A series of articles on

mother of Jesus

Presentation of Mary
Annunciation · Virgin Birth · Nativity · Presentation of Jesus · Flight into Egypt · Finding in the Temple · Cana · Crucifixion · Resurrection · Pentecost

Marian Perspectives
Eastern Orthodox • Protestant • Roman Catholic

Catholic Mariology
History of MariologyPapal teachingsMariology of the saints

Dogmas and Doctrines
Immaculate ConceptionAssumption

Mary in Culture

A child dressed as Mary (right) participates in a nativity play at a Presbyterian church in Oklahoma.

Protestant views of Mary includes the theological positions of major Protestant representatives such as Martin Luther and John Calvin as well as some modern representatives. While it is difficult to generalize about the place of Mary in Protestantism given the great diversity of Protestant beliefs, some summary statements are attempted.

While reformers such as Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin at different points in their writings had expressed what seem to be examples of a residual Marian piety,[1][2] the Protestant emphasis on sola scriptura, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria, among others kept the honoring of Mary to a minimum and Protestant teaching about Mary coterminous with her short part in scripture and creeds.

Nevertheless, a uniquely "Protestant" view of Mary can be said to exist, inasmuch as details of the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, are revealed in scripture and explored in exegesis; a typical Protestant view of Mary may be said to focus on her humility before God, her obedience and her openness to the Word. A newer and controversial Protestant view of Mary, emerging out of the Evangelical movement, sees Mary as a "subversive", "dangerous" and radically Christian woman.[3]

Protestant theologians

Some early Protestants venerated and honored Mary. Martin Luther said Mary is "the highest woman", that "we can never honour her enough", that "the veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart" and that Christians should "wish that everyone know and respect her". John Calvin said, "It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor." Zwingli said, "I esteem immensely the Mother of God" and "The more the honor and love of Christ increases among men, so much the esteem and honor given to Mary should grow". Thus the idea of respect and high honour was not rejected by the first Protestants; the practical implications for Mariology are still a matter of debate.

John Wycliffe

The pre-Lutheran reformer, John Wycliffe, who in many other areas rejected Catholic creedalism, reflected the Marian spirit of the later Middle Ages in one of his earlier sermons: "It seems to me impossible that we should obtain the reward of Heaven without the help of Mary. There is no sex or age, no rank or position, of anyone in the whole human race, which has no need to call for the help of the Holy Virgin."[4]

Martin Luther

Despite Luther's harsh polemics against his Roman Catholic opponents over issues concerning Mary and the saints, theologians appear to agree that Luther adhered to the Marian decrees of the ecumenical councils and dogmas of the church. He held fast to the belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin and the Theotokos or Mother of God.[5] Special attention is given to the assertion, that Luther some three-hundred years before the dogmatization of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854, was a firm adherent of that view. Others maintain that Luther in later years changed his position on the Immaculate Conception, which, at that time was undefined in the Church, maintaining however the sinlessness of Mary throughout her life.[6] Regarding the Assumption of Mary, he stated, that the Bible did not say anything about it. Important to him was the belief that Mary and the saints do live on after death.[7] "Throughout his career as a priest-professor-reformer, Luther preached, taught, and argued about the veneration of Mary with a verbosity that ranged from childlike piety to sophisticated polemics. His views are intimately linked to his christocentric theology and its consequences for liturgy and piety."[8] Luther, while revering Mary, came to criticize the "Papists" for blurring the line, between high admiration of the grace of God wherever it is seen in a human being, and religious service given to another creature. He considered the Roman Catholic practice of celebrating saints' days and making intercessory requests addressed especially to Mary and other departed saints to be idolatry.[9]

John Calvin

John Calvin accepted Mary's perpetual virginity and the title "Mother of God". He considered himself the real follower of Mary because he freed her from misuses of these titles and undeserved "Papist" honour which is due only to Jesus Christ, and for returning this honour to him alone.[10] Calvin stated that Mary cannot be the advocate of the faithful, since she needs God's grace as much as any other human being.[11] If the Catholic Church praises her as Queen of Heaven, it is blasphemous and contradicts her own intention, because she is praised and not God.[12]

Calvin expressed deep concern over its possible "superstitious" use of the title "Mother of God" from the teachings of the Council of Ephesus :[13]

I do not doubt that there has been some ignorance in their having reproved this mode of speech, — that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God … I cannot dissemble that it is found to be a bad practice ordinarily to adopt this title in speaking of this Virgin: and, for my part, I cannot consider such language as good, proper, or suitable… for to say, the Mother of God for the Virgin Mary, can only serve to harden the ignorant in their superstitions.

Karl Barth

Karl Barth (1886-1968), a Reformed Protestant, was a leading 20th century theologian. Aware of the common dogmatic tradition of the early Church, Barth fully accepted the dogma of Mary as the Mother of God. In his view, through Mary, Jesus belongs to the human race; through Jesus, Mary is Mother of God. Barth also agreed with the Dogma of the Virgin Birth. It meant to him that Jesus as a human does not have a father and that as the Son of God he has no mother. The Holy Spirit, through whom Mary conceived, is not just any spirit, but it is God himself whose act must be understood spiritually and not physically.[14] Mary is "full of grace" according to Barth, but this grace is not earned but totally given to her. Regarding Mary's virginity after birth, Barth argued that the Church adopted this position not because of Mary but in defence of its Christology. Barth considered the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary a terrible mistake and heresy.[15]

Issues in Protestant theology

Mother of God

The designation Theotokos (in Greek, Θεοτόκος) or "Mother of God" for Mary emerged in the Church of Alexandria and was later adopted by the patristic-era universal Church at the Council of Ephesus in 431. It is a statement of Christological orthodoxy (See: hypostasis) in opposition to Nestorianism and also a devotional title of Mary used extensively in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox liturgy.

Presently the Lutheran World Federation[16] accepts the teachings of the Council of Ephesus and other ecumenical councils of the patristic-era Church, including the formulation "Mother of God" as a function of Christ's hypostatic union. Luther says:[17]

We too know very well that God did not derive his divinity from Mary; but it does not follow that it is therefore wrong to say that God was born of Mary, that God is Mary’s Son, and that Mary is God’s mother.

The use of the term "Mother of God" among Protestants, however, has been controversial.

See also


  1. Walter Tappolet (1962). Das Marienlob der Reformatoren. Tübingen. 
  2. George Henry Tavard (1996). The Thousand Faces of the Virgin Mary. Liturgical Press. pp. 103. ISBN 0814659144. 
  3. Scot McKnight. "The Mary We Never Knew". Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/december/8.26.html. Retrieved 2008-05-07. 
  4.  "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Devotion_to_the_Blessed_Virgin_Mary. 
  5. Remigius Bäumer, Marienlexikon Gesamtausgabe, Leo Scheffczyk, ed., (Regensburg: Institutum Marianum, 1994), 190.
  6. Bäumer, 191
  7. Bäumer, 190.
  8. Eric W. Gritsch (1992). H. George Anderson, J. Francis Stafford, Joseph A. Burgess (eds.). ed. The One Mediator, The Saints, and Mary, Lutherans and Roman Catholic in Dialogue. VII. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. pp. 235. 
  9. Luther's Works, 47, pp. 45f; see also, Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VIII, p. 29.
  10. John Calvin. "On John 2:1-11". Commentary on John. 1. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom34.viii.i.html. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  11. John Calvin, Works, Serm. de la proph. de Christ: op 35, 686.
  12. John Calvin. "On Luke 1:46-50". Harmony of the Evangelists. 1. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.ix.html. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  13. Calvin to the Foreigners’ Church in London, 27 October 1552, in George Cornelius Gorham, Gleanings of a few scattered ears, during the period of Reformation in England and of the times immediately succeeding : A.D. 1533 to A.D. 1588 (London: Bell and Daldy, 1857), p. 285
  14. Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatic I, 2, 219
  15. "Where ever Mary is venerated, and devotion to her takes place, there the Church of Christ does not exist" (Church Dogmatics, I, 2, 154). "Catholic mariology is a cancer, a sick theological development, and cancers should be cut out" (Church Dogmatics, I, 2, 153). "The heresy of the Catholic Church is its mariology and Marian cult." (Church Dogmatics, I, 2, 157).
  16. 7th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission. Retrieved 13 May 2008.
  17. Martin Luther (2007). Theodore G. Tappert. ed. Selected Writings of Martin Luther. Fortress Press. pp. 291. ISBN 0800662261. 

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