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It's common sense knowledge that millions of Catholics pray the Rosary and make devotion to Mary an integral part of their everyday spirituality. See for example this answer to the question According to Catholicism, to what extent is the spiritual growth of a Christian impaired by his/her lack of devotion to Mary and the Saints?

Many books have been written on the reasons for and the benefits of praying the Rosary and having a genuine devotion to Mary, such as:

Question: How do Protestants explain / make sense of the fact that so many Catholics report spiritual benefits from praying the Rosary and having a deep devotion to Mary? If God disapproves of Marian devotion, then how come so many Catholics experience spiritual benefits? Doesn't this contradict / disprove the Protestant position regarding Mary?


Brainstorming of possible Protestant explanations:

Hypothesis 1: "Catholics are simply experiencing psychological benefits, just like a Buddhist experiences psychological benefits from meditation, etc.".

The issue with this hypothesis is that it can easily backfire on the Protestant: how does a Protestant who defends this hypothesis know that his/her own spirituality is not also nothing but mere psychology? How does this Protestant know that his/her spirituality is genuine but everyone else's spirituality is just brain tricks and psychology?

Hypothesis 2: "Catholics are being deceived by a demonic counterfeit".

This is a pretty strong claim, so we should naturally expect a pretty heavy burden of proof on the Protestant who claims this to be the case. What kind of evidence could be offered to defend a hypothesis like this? If Catholics are being deceived by evil spirits, then the first thing I would look for is evidence of demonization / demon possession among former Marian devotees. To make a parallel, there are plenty of testimonies from former New Agers, former witches/warlocks, former Hinduists, etc., who can attest to the demonic nature of their former pagan practices. Is this also the case among Marian devotees, and if so, where is the evidence?

Hypothesis 3: "Catholics are wrong, but God in His mercy still allows them to grow spirituality through their practices, because He values their sincerity, their motivations and their heart".

Honestly, this hypothesis sounds very loving and compassionate -- it takes a sort of inclusivist stance --, yet it is a claim nonetheless, so whoever defends this hypothesis has the burden of proof upon them to show that God does indeed act in this way.


Possibly related or relevant questions:

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    From my days as a Protestant, I think most Protestants tend to think that claims of spiritual help from Mary are made up, exaggerated, or demonic.
    – jaredad7
    Dec 15, 2021 at 21:26
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    Do you expect an answer that's significantly different from answers to "How do Catholics explain the benefits of having hundreds of gods to pray to that Hindus experience?"? Dec 16, 2021 at 0:00
  • @RayButterworth - Good point. This reminds me of another question I asked in the past: How do Christians approach the evangelization of individuals who have had profound spiritual experiences in other religions? Dec 16, 2021 at 0:56
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator, I still think the problem with this kind of question is the lack of significant evidence. If a disinterested observer could compile statistics of unlikely events, and could find significant differences correlated to specific religions, then there would be something substantial that needs an explanation. This specific case has an underlying assumption that good things do happen to these people, and more so than to people of other faiths. That more Catholics believe it has happened to them and that they report it more often it isn't scientifically useful. Dec 17, 2021 at 15:13

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The Protestant position, in my understanding, maintains that Scripture examined in the light of reason is the ultimate authority / lens through which we should process our experiences and guide our behavior, rather than Church tradition or the experiences of others. Most Protestants would maintain that Scripture gives us no precedence for praying to anyone except God (Father, Son, and Spirit). For example, none of the epistles contain prayer to or veneration of Mary. In fact, such veneration, from a Protestant perspective, is entirely missing from Scripture, as is any evidence of a miraculous conception of Mary herself.

Many people from many different religions claim to experience both personal benefits and miracles from praying to their gods. How are we as individuals to assess such claims? The Protestant answer is through the lens of Scripture, which, from a Protestant perspective, lacks any precedence for Marian devotion. So for a Protestant it really comes down to what they believe the Scriptures teach. Obviously from a Catholic perspective Scripture does suggest Marian devotion, and therein lies a source of disagreement.

