What Is the Unique Role of Mary in Roman Catholicism and Is It Biblical?-Part 3
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|Although Catholic theology attempts to draw a fine line be¬tween the worship offered to God and that offered to Mary, in practice, these frequently become indistinguishable|
Is Mary Worshipped in the Roman Catholic Church?
Although Catholic theology attempts to draw a fine line between the worship offered to God and that offered to Mary, in practice these frequently become indistinguishable. The specific terms used are latria—adoration which is due God alone; dulia—veneration offered to the saints and hyperdulia—special veneration given only to Mary. But, this kind of distinction is almost impossible to maintain in practice—and regardless, even Catholic texts may make terms such as “veneration,” “adoration,” and “worship” unclear when referring to God and Mary.
As H. M. Carson remarks, “The development of Mariology has been accompanied by an ever-increasing tendency to accord Mary a worship that, in much popular devotion, is indistinguishable from that offered to God alone.”
For example, when the average Roman Catholic invokes the aid of Mary as a heavenly, all powerful, omniscient intercessor, or to beseech Jesus for them, or to help forgive their sins, it is hard to imagine that in that precise moment they are mentally distinguishing in a split second between latria, dulia and hyperdulia. “Rome may deny that Mary is worshipped as God. But to attribute to her powers which involve omniscience and omnipresence, if she is to hear [and answer] the prayers of millions, is to accord to her what belongs to God alone. Furthermore, the prayers themselves are phrased in such a way that it is hard to distinguish them from those offered to God.”
Indeed, Rome has at least fourteen “feasts of Mary”—special days “set aside to worship God with special commemoration of events referring to Mary the mother of God.”
As a noted Protestant theologian, R. C. Sproul, remarks, “I think, however, for all practical purposes, that I can say without fear of ever being proven wrong, that millions of Roman Catholic people in this world today worship Mary, and in doing so, believe that they are doing what the Church is telling them to do.”
In The Roman Catholic Church in History, Dr. Walter Martin outlined what he called the “seven steps to deity” that, in the end, made Mary like a God. In the material below we have summarized and added to Martin’s evaluation in the following chart:
|Mother of God||Son of God|
|Sinless (Immaculate Conception)||Sinless|
|Perpetual Virgin||Born of a virgin|
|Ascended (assumed) bodily into heaven||Ascended bodily into heaven|
|Queen of Heaven||King of Heaven|
|Dispenser (Mediatrix) of all graces to mankind||Dispenser of all redeeming grace to mankind|
|Co-Redemptrix in the salvation of man||Redeemer and Savior of man|
The above chart indicates that Mary’s Person and Work is extremely parallel to that of Jesus Christ. This is why Dr. Martin refers to, “Rome’s systematic effort to raise Mary to Deity.”
He also makes the following important comments:
I have in my library hundreds of pamphlets, manuscripts and books all published with the official imprimatur of the Roman Catholic Church. In every one of them, language which is applied to God alone in Scripture is applied to the Virgin Mary. She is worshipped: she is given almost every title of Christ. Thus, they are subtly but systematically raising her to a place of equality with our Lord…. Worship, prayers, shrines, and even altars in churches have been consecrated to her around the earth. The healing grottoes are seldom dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth, but to “Our Lady of Lourdes,” “Our Lady St. Anne de Beaupre,” “Our Lady of Fatima,” etc. The statues which are seen in Roman Catholic homes are invariably of Mary. The largest niches in Roman Catholic churches are occupied by images of Mary. The preponderance of prayers are to Mary, and the “Hail, Mary” is repeated in the Rosary continually.
Is it any surprise then that Martin concludes, “This is indeed the elevation of a creature to Deity, and I plead with you to realize that we are dealing with one of the most dangerous teachings ever foisted upon the Christian church.”
When the Catholic Church teaches that Mary rules over us, teaches us, sanctifies us, forgives our sins, etc., what really are Protestants to think?
Christ alone is worthy of glory to receive our adoration, praise and worship. As Dr. Martin asks, “Mary wasn’t born of a virgin, was she? Was it Mary who performed miracles? Did she live a sinless life? Was it Mary who raised herself from the dead? Did Mary go to the cross and sweat blood? Did Mary come out of the tomb on the third day? Is it Mary who will return one day to save the Christian church?”
All this is a classic example of how Church tradition, especially after the fact, corrupts biblical teaching. In fact, Dr. Martin quotes eleven leaders from prior church history, including four Catholic popes, all of whom directly contradict the 1854 pronouncement that Mary was conceived without sin. Among these are Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, St. Ambrose, Pope Leo I, Pope Gallatus, Pope Gregory I and Pope Innocent III.
Again, the Catholic Church officially claims that its Mariology does not subtract from the worship and honor due Christ as God and Mediator—but what good are mere claims? As an Evangelical Council on Catholicism observed, “In effect many Roman Catholics put her on the same level as the persons of the Trinity.”
Perhaps it might be instructive to quote The Catholic Encyclopedia at this point: “Idolatry is the giving to another person or object that worship which is due to God alone. Idolatry, always a grave sin, is committed 1) by intending and actually worshipping a creature as God, called formal idolatry;…”
Although (technically) Mary is not to be worshipped in the same sense that God is worshipped, she is to be granted devotion and worship in a lesser sense. And if the fine distinctions made by Catholic theologians “are usually not reflected in the practice of the faithful,” idolatry would seem to be a distinct possibility in the lives of the faithful. Thus, “By the sixteenth century, as evidenced by the spiritual struggles of the Reformers, the image of Mary had largely eclipsed the centrality of Jesus Christ in the life of believers.”
Catholics pray to Mary. They expect her to intercede for them with Jesus on their behalf. They venerate and/or worship her—thousands of shrines are dedicated to the worship of Mary throughout the world. They believe she plays a crucial role in their personal salvation. They believe Mary can relieve their suffering in purgatory because she was coronated as Queen in heaven and reigns with Jesus as King. They believe Mary pleads in heaven for divine graces and then distributes them to the faithful.
In conclusion, the traditions of Rome cast a lengthy shadow of doubt upon the saving role and mediatorship of Christ alone, as well as His sufficiency in interceding for all believers. They also detract from the worship that only Christ is worthy of.
- Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 33.
- H. M. Carson, Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 128.
- Ibid., p. 129.
- Broderick, ed., p. 374, emphasis added.
- R. C. Sproul, “The Virgin Mary,” lecture transcript, p. 12.
- Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), p. 54.
- Ibid., p. 58.
- Ibid., p. 59.
- Ibid., p. 60.
- Ibid., pp. 60-61.
- Ibid., p. 56-58.
- Broderick, ed., p. 380.
- Paul G. Schrotenboer, ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), p. 31.
- Broderick, ed., p. 284.
- Ibid., p. 32.
- Ibid., p. 33.