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In his History of the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox described an incident from his early life as a Protestant. Having been delivered from "the puddle of papistry," as he called it, he was taken as a prisoner and forced to row in a French galley ship for 19 months.

Soon after the arrival [of the galley ship] at Nantes, … a glorious painted Lady was brought in to be kissed and, amongst others, was presented to one of the Scottishmen then chained. He gently said, "Trouble me not; such an idol is a curse; and therefore I will not touch it." The Patron and the Arguesyn, with two officers, having the chief charge of all such matters, said, "Thou shalt handle it"; and so they violently thrust it in his face and put in betwixt his hands; who seeing the extremity, took the idol, and advisedly looking about, he cast it in the river, and said, "Let our Lady now save herself: she is light enough; let her learn to swim!"

Some scholars believe the "Scottishman" involved in this incident was none other than Knox himself. Most evangelical Protestants can relate to this story, for we belong to a tradition of piety decisively shaped by the likes of Knox. We have an almost instinctive distrust of Mary. Why?

First, we find no biblical warrant for the kind of devotion to Mary that flourishes among many of the Catholic faithful. Mary's perpetual virginity (the belief that she had no children after Jesus and remained a virgin throughout her life), immaculate conception (that she was born without the stain of original sin), and bodily assumption (that she was taken body and soul into heaven after she died without seeing corruption) are extrabiblical beliefs that cannot be traced to the earliest historical memory of the church.

To be sure, ...

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In the Magazine

December 2003

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