Mariology – The Heart of Roman Catholic Life and Thought

The words “an accursed idolatry” are familiar to Christians of Reformed persuasion. They are heard each time the eightieth question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is read reminding us of the great error propagated in the Roman Mass. To this error we traditionally turn our attention at this time of the year when we commemorate the nailing of the Ninety-five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg by Martin Luther. But from time to time other areas of Roman thinking besides the “accursed idolatry” of the Mass should engage our attention. Not least among these is the subject of the Virgin Mary.

In Roman thinking a structured Mariology has been built up. Its very existence betrays Rome’s Semi-Pelagianism. In other words, in Mary we are shown that salvation is a co·operative venture between God and man. Accordingly, salvation is not sola fide, sola gratia; the human element is an absolute necessity.

In years gone by, the criticism was often leveled at Protestants that Mary was relegated to the dim background and not given her proper honor. To anyone who knows the faith it is clear that this is not true. Protestants are not unhistorical, as Berkouwer points out. It is true, however, that there is a difference in attitude when it comes to Mary. He goes on to say, “The difference lies in the function ascribed to Mary, and this difference defines the difference in the respect paid to her.”1 Mary is extremely important to the faith of Rome.

Mary’s role according to Rome

We need not go far to learn how important Mary really is to Rome. Though the Council of Trent (1545–63), so definitive on certain topics, was almost silent on Mary, some very important statements were made. In its definition of original sin given in the Fifth Session it was stated that Mary was not included. The Sixth Session revealed that while others could fall, Mary could not because she was free from concupiscence and actual sin. More recently, two very important papal pronouncements have been made which crystalized Marian dogma. In 1854, Pius IX proclaimed that the Immaculate Conception, which had been piously believed through the years, was a dogma and a belief necessary for salvation. Nearly one-hundred years later (1950), Pi us XII dogmatized the Assumption of Mary.

So important is Mary to Rome that one modem writer makes an interesting plea for her: “It is one of the most curious developments of history that there should be professed followers of Christ who not only denied Mary her part in the divine plan of the Redemption, but went further and attempted to part her from her Son. Their attitude is precisely similar to that of a man who finds a friend and his mother at the door and says, ‘Friend, you may enter but leave your mother outside: It is not surprising that those who thrust Mary outside have eventually found that Christ Himself and faith in God, too, have vanished.’”2 Short’s appraisal is equally emphatic as to Mary’s importance: “…while she is a human being, she very definitely is not an ordinary human being. She is the Mother of Jesus. Through the Special Providence of God she was conceived immaculate without any stain of sin and given all the graces proper to qualify her to become the Mother of the Redeemer. By virtue of her Divine Maternity Mary became the Media through which Salvation came to the world.”3 In fairness to Rome, these statements do not represent the thinking of all the theologians. Within Rome there is a feeling that a less stringent Mariology ought to be developed, as well as the traditional opinion that more should be done to exalt her place.

It is interesting to note that in the Second Vatican Council, when it became an issue whether to discuss Mary as a separate subject or to discuss her in relation to the Church, those favoring the latter view won by a small majority. Berkouwer sees this as possibly saying that no further development will take place in the dogma of Mary as Co-Mediatrix. Whatever the case, Mary will not lose her place in Roman thinking. Even the more liberal of the theologians do not want to cast her off entirely, though they are not eager to see any further development of Marian dogma.

Now, such an emphasis on Mary betrays the utter hopelessness of Roman theology. Though they want to hold dearly to the Biblical text which states that there is one Mediator between God and man, namely Jesus Christ, evidently he is not sufficient. Mary must still playa role in salvation. This conviction is betrayed by the development of Mariology and the emphasis on her in the practical application of the doctrines of Rome.

Mary’s unique motherhood

Mary, according to Rome, is first the Mother of God. When the Creed of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) used the term theotokos, it was intended to emphasize Christ’s deity and not Mary, though Rome says that the emphasis was on Mary. Even before this, Gregory Nazianzus (c. 382) wrote: “If anyone does not recognize the Holy Mary as the Mother of God, he is separated from the Divinity (Ep. 101:4).” If she is mother of Jesus the man, she is also mother of God. They contend that if we say Jesus is God-man, Mary is mother of God. It is not enough to say that Mary is mother only through the intervention of God. Not recognizing this, Rome says, is recognizing neither her son nor her.4

Her motherhood is not to be understood in the ordinary sense. Her motherhood was unique because it was virginal. She was kept from corruption and suffering in childbirth by divine love. She is mother first by faith and then by flesh. One Roman Catholic writer states; “Undoubtedly our separated brethren would agree that she has received the outstanding grace of having been chosen to be his Mother; but they do not hold that her innermost being was transformed by that grace which, as they state, leaves intact in her, as in every Christian soul, the defects caused by original sin.”5 Being related to Christ means that she was involved in his very work. In God’s plan she was mother of One who was born Redeemer—not One who would be Redeemer. This motherhood is a mystical one. Being the Mother of God she is the Mother of all Christians since they are the body of Christ. Therefore, as the Mother of God she receives a certain love which transcended the love of other sons for their mothers.

