When I was on the outside looking in at the Catholic Church, I truly believed the emphasis on Mary in Catholic theology led to a loss of focus on Jesus. My aim, in speaking with Catholics, was not only to debunk Catholic theology’s many myths about Mary, but also to point them back to what really matters for salvation: Jesus Christ.
Often I would say to them words that I have since heard many times from scores of well-meaning Protestant Christians: “We can agree to disagree about Mary. After all, Mary is hardly ever mentioned in the Bible. And when it comes down to it, all that really matters is Jesus anyway.”
In my mind, at best, the Marian dogmas really didn’t matter. At worst, they led poor souls away from salvation in Jesus Christ, who said so plainly, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Now, the Catholic Church agrees with all Christians on the centrality of the person of Jesus Christ in the proclamation of the Christian faith. Its dogmas—all of them—are essential to the Christian life precisely because they have as their source and end the person of Jesus Christ. If this is true, then disagreement about a matter of faith and morals represents much more than a quarrel about some abstract concept; it is a disagreement about the very person of Jesus.
Many Protestants would actually agree with the Catholic Church here, at least in part. They would agree that a proper understanding of, for example, trinitarian theology, Christology, or even soteriology to be essential for salvation. However, where we generally part company is when we speak of the Marian doctrines in this context.
Are Catholics saying that missing the mark on Mary can distort our theology?
The Church asks us to consider an “organic connection” (CCC 89) among all
of the essential truths of the Faith, including the Mariological ones. Lumen Gentium
65 says it well:
For Mary, who has entered deeply into the history of salvation, in a certain way unites within herself the greatest truths of the faith and echoes them; and when she is preached about and honored she calls believers to her son, to his sacrifice and to the love of the Father.
For millions who claim Christ as their Lord and savior, this is far too much emphasis on Mary.
Yet, a careful reading of this text from Vatican II reveals Mary to be not so much an object of faith as an instrument. Her divine Son is the terminus of faith; Mary leads the faithful efficaciously to him. Like the moon in relation to the sun, Mary is not the light; she is the most perfect reflection of that light to we who walk “through the valley of the shadow of death,” as the psalmist says.
Mary prompts us to come to her Son. In her life and being, the Mother of God will teach us who God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in their eternal divine relations. She will teach us who her incarnate divine Son is.
And so, not only does understanding the truth of Mary as Mother of God help us hit the mark of true biblical theology and true Christology, but denying its truth makes us miss that mark. As the saying attributed (falsely) to Mother Teresa puts it:
No Mary, No Jesus - Know Mary, Know Jesus
We will see just how profoundly true this saying is.
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