As an example of a potential Protestant line of thinking, some Protestants may note that Jesus, in Mark 3, clarifies that His mother holds no special place above believers, who Jesus identifies as His true family. Surely if Jesus intended veneration of His mother He would have been specific about it in such an instance, not equating her with any other believer.

Mark 3:31-34 - Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

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  • The Protestant answer is through the lens of Scripture, which, from a Protestant perspective, lacks any precedence for Marian devotion. So for a Protestant it really comes down to what they believe the Scriptures teach - I think this statement is too vague / abstract. Any concrete examples of actual explanations? Dec 16, 2021 at 1:13
  • I added a specific example.
    – Zanarkand
    Dec 16, 2021 at 1:26
  • Indeed the world is filled with deceptive spirits and there are many antichrists. Satan disguises himself as an angel of light and, while personal experiences of an actual relationship with the living God are to be expected, everything must be checked against Scripture. We are far too easily misled. +1 Dec 16, 2021 at 13:11
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    @PeterTurner That is a pragmatic argument - "an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application". In addition to the fact that the underlying claims to miracles could be debated, a Protestant tends to avoid pragmatism as the path to truth. Jesus was referring specifically to false prophets in that verse - that their bad fruit would expose them as false. He was not suggesting that every belief that produces beneficial results in peoples' lives is therefore true.
    – Zanarkand
    Dec 16, 2021 at 20:44
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    @Zanarkand - I edited the OP with some examples of possible explanations that could be offered, with my personal thoughts on each one of them. Dec 17, 2021 at 1:25
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When young, I was confronted with two competing claims:

  • Catholic Position: In addition to the truths revealed in the Bible, God reveals some mysteries to believers, authenticates them through the discernment of wise elders guided by the Holy Spirit, and collects them into traditions passed on by the church
  • Protestant Position: No essential truths are to be found outside scripture, a doctrine called "Sola Scriptura"

Though raised Catholic, I became Protestant in my twenties. The Sola Scriptura position was clear and seemed actionable and likely to deter heresy from creeping in. I did not consider there was another position besides those two.

First, to address the possibility of spiritual counterfeits.

  • A woman with a deliverance ministry came to our church. My pastor sent me to her for help with a behavioral problem that seemed demonically influenced. After seeing her a few times, I was delivered from my problem. But then the church asked her for a statement of faith and ministry. It contained obviously heretical positions. The church severed its relationship with her. Six months later, my problem returned. This was a counterfeit healing.
  • I used to have dreams that came true. At first this was appealing and gave me a sense of importance and power. But then they became terrifying nightmares about the end of the world. I went to my pastor for prayer and also began reading the Bible more. I rejected the messages from the dreams and repented (in tears) of my use of dreams to try and control other people. After a few months of this, the dreams stopped. Thirty years later, the nightmares have not returned. (I have had some dreams from the Lord since then, but they are for personal guidance, not to control other people.) This was a true deliverance.

Through these and other experiences I acquired a measure of spiritual discernment. Yes, a Christian can be deceived and receive temporary but illusory benefits from evil spirits. This does not mean that this is what is happening in the Catholic Church with regards to Mary. It does mean that deception is possible, but one can learn to discern the difference. Knowing and reading the Bible, praying and repenting, and asking wise friends and pastors for help leads to true benefits.

Now to the third possibility. What if there are parables and mysteries in the Bible that have encoded vital truths for our benefit? What if by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and living it out, those truths enter our souls by the action of the Holy Spirit and enlighten our minds with truth – yet we do not recognize the connection to that Scripture?

If the above happens, then it is possible that the Catholic Church has discovered Biblical truths consistent with Sola Scriptura but wihout knowing how to substantiate those truths from Scripture. Has this happened concerning some of the Marian doctrines?

