F e a t u r e A r t i c l e
CRI’s Attack on Mary: Part VI
By “Father Mateo”
Volume 4, Number 1
CRI begins the last portion of its attack on Catholic doctrines concerning Mary by claiming that Scripture’s words in praise of Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42), do not provide a biblical justification for Catholic devotion to Mary. (These verses, of course, when combined for the first part of the Hail Mary.)
CRI asserts, “The fact that Catholics have utilized these words for the purposes of devotional prayer does not prove they were originally uttered in the same spirit. They need only be taken as declaration of fact; meant to convey special honor, to be sure, but not necessarily ‘special veneration.’ “115 CRI here implicitly espouses, without proof, the narrowly Fundamentalist view that Scripture ought to be read only according to the literal meaning of the original authors. Yet Scripture itself gives examples of drawing enriched meanings from earlier texts, whose authors were not explicitly aware of those meanings.116
The role of the Spirit
Through twenty centuries, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit has been with the Church, as we reflect upon our Scripture and divine Tradition. The Spirit teaches us everything and reminds us of everything Jesus taught (John 14:26). He guides us to all truth (John 16:13). It is quite certain, therefore, that he has brought the Church to a deeper realization of the meanings of Scripture than the original writers enjoyed. Luke 1:28,42 indeed justifies special veneration of Mary by a deeper realization than Luke had when he wrote his Gospel. But once the Bible is torn from its moorings in the Church, misinterpretations multiply. CRI unwittingly provides many examples of this sad fact.
Another text which blesses Mary is Luke 11:27-28, ” ‘Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.’ [Jesus] replied, ‘Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.'” CRI says, “That Luke 11:27 would be cited as a proof text for the veneration of Mary is, to the Protestant, striking evidence of a scriptural blindness where Mary is concerned. . . . It should be obvious that, rather than supporting the tendency to venerate Mary, it refutes it.”117
Here it will help to look at the Greek particle menoun in Luke 11 :28, which several translations render as “rather.” CRI italicizes this “rather,” thus implying (without proof) that Luke is using menoun as a particle of contradiction to mean, “No, Mary isn’t blessed; rather, blessed are they, etc.” And what is worse, because uncritical and unscholarly, CRI alleges that this interpretation is “obvious.” It is far from obvious; it is extremely tenuous and, I believe, quite false.
Margaret E. Thrall, a Protestant scholar, cannot be accused of bias toward the Catholic position. In her study Greek Particles in the New Testament, suggests the following interpretation of menoun in Luke 11:27-28: “What you have said is true as far as it goes. But the blessedness of Mary does not consist simply in the fact of her relationship towards myself, but (menoun) in the fact that she shares in the blessedness of those who hear the word of God and keep it, and it is in this that true blessedness lies.”118 I think this is probably the best interpretation of this text, giving the true sense of “rather.”
Let’s look at Protestant testimony
Once again, CRI has shown unawareness of some important Protestant testimony. The German Evangelical Adult Catechism says, “Mary is not only ‘Catholic,’ but she is also ‘Evangelical.’ Protestants tend to forget that. But Mary clearly is the mother of Jesus and closer to him than the closest disciples. With what humanity the New Testament depicts this closeness, without concealing Mary’s distance from Jesus! An example of this distance can be seen in Luke (11:27-28), who tells us so much about Mary. . . . Jesus replies, ‘Blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.’ But does that not apply precisely to Mary? She is depicted as exemplary hearer of God’s word, as the handmaid of the Lord who says ‘Yes’ to the will of God, as the blessed one who is nothing of herself but gains everything through God’s goodness. Mary is the pattern for men who let themselves be opened and gifted by God, of the community of believers, of the Church.”119
It is well to be precise here: These German Evangelicals are not recommending veneration of Mary. They do not suggest that one should pray to her. But they do read Luke 11:27-28 as praise of Mary, not as a snub offered her by our Lord. And precisely because it is Gospel praise, this passage provides biblical justification of Catholics’ praise of Christ’s Mother.
Now, at last, we come to the blunt accusation that Catholics are sinners and idolaters because of our devotion to Mary – and, I might add, to the other saints and the angels.
CRI says, “It was only a matter of time before Mary would be adored by millions of Catholics around the world. . . . Mary is (and for centuries has been) worshiped by millions all over the world, especially in the Latin countries. . . . Excessive devotion to Mary in Latin countries and elsewhere in the Catholic world is not a case of a legitimate practice gone awry. . . . All sin operates according to the same ‘give it an inch and it takes a mile’ dynamic – and idolatry is sin – and religious devotion to anyone but God is idolatry. This is the verdict of Scripture.”120
Before examining Scripture and this charge of idolatry and sin, I want to take note of the racism evident in CRrs supercilious reference to the “Latin countries,” where, it would seem, Catholics are especially prone to “excessive devotion.” John de Satge – much of whose work I admire – also mourns “the impression which Anglo-Saxons especially gain from visits to Catholic churches during holidais in Latin countries or in Ireland.”121 As CRI complains of our “excessive devotion,” de Satge winces at our “debased devotion” in paintings, hymns, and prayers, which he suggests are “sentimental.”122
Up with sentiment!
But I should like to know what is wrong with sentiment and the sentimental? Surely, the feelings are an important part of the equipment God gives us to live with, to love with, and to pray with. Is not one nation’s “sentimentality” another’s robust sentiment?
On the whole, I would say that, if Latin sentiment seems treacly sentimentality to you, that is your problem. It is not ours. I believe that Protestantism itself unavoidably shows its Northern European origins.
We can respect these, but dourness and a stiff upper lip are simply not our Catholic style. Why should they be?
To supercilious and racist remarks about the Catholic Irish and the Catholic peoples of Southern Europe and Latin America, I say, give me a break! Consider for a moment the Orthodox Christians, whose devotion to Mary and the other saints makes our Catholic devotion seem positively Presbyterian!
Catholic and Orthodox theologians make a sharp distinction between latria (adoration), the supreme worship rightly given to God alone; dulia (veneration and invocation), given to the saints in heaven and to the angels; and hyperdulia (special veneration and invocation), offered to Mary, the Mother of God and most exalted of God’s creatures. But CRI objects: “While in theory these categories are intended to prevent idolatrous worship of created beings, in practice they have little effect on the religious feelings of the masses. How could feelings be subject to such coldly analytical distinctions?”123
A whiff of Marxism?
While I enjoy CRI’s Marxist touch here (“the religious feelings of the masses”), the objection itself has no force, because religious devotion is primarily an exercise of the mind and free will, not of the emotions. Sometimes, devotion overflows to the feelings; sometimes it does not. Dryness in prayer, alternating with consolations which overflow to the feelings, is a common experience of those who are constant in prayer, that is, who “pray always” (Luke 18:1), not merely when they feel like it.
The feelings cannot be commanded, whereas our Lord makes the love of God and of our neighbor the object of the two great commandments of the Law, and he seats this love not only in the heart and soul, but also in the mind – in fact, in the whole human person of the worshiper. See what Paul writes: “I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also. I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15).
We pray to God with our minds aware that he is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, and this awareness is latria. We pray to our Lady with our minds aware that she is God’s noblest and holiest creature, Mother of Jesus and of his Church, and this awareness is hyperdulia. We pray to our brothers and sisters, the saints, and to the angels, with our minds aware that they are our models, patrons, and intercessors, who offer our prayers to God before the throne of the Lamb (Rev. 4:10, 5:6-14), and this awareness is dulia. It is not necessary for men and women here at prayer explicitly to know these technical terms. It is necessary only to know that God is God and all others are not God.
We Catholics know this; we are in no doubt about it; we know the difference – not because we are particularly bright, but because we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19-20).
If someone says, “I do not consider Mary, the saints, and the angels to be gods or goddesses, nor do I treat them as such,” then he doesn’t. You ought to believe him. To insist, in the face of his denial, that he does regard these creatures as gods is not only the sin of rash judgment (Luke 6:37, Rom. 14:4, 1 Cor. 4:3-4) and a grave failure in Christian charity, but it is a deficiency in ordinary common sense. It is bad use of Scripture, bad theology, bad Church history, and bad manners.
In our theology and practice, we Catholics go with Epiphanius, who wrote, “According to her nature, Mary remains human and feminine. Hence, like other saints, she is unsuited for adoration, though as an elect vessel, she is glorified in a higher degree than others. In like manner, neither Elij ah . . . nor John the Baptist . . . nor Thecla may be adored.”124
De Satge notes, “What is the place of Mary herself in relation to God? It is that he brought her, as he did all the other children of earth, out of nothing. Although he has since then exalted her to a point of grace immense and inconceivable, nevertheless, in comparison to her Maker, she still remains as nothing. Indeed, she is far more than any other – his creature, because he has wrought more in her than in any other of his creatures. The greater the things he does to her, the more she becomes the work of his hands.”125
Is it really idolatry?
Those who have only a little knowledge easily become pedants and love to correct others who (they rashly judge) know even less than they. But just as the Imitation of Christ says, “I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it,” so I praise people who love our Lady and express their love with sincere feeling and enthusiasm, even though their vocabulary of praise may be theologically inaccurate. God sees their hearts, and Mary unites them to our Savior, however poorly they express themselves.
Next, what is idolatry? Paul describes it as bartering or exchanging the true, glorious, and immortal God for a lie, paying latria (he uses the very word) to a creature rather than to the Creator (Rom. 1:23, 25). Catholics do no such thing. Rather we know and daily experience that the saints, and most of all our Blessed Mother, instruct and edify us by the example of their Christlike lives. Everyone of them says to us, as Paul said, “Be imitators of me” (1 Cor. 4:16; see also Phil. 3:17, 1 Thess. 1:6). Like Paul again, the saints and angels are saying to us, “We pray to God that you may not do evil. . . that you may do what is right” (2 Cor. 13:7); “we always pray for you” (2 Thess. 1:11). Our veneration and prayer to Mary and others in heaven redound to the glory of God, whose children we all are. If we neglected to pray to them, we would deny God the glory, praise, and gratitude we owe him for so exalting our brothers and sisters.
But CRI asserts, ” Religious devotion to anyone but God is idolatrous. This is the verdict of Scripture.”126 This rather is the caricature of Scripture, a cartoon of the Word of God. Scripture bids us make every action, every penance and pain, every day, acts of religious devotion, fruitful for our own salvation and the salvation of others: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever else you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31); “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his Body, which is the Church” (CoI.1:24; see also 2 Cor. 1:3- 7).
Romans 13:1-7 teaches us to revere and obey legitimate authority (even the IRS!), because all authority comes from God. Whoever opposes this authority resists God. Thus civic duty and filial piety toward parents, if well understood, are forms of religious devotion, commanded by God to be paid to human beings. Indeed, the Lord specified this when he gave Moses the Fourth Commandment “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12).
Psalm 72 is divinely-inspired Scripture. With God’s full warranty, therefore, the psalm expresses religious devotion (one is tempted here to be wry and to say excessive devotion) to a human monarch of Israel. This psalm, of course, is messianic and will find its final fulfillment only in Christ the King, but, in its first and original meaning, it was used in Temple worship as religious devotion to an earthly king.
Jacob, meeting his older brother Esau after a separation of several years, said to him, “To come into your presence is for me like coming into the presence of God!” (Gen. 33:10). (Oh, would that those naughty Latin Catholics might behave themselves and use only sober and restrained biblical language as the Patriarch Jacob does!)
To feed, clothe, visit, and shelter the needy are acts of religious devotion to God (Matt. 19:16-21,25:31-36, Gal. 6:2). We are habitually to see God in other people. In fact, by percentage, very little of a Christian’s time is likely to be spent directly communing with God. We live out our love for God by loving and serving one another (Matt. 25:31-36, Jas. 2:14-17).
“But we shouldn’t pray to them!”
But some would protest, “Not in prayer! We mustn’t pray to any creature in heaven! God forbid we should ask heavenly dwellers to pray for us or give us anything!” Well, the Patriarch Jacob had a wrestling match with an angel, conversed with him, and asked him for his blessing (Gen. 32:23-30). That’s prayer to a creature, asking for something. Paul says the Church is Christ’s Body. He is eloquent about our need for one another (1 Cor. 12:14-26). We are members of one another (Eph. 4:25).
This family unity is not interrupted by physical death. In fact, Scripture says that baptism is the moment of our true and meaningful death. It is then that we die and are raised to newness of life in Christ (Rom. 6:3-11). “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Co!. 3:3). Physical death is only passage from this world to the next; it does not separate us from the Lord (Rom. 8:38-39). It but marks the moment “when Christ your life appears – then you too will appear with him in glory” (Co!. 3:4). We are the Lord’s both in this life and in the next (Rom. 14:8), because he is our head and we are his members and members of one another. The Bible famously asks, “Death, where is your victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55). But CRI denies that we can pray to our fellow members of the Mystical Body in heaven. They cannot heed us or take an interest in us or pray for us or in any way serve us. They are bereft of ministry.
CRI’s false doctrine awards physical death a monumental victory over us, over them, and over Christ. It separates us from our Mother and from our brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow- members whom we need (1 Cor. 12:20,21,27).
Who the saints are
Baptized members of the Church are called “saints” or “holy ones” in the New Testament. This word (hagioi in Greek) is also used of the saints in heaven (Col. 1:12, Eph. 2:19, Rev. 18:20). The Greek word represents the Hebrew qedoshim, which is used of the saints in heaven in three places in the Old Testament (Zech. 14:5, Ps. 89:6, Dan. 7:22). The saints in heaven, in the persons of the elders in Revelation 5:8, are shown offering to God the prayers of the saints on earth. This activity of the elders is intercession by the saints and angels (Rev. 8:3-4) in heaven on behalf of us on earth.
When Christ teaches us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he holds up for our imitation the behavior of the saints in heaven, who do his will perfectly. Doing God’s will means loving him and loving others as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40). Because the saints are our models of this twofold love, they too must love God and others. What others? Every other human being, no matter who or where, but especially their fellow members of the family of the faith (Gal. 6:10). How can they show their love for us? By caring for our needs. And how can they do this? By praying for us. If they could ignore this love for us, they could not love God nor remain with him in heaven, because the two loves cannot be separated. The Bible says, “This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21). Scripture cannot be broken – in this world or the next.
The notion that the redeemed in heaven are excused from concern for their brothers and sisters on earth, that they can know nothing of us and do nothing for us, is quite simply indecent. A theology which proposes such selfishness and spiritual paralysis as our heavenly destiny is shameful and unworthy, both of God’s love and our human dignity.
“Hello? Is anybody listening?”
CRI asserts that there is no Scriptural basis for believing that Mary and the other saints in heaven can hear prayers offered to them. This assertion violates Luke 16:19-31 and Hebrews 12:1. Revelation 18:20 shows that the saints in heaven would be aware of the destruction of Rome and her empire. Then why would they be unaware, then and now, of the needs, sufferings, prayers, and petitions of their brothers and sisters?
CRI further asks, “Even if [the saints] could hear some prayers, how could Mary hear all of the hundreds of thousands of prayers that undoubtedly are addressed to her every minute of the day? As a creature she, by definition, is limited; she cannot be omniscient and omnipresent!”127 Here we have what I would call the village atheist’s objection – you know, the fellow who can’t handle Christ’s walking on water or Moses’ dividing the Red Sea. God can and does elevate human nature to do what unaided it could not do: “To him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever” (Eph. 3:20).
God empowers Mary and the saints and angels to hear and answer all our prayers. It is properly his power, not theirs. By praying to them, we glorify his love and power. The reason we go to them is for his sake alone, to strengthen the bonds of family among ourselves and with him, who has called us all from darkness into his marvelous light. It is not right for anyone, by doubt and unbelief, to earn the rebuke Christ laid upon the Sadducees: “You are misled, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29).
Catholics believe that “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (las. 1:17). What the saints and angels obtain for us, they obtain from God. Sometimes we hear the suggestion that we should pray not to the saints, but only through the saints. Some heirs of the Reformation even go so far as to say we should not pray to Christ, but only through Christ to the Father. If this distinction is meaningful to anyone, let him observe it. It is not meaningful to me.
The direct approach
I prefer to approach a saint directly, as Jacob approached his angelic wrestling partner: “I will not let you go until you bless me!” (Gen. 32:27). Jacob knew that an encounter with heavenly dwellers brings us closer to God: “I have seen God [via his messenger] face to face!” (v. 31). Indeed, devotion to the saints and particularly to our Lady increases our awareness of God and our tenderness toward him. This is the common experience of Catholics, and we yearn to share it with all.
“Father Mateo” is the pen name of a priest engaged in teaching and evangelization. This critique will conclude next month.
115 Elliott Miller, “The Mary of Roman Catholicism,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 199O, 32. The first part of Miller’s article appeared in the Summer 1990 issue. In these notes the two parts are referred to as Part 1 and Part 2. The articles represent the position of the Christian Research Institute.
116 Compare Jesus’ interpretation in Mark 12:26-27 with Exodus 3:6. Notice also how Jesus enriches Deuteronomy 6:5 by adding the word “mind” in Matthew 22:37. The Evangelists often use Old Testament texts with richer meanings than their original authors intended (compare Matthew 2:15 with Hosea 11:1). In Acts 10:28 Peter draws new meaning from the vision granted him in 10:11-16.
118 Margaret E. Thrall, Greek Particles in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962),35.
119 Quoted in Albert J. Nevins, Answering a Fundamentalist (Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 1990),97-98.
120 Part 2, 31- 32.
121 John de Satge, Down to Earth: The New Protestant View of the Virgin Mary (Consortium, 1976), 117.
122 Ibid., 111.
123 Part 2, 32.
124 Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 79, no. 5, Patres Graeci, XLII, 47.
125 De Satge, 117.
126 Part 2, 32.
127 Part 2, 33.