The Protestant Mary Isn’t the True Mary

The new movie "Journey to Bethlehem" reveals the dramatic difference in worldview between Catholics and Protestants.

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Social media exploded last week when, on “Reformation Day,” October 31 (did you know?), some Protestant tourists posted a cheeky photo of themselves wearing Martin Luther t-shirts in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Catholics came out in force on X-formerly-Twitter with (mostly) civil rebukes. 

Then the Protestant side kicked it up a notch with a meme of Martin Luther blowing a statue of the Virgin Mary to smithereens, and another one of Mary and Joseph kissing quite…robustly. More dismay from the Catholic side. 

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In the wake of the fiery backlash, the main Protestant agitator tweeted, “Man, Roman Catholic Twitter goes hard. Some of you prots could learn a thing or two. Not saying they’re right at all, but the energy is exquisite.”

All the kerfuffle has made me more aware of the truly dramatic differences in worldview between Catholics and Protestants. We need each other desperately in the cosmic battle of good and evil that is bearing down on us, but the differences are foundational, and we might as well recognize them. We’ll just keep offending each other and reacting ad nauseam otherwise.

A good picture of the difference is the new movie Journey to Bethlehem, due in theaters on November 10. Journey to Bethlehem is a musical treatment of the Christmas story, a huge risk for the director. Could he pull off The Word Made Flesh in song and dance? The movie would have to be brilliant to avoid sacrilege.

In its accidents, so to speak, Journey to Bethlehem is nicely done: photography; sets; music; the ingenious casting of Antonio Banderas as the vain, brooding, psychotic Herod; a hopeful subplot concerning one of Herod’s doomed sons; and two captivating young actors as Mary and Joseph. But I knew within five minutes that the movie was Protestant not Catholic…and it’s all to do with Mary. 

I’m not one to elevate Mary too high. In fact, I pray for the tender super-affection that I see others feel for her. That’s all to say, my problem with the way the movie envisioned Mary is not coming from emotion.

The lovely actress who plays Mary opens the movie in a fit of mild pique because her parents won’t let her be a teacher as she had planned. Could it be any more modern: a girl who wants a career over a family and is willing to pout about it to her father? In a musical number, Mary laments that, as a married woman, she will have to do chores and make babies and go to the market.

My answer: the Immaculate Conception and all that it implies. Protestants can easily imagine Mary as just another girl, with all sorts of typically girlish ideas and weaknesses, nothing special about her. I have, in fact, had conversations with Protestants who find it appalling that any quality of Mary could be reckoned better-than-average. Her lack of any sign of favor, to Protestant minds, is greater evidence of God’s power.

Catholics believe she was full of grace from her conception in the womb of her mother. To a Catholic mind, that is even greater evidence of God’s power. That difference ripples out from the center in a myriad of ways. Full of Grace doesn’t answer back to a parent. Full of Grace isn’t petulant. 

It was hard to get through this opening of the movie, in which Mary was badly mischaracterized. After the conception of Jesus, though, Mary gains maturity and grace, and by the birth of her Child, she is a character Catholics can love. Joseph, in the same way, begins as a teasing youth but matures through his internal trial over Mary’s unexplained pregnancy. By the time of the arduous journey to Bethlehem to answer the census (but not so arduous that it couldn’t allow for a musical number), he becomes the man we may recognize as Saint.  

I was pleased that the movie represented Joseph as a virile young man and not a white-haired elder. Convincing evidence of Joseph being a young man is presented well by Fr. Donald Calloway in his Consecration to St. Joseph.

The characters of Mary and Joseph were well cast: two appealing young people with excellent voices. You could really get caught up in their story and even enjoy the musical numbers, but I just couldn’t get past the Marian issue. 

There is something in Protestantism that needs to re-view history. For Catholicism not to be true in 1517, it can’t have ever been true; so even Scriptural events must be re-envisioned. Mary must be shown to be ordinary, must be full of human foibles, must not be a perpetual virgin. Midway through the movie, Joseph kisses Mary chastely, but by the end, there is a progression in his familiarity, with the happy-ending scene suggesting that they are falling in love in the full human way of marriage.  There is something in Protestantism that needs to re-view history. For Catholicism not to be true in 1517, it can’t have ever been true; so even Scriptural events must be re-envisioned. Tweet This

A Protestant has no issue with that. It’s more evidence that Mary is just like us, and that only God’s power can have brought salvation through her, a point with which Catholics would agree. But the timing of Mary’s salvation in Christ came earlier, at her conception. I’m afraid that makes all the difference. And it is a truth so beautiful I’m loath to overlook it, even for a movie that may be entertaining in other aspects. 

It’s never been more important to see Mary properly. The serpent grows bolder and more venomous every day, and it has, from the beginning, been given to Mary to crush him. God prepared her to be more than ordinary; she is The Woman. This is no time to bring higher things down to our level, even for relatability, even for ecumenism, even for a new movie to watch at Christmas. If we don’t hold secure the most beautiful truths of our Catholic Faith, our separated brothers will have nothing to come home to.


  • Sheryl Collmer

    Sheryl Collmer is an independent consultant for several non-profit organizations. She holds a Master’s in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas, as well as an MBA. From her home in the diocese of Tyler, Texas, she studies homesteading, history, and the currents in the Church.

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