What Is the Unique Role of Mary in Roman Catholicism and Is It Biblical?-Part 1
By: Dr. John Weldon
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary is the Mother of God. Catholicism claims Mary is full of grace, therefore free of original sin and kept from all actual sin; that Mary is perpetually a virgin; and that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven where she now reigns with Christ. She has been given the titles “Mediatrix of all graces” and “co-Redemptrix” with Jesus. What is the Protestant position on these and other ideas about Mary?|
Brief of Issues
This article will examine the evidence concerning the position of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and why Protestants disagree. Roman Catholicism teaches that Mary is the Mother of God. Pope Pius XII’s encyclical in 1943 said, “She is the mother of our head.” Catholicism claims Mary is full of grace, therefore free of original sin and kept from all actual sin. The pope’s encyclical agreed, claiming Mary is free from any personal or inherited sin. Catholicism also asserts that Mary is perpetually a virgin; that is, Mary was a virgin not only before, but during and after the birth of Jesus.
In addition, Catholicism claims Mary was bodily assumed into heaven where she now reigns with Christ. The pope’s encyclical says, “Mary, now glorified in body and soul, reigns together with her Son.”
Catholicism has given to Mary the title of “Mediatrix of all graces,” and the pope has agreed, teaching, “It was in answer to Mary’s all powerful prayers that the divine Redeemer’s Spirit was given to the newly born church, and by her intercession, obtains from him [i.e., Jesus] abundant streams of grace to all the members of the mystical body.”
Another title given to Mary is that she is “co-Redemptrix” with Jesus. The pope affirmed this in his encyclical when he said, “Mary offered Jesus to the Father for all the children of man who are defiled by Adam’s unfortunate fall,” and “by bearing her immeasurable sorrows, she has supplied what was lacking in the suffering of Christ for his Body, the Church.”
Many Protestants believe Catholicism has elevated Mary to Godhood. In The Second Vatican Council and The New Catholicism (1965, p. 239), G.C. Berkouwer observed “Mary’s role is often delineated by Catholicism in a way that the gospels ascribe exclusively to Christ.”
Protestants can agree that Mary was the honored mother of the human body of Jesus, but object to using the title “Mother of God,” claiming it sets up a misrepresentation in most people’s minds. Protestants maintain that all Christians believe God is eternal and without beginning, therefore He has no mother. Both sides agree that Mary was the mother of Jesus who was both God and man but she did not add divinity to Jesus’ human nature. Therefore, Protestants say the title “Mother of God” should be dropped because it is a misleading term.
Second, Protestants believe it is not biblical to teach that Mary was conceived without original sin and committed no actual sin during her life. Thomas Aquinas, the supreme theologian of the Catholic Church, declared that only a sinner needs a Savior, and Mary must have been a sinner since she stated, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Protestants think this doctrine deprives Christ of His uniqueness as the sinless One.
Third, Protestants argue that to say Mary is “full of grace” does not mean, as Catholicism implies, that Mary is sinless. Scripture also says Stephen, Elizabeth, Barnabas and others were “full of grace.” Yet no one claims they were sinless.
Fourth, Protestants do not believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The Bible, according to Matthew 12 and Mark 6, plainly shows Mary had other children.
Fifth, Protestants insist that Scripture nowhere teaches that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven.
And finally, Protestants insist that Mary cannot be Mediatrix or co-Redemptrix with Jesus, since the Bible states there is “only one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus,” and that only Jesus can forgive a man’s sin.
Through all this we can see in Catholic theology how Mary parallels Christ. She is proclaimed to be the Mother of God; she is declared to be immaculately conceived, which means that she was conceived without the stain of original sin; she is proclaimed to be a perpetual virgin; she is declared to be assumed bodily into Heaven after her death which means that she was supernaturally transformed into a new body. She is proclaimed “Queen of heaven.” She is proclaimed “Mediatrix of All Graces,” which maintains that as Christ dispenses redeeming grace to mankind, Mary will, with Him, have the final word as to who will or who will not receive that grace of God. And finally, she is declared “Co-Redemptrix of the Universe.”
All of these have raised her step-by-step to the place where Pope Pius XII, in the Marian Year in which he proclaimed the Assumption of Mary, said,
- Enraptured by the splendor of your heavenly beauty and impelled by the anxiety of the world, we cast ourselves into your arms, O, immaculate mother of Jesus, and our mother, Mary. God crowned you Queen of the Universe. O, crystal fountain of faith, bathe our minds with 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 rise from every heart in this year dedicated to you. Convert the wicked, dry the tears of the afflicted and the oppressed. Comfort the poor and the humble. Quench hatred. Sweeten harshness. In your name, resounding harmoniously in heaven, may they recognize they are all brothers. And, finally, 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.
To the contrary, Christ is the author and finisher of faith. Mary is not the “glory and joy and honor of Christians”—Jesus Christ is our glory. In Him is the hope of glory. He is our joy. Christ is the One we honor. Yet it is clear, just from reading this prayer, that titles are conferred upon Mary which belong to God. To “convert the wicked” is the job of the Holy Spirit, who “convicts the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.” Mary does not give comfort to all Christians. That is the very reason Jesus sent the Holy Spirit—to be our “Comforter.”
In the Catholic Church the faithful say, “Our life, our sweetness and our hope, to thee we cry, poor banished children of Eve.” Even giving Mary her due right, she is not our life—Jesus Christ is our life. She is not the sweetness of our life—Jesus Christ is the sweetness of our life. Mary is not our hope because “Christ in you is the hope of glory.” From a biblical perspective, it is more than clear that the Mary of the Bible is not the Mary of Catholic theology.
What Is the Unique Role of Mary in Roman Catholicism and Is It Biblical?
Significant areas of Catholic doctrine and practice are related to the person and work of Mary. Her unique relationship to God is usually discussed in a trinity of functions: 1) Co-Redemptrix, 2) Mediatrix, and 3) Queen of Heaven. As Co-Redemptrix, she cooperates with Christ in the work of saving sinners. As Mediatrix of all graces, she now dispenses God’s blessings and grace to the spiritually needy. As Queen of Heaven, she rules providentially with Christ the King of Heaven. Although views in the Church vary, Mary has usually been elevated above all the prophets, apostles, saints, popes and even the Catholic Church. In the words of Pope Paul VI, “…the place she occupies in the Church: [is] ‘the highest place and the closest to us after Jesus.’”
Consider just a few titles of the almost innumerable books glorifying Mary: Mary the Mother of Redemption; Mary: Queen of Apostles; Mary: Queen of Peace; The Glories of Mary; Mary: Cause of Our Joy and Mary of Nazareth.
Mariology is as firmly entrenched in Catholicism as ever, especially with the honored blessing given by Vatican II. Vatican II “admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered. It charges that practices and exercises of devotion toward her be treasured as recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries, and that those decrees issued in earlier times regarding the veneration of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints, be religiously observed.”
This charge has found a welcomed reception especially among Catholic charismatics. For example, “It is far from unusual to hear those who claim the baptism in the Spirit profess that one result of their new experience is a deeper devotion to Mary. The devotional use of the Rosary has been stimulated rather than curtailed.”
But the Catholic view of Mary is not scriptural; it is entirely traditional. Some of the unbiblical teachings from Catholic tradition relating to Mary include the following:
- Mary’s immaculate conception. This doctrine teaches that she was born without original sin and was kept sinless throughout her life.
- Mary’s perpetual virginity. This dogma asserts that she had no children after Jesus.
- Mary’s bodily assumption or physical ascension into heaven. This teaches that because of her sinlessness, Mary never experienced physical death. Instead she was raised bodily into the presence of Christ the King where she now functions as “Queen of Heaven,” dispensing graces to all the faithful.
- Mary’s role as co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces. This doctrine holds that the obedience and sufferings of Mary were essential to secure the full redemption bought by Christ.
- Mary’s right to veneration and/or worship. This teaching argues that because of her unparalleled role in the economy of salvation, Mary is worthy of special adoration.
We will begin a discussion of #4: “Mary’s role as co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of all graces” next time.
- Walter Martin, The Roman Catholic Church in History (Livingston, NJ: Christian Research Institute, Inc., 1960), pp. 45-46.
- David F. Wells, Revolution in Rome (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1972), p. 132.
- Pope Paul VI, Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary [Marialis Cultus] (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1974), p. 20.
- Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), pp. 374-375.
- Walter M. Abbott, general editor, The Documents of Vatican II (NY: Guild Press, 1966), pp. 94-95.
- H. M. Carson, Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), p. 134.