to get me off the hook!

Sister Moon said...

I just read this about Mary. I'm a convert who came in the church this Easter Vigil.


52. God has established only one enmity - but it is an irreconcilable one - which will last and even go on increasing to the end of time. That enmity is between Mary, his worthy Mother, and the devil. Satan fears her not only more than angels and men but in a certain sense more than God himself. This does not mean that the anger, hatred and power of God are not infinitely greater than the Blessed Virgin's, since her attributes are limited. It simply means that Satan, being so proud, suffers infinitely more in being vanquished and punished by a lowly and humble servant of God, for her humility humiliates him more than the power of God. Moreover, God has given Mary such great power over the evil spirits that, as they have often been forced unwillingly to admit through the lips of possessed persons, they fear one of her pleadings for a soul more than the prayers of all the saints, and one of her threats more than all their other torments.

53. What Lucifer lost by pride Mary won by humility. What Eve ruined and lost by disobedience Mary saved by obedience. By obeying the serpent, Eve ruined her children as well as herself and delivered them up to him. Mary by her perfect fidelity to God saved her children with herself and consecrated them to his divine majesty..
-st. louis de montfort (true devotion)

Anonymous said...

Great post and great replies! As a cradle Catholic who had investigated leaving "the whore of Babylon" for a "true" church, I prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and at one point, I even prayed to Mary, asking her how she should be honored -- not worshipped. I was surprised one day, while driving down the expressway by myself, to hear a woman's voice reply to my prayer: "Honor me by loving my Son." That was good enough for me.

God bless.


George Weis said...


Hey man, I'm not sure what you mean about "rarely the Holy Spirit". Indeed he has the entirety of my spiritual real estate. None other abides in me, but he allows me to abide in Christ, and Christ in God The Father. Of course all are one in the same, and yet different.

It is not that I believe she is worshiped, but I do believe she is lifted to high. Goodness she is only mentioned a handful of times in the Gospels.

Protestants make to little, and to be honest I think RCs make to much.

On other veneration, I recently met a woman outside of the RC church down the street. She ended up talking to me about St. Anthony. She had her little picture on a keychain, and said with wide eyes... pray to saint Anthony if ever you lose anything. No mention of the Lord. She was a sweet woman, and yet where was her interest in Christ. Not really fair to go much further than that question... I know not all RCs have an evangelical bent. But boy, if we met someone and we had the reference of being in front of a church... why wouldn't Christ be on the lips?

What's on the lips is often what you love ;)


Tim A. Troutman said...

These are difficult and extremely complex issues for Protestants (and us former Protestants).

It takes a lot of prayer and contemplation but more than anything else it takes humility.

It doesn't take humility in the way that everyone who has humility will agree with me or that everyone who agrees with me has humility. But absolutely no one without humility could ever go from rejection of Mariology/veneration of saints and accept it.

It took me well over a year to get over and there are still very small issues I have and I have certainly seen things that I disagreed with. Anyway, this is a discussion for someone who's considering conversion and is having a difficult time with this doctrine. It's not a selling point of the Church for a Protestant.

In other words, there's no real sense in us diving into this doctrine since you're not interested in converting and hence it is not an issue you're "struggling" with but rather something that you aren't interested in because from your perspective it is not only unhelpful but even potentially harmful and or distracting.

George Weis said...

You are a smart guy Tim :)

Do you get that impression that I'm not interested in converting?

Bless you bro... say more Our Fathers than Hail Marys just to put my mind at ease :D


Tim A. Troutman said...

I appreciate the complement (whether its true or not!) and of all Protestant issues with Catholicism, this is the one that I have genuine sympathy for - especially Mariology.

I was as anti-Mariology as they come before my conversion (and even during it). In fact, if you read my early posts on this blog concerning Mary, you can actually see the anger in my posts. While I've come full circle now, I leave those posts up for a reason.

I didn't mean to say I think you have no intention of converting I just didnt want to presume.

If there's one thing I think I can tell about you its that you're genuine and that you want the Lord's will for your life whatever that may be.

In my world view, the authentic voice of the Holy Spirit would only lead one towards (not away) from His Church which I believe to be the Catholic Church. So, I'll leave all that in God's hands (as if it were my choice anyway) and feel confident that even if you don't intend to convert or don't ever end up doing so, God still can and will use you and lead you into truth.

George Weis said...

Well, you are more than welcome for the compliment. I meant it as a true statement from my point of view.
I also thank you for your kindness to me. If anything I desire to be genuinely abandoned to God.

I appreciate your thoughts, as I do feel that in your heart of hearts you too are seeking the truth. What I find is that the truth about history may not be as clear cut as we make it or like it to be. We are all full of bias. You are interesting, because you left your former bias.

However, I have known many other intellectual types that did the exact opposite, so unfortunately that doesn't matter to much.

At any rate, I hope that we pray for one another, that God's grace would indeed direct us to where he wants us to be. May we also seek to do what He would have us do.

Bless you brother. I do indeed love you even from a distance.


Erik said...

How do you define 'worship'?

Tim A. Troutman said...

Erik, sorry for the delay in response.

Here's a good place to start: