What Is the Unique
Role of Mary in Roman Catholicism
and Is It Biblical? - Part 2
by Dr. John
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
Is Mary a
"Savior" in the Roman Catholic Church?
defined as the study of that theology "which treats the life, role and
virtues of the Blessed Mother of God" and which "demonstrates... her
position as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces."1
Thus, Catholic popes have always glorified Mary.
Catholic Church would reject the designation, Mary does function
as a kind of secondary Savior in Catholic teaching and practice.
illustrations will suffice to show the preeminent place she holds in the
As G. C. Berkouwer observes:
The central question
especially concerns the elevation of what is creaturely into the
supernatural perfection of the life of God.... We must state that
the picture of Mary obscures the glory of Christ in an appalling way
and demonstrates a doctrine of grace in which man himself is given a
function which is not in accordance with the character of grace.3
We will begin
with a chronological listing of recent papal pronouncements:
Pope Leo XIII
(1878-1903) stated in his Rosary encyclical, "Octobri mense"
(1891): "From that great treasure of all graces which the Lord has
brought, nothing according to the will of God comes to us except
through Mary, so that, as nobody can approach the Supreme Father
except through the Son, similarly nobody can approach Christ except
through the mother."4
Pope Pius X (1903-1914)
asserted that Mary is "the dispenser of all gifts which
Jesus has acquired for us by His death and His blood."5
Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922)
refers to her as "the mediatrix with God of all graces."6
Pope Pius XI (1922-1939)
says, "With Jesus, Mary has redeemed the human race."7
The conclusion of Pope Pius
XII (1939-1958) in his encyclical, "Mystici Corporis"
(1943) was that Mary herself actually offered Christ on Golgotha!
"Who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always most
intimately united with her Son, offered him on Golgotha to the eternal
Father… for all the children of Adam."8
Marialis Cultus (Feb. 2, 1974), Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) also
affirmed that Mary offered Christ to the Father on Golgotha:
This union of the Mother
and the Son in the work of redemption reaches climax on Calvary, where
Christ "offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice to God" (Hebrews
9:14) and where Mary stood by the Cross (cf. John 19:25),
"suffering grievously with her only-begotten Son. There she united
herself with a maternal heart to his sacrifice, and lovingly consented
to the immolation of this victim which she herself had brought forth"
and also was offering to the Eternal Father.9
Vatican II (1962-1965)
declared that, "Taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving
role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continued to win for
us gifts of eternal salvation."10
Consider once again the following comments by Pius XII and the remarks
of Dr. Walter Martin both before and after:
This is the
Mary of Scripture: "The handmaiden of the Lord." This is the Mary of
Scripture: "I have rejoiced in God, my Saviour." But here is the Mary
of Roman Catholic theology, from the prayer recited by Pope Pius XII
at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiori in Rome on the opening of the
by the splendor of your heavenly beauty and impelled by the anxieties
of the world, we cast ourselves into your arms, O Immaculate
Mother of Jesus, and our Mother Mary.... We adore and praise the
peerless richness of the sublime gifts with which God has filled you
above every other mere creature from the moment of your
conception until the day on which, after your assumption into
heaven, He crowned you Queen of the Universe.
fountain of faith, bathe our minds with the eternal truths! O,
fragrant lily of all holiness, captivate our hearts with your
heavenly perfume. O, conqueress of evil and death, inspire in
us a deep horror of sin which makes the soul detestable to God and a
slave of hell.
beloved of God, hear the ardent cries which rise up from every heart
in this year dedicated to you. Bend tenderly, O Mary, over our aching
wounds; convert the wicked, dry the tears of the afflicted and
the oppressed. Comfort the poor and the humble, quench hatreds,
sweeten harshness, safeguard the flower of purity and protect the Holy
most sweet Mother, our humble supplications and, above all, obtain for
us that on that day, happy with you, we may repeat before your
throne, that hymn which is sung today around your altars,
You are all beautiful, O Mary. You are the glory,
you are the joy, you are the honor of our people."
I want to
point out that in the opening verses of the Biblical record concerning
Mary, and in every verse of Scripture which is applied to her, never
once is she ever removed from the category of the "handmaiden of the
Lord" who rejoiced in the God of her salvation.
after nineteen centuries, I make bold to say that the Roman Catholic
Church and its theologians have unhesitatingly applied to her sacred
titles alone given in the Bible to God the Father Himself and to Jesus
Christ, Our Lord.11
I want to make it clear at
the beginning that I put much emphasis upon knowing the doctrine of
the Virgin Mary in Catholic theology because if any one doctrine in
the Roman Catholic formula of theology would cause us, on Biblical
grounds, to withdraw from fellowship with them, this would be the
Although the Catholic Church
staunchly maintains that Mary’s role does not obscure or diminish the
efficacy of Christ as the one Mediator, a good portion of the Church
also teaches that Christ could never have become the Mediator
without Mary. When Mary accepted the angel’s announcement that she would
bear Jesus, Catholic tradition holds that her statement "be it done unto
me according to your word" was a command. Thus, had Mary not "commanded"
it, then, at least according to the so-called "maximalist" position of
Mary within the Catholic Church, there would have been no redemption.13
Thus, "her statement in Luke 1:38 giving her consent to the Incarnation
‘became a vital link in the plan of salvation, so that in fact the whole
plan hung upon her consent.’"14 According to Vatican II
Mary is seen "used by God not merely in a passive way, but as
cooperating in the work of human salvation through free faith and
All this is why Vatican II
declares that "Mary figured profoundly in the history of
salvation...."16 and, "In a wholly singular way she
cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work
of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls."17
might wonder why Mary should deserve credit as a co-redeemer, winner of
all graces and Mediatrix merely because she assented to the angel’s
announcement. Catholicism answers by teaching that Mary is specially
worthy and deserves special merit simply because she obeyed God.
But isn’t this
attitude contrary to that of the New Testament? Didn’t Jesus Himself
teach that when we had done everything we should do our only response
was to say that we were merely "unworthy servants?" "So you also, when
you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are
unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’" (Luke 17:10).
in Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Chapter 3, "Mary’s
Co-operation in the Work of Redemption—the Mediatorship of Mary", we
read that Mary’s obedience qualified her to dispense grace and become
the cause of salvation:
Mary gave the Redeemer, the
Source of all graces, to the world, and in this way she is the channel
of all graces. Since Mary’s Assumption into Heaven no grace is
conferred on man without her actual intercessory cooperation.... Mary
freely and deliberately co-operated in giving the Redeemer to
the world.... The Incarnation of the Son of God, and the Redemption of
mankind by the vicarious atonement of Christ were dependent on her
assent.... Mary by her obedience became the cause of
Only this explains the
Catholic Church’s adoration of Mary. According to Rome, in a very real
sense she did win our salvation by the role she played in the birth,
life and death of Christ. And she continues this role through her
own assumption and queenly reign in heaven where she daily
dispenses grace to all the hundreds of millions of Catholics. Thus,
expressions of Catholic devotion to Mary are everywhere. In his
encyclical Redemptor Hominis, Pope John Paul II titled his last
chapter, "The Mother in Whom We Trust". Some Catholics have even
referred to Mary as "the Spouse of the Holy Spirit."19
In The Catholic Response
Stravinskas remarks that, "One cannot ignore this woman, lest one
risk distorting the gospel itself."20 Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
also confesses that, "Mary’s sublime dignity as the Queen of heaven
and earth make her supremely powerful in her maternal intercession for
her children on earth."21 Thus, "…how generous she is in rewarding us in
life, death and eternity, for the little services we render Her
faithfully",22 and "Jesus and Mary reward in a marvelous
way those who glorify them."23
Again, although Mary did not
literally die for the sin of the world, by giving birth to the Messiah
and by giving Him moral support and other comfort, Mary can be seen as
indirectly helping to atone for the sins of the world. Thus,
The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches of her temporal earthly sufferings
that she "endured them for our salvation."24 Further, "In the power of
the grace of Redemption merited by Christ, Mary, by her spiritual
entering into the sacrifice of her Divine Son for men, made atonement
for the sins of men and (de congruon) merited the application
of the redemptive grace of Christ. In this manner she co-operates in the
subjective redemption of mankind."25 Thus, "Since her
Assumption into Heaven, Mary cooperates in the application of the grace
of Redemption to man."26 For example, in one
supernatural revelation of herself Mary allegedly said the following:
Just as Almighty God chose
the Angelic Salutation to bring about the Incarnation of His Word and
the Redemption of mankind, in the same way those who want to bring
about moral reforms and to want people reborn in Jesus Christ must
honor me and greet me with the same salutation. I am the channel by
which God came to men, and so, next to my Son Jesus Christ, it is
through me that men must obtain grace and virtue.27
Now in all
frankness, does this sound like the Mary of the New Testament?
Catechism also discusses Mary’s role as one of
"Mediatrix Par Excellence," noting her "vicarious assistance" to
mankind. In the following citation we see the extent to which Mary is
adored as a "Savior." Thus:
...she deserves the title
Mediatrix because she cooperated in the unique way with Christ in his
redemptive labors on earth, and because in heaven she continues
interceding for those who are still working out their salvation as
pilgrims in the Church Militant or souls suffering in purgatory....
Once entered heaven, she did not cease her mediatorial function in
favor of mankind. Terrestrial mediation now became celestial....
Mary’s title to Mediatrix-in-atonement rests on the pain she freely
underwent in union with her Son. The sins of men called for suffering
from the God-Man, and he wished his mother to share in the pain as she
was the one whom he loved most.... Alongside her Son, Mary has become
part of this plan [of justification] by contributing her share to
the justification of the human race, beginning with herself and
extending to everyone ever justified.... Mary was more
instrumental than any other creature and thus "co-meriting" with
Christ.... and now in heaven continues interceding effectively as a
reward of her virtue.28
the Catholic Church may deny that Mary’s role in salvation does not
detract from that of Christ’s, but we find it difficult to see how this
can be maintained in any logical sense.
1 Robert C. Broderick, ed.,
The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 370.
2 Pope Paul VI, Devotion
to the Blessed Virgin Mary [Marialis Cultus] (Washington, DC:
United States Catholic Conference, 1974), p. 20.
3 Garrit C. Berkouwer,
The Conflict With Rome (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed,
1958), pp. 174-175.
4 Ludwig Ott,
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books and
Publishers, 1974), pp. 213-214, emphasis added.
5 Ibid., p. 214, emphasis
6 Ibid., emphasis added.
7 R. C. Sproul, "The Virgin
Mary," lecture transcript, p. 5, emphasis added.
8 Ibid., p. 6; cf., Ott,
pp. 203-213, emphasis added.
9 Pope Paul VI, p. 15,
10 Walter M. Abbott, gen.
Ed., The Documents of Vatican II (NY: Guild Press, 1966), p.
91, emphasis added.
11 Walter Martin, The
Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian
Research Institute, Inc., 1960), pp. 45-46.
12 Ibid., p. 43.
13 The maximalists assert
that by means of her Fiat and offering of her Son on the cross that
Mary is absolutely necessary not only to the incarnation but to
Redemption itself. This is why she is called a co-redemptrix. But even
the so-called "minimalists" affirm such beliefs as Mary’s alleged
bodily assumption, immaculate conception and her coronation as Queen
14 H. M. Carson, Dawn or
Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Leicester,
England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 126.
15 Abbott, p. 88.
16 Ibid., p. 93.
17 Cited in Paul G.
Schrotenboer, ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical
Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), p. 36, cf., Abbott,
pp. 86-96, and G. C. Berkouwer, The Second Vatican Council and the
New Catholicism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), pp. 221-248.
18 Ott, p. 212, emphasis
19 Schrotenboer, pp. 37,
20 Peter M. I. Stravinskas,
The Catholic Response (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor,
1985), p. 80.
21 Ott, p. 211.
22 S. T. Louis De Montfort,
The Secret of the Rosary, Mary Barbour translator (Bay Shore,
NY: Montfort Publications, 1976), p. 95.
23 Ibid., p. 47.
24 Broderick, ed., p. 285.
25 Ott, p. 213.
27 De Montfort, p. 84.
28 John Hardon, The
Catholic Catechism: The Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the
Catholic Church (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975), pp. 166-169,
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute