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Book Review: Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn
Is the Catholic view of Jesus' Mother biblical?
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
One of the key sticking points when a Protestant considers Roman Catholicism is the Roman view of Mary, the mother of Jesus.1
In Roman Catholicism, Mary is given a number of lofty titles (such as Queen of Heaven) and is an integral part of Catholic spiritual practices. In a recent poll, 55% of Italians said that the first person they normally pray to is Mary.2
These facts make a Protestant uncomfortable. Yet, underlying this discomfort is the conviction that Catholic teachings about Mary are not found in the Bible.
Which leads to the central question of this book review:
Is the Catholic view of Mary actually found in the Bible?
Explicit Catholic Arguments from the Bible
I wondered what would be the best way to organise this review. Hahn includes a large number of arguments for the Catholic view, many times quoting the same parts of the Bible in several different places.
For the sake of simplicity, I decided to organise his arguments around the Bible passages that they refer to.
The first category of Bible passages are ones that explicitly mention the historical person Mary.5 In the next section, I will look at the passages that Hahn says implicitly refer to Mary.
Mary Asks Jesus to Provide More Wine (John 2:1-5)
In John 2:1-5, Mary asks Jesus to provide wine at a wedding after it has run out. Specifically, she appears to ask for the wine on behalf of the host’s servants, later telling them to ‘Do whatever he tells you’. In response, Jesus miraculously turns water into wine, making up for the lack of wine.
What does Hahn derive from this passage? He says that it represents Mary’s mediation between the church and Jesus: that Christians should ask Mary to forward their prayers to Jesus.
At first glance, his argument appears quite tenuous. The passage is a narrative with no explicit teachings apart from John’s statement in verse 11, that this was a sign that manifested Jesus’ glory. Why should this particular event define who Christians pray to?
Hahn seeks to justify his interpretation by relying on a theological method called ‘typology’ which he explains in Chapter 1. Typology is an implicit approach to finding meaning in the Bible, which I will discuss in the following section.
After this, Hahn addresses the thorny issue of Jesus’ response to Mary: ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me?’
From a plain reading, Jesus’ response to Mary is not positive. He does not address her as ‘mother’ (which would imply a recognition to honour and obey her as his mother) but rather as ‘woman’. He then questions her request: ‘What does this have to do with me?’
In response, Hahn interprets ‘woman’ as referring back to Eve in the garden. He then states that the phrase ‘What does this have to do with me?’ actually conveys ‘respect and deference’.6 In support of his claim, he says that the phrase is used in a number of places in the Old Testament,7 New Testament and outside of the Bible to show respect. However, he only quotes the use of this phrase by a demon in Luke 8:28.8
Both of the above approaches unfortunately represent a wider pattern in the book: the use of implicit and merely possible connections to overturn what is quite explicit and plain. It is a bit strange that the sentence ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me?’ (when spoken to one's own mother) would actually be a show of great honour and deference.
Drawing on a wider biblical context, Hahn argues that Jesus’ would have shown respect and deference to Mary out of obedience to the 5th Commandment (‘Honour your Father and Mother’). This would be a strong argument if Jesus were only Mary’s son. However, Jesus is also Mary’s Lord and God. Fundamentally, Jesus is in charge of Mary, not the other way around.9
Why then was Jesus’ response negative? After questioning her, Jesus says ‘My hour has not yet come.’ In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ hour refers to his moment of being glorified.10 After the miracle, the master of the feast ‘tasted the water now become wine’, but he ‘did not know where it came from’. Instead of Jesus being publicly recognised and praised by the host for his provision of wine, the bridegroom is asked why ‘he has kept the good wine until now’.
While Mary’s request for wine showed faith, it was also an attempt to move God’s timetable forward. Jesus graciously responded to the need for wine while reproving Mary for attempting to rush his hour of glorification forward.11
Jesus Gives His Mother to John while on the Cross (John 19:25-27)
John 19:25-27 recounts how Jesus, while dying on the cross, commanded the disciple John to take care of Mary as if she were his own mother.
What does Hahn derive from this passage? He believes that John represents the church. Therefore, when Jesus says to John ‘Behold, your mother!’ he is actually saying to each individual Christian that Mary is their mother.
Again, this is a narrative passage with no explicit teaching. So how does Hahn conclude that John represents the church and that Jesus’ command ‘Behold, your mother!’ applies to each individual Christian throughout the ages? Here again, he uses typology, which is an implicit approach to finding meaning in a passage.
Apart from this implicit connection, Hahn does not derive any other positive teaching from the passage.
Instead, he addresses a tension that arises in the context of his interpretation: Jesus does not call Mary his mother, but merely ‘woman’.12
How does Hahn resolve this tension? By appealing once again to an implicit connection: 'woman’ actually refers to Eve. And so Jesus was showing more honour (not less) by calling her ‘woman’.
Again, Hahn’s interpretation seems to conclude the opposite of the passage’s plain meaning.
Meanwhile, other explicit passages of the Bible can illuminate this passage: in the New Testament church, widows were taken care of by members of the congregation as if they were their own mothers (1 Timothy 5:1-3). Jesus here is setting the precedent for this practice.
The Angel’s Visit to Mary (Luke 1:26-38)
Luke 1:26-38 describes how the angel Gabriel visited Mary, sharing the news that she would become pregnant while still a virgin. The angel also provided details concerning how this would happen (via the Holy Spirit) and what it meant (her son would be God’s chosen Messiah).
The first Catholic teaching that Hahn derives from this passage is the first part of the ‘Hail Mary’ Catholic prayer:
Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Specifically, the words ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace’ are meant to be a translation of verse 28b.
However, when you look up this verse in any of the modern Protestant translations, you find different words:
“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Luke 1:28b (ESV)
Equally, the standard Catholic translation of the Bible used in North America14 renders it as:
“Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28b (NABRE)
Why the discrepancy?
Underlying these English translations we have:
‘Hail’ or ‘Greetings’ as a translation of the Greek term chairo which literally means ‘rejoice’.15 However, when used as a greeting, it is employed both by superiors addressing their inferiors and vice-versa.16 Without further context, the term chairo does not carry the connotation of ‘showing honour’, in contrast to the term ‘hail’.
‘Full of Grace’ or ‘Favoured’ as a translation of the Greek term charitoō which literally means:
charitoō: to favour. To give graciously, to show acts of kindness by freely giving; (n.) one highly favored17
The root of this term is the word charis which is normally translated as ‘grace’. And yet the shift from ‘full of grace’ to ‘favoured’ marks a shift in meaning. The angel’s greeting does not refer to anything good or meritorious about Mary herself, but rather refers to God’s ‘kindness’ in ‘freely giving’ something good to Mary.
Hence the Hail Mary, specifically in its intent to show special honour due to Mary, contains an inaccurate translation of Luke 1:28, which does not respect the meaning of ‘favoured’ and the ambiguity of ‘greetings’.
At the same time, there is a second Catholic view that Hahn seeks to derive from Luke 1:28: namely that Mary herself was without sin from birth. Hahn argues that being ‘full of grace’ corresponds to Mary being ‘free from all stain of original sin’ by God’s ‘sanctifying grace’.18
And yet, the plain meaning of being ‘favoured’ in this passage refers to God’s kindness in choosing Mary to carry his Son. If we look at other explicit passages that use the root of ‘favoured’ in the context of a greeting, we find Paul using the term at the beginning of almost every single one of his epistles.19 While God’s favour had indeed been poured out on the churches that Paul wrote to, they were not thereby sinless.20
Beyond the actual content of the Hail Mary, Hahn also seeks to justify the Catholic use of the Hail Mary (as a prayer) from this passage.21
Again, the plain meaning of the passage is that an angel spoke the words ‘Greetings, O favoured one’ to Mary. So how does Hahn justify the use of these words by every individual Christian as a prayer to Mary? As in other places, he will rely on an implicit argument based on typology (see below).
Another Catholic view that Hahn seeks to show from this passage is that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life.
While there is clear textual support for Mary’s virginity at the time of Jesus’ conception:
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
Luke 1:34 (ESV)
Hahn argues that, implicitly, Mary’s question only makes sense if Mary had no plans to be sexually intimate with anyone for the rest of her life.22
I confess I found this argument hard to follow. The only conclusion I could draw from his line of reasoning is that Mary believes she will not have sex with anyone until some point in the future, after the fulfilment of the angel’s promise. Moreover, the phrase translated as ‘I am a virgin’ literally means ‘I do not know a man’, where the verb ‘to know’ is in the present indicative active23 form, which corresponds to ‘I am not currently knowing’. In other words, Mary does not say ‘I will not know a man’, but ‘I am currently not knowing a man’.
Finally, Hahn makes an implicit connection between Mary’s choice to accept God’s word, and Eve’s decision to do the opposite (see the following section).
