Chapter 6 - Mary
There are several teachings of the Catholic Church in regard to Mary that Protestants often object to. Those teachings are:
1) The Immaculate Conception; 2) Mary being without sin her entire life; 3) The perpetual virginity of Mary; 4) The Assumption of Mary; 5) Mary as "Mother of God"; 6) Mary as "Queen of Heaven"; and 7) Mary as the mother of all Christians.
The Immaculate Conception
First, before discussing how to defend this dogma from the biblical, historical, and logical perspectives, let me state exactly what this teaching is: "The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin," (CCC # 491).
One objection I often hear when someone is challenging the Church's teachings on the Immaculate Conception is this: "Nowhere in the Bible does it use the words 'Immaculate Conception.'" The assumption is that for something to be considered authentic Christian teaching, it has to be found directly in the Bible. I addressed that in an earlier chapter, but suffice it to say that if that's true, then we need to also throw out Christian belief on the Trinity and on the Incarnation - because neither of those words is directly mentioned in the Bible either. We also need to stop with all the altar calls, Wednesday night church services, and Bible studies, amongst other things, because none of those things are directly mentioned in Scripture.
Someone might then say, "Well, even though the words 'Trinity' and 'Incarnation' are not found directly in the Bible, there is a lot of Scripture that directly addresses those beliefs. However, there is nothing in the Bible that speaks of Mary's Immaculate Conception either directly or indirectly."
When faced with that response, you need to first ask the question: "Is there a passage in Scripture which directly states that Mary was not conceived without Original Sin, or that she was not immaculately conceived?" They will not be able to answer you, because there is no such passage. They will, however, attempt to answer you by bringing up Romans, chapter 3. Rom 3:9-12, “…I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.’” And, Rom 3:22-23, “For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” “See”, they will say, “The Bible says that all are under the power of sin and that all have sinned. No one is righteous, no, not one." Therefore, Mary had to have sinned.
Don't get thrown off by this. You were asking about the Church's teaching on Mary being immaculately conceived, and they are responding to the Church's teaching on Mary being sinless her entire life. Point out the difference, tell them that you will get to Mary's sinlessness in a moment, and then once again ask the question: "Is there a passage in Scripture which directly states that Mary was not conceived without Original Sin, or that she was not immaculately conceived?" There is no such Scripture passage so they have to either say, "No," or remain silent, or bring up a passage that is unrelated to the question.
Then, you can say, "Okay, we've established that there is no passage of the Bible which states that Mary was not immaculately conceived. Since there is nothing in the Bible that says this did not happen, why do you have a problem with me believing it?" At which point they might say, "Because the Bible nowhere says it IS true!" To this you simply respond, "Do you believe contraception is okay?" Since most Protestants do, they will probably say, "Yes." You then respond, "But the Bible nowhere says that contraception is okay."
When I've pointed out to people in the past that contraception is nowhere supported by Scripture, the response I usually receive goes something like this: "Well, the Bible is silent on the matter, so if it doesn't condemn it, then it's okay to believe in it." Which means their reasoning goes something like this: the Bible is silent on contraception, so contraception is okay; the Bible is silent on the Immaculate Conception, so the Immaculate Conception is not okay. What this does is point out the double standard that many have regarding Protestant beliefs and practices and the Bible vs. Catholic beliefs and practices and the Bible.
You can then continue by telling them you want to look at some Scripture verses that do, in fact, indirectly support the Church's teaching on the Immaculate Conception. First, go back to the Old Testament, Genesis 3:14-15: "“The Lord said to the serpent…I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
This is a clear reference here in Genesis to Jesus Christ conquering Satan, bruising Satan’s head - dealing a death blow to Satan. And Jesus is the seed of what woman? This is the only place in Scripture that I know of where it mentions the woman’s seed, and not the man’s seed. We normally associate the seed with the man, not the woman. And, of course we know why it says "her seed" here in Genesis, because Mary conceived Jesus of the Holy Spirit – not of man. The Virgin Birth.
Again, the seed of "the woman" is described as bruising the head of the serpent - Satan. All Christians know that this verse is referring to Jesus Christ. Genesis 3:15 is often referred to as the proto-evangelium - the first good news - a promise of One to come Who will defeat the power of Satan. So, if "her seed" refers to Jesus, then who does "her" refer to? Obviously, "the woman" spoken of here in Gen 3:15 is Mary.
What else do we see in Gen 3:15? God Himself tells Satan that He, God, will put enmity between Satan and the woman, Mary. Enmity, in my dictionary, is defined as “hostility between enemies”. That is an amazing thing! God Himself tells Satan that He, God, will put hostility between Satan and Mary. That He, God, will make Satan and Mary enemies. If you have sin in you, can you say that there is enmity between you and Satan? If one is conceived in sin, or if one sins by willfully disobeying God and His commandments, then are you not in both cases on the side of Satan? If you are a sinner, aren’t you actually on Satan’s side, at least until such time as you repent and confess of your sin? So, the question is: If God Himself put enmity between Satan and Mary, how can anyone say that she was conceived in sin, or that she ever committed a personal sin? Did God not do what He said He would do? Or, was it that God put enmity between Satan and Mary, but Satan was stronger than God and occasionally overcame what God had done? Ask someone who doubts the Immaculate Conception to explain to you what it means when God says He will put enmity between Satan and the woman.
From the first book of the Bible we move to the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Revelation, chapter 12.
In this chapter we see "the woman" (verse 4), the "male child" who is to "rule all the nations with a rod of iron" (verse 5) and "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan" (verse 9). To recall, Genesis 3:15 had "the woman," the "seed," or child, of the woman, and "the serpent," Satan. In Genesis 3:15, God puts enmity between the woman and Satan. In Revelation 12, we see that Satan pursues the woman (verse 13) but, because of a special grace from God (verse 14), he never catches her. This caused Satan to be angry with the woman (there's that "enmity" thing) and to go off and make war on the rest of her offspring - those who "keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus."
The parallels between Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 are pretty hard to miss. The woman, the "seed" or child of the woman, and Satan in both passages. The promise of Satan's eventual defeat in Gen 3:15 and the realization of that promise in Rev 12. And, as God put enmity between the woman and Satan in Gen 3:15, we see that Satan never catches the woman in Revelation 12, and is very angry with her.
Now, some will say that the woman represents the Church, because it is the Church that brings Jesus to the world; or that she represents Israel, because Jesus is a child of Israel. And, at one level of interpretation, they would be right. The image of the woman can be a metaphor for either the Church or Israel. There are many passages of Scripture that can have different levels of meaning, and this is one of them. However, at the most basic level of meaning, the woman is also a real person - Mary, the mother of Jesus. After all, no one ever says that the male child who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron is a metaphor. Nor do they say that the ancient serpent, Satan, is a metaphor. Why then do they claim "the woman" is only a metaphor? They claim that because they do not want her to be Mary. To admit that could damage some of their arguments against Catholic teaching on Mary. So, in the parallel passage of Gen 3:15, we see three real persons, but in chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation, we supposedly only have two real persons and a metaphor?
Now, I am not about to say that either of these passages "proves," from the Bible, that Mary was immaculately conceived. I never say this or that passage of Scripture absolutely proves anything. What I am saying, is that these passages can offer indirect support for that belief. As discussed in a previous chapter, if, according to Protestant theology on Sola Scriptura, I have the right to read and interpret the Bible for myself, and I choose to interpret those passages as supporting the Catholic teaching on the Immaculate Conception, how can any Protestant tell me that I'm wrong in my interpretation? They can tell me that they disagree with my interpretation, but they cannot tell me that my interpretation is wrong, unless they wish to be inconsistent in their theology.
Two more verses of Scripture: Luke 1:28 and 1:42. In Luke 1:28, we have the famous greeting of God, through the angel, to Mary: "Hail, full of grace." Many of the Protestant translations will say, "highly favored," instead of full of grace, but we can work with that. If Mary is "full of grace," as the Catholic translation says, then the question is: When did she become full of grace? One can make the argument that it was at the moment of her conception that she became full of grace and there is nothing in Scripture to contradict that argument. After all, we see that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15), could not God have filled Mary with the Holy Spirit from the moment of her conception? Ask someone if it is possible for God to do such a thing and see what they say.
Or, if she was "highly favored," then at what point did she become highly favored by God? Could it not have been at her conception? Also, we need to ask the question: Was Mary more highly favored than Eve? If Mary was more highly favored than Eve, and Eve was immaculately created - created without sin - could Mary not then have been immaculately created?
God created Eve without sin, couldn’t He have done the same for Mary? Who is greater, the woman who was the instrument through which salvation came into the world, or the woman who was the instrument through which sin came into the world? Is Mary greater than Eve? Yes or no? Is not Mary referred to by Elizabeth as “Blessed among women?” And was not Elizabeth “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she spoke those words? [Lk 1:41-42].
Did Mary not say, in Lk 1:48, that “all generations will call me blessed?” Do all generations call Eve blessed? Is Mary greater than Eve? Yes or no? Isn’t Mary, by the mere fact that she bore God in her womb, the greatest of all women? Then, isn’t it at least possible, if not probable, that God would have saved Mary from sin from the very moment of her creation? Doesn't it make sense that God, who created the physical mother of us all without sin, would create the spiritual mother of us all (Rev 12:17) without sin? Doesn't it make sense that God, who created the woman through whom sin came into the world without sin, would create the woman through whom salvation came into the world without sin?
So, from a scriptural perspective, we do not have anything that tells us Mary was not immaculately conceived, and we do have some indirect scriptural support for that belief. From a logical perspective, it makes an awful lot of sense that Mary, who is "full of grace" and "blessed among women," would not be created with a lower stature than Eve was created. Eve was created without sin, and if Mary is greater than Eve, then it makes sense for Mary to be created without sin also. Finally, we have the historical perspective of the Church that tells us that Mary was indeed immaculately conceived. So, if history is saying, "Yes," and the scriptures do not deny it, and it does not go outside the bounds of logic, then how can someone say it is not true? On what do they base their argument? Scripture? No. Tradition? No. Logic? No. A preconceived belief that they held because someone taught them that before they ever picked up the Bible to investigate the matter?
Mary Being Without Sin
This dogma is obviously closely related to the Immaculate Conception, since if Mary was without sin her entire life, she would have to have been without sin at the moment of her conception. This particular belief in regard to Mary is where the loudest howls of protest come in from non-Catholics and, unfortunately, sometimes from those who call themselves Catholic. I see the arguments against the Immaculate Conception as merely a sidebar to the arguments against Mary's lifelong sinlessness. After all, if God stepped into history and created Mary without sin, then that would be a good foundation from which to argue for Mary's perpetual sinlessness. So I believe that the arguments against the Immaculate Conception, are simply the result of folks not wanting to give an inch in regards to their belief that Mary was not without sin her entire life.
As I mentioned above, the Scripture verses that will almost always be mentioned first, when arguing Mary as having been without sin, will come from chapter 3 of Romans: Rom 3:9-12, “…I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.’” And, Rom 3:22-23, “For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” “See”, they will say, “The Bible says that all are under the power of sin and that all have sinned. No one is righteous, no, not one." They have made these words of Scripture an absolute. "All" have sinned. It says, "all," by golly, so that means all, everyone, without exception. Which means, they believe, that Mary could not have been without sin her entire life.
The very first thing I do when presented by someone with these passages as "proof" that Mary had to have sinned, is to ask that person a question. And that question is this: "Are you seeking God in your life?" If I'm speaking to them in person, I almost always get a quick retort of, "Absolutely!" To which I respond by pointing out that they just contradicted the Bible. Romans 3:11 states very specifically that "no one seeks for God," yet they just told me that they do indeed seek for God. How can that be? Either they've just contradicted the Bible, or there is a problem with their absolutist interpretation of this passage of Scripture.
Another question you could ask at this point is this: "Is praying to God a good thing?" You will undoubtedly be answered in the affirmative. You then ask, "Do you pray?" And they will respond that they do. You can then make the observation that by praying, they are doing good; yet, in Rom 3:12, it says that "no one does good, not even one." So, once again, either they have contradicted the Bible, or there is a problem with their absolutist interpretation of these passages from Romans.
If they interpret "all have sinned" as meaning every single human being, without exception, they can't then turn around and interpret "No one seeks for God" and "No one does good" as not meaning every single human being, without exception. But, their absolutist interpretation of these passages puts them in the position, if they wish to not contradict the teaching of the Bible, of having to say they do not seek God in their lives, or that they never do anything good in their lives. Both of which are ridiculous things to have to admit if you're a "saved" Christian doing your best to follow God's will for your life.
[To be continued...]