Friday, October 30, 2009

Do Catholics worship Mary?

For some odd reason, Victor Reppert has chosen to defend the cult of Mary against the charge of idolatry. And a couple of Catholics have rushed to his aid.

The basic argument seems to be that Catholics can’t be guilty of worshipping Mary since they don’t regard her as God. Therefore, they don’t venerate Mary in the same sense that they venerate Jesus or the Trinity.

There are several basic problems with this argument:

i) To be an idolater, you don’t have to ascribe to your “god” the same set of attributes you ascribe to Christ or the Trinity.

For example, if a Viking worships Thor, this doesn’t mean that Thor is given the same attributes as Christ or the Trinity. Indeed, by Christian standards, if a Thor-like being existed, he’d be more like a fallen angel. A finite being with superhuman powers.

So it’s not as if the Viking is transferring to Thor the attributes of the true God. Yet the Viking is still an idolater.

Let’s take a limiting-case of idolatry: Satanism. Does a devil-worshiper apply to Satan the same attributes as a Christian applies to Jesus or the Trinity? Obviously not.

In the mind of the Satanist, the devil is the polar opposite of God. A supernatural antihero. The devotion of a devil-worshiper stands in conscious, defiant contrast to Christian piety.

Yet Satanism is a very aggravated for of idolatry. Idolatry taken to its logical extreme.

ii) Likewise, in polytheistic idolatry, the “gods” range along a continuum. High gods and lesser gods. A wood nymph doesn’t have the same attributes as Zeus. A pagan worshiper can distinguish between the attributes of one “god” and another. You pray to different “gods” for different favors.

But whether a Greek priest prays to Zeus or a lowly wood nymph, it’s still idolatry.

iii) This brings us to the final issue. The question is not whether Catholicism is able to concoct some face-saving distinctions which shield the cult of Mary from the charge of idolatry. The question, rather, is whether Marian devotions constitute worship in the way the Bible describes the nature of worship–as well as various perversions of worship. Is she the functional equivalent of a patron goddess?


  1. Well, no, I am laying out a problem, pointing out the Catholic teaching on the matter, and raising the question of whether there is Catholic Marian devotion constitutes some kind of functional idolatry in spite of clear theological statements denying divine status to Mary.

    It's the classroom teacher in me.

  2. Have you guys ever heard about "the Psalter of Bonaventure"?

    I myself first discovered this work by it being referred to in old Protestant apologetic works as a particularly incriminating example of Mariolatry.

    This pseudo-Psalter was written by a 13th-century Franciscan monk who was later declared both a Roman saint as well as "doctor ecclesiae", the teacher of the church. Which means that Rome pretty much vouches for the content of his works.

    In this Psalter, prayers that were offered to YHWH in the Old Testament version, Bonaventure MODIFIED TO BE ADDRESSED TO VIRGIN MARY. The exact same praises of honor offered to the only true God in the OT he aimed at her instead.

    Feel free to be flabbergasted yourself:

    A sample:

    "PSALM 29

    I will exalt thee, O Lady, for thou hast taken me up: thou wilt deliver me from the wicked enemy.

    Turn to me and quicken me, from the gates of death lead me back: and from the rivers of tribulation which have surrounded me.

    For the sake of thy empire and the magnificence of thy right hand: break and scatter all my enemies.

    And I will offer thee a sacrifice of praise: and I will most devoutly exalt thy glory.

    Rejoice, ye Heavens, and be glad, O Earth: because Mary will console her servants and will have mercy on her poor.

    Glory be to the Father, etc. "

  3. Mary is not worshipped as God. Yet, her role is a strange one: God is too fearsome and awful, so one must pass their prayers on to Mary who will then pray in a more perfect way to the Father who hears the prayers of His elect.

    In a way, it's not too different from asking another believer to pray for oneself.

    There are certain groups that do take it a bit far, though. I'm thinking of the Marian apparition devotees who are almost a cult within the Catholic Church (such as those at Fatima Crusader).

    Weird stuff.

  4. I believe this is a gross over generalization. Mary is not worshipped. She is honored, some could say we do the same with Paul. Catholics are also completely welcome to pray too God and the Son. They don't pray too Mary, they ask Mary to intercede for them. Its the same with all of the saints... to generalize. And if that is going to be argued against then one is technically in danger of heresy - since in the creeds we affirm the communion of saints. The simplified technical definition of heresy is falling outside the boundaries of the creeds.

    I think to take a part of the catholic church the may spend to much time honoring Mary and projecting it to The rest is irresponsible.

  5. On a practical level please distinguish the difference between "honoring" Mary and worshiping her.

    And as for saying that praying to the saint is no different than asking another believer to pray for you, I wish that it were true. Catholics just don't ask for saints to pray for them, they ask the saints to intercede in their lives, to help them, things that only God can do.

    I suggest you actually look at some Catholic prayers to the saints - many go far beyond just asking a saint to intercede for them. Take this example of a prayer to St. Anne:

    "O Good and merciful Saint Anne,
    in order to honour you with more zeal, and pray to you with more confidence, I come to consecrate myself to you, for time and for eternity."

    Consecrating oneself to a saint for all time and eternity? Really? Isn't this something due only to God?


    "They don't pray too Mary, they ask Mary to intercede for them."

    Of course, that's a prayer. A prayer to Mary to intercede for them.

    "And if that is going to be argued against then one is technically in danger of heresy - since in the creeds we affirm the communion of saints. The simplified technical definition of heresy is falling outside the boundaries of the creeds."

    It's far more dangerous to fall outside the boundaries of Scripture.

  7. Here's an archive of past Triablogue articles on the subject of prayer. There's a lot of material there on prayers to the deceased and related subjects, such as prayers to angels and whether Catholics and Orthodox pray to Mary or just ask her to intercede for them.