What Is the Unique
Role of Mary in Roman Catholicism
and Is It Biblical? - Part 3
by Dr. John
Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon
Worshipped in the Roman Catholic Church?
Catholic theology attempts to draw a fine line between the worship
offered to God and that offered to Mary, in practice these frequently
become indistinguishable. The specific terms used are latria—adoration
which is due God alone; dulia—veneration offered to the saints
and hyperdulia—special veneration given only to Mary. But,
this kind of distinction is almost impossible to maintain in
practice—and regardless, even Catholic texts may make terms such as
"veneration," "adoration," and "worship" unclear when referring to God
As H. M. Carson remarks, "The
development of Mariology has been accompanied by an ever-increasing
tendency to accord Mary a worship that, in much popular devotion, is
indistinguishable from that offered to God alone."2
For example, when the average
Roman Catholic invokes the aid of Mary as a heavenly, all powerful,
omniscient intercessor, or to beseech Jesus for them, or to help forgive
their sins, it is hard to imagine that in that precise moment they are
mentally distinguishing in a split second between latria, dulia
and hyperdulia. "Rome may deny that Mary is worshipped as God.
But to attribute to her powers which involve omniscience and
omnipresence, if she is to hear [and answer] the prayers of millions, is
to accord to her what belongs to God alone. Furthermore, the prayers
themselves are phrased in such a way that it is hard to distinguish them
from those offered to God."3
Indeed, Rome has at least
fourteen "feasts of Mary"—special days "set aside to worship God
with special commemoration of events referring to Mary the mother of
As a noted Protestant
theologian, R. C. Sproul, remarks, "I think, however, for all practical
purposes, that I can say without fear of ever being proven wrong, that
millions of Roman Catholic people in this world today worship Mary, and
in doing so, believe that they are doing what the Church is telling them
Roman Catholic Church in History, Dr. Walter Martin outlined what he
called the "seven steps to deity" that, in the end, made Mary like a
God. In the material below we have summarized and added to Martin’s
evaluation in the following chart:
chart indicates that Mary’s Person and Work is extremely parallel to
that of Jesus Christ. This is why Dr. Martin refers to, "Rome’s
systematic effort to raise Mary to Deity."6
He also makes
the following important comments:
I have in my
library hundreds of pamphlets, manuscripts and books all published
with the official imprimatur of the Roman Catholic Church. In every
one of them, language which is applied to God alone in
Scripture is applied to the Virgin Mary. She is worshipped: she
is given almost every title of Christ. Thus, they are subtly but
systematically raising her to a place of equality with our Lord....
Worship, prayers, shrines, and even altars in churches have been
consecrated to her around the earth. The healing grottoes are seldom
dedicated to Jesus of Nazareth, but to "Our Lady of Lourdes," "Our
Lady St. Anne de Beaupre," "Our Lady of Fatima," etc. The statues
which are seen in Roman Catholic homes are invariably of Mary. The
largest niches in Roman Catholic churches are occupied by images of
Mary. The preponderance of prayers are to Mary, and the "Hail, Mary"
is repeated in the Rosary continually.7
Is it any surprise then that
Martin concludes, "This is indeed the elevation of a creature to Deity,
and I plead with you to realize that we are dealing with one of the most
dangerous teachings ever foisted upon the Christian church."8
When the Catholic Church
teaches that Mary rules over us, teaches us, sanctifies us, forgives our
sins, etc., what really are Protestants to think?9
Christ alone is worthy
of glory to receive our adoration, praise and worship. As Dr. Martin
asks, "Mary wasn’t born of a virgin, was she? Was it Mary who performed
miracles? Did she live a sinless life? Was it Mary who raised herself
from the dead? Did Mary go to the cross and sweat blood? Did Mary come
out of the tomb on the third day? Is it Mary who will return one day to
save the Christian church?"10
All this is a classic example
of how Church tradition, especially after the fact, corrupts biblical
teaching. In fact, Dr. Martin quotes eleven leaders from prior church
history, including four Catholic popes, all of whom directly contradict
the 1854 pronouncement that Mary was conceived without sin. Among these
are Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, St. Ambrose, Pope Leo I, Pope
Gallatus, Pope Gregory I and Pope Innocent III.11
Again, the Catholic Church
officially claims that its Mariology does not subtract from the worship
and honor due Christ as God and Mediator12—but what good are
mere claims? As an Evangelical Council on Catholicism observed, "In
effect many Roman Catholics put her on the same level as the persons of
Perhaps it might be
instructive to quote The Catholic Encyclopedia at this point:
"Idolatry is the giving to another person or object that worship which
is due to God alone. Idolatry, always a grave sin, is committed 1) by
intending and actually worshipping a creature as God, called formal
Although (technically) Mary
is not to be worshipped in the same sense that God is worshipped, she
is to be granted devotion and worship in a lesser sense. And if the
fine distinctions made by Catholic theologians "are usually not
reflected in the practice of the faithful,"15 idolatry would
seem to be a distinct possibility in the lives of the faithful. Thus,
"By the sixteenth century, as evidenced by the spiritual struggles of
the Reformers, the image of Mary had largely eclipsed the centrality of
Jesus Christ in the life of believers."16
to Mary. They expect her to intercede for them with Jesus on their
behalf. They venerate and/or worship her—thousands of shrines are
dedicated to the worship of Mary throughout the world. They believe she
plays a crucial role in their personal salvation. They believe Mary can
relieve their suffering in purgatory because she was coronated as Queen
in heaven and reigns with Jesus as King. They believe Mary pleads in
heaven for divine graces and then distributes them to the faithful.
the traditions of Rome cast a lengthy shadow of doubt upon the saving
role and mediatorship of Christ alone, as well as His sufficiency in
interceding for all believers. They also detract from the worship that
only Christ is worthy of.
1 Robert C. Broderick, ed.,
The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 33.
2 H. M. Carson, Dawn or
Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Leicester,
England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 128.
3 Ibid., p. 129.
4 Broderick, ed., p. 374,
5 R. C. Sproul, "The Virgin
Mary," lecture transcript, p. 12.
6 Walter Martin, The
Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian
Research Institute, Inc., 1960), p. 54.
7 Ibid., p. 58.
8 Ibid., p. 59.
9 Ibid., p. 60.
10 Ibid., pp. 60-61.
11 Ibid., p. 56-58.
12 Broderick, ed., p. 380.
13 Paul G. Schrotenboer,
ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical Perspective
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), p. 31.
14 Broderick, ed., p. 284.
15 Ibid., p. 32.
16 Ibid., p. 33.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute