Roman Catholics and Evangelicals

Blessed Mary

Last updated Wed Mar 22 18:59:00 EST 2000

The Doctrines of Mary

Blessed Mary

This is direct from Scripture: "Blessed are you among women".

Mary Mother of God

Both Protestants and Catholics affirm the ancient credal title of Mary as Mother of God, as we discussed in week 4. This title affirms that Mary gave birth to both the Divine and Human nature in the one Person of Christ.

Mary Perpetual Virgin

Traditional Catholic doctrine says that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.

Protestants affirm the virginity of Mary before the birth of Jesus, and note the biblical record that Joseph "knew her not" for 6 months following the birth of Jesus. Most protestants assume that the birth of Jesus was a normal vaginal birth and that Mary had other children.

The Immaculate Conception

In week 6, we saw how actual righteousness increases as we are sanctified by God's grace. Catholics believe that some people, saints and martyrs, achieve full sanctification in this life. The "Holiness" branches of Protestant churches believe that achieving full sanctification in this life is the expected norm. Recall that baptism regenerates infants as well as adults. Recall further that regeneration can occur without actual water baptism given unusual circumstances and the desire for baptism. The Immaculate Conception says that Mary was not only regenerated before birth by grace, but achieved full sanctification before birth. As a result, there was never any actual sin in her life.

The Assumption of Mary

Being fully sanctified and having never committed any actual sin, there was no need for Mary to undergo any final purification. Immediately after her death, she was glorified by being assumed directly into heaven.

Mary Mediatrix with Christ

This doctrine says that because Mary participated in Christ's redemption of Mankind by cooperating with God's grace, she is entitled to the name Mediatrix or Co-Mediator with Christ. It does not mean that Mary is in any way equals with Christ or with God. This doctrine has not become dogma. A petition with 4 million signatures failed to convince the Pope to make it so. For many Catholic theologians, Mediatrix also means that "the redemptive grace of Christ is conferred on nobody without the actual intercessory co-operation of Mary".

The History of Marian Doctrine

The early Reformers believed in the Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary. Not all early Reformers believed in all three doctrines. This was because they were not dogmatically defined until later. You could be a full Catholic without agreeing to them, and they were hotly debated for a millenium and a half.

It is important to note that all three doctrines were believed by many from very early times - but disagreement began just as early.

After the reformation, Protestants began to reject these three doctrines on the grounds of scant scriptural support. Catholics went the other direction and dogmatized them. These doctrines are a case study in how the conflict between Sola Scriptura and the Magisterium affects the rest of theology.

Protestants in general affirm "Mary Mother of God" and are agnostic about the assumption of Mary. The Bible is absolutely silent on the death of Mary, but there is precedent in the cases of Enoch and Elijah.

Protestants in general reject "Perpetual Viginity" as Gnostic and contradicting the plain reading of the Scriptural texts. Regarding Mediatrix, some Protestants might accept it in theory after caveats have been carefully explained, but would resist dogmatizing it because of the potential for leading the faithful into Mariolatry. Protestants breathed a sigh of relief when Pope John Paul rejected the petition to dogmatize Mediatrix.

You do hear some Protestants rant against "Mother of God" or the Assumption - but their reasons boil down to "it's Popish", so I don't consider these valid contributions. Sola Scriptura does not imply that whatever the Pope says is wrong.

The Veneration of Mary

The "Hail Mary" ends with: "Holy Mary, Mother of God. Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." "Holy Mary" gives special veneration to Mary. "Mother of God" refers to the doctrine of Christ declared at the council of Ephesus - but can have a double meaning as another term of special veneration. "Pray for us sinners" refers to the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix.

Is Super Veneration of Mary Idolatry?

Catholic theology defines several levels of veneration. So special veneration of Mary is not the same as the worship due to God alone - at least in theory. Protestants are concerned that Mariolatry is a practical reality with too many Catholics. As Pope John Paul has put it: "in venerating the most blessed virgin Mary, we must keep in mind the infinite distance between the creature and the Creator."

What about Veneration of Icons and Relics?

The second commandment forbids bowing down to and worshipping objects. However, anytime we bow down, some object is in front of us. As C.S. Lewis points out, even in a bare room (a discipline employed by many Protestants to avoid the sin of idolatry), our worship may be marred because our mental concept of God is erroneous. Worshipping a mental or abstract idol is just as bad as worshipping a picture. Icons and Relics seem to be a relative, but not an absolute occasion of sin. Creative Commons License
This work by Stuart David Gathman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.