Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mother of God or Mother Goddess?

steve said...
Peter Sean Bradley said...

“Catholics can't be ‘guilty’ of idolatry because (a) they give exclusive devotion to God as God and (b) know that Mary is not God. Shouldn't that end the discussion right there?”

No, that doesn’t end the discussion. Their devotion to Mary competes with their devotion to God.

“Yes, true, exactly. This is the point.”

No, that’s not the point–for reasons I give. The distinction is inconsequential.

“’Veneration’ means, inter alia, ‘respect’ or ‘honor.’ We ‘venerate’ our parents in some sense, but not in the same sense that we ‘venerate’ God. Yet, no one accuses people who honor their parents as being crypto-idolators.”

Since Catholics don’t venerate their parents the way they venerate Mary, your comparison is fatally equivocal.

Moreover, it’s quite possible for someone to idolize one or both parents.

“But in Viking ‘theology,’ if there was any such thing, Thor was as "divine" as it got.”

Which is irrelevant to the question of idolatry.

“On the other hand, because of about 2,000 of Christian theology, which is to say Catholic theology, no one says that Mary is consubstantial with the Trinity. Mary is a created being. End of story. Hence, the comparison to Thor is inapposite.”

You don’t know how to follow an argument. My argument didn’t turn on Mary’s consubstantiality with the Trinity. To the contrary, my argument made explicit allowance for such distinctions. Hence, your reply doesn’t leave a dent in my actual argument.

“But the Satan worshipper rejects the true good of God for the false good of Satan.”

Once again, you don’t know how to follow an argument. All you’ve done is to restate a premise of my argument, which does nothing to invalidate the conclusion.

“Catholics do not deny God any such honor by according Mary a position of the highest respect and describe her as God's greatest creation.”

Once more, you miss the point. Is there something about Catholicism that conditions you to suffer from this mental block?

Did my argument turn on equating Mary with God? No. The point of my argument was just the opposite. Try to get past your intellectual impediments so that you can engage the actual argument.

“First, do these ‘gods’ actually exist, and, if they do, are they actually demonic entities.”

Idolatry doesn’t depend on whether the idolatrous object is real or fictional. As long as the idolater believes it to be real, that’s sufficient. The ontological status of the object is irrelevant to the psychological state of an idolater.

“Second, doesn't this beg the question. I haven't heard any definition of ‘worship’…”

As usual, you’re unable to follow the argument. Is there something about Catholicism that conditions you so be so persistently uncomprehending?

I was simply responding to a Catholic argument with a counterargument. I haven’t, as of yet, tried to show that Marian devotion is idolatrous. Rather, I was clearing away some bad Catholic arguments against the possibility that Marian devotion is idolatrous.

“The bible teaches that Mary was to be called ‘blessed’ by all geneations. Where do Protestants follow this Biblical injunction?”

i) Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Messiah. See how easy that is?

ii) At this same time, this is a prediction, not an injunction.

“Are Protestants unbiblical for the way that they take Mary out once a year for Christmas, but for the rest of the year treat her as the embarrassing unmarried daughter who has to be kept out of sight.”

Since the Bible doesn’t enjoin us to “venerate” Mary in the way that Catholics do, the fact that we refrain from so doing is hardly “unbiblical.”

“No, she is the ‘functional equivalent’ of the Mother of God as defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431.”

And you honor her and pray to her the way pagans honor and pray to mother goddesses.

“How should the Mother of God be venerated?”

Mary should be honored in the same way the Bible honors her. No more and no less.

“Instead of assuming that the present Protestant approach to Mary - which was not shared by Calvin or Luther and is a minority position held by a small number of the total Christians who have ever lived for a comparatively brief time - is normal, perhaps Protestants would benefit by providing an apologia of their position.”

The church began with just 120 members in a private home. It was a miniscule sect within Judaism. By your yardstick, we should be reject the Messiahship of Jesus since that was a fringe position within mainstream Judaism.

“Here is what I see as a weird disconnect in this discussion - it seems that none of the Protestants interlocutors have engaged with who Mary is. Isn't it the case that before anyone can discuss whether Catholic devotions are ‘excessive’ they first have to answer the question of who Mary is?”

