There once was a minister who noticed that his little boy and the neighbor kids had decided to put together a funeral for a dead bird they had found. Being the Preacher’s Kid, the minister’s son was deputed to lead the services. Standing before the tiny grave, shoebox casket waiting to be laid into the ground, the minister’s son confidently intoned, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and in the hole he goes!”
It’s a cute story, but when I first read it, immediately I was struck by the apologetics lesson to be learned. There can be a tendency in apologetics circles to mimic the big-name apologist who is making the biggest splash, with all of that apologist’s arguments uncritically repackaged and passed on to one’s own circle of listeners. And, like the little boy who repeated the formula he thought his father used at funeral services, the cloned presentations never quite match the original.
When this happens, apologetics becomes little more than a game of Telephone.
As an illustration of this principle, let’s look at a popular argument for defending the Blessed Virgin Mary as queen of heaven. Wherever you turn these days in Catholic apologetics on the subject, you usually hear a canned presentation on the Gebirah, the title given the mother of the rulers of the house of David. The title meant “Great Lady” and was given to the mother of the king. The thinking behind honoring the king’s mother as queen instead of his wife is that the Davidic kings tended to have many wives but, of course, only one mother. The most famous of the stories of the Gebirah in the Old Testament, and the one most commonly referred to by Catholic apologists, is that of Bathsheba in the court of her son Solomon:
So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right. Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you” (1 Kings 2:19–20).
This incident is considered to be a type of the relationship between the Son of David and his Mother, in which Jesus honors his Gebirah Mary by granting her requests for Christians.
Yes, this is one possible means by which to defend Mary’s queenship. But it is not as foolproof an argument as many Catholic apologists suppose given the confidence with which they present it. It relies on typology, and it relies on a particular type not explicitly endorsed by the New Testament. Those who do not agree that Christ’s Mother should be regarded as a queen therefore have wiggle room in denying it by claiming that Christians ought to give credence only to types explicitly found in the New Testament (such as Jesus as the New Adam).
It might be helpful ask oneself how the Blessed Virgin’s queenship was defended from Scripture before recent apologists latched onto the idea of the Gebirah. Are there other ways to demonstrate that it is reasonable to believe that the Virgin Mary is queen of heaven?
I prefer the late Fr. Mateo’s approach to defending the queenship of Mary in his book Refuting the Attack on Mary, because it relies almost entirely on the New Testament evidence. Fr. Mateo’s argument is based on the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel tells Mary in the Gospel of Luke:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:30-33).
It is clear from the text that the expected child is to be a king; indeed, the successor to David, ruler of the house of Jacob, reigning over an everlasting kingdom. Logically speaking, the only everlasting kingdom must be the kingdom of heaven. And Protestants will usually agree that Jesus is to be the eternal ruler of the kingdom of heaven, King of kings, and Lord of lords (cf. Rev. 19:10-16).
Now Catholics can introduce the idea of Mary as queen: The mother of a monarch is herself a monarch, although often derivatively from the husband and child. This was true in the ancient world, and it is even true in today’s world. For example, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II of England was known as the Queen Mother because she was the wife of King George VI and the mother of Queen Elizabeth. The Queen Mother was crowned alongside her husband when he succeeded to the throne and retained all of the marks of honor due a queen (including the courtesy address “Your Majesty”) when her daughter succeeded to the throne.
If the wives and mothers of earthly monarchs can be honored as queens, there is no reason why it cannot be presumed that Mary herself is to be honored as queen of heaven because of her position as the mother of the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.
Catholic apologetics is not an exact science. We have to continually be looking for new ways to present the Faith so that it may be better understood and more deeply loved. In that sense, developing the argument of the Gebirah was certainly a worthwhile endeavor and a helpful tool in a Catholic apologist’s toolbox. But, like all tools, an argument can dull with overuse and needs to be sharpened occasionally. And, too, we need to sharpen our own understanding of the Faith by thinking critically about arguments commonly used to defend the Faith. We cannot do that if our apologetics presentations rely solely on an uncritical re-presentation of arguments overused to death.