Elizabeth Greets Pregnant Mary (Luke 1:39-45)
In Luke 1:39-45, Mary goes to stay with her relative Elizabeth. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth exclaims:
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
Luke 1:42b-43 (ESV)
What does Hahn derive from this passage?
First, he seeks to provide biblical support for the Hail Mary by noting that the Hail Mary contains verse 42.
Yet even here there is nuance. The words ‘blessed… among women’ in the Hail Mary are normally understood as highlighting how special and unique Mary is. However, the term translated ‘blessed’ in verse 42 is the Greek word eulogeō which comes from the words ‘speak well’. The passive sense (used here) means 'to receive a blessing’.24 Therefore, in their preceding context, Elizabeth’s words describe how Mary has received a blessing by God’s free (unmerited) favour.
In terms of the use of the Hail Mary as a prayer, Hahn’s argument faces the same challenge as Luke 1:28 (see above).
Finally, Hahn finds an implicit connection between Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, and the welcoming of the Ark into Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6 (see below).
Mary’s Song to God (Luke 1:46-56)
In Luke 1:46-56, Mary sings a song of praise to God in response to what he has done for her:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Luke 1:46-49 (ESV)
In this passage, Hahn emphasises the words ‘from now on all generations will call me blessed’ as a justification for holding Mary in supremely high regard, due to her own unique and holy nature.
On this occasion, the word ‘blessed’ translates the term makarizō which has the root meaning ‘happy’.25 It is the same term that Jesus uses in the beatitudes. So the term ‘blessed’ again has the connotation of receiving something good from someone else, as opposed to being uniquely qualified to receive it.
On the other hand, Hahn’s interpretation introduces significant tensions with other explicit portions of the same passage: Mary refers to herself as having a ‘humble estate’, ‘hungry’ and receiving God’s ‘mercy’.
Implicit Catholic Arguments from the Bible
At this point, it might appear that Hahn’s arguments from the Bible for the Catholic view of Mary are quite weak. The passages that explicitly reference Jesus’ Mother either contain no explicit Catholic teachings, or heavily qualified ones. Meanwhile, Catholic views often introduce significant tensions with the explicit content of those passages.
And yet, Hahn himself admits that the Bible lacks explicit Catholic teachings about Mary. Quoting Cardinal Newman:
“It is sometimes asked, Why do not the sacred writers mention our Lady’s greatness? I answer, she was, or may have been alive, when the apostles and evangelists wrote” (Ibid, Chapter 3)
As a mother ‘par excellence’, Mary is supremely ‘elusive’.26
If Hahn does not support his views with explicit teachings from the Bible, how does he make his overall case?
In his first chapter, Hahn outlines the core of his argument. Here he introduces the theological category of ‘types’ in the Bible:
So what is a type? A type is a real person, place, thing, or event in the Old Testament that foreshadows something greater in the New Testament. (Ibid, Chapter 1)27
He then provides explicit biblical support for ‘types’ by quoting passages such as:
Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
Romans 5:14 (ESV)
So, can we derive Catholic teachings about Mary from New Testament passages (like the one above) that discuss how Mary fulfills Old Testament types? Not quite:
‘In addition to Old Testament types explicitly discussed in the New Testament, there are many more that are implicit but obvious.’ (Ibid, Chapter 1)
Types of Mary are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Their existence itself is also implicit.
Hence, the core of Hahn’s argument in his book can be summarised as:
The Bible contains implicit types of Mary, which contain the Catholic teachings about her.
In this section, I will summarise the implicit types of Mary that Hahn finds in the Bible.
Type #1: Eve
The first type of Mary that Hahn identifies is Eve, the first woman. In order to do this, Hahn points out God’s words to the serpent in Genesis 3:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
Genesis 3:15 (ESV)
Hahn says that this promise was fulfilled in Mary, because she bore Jesus who would ‘bruise’ the head of the serpent (Satan).
He goes on to show how Mary reversed Eve’s sin. Instead of listening to the serpent, Mary listened to and received God’s words. And so, instead of bringing sin into the world, Mary bore a Saviour who would reverse the effects of sin.
By implication then, Mary is the ‘New Eve’, just like Jesus is the ‘New Adam’ (Romans 5:14). Which, Hahn argues, implies that Mary is now the mother of every Christian, just like Eve was the ‘mother of all living’ (Genesis 3:20).
Beyond this, since Eve was Adam’s wife, Hahn argues that Mary must also be Jesus’ wife. And so:
[God] is at once her Father, her Spouse, and her Son. The mystery of divine maternity runs deep, because the mystery of the Trinity runs still deeper.’ (Ibid, Chapter 2)
While a typological relationship between Eve and Mary is quite clear, Hahn seems to extrapolate it into unwarranted and strange territory.
