Q: How can I tell my Protestant friends about Mary?
A: Begin by reading Thomas O'Meara, Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology, New York, 1966. It still is the most comprehensive work on this topic in English. Some basic conclusions:
1) The fathers of the reform (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin) held the traditional -- Catholic version -- on Marian doctrine as expressed in the first four ecumenical councils, that is, in particular Mary's divine maternity, virgin birth and perpetual virginity. Most were not opposed to Mary's Assumption and sinlessness.
2) They hardened their position on behalf of Marian devotion to counteract some Catholic exaggerations.
3) It is mainly among subsequent generations that the positions became entrenched and led to hostilities -- verbal and otherwise. The main reason was not theological reflection, according to my understanding, but a need for self-definition by way of differentiation. The implicit quest and question was: How are we different from Protestants/Catholics? This led to some of the polarizations we know. But we are in the process of rediscovering our common sources, namely Mary's faith and role in Jesus life as sketched in the Scriptures.
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