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 Issues | Ecumenical | Roman Teaching on Mary
Roman Catholic Teaching on the Virgin Mary

This page will examine the history and consequences of false teaching regarding the Virgin Mary mainly invented and propagated by the Roman Catholic Church. It teaches that Mary was immaculately conceived, was without sin, a perpetual virgin, assumed bodily into heaven and once in heaven performs mediatory and redemptive roles. This booklet will show from Scripture why these teachings are wrong.

Below are links (on this page) to the various Roman Catholic Teachings on Mary

Mary as Mother of God (theotokos)

The Perpetual Virginity

The Immaculate Conception

The Assumption of Mary

Mary as Mediatrix and Redemptrix

Mariolatry outside the Roman Catholic Church

 

Mary as Mother of God (theotokos)

During the early years of the Church, Mary was not worshipped as she is today in the Roman Catholic Church. There is little or no mention of her by the early Church Fathers (probably because there is relatively little mention of her in Scripture). With the gradual veneration of the martyrs, Mary was also given special honour because of her motherhood of Christ, she was thus accorded the title of hyperdulia ('great service'- the highest degree of veneration) as opposed to mere dulia ('service') which belongs to all saints and angels. From Origen onwards the Greek title theotokos was applied to the Virgin Mary, the title meaning God-bearer. This was rejected by Nestorious (who believed in two completely distinct persons in Christ) but the title was formerly upheld at the Council of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451). The Latin equivalent of theotokos is Deipara , but it was normally translated Dei Genitrix which has the rather different meaning 'Mother of God.' This has been the source of much confusion and error ever since. The title 'Mother of God' implies that she shares in Christ's Divine nature and that she existed before God. In consequence, Mary has been exalted and has become an object of worship, the creature is worshipped rather than the Creator, this is plain idolatry. According to the Roman Catholic Catechism 'Mary is truly 'Mother of God' (para 495).

Also around the time of the Council of Ephesus, the 4th Century apocryphal writing Transitus Maria (the journeying over of Mary) added further weight to the growing veneration of the Virgin Mary. This writing describes how Mary after the crucifixion, was attended to by virgins, given the elaborate title 'Mistress of the World', was able to perform miracles and promise to answer the prayers of all who commemorate her. Like the Greek goddess Artimas she is to be prayed to, to ensure fruitful crops. Mary is worshipped by Angels, intercedes for the saints and is accorded the title 'Queen of Heaven'. Significantly the Transitus Maria was placed on the list of prohibited books by the Pope in 500AD. However it did not take long for these heretical teachings to be incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church.

 

The Perpetual Virginity

The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin i.e that Mary lived out her whole life as a virgin and died a virgin. This teaching was put forward in the 4th century by Jerome and was also held by Origen. In paragraph 499 of the Roman Catholic Catechism Mary is celebrated as Aeiparthenos ('Ever-virgin'), only having given birth to Jesus.   Catechism 500 deals with the small matter of the mention of Jesus' brothers and sisters in the Bible: 'Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, 'brothers of Jesus', are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St Matthew significantly calls 'the other Mary'? . However, Scripture is clear that Mary was only a Virgin up until Christ's birth, but not after. Matthew 1:25 reads, 'and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.' The word till in this sentence implies that after the birth of Jesus they had a normal marriage relationship. Several times in the New Testament Jesus' mother and brothers are mentioned together, for example in Luke 8 v19 'Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him' they are also mentioned in Matthew chapter 12 v46 and Mark chapter 3 v31. The early Christians held none of these false teachings. In John Chrysostom's homilies (4th Century) Mary is given no undue veneration and Jesus' brothers are spoken of as matter of fact:

'For while he yet talked to the people, it is said, 'one told him, thy mother and thy brethren seek thee. But he saith, who is my mother, and who are my brethren?' And this he said, not as being ashamed of His mother, nor denying her that bare him; for if he had been ashamed of her, he would not have passed through that womb; but as declaring that she hath no advantage from this, unless she do all that is required to be done. For in fact that which she had essayed to do, was of superfluous vanity; in that she wanted to show the people that she hath power and authority over her Son, imagining not as yet anything great concerning him; whence also her unseasonable approach. See at all events both her self- confidence and theirs (Jesus' brothers). Since when they ought to have gone in, and listened with the multitude; or if they were not so minded, to have waited for his bringing his discourse to an end, and then to have come near; they call him out, and do this before all, evincing a superfluous vanity, and wishing to make it appear, that with much authority they enjoin him. And this too the evangelist shows that he is blaming, for with this very allusion did he thus express himself, 'While he yet talked to the people;' as if he should say, What? Was there no other opportunity? Why, was it not possible to speak with him in private?'

The attitude of John Chrysostom toward Mary was the one portrayed in Scripture, that she was the mother of Jesus, that she has no advantage of being Jesus' mother in that she still needed to listen to him and respect him as God and receive salvation by him. Also the way Jesus spoke to his mother seems almost disrespectful, ' who is my mother?'

The whole idea of Mary's perpetual virginity seems to be based on perverse logic. Firstly, some writers assert that unless Mary had remained a virgin her offspring could not have been divine, since the birth would have lost something of its mystery. Secondly, Bernard of Clairvaux claimed that the virgins in Revelation 14 v4, must include Mary and therefore she must have remained a virgin throughout her life. Any honest reading of this passage clearly reveals the virgins as men. This error has compounded itself by exalting virginity far beyond what is taught in Scripture and has led to an unhealthy attitude to the status of marriage.

 

See also the below Churchman article by William Bridcut who examines from the Bible as to whether Mary remained a vigin throughout her life after giving birth to Jesus.

Did Mary Remain a Virgin? Churchman article (Issue 111/1)

 

The Immaculate Conception

Another Roman Catholic teaching regarding the Virgin Mary which is unscriptural is the Dogma of the immaculate conception, i.e. Mary was immaculately conceived without sin. [Such a dogma is a statement by the Roman Catholic Church which is claimed to be revealed truth either by Scripture or tradition, defined by the Magisterium and required for faith, It is a sin (heresy) to disbelieve it]. Many Roman Catholics think that the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus' conception, but in fact it applies to Mary herself. This theory had taken many centuries to develop and to be accepted by the Roman Catholic Church. It was declared an open question by Pope Sixtus the 4th in 1485 and by the Council of Trent in 1546. It was propagated in the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8 th 1854: ' We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.'

Once again, this teaching is entirely contrary to Scripture. In Luke ch1 v46-56 (Mary's Song) Mary humbles herself and states her need for God as Saviour. ' My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant' . Romans ch3 v23 states that 'for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' this includes Mary as well. If Mary claimed her need for a Saviour and the Bible clearly says that all have sinned it seems incredible how the Roman Catholic Church can arrive at and promote this false teaching. It is defective logic, why does Mary need to be without sin? What about Mary's mother, was she sinless too? Surely she would have to have been sinless if Mary was sinless. This is wrong, Mary was sinful, she admitted her need of a Saviour and from the New Testament we can see that she did not clearly understand Jesus' role and significance, she was an ordinary woman in other respects. The whole idea of giving Mary so much veneration and worship is clearly misguided. Every magnification of Mary is a denigration of Jesus, and the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries has gradually exalted Mary to a similar level as Jesus, in origin, conception, sinlessness and role in salvation. She has even been given the title 'Queen of Heaven.' The tragic consequence of all this is that millions of people over the centuries and still today worship Mary on the same level as God, pray to her and trust her for salvation, this is idolatry and putting hope in a false gospel which cannot save.

 

The Assumption of Mary

The Roman Catholic Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary states that she was taken up into heaven bodily shortly after her death, once in heaven she is given special honour and mediatory roles, and ascribed as Queen of Heaven.   As with other Marian beliefs not found in Scripture, this teaching took many centuries to develop, and amazingly was only finally accepted as dogma by the Roman Catholic Church in 1950.

For the first few centuries of the Church's existence there is no mention at all of the death of Mary.   The first reference to it is by Epiphanius in 377 A.D. and he states that 'her end no one knows'.   From the early church writers (such as Jerome) there seems to be no evidence at all of a tradition surrounding the circumstances of Mary's death, there was certainly nothing mentioned concerning the assumption.   Isidore of Seville, in the 7th Century ratified Epiphanus and Jerome in claiming that no one knew of Mary's end.