His extrapolation seems especially unwarranted since the Bible actually provides an explicit typology for Eve. Quoting from the description of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 2, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Ephesians 5:31-32 (ESV)
The Bible explicitly states that Eve is a type of the church. And so, the role of Eve as ‘mother of all living’ and ‘wife of Adam’ is fulfilled in the church, who is the bride of the New Adam and mother of every Christian.
If the church is the actual fulfilment of Eve’s type, then the church is also the fulfilment of Mary’s type.
Here again, we observe Hahn’s use of implicit and tenuous arguments, in favour of explicit statements in the Bible.
Type #2: The Woman in Revelation 12
In Revelation 12, the Apostle John describes his vision of a woman and her conflict with a dragon.
Hahn notes two parallels between Mary and this woman:
The woman gives birth to a child who will ‘rule all the nations’
The woman flees the dragon who wants to ‘devour’ the child
He identifies the child as Jesus, while pointing out the parallel between Mary’s flight from Herod to Egypt, and the woman’s flight from the dragon into the the wilderness. Hence, Hahn argues, this woman is a type of Mary.
From the above typological relationship, Hahn concludes that Mary is the ‘Queen of Heaven’ since the woman is ‘clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars’ (Revelation 12:1).
Equally, he concludes that Mary is the mother of every Christian since the ‘offspring’ of the woman are ‘those who keep the commandments of God’ (verse 17).
He also concludes that Mary's body was assumed into heaven (like Jesus) since this woman is in heaven.
However, Hahn’s interpretation evokes a number of tensions.
The woman ‘was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth’ (verse 12). Meanwhile Catholic tradition holds that Mary did not experience any pain while giving birth. Hahn tries to reconcile this tension by stating that Mary experienced ‘spiritual suffering’ later in her life due to her motherhood (Ibid, Chapter 3). Again, Hahn uses an implicit understanding to deny the explicit and plain reading of the passage: namely these are ‘birth pains’.
The woman also does not stay in heaven but ‘fled into the wilderness’ (verse 6). Hahn connects this to Mary’s own sojourn in Egypt, which means that the woman’s story is in reverse chronological when compared to Mary’s (there is first an ascension, then a flight).
At the same time, there is a clearer and more natural typological fulfilment of the woman in Revelation 12: the church. In particular, the church is identified as the ‘bride of the lamb’ later in John’s Revelation. She ‘comes down out of heaven’. And she is inscribed with the ‘twelve tribes of the sons of Israel,’ just as the woman has 12 stars in her crown.(Revelation 21:9-14)28 Equally the church is oppressed by Satan throughout the book of Revelation and every Christian comes from (is an ‘offspring’) of the church. Finally, Jesus was ‘born’ from the lineage of God’s people (the church).29
Hahn recognises that the church is a typological fulfilment of the woman in Revelation 12, but argues:
Mary is a central figure in the Apocalypse because—assumed into heaven, where she reigns—Mary is now the fulfillment of the reality of which the Church itself is merely a type. (Ibid, Chapter 6)
Hahn argues that the church is a type of Mary, not the other way around.
And yet, as a typological fulfilment, the church introduces no tensions (unlike Hahn’s view) and has explicit support from the same book of the Bible (also unlike Han’s view). Hence, the church is a more fitting typological fulfilment of the woman in Revelation 12.
Type #3: The Queen Mother
In the book of 1 Kings, Hahn points out a moment where Solomon’s mother is invited to sit at the right hand of Solomon’s throne:
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king's mother, and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”
1 Kings 2:19-20 (ESV)
Hahn notes that Solomon’s mother speaks to him ‘on behalf of Adonija’, that Solomon accepts her intercession and seats her in a position of honour.
From this, Hahn concludes that Bathsheba was a ‘Queen Mother’, which he describes as a common practice in the Ancient Near East:
In the ancient Near East, most nations were monarchies ruled by a king. In addition, most cultures practiced polygamy; so a given king often had several wives. This posed problems. First, whom should the people honor as queen? But more important, whose son should receive the right of succession to the throne? In most Near Eastern cultures, these twin problems were resolved by a single custom. The woman ordinarily honored as queen was not the wife of the king, but the mother of the king. (Ibid, Chapter 4)
He then parallels this with how Mary asked Jesus for more wine on behalf of the host of the Wedding of Cana (see above).
Therefore, Hahn argues, Mary is the ‘Queen Mother’ of Jesus, who sits at his right hand, in a privileged position of authority over all of Jesus’ subjects. More specifically, she is in a unique position to intercede on behalf of Jesus’ subjects.
While there are parallels between Bathsheba and Mary, these parallels are not necessarily positive.
Right after Bathsheba sits next to Solomon, she asks Solomon to give David’s old concubine in marriage to his half-brother Adonijah. In response, Solomon severely rebukes her (since this would be a sign of giving up his throne) and then has Adonijah killed. (1 Kings 2:21-25)
Solomon’s rebuke parallels Jesus’ rebuke of Mary at the Wedding of Cana (see above). In both instances, the request was presumptuous and against the will of the King.
At the same time, the description of Mary as a ‘Queen Mother’ (gebirah) is troubling. Every use of this term in the Bible is in a negative or ambiguous context.30 Meanwhile, the idea that the ‘Queen Mother’ arose in pagan cultures as a way of coping with polygamy suggests that it is actually sinful, and not part of God’s original design.31
Type #4: The Ark of the Covenant
The final type of Mary that Hahn seeks to show is the Ark of the Covenant.32
Out of every possible type that Hahn mentions, this was the hardest for me to see.
He begins his argument by connecting the revealing of the Ark within the temple in Revelation 11:19 to the appearance of the woman in heaven in Revelation 12:1. However, while the Ark is seen in God’s temple, the woman is a ‘great sign’ that ‘appeared in heaven’, with the dragon being ‘another sign’ that ‘appeared in heaven’ (verse 3). Grammatically there is no connection between the woman and the Ark and chapter 12 actually marks a shift in literary focus and theme (from the temple to the apparition of signs in heaven). Hahn’s argument also depends on identifying the woman as a type of Mary (which was addressed above).
The next typological connection that Hahn presents was even harder for me to see.
Hahn points to a number of parallels between the way David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6, and the way Mary travelled to and was greeted by Elizabeth in Luke 1:39-45. David and Mary both ‘arose and went’, both Mary and David travelled through the hill country, both David and Elizabeth expressed a sense of unworthiness when seeing the Ark and Mary respectively, David danced while baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. Finally the ark remained in the hill country for 3 months while Mary spent 3 months with Elizabeth.
These parallels are in themselves quite tenuous: David, Mary, the Ark, Elizabeth and baby John all play interchangeable roles with one another - there is no one-to-one mapping between the type and its fulfilment, which is normally expected in typological fulfilment.
At the same time, there are many events that take place in 2 Samuel 6 which have no parallels in Luke 1, such as the death of Uzzah for touching the Ark, David getting angry with God, Michal reproaching David and Michal becoming infertile.
The final parallel that Hahn draws between Mary and the Ark is that the Ark held the 10 Commandments and Mary carried the ‘Word of God’ in her womb.
Catholic Arguments from Outside the Bible
At this point, it appears that Hahn has not shown Catholic teachings about Mary as coming from the Bible. The explicit passages about Mary show little support, while the implicit passages are quite tenuous.
So in an important sense, Hahn has not been able to deliver on the subtitle of his book:
The Mother of God in the Word of God
And yet, there is a last resort for Catholic teachings about Mary.
In Chapter 5, Hahn introduces the role of Catholic dogmas, acknowledging that:
‘Without the dogmas, Mary becomes unreal: a random female body from Nazareth, insignificant in her individuality, incidental to the gospels’ narrative.’ (Ibid, Chapter 5).
He then defines a dogma:
What is dogma? A useful definition comes from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who
wrote that “dogma is by definition nothing other than an interpretation of Scripture.”… Dogma, then, is the Church’s infallible exegesis of scripture. (Ibid, Chapter 5)
The Catholic dogmas contain, in written form, the Catholic teachings about Mary. The dogmas are also considered by the Catholic Church to be infallibly true.
By identifying dogma as an ‘interpretation of Scripture’, Hahn seeks to support his view that the Catholic Mary is found in the Bible.
Yet, the interpretation of a text normally means you can point to specific parts of that text as the basis of your interpretation. Equally, the term ‘exegesis’ literally means to ‘lead out from’.33
Whereas, when referring to dogmas, Hahn does not quote Scripture, but rather theologians and church decrees from history. Those quotes, incidentally, do not include references to (or expositions of) specific verses from the Bible. Instead, they normally include blanket theological assertions.
While you might find support for your views from past theologians and church decrees, it is important to not confuse such a practice with actually finding a teaching in the Bible.
With the above caveat, Hahn’s quotations of past theologians and Catholic church decrees do contain explicit Catholic teachings about Mary. In the entirety of the book, this was the only place where I found explicit Catholic teachings about Mary that were not written by Hahn himself.
Explicit Bible Passages That Were Not Addressed
At this point, it appears that Catholic views of Mary are not found in the Bible. However, you could wonder whether such views are simply next to the Bible. Could you say that the Catholic view of Mary is compatible with the Bible, even if you cannot clearly derive it from the Bible?
Interestingly, there are a number of biblical passages about Mary that were left largely unaddressed by Hahn (apart from a few passing comments here and there).
The most prominent of those unaddressed passages can be found in all three synoptic gospels:
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:31-35 (ESV)
Like the Wedding in Cana, Jesus publicly denies honour to Mary as his mother. Instead, he says that his followers are his true ‘brother and sister and mother’. The explicit teaching here is that Jesus’ spiritual family is greater than his biological one.
With regards to typology, Jesus also explicitly identifies the church as his ‘mother’.
Looking back to Jesus’ childhood, we again find tension between Jesus and his mother in a public setting, where he does not show her honour as his mother:
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it… And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?
Luke 2:43, 48-49 (ESV)
In this account, Jesus does not honour Mary by returning home with her, but stays behind to publicly engage with the teachers of the Law in the Temple. When Mary seeks to rebuke Jesus for his behaviour, Jesus ends up rebuking her: she should have known that Jesus was with God his Father.
The primacy of one’s spiritual family over one’s biological family is explicitly taught by Jesus in Matthew:
For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:35-37 (ESV)
And Jesus applies this specific tension to himself in Mark:
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
Mark 6:4 (ESV)
Instead of a perfect mother-figure, the gospels present a more realistic picture of Mary: she had good moments and bad moments. She initially received God’s word from the angel, but then found herself opposing his mission and identity later on in his life. Her presence at Jesus’ crucifixion and among his disciples reassures us that her faith was genuine, but her absence from the rest of the New Testament (Acts 2 and onwards) shows that her role in salvation history was limited.
Cause for Serious Concern
At this point, I could finish writing this review, having answered my central question:
Is the Catholic view of Mary actually found in the Bible?
And yet, it would be remiss of me to not share some of the deep concerns raised by both this book, and wider Catholic views of Mary.
In chapter 6, Hahn says:
If you want to judge how well people grasp the gospel in its essence, find out how much they make of having God as their Father—and Mary as their mother.
Here, Dr Hahn places Mary at the very centre (the ‘essence’) of the Christian faith. God as Father and Mary as Mother are in the same category. In other parts of the work, Hahn says that:
Mary is God’s greatest creation34
Salvation is inconceivable without her35
Jesus’ existence depends on the ongoing consent of Mary36
God gave all of his glory to her37
She is the human who most perfectly manifests God’s work38
Mary should be a starting point, and integral component of evangelising others39
Mary providentially intervenes in the world40
In fact, throughout Hahn’s book, Mary often finds herself in the same category as the three members of the Trinity. In chapter 1, Hahn first writes:
“God in His deepest mystery is… a family.” God Himself is Father, Son, and the Spirit of Love
and then, a few lines later he says:
Every family needs a mother; only Christ could choose His own, and He chose providentially for His entire covenant family… For a family is incomplete without a loving mother.
The implication is that God himself, as a family, is incomplete without Mary.
The number of places where the Catholic Mary naturally fits within a divine category unfortunately abound:
King of Heaven (God) ⇢ Queen of Heaven (Mary)
Father of the Church (God) ⇢ Mother of the Church (Mary)
Mediator (Jesus) ⇢ Mediatrix (Mary)
Advocate (Jesus, Holy Spirit) ⇢ Advocate (Mary)
Firstborn over Creation (Jesus) ⇢ Greatest of God’s Creations (Mary)
Dispenser of God’s Favour (Jesus) ⇢ Dispenser of God’s Glory (Mary)
Divine Conception (Jesus) ⇢ Immaculate Conception (Mary)
Sinless (Jesus) ⇢ Sinless (Mary)
Assumption into Heaven (Jesus) ⇢ Assumption into Heaven (Mary)
Receiver of Prayer (God) ⇢ Receiver of Prayer (Mary)
Object of Worship (God) ⇢ Object of Supreme Veneration (Mary)
If there were a single passing reference to one of these statements in a book, I would begin to deeply question the biblical views of the author.