The words “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” which are found in the Douay Version of  Luke 1:28, are filled with rich meaning for Roman Catholics. Hers is a superabundance of interior holiness which causes her to be in the perfect likeness of God in the beginning of life in the Immaculate Conception, during life in moral impeccability and at death in the Assumption. The fulness which she had of this grace was one of progressive development in holiness even to her death. An official pronouncement of this was made by Pius XII in Encyclical Mystici Corporis (1943); “Her most holy soul, more than the souls of all other of God’s creatures, was filled with the Divine Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Of course, Alfred Plummer points out that the words of Luke 1:28 do not have reference to a superabundance of interior holiness which she possesses and may therefore bestow, but to a grace which was given for her special task in God’s program of redemption.

In Mariology, the Blessed Virgin had an Immaculate Conception. Though this was taught implicitly after the third century, it was not generally believed in the Roman Church until the eighth century. Famous in their opposition to such a view were Augustine, St. Bernard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas, but as the years passed it had public opinion on its side. In fact, in 1567, Pius V condemned Baius’ proposal that only Christ was free from original sin. Then in Ineffabilis Deus, Pius IX stated (December 8, 1854): “We define that the Blessed Virgin Mary in the first moment of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race was preserved free from every stain of original sin.” Briefly, the Immaculate Conception is that Mary was the only human being born without original sin. Being preserved from it she had grace from the moment her soul was created and infused into the flesh prepared by her parents. She was the complete realization of the new creation referred to in Ephesians 1:4.

Since none of the many texts which Rome has cited in the past to prove this dogma really are adequate proof, the argument runs something like this: It is necessary to insure Christ’s purity because sin and divinity are incompatible. In Hebrews 7:26, Christ is said to be separate from sinners but not from Mary. Hence. Mary was not a sinner!

A corollary of the Immaculate Conception is her sinlessness. Her purity is readily acknowledged. Mystici Corporis states that “she was immune from all sin, personal or inherited.” This is interpreted to mean that she was subject to defects in so far as they involved no moral imperfections.

The second Eve

Mariology is unique in that it presents Mary as holding a specific office in the scheme of redemption. There arc several aspects of this office. First, she is considered to be the Second Eve. Marian thinking has a parallel similar to Paul’s correlation of Adam and Christ in I Corinthians 15:21, 22. The new parallel is Eve and Mary. It would seem, however, that the use of the masculine form in Romans 5:19 would militate against this notion. As the second Eve she allowed the Incarnation to take place. Because of this she is the spiritual mother of all Christians and considered by many as the Co-Redemptrix.

As the Second Eve she has a personal relationship to Christ and the church. She is mother by adoption. Sharing in the passion and death of Christ, she suffered for her children. She is mother by alliance, i.e., she became one with man by assuming the penalties for his sins and participating in death for them. She is mother by generation. All men who would ever be born again are brought forth spiritually by her.6

Also, Mary is the Church. In September, 431, Cyril of Alexandria stated: “May we…reverence the undivided Trinity, while we sing the praise of the ever·-virgin Mary, that is to say, the holy Church, and of her spotless Son and Bridegroom.”7 Hers was the womb of the church. Her position in the mystical body of Christ has been suggested as the neck or heart.8 At any rate, in her is the perfection of redeemed humanity: the consummation of the church.

When we turn to the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary we see what may be called the “crown” of all the privileges afforded Mary. Though Roman thinkers have vacillated through the centuries from the view that Mary died to the view that death did not touch her, it remained for Pius XJl to proclaim in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (November 1, 1950) that Mary was “preserved free from the corruption of the sepulcher, and, like her son before her, with death vanquished, to be carried aloft in body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven…The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was run, was assumed in body and in soul to heavenly glory.”9 Various arguments are presented for this Assumption. The Scholastics argued that it had to be true because she was free from sin, the Mother of God, a perpetual virgin and because she participated in the work of Christ. To these Rome now adds that the lack of a grave is good proof.

Mary and man’s salvation

This Assumption is not without its practical implications for salvation. It is to give the believer an assurance that what Christ promised is true because one who is truly human has ascended into heaven. Through it they arc told that though Christ has ascended, a personal hope of his return in glory is lifeless unless one believes that the human Mary has ascended. It brings assurance of the final victory of Christ over Satan.

Two other terms are llSed in reference to Mary representing theories accepted by some in the church of Rome. Nevertheless, they arc in need of definition because the Protestant ear hears them oftcn and because they, too, represent the weakness of the evangelical doctrine of salvation according to Rome.

Sometimes Mary is called the Co-Redemptrix. Her co-redemptive work is necessary because a woman was the co-cause of sin. In this work she has both an active and passive role. Actively, she co-operates with Christ. She did this by loving and suffering with Christ at the foot of the cross. The “yes” of the annunciation was still binding upon her in association with Christ. Therefore she offers what Christ requires of her: co-operation in consenting to this redemption. In her passive role, she accepts the cross even though it brings upon her the agony of grief and pain. If it had been permitted by God, she would surely have died as his substitute! Also she is united to Christ, and by her inevitable compassion she is crucified at the same time.” An encyclical of Pills XI (1943) stated that: “…As the true queen of martyrs, by bearing her immeasurable sorrows bravely and faithfully she has contributed more than all Christian believers to supply what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ…for His body the church.”11 Accordingly, God chose Mary to help Christ redeem mankind.

Rome is quick to point out, however, that there is not a co-redeemer and a co-redemptrix but, rather, one Redeemer and a co-redemptrix. The latter is to be understood as active in co-redemption in the sense of compassion. Evidently, this is because of the Scriptural point that there is one name by which salvation comes.

Mary’s other work is her Co-Mediation. Because she is in heaven she is our Mediatrix with Jesus Christ. Being in heaven she now co-operates in applying redemptive grace to man. Indeed, her mediatorial work is subordinated to that of Christ, but it is real, nevertheless. It is a bringing together or Christ and man not a standing between. She does not mean to keep us apart. However, it must be noted that as Co-Mediatrix she is not autonomous. She derives her power from Christ. Hers is a freedom like that of all Children of God. It is also stated that she does not plead our cause before God as before a judge. She rather is used of Christ to touch us because she enters into His power.12

The drift to Mariolatry While Rome makes a distinction between the worship of Mary and the worship of God, this has not prevented a practical devotion to Mary which seems to replace a true love for Christ. In the practical life Mariology has become Mariolatry. Every Roman Catholic finds himself pushed on toward Mariolatry in several ways, notwithstanding the increasing shift of emphasis in Mariology.

First, he is urged to pray to her. A catechism question reads: “Why may I pray to the Blessed Virgin, the Angels and Saints? I may pray to the Blessed Virgin, the angels and saints because they are God’s best friends, and God will listen more to them than to me because I am still a sinner (Job 42:8).”13

The Prayer Books give verbal evidence of this belief. In one Mary says: “Wilt thou, my dear child, obey the Precepts of the Holy Catholic Church, and call upon me in thy necessities? If thou wilt do so, I will assist thee, assure thee. I will plcad for thee in time of danger, and will avert from thee nil the anger and indignation of my Divine Son.”14

A Prayer of Breviary states: “Hail, queen mother of pity, our life, sweetness and hope. To thee we, exiled children of Eve cry out. To thee we cry and lament in this valley of tears. Therefore, O our advocate, turn to us thy pitying eye and lead us to Christ after this our exile is at an end. O, clement, pious, sweet Virgin Mary.”15

 Further, the Roman Catholic is confronted with Mary whenever he considers the Mysteries of the Rosary. The full Rosary contains 150 prayers to Mary and more to Christ. The second Glorious Mystery: The Ascension, has this prayer: “Virgin Mary we lift our hearts to thee in hope of eternal salvation.”16 The Fifth Glorious Mystery: The Coronation, has this prayer: “Rejoicing and confiding in you, O Glorious Queen of Heaven, please help us reach eternal glory.”17

Even the Church Year of the Roman Church is replete with Feast Days for the Virgin Mary. While twenty honor Christ, forty honor Mary; with one month honoring Christ, two honor Mary.

Is it any wonder then that with all this encouragement the modem Roman Catholic finds in Mary a certain soteric value. Christ is Savior, but Mary is guide and help for salvation. While the layman docs not see a dual standard of salvation, it is clearly there. Without Mary there would be no Roman Catholic theology.

1. G . Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the New Catholicism, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, p. 248.

2. J. Brunini, what Catholics Believe and Why, Garden City, Garden City Books, p. 252.

3. R. Short, Catholicism; Christ’s True Faith, (lmprimatur) Mound, Minnesota, Bellarmine Pub. Co., p. 40.

4. L. Snellens, Man) the Mother of God, (Vo!. 44 of The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism), New York, Hawthorne Books, pp. 46, 47.

5. Ibid., p. 53.

6. D. Miller, How To Explain What You Believe As a Catholic, Liguori, Mo., Liguorian Pamphlets, Redemptorist Fathers, p. 31f.

7. Cyril, Homilias diversae 4.

8. J. Pohle; A. Preuss, Mariology. St. Louis, Herder Book Co. p. 21.

9. P. Palmer, Mary in the Documents of the Church, Cited in T. Hoyer, Why I Am Not a Roman Catholic, St. Louis, Concordia, p. 32.

10. L. Suenens, op cit., pp. 61–66.

11. G. Berkouwer, The Conflict With Rome, Grand Rapids, Baker, pp. 153, 154.

12. L. Suenens, op.cit., pp. 100–104.

13. W. Cogan, A Catechism for Adults, Forest Park, IL, D. Farrlell Co., p. 14, question 15.

14. Little Flower Prayer Book, p. 234, cited in J. Macaulay, The Bible and the Roman Church, Chicago Moody, p. 76.

15. D. Schaff, Our Fathers Faith and Ours: A Comparison Between Protestantism and Romanism, 2nd ed. New York, Putnam’s, p. 612.

16. The Mysteries of the Rosary. Chicago, Leo. C. Connelly.

17. Ibid.