Q: Is it true that Mary is a mere copy of pagan goddesses?

A: Opinions hostile to Mary, to Marian devotion and doctrine, frequently refer to similarities between the Incarnation of Jesus and pagan mythologies of immaculate conceptions and virgin births in order to devaluate the Christian message.  According to these opinions, there is no real difference between Paretonia (mother of Plato), Pythais (mother of Pythagoras), Isis (mother of Horis), Hera (mother of Vulcan) and Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.  Does Christianity practice a mother goddess cult?

We don't have problems with cultural analogies.  Cultural and religious continuities are indicative of unity and permanence of human experience.  They are in fact proof that God meets human understanding and has couched his message of salvation in categories of human development.  This is a part of what we call Incarnation.

At the same time, we notice discontinuity.  By discontinuity we understand the unique, definitive and comprehensive or universal character of the incarnation and related events such as the Virgin birth and the Immaculate Conception. 

Most of the attempts to devaluate Mary's virginity and/or Immaculate Conception by referring to pre-Christian miraculous birth stories are not properly researched and limit themselves to external similarities.  For example, Plato, Pythagoras and Alexander the Great are not to be put in the same category with Christ.  They may be said to be "sons of deities" by mortal women, but they are not the Son of God.  Most of the time, the theological realities of, for example, the Trinity and the Immaculate Conception, are not accurately stated.  Thus, all too frequently, the Immaculate Conception is wrongly used to describe the Virgin Birth.

The uniqueness of the Incarnation resides in the loving intent of its execution.  Out of love for humanity, in and through love unto the cross, God abased himself in Jesus Christ to assume our nature, our history and destiny.  The context is one of monotheism not of polytheism like most of the mythologies cited.  Mary's role is not one of mere "incubator" as is the case for most women "impregnated" by Gods, but the free and loving response to a call transforming her life into a life-long mission at her Son's side.

The Incarnation/Redemption of Jesus Christ is regarded as definitive revelation of the one and only trinitarian God.  It does not allow for an endless series of reincarnations of heroes, semi-gods and god-like emperors and leaders.  At the "fullness of time", and as ultimate answer to human expectations (expressed among other in said mythologies), God sent his only Son for us and our salvation.  The unique and definitive character of revelation constitutes and confirms the unique and definitive role of Mary .

Similarly, Incarnation and Redemption as embodied in Jesus Christ have universal significance.  The only God and his only son, aided by his only mother, offer salvation to all, "Jews and Gentiles" alike.  This was never the case for Iris, Juno or Maia, and their offspring.  Though perceived differently, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, according to various cultures, the one Savior - as embodied in Jesus Christ - represents the ultimate answer to human expectations.

All of this points to discontinuity in continuity.  It is wrong to assert that there has been no discontinuity between the worship of pagan goddesses and Mary.  Catholic theology never predicated Mary as "mother immaculate goddess."  She is not the woman whose attributes have simply been copied from other pagan mythologies. 


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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Michael P. Duricy , was last modified Wednesday, 11/03/2010 11:11:57 EDT by Ramya Jairam . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.