I’m not sure which surprised me more—the article or where I’d found it. “Hail, Mary,” it said, emblazoned across a beautiful image of the Blessed Mother. And that on the cover of Time magazine.
The piece, appearing in the March 21 issue, profiled a new and fascinating phenomenon: In increasing numbers, Protestants are discovering Mary. It’s a modest beginning— centered more on devotion than doctrine—but it’s a beginning nonetheless. Catholics and Orthodox, twin protectors of our Lady through the centuries, can only applaud.
But what’s even more intriguing than this new turn in Protestant opinion is the reason for it. In short, the Bible is leading them back to Christ’s mother. Mary, after all, is present at the main points of Jesus’ life: His conception and birth, of course, teaching the rabbis in the temple; the first public miracle at Cana; and the crucifixion. She’s there in the beginning and in the end. And for those Scripture scholars interested in Biblical types or Patristic theology, the parallels are striking. Skipping over the historical idiocy of The Da Vinci Code, who but Jesus’ mother could be considered the Ark of the New Covenant? She carried the New Covenant in her womb—she was created to carry Him.
For centuries, Protestants have skipped past all this, leaving behind the Marian devotion of their theological fathers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. But now, the past silence over Mary is appearing less Biblical and more ideological—a tradition borne of the Protestant desire to distance itself from what it considered Catholic excess.
And so, a rediscovery. Pastors are feeling more comfortable preaching on the Blessed Mother, and professors at Protestant seminaries adorn their walls with her image. She’s an inspiration, they say, the first Christian—and a woman to boot.
By and large, those churchgoers exposed to this new development have welcomed it. Mary did, after all, give flesh to Christ, and she is a wonderful Biblical example of discipleship and sacrifice. Protestants can acknowledge this without embracing the doctrinal aspects of Marian devotion. Indeed, the only good reason to do so is because they’re true.
Of course, Protestantism—at least in its classical formulations— would have trouble accepting this, rejecting as it does any dogmatic role for Tradition or the Magisterium. (And despite the claims of a few well-meaning Catholic apologists, the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption simply cannot be had through Scripture alone.) But while we shouldn’t expect the local Baptist church to organize a rosary sodality, what about the more liberal Protestant denominations? Might they be more open?
This raises a very interesting possibility. The dogmas of both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption provide fertile ground for liberal Protestant theologians anxious to tease out the feminine aspects of historic Christianity. And since such theologians are hardly beholden to the doctrinal restrictions of classical Protestantism, might they be more willing to embrace the two dogmas? No doubt, if that were ever the case, it would be more about feminist ideology than anything else, and the specific formulations might differ from those of the Church. Nevertheless, the denominations rediscovering Mary—mainline Presbyterians and Methodists, for example—are among the most liberal in the Protestant world. The move from Marian devotion to Marian doctrine in those bodies—for whatever reason—may not be so farfetched.
At the very least, it’s a start.