Gregory of Tours in 590 A.D. was the first Church Father to categorically affirm the assumption of Mary because of his acceptance of the apocryphal writing the Transitus Beatae Mariae (the journeying over of Mary) which was circulated in the 5th century. This writing describes how Mary after the crucifixion was attended to by virgins and given the elaborate title 'Mistress of the World', was able to perform miracles and promised to answer the prayers of all who commemorate her.   Like the Greek goddess Artimas she is to be prayed to for bountiful crops.   Mary is worshipped by Angels and intercedes for the saints and is accorded the title 'Queen of Heaven'.

During the 5 th Century the Transitus Baetae Mariae was condemned by the early Church as heresy.   In 495 Pope Gelasius issued a decree entitled Decretum de Libris Canonicis Ecclesiastics et Apocryphis (Decree of Canonical and Apocryphal writings).   This officially set apart the texts which were considered to be canonical and those which were apocryphal and therefore to be rejected.   It also condemned those who write and circulate heretical works:

'These and [writings] similar to these, which all the heresiarchs and their disciples, or the schismatics have taught or written we confess have not only been rejected but also banished from the whole Roman and Apostolic Church and with their authors and followers of their authors have been condemned forever under the indissoluble bond of anathema.'  

In the list of apocryphal works the Transitus Beatae Mariae is listed.   The decree issued by Pope Gelasius was also endorsed and upheld by Pope Hormisdas in the 6th century.   However, such stringent measures where unable to contain the spread of this heresy and by the 7th and beginning of the 8th centuries this heretical writing had gained a foothold in the imaginations of many teachers and lay folk throughout the Christian world.

Amazingly it was not until 1st November 1950 that the Assumption of Mary was finally accepted as Dogma by the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII, in his Munificentissimus Deus: 'We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory .'   Pope Pius XII also spoke of Mary as having been enthroned Queen of Heaven.   At St Peter's Square on Easter Day 1988, Pope John Paul II's message included a prayer ' to the Queen of Heaven for protection and peace in the world .'

According to Papal Encyclical 1897, 'As no man goes to the Father except by the Son, so no man goes to the Son except by His Mother .'   Roman Catholic Catechism paragraph 966 reads: 'Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.'

This teaching is wrong, there is no mention in the New Testament whatsoever of the events concerning Mary's death, let alone any mention of Mary rising from the dead and ascending into heaven as Queen.   Mary was also a sinful fallible human being.   She accepted and rejoiced in her need for Christ as her Saviour (Luke ch 1 v47).   She is like every other Christian, a sinner saved by Grace.   She died in faith and is now with Christ. Her body will be raised at Christ's second coming, along with every other believer.   Conversely the Old Testament predicted of Christ that he would suffer and ascend into heaven.   In the New Testament Christ's death, resurrection and assumption are witnessed by his disciples and written down in the Bible as God's Word; there is nothing like this to substantiate the supposed assumption of Mary.   There are no references to Mary as Queen of Heaven in Scripture either.   The only reference in the Bible to the Queen of Heaven is the Canaanite pagan goddess to whom the Israelites burned incense, made cakes and poured out drink offerings and who was detestable and wicked in the eyes of the Lord (Jeremiah 44: 17-25, 7:18).   The Roman Catholic Church has embraced an idolatrous false gospel. To say that Mary rose from the dead and was taken into Heaven as Queen is to accord her similar status as Christ, and ultimately to denigrate Christ.

Therefore, there can be no agreement or compromise between Anglicans and Roman Catholics on these issues.   To agree is to deny the authority of Scripture, to embrace error and denigrate Christ.   Until Rome repents of its false teaching unity must be an offence to the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Mary as Mediatrix and Redemptrix

Once ascended bodily into heaven Mary is believed to carry out a number of roles. These consist mainly of acting as an intercessor or mediator (Mediatrix) between God and man and playing a role in mankind's salvation (Co-Redemptrix).

