Mary: Spiritual Motherhood & Rosary: Dialogue w Protestant

Mary: Spiritual Motherhood & Rosary: Dialogue w Protestant August 12, 2019

This dialogue came about as a result of Jack DisPennett‘s critique of my paper, The Blessed Virgin Mary: Biblical & Catholic Overview. His words will be in blue.


If Jesus wanted to give her as a mother to all Christians, why was this fact not made clearer?

Why was the Trinity not made clearer? Why was not the doctrine of original sin made clearer? Why was not the allegedly biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura made clearer? These questions go nowhere, and are just as troublesome for Protestants as Catholics, as I argued above. I’ve given what I feel to be the biblical evidence for each of these beliefs.

You can disagree with my interpretation if you like, but no progress in mutual understanding can take place where the main point is: “why isn’t so-and-so clearer in Scripture?,” or, “why didn’t God do thus-and-so instead of what He chose to do?”

As with other Marian doctrines, unbiased exegesis provides no clear support. There is no biblical warrant other than to take the story about Jesus giving Mary to John’s care at it’s face value: Christ making sure that His mother was cared for in her earthly life.

I gave other biblical arguments, such as from Revelation 12:1, 5, 7 and various lesser and more indirect indications, which acquire their force (as do many Catholic doctrines) through cumulative effect.

Fasten your seat belts, cause here we go:

This is far from conclusive. John hardly fits the role for symbolizing the whole church; Peter would be better, since he was, in Catholic thought at least, the leader.

The only problem with this, is that Peter wasn’t present at the Cross. Jesus wished to make a point, and John was the only disciple present, so he served as the figure and type in Jesus’ statement.

Also, notice that Mary fades from view after this passage (mentioned only once more by name in the NT).

This is accounted for by the primacy of Christ, and development of doctrine.

Thus, I think it is dangerous for us to base entire doctrines solely on isolated stories in a narrative, since it becomes like balancing a pyramid on it’s point. We will see if any of your other points provide a basis for the Motherhood of Mary over the Church. This one is too speculative to prove anything.

Is it any more “speculative” than Protestantism basing its entire authority structure on a doctrine nowhere found explicitly (nor, I would argue, implicitly) in Scripture: sola Scriptura? At least our view is self-consistent. Yours is not (it is self-defeating). Protestants also have to appeal to Catholic Church authority and early Church Tradition in order to get the canon of the New Testament: which is absolutely not found in the Bible itself. But with Mariology, I think I have shown that there is plenty of material to work with, sufficient for a strong case, even from the Bible Alone (which is your principle, not ours, in the first place).

As for asking Mary for prayer, there is nothing biblically wrong with doing so; however, to sit and pray to Mary for long periods of time (e.g. as in the Rosary) seems to be a bit more than just asking someone to pray for you (the Biblical pattern).

The main point of the Rosary is a meditation on the life of Christ, and what He accomplished for us on the Cross: i.e., the central aspects of Christianity, period. The Blessed Virgin Mary is part of the Rosary because she was involved in our Lord’s ministry: and indispensably at that, especially with regard to His Incarnation.

The repeated “Hail Mary, full of grace . . . ” is mostly drawn straight from Scripture (this first clause was uttered by an angel at the Annunciation), and forms a “background” for meditation on the various mysteries, which are the “main ingredient” of the Rosary. Now, if you want to raise some (supposedly “biblical”) objection against extended meditation on the life of Jesus, the Cross, the Resurrection, etc., then go right ahead. I’d love to see that done from a Protestant perspective.

First of all, to say that Mary is a “part” of the Rosary is a gross understatement. Mary is invoked in prayer 53 times in the Rosary (54 if you include the optional “Hail Holy Queen” prayer at the end.) God is invoked in prayer only 6 times (13 if you include all of the optional prayers, and 21 if you include all of the “Glory Be” and “In the name of” liturgies under the genre of prayer). Thus, God is invoked a maximum of 21 times in the rosary, while Mary is invoked a minimum of 53. Thus, Mary is invoked about 2.5 times more often than God is.

Again, you are missing the point, and not interacting with what I wrote. The “Hail Mary’s” are a background to the meditation on (mostly) the events in the life of Jesus Christ. I think I have heard it said that such repetition was designed to concentrate the pray-er on the right things, so as to not get distracted (a fact we are all familiar with in prayer). Essentially, in the Rosary, one is saying the Hail Mary’s, asking Mary to intercede, but meditating on the mysteries.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that. Repetition of a prayer (itself comprised mostly of biblical passages) does not in the least suggest a denigration of, or competition with God. All that is, is yet another Protestant false dichotomy (one of many), and proof that you have little or no comprehension of what is going on internally in a Catholic who is praying the Rosary.

As far as the 15 mysteries, 13 of them are purely Biblical, and the last two, are based on Catholic traditions.

There you go! How could a Christian object to a meditation so overwhelmingly biblical? We disagree on two of fifteen meditations (and I make lengthy biblical arguments about those on my website); so what? Christians will always disagree on some interpretations, but it seems to me that you could simply acknowledge the biblical and Christ-centered nature of the Rosary and let it go at that.

I take big issue with the coronation, but I’ll let that slide for the time being. Thus, you have a good set of meditations, and thus I am utterly befuddled by the fact that, while you are meditating on the life, passion, and Resurrection of Christ, you pray to His mother, a non-divine, mere flesh and blood human being, twice as often as you invoke God.

We are asking for her intercession. Mere repetition is not unbiblical (many Psalms; much of the prophetic books, and also the Pentateuch; the endless “Hallelujah’s” and “praise the Lords” uttered at many Protestant church services, especially pentecostal ones). Nor have you proven that the Rosary is “vain repetition.” Why must you pit one against the other?

We’re merely asking one eminent person (the Mother of God the Son) to pray for us while we are meditating on what her Son, Jesus has done for us. Would you rather that we pray to Jesus the whole time and meditate on Mary? Obviously, it is a Christ-centered devotion, and that was my main point. Even you concede that; you just don’t like the Hail Mary’s.

This is almost like talking out of both sides of one’s mouth. You are supposed to be meditating on the life of Christ; how about praying 54 prayers to Him and only about 21 (or even less) to Mary.

You draw a false dichotomy, based on a fallacy; namely, that Catholics regard asking Mary to intercede in the same fashion as we do a direct prayer to Jesus (thus placing her on God’s level). We see the two “prayers” as separate but not mutually exclusive. Say, e.g., a soldier is dying on the field of battle and a chaplain comes to attend to his spiritual needs. He has one minute to live. If he says to the chaplain “please pray for me” and then dies immediately after that, would you say that he was not also intending his sentiment to go “through” the chaplain to God? We say he was (or could be) doing both.

But since Protestants are so dead-set against the communion of saints, they always think that the practice is somehow antithetical to prayers to God, when in fact it is simply complementary, and based on “the prayers of a righteous man availeth much.” You admit that Mary was very righteous. Very well, then, we think her prayers are quite powerful because of her righteousness and proximity to Jesus, so we ask her to pray for us a lot, in the Rosary, while meditating on Jesus, who is the ultimate recipient of our prayers, through Mary as intercessor.

Then again, many Protestants object to crucifixes, as if there is anything wrong with, or “unbiblical” about, meditation on Jesus’ redemptive death for us (an objection held because, we are told, He is now resurrected and seated at the right hand of God the Father). At the same time, the people saying this see no problem with meditating on Jesus as a baby, every Christmas. If we can think about our Lord as a baby (which He most assuredly is not, anymore), why not as Savior of the world on a cross?

I’ve never understood this. It seems to me like the worst logical and biblical problems in Protestantism concentrated into one absurd, essentially silly objection to a perfectly Christian and pious thing to do: a meditation on the most important event that ever occurred in world history and salvation history. Strange, odd . . .

I have no problem with crucifixes. Paul stated that while he was among the Corinthians he wanted to know only Christ, and Him crucified. It is just that we must be careful not to pray to such images.

We can’t pray to Jesus while looking at an image of Him? We must close our eyes to pray? Where is that in the Bible?

There is nothing wrong, however, with using them for meditation pieces or reminders. Often anti-Catholics tend to believe that Catholics don’t believe in the Risen Christ, because of the emphasis on crucifixes, but that is an obvious misconception.

Excellent; good for you.

For example, if I met you and spent two or three hours just asking you to pray for me and talking about how you were a great servant of God, over and over, you would probably begin to think that my focus was not on God but on man.

Sure, but this has nothing to do with the Rosary, because, clearly, you are unfamiliar with what it is about. Join the crowd . . . I was the same way before I converted.

I am not unfamiliar with the Rosary. I got my Rosary statistics from a Catholic site, from which, incidentally, I stumbled upon the link to your site for the first time.)

You are unfamiliar with praying it. That’s what I meant. And you don’t seem to have talked to any Catholics who do. I’m not the most devotional-type Catholic in the world, either. I’m sure many, many Catholics could explain the experience of praying the Rosary better than I have.

I disagree with the statement [from Fulton Sheen] that “He needed her.” God could have chosen any other woman to carry His Son had He so willed.

Of course, but what was meant was that the Incarnation required a human: a woman. No more, no less. He didn’t need Mary in the sense that He couldn’t have chosen to enter the world in some other fashion (say, as an adult, like Adam). He “needed” her in the sense that, having chosen a birth as a baby as the route to Incarnation, and thus requiring genes from the mother, etc., that Mary was then “necessary” secondarily, to achieve that divine purpose.

Even if I admit that this would acquite Immaculate Conception (which I will not for a moment admit), He still could have immaculately conceived any other woman. The existence of any created being is totally contingent on God’s will: God loves everyone, but He does not “need” anyone. Mary was the one who needed Him, and not vice versa.

We have no disagreement here, so it is a moot point. You misunderstood Fulton Sheen’s reasoning.

I would agree that knowing the Lord is “enough,” since He was enough for Paul and the other Apostles.

In a skeletal, lowest common denominator sense, yes. But Catholics are interested in the fullness of the Gospel and biblical, apostolic Christianity. A king would still be a king if he sat on a simple frame chair in a bare white room, in the dark and cold, naked and all alone. But the point is that the king surrounds himself with a resplendent court, colors, music, food, and (oftentimes) the Queen Mother as well. That is how God presents Himself in Revelation. Catholics are merely applying this fullness of Christianity in this life, insofar as it is possible to do so.

I don’t see how a mere human being could have such honor alongside God. The Bible only talks about the King; a Queen is never mentioned, and I think that giving such a laudatory and singular heavenly Royal Title to any mere human being is apt to lead to an overemphasis on that human being.

I gave the examples of Revelation 12 and the Queen-Mother Bathsheba.

(Mary, my Catholic friends tell me, could not intercede for everyone perfectly then, because she was still on earth. This is why, they say, her name was not invoked in the epistles, except for a vague reference in Galatians 4).

This is more than adequately accounted for by development of doctrine, and Paul’s purpose in his letters.

Concerning the woman of Revelation 12:
Most Protestant scholars interpret this woman as being the nation of Israel (note the twelve stars.) We are her “seed” because we belong to Him who is the seed of Abraham (Christ–see Galatians 3).

Well, Catholics believe the passage has a multiple application: to Israel, the Church, and Mary. This is not at all uncommon in Holy Scripture.

Also, I was under the understanding that Mary did not experience pain in childbirth according to Catholicism, in direct contradistinction to this passage. Applying this passage to the church doesn’t seem to be very good exegesis, since Christ was not produced by the church after this manner, but preceded the church.

But Israel preceded the Church and Jesus’ birth, and the Church was an extension of Israel, as the “people of God.”

The nation of Israel was often unfaithful and played the whore, and even I myself would hate to see that often unfaithful nation compared to Mary.

Your view of Israel is not the Apostle Paul’s You need to read the entire chapter eleven of the Book of Romans.

The pain of Mary at Jesus’ birth could have been a spiritual agony, knowing what was to happen to Him.

