Monday, July 12, 2010

What the Catholic Church Teaches about Mary

I've heard much debate over the years about what the Roman Catholic church teaches about Mary. This made me curious. I decided to go to the source of all sources - the Vatican itself.

While at the Vatican's official website, you can look at a catechism. Among many other things, this catechism addresses what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches about Mary. Read it by clicking here.

There are several things that I find very troublesome. I'll quote a few of them below:


964 - "This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation..."

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..."

968 - "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."

969 - "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation .... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix."

971 - "The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs..."


If you believe that church tradition holds authority in life, then the above statements probably cause you no concern. However, if you hold to sola scriptura, then the above statements about Mary ought to cause you to cringe. The reason is simple: the statements cannot be supported scripturally in any way.

This is not a small issue. Rather, statements like what we see above are a frontal assault on the gospel itself. The gospel is all about the work of Christ. We are nowhere told to worship or venerate any other. God is a jealous God who alone deserves the glory. Christ alone is our Mediator. Christ alone was free from sin. Christ alone is our King. Christ alone ascended into heaven.

If we are to be biblical people, we must reject Roman Catholic teachings about Mary.

18 comments:

Jeffrey said...

Well said Eric. As someone who grew up in the Catholic Church, I can attest to the fact that most of the parishioners I came in contact with believed any doctrine annunciated from the pulpit without question. Very few ever even attempted to search the scriptures and "see if these things were true". The double edged sword of man-made doctrine and the authoritative priesthood/ prophetic office of the clergy leads many astray. Since the doctrines surrounding Mary touch on salvation, I suspect some will forfeit eternal life because of them. What a travesty that this has been done in the name of the Church?

Jeff

Eric said...

Jeff,

This was a good reminder to me to always keep looking to scripture in all things. I'm sure I fail to do this, but I hope to keep trying.

Aussie John said...

Eric,

Jeffrey said,"the parishioners ........ believed any doctrine annunciated from the pulpit without question."

The sad fact of the matter is that most Protestants, evangelical or otherwise,Reformed or Arminian, are exactly the same.

Even more sad is that the leadership encourages it!

Nick said...

This issue really comes down to whether Sola Scriptura is even true in the first place.

Also, when looking to Scripture on any given issue, one must distinguish between something that is condemned (at least implicitly) and something Scripture is silent upon.
So, taking the Assumption of Mary into Heaven as an example, one can say it's nowhere explicitly condemned nor does it undermine any other doctrine - and if one denies Scriptural proof for the doctrine - this leaves us with Scripture being silent on the doctrine, which isn't in itself a grounds to condemn it.

Eric said...

John,

I suppose our hope should be more and more Christians who want to delve into the scriptures on their own, and church leaders who encourage this. Better yet, churches who look together into the bible to decide what they believe. I know church leaders who are in favor of this. Let's hope for more.

Eric said...

Nick,

Thanks for commenting.

You make a good point about sola scriptura. That is the foundational difference between Catholics and Protestants.

As for the Assumption, I think we can at least agree that this is a very significant doctrine. Because of this, I believe we need scriptural support (not just silence) to believe it. Clearly, scripture does not speak to this issue. Therefore, I don't believe it.

Nick said...

Hi Eric,

So you're taking the approach that 'silence' simply means not necessary for the Christian to believe, irrespective of whether it is true or not. I would point out that doctrines like prayer to the Holy Spirit have scant, if any, clear Biblical evidence, yet most pray to the Holy Spirit. (I've met a good number of Christians who only pray to the Father, not even Christ, because they say there's no Scriptural warrant.)

Eric said...

We must have a reason for believing what we believe. The bible gives us all we need to know for the Christian life. It also speaks to all key doctrines and issues. This includes truths about Mary. If there is something key about her, the bible would speak to it. The scriptures, however, give no hint of any sort of assumption or any of the other disputed issues spoken to in the catechism. If Mary was involved in the work of salvation, if she was Mediatrix, if she was sinless, if she was assumed, etc., then the scriptures would speak to this. Silence on core doctrines of the faith tells us that those not spoken of are not true.

As for prayer and the Holy Spirit, I simply pray to God for that is the biblical model.

Nick said...

Hi Eric,

You said: "The bible gives us all we need to know for the Christian life. It also speaks to all key doctrines and issues."

I think this is truly the crux of the matter. Until this is proven, there is no foundation from which to say if there is or is not information given on any given key doctrinal issue. Like I said, I believe prayer to the Holy Spirit is a key doctrinal issue, yet the NT gives scant evidence.

Eric said...

Nick,

I suppose we could go in circles on this one. In the end I think we both see that the issue is authority. For me it is scripture alone.

I don't want to put words in your mouth on this. I am genuinely curious. How would you describe what your authority is in decision making?

Nick said...

Hi,

You asked: "How would you describe what your authority is in decision making?"

It depends on the decision. In regards to religious matters, my authority is a harmonious working together of Scripture, Tradition, and Church Magisterium.

All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, thus "Scripture alone" is functionally impossible because it requires an authoritative interpretation along with it.

Eric said...

Nick,

Thanks for your answer. Please let me ask another question. You wrote, "thus 'Scripture alone' is functionally impossible because it requires an authoritative interpretation along with it." Whose authoritative interpretation must we follow?

Nick said...

Hi Eric,

You asked: "Whose authoritative interpretation must we follow?"

That's the question that decides it all. I think the answer can be found by considering the only two options:

Either each individual carries the same authority when interpreting, or a select group of individuals carries the authority of authoritatively interpreting for the rest.

In each option there is effectively an infallible magisterium, the difference is whether it's each individual or a select group.

Each individual cannot be their own magisterium, else a radical "just me and my Bible" individualism results, with doctrine becoming purely relative.

Thus, the authority must reside in a select group of Church leaders; what Catholics would call Pope and Bishops.

Eric said...

Nick, it is interesting that we have gone from Mary to scripture to the priesthood.

Scripture speaks of a priesthood of believers. Therefore, that's what I believe. No where do I see any suggestion that a select group has authority to interpret the bible for the majority.

Also, I've been in the church all my life and have rarely seen a "just me and my bible" approach to biblical interpretation. I'm sure this happens on occasion but by and large it does not.

In the end, the issue again returns to authority. On that, I'm certain, we will not agree.

jessica_auner said...

ok hold up, wait a minute. So Nick, you are saying you believe that a select group of christians get the authority to say "this is what Scripture means"? Why? Because they are super spiritual? Or because they have special knowledge that the rest of us lowly christians don't? You have just taken the power of the Holy Spirit and given it to man. And that in my opinion is VERY dangerous ground.

Nick said...

Hi Eric,

Since we are going off topic (mostly my fault), and I'm sure we've said what we can, this is my last post.

I have just two comments:

(1) I see clear evidence in Scripture that the Church leadership has the authority to decide what the rest of the believers are to do/believe. One big example is Acts 16:4, which says: "As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey."
Here, Paul carried with him on his journey the new doctrine the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 decreed for all Christians.

(2) The "just me and my bible" approach is more subtle than most realize. It doesn't mean literally everyone is doing it, but many are, even if they don't realize it. The typical person in the pew mostly just believes what they're told, they don't really interpret scripture. On the pastoral level, the opposite is true, and each pastor ultimately decides what is going to be taught.

My point was, more directly, that I can claim X is in scripture, and if that's an authoritative interpretation you have no grounds to oppose it. You naturally would say no, X is not in Scripture, which would be an authoritative interpretation on your part. Thus you've effectively become your own magisterium.

For example, if a Magisterium says Mary's Assumption is supported by Revelation 12:1,5, then people must submit to that authoritative interpretation. The only grounds by which you could object is to say all believers function as their own magisterium, even if they never exercise it. But that just spirals into "just me and my Bible".

Thanks for the discussion.

Jeffrey said...

Nick,

I hope you don't consider it rude for me to jump in on your conversation with Eric. Your discussion on the authority to interpret scripture is of personal interest to me. I recently read through 1 Corinthians chapters 11 through 14 with an eye towards this very issue.

We meet with a couple of other families for church and attempt to emulate what is described in those passages (not to the exclusion of other passages, but these seem to get to the functional heart of the church gathering) My interest is in the juxtaposition I have witnessed in the authoritative churches I've attended vs. the interplay that these passages seem to describe: No one believer has "it all". Each is gifted with a portion of what is needed, be it wisdom, knowledge, spiritual discernment, etc.

I can only tell you what I've witnessed: When a group of believers humbly seeks to edify the others, and considers others as more important than themselves, something very interesting happens. When wrestling through a passage of scripture, one has an insight, one has knowledge of a related passage that lends context, or fleshes out a different facet of the issue. Another has a related life event that adds "shoe leather" to the topic, etc. I have personally learned more in this living room atmosphere, than by learning the "approved" interpretation.

Something special happens when we reason together, when iron is allowed to sharpen iron, when one sits down so another can speak. In my experience, far less doctrinal error enters into the church than when one, or a select few, can get away with being unchallenged, and authoritatively telling everyone what the scriptures mean.

To wrap back around to the topic of the sufficiency of scripture, 2 Tim 3:16 says, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". In my limited reasoning, I see it this way: if scripture had it's origin with God, then this verse must be true. If this verse is true, then all of scripture is paramount and authoritative. If all of scripture is paramount and authoritative. Isn't there enough in there to keep us busy without building and defending other man-made doctrines? Wouldn't the issues spoken of in the Bible be at least superior to the ones made up by men?

I can't twist your arm, nor am I judging you, but I would counsel that you try to be a truth seeker. I would counsel that you defend nothing that you haven't prayed about and wrestled through yourself. I would counsel that, as Paul suggested in Act 17:11, you trust no holy man, but rather listen, test what they said vs. scripture and then decide whether to absorb or jettison what you've heard.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings, and may God bless you,

Jeff

Eric said...

Nick,

Thanks for the conversation.

Regarding the Acts passage, the apostles were involved. They held a unique authority that no one has today.

As for interpretation, I agree with you that some people abuse this privilege. I've heard some wacked-out interpretations in my life. However, I do not think this extreme should lead to the other extreme of a small group deciding what everyone should believe. I believe the scriptural model indicates that the best method is for groups of Christians to sit down together to discuss the bible and interpret it together. This model avoids ultra-individualism but also keeps the interpretation out of the hands of just a small elite.