The heresy of Mary's mediatory and redemptory roles in heaven can be traced back to an early date.   St. Antonius (250-350) claimed: 'All graces that have ever been bestowed on men, all came through Mary.'   St. Bernard (1090-1153) wrote '[Mary is called] the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her.'  In the widely read book (still published today) The Glories of Mary , Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787) describes how Mary is given half of God's kingdom to rule.   Mary is considered a source of salvation and a mediator between God and man. He also claims that outside of Mary there is no salvation.   She rules jointly with Christ and is to be served, worshipped and given devotion to by men.   

These views are obviously extremely misguided and heretical but instead of recognising his views as such, Alphonsus de Liguori and his teachings have been embraced by the Roman Catholic Church to such an extent that he was declared to be a doctor of the Church, canonized as a saint and his book endorsed and reproduced (even today).   Notice the similar impact The Glories of Mary had with the Transitus Mariae (which was the first major writing to introduce heresy regarding Mary into the church) in that just one writing drew so many people into heresy and shaped the path for future error.

Alphonsus de Liguori's work has subsequently been endorsed and promulgated further by Pope's and authorities within the Roman Catholic Church. Benedict XV declared : 'she herself may justly be said to have redeemed together with Christ the human race.'   According to Leo XIII: 'When Mary offered herself completely to God together with her Son in the temple, she was already sharing with him the painful atonement on behalf of the human race' ( at the foot of the cross) she was a co-worker with Christ in His expiation for mankind and she offered up her Son to the divine justice dying with him in her heart.'   Pius IX adds: 'With her Son, the Only-begotten, she is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix of the whole world.'

In 1935 Pope Pius XI gave the title co-redemptrix to Mary during a radio broadcast.   Pope John Paul in his 'Holy Thursday' address of 1979 urged bishops and priests to look to Mary:   'You must look to her with exceptional hope and love. '   'Who will better communicate to you the truth about him [Christ] than his mother? '   'May the Virgin of Pentecost obtain this for us through her intercession.'   This is just a tiny fraction of so much that has been declared and promoted by leading authorities in the Roman Catholic Church in the growing veneration of Mary as Mediatrix and co-redemptrix.

These teachings became officially incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church in the Lumen Gentium , the Second Vatican Council, 21st November 1964.   Thus Roman Catholic Catechism 966 states: 'You conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death.'   Para 968: 'Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further.   In a wholly singular way she co-operated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Saviour's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.'   Para 969: ' This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.'

This is the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church on Mary's role as mediatrix and co-redemptrix.  

 

An infallible statement

Not only this but the growing exaltation and idolatry of Mary seems to show no signs of abating.   Although Mary has been referred to on numerous occasions as co-redemptrix, mediatrix , and advocate, none have the force of an infallible papal declaration.   This may yet happen though.   Professor Mark Miravalle of Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH, initiated   a formal petition in 1993 during a Marian conference at the university.   It asks the Pope to make an infallible statement that would officially elevate Mary to the status of co-redeemer.   More than six million people from nearly 150 countries had signed the petition which reached the Vatican by the year 2000, asking Pope John Paul II infallibly to declare a new dogma: 'That the Virgin Mary is co-redeemer with Jesus and co-operates fully with her son in the redemption of humanity.' If this were done, 'she would be a vastly more powerful figure, something close to the fourth member of the Holy Trinity and the primary female face through which Christians experience the divine.'  If the dogma were declared infallibly, it would pronounce (and consequently all Roman Catholics would have to believe) that Mary would be 'Co-Redemptrix [co-redeemer], Mediatrix [mediator] of All Graces, and Advocate for the people of God.

See also:

A New Marian Dogma? Cross†Way article (Spring 2008) by David Phillips reporting on pressure from Roman Catholics to have the teaching on Mary's co-redemptrix and mediatrix roles formalised.