For an answer, try Who Is My Mother?: The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus
~ Eric D. Svendsen.

“Further, Protestants should be willing to ask themselves whether they are being biblical in their Mariophobia.”

Further, Catholics should be willing to ask themselves whether they are being biblical in their Mariolatry.

“Lastly, what is ‘worship’? Does the Mormon approach to Jesus constitute ‘worship’ in a ‘biblical’ sense?”

It constitutes idolatry. Idolatry is a subset of worship: false worship. Mormonism is polytheistic. Mormon Christology is unscriptural.

“Presumably, everyone would agree that God's ability to sort and direct prayers to the correct saints would not be above His pay grade.”

Millions of daily prayers are directed to Mary. For God to redirect millions of daily prayers to Mary does nothing to solve the problem of how a finite human mind can process millions of prayers per day.

“If necessary I can supply the citations to Aquinas that back up what I'm indicating.”

Quoting one man’s opinion to prop up your opinion is not an argument. Aquinas is not a prophet.

“Obviously, that is a naked assertion, rather than an argument or an offer of empirical proof.”

i) I was responding to your naked assertion (clothed as a rhetorical question) that this “should end the discussion right there.”

ii) And empiricism is irrelevant. Idolatry is not simply a sense datum.

“It is, in essence, a statement of Steve’s belief about Catholics, rather than a statement of Catholic belief, which is why I have repeatedly questioned the ability of third parties to read the hearts and souls of others.”

i) “Empiricism” is not about reading hearts and souls. You don’t grasp the significance of the words and concepts you intone.

ii) Naturally we’d expect idolaters to deny that they are idolaters. So what? Suppose a Catholic were an idolater. Would he admit it?

Spiritual self-delusion is blind to the reality of its delusive thoughts and actions.

“If a person can’t read the soul of another, than comments like this constitute the sin of ‘detraction’ and unchristian conduct.”

We can judge idolatry by the x-ray vision of Scripture.

“For example, ought a husband to have a devotion to his wife?”

The marital analogy is only as good as the Marian analogue. But to play along with your analogy, there’s a reason OT Jews were forbidden to marry pagan women. Their heathen wives would lead them into idolatry. So thanks for bringing that up. It nicely underscores my point.

“It is not the case that devotion to Mary competes with devotion to God inasmuch as Mary is ordered to God.”

You’re citing one Catholic dogma to prop up another Catholic dogma. Viciously circular.

“I reiterate something that no one wants to deal with – Mary was the Mother of God.”

I reiterate something that no Catholic wants to deal with – God was the Father of Mary.

“The point that I made previously, which has been ignored, is that honor is relative to the person.”

And, for that reason, Catholics dishonor Mary.

“So, I ask again, what is the honor that is appropriate to the Mother of God?”

Answer: “While he [Jesus] was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mt 12:47-50).

“On the contrary, your argument has asserted that Catholics worship Mary as if she were God.”

Now you’re equivocating. I never said Catholics actually view Mary as a goddess. Rather, she’s the functional equivalent of a patron goddess. They pay lip-service to her humanity while elevating her to the practical status of a mother goddess.

The way of Roman might pray to Juno to placate the wrath of Mars. Since Mars is her son, his mother has leverage.

“Look, my point about the ordering of creation to God is not ‘rocket science.’ It has been around for millennia of orthodox Christian theology and is, you know, in the Bible.”

What you need to show is that Catholic Marian devotion is, you know, in the Bible. Your fallback appeal to Aquinas is a tacit admission that Catholic Marian devotion is not, you know, in the Bible.

“Do we agree with that. If so, doesn’t that make some different when you offer up wood nymphs as an example of idolatry, and then I respond that Mary is ordered to God.”

Crickets are also “ordered to God.” Do you pray to crickets?

“What about “MOTHER OF GOD”!!!!! makes you think that any of your analogies make sense?”

I realize it’s hard for you to break through your Pavlovian Catholic conditioning, but the analogies illustrate the point that an idolater doesn’t have to think the idolatrous object has the attributes of the Trinity to be an idolater.

“And that’s all there is to it?”

I responded to you on your own terms. You said, “The bible teaches that Mary was to be called ‘blessed’ by all geneations. Where do Protestants follow this Biblical injunction?”

