For many Christians today, the thought that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary or her bodily Assumption into heaven would seem ludicrous, even more bewildering would be the devotions many of the Reformation’s leaders had for the Blessed Mother. Believe or not it, they did. In this month of December when Catholics celebrate three feast day’s commemorating the Mother of our Lord, perhaps it is time to remind our separated brethren of the truths their founder’s believed.
Sometime ago when I was writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I showed a friend of mine, who is an Evangelical, a homily about the Virgin Mary delivered in the 1500s. I asked him who gave that homily, “probably some pope,” he exclaimed. No, I said it was Martin Luther. He replied, “Dave I trust in almost everything you say, but I am going to have to call you out on this one. I mean isn’t that what the Reformation was all about, ending superstitions like those about Mary?” His mouth dropped when I showed him the passages. I am sure many of today’s Evangelicals, especially of the Calvinist lineage, would have the same reaction.
He also had the same reaction when I told him that most of the leaders of the Reformation were that era’s liberal thinkers. They were the radicals of their time. My friend, again very astonished, reminded me that Evangelicals are by and large very conservative in their viewpoints. I told him so are LDS members (Mormons.) I asked him if he thought Joseph Smith was a conservative. “He was a wide eyed crazy liberal,” my friend replied. I think he got the correlation, but I am sure it was a hard idea to swallow.
While the leaders of the Reformation, by and large believed in the Catholic Church’s teachings about the Blessed Mother, it didn’t take long before the next generation of leaders became even more rabid against the Church resulting in not only the diminished role of Mary but in the desecration of the many monuments built to her in what became Protestant countries. The sad tale of Walsingham, England was epitomized in the poem The Wrecks of Walsingham by Sir Philip Howard. The devotional site was destroyed by an angry mob. Seeing images of the Mother of Jesus taken away, battered and destroyed one cannot help but think that the persecuted Catholics of that era might have uttered Jesus’ admonition against those who harm the little ones, “better that he would have had a millstone hung around their neck.”
Modern Catholic Apologetics details the prominent role the Early Christians knew Mary had by Scriptures verses such as Luke 1:26-34. In this verse Kecharitomene (hail full of grace) would have known by Greek speakers as a very rarely used phrase that describes an event of unparalleled magnitude. Jesus referring to his mother as “woman” would have been strange to say the least (John 2:1-12, John 19:25-27.) Yet, he was referring to the “woman” who is the mother of us all. Remember it was because of the Blessed Mother that Jesus performed his first miracle. You also might recall that later, near the very end of that same gospel (John’s Gospel,) Jesus reminds John that while he is to care for his mother, in essence by calling her woman, Jesus is reminding us that she is the mother of us all. The woman of Genesis 3:15 who would bring the redeemer into the world is the same woman whose heel would stomp at Satan’s body and all of his empty promises. Yet, most Evangelical Bible scholars are taught this is some sort of modern Catholic invention, instead of the truth that this teaching came from the Early Church Fathers.
Some years ago when I was just out of Graduate School and working a job that had odd hours and not much joy in my eyes, I took solace in the words of the Rev Charles Stanley, who seemed to be on a few talk radio stations as I traveled over 40 minutes each night on my way home. The dearth of Catholic radio and the occasional need for something other than Led Zeppelin to sooth my nerves steered me to Dr Stanley. He would often comment on liberal Christians who didn’t believe in certain key teaching of Christian doctrine. “If they won’t believe it, ask them what else they don’t believe,” chimed Dr Stanley. What else they don’t believe, indeed! Sadly, for Dr Stanley and his faithful it would not only be the role of the Blessed Mother but something extremely key to Jesus Himself; the Eucharist. It was John chapter 6 all over again, and they walked away.
If anything the loss of Mary to any Christian is a travesty, especially Evangelicals who are by and large very sincere people who take their faith very seriously. If most Catholics took their faith as seriously as most Evangelicals, we would all be better for it. For the 16th century Dutch critic of the Catholic Church, Erasmus, the idea that 1,500 years after the fact, the Catholic Church was in need of a German monk to change all what was known to be holy seemed ludicrous. The fact that the Blessed Mother, who was revered by all leaders of the Reformation, needed to be by and large abolished seemed a sign of sheer madness. I recall hearing one woman who came into the Church exclaim, “Even as a young woman I recall thinking if this woman was a virgin and bore the messiah, why is it that we only trod her out once year. Surely God would continue to use someone this special. We ought to look at her as the Catholics do.”
Imagine you had a friend who was blind and loved a good bottle of wine. He didn’t ask for much in life and didn’t complain about his situation, but he loved a good bottle of wine. He would travel near and far to find a wine shop that catered to his acquired tastes. What if he later found out that there was a wine shop right next door? It would have met all of his needs with far less the hassle. He would feel cheated, and so will our separated brethren when they find out what they were missing.
I recall a talk the Catholic convert and traveling speaker Steve Ray gave describing a conversation he had with his wife after they came into the Church. While exclaiming her joy at entering the Church, she said she felt a little cheated for having never known the truths of the Catholic Church and the beauty contained within the Mass and the simplicity of the Blessed Mother, earlier in life. “Why didn’t someone tell us sooner,” she frustratingly exclaimed. Someday there will be millions of faith filled Christians who will say the same thing. We can do something about it; we can approach them with love and explain the 2,000 year Teachings of the Catholic Church and the special role of the Mother of Jesus. If that doesn’t work, we can always pray and ironically enough we have a special form of prayer for just this kind of emergency. It is called the Rosary!