Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem, Ph. D.
(Ad Veritatem May 2005)
QUESTION: I had a discussion with an Evangelical friend on the virginity of Our Blessed Mother. I pointed out that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli taught the historic Christian doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity. He didn't care and said that our salvation doesn't depend on belief about Mary's virginity. All we have to do, he said, is believe that Jesus is our personal Lord and Savior and we will be saved. He also said Catholicism isn't "true" Christianity. What should I tell him?
ANSWER: The Reformers indeed taught the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, but that usually doesn’t impress modern-day Protestants like your friend. Protestants agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation.
But faith in Christ includes faith in and assent to what He taught in His commandments and doctrines. Your friend’s minimalist attitude toward what is necessary to salvation risks turning Christianity into a mechanical ideology: “Say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and you’re in, nothing else matters. Just don’t become a Catholic.” Point out that if there are no conditions for salvation other than faith in Christ as one’s Savior, then not being a Catholic cannot be a condition for salvation. If he says you can't be a Catholic and be saved, then he’s added a condition and is being inconsistent. This may help him see that there's more to salvation than mere faith in Christ. Jesus reminded us that faith alone isn’t sufficient: “Why do you say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do the things I command?” (Luke 6:46-47; cf. Matt, 7:21-23). This includes believing in all that He and the Apostles taught. And that includes the truth of Mary’s perpetual virginity. You see, all of revelation is connected. One cannot say, for example, I’m willing to accept this doctrine but I won’t accept that one. That’s completely contrary to Christ’s will. Your friend’s point of view is common among Protestants, who have a tendency to reduce “faith in Christ” to simply the belief that He is our Savior. But let's remember what “Savior” means. It means that Christ is saving us from something, He is saving us for something, His salvation comes to us in a certain way and under certain conditions (e.g. believe, repent, be baptized, etc.). This also tells us who He is: God Himself. You see what a wealth of doctrinal implications are contained in the word “savior”: sin, death, and hell, the commandments, grace, heaven, sacrifice, merit, sacraments, the Church, the Trinity, the Incarnation, His death, Resurrection, and Second Coming.
For those who know and love Christ, there is nothing about Him, His life, His friends, His teachings that is not of interest or help to them.
Christ came to “bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37) and to reveal many supernatural mysteries about God and the kingdom of God which we could never have known by the power of unaided human reason. Believing the truths about Christ contained in Sacred Scripture are part of having faith in Him. We can’t separate faith in the person of Christ from faith in His life and message, in the prophets who preceded Him, and the Apostles and their successors who followed after Him. These Apostles, “the early Church magisterium,” proclaimed the truth with the teaching authority Christ gave them: “He who hears you, hears Me” (Luke 10:16; cf. Matt. 16:18, 18:18).
And remember what Christ commanded the magisterium of His Church to do: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Christ wants Christians to assent to and profess all the doctrines contained in the Deposit of Faith, including the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. He reminds us that, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in Heaven” (Matt. 7:21).