Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Historical Popularity Of The Roman Catholic View Of Mary

The issue of the popularity of the Roman Catholic view of Mary came up in another thread. There was widespread opposition to the Catholic view of Mary in early post-apostolic church history. The Catholic view of her, in its entirety, isn't found in any extant document of the earliest centuries, despite agreement with some aspects of the Catholic view among some sources. I have several articles on early Christian views of Mary here. We've discussed the mother of God issue in the comments section of the thread here.

Concerning the Protestant reformers, it's true that some of the early Protestants, such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, held a much higher view of Mary than most Protestants do today. But the extent and significance of that early Protestant agreement with the Roman Catholic view of Mary is often misrepresented.

The Catholic Marian scholar Michael O'Carroll notes that Martin Luther was "not wholly consistent" in his beliefs about Mary (Theotokos [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1988], p. 227). O'Carroll writes that Luther "underwent a certain development in his ideas, and we must not forget that, up to his middle thirties, he had accepted - though with some questioning - traditional Catholic ideas and practice in this area" (p. 227). Though Luther was "emphatic on the divine motherhood" and "true to Catholic tradition on the virginity" (p. 227), for example, he also "talked of the danger of making Mary into an idol, even a 'goddess.' The 'papists' have done so....Of the feast of the Assumption, he had said: 'The feast of the Assumption is totally papist, full of idolatry, and without foundation in the Scriptures.' He even said that he would keep the Visitation to 'remind us that the [Papists] taught us apostasy.' The Salve Regina, Europe's most powerful Marian hymn, he dismissed. It said too much." (p. 228) However, O'Carroll gives examples of other comments Luther made that were more positive toward Roman Catholic Marian beliefs, sometimes in a seemingly inconsistent manner.

O'Carroll says much the same about Ulrich Zwingli (p. 378). Like Luther, he seems to have accepted most of the view of Mary that was popular in his day, and he seems to have been inconsistent. Despite some positive comments about popular Roman Catholic Marian belief, Zwingli also "was against all invocation of Mary. He denied, on the Reformation principle of sola gracia, all merit on Mary's part and any power of mediation or intercession on our behalf. He waged war on all images." (p. 378)

O'Carroll describes John Calvin's view as much closer to that of modern Protestants. Calvin condemns the "gross and abominable superstitions" in the Roman Catholic view of Mary (p. 94). He comments that "their insane raving went so far that they just about stripped Christ and adorned her with the spoils" (p. 94). Calvin wrote, "It is they who do Mary a cruel injury when they snatch from God what belongs to him, that they may deform her with false praise." (p. 94) He criticizes Marian relics, and he "held that Mary was the Mother of God...Yet he scarcely used the title Mother of God and, in a letter to the Calvinist community of London, he discouraged its use. 'To speak of the Mother of God instead of the Virgin Mary can only serve to harden the ignorant in their superstition.'" (p. 94) Calvin "rejects totally the Immaculate Conception (qv) as he does the Assumption (qv). He thought that the latter feast had one advantage - Catholics thinking that Mary had been assumed bodily could not worship her relics....Invocation of Mary he forbids....He brands all invocation of the Virgin execrable blasphemy. He attacks, too, holy images of any kind, therefore of Our Lady, calling them idols" (pp. 94-95). Calvin believed that "Mary will take her revenge, on the last day, on those of whom she is the 'mortal enemy', the Papists" (p. 94).

10 comments:

  1. 'To speak of the Mother of God instead of the Virgin Mary can only serve to harden the ignorant in their superstition.'

    I'm glad to see I'm in good company.

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  2. A Victorian-era high-church Anglican writer Richard Littledale provides us an interesting "argument for silence" - in the pre-Nicene era, writers gave Mary no more attention than was given to her in the Scriptures:


    http://www.archive.org/details/plainreasonsaga00littgoog

    Plain Reasons Against Joining The Church of Rome, pp. 68-69

    "1. In the ante-Nicene period, the following extant writers never so much as name St. Mary at all; St. Barnabas, St. Hermas, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus,^ St. Firmilian, St. Dionysius, Arnobius, and St. Methodius.^

    2. St. Justin Martyr mentions her twice in connexion with the Nativity, and once with the flight into Egypt. St. Clement of Alexandria once touches on her virgin childbearing. Tertullian mentions her four times, once in connexion with the Nativity, once merely to defend the occasional interchangeableness of the words "woman" and "Virgin" by showing that both are applied to her (" De Veland. Virg." vi.), but twice actually to charge her with lack of belief and with seeking to call Christ away from His work (De Carne Christi, vii. ; Adv. Marc. iv. 19), thereby arousing His indignation. Origen, very similarly, names the Blessed Virgin but casually a couple of times, and in the one place where he goes more into detail, he explains the sword of Simeon's prophecy to be unbelieving doubt, whereby she was offended at the Passion. "Through thine own soul .... shall the sword of unbelief pierce; and thou shalt be struck with the sharp point of doubt" ("Hom. in Lucam," xvil) St Archelaus defends the Virgin-birth against Manes, and incidentally touches on the message to our Lord regarding His Mother and brethren. St Cyprian casually names her once as Mother of Christ (Epist Ixxii., aL Ixxiii).