My answer is directly responsive to your chosen framework.

“Her fiat meant nothing?”

Of course, that’s another bit of Catholic dogma rearing its ugly head. It’s not as if the angel Gabriel was bargaining with Mary. This was not a negotiation of terms. Rather, it was a formal announcement of God’s prior decision.

“And then her relationship with the Son of God ended?”

Once a mother, always a mother. But precisely because he is the Son of God, Mary has no special leverage. She’s the creature–he’s the Creator.

“What a cruel, cold, inhuman, heartless picture of our Savior you ascribe to.”

What a childish picture of our Savior you ascribe to.

“Hmmm….if it was a prediction it would seem that only one group matches this prophecy and it isn’t evangelical Christians. Shouldn’t that be a concern?”

To the contrary, evangelicals fulfill the prediction by honoring the terms of the prediction, whereas Catholics dishonor the name and memory of Mary by their sacrilegious impieties.

“So, how about repeating what the angel said to Mary – ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou amongst women….’”

I’d be happy to repeat what the angel said if that’s what he said. Unfortunately for Catholics, Gabriel didn’t say that. The Greek word doesn’t mean “full of grace.” That’s a traditional mistranslation. In Greek, Mary is the object of divine favor, not the source of divine grace. That’s also clear from the context.

So, yes, I can agree with everything Gabriel actually said. Mary was the object of divine favor. And Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Messiah.

“Also, you might want to say ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.’”

And why would I want to say that? Does the Bible ever instruct me to say that?

“I mean, what could it hurt inasmuch as it is all orthodox Christian belief recognized by the Orthodox, Coptic, Nestorian, Jacobite and every other Christian church that existed prior to 1517.”

i) Actually, to utter an idolatrous prayer on my deathbed wouldn’t be a very propitious way of preparing to meet my Maker. Indeed, that could be quite harmful to my immortal soul.

ii) I’d add that Scripture never put much stock in the wisdom of the majority. Baal-worshipers outnumbered true believers in the time of Elijah. Pagans outnumbered Christians in the 1C.

iii) And to say it’s “orthodox” belief assumes what you need to prove. More to the point, is it Scriptural?

“You’re simply begging the question. You’re telling me that idolatry is false ‘worship’ but I’m asking whether Mormons ‘worship’ Jesus in the first place.”

Mormonism is irrelevant to my argument. That’s your hobbyhorse, not mine.

For the record, Mormons worship as false Jesus as if he were the true Jesus. That’s a form of idolatry. Idolatry takes many different forms. Mariology is another case in point.

“Is it worship when Mormons don’t pray to Jesus as the object of their prayers, but only pray to the Father?”

Since Mormons have a false doctrine of Jesus and a false doctrine of God, they are idolaters on both counts. To worship a false concept of God is a form of idolatry.

“I said no, and I said that the problem with this is that it treats the Creator as a creature, which was the heresy of Arianism.”

And Catholics treat the creature (Mary) as if she were the Creator, which is the heresy of idolatry.

“OK, so you’re saying that 'With God all things are NOT possible.'”

Unless you think Mary is a goddess, prooftexts for divine omnipotence are hardly prooftexts for Marian omniscience. The issue is not what is possible for the omnipotent Creator, but what is possible for a finite creature. The fact that you conflate the two nicely illustrates the way in which your Marian devotion is interchangeable with idolatry. Thanks for the confirmation.

“Well, yes it is if I am saying that a view is well-recognized as orthodox Christian belief, as opposed to a new-fangled innovation and the person lived in the 13th Century is recognized by all Christians as a fundamental shaper of Christian thought. But I guess it would be better to defer to ‘steve’ then to Aquinas about such matters.”

An elementary question which intelligent men to ask in such situations is whether the speaker is in a position to know what he’s talking about.

Aquinas was a brilliant man, but he was just a mortal like you and me. He knew nothing about the afterlife than what is revealed to us in the Scriptures. He didn’t die and return from the dead to tell us what he saw.

So, no, Aquinas knew no more about the Beatific Vision, or the postmortem activities of the saints, or their enhanced aptitudes, than Dr. Seuss.

But, as with so many other Catholics, you’re like a character in a novel of manners–where artificial rules of aristocratic etiquette are elevated to laws of nature.

“Of course, the circumlocution of ‘Mother of the Messiah’…”

“Mother of the Messiah” is no more circumlocutionary than “Mother of God.” They are syntactically equivalent (unless you think the anarthrous construction is highly significant.)


  1. Steve,

    Can you provide a link to the blog thread where you engaged in discussion with Peter Sean Bradley?

  2. Well, they sort of do give Mary attributes of Deity, don't they?

    Christ was born without sin; so they claim Mary was born without sin. Christ lived a perfectly sinless life; so they claim the same about Mary. Christ was assumed bodily into heaven; likewise they claim this (in slightly altered form) for Mary. Christ was the second Adam; they call Mary the second Eve. Finally, Christ is our redeemer; and so they call Mary a co-redemptrix.

    And yet, when we get to the obvious conclusion, they say "we only 'venerate' her." Nonsense.


  4. Yeeeesh. You know how to pick your spots, Steve.

    A thread with Victor Reppert, Edward T. Babinski, and Peter Sean Bradley. An Arminian, an atheist, and a Catholic.

    I'm glad your cpu can handle it. My cpu just can't handle those viruses.

  5. RCs are not honoring the Mary of the Bible, they are worshipping an imaginary "queen of heaven" figure in her name.

    Even this traditional Eastern Orthodox source thinks Rome is giving underhanded compliments to Mary - and it also agrees with Eric Svendsen's idea that Roman Mariology has semi-Monophysitical implications:

    "9. Her Denigrating and Dehumanizing Pseudo-Glorification of the Theotokos

    The Papacy teaches that the Virgin Mary's nature was never fallen, never had any kind of corruption, bodily or spiritual, as is the lot of Adam and his descendents, but was always united perfectly to God, incapable of sin, and divinized (at least in a Roman Catholic sense [cf. 'created grace' above]). But if this is so, then the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God-Incarnate) never did any meritous act or engaged in any spiritual struggle for Christ whatsoever –so that she was ‘virtuous' by necessity –she had no choice –so that the Christian moral greatness of the Theotokos is done away with. So too, her love for us on which account she most fervently intercedes for us is diminished or passes away entirely, for how can she feel compassion, who never knew anything of what we suffer or struggle with, morally or physically, who never knew what it is to struggle with sin or temptation? So, in fact, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception does not glorify Mary, but deprives her of all her glory and that compassion for which she is especially dear to Christians –intending to exalt her, it insults her.

    Moreover, if she was always absolutely incorrupt or immortal, then how could Christ receive a mortal body from her? If she had a body never having any possibility of passion or temptation, then how did our Savior receive one from her in which He suffered, felt what is natural and blameless, and was tempted? If her nature never received the ability to sin or even be tempted, then did she not have a nature lacking free will, and so our Savior lacked this too? For the teaching says not simply that she had these things suppressed in Her by irresistible grace, but that her nature was preserved from it, that is, it never received it at all. So this false glorification of the most holy Theotokos actually leads to a denial of Christ's real humanity and coessentiality with us and, thus, His redemption of our nature."

  6. Also, there is significant way in which Mary is portrayed even SUPERIOR to Jesus Christ in RC (and also EO) depictions - namely, she is shown to be a more merciful and understanding intercessor for sinners than Jesus Himself.

    In Bissera V. Pentcheva's book "Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium" there is (pp. 181-182) shown an old Byzantine church fresco where a revealing exchange between Mary and Christ is inscribed to.

    In this painted dialogue, rather than being the compassionate mediator the Bible tells us He is, Jesus is depicted as a hard judge who needs to be softened up:

    "What do you want, Mother?"

    "The salvation of mankind."

    "They have angered me."

    "Forgive them, my son."

    "But they do not repent."

    "Well, save them anyway."

    "They will have their redemption."

    "I thank you, Christ."

    There you have it - Jesus Christ would not have wanted mankind to be saved if not for His mother's pleading.

    Blasphemy. And this whole Marian-intercession scheme again has a distinct Monophysite flavor - Jesus is not so much God-Man as playing the role of God the Father Himself. So Mary needs to take Christ's place as an advocate for men.