It’s no secret that one of the most glaring differences between Protestant (particularly Evangelical/low church) and Catholic Christianity is in their beliefs about and attitude toward Mary the mother of Jesus. To a Protestant, the Catholic veneration of Mary looks disturbingly like idolatry. But I’m beginning to have significant qualms about the almost callous disdain some varieties of Protestantism have towards Mary, not least because of the implications it has for their understanding of femininity and their treatment of women.
If we believe that Mary was chosen essentially at random, that God could have used any woman to be the mother of His Son because all He needed was womb space and human DNA, we reduce our understanding of womanhood to that of physical maternity and that all-too-distasteful word, breeding.
If we believe that Mary was chosen through God’s will alone without regard to her personal choice, as strict Calvinism logically implies, we reduce her “yes” to a meaningless appearance and reduce our view of women to less-than-free agents. We open the door to rape and abuse because we turn God Himself into a rapist.
By removing from our faith a vision of Mary’s beauty – of the cosmic power of her choice to cooperate with God’s grace and enter into His redemptive plan – we lose our vision of the full beauty and power of women in general. Sisters, what matters most about us isn’t our ability to bear children and bring babies into the world. What matters most is our choice to say “yes” to God’s plan, our ability to change the course of history by choosing to live for Him.
In the Catholic understanding of Mary, we see God choosing a woman to play the most important human role in His salvific plan. That’s the kind of thing He does: He takes the weaker, the oppressed, the downtrodden, and glorifies them. And people who by nature and social norms are accustomed to power and respect are unnerved or threatened by that. Maybe that’s why the certain churches reduce Mary’s role to her womb. But what Catholicism offers is is a vision of womanhood glorified and beautified by grace, lifted up in queenly majesty as it offers itself to Him in free love and humility.
That is the picture of womanhood I want to emulate and grow into personally, and it is the perception of women that I wish could permeate our families, churches, and society at large.
3 thoughts on “womanhood in the image of Mary”
Calvinism doesn’t limit personal choice but it’s too long an issue to get into here.
The real issue most Protestants have with Mariology is the view that Jesus is somehow less approachable than her which is just poppycock! And the issues of fertility with virginity giving birth being combined with putting one woman so high on a pedestal to condemn the sexuallity of the rest is a reason for pause before we get into the fact that prayer to persons dead in heaven requires that Mary be omnipotent, etc.
But the biggest thing here is that womanhood is in the image of God, “male and female he created them. ” And if Christ is the final revelation and the true image of God, then womanhood is Christ shaped. So to aspire after Mary is the wrong direction.
I agree with you on a lot of this! Especially the part about Jesus being less approachable than Mary! That is only true when our own guilt or discomfort makes us nervous about talking to God. Mary is approachable for me in the way that my mother or an older female mentor would be, and is a role model for me in that way as well.
I don’t think it’s wrong to have human examples to admire and follow, because God designed us to live in Christian community and not just as individuals relating only to Him. All of us need to be following Him first, and be shaped in His image, but within and beneath that there is more than enough room to respect and emulate other people who have followed Him well. Sometimes those other people help me to understand some aspect of God or of living for God that I would not have so easily grasped on my own, and I find that Mary helps me to understand femininity – saved, sanctified, Christ-centered femininity – in a deeper way.
Also, just so you know where I’m coming from: I’m a non-denominational Protestant and grew up Evangelical with some hardcore neo-Calvinist friends. So I know that I don’t speak for all Protestants (which would be impossible), but I do speak from personal experience. I know there are different stripes of Calvinism, and I know some who take it to the logical conclusion of denying either the reality or the significance of human choice.