That is speculative, and I tend to think that Mary did not understand His future passion at that time, hence this probably cannot be “spiritual agony” either Mary didn’t understand many things about Jesus early on (Luke 2:50)

How do you conclude “many things” from a passage which states that she didn’t understand one thing Jesus said? The angel told her at the Annunciation that Jesus was the Son of God (Luke 1:35) and the Messiah (Luke 1:32-33). If Mary was familiar with the Scriptures about the Suffering Messiah (e.g., Isaiah 53), then she could have come to this conclusion through deduction alone, apart from likely divine revelation given to her.

Simeon’s prophecy to Mary in Luke 2:34-35 alluded to the fact that Jesus would be “opposed” and that a “sword” would “pierce” Mary’s “soul.” So although it isn’t an airtight argument, I believe that the Catholic view of the passage is biblically plausible.

Yes, but as I noted above, Mary probably did not understand all of this early on.

The Bible just taught that she did (at least in part)! You have no basis for your conclusion “probably” other than your own unsupported opinion. You assume (against both Scripture and a strong Apostolic Tradition) that Mary was more or less ordinary, a sinner like all of us; therefore she didn’t have any particular advantage of knowledge . . .

It is speculative to say that Mary is symbolized here. Mary was from the tribe of Judah; she was not from all of the tribes, since no human possibly could be. The twelve stars obviously symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, we conclude that that the woman represents Israel. There could, of course, be double symbolism, but it is speculative for us to say. I also doubt, for reasons delineated above, that one single person could be symbolized here at all.

Although the Apostles sometimes used passages as double symbolism (like Is. 7:14), they were directly guided by the Holy Spirit in their writings, whereas we come up with a thousand different conclusions when we try reading into the symbolism of the Bible. Thus, to “prove” a doctrine from the Bible, I think we need clearer statements, not just human interpretations that are far from clear.

I find no grounds for concluding that Mary was the “first Christian.” One could propose Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, or even the thief next to Him on the cross as the first Christian and we could argue about it all day to no avail. The verses you mention are speculative and do not refer to Mary in any direct way.

Strange argument. Mary was the first to learn (from an angel) that Jesus was the Son of God, and she obviously believed this, as she consented to the Virgin Birth. She bore the son of God and gave birth to Him. She (with St. Joseph) raised Him; talked with and lived with him for thirty years, before His ministry was made public. What an unspeakable privilege! What an unfathomable honor!

She was there at His first miracle. She didn’t exhibit the obtuseness and dull-headed stupor of the Apostles, when they repeatedly didn’t understand the difficult teachings of Jesus concerning His Passion. She was at the Cross. She was in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell upon all present.

Yet you suggest that Joseph preceded her in the faith: the one who didn’t even understand at first that she was with child by the Holy Spirit, not a man, or John the Baptist, who only met him as an adult, and doubted who He was for a short time, or the others who came later. I say it is a clear-cut case, and that your reluctance to acknowledge plain and obvious facts here is yet another example of the (later) Protestant desire to minimize, discount, and dismiss Mary at every turn, even though the point at hand has no direct bearing on “Catholic distinctives” which they find so repugnant.

I may have overstated my case, but I think it is obvious that Mary did not understand everything at first (Luke 2:50), so it is far from obvious who the first, full fledged Christian is. Perhaps it was Mary. Perhaps it was the first person to understand the Resurrection (St. John.) I don’t know who God considers to be the first Christian. I’m not saying it wasn’t Mary; I’m just saying I don’t have enough information to draw a conclusion.

Again, who was the first Christian is moot, since it is far from obvious that Mary was the first to understand the atonement, the Resurrection for our justification, etc. The Gospels seem to insinuate that she did not completely understand Christ’s role and mission on this earth. I would also deny that Rev. 12 speaks of Mary, hence the appearance of the Ark just before the scene of the woman in travail is not indicative of Mary bringing us the New Covenant.


(originally 1-21-02)

Photo credit: The Virgin, the Child Jesus, and St John the Baptist (1881), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


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