    There remain only two passages from which any conclusion can be drawn; The first of these is in St Irenaeus, where he says that St. Mary's obedience counterbalances Eve's disobedience, so that she has become the "advocate" of Eve. ("Adv. Haer." V. xix.) We have only the barbarous Latin translation here, and cannot tell exactly what the Saint wrote or intended,^ but we have his mind plainly enough expressed in another place, where he speaks of Christ having "checked the inseasonable haste of His Mother at Cana." ("Adv. Haer." III. xvi.) The other is in a fragment of St Peter of Alexandria, where he styles St. Mary "glorious Lady, and ever-Virgin." Clearly, nothing in these scanty details supplies the justification sought for."

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  3. Here's a book about Mary from a former Episcopalian who swam the Tiber: Sharing the Real Mary.

    I haven't read the book.

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  4. In the ante-Nicene period, the following extant writers never so much as name St. Mary at all; St. Barnabas, St. Hermas, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus,^ St. Firmilian, St. Dionysius, Arnobius, and St. Methodius.

    "In the ant-Nicene period the following extant writers never so much as name SOLA FIDE or SOLA SCRIPTURA at all: St. Barnabas, St. Hermas, St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, St. Hippolytus, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus,^ St. Firmilian, St. Dionysius, Arnobius, and St. Methodius."

    FIFY

    Incidentally, what of the church fathers that did mention the name of St. Mary?

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  5. Sean and Stephanie,

    The Solas are doctrines, and their specific names were *coined* in the 16th century. That doesn't mean that they weren't there earlier than that.

    On the other hand, the fact that Mary's name isn't found in the earliest early church fathers is quite telling given the extremely high emphasis placed on Mary in modern Roman Catholicism. That may be an argument from silence, but the silence is quite deafening.

    Secondly, you are Roman Catholic and we are not. Your Church's claim is that its doctrines were held by the Early Church Fathers (ECFs). Thus, you have a different standard of proof for your doctrines than we do.

    So, if Protestants don't find their doctrines in the ECFs, then it doesn't matter. However, if you cannot find your church's doctrines throughout the entire sweep of church history, then that is proof against the claims of your church.

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  6. Saint and SInner.

    The Marian dogmas are doctrines. They names were only coined later. That doesn't mean that they weren't there earlier than that.

    On the other hand, the fact that Mary's name isn't found in the earliest early church fathers

    That is simply false and pleading.

    However, if you cannot find your church's doctrines throughout the entire sweep of church history, then that is proof against the claims of your church

    There are no Catholic doctrines that are absent from tradition.

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  7. Cont'd

    “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord." Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 7 (c. A.D. 110).

    "[T]hey blessed her, saying: O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations. And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen. And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever." Protoevangelium of John, 6:2 (A.D. 150).

    "He became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, 'Be it unto me according to thy word.' And by her has He been born, to whom we have proved so many Scriptures refer, and by whom God destroys both the serpent and those angels and men who are like him; but works deliverance from death to those who repent of their wickedness and believe upon Him." Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100 (A.D. 155).

    "[H]e was born of Mary the fair ewe." Melito de Sardo, Easter Homily (c. A.D. 177).

    "In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise 'they were both naked, and were not ashamed,' inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. And on this account does the law term a woman betrothed to a man, the wife of him who had betrothed her, although she was as yet a virgin; thus indicating the back-reference from Mary to Eve, because what is joined together could not otherwise be put asunder than by inversion of the process by which these bonds of union had arisen; s so that the former ties be cancelled by the latter, that the latter may set the former again at liberty… Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:22 (A.D. 180).


    Mary's name in the earliest extant evidence that we have. Selectively plucking a handful of ECF who did not happen to write very much about the Blessed Virgin Mary and then state that no ECF wrote about her is ridiculous. If ya'll are doing this to pat one another on the back than knock yourselves out but you are not landing blows against the Catholic Church.

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  8. Sean and Stephanie said:
    "The Marian dogmas are doctrines. They names were only coined later. That doesn't mean that they weren't there earlier than that."

    Me:
    Which is exactly the thing being disputed by Jason in the post.

    Sean and Stephanie said:
    "That is simply false and pleading."

    Me:
    Jason's post said that mentions of Mary were rare, not completely absent altogether.

    Sean and Stephanie said:
    "There are no Catholic doctrines that are absent from tradition."

    Me:
    That's false. Even Roman Catholic scholars will admit this. It is only the RC apologists who won't admit it and instead misuse passages from the ECFs. See Jason's links in the above post.

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  9. Saint and Sinner.

    On the other hand, the fact that Mary's name isn't found in the earliest early church fathers

    You said that.

    After spending a couple of hours on this blog its clear that the spirit of dialog here is not something that I want to be involved with...

    I

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  10. "Selectively plucking a handful of ECF who did not happen to write very much about the Blessed Virgin Mary and then state that no ECF wrote about her is ridiculous."


    Saint and Sinner unfortunately overstated his case a bit in saying that "Mary's name isn't found in the earliest early church fathers". Sure, she was mentioned by some writers here and there. But there were many other writers who did not do even that.

    The fact remains that compared to the medieval church, ante-Nicene writers spoke very little about Mary - and even less did they idolatrously over-exalt her person. They were rather concentrating of Jesus Christ, as they well should.


    George Salmon cited John Henry Newman as his witness about the lateness of the Marian cult:

    "Dr. Newman himself, disclaiming the doctrine that the Invocation of the Virgin is necessary to salvation, says (Letter to Pusey, p. III):

    'If it were so, there would be grave reasons for doubting of the salvation of St. Chrysostom or St. Athanasius, or of the primitive martyrs. Nay, I should like to know whether St. Augustine, in all his voluminous writings, invokes her once.'"

    http://www.tracts.ukgo.com/question_of_infallibility.doc

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