La Virgen María y los protestantes
THE VIRGIN MARY AND THE PROTESTANTS
OPEN LETTER TO THE PROTESTANTS
Dears Brothers and Sisters disciples of Jésus Christ,
One day, several years ago, the President of the French Protestant Federation was holding a press conference in Paris. At one point he made a somewhat hesitant reply on the subject of the Virgin Mary. Then an elderly Pastor on his team got up and declared, "I want our journalist friends to know that Protestants are not ashamed to proclaim the Virgin Mary "Blessed", in the words of Luke's gospel, "All generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me." (Lk 1:48-49). It still often happens that Protestants, who in other respects are filled with faith and zeal for the Gospel, show an unfortunate hostility towards Mary which is quite contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Bible. They also waste a lot of time criticising those Christians who do honour Mary and "proclaim her blessed." A Pastor of the Universal Church of the kingdom of God in Brazil even smashed a statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of a television broadcast. It was the statue of our Lady of Aparecida, the major national shrine of Brazil. Dear Christian friends, this is very serious. I appeal to your spirit of faith, and to your love of the Scriptures. Why do you go troubling simple souls by criticising them over the Virgin Mary? And you who love the Scriptures, how can some of you allow yourself be misled by the "little foxes that make havoc of the vineyards (Sg 22:5)? Or, in the words of Paul, "Are you people in Galatia mad? Has someone put a spell on you?" (Ga 3:1) No, dear Protestant brothers and all who you bear the noble name of Christian, you will be anxious to understand and keep the Word of Life better. In this way you will render to the Mother of God the honour, devotion and trust which Christian peoples have given her for 1967 years (calculated in 2000) Jesus died and rose again most probably in the year 30. Throughout that time the Gospel has been passed down faithfully. In fact, how could anyone believe that the Gospel in its true form has been forgotten for nearly 2000 years, and that it is only today that, thanks to a particular preacher, its real meaning has been discovered? Would the Holy Spirit be concerned only today to help believers to understand the Gospel? Has the Holy Spirit abandoned the baptised for the past 2000 years? Has He not, for 2000 years, been fulfilling the promise of Jesus Christ? "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you" (Jn 14:26)? In fact, for 2000 years the Holy Spirit has been assisting the Apostles and their successors. The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, is with them for ever (cf. Jn 14:16). Now, if the Spirit of Truth is assisting the Apostles and their successors "for ever", they do not make mistakes when they are helping us to understand the true meaning of the Scriptures. St. Paul also tells the Galatians, "I feel sure that, united in the Lord, you will agree with me, and anybody who troubles you in the future will be condemned, no matter who he is." (Ga 5:10)
MARY IS THE MOTHER OF GOD
So how do people try to trouble you? First of all, by telling you that Mary is not the "Mother of God". Now if Jesus Christ is God, His mother is the mother of God, and if Mary is not the mother of God, but merely the mother of a man, Jesus, then he is not God. However, every true Christian believes that Jesus Christ is God. He is one single person, "true God and true man". If He were not, Jesus Christ would not have been able to save us. That is why the Council of Ephesus, in AD 431, declared Mary to be the "Mother of God" and the Arians, heretics. They said that Jesus Christ is not God, like the Jehovah's Witnesses do today. This very important definition of the Council of Ephesus is also entirely in accordance with the Scriptures. In fact, Elizabeth "was filled with the Holy Spirit" when Mary came to visit her (at the Visitation), and she said to Mary, "Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? (1) For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Lk 2:42-45) Now what does "Lord" mean if not "God"? Let us turn to St. Peter's speech at Pentecost. " The whole House of Israel can be certain that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ." (Ac 22:36) What does "Lord" mean here if not "God"? And do we not also read in the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians "that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Ph 2:11) Is it not the same Lord in all three of these passages ? If the Scriptures, on the lips of Elizabeth, say of Mary that she is the Mother of the Lord, all Christians on earth should believe and say it.
MARY IS EVER VIRGIN
People also trouble you, dear Christians friends, by telling you that Mary did not remain a virgin. She had sons after Jesus. To try in various ways to belittle the mother of Jesus Christ is not a good sign; surely it is not the best way to honour her Son. Is it a way of proclaiming Mary blessed as the Scriptures invite us to? The arguments of these so-called scholars are well-known. The gospels often use the expression "the brothers of Jesus" to refer to his relatives, cousins and so on. But these so-called scholars claim that these were sons of Mary's own body. Now anyone who is familiar with the Scriptures can easily find out that, in Israel, those who are relatives are called "brothers" and this does not mean that they have the same mother. The same thing is still true today in a number of languages. These people who wish to trouble you also say that the Gospel of St. Matthew says, "He did not know her until she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus." (Mt 1:25) These people conclude that Joseph knew Mary, that is had intercourse with her, afterwards. Is that what the text says? No, not at all. What the text says precisely is that Joseph played no part in the conception of Jesus. That is all it says. Any one who adds to it is mistaken and misleads others. On the other hand, there is a very surprising passage in the gospels which these people would do well to meditate on with the help of the Holy Spirit. In St. John's gospel it says, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, this is your son.' Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother.' And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home!" (Jn 19:25-27) In families in Israel at that time, and still in many families throughout the world today, a son did not entrust his mother to a stranger when he had blood brothers living. Now, the very ones whom people claim were brothers of Jesus, and sons of Mary, were to live long after Jesus, as we find from the history of the Early Church. No, it is not the Holy Spirit who is enlightening anyone who declares that Mary did not remain a virgin, simply because they do not understand the meaning of the word "brothers" in the time of Jesus, as it is used in the gospels. The Holy Spirit enlightens us when we are in communion with the Apostles and their successors and even when we are not in open communion with them, if we have a heart that is honest and humble, the pure heart with which one sees God and the things of God. But the heart and mind of anyone who claims, despite 2000 years of Christian faith, to give a different meaning to the Gospel are are in danger of being blinded by pride. Take care! Are they not running the risk of having a spell put on them, like the unfortunate Galatians? There are things which are not a problem for humble souls who listen to the Church, the Bride of Christ. And those who are proud and wish to interpret the Gospel on their own, trip over words as though they were stumbling blocks.
MARY AND THE WORD OF GOD
There is another point where those who spread doubt stumble. They have not understood the meaning of the passage in the gospels, "Now as he was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, `Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!' But he replied, `Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!'" (Lk 11:27-28) They use these words as an argument to claim to forbid Christians, and especially Catholics, to proclaim Mary blessed, in accordance with the gospels (Lk 1:48-49) . Now, they want to twist the words of Jesus and to use them against the Virgin Mary. But surely they can see that these words apply in the first place and most gloriously to Mary? They tell us that she is blessed above all because she listened to the word of God and kept it. How did Mary do this? Was it not by listening to the word of God, believing it and putting it into practice? At the Annunciation Mary said to the Angel Gabriel, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word!" (The message from God brought by the Angel) (Lk 1:37) Elizabeth said to Mary, "Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Lk 1:45) "As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Lk 2:19) This last verse refers to the whole of the account of the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. Of course, we would not have had this gospel passage about Bethlehem if Mary had not "treasured these things in her heart."
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
A major attack that some people make against the Virgin Mary is that aimed at the Immaculate Conception, in other words, the fact that Mary should have been preserved from original sin (1). Those who attack on this point think that they are making difficulties only for Catholics. Most of them are not aware that the Orthodox believe exactly the same thing, though under a slightly different name. They say that she is the All Pure. Nevertheless, even if one is a Protestant, the Immaculate Conception is something which can be seen to be fully in accordance with the Scriptures. Obviously Mary did not save herself from original sin, it was a gift from God. "The Almighty has done great things for me," Mary says in the canticle the Magnificat (Lk 1:49). What would make it impossible for God to do for Mary what He did for Eve? Before the original sin, Eve was without original sin. Is it up to us to say what God should or should not do? This exceptional gift which God gave Mary is stated several times in the Scriptures. First of all the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary saying "Rejoice," or "Hail," since the expression used for a greeting in Greek is "Kairé" which means "Rejoice." Then Gabriel says "Kékaritoméné" which means "who has been filled with grace". What does this mean? There is no other occasion in the Bible when an Angel of God greets a man or a woman in this way. So should we understand that the Angel is only telling Mary that she has been "very fortunate"? Obviously not. The words of the Angel really mean what they say. God speaks and it is accomplished. The exceptional grace which God gave to Mary was the ability to say a "Yes" which was perfectly free to God's request to her that she be the mother of the Saviour. By herself, Mary would not have been able to escape from the stain of original sin. But to God all things are possible. Mary is full of grace, the Immaculate Conception is a gift from God which is entirely free. That is what Catholics believe. Neither does a Protestant have any difficulty in believing in the free gift of God. He only has to stop thinking what some out of ignorance and others alas out of ill will, have wanted to persuade him, namely that Catholics (and the Orthodox) believe that the Virgin Mary is God. Of course, no Catholic or Orthodox believes that. They believe simply that Mary is the All Pure, wholly Immaculate, from her conception, because that is God's gift to her. If it should happen that anyone believes that that is not possible, he belittles the gift of God. St. Luke the Evangelist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, recorded for us the word used by the Angel "Kékaritoméné", "full of grace". In the Magnificat, which Mary sings in the presence of Elizabeth, we also read, "The Almighty has done great things for me" and "all generations will call me blessed". Some Protestant writers believe that, in order to disturb simple souls, they can draw an argument from the fact that Saint Augustine (in the fifth century) or Saint Thomas Aquinas (in the thirteenth) thought that the Virgin Mary could not have been preserved from original sin before Christ. It is true that this was a difficult question. God permitted that the ideas of even the most learned doctors of the Church were not perfect on every subject. But the Holy Spirit who has been assisting the Church since Pentecost and leading it to the fullness of the truth (cf. John) has inspired the Church in its interpretation of the Scriptures and of Divine Revelation. While the Church had still not come to a decision, it was possible for "Doctors" and "Shepherds" to propose different opinions. But once the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, has spoken, it is no longer possible to give a different interpretation of the Scriptures. The humble must receive the light of God by placing their trust in the Church assisted by the Holy Spirit, the proud find it a stumbling block.
