Thoughts from the Christian perspective: discernment issues as they relate to the current state of the church and society.
We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Friday, June 25, 2010
Mary, “Mother of the Church,” Is Not the Mary of the Bible
Mary of Roman Catholicism has little in common with the Mary we find in the Bible. There are four dogmas about Mary, and a fifth one being petitioned for, all with their origins in Gnosticism. Here are the dogmas about Rome’s “Mary.”
1. Mother of God: Roman Catholicism elevates Mary, the mother of Jesus, to a status virtually equal to Christ himself. The origin of this unique doctrine seems to have been the Council of Chalcedon in 451, where the title Theotokos was given to her. This title means “God-bearer” or “mother-of-God.” The original purpose of this title was not to exalt Mary but to counter a heresy by the Nestorians which said Christ was actually two separate persons - the divine Word and the man Jesus. Supposedly, “the divine Word clothed himself with the man Jesus” while on earth (The Cult of the Virgin, by Elliot Miller and Kenneth R. Samples, p. 20). Since the Council of Nicea in 325 asserted the divinity of Christ, the debate was how the two natures of God and man co-existed, which brought controversy leading to the Nestorian heresy. Chalcedon’s title for Mary was to assert that the man Jesus was born both man and God.
Although there are two natures in Jesus, a woman does not give birth to natures, but to people. Since Jesus is indeed God, in a sense Mary is the mother of God. Yet, this title has to be used with qualifications because Jesus as God the Son existed for eternity, while the title could be taken to mean he came into existence when Mary gave birth to Jesus. However, Rome has used this title to elevate Mary above all other humans. Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott, in his book, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, says, “As the mother of God, Mary transcends in dignity all created persons, angels and men, because the dignity of the creature is the greater the nearer it is to God. … As a true mother she is related by blood to the Son of God according to His human nature.” (p. 197) Is this biblical?
We do know that in the Bible, Elizabeth said Mary was blessed among women (Luke 1:42), and indeed she was, “But this is due more to the important role she was elected to play (bringing the Messiah into the world) than the mere fact of a physical relationship. Actually, with what would appear to be divine foresight, Jesus consistently sought to counter the natural human tendency to esteem carnal relationship with him higher than spiritual (Matt. 12:46-50; Luke 11:27-28; 2:48-50). Rather than emphasize his physical relationship with his mother, he seemed to go out of his way to downplay it, even calling her woman (John 2:1-4; 19:26), which…was not a customary address for a Jewish son to use. Furthermore, Paul and the other New Testament authors do nothing to counter this impression that Mary is not to be exalted on the grounds of her physical relationship to Christ.” (The Cult of the Virgin, pp. 22-23)
2. Perpetual Virginity. Catechism Para. 499: “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth ‘did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it.’”
In A.D. 553, the Second Council of Constantinople declared Mary “ever virgin.” The idea for this had begun to form as early as the end of the second century, but by the fourth century there was a lot of debate about it. It appears the belief triumphed because of the rise of asceticism and monasticism, which revered celibacy over marriage as being more spiritual. Gnostic beliefs that the material world was evil led to the idea that sexual relations were part of evil pleasures and not good for spiritual growth. Therefore, the idea that Mary could ever have had sexual intercourse was seen as something that would have corrupted her, and that Jesus would never have been born from a woman who would afterwards be soiled with sexual relations.
Ludwig Ott tells us the Catholic teaching that, “Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains.” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. p.205). Somehow the idea that a baby passing out of the womb and breaking the woman’s hymen would bring corruption to her, even without her having sexual relations!
James McCarthy cites Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Part III (The Gospel According to Rome, p.192) reasons why Mary had to be a perpetual virgin:
a. Since Jesus was the Father’s only son, He should also be the mother’s only son.
b. Sexual relations with Joseph would have “desecrated” Mary’s virginal womb, which would have been an insult to the Holy Spirit whose shrine was Mary’s womb.
c. “It would have been below ‘the dignity and holiness’ of Mary to forfeit her miraculous virginity by carnal intercourse with Joseph.” It would also have shown that Mary was ungrateful and not content with being Jesus’ mother.
d. “It would have been ‘extreme presumption’ for Joseph to have attempted ‘to violate’ Mary.”
In response to this teaching, we have to first ask what the Bible says about sexual relations inside of marriage. Gen. 2:24 says the husband and wife are to become one flesh, which Jesus reiterated in the Gospels. Hebrews 13:4a says, “Marriage is honorable among all…” 1 Cor. 7 tells us that the wife’s body belongs to the husband and his body belongs to her, and that they are not to deprive each other of sexual relations. The Song of Solomon exalts the marital relationship. So we see that while Scripture condemns sexual relations outside of marriage as immoral, sexual relations within marriage are right and proper and intended to make the husband and wife “one flesh.”
What does the Bible say about Mary’s virginity? Firstly, to be married to Joseph and never consummate the marriage would violate the “one flesh” desire of God’s for marriage, let alone violate the teaching that the wife’s body belongs to the husband and she is not to deprive him of relations. Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph did not have relations with Mary “till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.” The fact that it says “till” (NIV “until”) Mary had her first son implies that afterwards they had relations. Additionally, Matt. 1:18 says “before they came together,” also implying that Mary and Joseph later “came together.” Finally, Jesus is called Mary’s “firstborn” in Matt. 1:25 and Luke 2:7, implying more children followed. Numerous passages in the Gospels and some of Paul’s letters report on Jesus’ “brothers” and “brothers and sisters.” While Rome claims these passages refer to cousins, there is a Greek word for cousins which isn’t used, while the Greek for brothers and sisters are. Sometimes Catholic apologists claim these were half-siblings, children of Joseph from a previous marriage; this is bringing personal bias into the text because there is no hint in the Bible that Joseph was previously married.
The plain reading of the Bible demonstrates that Mary was in every sense a normal wife and mother after the birth of Jesus.
3. Immaculate Conception: Catechism Para. 411: “Mary…was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.” Para. 491-93 “Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary…was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: ‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ,…preserved immune from all stain of original sin.’…By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.”
Once the church had decided on Mary’s divine motherhood and perpetual virginity, there needed to be another way to show her complete holiness. Early church fathers said Mary was guilty of many sins, but by the early 4th century “the Latin fathers refrained from charging Mary with sin.” (The Cult p. 31) At first it was taught that Mary had no personal sin, but at the beginning of the 12th century the idea that Mary was preserved from original sin (the sinful nature) was first propagated by a British monk, Eadmer. Virtually all the leading theologians opposed the idea because it contradicted Scripture’s truth of the universality of sin. “A major portion of the credit for establishing the immaculate conception as Catholic dogma goes to John Duns Scotus (1264-1308). He argued that to hold that Mary was preserved from original sin would not depreciate the atonement but rather would magnify it: it would be an even greater work of redemptive grace for Mary to be born without sin than to be given the power to rise above it.” (The Cult, pp.31-32)
This doctrine remained controversial for several more centuries until 1854 when Pope Pius IX defined it. This was the first dogma ever pronounced on the authority of a pope without official sanction of a council. Pius’ statement claimed this “was revealed by God, and is, therefore, to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” As a result of this dogma, the church says “Mary possesses all gifts, knowledge, and fruits in their fullness, and is exalted above all men and angels.” (The Cult, p.32).
What does the Bible say about Mary and sin?
Firstly, the Bible tells us that all people sin. This evidence is found in both Old and New Testaments. Here are some passages to examine: 1 Kings 8:46a; 2 Chron. 6:36; Job 4:17ff; Job 19; Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 5:12; 1 John 1:9.
Secondly, Mary calls God her savior in Luke 1:47. If she was sinless, why would she need a savior?
Thirdly, in Luke 1:26-38 May is troubled and in wonderment. Why would this be so if she was sinless?
Lastly, in Luke 2:22-24 Mary presents an offering for her sinful condition.
4. The Assumption. Catechism para. 966 “‘Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.’”
If Mary was conceived without sin and remained sinless, then death would have no hold over her. This reasoning began by the 5th century in apocryphal literature, and was accepted into church teachings by the beginning of the 6th century. The Feast of the Assumption was first appointed by Gregory I (540-604). This doctrine was accepted and promoted over the centuries until 1950, when Pius XII declared the teaching to be dogma: “We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
There is no biblical warrant for this teaching. In fact, if this was true for Mary, it is highly doubtful that something so miraculous would not have been mentioned by any writers of the New Testament books.
5. Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix. While this is not yet dogma, the Pope is indeed being petitioned to make it so; for now it is just doctrine. The idea of co-redemptrix began as early as the 2nd century, while the teaching of Mediatrix began in medieval times. “The title coredemptrix has been in use since the fifteenth century, and was first officially sanctioned by the papacy when Pius X ascribed it to Mary in 1908. Catholic theology understands Mary’s role in redemption to be directly related to her status as the mother of God. Pius XI stated: ‘The most blessed Virgin, conceived without original sin, was chosen to be the Mother of God so that she might be made an associate in the Redemption of mankind.’” (The Cult.. p.48)
Pope Pius XI stated that Mary “participated with Jesus Christ in the very painful act of redemption.” Benedict XV further stated, “Mary suffered and, as it were, nearly died with her suffering Son; for the salvation of mankind she renounced her mother’s rights and, as far as it depended on her, offered her Son to placate divine justice; so we may well say that she with Christ redeemed mankind.” (both citations from McCarthy, p.202)
What this teaching leads to is prayers to Mary; she mediates between us and Jesus. She then intercedes on our behalf to her son so that our prayers will be answered. This leads to Mary’s other title, “Queen of Heaven” (a title ascribed to a pagan goddess in Jeremiah).
Rev. John Ferraro, in his, Ten Series of Meditations on the Mystery of the Rosary, said, “All grace is passed from God to Jesus, from Jesus to Mary, and from Mary to us. The grace of God, cure for our ills, comes to us through Mary like water through an aqueduct.” (cited by Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast, p.357)
Catechism para. 2679: “Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.”
What does the Bible say? There is one mediator between God and man - Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Therefore, Mary can not be a mediator. Additionally, there is no biblical support for Mary being a co-redeemer; Christ alone redeemed man from sin by his death and resurrection (Rom. 3:24; Col. 1:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). Mary did not offer Jesus, he offered himself (Heb. 9:14)
Some questions to contemplate: 1) Why is there no mention of praying to Mary in the Bible? 2) If Mary hears and responds to all prayers addressed to her, she would have to be omniscient and omnipresent, which would make her a god. In fact, to answer all the prayers she would also have to be omnipotent. So doesn’t making Mary omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent violate the command against idolatry? 3) What about the Bible’s instructions against talking with the dead (Deut. 18:11-12, et. al)?
Catholic teachings about Mary lead to worshiping her (although Catholics claim “veneration”), hence the many occultic visions of Mary seen around the world. She is ranked next to Jesus in exaltation in heaven and treated by Catholics almost the same as they treat Christ. This has no biblical foundation and ends up being nothing less than idolatry.
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