Former Protestant Addresses Marian
SEATTLE, Washington, 16 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
By Annamarie Adkins
One would think it
impossible to spill any more ink about the Blessed Virgin Mary, judging
from the number of Marian titles on the shelf at a local Catholic
But when popular Catholic author Mark Shea was considering entering the
Church, there were no comprehensive titles where he could address his
concerns as an evangelical Protestant about Catholic Marian doctrine and
Twenty years later, that book was still missing from the shelves, so
Shea set out to write it.
The result is "Mary, Mother of the Son," a three-volume apologetics tool
published by Catholic Answers.
Shea is senior content editor at Catholic Exchange and a regular
columnist for both Inside Catholic and the National Catholic Register.
In Part 1 of this interview, he shares with ZENIT why almost everything
non-Catholics think they "know" about Mary is wrong.
Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.
ZENIT: Why did you write a book about the Mother of God? Where does your
trilogy fit on the already crowded shelf of books and treatises about
Shea: I wrote this book because it's the book I wish somebody had
written when I was coming into the Church.
I waited around for 20 years, hoping somebody else would do it, but when
nobody did, I decided I'd take on the project (which is only fair since
I'm the only one who really knows what questions and doubts I had and
what would constitute a satisfactory reply to them).
As to where the trilogy fits on the bookshelf, I suppose I'd say
That is to say, part of the reason I wrote it is because there simply
wasn't any book I could find that did what this book does. For instance,
the books on Marian dogma didn't deal with questions about apparitions.
Devotional literature didn’t answer questions about where the Church was
getting all this stuff about Mary. Books tracing the development of
doctrine didn't talk about the rosary. In short, the literature was out
there, but most people don't have time to locate all the resources for
the host of questions they have about Mary. So I created "Mary, Mother
of the Son" to be a sort of "one-stop shopping" resource for virtually
every issue a non-Catholic (or uncatechized Catholic) might have
concerning Marian doctrine and devotion.
It tackles everything from the sources of Marian belief and practice (a
huge issue since oodles of non-Catholics simply assume the whole thing
is a data dump from paganism) to the Catholic approach to Scripture to
the four Marian dogmas to the broad spectrum of Marian devotion to
private revelations and apparitions to possible ways forward in
Catholic/Evangelical conversations about the Blessed Virgin.
When it comes to Marian Willies, I've run the gamut in my own life and
had to deal with pretty much every difficulty and problem with Mary to
which non-Catholic flesh is heir, so it's a book that comes from my
heart (and gut) as well as my head.
Nothing in it is new (God willing) and the whole thing is ultimately a
restatement of the Tradition. But it's a restatement that tries to run
the gamut of Catholic teaching on Mary, not simply focus in on one
specialized area. And it's written in order to be intelligible to the
ZENIT: You discuss in your books why most of what people think they know
about both Mary and the Catholic Church is really pseudo-knowledge. Can
you describe this phenomenon and why there is so much pseudo-knowledge
lurking in the culture about the Church?
Shea: Pseudo-knowledge is the stuff that "everybody knows," not because
it's true, but because somebody with "important hair" said it on TV, or
because your favorite magazine said so, or because a beloved character
in a movie stated it as fact and lots of other people repeated it around
millions of water coolers.
Pseudo-knowledge is why "everybody knows" Humphrey Bogart said, "Play it
again, Sam" (except he didn't). It's why "everybody knows" the US
Constitution speaks of a "wall of separation" between Church and State
(except it doesn't). And it's why "everybody knows" medieval Europeans
all believed the world was flat (except they didn't).
Pseudo-knowledge causes people to go around talking as though they're
certain that at one time or other they must have read the Federalist
Papers, or boned up on the meteorological data for global warming from
the latest scientific studies, or committed to memory the documents of
the Council of Trent, when they cannot, in fact, quote five words from
any of these things.
What they really know is what that resonant, well-modulated voice on TV
or their own circle of friends (or both) told them was "common
knowledge" concerning government or science or the Catholic Church.
