The Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic and Protestant Thought

In this episode, David Fry and Johnathan Arnold discuss the doctrine of Mary.

Miscellaneous Notes

1. What is the Roman Catholic doctrine of Mary (four Marian dogmas)?

Two ancient:

  • Mary as Theotokos (divine motherhood)
  • Perpetual virginity

Two modern:

  • Immaculate conception
  • The assumption/rapture of Mary into heaven

2. Should we call Mary the “Mother of God” (Theotokos)?

  • Addressed on last podcast.
  • Yes, because the one person whom Mary bore was God. To only confess that Mary is the Christ-bearer (as did Nestorius) is to divide the person.
  • Of course, she is not the source of the Godhead (only of the manhood).
  • Chalcedonian Creed, “begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood.”
  • Elizabeth: “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43).
  • “If anyone does not believe that Holy Mary is the Mother of God, he is severed from the Godhead” (Ep. CI.).
  • Thomas Oden on Protestant reception: “Among Protestants, Zwingli early argued that “the Virgin should be called the Mother of God, Theotokos” (An Expos. of the Faith, LCC XXIV, p. 256), a view affirmed by Luther and uncontested by Calvin (Inst. 2.14.4; BOC, p. 595). Barth regarded it as “a test of the proper understanding of the incarnation” that “we do not reject the description of Mary as the ‘mother of God’ ” (Barth CD I/2, p. 138).”

3. Should we venerate Mary?

  • In the generic sense, to venerate someone is to regard them with great respect and to honor them as an act of religious devotion.
  • Simply acknowledging Mary in the Creed and confessing Mary as Theotokos is a form of veneration.
  • Elizabeth honored Mary: “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42).
  • Mary expected future generations to acknowledge her blessedness: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
  • When Mary’s Magnificat is sung, it is sometimes called the Ode or Song of the Theotokos.
  • Roman Catholics do not worship Mary, they venerate her, but they take it too far (saying Hail Marys, etc.).
  • Jesus in Luke 11:27–28, “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

4. Did Mary remain a virgin (perpetual virginity)?

  • Protestant Reformers said “yes” (one Protestant scholar says they are “unanimous” on the subject):
  • Luther: “When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her.” Also, “This was without the co-operation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.”
  • Zwingli, “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.
  • Also Calvin, Beza, Cranmer, etc.
  • Bullinger, Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XI: “We also believe and teach that the eternal Son of the eternal God was made the Son of man, from the seed of Abraham and David, not from the coitus of a man, as the Ebionites said, but was most chastely conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the ever virgin Mary, as the evangelical history carefully explains to us (Matt., ch. 1).”
  • Francis Turretin: “This is . . . piously believed with human faith from the consent of the ancient church. Thus it is probable that the womb in which our Savior received the auspices of life . . . was so consecrated and sanctified by so great a guest that she always remained untouched by man; nor did Joseph ever cohabit with her.” (Institutes)
  • Wesley: I believe that He was made man, joining the human nature with the divine in one person; being conceived by the singular operation of the Holy Ghost, and born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin” (Letter to a Roman Catholic).
  • But didn’t Jesus have brothers and sisters? Two views: (1) children of a previous marriage of Joseph (popular in Jerome’s day); more common among Protestants, (2) his brothers/sisters were likely his cousins; “brothers” is a generic term in Greek—it indicates a family relationship but not necessarily blood brotherhood. E.g., Abraham and Lot are called brothers in the Septuagint.
  • Turretin: “In the New Testament certain ones are called ‘the brothers of Christ.’ It is common in Scripture not only for one’s own and full brothers by nature to be designated by this name, but also blood relatives and cousins (as Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Laban). . . . Nor is it derived better from this-that Joseph is said ‘not to have known Mary till she had brought forth her firstborn son’ (Mt. 1:25). The particles ‘till” and ‘even unto’ are often referred only to the past, not to the future.”
  • Calvin: “Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s ‘brothers’ are sometimes mentioned.” “Under the word ‘brethren’ the Hebrews include all cousins and other relations, whatever may be the degree of affinity.”
  • Luther: “I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.”

5. Was Mary born without original sin (immaculate conception)?

  • Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Cincinnati, OH: statue of Mary with inscription above, “I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.”
  • More recent dogma. Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854, “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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
  • Reflects RCC’s general emphasis on the close connection between Christ and his Mother: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (CCC 487).
  • RCC also affirms that Mary continued without personal sin. Seems to undermine her personal need for the Savior. But 

6. Was Mary a co-redemptrix?

  • Some conservative Catholics use this language. Not RCC dogma.
  • Pope Francis says “no,” and even called the idea “foolishness.” “Not as a goddess. Not as a co-redemptrix. As a mother.” “Pay attention: the things that the Church, the saints, say to Mary, take nothing away from Christ’s uniqueness as a redeemer.”
  • “The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life” (LG 56; cited CCC 488).
  • “Mary ‘stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.’” (CCC 489)
  • Irenaeus: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” (AH 3.22.4)
  • Emerson and Stamps: “Under God’s sovereignty, Mary’s obedient response was a means by which God-in-Christ accomplished redemption. We could say the same about Abraham’s faith, David’s obedience, and so on. Only an overreaction to Rome’s Mariology would lead us to deny this.” “Seeing Mary as having a role in the crushing of Satan’s head does not take away from the unique identity of Christ as the only Mediator between God and man. The protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 was a promise that the seed of the woman would finally defeat our serpentine enemy. Jesus doesn’t drop down from heaven fully formed. He shares in Mary’s humanity (and thus, our humanity) in order to undo the damage. So we should have no problem saying that Mary is participating in some way with Christ’s Satan-crushing work. “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Mary’s willing participation no more entails a co-redemptrix doctrine than does Paul’s “filling up what is lacking” in Christ’s suffering, or the apostles’ doing “greater works than these,” or the Spirit-empowered church extending “all that Jesus began to do and to teach.” (The Seed of Woman: Mary Among the Protestants
  • Tradition in iconography of Mary pointing to Christ. Virgin Hodegetria — icon of Virgin Mary holding Christ child and pointing to him as the source of salvation. A proper look at Mary always ends with us looking at Christ.

7. Was Mary assumed into heaven?

  • “The Most Blessed Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was completed, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven, where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of His Body” (CCC 974).

8. Should we ask Mary to intercede for us?

  • There is an important sense in which Christ is our only mediator: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
  • However, we ask other Christians to pray for us (intercessory prayer). Interceding is a form of mediation.
  • RCC believes Mary intercedes/mediates in this sense, and since she is Christ’s mother, she is an important interceder. Who would you rather have pray to Jesus for you—an immature Christian or your pastor? Who would you rather have pray to Jesus for you—your pastor or Saint Augustine? Who would you rather have pray to Jesus for you—Augustine or Jesus’s own mother?
  • Really a question of whether we can/should talk to dead saints and ask them to pray for us. Something worth thinking about. “Communion of saints” — transcends death. “Cloud of witnesses.”
  • Can easily become superstitious and overshadow our personal relationship with the Father through Christ.
David Fry
David Fry
Senior Pastor at the Frankfort Bible Holiness Church. PhD in Systematic Theology (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). MDiv in New Testament Theology (Wesley Biblical Seminary).