The fact that such views abound and permeate Hahn’s book caused serious alarm.
The Bible explicitly and abundantly teaches:
There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
Psalm 86:8 (ESV)
While Dr Hahn denies the charge of idolatry by differentiating between ‘veneration’ and ‘worship’,41 I am afraid that this amounts to a distinction without a difference.
Read for example the following worship song to the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis:
I call upon you, Isis, most graceful and high of the High Ones
Hear your lowly servitor and grant your blessings
Most full and gentle
You whose crescent moon and stars
Encompass the world…
Smile down upon us, that we may see you, great mother
Set foot upon a flower, wife and lover of sunlight
Spread your innocent radiance through the skies, untouched one
That the earth may resound with your praises.42
As far as I can tell, the only substantial difference between the Catholic Mary and what is written in this hymn, is the name ‘Isis’.43
Meanwhile, such hymns are precisely condemned by innumerable passages throughout the Bible:
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Psalm 96:4-5 (ESV)
Ultimately though, I am most concerned by the fact that Dr Hahn found explicit support for all of these teachings from official Catholic theologians and decrees. I wish Dr Hahn’s views were an outlier in Catholicism; the opposite appears to be true. Moreover, the Catholic view of Mary has been encoded as infallible dogma; the Catholic church cannot revoke it.
In conclusion then, as an answer to my original question:
Is the Catholic view of Mary actually found in the Bible?
Scott Hahn’s book leads me to a firm ‘No’.
While he is able to draw many implicit and tenuous connections between the Catholic Mary and the Bible, these are unconvincing. You could try and soften Hahn’s position by saying that the Catholic view is next to the Bible (not derived from it, but still compatible with it). However there are too many explicit passages that undermine the Catholic view.
Interestingly, Dr Hahn himself did not become convinced of the Catholic view of Mary via theological ‘scruples’, but via a ‘very personal, seemingly impossible intention’:
The proof of her maternity would come, for me, only when I made the decision to let myself be her son. Despite all the powerful scruples of my Protestant training— remember, just a few years before, I had torn apart my Grandma’s beads—I took up the rosary one day and began to pray. I prayed for a very personal, seemingly impossible intention. On the next day, I took up the beads again, and the next day and the next. Months passed before I realized that my intention, the seemingly impossible situation, had been reversed since the day I first prayed the rosary. My petition had been granted. (Ibid, Introduction)
It seems that the Catholic view of Mary (despite its theological expression) does not appear as a logical conclusion drawn from a study of the Bible. Rather, it is primarily derived from a personal and emotional decision, rooted in the practice of religious rites.
Beyond Dr Hahn’s own perspective, he sadly gave me little assurance that Catholics in general do not idolise Mary. Quite the contrary, Hahn’s book showed me that the idolatry of Mary in Catholicism is both deeper and wider than I once believed.
As the Catholic Catechism says:
The Church's devotion to the Blessed Virgin is intrinsic to Christian worship.44
If you are interested in learning more about the Catholic view of Mary, ‘Hail, Holy Queen’ is an accessible and well-written volume.45
However, if you are a believer in the Bible, seeking spiritual encouragement and a closer walk with the Lord, I cannot recommend it.
We should heed Paul’s command to ‘not go beyond what is written’ (1 Corinthians 4:6).
Not to be confused with the large number of other Marys in the New Testament (such as Mary Magdalene)!
As a small note, Hahn uses a Catholic Bible which has a number of books in addition to the ones found in the Protestant Bible. These added books are historically called the ‘Apocrypha’. However, the only place where he quotes from the Apocrypha is in Chapter 3 from 2 Maccabees 2:5-8.
It is true that the ‘Word of God’ in Roman Catholicism includes both the Bible and Church Tradition. However, Hahn explicitly claims to be finding the Catholic view of Mary in Scripture: ‘Now, in my heart, I accepted His command to behold my mother. With this book I wish to share that insight—and its unshakable scriptural foundations—with as many Christians as will listen to me, prayerfully, with an open mind.’ (Introduction, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
This means that there is an actual, literal reference to Mary in the text itself (eg ‘the Mother of Jesus’).
‘The decisive evidence against the reproach reading, however, comes from the alleged reproach itself. “What have you to do with me?” was a common Hebrew and Greek idiom in Jesus’ day. It is found in several other places in the Old and New Testaments, as well as in sources outside the Bible. In all other occurrences, it certainly does not signify reproach or disrespect. Quite the opposite: it conveys respect and even deference.’ (Ibid, Chapter 2)
I am unsure how this Greek phrase would appear in the Old Testament (which is written in Hebrew and Aramaic). Maybe it appears in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament used at the time of Jesus?
