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My understanding and critique of Roman Catholic Mariology

In the following I hope to explain where the Roman Catholic Church stands regarding its doctrine of Mary and “critique” it according to my understanding of how Scripture portrays her and what an appropriate response should be for someone who claims to be in the Christian faith.

I do not claim to be an expert on Mariology nor has my learning ceased on this issue. On the other hand, I am at least somewhat informed as I hold a graduate level degree in Theology, married a woman who for the majority of her life has been a practicing Roman Catholic, live in an area of the world (Argentina) in which Catholicism has a greater influence on culture than most countries (Roman Catholicism is the official state religion in only 7 countries outside the Vatican), have many friends who are Catholics (some more devout than others), etc. Our worldviews are shaped by a myriad of experiences, people, and even God Himself and I know that many will view things differently than the way in which I state them below. This article is meant to be read in its entirety.

To start, I would like to briefly examine what Scripture says about how humans are to worship God alone. There is only one true God, the Creator of the universe and everything as we know it, who is good and loving, infinite in power. He is not restricted by time or space and is the author of all truth. As our Creator, He knows what is best for us and has interacted with humanity to carry out his overall plan. Mankind can come to know God and His purpose for our life because He has communicated with us. As finite creatures we cannot grasp this infinite, invisible being, but we are called to worship Him because he is worthy of all praise. Everything that is good and right comes from Him. Scripture also says that God is a “jealous” God, in that He does not delight when humans begin to worship things instead of Him. He doesn’t do this because He is greedy for praise but because He has gone to great lengths to give us His love and enter into a relationship with Him, which in turn blesses us because being in right relation with God we come to know his will for our lives, which is what is best for us. I will stop right here with an analogy that just came to my mind. I have a 2-year-old daughter. Imagine if I took the effort to design and build her a play tree house, one that is suitable to her needs and likes. Imagine I go to great lengths to make it just right, and take time out of leisure activities to work hard on putting it together. After many days of labor, the time finally comes to show her the finished work. Now how would I feel if at the time I show it to her she doesn’t smile upon seeing it, doesn’t want to play in it, but instead says to me “my friend Julia’s is better.” That would break my heart and I would be “jealous” of the other tree house. Now this analogy is meant to show that sometimes there is an appropriate jealousy and this is the kind of jealousy that the Bible speaks of God having. The analogy is not perfect because in my analogy it just may be that the other tree house is better, but with God, He and His plans are always far better than any other being, and the analogy also deals with things instead of people.

Throughout Scripture we see this idea of there being only one, true God worthy of our praise and worship. In the instructions of how His community in the Old Testament, the Israelites, and all others who wished to join them, were to live, at the very core is this idea of there being no other God and that God had done great things in order to deserve respect, gratitude, honor, and worship. When the Israelites began to worship other gods or things, God did not delight in this and He sent them messengers (or Prophets) to warn them that God was not pleased and to stop giving praise to any object other than Him. The wording that the Prophets used, perhaps more than any other, was that the Israelites were “prostituting” themselves to other gods. They had the true God at their side all the time, but they wanted to look up to and trust others over Him. The supremacy of God continues in the New Testament. It is God alone who redeems. God alone can take away the guilt of our sins and can change our very being. Miracles are done in the name of God. God is named the head of the church. Only God is prayed to. Although men and women are seen teaching, guiding, and helping in the affairs of the church, they are never worshiped or given a status on a par with God. To close this section, I believe Scripture is clear about how great God is, how He desires an intimate relationship with us which in turn benefits our lives, and how He is jealous in a right way when we turn and give glory to a being or thing that is infinitely less glorious than God.

Now I would like to discuss what Scripture says about honoring other human beings. Honoring others is a staple in our society. We have funeral services for our loved ones and there is a special time called the eulogy, in which the deceased is honored and praised for their accomplishments in life and their character. We honor others in many other ways including statues, monuments, naming of buildings, etc. In sports we applaud humans for their physical abilities and many kids (and adults) hang posters or jerseys of their favorite sports heroes. Most of the time in society, when someone is praised or honored we do not think twice about whether it is correct or not, and I feel that this is because in our souls we know that it is just fine to recognize and praise others for their conduct and achievements. When we praise people and recognize their talents, this should in turn cause us to praise God who is the one responsible for creating people with such talents. All throughout the Psalms David recognizes the beauty of God’s creation with a correct attitude. Looking further into Scripture we see that Peter, James and John are called “pillars” in the church. Paul is recognizing them for their service and role in the founding of the early church. Paul says in Philippians 4:9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” Here we see that it is ok to be a follower, to look up to the life of someone else and try to imitate them. In 1 Cor. 11:1 we see Paul saying something similar: “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Identifying godly characteristics and habits in others is ok. Hebrews 12 states that our own behavior may be influenced by those who have gone before us and are excellent examples in the Christian faith. This point could be developed further but in the effort to not go too long, I will end this point here.

Now on to the Roman Catholic Church’s position on Mary. From their Catechism, the official doctrine of the Church, we read the following:

Mary “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established.” (paragraph 489)

Pope Pius IX: 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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (paragraph 491)

The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person. (paragraph 492)

The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature”. By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. (paragraph 493)

the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin” (paragraph 499)

Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church (paragraph 507)

she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life. (paragraph 508)

The Virgin Mary is the supreme model of this faith (paragraph 273)

Mary, the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God (paragraph 721)

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. “This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death”; it is made manifest above all at the hour of his Passion: Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross. (paragraph 964)

In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.” (paragraph 968)

One can easily see that Mary has a special place in the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. We must ask if their doctrine is in error. Looking honestly at many of the statements, I can say that although I do not agree with the special status they attribute to Mary, there is no specific error or heresy associated some of these statements. We will touch on this later, but for instance, when they state that Mary was always a virgin, although I disagree with this conclusion, the belief that it is possible that she remained virgin in of itself is not heresy. However, some of the statements about her are in error. Paragraph 489 places her as having an important and active role in eschatology, claiming that the “times are fulfilled in her”. It is in Christ that all the Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled (Luke 24, 2 Cor. 1:10, Matt. 5:17). Mary served a part in the fulfillment of times but it is different to say that the times are fulfilled in her. Paragraph 491, 493, and 508 state that she was free of original sin. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). The very fact that we have original sin means that we are in need of a Savior. Mary herself calls Jesus her Savior in Luke 1:47. Only God is perfect and without sin, to say that Mary was without sin means that she was on a par with God. She is also called “all-holy” and the “perfect realization of the church.”  I believe these statements are also heresy as again, Mary was not a perfect being, as God is the only all-perfect, all-holy being.

Although not officially part of their doctrines, many Catholic Church priests, theologians, cardinals, and Popes have helped promulgate the idea of Mary being a co-redeemer with Christ. Two words that have been used to describe Mary’s role in redemption are “Mediatrix” and “Co-redemptrix.” The former is used to state that Mary is an intermediary between God and man, and that we must go through her in order to receive salvation and be redeemed. This is heresy. Our salvation is based upon faith in Jesus Christ alone. We do not need an intermediary (1 Tim. 2:5). The latter is used to describe Mary’s role in helping Jesus redeem humanity. The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient to redeem mankind; He does not need help nor never needed help. This is ascribing to Mary a quality that only God could have. Again, although these words do not appear in the Catholic doctrine, many Popes and other higher leaders have held to this view and many do to this day. So although it is not dogma, it is still being taught to many of their faithful. The current Pope has sent out messages stating that Mary is our guide and the one we should look to in our Christian walk, however she is never given this status in Scripture.

In any religion, we must observe the orthodoxy and the orthopraxy, that is, both the doctrines that said religion holds to as well as the manner in which the people of the religion live out their lives. Unfortunately, in Protestant Christianity as well as in Roman Catholicism, and in other religions, there are many who “claim” to be of a certain religion but do not live accordingly and do not investigate the true beliefs of the said religion. I would like to observe how the Roman Catholic masses carry out their faith regarding Mary. Indeed, there is a wide representation, anywhere from those who hold no special view of Mary to those who pray and worship Mary solely and not God. Most fall somewhere between these extremes. What do most believe? This is a hard question to answer as one would have to do a broad poll of people from all different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographical points on the globe. In my experience, many times when people hear I am “Evangelical” their first question is: “Do you believe in Mary?” It is interesting to me that this is often the first question. I usually ask back: “What do you mean when you say believe in Mary?”  Most of the time to them, “believing” in Mary means praying to her, seeking her for guidance and wisdom, being devoted to her, etc. Praying to Mary, depending upon her for forgiveness of sins and seeking her alone for guidance is to forego God and seek a person. Based upon my reading of Scripture, I do not think this pleases God. I cannot judge all Catholics nor is it my intention to do so. I am not so ignorant to say that all Catholics are in error. For sure there are many who honor and look up to Mary as an example, without worshiping her over God. However, many I come across do go a step beyond just looking up to her or for example in the faith. Going back to the point I mentioned earlier, I would like to touch on Mary being forever a virgin and without any other children. Most Catholics I come across are appalled at the thought of Mary perhaps having sex or even another child. The Bible leans more towards her having sex and other kids, although it does not say for sure either way or the other. This means that we should be open to both possibilities. I believe that when the Bible talks about Jesus’ brothers that the author of the book means brothers and not cousins or some other parental relationship. I also think that in Scripture we see that part of a healthy marriage is in having intimate sexual relations with your spouse. Some may even say that sexual intercourse is even what consummated the marriage in Scripture. If sex is God’s design for marriage and it makes a marriage healthy, then it would seem that to hold that Mary had sex in her marriage would be a good and natural thing, yet to say she did not have sex means that her marriage did not enjoy that aspect of the relationship. I am not saying that having sex or not having it is a sin, but that it is a healthy, natural part of marriage life. My point here is this: why are Catholics (or at least the majority of whom I meet) so angered and upset and moved by the fact of someone saying that Mary had sex and other children? The very fact that they cannot conceive her of having sex or even admit it is a possibility shows that they hold a special place for her that is more than normal, more than just the normal honoring or praising of someone else. The very design of a great number of Catholic churches also fosters Mary worship, as the gothic and neogothic styles of building often depict lesser beings at the bottom of the structure, with more holy beings being presented as the building goes higher and higher. Often you will see demons and humans near the bottom of the building, then the Apostles and the Saints as you go higher, then Jesus as you go even further up, but then, above everything else they have Mary. Again, just the fact that Mary is situated at the top is not sin per se, but it at the very least is communicating to the masses a sense of special holiness.  With the Catholic church being all over the map as far as their teachings on Mary, it is no wonder why many are confused as to what her role is exactly or of the fact that there are so many different opinions. If the Catholic church was more unified on their teaching, perhaps the masses would be more unified in their opinions of her.