And, of course, it's why "everybody knows" that "the Catholic Mary" is
really just a warmed-over pagan goddess. It's a modern myth that has
circulated around for so long that nobody even thinks to question it.
And when you do, you discover there's no there there. Nothing. Not a
scrap of actual historical support for the claim.
Like many of the myths about the Catholic Church, it arises from a
superficial acquaintance with the Church (she's hard to avoid completely
and people often judge by fragmentary impressions) and from the fact
that many non-Catholics listen only to other non-Catholics circulating
baseless junk as "fact".
ZENIT: What is the most important role Mary has played in the history of
the Church and its mission of evangelizing the nations?
Shea: Being who she is. Mary is the "type of the Church" in the words of
St. Ambrose. Her mission has been the same ever since Jesus gave her to
us with the words "Behold your mother." As the model disciple, the
Mother of God, the Ever-Virgin, Immaculate and Assumed into Heaven, she
has constantly been interceding for us and has, on occasion, even been
entrusted with critically needed calls to repentance and grace (as at
Fatima and other places).
ZENIT: Why, in your opinion, does Mary keep appearing to people all over
the globe? Is there a common theme in the various apparitions of the
Shea: Essentially her mission has always been the same: to say to the
world "Do whatever Jesus tells you."
As I point out in Mary, Mother of the Son, Mary's life is the most
profoundly referred life any mortal has ever lived. All true private
revelations have one thing in common: they point us right back to the
public revelation of Jesus Christ and to the apostolic tradition of the
Church. Mary's message is radically not new: Be good. Go to Mass. Trust
Jesus. Little boys should tell the truth. That sort of thing.
If you are living a serious Catholic life of trust in Jesus, obedience
to Holy Church, the practice of virtue, and frequent reception of the
sacraments, you are doing everything that all those visions, miraculous
healings, and dancing suns were wrought by God to say to the human race.
ZENIT: Why do so many important Church documents
from conciliar statements (Lumen Gentium) to papal encyclicals (Caritas
seem to always conclude with a paean and exhortation to seek the
intercession of the Blessed Mother?
Shea: Because it is good and fitting (and smart) to do so.
God has given her primacy among all creatures and we are to accord her
hyperdulia: the highest honor due a mere creature. But "creature" is
such a cold word, isn't it? Like something out of a science fiction
movie. You wouldn't give your Mom a Mother's Day card and address it
"Dear Exalted Creature". You would give her a card that says, "Dear Mom:
I love you and I appreciate all you've done and sacrificed for me." The
Church says the same to our Mother.
Some will complain that speaking of Mary's "sacrifices" is taking away
honor due to Jesus alone. I reply: Imagine a church service for the
parents of a son killed in Iraq in which the pastor points to the
grieving parents and says, "God was the one Who gave these parents their
child and it was He Who sent their son to die for the freedom of the
Iraqi people. They didn't sacrifice anything. They merely assented to be
a part in God's plan."
Nobody talks that way at any time about any sacrifice that any ordinary
person ever makes. All the rest of the time, we can grasp the fact that,
while God is the Author of all things, our sacrifices and choices really
— by the grace of God.
The only time people talk this way is when Evangelicals who are weirded
out by Mary dehumanize her and dismiss the sword that pierced her heart
so they can talk as though she was utterly irrelevant to the Incarnation
and Passion of Christ, instead of the one who was, in fact, more
intimately bound up with Him than any person who ever lived. No mortal
suffered and lost more in the Passion than Our Lady did. If we can spare
words of thanks to the parents of a fallen soldier, how much more
gratitude should we have for her who gave, just as God did , her only
So it's only fitting that the Church honor (and ask the intercession of)
the Blessed Virgin. God didn't go to all the trouble of perfecting her
in his holiness, love and power just to throw all that away. For 2000
years, it has been her joy to intercede for her children
because she is more like Christ than anyone who ever lived and it his
joy to do exactly the same thing.