He equally provides no bibliographical support for this statement.
This passage not only has parallels to Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (see Matthew 16:21-23) but also parallels a very similar situation where Solomon’s Mother makes a presumptuous request in 1 Kings 2:19-25 (see the following section where this passage is assessed in greater detail).
Interestingly, I tried but could not find any instance of Jesus explicitly calling Mary his mother in the entire New Testament.
‘The immaculate conception is the doctrine that God preserved Mary free from all stain of original sin. From the first moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, then, she lived in a state of sanctifying grace won for her by the merits of her son, Jesus. Thus the angel’s greeting to Mary, “Hail, full of grace,” was uttered years before Jesus won grace for mankind. Yet Mary was, even then, “full of grace.”’ (Ibid, Chapter 5)
Consider the egregious sins referred to in 1 Corinthians, including a man having sexual relations with either his mother or step-mother (1 Corinthians 5:1).
‘The Hail Mary comes from the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel.’ (Ibid, Appendix)
‘Now, this would be an odd question if Mary had planned to have normal marital relations with her husband. The angel had told her only that she would conceive a son, which is a commonplace event in marriage. If Helvidius were right, then Mary should have known exactly “how shall this be.” It would happen in the normal course of nature. But that, apparently, was beyond the realm of possibility for her. The unspoken assumption behind her question is that, even though she was betrothed, she should not have an opportunity to conceive a child.’ (Ibid, Chapter 5).
‘As the Mother of God, Mary is the mother par excellence. So, as all mothers are elusive, she will be more so.’ (Chapter 1, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
Interestingly, the use of types is a major teaching in Reformed theology. Hahn carried out his original seminary training at the reformed Gordon-Conwell Seminary. His base arguments for types here are almost identical to the ones that appear in Reformed circles.
Interestingly, the reference to the sun, moon and 12 stars has its closest parallel to Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:8-11 where these heavenly bodies are identified as Joseph’s Father, Mother and their children respectively. Joseph’s family is the first complete constitution of God’s people, the church.
‘She is only a creature, but she is God’s greatest creation. She is not the king, but she is His chosen queen mother. Just as artists long to paint one masterpiece among their many works, so Jesus made His mother to be His greatest masterpiece.’ (Chapter 6, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
‘For Mary’s role makes no sense apart from its context in salvation history; yet it is not incidental to God’s plan. God chose to make His redemptive act inconceivable without her.’ (Chapter 1, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
‘In short, the Father willed that His Son’s entire existence as a man would hinge, so to speak, upon the ongoing consent of Mary.’ (Chapter 6, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
‘He gave us all His glory by giving it to the only one who would give it to all of us: our mother.’ (Chapter 6, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
‘we celebrate His work, precisely by focusing our attention on the human person who manifests it most perfectly.’ (Chapter 6, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
‘our efforts at evangelization must have a Marian component. Evangelization should begin with Marian prayer and it should be suffused with Marian doctrine and devotion. For evangelization is all about building up a family, and no one can belong to a family without honoring the family’s mother. (Chapter 6, Hail, Holy Queen by Scott Hahn)
See Hahn’s account in chapter 8.
‘I was wrong, of course—first of all, in my belief that Catholics “worship” Mary. In truth, the Church gives her honor and veneration as the greatest of saints, while reserving adoration and worship for God alone. Indeed, the early Christians who were most vigorous in their Marian devotion were equally vigorous in denouncing any local remnants of goddess worship.’ (Ibid, Chapter 5)
Hahn acknowledges this resemblance, yet seeks to justify it via C. S. Lewis’ argument that ‘such parallels between Christianity and paganism are best understood as a preparation for the gospel —God’s way of giving even the gentiles a hint’ (Ibid, Chapter 5). Yet C. S. Lewis’ argument only makes sense if the pagan belief is similar to some aspect of the Gospel of Jesus as described in Bible. In fact, there is a strong parallel between the pagan practice of worshipping a female deity and God’s people doing the same throughout their history. But all such accounts in the Bible are univocally condemned and incur God’s wrath (see for example the Asherah which represents a female deity in Deuteronomy 7:5, 16:21 and 1 Kings 14:15, with reference to 2 Chronicles 15:16 for its female nature).
It was also quite amusing at times. I appreciated the puns Dr Hahn used in most of his sub-headings.