I will also note that I believe there is a difference on a whole, between the practices of Catholics in North America as opposed to those in Latin America. The people in Latin America have a much more “mystical” religious system. This has roots in the period of the conquista and the Inquisition, as many of the indigenous were forced to convert to Catholicism yet secretly held on to their other gods and superstitions. The Pachamama, Gauchito Gil, shamans, etc. that many Catholics pray to and adore are examples of “intermediary” spirits between this world and the spiritual world. With a God who is distant, many turn to these creatures in their adoration and devotion, which is placing them over God and giving to them attributes that only God has. For this reason, perhaps Mary worship is more prevalent in Latin America than in other places.

I will end this article with an analogy. Suppose a runner wants to win a gold medal in the Olympics. He trains for years just in order to qualify. Then he trains more and more to be on a level with the best in the world. The day of the gold medal race comes. It is a grueling race, and in the last lap the runner is able to pass other runners and win. He is ecstatic, with a huge smile of satisfaction. He achieved his dreams. When his senses come to him and he realizes what is going on around him, his expression goes from euphoria to confused. He notices everyone cheering for someone else. The whole stadium is clapping for another man, who is being thrown up and down. The gold medal is placed around this man’s neck. Who is this man? Our runner asks himself. Time passes. A few people pat him on the back, but mostly people are cheering this other unknown man. Finally, he is informed as to who this individual is: it is the man in the shoe factory who glued the sole onto the shoes, the very shoes worn by the runner in the competition. Certainly this man did a fine work on the shoes. You may even say that this man was one of many along the path to the runner receiving his gold medal. Yet we know something would be horribly wrong to give to the shoemaker the same amount of cheer and praise as to the runner. This is not a perfect example, but I use it to make some points. I have no doubt that Mary, in obeying God, is an example of someone who deserves to be credited for how God used her and how she responded to God. Just as in the numerous other examples of faith that we have…. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and the list goes on. All of these showed exceptional faith and yet all were human and had their faults. Most importantly, all of these cannot compare to the greatness of our God, to the love that He has for us, to the work that He accomplished for us on the cross. The central theme of the Bible is Jesus. He is anticipated in the Old Testament. He is manifested in the Gospels. He is preached in Acts. He is admonished and praised in the Epistles and his teachings are further explained in them. And in the final book, Revelation, we see His ultimate victory over all Evil and His ability to bring everything to justice. A personal, intimate relationship with this great God is available to all. Amen.

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No longer blogging

Although I like the idea of maintaining a blog and have plenty to publish and write about, I just have not gotten in the habit of publishing regularly or prioritizing it.

You can connect with me via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/scott.jackson.56808

Or email me:  scottinargentina (at) gmail.com

 

Can We Still Believe the Bible?

Craig Blomberg and Daniel Wallace, two scholars I admire and enjoy reading.

Daniel B. Wallace

Can-We-Still-Believe-the-Bible-200x300

Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has written another outstanding volume. Blomberg is a committed evangelical, but not one with a closed mind. As he says in his preface about the environment of Denver Seminary (quoting Vernon Grounds, former president of the school), “Here is no unanchored liberalism—freedom to think without commitment. Here is no encrusted dogmatism—commitment without freedom to think. Here is a vibrant evangelicalism—commitment with freedom to think within the limits laid down by Scripture.” Blomberg’s writings have always emulated this philosophy. His research in the secondary literature is consistently of superb quality, and his discussions of problem passages and issues, especially in the Gospels, is always well informed. Rather than clutter the narrative with documentation, Blomberg has wisely used endnotes instead of footnotes (though I personally prefer footnotes, I understand that most readers see them as a distraction). This book has nearly…

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Blogging…

I’m not too much of a blogger… as you can see.  I am trying to figure out if I want to keep this blog, in which case, I definitely need to use it more.

Asado in Argentina

 

 

An amateur video showing what an Asado is and how to do one.

 

Pics from TIME Ministries visit, July 2011

Me with the whole group

A funny skit to attract the crowds, even street dogs!

 

Kids watching the plays in Plaza Colon

 

dance moves

 

Book activity and cookout at Bethel Children’s Home

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Bethel Children’s home.

I went with a few friends, and our goal was to cook lunch for the kids, a typical food here is the “choripan” which is basically sausage cooked on the grill, with bread and other condiments.  We also delivered a bunch of books to the children, which had been donated by the church that I am going to.  We talked to the kids about the importance of reading and encouraged them to read and stay active in school.  Here are some photos: