November 27, 2009


Evangelicals and Mary

Mary is for all Christians. The Reformation has been called a ‘tragic necessity.’ The neglect, almost the disappearance, of Mary in Protestant theology belongs to the tragic side.”

That is not the statement by a Catholic, but rather by Evangelical Protestants. It’s included in a new statement about devotion to Mary by the ecumenical organization Evangelicals and Catholics Together. This group has been trying to find common ground for the past 15 years since it issued its first statement in 1994. This year it has released its seventh statement, titled “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life.”

The statement acknowledges that the subject of the Blessed Virgin has been a source of conflict between Catholics and Evangelicals since the 16th century. Even though such Protestant figures as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli retained a special reverence for Mary, this dimension of their teaching and piety was lost by their followers because of the animosity between Protestants and Catholics. Today, though, the statement says there is a renewed interest in Mary among Evangelicals.

We must not think, though, that Evangelicals are accepting all that the Catholic Church teaches about Mary. Since Evangelicals acknowledge only the authority of Scripture and not of the Catholic magisterium, they accept only what the Bible says about Mary. That, however, is quite a lot.

Therefore, the statement says, “There is a place for a biblically precise, theologically robust love and honor of Mary among Evangelicals—one that sees her as the figure the Bible presents her to be: the handmaiden of the Lord, divinely chosen to give birth to the Messiah, she who stood loyally by Jesus at the cross. … Mary’s aim was to exalt her Son and to point others to him. We do not detract from Christ by showing proper reverence to his mother.”

“Evangelicals affirm both Mary’s virginity and her maternity,” the statement says. They accept the historicity of the virginal conception of Jesus and the fact that she was the human mother of the eternal Son of God.

However, they aren’t as quick to accept the Catholic belief that Mary remained a virgin during Jesus’ birth and thereafter.

“Mary’s perpetual virginity is [a] … teaching,” the statement says, “neither required nor forbidden by Scripture itself.” According to Evangelicals, scripture says that Jesus had brothers and sisters, but these could have been subsequent children of Joseph and Mary, children of Joseph by a previous marriage or close relatives.

Despite finding some common ground, the statement says that both Marian dogma and Marian devotion remain contentious issues. It says, “Evangelicals understand that the Catholic Church does not equate adoration of God and veneration of Mary. It seems to many Evangelicals, however, that the devotion of some Catholics to Mary can obscure the preeminence, unique sinlessness, and sole salvific sufficiency of Jesus Christ.”

In that regard, the Evangelicals said that “recent statements by Pope Benedict XVI declaring Jesus Christ the one and only Savior are an encouragement to all faithful Christians.”

It is not surprising that the Evangelicals do not accept two dogmas defined by the Catholic Church during the 19th and 20th centuries: the Immaculate Conception, that Mary was preserved from original sin from the time of her conception; and the Assumption, that Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. They find both dogmas without biblical warrant. Furthermore, the Evangelicals say, they “confess the sinlessness of Christ but not the sinlessness of Mary.”

They also do not pray to Mary, just as they do not pray to the other saints. They say, “We join our voices in communion with the universal Church, with the angels and all the saints in heaven, including Mary, to extol and magnify the triune God of holiness and love.”

However, “Evangelicals do not think that such evocation of Mary leads to her invocation, intercession or mediation.”

Why? Because, according to them, “there is no mention of prayers to Mary or the saints in the witness of the New Testament and the first 200 years of the Church.”

It’s good that Evangelicals are paying more attention to Mary, but it’s also obvious that they’re still a long way from what the Catholic Church teaches about her.

—John F. Fink

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