Former Protestant Comments on Mary and Ecumenism
By Annamarie Adkins
SEATTLE, Washington, 17 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
Even though the early
Protestant Reformers praised the Virgin Mary
some even had a great devotion to her
Catholic Marian doctrine has become a stumbling block for many
Protestants and divided Christians for over four centuries.
Now, however, some Protestants are rediscovering the Blessed Mother,
reinvigorating conversations between Catholics and Protestants about her
role in the life and faith of the Church.
Mark Shea decided to provide a comprehensive resource for this dialogue,
and the result is "Mary, Mother of the Son," a three-volume work of
apologetics published by Catholic Answers.
Shea is senior content editor at Catholic Exchange. In addition to his
role as a popular Catholic blogger, speaker, and writer, Shea is the
star of an upcoming motion picture
an adaptation of G.K. Chesterton's novel "Manalive."
He spoke with ZENIT about why attacks on the Mother of God are really
attacks on Christ and His Church.
Part 1 of this interview appeared Thursday.
ZENIT: Why is Mary such a stumbling block to Christian unity? Shouldn't
all Christians at least be able to unite around their Mother?
Shea: They should, but they haven't for roughly four centuries. There's
hope in that number however, because it means that hostility to and fear
of Mary is, historically speaking, a very recent phenomenon and one that
really only took off well after the Reformation began.
Many of the Reformers had a profound devotion to Mary and, in fact,
accepted much of Catholic teaching about her. However, as Protestantism
became more remote from Catholic teaching (and as, in English-speaking
countries, Elizabeth I found it very convenient to supplant the cult of
the Virgin with a political cult of the Virgin Queen), that connection
failed and was eventually broken.
Along with that went the loss of a sense of the sacramental, of the
senses of Scripture, and of an appreciation for the feminine in the life
of the Church. Mary came to be seen almost exclusively as a sort of
pagan goddess and an actual threat to genuine Christian devotion: a
perception that would have been absolutely foreign to the mind of any
Christian in the first 16 centuries of the Church.
ZENIT: You note that attacks on the Church's Mariology are really
attacks on its Christology. How and why is this the case?
Shea: The thing about Mary is that the thing is never about Mary.
Take the Virgin Birth. One of the earliest slurs uttered against Jesus
was that he was a bastard, the product of a liaison between Mary and a
Roman soldier named Pantera (probably a corruption of "parthenos" which
is Greek for "virgin").
Is the point of the slur to attack Mary? Of course not! The point is to
attack Jesus as a mere common bastard and to deny that he is the Son of
God or of any divine origin.
Likewise, when the heretic Nestorius demanded that Christians no longer
hail Mary as "Theotokos" or "God bearer", his attack was directed not at
Mary, but at the notion that the Man Jesus and the Second Person of the
Trinity were a unity.
Similarly, the question, "Where is the Assumption of Mary in the Bible?"
is not really about Mary. It's a question about the validity of Christ's
sacred Tradition and the authority of Christ's Church.
"Why should I pray to Mary?" is not a question about Mary. It's a
question about the relationship of the living and the dead in Christ.
"Do Catholics worship Mary?" is not a question about Mary. It's a
question about whether Catholics really worship Christ.
In short, Evangelical jitters about Mary both pay homage to and yet
overlook the central truth about Mary that the Catholic Church wants us
to see: that Mary's life, in its entirety, is a referred life.
Attacks on Christ and his gospel virtually always are made via his Body,
the Church. We saw this, for instance, with The Da Vinci Code. The
message, as usual, was “I have the highest respect for Jesus, it’s just
that the Church has totally perverted what he really came to say (which
was, by a strange coincidence, what I am saying).” And since Mary is the
type of the Church, it is fitting that she stands as a sort of hedge of
protection around the truth of the Faith.
ZENIT: Should Protestants and others be concerned about Catholic Marian
devotions? Is the poorly catechized Catholic who clings to her Rosary
and prays in front of her makeshift shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Help
really in spiritual danger?
Shea: When it comes to Mary, the average Evangelical Protestant is in a
position analogous to that of a teetotaler terrified that a sip of wine
at communion will transform him into a raging drunken libertine.
