While devotion to Mary seems to be so natural and central to the Catholic understanding and experience of the Christian faith, to many protestant Christians and others it is at least unnecessary and at worst a sign of how far parts of the Church have strayed from biblical faith. Yet this dispute is not new. Controversies over how the Church thinks about Mary and expresses those thoughts date back to the recognition of her ancient title, Theotokos (‘God Bearer’ or ‘Mother of God’), at the Council of Ephesus (431).
Mary is not alone in presenting a challenge to theology. The Church still struggles to express an adequate theology of the Holy Spirit, yet there can be no doubt about the Spirit’s presence in the life of Christ and in the lives of all believers. To different degrees the same could be said of all the central doctrines of Christian faith, not least the Trinity. Our theological articulation of the significance of Mary and her role within the Church and the lives of Christians always seems to follow our devotional practice. This should not really surprise us: often the truth of faith does not first come in a concept or a thought but in an experience, an insight or encounter, and this produces its own form of language, symbol and gesture. It’s the difference between trying to map the moves of a ballet on paper and seeing it executed on stage. Imagine music if we only had the score and no sound.