Roman Catholics and Evangelicals
Wed Mar 22 18:59:00 EST 2000
The Doctrines of 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
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
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
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."
- cultus latriae - the worship and adoration due to God alone
- cultus hyperdulia - the special veneration due to Mary
- cultus duliae - the veneration due to saints and angels
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.
This work by Stuart David Gathman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.