THE PRAYER OF THE VIRGIN MARY
Most Protestants are of good faith and are sincere. We admire their faith, their love of the Scriptures, and their zeal for proclaiming the Gospel. We are saddened for them when we see how they experience all these difficulties with regard to the Virgin Mary. That is why we wish humbly to attempt to free them from yet another unnecessary difficulty which burdens them. They do not believe either that it is possible to pray to the Virgin Mary, or that she can pray for us. Since the Scriptures are the best means of helping them, let us turn to the Scriptures. Do you recall the story of Jacob and Esau? Esau had sold his birthright for some lentil soup. When Isaac had grown old Rebecca wanted to obtain for her son Jacob his father's blessing. Isaac had become blind. Rebecca clothed her son Jacob in his brother's garments and Jacob obtained his father's blessing. Rebecca is a figure of the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary, who loves each of us as Rebecca loved Jacob, clothes us in the garments of her firstborn son, Jesus Christ. The Virgin Mary is not the source of God's grace, but her immaculate heart, burning with love of God, wholly united with the heart of Christ, desires our salvation and implores her Son Jesus Christ to clothe us with the "garment of salvation", the grace of God. That is why, like Saint John, we can make a place for Mary in our homes, she will be an even better mother to us than Rebecca was to Jacob. Dear Christian friends, you may still have one little problem in your minds which is causing you concern. People tell you that you cannot pray to Mary, however blessed she may be, because she is dead. And those who are dead can do nothing. Notice the contradiction. You do allow that we can pray for each other in this life, but not any more after death! Have you not read that on Mount Tabor the transfigured Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah? And also in the gospels that Jesus said to the Good Thief, "Today you will be with me in Paradise."? So, are Moses, Elijah and the Good Thief are in Paradise but Mary, "full of grace," is not? She whom all generations must call blessed is not in Heaven with God, merely the Good Thief? Also, in the Book of Revelation, is she not in the procession of those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes?
THE VIRGIN MARY AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
Dear Christian friends, before ending this letter, I would like to tell you that I love you. Forgive me if some parts of my letter may have seemed to you somewhat harsh,. Alas, there are those who have gone to such extremes that it is not possible to keep silent. All the same, I can promise you that with God's grace I also forgive those who caricature the beliefs of Catholics. And I pray to the Virgin Mary that she will intercede with her Son to clothe you with the garments of salvation. I would now like to share with you a point for meditation from the Scriptures. It concerns the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit. At the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary said yes to God's word which was brought to her by the Archangel Gabriel. And the Holy Spirit caused to be born of Mary, Jesus the Word of God. So, Mary said "Yes" to God's word, welcomed the gift of the Holy Spirit and gave Jesus to the world. At Pentecost, the Apostles, together with the Virgin Mary, said "Yes" to God's word which they had heard during the time that they were with Jesus. They received the Holy Spirit and were to give Jesus to the world through their preaching. But also can not each one of us in our turn, like the Virgin Mary, and like the Church at Pentecost, say "Yes" to God's word, welcome the Holy Spirit more deeply, and give Jesus to the world around us by the witness of a Christian life and by Evangelisation?
Hervé Marie Catta