 

Contrary to Scripture

The belief that Mary is a mediator and plays a role in mankind's salvation is totally contrary to Scripture.   Nowhere in the whole Bible is there even a hint of an idea that Mary performs a mediatory role or a redemptory role.   Scripture asserts that this role is Christ's alone, he alone is the mediator and redemptor of sinful man.   For example 1 Timothy ch2 v 5: 'For there is one God and ONE Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.' Hebrews ch9 v 15: 'He is the Mediator of the New Covenant, by means of death. '   Romans ch3 v 24-25 : 'Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood. '   Or Ephesians ch1 v 7: 'In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.'   And Colossians ch1 v 14: 'In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins'.   Acts ch4 v12: 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved .'   Paul's warning to the Galatians regarding false teaching, that  'a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough' is very applicable to the way the Roman Catholic Church has embraced Mariolatry.

 

Mariolatry outside the Roman Catholic Church

It must also be mentioned that Mariolatry is not only confined to the Roman Catholic Church but to other churches as well.   The Coptic Church in Egypt had little devotion to Mary in its ancient liturgies, but its modern liturgies contain much worship to Mary.   In the Ethiopian Church Mary is also worshipped, it is said Mary existed in the body of Adam in the form of a white pearl that shone in his right side.   Similarly in the Syrian Church Mariolatry has grown.   In the Orthodox Church, Mary is prayed to for protection and mediation, but on the whole the Orthodox Church does not venerate Mary to the extent the Roman Catholic Church does.

The Church of England has not been entirely free from Mary worship either. Some of the Caroline Divines encouraged it and false teachers such as Anthony Stafford (who described Mary as a fountain of grace in a book illustrated with an engraving of the assumption) encouraged devotion to Mary.   The Oxford Movement developed this further, giving Mary a semi Roman place of exaltation.   The most famous example of Mariolatry in England can be witnessed at Walsingham. 'Our Lady of Walsingham', the parent shrine to 180 other shrines in the Church of England, attracts thousands of visitors (including Church of England bishops and priests).   Anglo-Catholics within the Church of England parade through the village carrying a statue of a madonna and child.   The madonna is crowned with a silver crown, decorated with lilies and held aloft by several attendants closely followed by a procession of people dressed in ornate robes, rosary beads, crucifixes and incense, chanting the Ave Maria. What is so disturbing is that this grotesque idolatry is happening within the Church of England, not just confined to the Roman Catholic Church. A new statue of Mary has recently been installed in Ipswich (to replace the one burned in the Reformation), so Mariolatry would seem to have much influence amongst Anglo-Catholics.

Conclusion

It is within the Roman Catholic Church that Mariolatry is the strongest, most idolatrous and has the greatest hold on its members.   The result is that millions of Roman Catholics worship Mary.   This can be witnessed in the statues, shrines and prayers that play a part in so many people's lives. Because of the false teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, many people see Mary as performing a similar role as Christ. They worship her in their lives, pray to her and are depending on her for access to God and ultimately for eternal salvation.   The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for this terrible idolatry, and therefore whilst the Roman Catholic Church holds these views (and many other superstitious, heretical views) there can be no compromise with her.

Throughout Church history there has been a tendency for a gradual and growing veneration of the Virgin Mary.   Today Mary is worshipped by millions of people on a similar level to Christ, and in many ways has displaced the position of Christ.   However, according to the Bible Mary was an ordinary Jewish woman chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus.   She submitted to God's plan, admitted her own sinfulness and her need for a Saviour and trusted in Jesus for her salvation.   She did not fully understand his mission and he rebuked her on several occasions.   She witnessed bravely the death of Jesus and rejoiced in his resurrection and lived as a faithful Christian and was buried.   She stands out to us as an example, as others in the bible, of faithful Christian living. She is wrongly worshipped by Roman Catholics (and others) who claim she was immaculately conceived, sinless,   a perpetual virgin and assumed bodily into heaven as Queen and sovereign, and once in heaven to perform as a mediator and a redemptor,   to be prayed to, honoured and worshipped.   The most serious implication of all this is that it detracts from the majesty of Christ and honour due to him alone is diverted to others. Every magnification of Mary is a denigration of Jesus. These heresies must be opposed for the sake of the gospel and for the souls of men.

 

The contents of this page are based on a series of Cross†Way articles from 2002 in anticipation of ARCIC's report on the Virgin Mary (released in May 2005). These articles can be downloaded as a pdf on the publications section - Leaflets for download on the website, titled 'Learning from Mary', or purchased as a booklet from Church Society.

 

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