(Lightly edited on July 25, 2020, to bring some things up-to-date.) Today is Mother’s Day and it’s also May, the month of Mary, so I’m studying the Church’s teachings about Mary because I am forever being accosted by people (even some Catholics) who do not understand what the Church teaches about the Blessed Mother. They don’t even know what the Church teaches, much less what it means. But to get Mary wrong is to get Jesus wrong. A flawed Mariology leads to a flawed Christology because the teachings about Mary are intimately bound up with the teachings about her Son, and the teachings about her Son are intimately bound up with the teachings about His Mother.
To get Mary wrong is to get Jesus wrong. A flawed Mariology leads to a flawed Christology because the teachings about Mary are intimately bound up with the teachings about her Son, and the teachings about her Son are intimately bound up with the teachings about His Mother.
The teaching that ruffles the most feathers among non-Catholics (and Catholics who are inordinately influenced by them and poorly catechized) is the Theotokos teaching: that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Theotokos, the God Bearer.
Some non-Catholics will agree with the idea of the Blessed Virgin as the God Bearer (Jesus is God, His mother bore Him, so His Mother is the God-Bearer) up to a point. Then, in an amazing, neck-snapping reversal, they will swear up and down that she is not and cannot be the Mother of God.
It usually goes something like this:
Me: Lalalalala, tweet tweet tweet, post post post, lalalalala.
Non-Catholic (NC): You heathen, look what you tweeted! You worship Mary! She’s nobody, a mere vessel, and certainly NOT the mother of God.
Me: (Count to three, take a deep breath, send up a prayer that says, basically, HALP! Ahem!) Mary is the Mother of Jesus, right?
NC (eyeing me suspiciously, I can feel it over the interwebs and it’s happened enough in Real Life, too, as he almost whispers a tentative): Yes.
Me (breathing more slowly now): And Jesus is God?
NC (reluctantly agreeing, sure it’s a trick): Uh huh.
Me: Then Mary is the Mother of God.
NC: NO WAY! You idolatrous heathen! You Mary worshiper! You pagan, you! Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries!
Okay, well, they may not usually say that last part. Usually.
But you get the picture. I’ve gotten whiplash so many times from the sudden slamming of the mental brakes by the drivers of these arguments. And, to be clear, these are rarely arguments that I have sought. Okay, well, sometimes I do try to defend a friend. Or I’ll be minding my own business as I am so often when tweeting the Rosary threads. And pow! A non-Catholic will swoop in and drop what he or she thought, evidently, was a huge truth bomb in the midst of my nice little prayers and images of our Lord Jesus and His Blessed Mother. Not only are these messages not truth bombs, but they bomb entirely. They give evidence that the sender of such messages has no clue what the Church teaches or why; and they give evidence that the sender has little Christian charity and even less humility, too.
It’s not uncommon for tempers to flare in an argument and for one to say something one did not intend to say. But when one’s first words are aggressive and insulting, one can hardly blame that act on an argument (or conversation or even monologue) when one has intruded into a thread or conversation precisely so that one can hurl aggressive insults and over-the-top invective. I call these people drive-by trolls. Hit-and-run commenters. I cannot tell you how many times it’s happened to me and to my friends. And from conversations I’ve had and things I’ve read I know it’s not uncommon.
Since I do get involved in these conversations, I’ve decided to read at least two books this month on the subject of Mary. In earlier posts (here and here) I mentioned Brant Pitre’s latest book.* Here I want to mention one by Tim Staples, Behold Your Mother.* In it Staples is going to take the common arguments (and when I say common, I mean common, some are CENTURIES old and have been dealt with in councils and documents going way back) and take them apart, showing what the Church teaches, and why, and why it matters. This is valuable because often enough even when a non-Catholic listens to what is being said, and agrees up to a point, he almost always reaches a point beyond which he simply refuses to go, and he’ll often say, What does it matter? And this is my personal favorite: As long as we agree on the essentials, let’s just agree to disagree.
Goodness, the first thing we have to do is identify what those essentials are (non-Catholics themselves do not agree on these). Then we’ll be able to see more clearly what we really do agree on and what the Church teaches as true, and what the consequences are of rejecting that truth.
He’s mentioned some Church councils already so I’m hoping that he’s going to dig into those. As another convert said long ago,
“To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”John Henry Cardinal Newman, in Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, page 8.
I have found that to be true. Most of the errors I commonly hear have been made—and answered and settled—centuries ago. Some study will keep one from making those same errors again. Hopefully, some study can keep one from making new errors, too. (I’m leaving room for there to be errors I’ve never heard of. Man is ingenious when it comes to ways to obscure and miss the truth and to misrepresent it, too.) More of this in the days to come. Stay tuned.
Get a copy of Behold Thy Mother, by Tim Staples. *Amazon Affiliate links. See Full Disclosure below.
Image credits: Photo of St. Peter’s Basilica by Patrick Landy, Wikimedia, released under a CC License.
Image in banner: The Last Supper, by Philippe de Champaigne. From Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
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