Rather than be hyper-focused on the question of whether Catholics honor
Mary "too much" and are just about to bow down to Astarte and Isis, the
Evangelical would find much more spiritual benefit asking the quest ion
"How is it we Evangelicals honor her ‘just enough'?"
When honestly considered (especially against the backdrop of historic
Christianity and the practice of the apostolic Church), what he will
discover is that it is Evangelicalism that is peculiarly fearful of the
woman whom Scripture declares all generations shall called blessed.
Aside from pulling her out of the closet to sing "Round yon virgin,
mother and child" she is basically never spoken of among
Evangelicals—except to say that Catholics are way overboard about her.
But the reality is that the most Marian Catholics (think John Paul II or
Mother Teresa) also tend to be the most Christocentric ones. That's
because all real Marian devotion refers us to Christ.
Is that to say it's absolutely impossible for a Catholic to make an idol
of Mary? Certainly not.
Human ingenuity in sin is never asleep and we can make an idol out of
any creature. On very rare occasions, Mariolatry can happen. But it is
to say that Protestant fears on this score are as much in touch with
reality as a cradle Catholic of bygone generations who feared that
reading the Bible on his own will lead directly to snake handling.
Catholics have, by and large, entered the twenty-first century when it
comes to that superstition. But there are still millions of Protestants
who subscribe to a grossly superstitious fear of Marian devotion that is
a relic of the late nineteenth century. I’ve traveled from Australia to
Ireland and have never met a soul who mistook Mary for God. The real
blunder about Mary to which some Catholics (the sort who are fascinated
with visions, apparitions and private revelations) are prone is this:
some mistake her not for another God, but for another Pope, insisting
that the bishops have to do this or that because Mary told them to.
For both Mary-wary Protestants and Catholics who imagine the Church
should navigate by making Marian Apparitions into a sort of One Woman
Magisterium, It's time to move on (or rather back, to the practice of
the early Church fathers and a clear understanding of the Church’s
ZENIT: Is there too much attention paid to Mary in today's Church, or
Shea: There's too little attention paid to the Faith, period. So
ignorance and apathy about Mary are part of that, I reckon.
ZENIT: Your book is praised by a number of prominent
evangelical-Protestant theologians. Is there a growing interest in the
figure of Mary among Protestants? Why?
Shea: Starvation makes you hungry. Jesus knew what he was doing when he
gave Mary to the Church as our mother. The human soul needs her and
Protestantism has been starved of her for going on four centuries.
So there is, in the Providence of God, a growing interest in her,
especially among the rising generation of Evangelicals (sometimes
referred to as the "Emergent Church").
People are taking a fresh look at the ancient reverence of her in the
apostolic Churches and asking "Where is the harm in that?" It's a good
question, especially since Mary is, in every healthy expression of
Christian spirituality, always immediately pointing us to Jesus.
And, of course, through Mary's unique gifts in Christ, God can minister
to hurts in the human soul that are unreachable by other forms of
Evangelicals, for instance, who have lost a child, have found themselves
turning to Mary for consolation since she too knows what it is to watch
her Son die. That's a mighty powerful bond of compassion and it can
overcome the fears of Mary which typically prevail in Evangelical
ZENIT: Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote in an essay about the
apparitions at Fatima that Mary was the key to bringing Christ to the
Islamic world. What do you think of this proposal?
Shea: I think he's on to something.
I have no idea how it will all play out, but I was struck by a
conversation I once had with a man from Turkey who emailed me asking for
more information about the Catholic Church. He was raised Muslim but was
drawn to Christ.
Looking over the vast menu of Christianities available on the web he was
very quick to pare it all down to the Catholic Church. Why? "Because you
honor Mary as we are taught to do in Islam."
I think there's something mighty important going on in that, just as I
have noticed that, among the various folks I have met who have become
Catholic from a Jewish background, virtually all of them have had some
sort of mystical encounter with Mary.
I'm not sure what that means, but it has always felt significant to me.
She seems to be getting busier as we draw ever closer to That Day.