Marian devotion a form of inculturation?

The Catholic Church is accused by some of having continued pagan goddess and demi-goddess worship (Isis, Astarte, Semiramis, et al), what some call worship of the “Queen of Heaven”, in its veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They protest that such devotion is called for nowhere in Scripture.

To what extent, if any, does this contain a kernel of truth? Stay with me on this. It seems to me that many, if not most, pre-Christian pagan religions had a kind of “mother goddess” (possibly one of many gods), and that, indeed, worshiping a “divine feminine” figure may well be an atavistic part of human nature. Did the Church go into pagan lands, seeking to convert as many as she could, find them worshiping a mother goddess, and emphasize devotion to the Blessed Mother (not worship) as a substitute, something consonant with Christian doctrine that the pagans could accept?

I, myself, sense no primordial, atavistic urge within me to call upon a female religious entity. I do it — Fatima played a huge role in this — but it’s not something that would naturally occur to me, if I weren’t told of it. I was not formally raised with any religion other than a kind of “atmospheric” Christianity from my extended family and community — my family had no concept of anyone not believing in Christianity, even if they did not regularly attend church or read the Bible. They couldn’t even have told you what a Jew or a Muslim is. Eastern Orthodoxy, never heard of it. Catholicism? Bingo games, ministers who don’t get married, people who tend to drink, people who think their sins are forgiven in confession and then they can run right out and commit them again. All I knew was “God and Jesus”, really not understanding either. Thankfully I discovered Christ and his one true Catholic Church, but I just as easily could not have, if not for grace.

On the other hand, my “ex-” wife, Polish born and raised, told me that she most certainly does feel an instinctive urge, when confronted with trouble or danger, to run to the Blessed Mother. She was raised that way and never knew Christianity without an emphasis on Our Lady. This seems to be the template for most if not all Catholics. I’m not saying it is a bad thing, I just never heard of it.

And I realize that other practices are said to be “layovers” of Christianity onto existing pagan practices — Christmas, Easter, and so on. Catholic missionaries found pagans with nature-based ceremonies and holidays, and “tweaked” them to become Christian. (Nowhere in Scripture are we told to observe Christmas or Easter.) There are other examples.

Sorry, but I think this line of discussion is borderline blasphemous to Our Blessed Mother.
She is not a “Mother Goddess” and we do not call upon her out of a “primordial, atavistic urge”.
And (especially since we don’t worship Mary) comparing it to pagan worship is just disgusting.
Especially coming from a professed Catholic!

Marian devotion has been with us since the early days of the Church. It is not something that was invented by missionaries going into pagan lands. Maybe read the history of the devotion before you say such things.

I will not participate further in such disrespect. Muting the thread now.


It is the worship called veneration but not the worship called adoration. Worship is acknowledgment of another’s worth, dignity, or superior position. Other saints and good angels are also venerated.

The Church determines the obligatory holy days through its God given authority to bind and loose sin.

Nowhere in scripture are we told that scripture tells us everything.

God reveals himself throughout creation. And that includes pagan cultures and cultures of other religious nature, in imperfect ways. But nonetheless, those religions convey hints of revelation. So it should never be surprising when commonalities surface. The idea that commonalities between cultures and religions discredit Christianity is just plain silly. We should expect to see commonalities, if God is breaking through to man in revelation. Commonalities and comparative practices should reinforce the reality that God is speaking to all people, and should lead all people to the truth.

In the Catholic Church we have the fullness of faith. So those hints and shadows contained in other religions are revealed to the fullest and truest extent in the Church.

“behold your Mother”. I need my Mother, who is close to the heart of Christ and knows how it beats for me.

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I am sorry that you were scandalized by my comments. For what it’s worth, my wife’s reaction was similar. (No, this didn’t break us up.) She grew up in a culture where a baby might have an icon of Mary — Our Lady of Czestochowa or Our Lady of Perpetual Help — over top of their crib, and their earliest memories would include their mother holding them in her arms, reciting the rosary. If you grow up like that, of course your first instinct is going to be to call upon the Blessed Mother for help. But I did not grow up with this. Many non-Catholic Christians are raised exactly the same way. Great, holy men of God, men who have brought the message of Christ to millions — Billy Graham, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards — did so without invoking the Blessed Mother. I am not saying this omission was a good thing, just that it was what it was, and millions came to faith this way. It simply does not occur to most Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Assembly of God, et al, that Marian devotion might be the best and most efficacious way to seek God and salvation in Christ Jesus.

It is not blasphemous or disrespectful in any way for an anthropologist (which I am not) to note that worship, adoration, veneration, what have you, of a “divine feminine” or “mother goddess” is a feature that crops up in many if not most pre-Christian cultures, and that it just might be part of human nature. A missionary, going into these territories, could well note that such spirituality mirrors the central place of Marian devotion in Catholic Christianity, and could approach the pagans with the idea that their already-existing concept of a glorified woman is entirely compatible with the Christian message, and that devotion to the Blessed Mother (not “worship”) isn’t so different to what they already believe. Devotion to Mary is as old as the Church itself, even if it is not expressly spelled out in Scripture. To approach pagans and say “you’ve got to get this ‘mother goddess’ business out of your heads and worship Jesus” could drive them away needlessly". Rather, a missionary could say “I realize you worship Astarte, or Semiramis, or whatever, but consider that Christianity has a feature that channels your belief into something that is true, and holy, and that respects the way you think — you’re not bad people, your beliefs just need to be enhanced and perfected, and I have a way to help you do this”.

In explaining, for instance, the Assumption of Mary to non-Catholics, I use the term “rapture”, because that’s what many who profess Christ know, believe, and understand — they “get it”. And the term can arguably be used in analogous way to explain Mary’s Assumption, even though we as Catholics don’t believe in the pre-Second-Coming Rapture doctrine of many Protestants.

I can point out that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul, and not by her own power but by a singular privilege of God. In our efforts to bring Baptists and other Christians into full communion with the one true Church under Peter, I think comparing Mary’s Assumption to their concept of the Rapture can be evangelistically fruitful.

I didn’t say that Marian devotion was “invented”. It already existed. I can just see that is something that could be used to make Christianity comprehensible and acceptable to pagans who already understand the concept of a “heavenly mother.”

I deeply respect Marian devotion and it is a central tenet of my faith. I say the Rosary daily and wear the Brown Scapular continuously, even while sleeping. I only remove it when I am showering, swimming, or working on machinery where it could fall into the components or gears, get snagged, and be a safety hazard. I believe that “God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart” and that the ongoing conversion of Russia — a holy and noble people who are devoted to the Theotokos — is directly the fruit of their consecration by the Holy Father. But I recognize that others do not see it this way. They should. I explain it in terms they can comprehend. And if I were a missionary, preaching the gospel to pagans, I would teach it to them, and if possible, find parallels to what they already believe. That’s all I meant to suggest.

Yes. Church missionaries have deliberately connected aspects of pagan religions that bear a resemblance to the Christian faith for a very, very long time.

For example, Thor, the son of Odin, was a sort of Christological figure for the Vikings and his worship reached a peak in the 900s during the expansion into mainland Europe. Missionaries gradually replaced charms of Thor with crucifixes of Our Lord.

Roman missionaries took druidic temples in Britain and Ireland and renovated them into parishes.

Any female Earth/fertility deities were supplanted with devotion to Our Lady.

Pagan thought has also positively influenced Christianity. Greek intellectualism, for example, played a part in the systematic theology in later centuries once the Church started growing bigger. St Basil, St Gregory, St Jerome, and St Chrysostom (among many others) all benefited from a rigorous classical education.

The issue was decided on more definitively by Pope St Gregory the Great (AD 540-602): he wrote that it is better to renovate/change pagan places of worship and pagan practices than it is to demolish them entirely. The Church has used such a strategy for evangelization ever since.

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In our own day, look at how Rev Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was purchased by the Diocese of Orange and retro-fitted to become the cathedral of that diocese. On their web site, the diocese acknowledges and respects the work of Rev Schuller in using this distinctive building as a place to preach the Gospel.

Jack Van Impe, a fallen-away Catholic, speaks very highly of Our Lady and has even taught the Fatima message on his TV show. If I were the Pope, I would consider approaching him, and asking him if he’d like to return — you can keep your TV show, yes, you can keep your lovely wife Rexella, you can even be ordained a priest or a bishop if you like, you could return similar to the way Bishop Salomao Ferraz did in Brazil. Or you could be like Scott Hahn. The man knows his Bible backwards and forwards.

Christmas being celebrated in Dec was decided long, long before the Nordic practice of bringing trees inside was adopted. It’s a revisionist viewing of history that accuses Christianity of hijacking pagan holidays.
Easter too. Erasmus made one mention of the possibility of their being an older, pagan holiday “oestre” but his is the only single reference of such a holiday. Revisionists again, take this one sentence as proof of Christianity adopting pagan holidays. (St. Valentine’s Day is though).

