Apologetics by Bob Sullivan
By human terms, the odds were against her. When she became pregnant, she was a very young girl, betrothed to Joseph, an older man. Mary’s pregnancy was a scandalous situation by any stretch of the imagination. One underappreciated miracle is the fact that she was not banished, ostracized or persecuted. Had Joseph been anything less than the man he was, the Nativity and the entire Gospel would have been drastically different than they are.
God certainly chose the most excellent of His creation to be the mother of His Son. This is both theological and logical. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Mary is the most prolific evangelist in the history of the Church. With one miraculous appearance in Mexico in 1531, she converted as many souls to the Church as had been lost to Luther’s Protestant Revolution. In the same way, she changed the culture in France in 1876, Rwanda in the 1980s and 100 years ago, she changed the world when she appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal. Mary had an extremely important message for us and she provided it 100 years ago. The message is so important that Satan has spent the last 100 years trying to obscure it with many lies, one of which is the lie that Catholics worship Mary.
I don’t believe I have actually ever met anyone who worships Mary or gives Mary too much attention or honor. I’m not saying such people do not exist; my experience suggests they are few and far between. But I have met a number of Christians who show significant disrespect, sometimes hostility, toward the Mother of God. Based on my discussions with these people, their attitude toward Mary seems to have three primary sources.
Group A: These are misled by anti-Catholic rhetoric and fail to honor Mary because of anti-Catholic deception.
Group B: These are angry at the Church or a specific Catholic, and soak up every morsel of negative rhetoric they can in an effort to obtain some sort of justification or vindication.
Group C: These feel threatened by Mary’s power as an evangelist. This group is not as negative as Group B, they just discourage people from giving attention to the Blessed Mother out of the legitimate concern that they will be drawn away from their non-Catholic faith by the greatest evangelist ever created.
All three of these groups want you to think that Pope Pius IX invented all Marian devotions, titles and theology in 1854, when he made the infallible declaration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. This is easy to disprove with Scripture and history. Mary was declared the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. But even before Ephesus, Christians were venerating Mary as the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven and the ultimate example of discipleship.
You can point to chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, to remind your friend of the Annunciation, Visitation and Magnificat, then you can point to John 2:1-11 to show them the intercessory role that Mary played in the beginning of Christ’s public ministry and her sound advice to, “do whatever he tells you.” After that, you can explain that Mary is the New Eve and the New Ark of the Covenant, finishing with Revelation 11:19 through chapter 12. You can also point out that Mary is the only woman who is foretold in Scripture, as shown in many verses, such as Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 66:22, Jeremiah 31:22 and confirmed in Matthew 1:22-23.
The skepticism is more than theology, it is commonly more cultural. The man-made traditions of Protestantism run deep in many churches and within many families. You are not explaining Scripture to one person, you are often refuting generations of myth and misinformation that has never been called into question by your friend.
Luckily, we’re just getting started. The early Church shows the historical acceptance of all of these passages. If your friend remains convinced that Marian theology is a recent development in Christianity, the historical devotion to Mary will awaken them to an honest understanding of Mary’s place in Christianity since the days of the Apostles. A few of the earliest extra-biblical examples are:
117 A.D: St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote about Mary’s virginity, hence the miraculous birth of Christ.
150 A.D: The oldest known surviving work of art depicting Mary and the child Jesus is found in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome.
155-167 A.D: St. Justin Martyr writes about Mary’s virginity and her role as the New Eve.
202 A.D: St. Irenaeus of Lyon called upon Mary as an intercessor.
200-250 A.D: Yale University possesses an image from Deir ez-Zor, Syria, depicting Mary during the Annunciation.
250 A.D: The prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium (Under Your Protection) was written.
As we advance through history to the present day, there is naturally more and more evidence of a consistent and unbroken devotion to Mary in the Christian Church. If anything about Marian theology is recent, it is the non-Catholic belief that Mary is a distraction from Jesus.
In fact, it can be very enlightening to remind our friends that the Protestant revolutionaries also accepted Mary’s significance to Christians. Martin Luther voiced acceptance of basically every Marian teaching, well into his revolution. John Calvin defended the virgin birth and Mary’s perpetual virginity. Huldrych Zwingli, one of the more volatile Protestant revolutionaries, echoed Calvin, as did John Wesley.
Over the centuries, Mary’s intercessory power has been proven time and time again. For this reason, we need to renew our devotion to the rosary as well as the greatest advice ever given: “Do whatever He tells you.”