I have been studying prophetic patterns throughout the Bible. After correlating the 28 times of Ecclesiastes 3 with 28 successive periods of history (from the Temple dedication ca 960 BC to the distant future), I observed that the 28 chapters of Matthew correspond to the same. 28 times, in order. Matthew was presenting Jesus as the new Solomon. That means that each chapter in Matthew corresponds to a different era in church history, in sequence. The passage in Matthew 12 where Jesus says, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" corresponds to the tenth century. It dawned on me: What if the question was not rhetorical? What if it was a riddle? Jesus was not dissing his mom; he was asking the church to find out who his mother really is! Starting in the next century, Catholic interest in Mary exploded, with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception coming from the work of Anselm and Eadmer.

That is a weak connection, but that is where I began. I found another prophetic pattern in Exodus. If you pair each plague against Egypt with the corresponding Commandment, you get ten periods of history. The Blood on the Nile is Jesus death on the Cross. The sixth plague of boils matches the Black Plague. Surprising correlations exist for all the rest.

The era of interest here is the fifth era, from 960–1200 AD. The matching plague is the fifth plague, on livestock. Scientists believe that the Egyptian plague on livestock was probably Rinderpest, or that disease's ancestor prior to more recent mutations. This time period also saw major Rinderpest outbreaks in England, Wales, Ireland and other places in Europe. At the end of the era, a rinderpest outbreak in Eurasia (possibly started intentionally by Genghis Khan by trading diseased cattle with neighboring kingdoms as a form of biological warfare) enabled the Mongols to conquer a huge empire. (Rinderpest is 90% fatal in cattle. Kill the cattle and you kill the people who use them for plowing and food transport.)

The matching fifth commandment is:

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)

This era was the era when the Catholic Church decided to honor Jesus' father and mother. Josephology progressed under Thomas Aquinas and Mariology under many scholars. The question is, are these words of scripture a prophecy that the Catholic church would do something wise or something foolish? The proof is in the pudding. What happened during this 240 year period?

  • the Medieval Warm Period began
  • numerous innovations in farming reached northern Europe, like the horse collar, heavy plow, harrow, three-field crop rotation, water mills, hoes, horse shoes
  • Viking raids tapered off as the Vikings became Christians

What was the outcome of this?

  • Gross Crop yields doubled, but net grain available for human consumption tripled!
  • Life expectancy increased from 25 to 35 years
  • Population doubled

Europe enjoyed exactly the blessing promised by the fifth commandment. No period in history until the 19th and 20th centuries ever saw such an amazing increase in farm productivity in such a short time.

If you take all that together:

  • Jesus challenged the Church to learn about his mother
  • The Church finally obeyed in the 11th and 12th centuries
  • God blessed the Church with abundant food and long life

By the way, according to my prophetic calendar linking Matthew to the times of Solomon, Matthew 14 corresponds to the 14th time in Ecclesiastes 3, "a time to gather", a fitting correspondence. The matching era runs from 1076-1157 AD, during this agricultural revolution. What event happens in Matthew 14?

Jesus feeds the 5,000!

So that is how this Protestant would answer a Catholic. The impetus to honor Mary does confer real benefits, and is supported both by Scripture and by world history.

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    Have you considered publishing your observations in a peer-reviewed theological journal? Your ideas sound interesting, but speculative, and some peer review would be quite helpful. Dec 18, 2021 at 1:01
  • I don't know if the encoded vital truths you have enumerated are genuine but this "What if by reading the Bible, meditating on it, and living it out, those truths enter our souls by the action of the Holy Spirit and enlighten our minds with truth – yet we do not recognize the connection to that Scripture?" is how people come to know Christ as personal Savior and only then Scripture begins to unfold. +1 Dec 18, 2021 at 22:57
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - The ideas I discussed are included in a book I am writing about Ecclesiastes. I also intend to break out some ideas into articles to publish as you suggest. Dec 20, 2021 at 14:07

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