Re: the Virgin Mary. She’s not presented as a goddess but Catholi emphasis on her can easily be misconstrued as such, so i’ve no beef with those who have an issue with her. I think that the understanding of the position and role of Mary is a grace from God. It was only by grace that i recognised her.

Quite right. I do not disdain any pious beliefs or praises that might surround the Blessed Virgin, but if I were seeking to bring about the conversion, say, of a Baptist or Pentecostal, I don’t think I’d begin our catechism class with the prayer “Sweet Heart of Mary, be our salvation” — we know what we mean when we say that, but they don’t. Milk before meat.

I think that people who have a relatively recent ancestral background that includes goddesses might find the Catholic veneration of Mary appealing. Why wouldn’t missionaries take advantage of that appeal if it helped bring non- Catholics to Jesus? Isn’t that what Mary always does? Doesn’t Mary always point to her son?

Is your question about whether or not such a thing is divine providence or whether it is something that missionaries came up with in order to help convert people? Is there a difference between the two? Isn’t the Church guided by the Holy Spirit?

It may be Divine Providence. I did not say that “there wasn’t such a thing as Marian devotion until the missionaries encountered pagan goddess worship, then they just concocted it as a way to syncretize paganism with Christianity, and make converts they would otherwise not have made”. The devotion already existed in one form or another.

I just recently came across this video. The title aptly describes it. I never realized how Scriptural Marian devotion was until I saw this.

Maybe not that specific prayer because it can be misunderstood without context, but the aspects of Catholicism that are most distinct from protestant Christianity are those aspects that often hold the strongest attraction, since those are holes in a person’s life waiting to be filled.

I know when I was raised in the protestant faith, as a young man it deeply disturbed me that there was no final authority on matters of faith and morals. It was basically just preachers arguing for their case, and it led to all sorts of divergent views on theological and social issues. So when as an adult I learned about the Pope and the Magisterium and the long Tradition of the Church, it was an absolutely wonderful feeling. It brought so much stability and peace and happiness in my life. The feeling faded of course and to be honest I’m in a dry patch right now, but I’ll never forget how spiritually impoverished I felt beforehand.

The Eucharist and Our Lady are pillars leading us to Heaven, so people coming to the faith need to see that visibly and strongly. We need to be proud of what makes us stand out.

I’ve kind of walked the same road. When I first started learning about Catholicism, one thing that delighted me was that Catholic morality, the “do’s and dont’s”, were settled objectively by Church teaching, and that disagreement was not allowed — one set of rules, the Church tells you what they mean, and that’s that. Nobody gets a free pass because they “don’t believe that way”. Accept and obey. Everyone bears the same burdens. Obviously there are exceptions — an alcoholic shouldn’t work in a liquor store, a pedophile shouldn’t work in child care, a kleptomaniac shouldn’t work retail — but they are few and far between, and address people who “have something wrong with them”. Exceptions prove the rule.

When I discovered Catholicism, I would nod my head (figuratively if not literally) and say “this explains a lot”, “this is the way it should be”, “finally things make sense”, and so on — a religion that thinks like I do, and that answers the questions no one else can. It’s been 44 years now.

A good summary of “Queen Mother” in the Old Testament. Jesus just followed the Jewish custom.

Many protestants don’t see a difference in the words: adore, honor, praise, venerate and worship. Worship within Catholicism is only for the Triuun God. There are three words for “worship” in Latin which we Catholics follow.
Latria - God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Hyperdulia - Virgin Mary, Mother of God
Dulia - all the saints

The oldest Christian prayer dedicated to the virgin Mary, Mother of God is Sub Tuum Praesidium from the 3rd century. Very good article!

Sung here by Giovanni Vianini.

“I” would not waste precious, irreplaceable moments of my life studying paranoic, hate-filled, ignorance-based error. But, that’s just me. They have already defeated themselves, since the burden of proof lies with them - and they have only personal opinion based on ignorance of the Catholic faith.

Learn the faith. Live the faith. Nothing else really matters.

EDIT: If they can find something wrong with this, more power to them:

enculturation |enˌkəlCHəˈrāSHən| (also inculturation)
the gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group by a person, another culture, etc.
• the adaptation of Christian liturgy to a non-Christian cultural background.

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