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- Fact & Fiction
A great deal of attention is showered upon Mary, the mother of Jesus. Prayers to Mary have been written and these prayers are recited by hundreds of thousands of Catholics, the world over, each day. Do the scriptures support such worship and devotion to Mary? Does God have a Mother? Was Mary taken to heaven bodily? These and other questions deserve an answer, a truthful answer from the word of God. The historic and scriptural facts, which follow, are intended to inform the truth seeker and dispel the myths that have been developed over time by the Catholic Church concerning the Virgin Mary.
FACT & FICTION
One element of Catholic faith, which clearly sets it apart from Protestantism, is the emphasis which is placed upon the worship of the Virgin Mary. Protestants are generally at a loss to understand why Mary has become so universally endeared in the hearts of Catholics. Statues and images of her are everywhere in evidence. In their thoughts and devotions Catholics give Mary an exalted place. Prayer addressed to her is more voluminous and has become more natural than to the Heavenly Father. Love, dedication, and service are directed to her in wholehearted abundance.
The Catholic explanation for rendering such honor and worship to Mary is quite simple: “ . . . because she is the Mother of God, and consequently surpasses (all angels and other saints) in grace and glory and in her power of intercession . . . Mary is styled ‘Queen of the Angels’ and ‘Queen of all the Saints,’ because the angels and the saints look up to and honor her as their queen.”
In the Rosary, we find Catholics repeating: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.” In and evening prayer: “We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.”
Protestants, of course, are familiar with and accept the Bible narrative regarding Mary. They believe that she was a pure and upright maiden, chosen of God to become the mother of Jesus. As such, they believe she is worthy of receiving honor and esteem and the appropriate scriptural designation of “blessed.” (Luke 1:48) Mary is thus also seen to be endeared in the hearts Protestants, but only in accordance with the honor that was shown to her in the Scriptures.
LET us look more closely at the title, “Mother of God.” This expression is neither found in the Bible as such, nor does it describe the truth of the matter. All will agree that Mary was the mother of Jesus. But Jesus is always termed as the “Son of God,” and is never identified as the Almighty God or the Heavenly Father. It was the purely human babe Jesus who was born of Mary, not the Creator of the universe who existed from “everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 90:2) Thus seen, the title, “Mother of God,” expresses serious error, for He who exists and has neither beginning nor end is timeless, and could not be born of one who herself was a product of His creation.
Other Catholic beliefs regarding Mary seem equally as puzzling to Protestants. The Immaculate Conception is a dogma which was defined as recently as 1954 by Pope Pius IX. It does not pertain to the sinlessness of the babe Jesus, as some Protestants have mistakenly inferred from its title, but refers to the birth of his mother, Mary. In his pronouncement, the Pope said that the blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
Catholic authorities readily state that they cannot find scriptural substantiation for this dogma: “No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture . . .” What they do not seem to realize, however, is that the teaching of the Bible plainly refutes it, and does not provide any ground for holding such a view.
Taking the human race as a whole, we find that only Adam and Eve were perfect, being created such directly by God. Because of their disobedience, this perfection was very short-lived. But not only were they condemned, but also all their progeny, as yet unborn: for the Scriptures read, “By the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation.” (Rom. 5:18) Again, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."”(Rom. 3:23); and “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”—Eccles. 7:20
The only exception to this general rule, which we find laid down in the Scriptures, pertains to our Lord Jesus Christ, and the reason for it is clearly given. Of Jesus it is written that he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26), and that he “did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.” (1 Pet. 2:22) It was possible for Jesus to be born free from the taint of all sin because the Heavenly Father miraculously intervened in the usual course of human conception. Yes, it was the power of the Almighty One which overshadowed Mary and caused her to conceive in her womb and later bring forth the babe Jesus. Only thus was it possible for Jesus to be born free of the adamic condemnation which plagued the entire race, and to exhibit the same perfection of human nature as was originally displayed in the first man Adam before he sinned.
But concerning Mary we find no such statements that she was preserved from all stain of original sin, nor is there nay logical reason why she would have to be so exempted. Being conceived in the usual manner by two human parents, she was brought under the same condemnation which every other individual of the human race has inevitably inherited. If it were not so, we would expect a clear scriptural statement mentioning the matter and also explaining why it would be necessary. With no such teachings to be found in the Bible and no justification for holding such a view, there remains simply no basis for believing in the Immaculate Conception.
Actually, the truth of Mary’s conception lends added credit to the character and demeanor of one who was found honorable and upright in her struggles against the shortcomings and weaknesses of the flesh which are inherent in the adamic condemnation, and pass upon all men. Yes, truly Mary was as one of us, who endeavored to live a righteous life, a pure and virtuous life, in the fear of the Lord, in spite of the fallen tendencies inherent in her very nature. What a blessed and wonderful reward she received, even in this life, by being chosen to become the mother of the Lord! What a wonderful example she is to us, who also strive against the inherited weaknesses of the flesh, to be found acceptable and pleasing in the sight of our same Heavenly Father!
Another belief respecting Mary which Protestants have difficulty in accepting is her perpetual virginity. Here, again, there appears to be abundant scriptural evidence to refute this view, and no logical reason for holding it. Matthew 1:24, 25 reads: “Then Joseph . . . did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took (her to his side as) his wife, but he had no union with her as her husband until she had borne her first-born Son.” (Amplified N.T.) Certainly there appears to be a clear implication here that after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph lived a normal married life together. As a matter of fact, in the course of time several children, both boys and girls, were born to Mary, as enumerated in Mark 6:3: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?”
One can only speculate that the theory of the perpetual virginity was intended to add still further to Mary’s state of holiness, and thus make her a fit object for worship. But we notice that this theory is based upon the assumption that sanctity and wedlock are incompatible, which the Scriptures clearly teach is false. The marriage state was instituted by God, and is therefore holy. Paul specifically wrote that “marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled.” (Heb. 13:4) We conclude, therefore, that Mary’s subsequent role as a mother of several children does not detract in any way from the honor due to her for having been chosen as the virgin mother of Jesus.
The bodily assumption of Mary into heaven is another belief which is freely admitted to find no support in Scripture. It may safely be stated that throughout all of the Bible there is not the slightest suggestion that Mary was shown preference over and above the apostles or other saints, in receiving here heavenly reward in advance of the others. All of the faithful believers in Christ were to await together the time of their change in the first resurrection, to occur at the appearance and return of the Lord Jesus.— 1 Thess. 4:15-17; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52.
Also, there would be no need to retain the human body for those born of the Spirit in the first resurrection. As part of their heavenly inheritance the church has been promised glorious spiritual bodies befitting their divine nature, and fully capable of carrying out all the functions of spirit beings on that high plane of existence. (1 Cor. 15:35-50) Their bodies of flesh were consumed on the symbolic altar of sacrifice during their earthly careers, and would only serve as a handicap to the new spiritual minds and bodies which they shall receive. (Rom. 12:1) Hence to insist that Mary was borne bodily into heaven at the moment of her death would appear to be unscriptural and unreasonable on two separate counts.
This brings us now to a consideration of Mary’s role as an intercessor, a belief that universally inspires Catholics to call upon her for help in their time of need. Catholics believe that in this capacity Mary has the power to intercede with Jesus on behalf of those who place their trust in her. The stress on her role as intercessor is placed not so much between God and men, which is generally held to be the province of Jesus Christ, as it is between Jesus Christ and men. Catholics “believe that she is our Mediatrix . . . between men and her Son . . . They pray to her, not that she by her own authority or by any personal resources of her own, may give us graces and blessings, but that she may appeal on our behalf to her Divine Son, who in turn will make intercession for us before Him who is the source of every good and perfect gift.”
In order for this belief in the special powers of Mary to merit acceptance, we would expect several things from the Scriptures. First, it would be most convincing if there were a direct teaching bearing on this matter, and explaining Mary’s role as an intercessor to us. Second, it would be helpful if it were shown that prayer directed to Mary were proper, and in accord with the wished of God. And third, we would expect a statement that it is better for Christians not to go directly to Jesus, but rather to confide the matter to Mary first and rely upon here ability to intercede for us.
What do we find, then, when we approach the Scriptures with these expectations in mind? As for direct teachings explicitly outlining Mary’s assumed role as intercessor, there are none. As for secondary supporting material, at least suggesting the possibility of Mary’s special powers, again there is none. The only claim that is made for Bible verification rests upon one statement, which we will shortly see has no bearing on the subject.
On the other side of the question, there are specific facts of Scripture which are inescapable. Not only did Jesus not say that believers were to approach him through Mary or another saint, but he very positively declared that all were to come directly to him: “Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “He that cometh to me, . . . I will in no wise cast out.”—John 6:35,37
Whereas the term “intercessor” is never once used to describe Mary, it is freely used in describing the work of Jesus for his followers: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? . . . It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” (Rom. 8:33, 34) “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”—Heb. 7:35
Again, in the matter of offering formal prayer, there is not so much as an intimation that it should be addressed to Mary or any other saint. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he replied, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9) Yes, prayer should be offered to God himself, as shown by Jesus’ own example and his specific declaration, “When thou prayest, . . . pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”—Matt. 6:6.
All believers, then, on the basis of their faith in God and in his Son Jesus Christ, stand in a very personal relationship before the Father. At any time, and in any circumstance of life, they have this wonderful privilege of coming before the throne of heavenly grace to seek the face of the Father. But always this is done in the manner authorized by Jesus; that is, in his name and through his merit. Yes, we may come directly to Jesus in responding to his gracious invitation, and have the full assurance of faith that we will be received and welcomed. By trusting in his finished work of redemption on our behalf, through Jesus we may call upon the Heavenly Father and thus receive grace to help in our every time of need.—Heb. 4:16
There is no need for any other personality, no matter how worthy or endearing that individual may be, to come into this picture of the communion and fellowship of every believer with God through our Lord Jesus. Let the precious words of Jesus remind us of the legacy which is freely granted to all his followers: “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you . . . Whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”—John 15:7,16
There is just one text that Catholics rely upon to provide some basis for their belief in Mary’s intercessory powers. It is found in John 2:1-11, which recounts Mary’s calling to the attention of her son Jesus the fact that there was insufficient wine at the marriage feast in Cana. This resulted in our Lord performing his first miracle, and hence is used to illustrate Mary’s role as mediatrix and intercessor. We believe it is a fallacy to use this simple incident of our Lord’s granting a request of his mother as the basis for such a vital doctrine respecting the supposed exalted station and distinguished role of Mary. If this simple act entitles Mary to this position, why would not others who were similarly favored be entitled to the same exaltation?
Let us explain this more fully be reference to other scriptural incidents where individuals were found interceding with Jesus on behalf of their loved ones. For example, turn to Matthew 20:20-23, where Zebedee’s wife implored Jesus to grant her sons special honors; or the account in Matthew 8:5-13, where Jesus granted the wish of a centurion to have his servant healed of the palsy.
In none of these instances do we find Catholics attaching significance to the intercessory abilities of Zebedee’s wife or the centurion. These are simply understood to demonstrate Jesus’ willingness to help others whenever feasible, and especially in reward of exceptional degrees of faith. We believe the account of the marriage feast may be understood in this same manner.
IN OUR study of the various Catholic beliefs regarding Mary, we have found that Bible support is wholly lacking, and in most cases is not even claimed as a basis for them. This raises the logical question of how these beliefs arose in the church, and where the source really lies. In making our investigation of this area, we shall rely heavily upon Catholic authorities, as their statements are quite plain and revealing.
On the one hand, the Catholic Church maintains that the worship of the Virgin Mary is a practice as old as the church itself, yet on the other hand we have the findings of her own scholars to the contrary. Note this clear statement from the Catholic Encyclopedia, very much to the point: “We do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christian centuries."
Despite all evidence to the contrary, the notion that the worship of Mary was popular in early Christianity has been instilled by the Church to justify its practice. But again, the honest declarations of her own scholars stand out in sharp contrast: “Evidence regarding the popular practice of the early centuries is almost entirely lacking.” If, then, there are no clear traces of this doctrine and, in fact, if all evidence for it is entirely void, it certainly leads us to wonder how the Catholic Church can declare with such positive assurance that it was well-established in the Early Church.
Catholics themselves have pondered this inconsistency, but have only come up with vague speculations regarding it: “It is not impossible that the practice of invoking the aid of the Mother of Christ had become more familiar to the more simple faithful some time before we discover any plain expression of it in the writings of the Fathers . . . In the paintings of the catacombs more particularly, we begin to appreciate the exceptional position that she began, from any early period, to occupy in the thought of the faithful. Some of these frescoes . . . are believed to date from the first half of the second century. Three others . . . are a century later . . . More startling is the evidence of certain apocryphal writings, notably that of the so-called Gospel of St. James.
Let us stop to reflect upon this for a moment. Even from Catholic sources, no sound basis for this doctrine can be found. The best that can be offered is the statement that it always existed as a practice within the Church, although it is freely admitted that all evidence for such is lacking. For the first two hundred years of Christianity the only recourse that can be made is to various works of art which are supposed to depict the worship of Mary. That this is a feeble way to attempt to prove any matter of doctrine is pointed out by no less a Catholic authority than St. Augustine himself: “Thus to fall most completely into error was the due desert of men who sought for Christ and his apostles not in the holy writings, but on painted walls.”
Next, we find that the apocryphal writings are turned to in an effort to find justification for this doctrine. We trust that our earlier discussion of these writings has shown that they are not trustworthy in matters of doctrine, and so must be passed by. By process of elimination, this brings us to the writings of the Early Church fathers.
The absence of any commentary in the earliest writings of the fathers would seem to signify that the worship of Mary was entirely unknown to them. Their later remarks pertaining to the various questionable beliefs about Mary are of a mixed nature, indicating disagreement among the writers themselves. Even here, Catholics cannot find clear substantiation for their beliefs, as freely admitted by their own authorities: “In regard to the sinlessness of Mary, the older fathers are very cautious: some of them even seem to have been in error on this matter.”
Not only do the early fathers fail to support the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, but most amazing of all, we find that even some of the popes spoke out against it: “Pope Innocent III declared that Eve was formed without guilt and brought forth in guilt; that Mary was formed in guilt and brought forth without guilt. And Pope Leo I adds that among men only Christ was innocent, because ‘he alone was conceived and born without concupiscence.’ Gregory the Great says the same thing.”
One of the earliest references to a specific act of worshiping the Virgin Mary is found in the writings of St. Epiphanius. (d403 A.D.) This church father not only mentions the practice of offering cakes to Mary in sacrifice, which was carried out by an obscure sect known as the Collyridians, but specifically denounces them for doing it. His counsel to these Christians was: “Let Mary be held in honor. Let the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost be adored, but let no one adore Mary.”
Actually, it was not until the period of the early Middle Ages that there developed and “authoritative acceptance of Marian devotion as an integral part of the Church’s life. It is difficult to give precise dates for the introduction of the various festivals, but . . . the celebration of the Assumption, Annunciation, Nativity, and Purification of Our Lady may certainly be traced to this period.”
And it was not until the later Middle Ages that the worship of Mary became a universal practice in the church. “It was characteristic of this period, which for our present purpose may be regarded as beginning with the year 1000, that the deep feeling of love and confidence in the Blessed Virgin, which hitherto had expressed itself vaguely and in accordance with the promptings of the piety of individuals, began to take organized shape in a vast multitude of devotional practices. In any case, the homage paid to Our Lady during the later Middle Ages was universal.”
Now then, having traced the rise of Marian devotion as a progressive development within the Catholic Church, which required a full thousand years to reach its fruition, we are still left without the knowledge of its true origin. Neither the Bible, the practices of the early Christians, nor the writings of the church fathers can be shown to serve as its basis. Nonetheless, history is not silent in this matter, and does furnish us with the true source of the worship of Mary.
For many centuries prior to the advent of Christianity the pagan religions had honored not only a variety of gods, but goddesses as well. One can well imagine the conflict of ideologies that accompanied the rise of the Judean-Christian concept of one God. The early Christian writers vigorously protested against the errors of polytheistic worship, and especially “the pagan custom of raising men to the rank of gods or demigods.” However, paralleling the tremendous compromise in Christian doctrine effected by the later church of the fourth century, as detailed in an earlier section of this paper, Mary, the apostles, martyrs, and angels were substituted for the pagan gods and goddesses, in an effort to facilitate the forced conversion of hordes of unbelievers.
“Often pagan divinities and heroes, more or less thinly transformed or disguised, persisted under Christian names or were displaced by Christian substitutes. When, as often happened, a pagan site or temple was appropriated for Christian purposes, something of its previous associations might remain . . . The cult of the Virgin Diana may have contributed to the worship of the Virgin Mary and more than a coincidence may possibly be seen in the facts that one of the earliest churches in honor of May rose at Ephesus on the site of the famous temple of Diana, and that in the same city in 431 a synod was held which first officially designated Mary the Mother of God.
“In some places in Italy the ancient Lares are said to have been replaced by the Virgin, or the saints, or figures of the child Jesus. Presumably under such circumstances something of the functions assigned to the old were transferred to their successors. In Sicily the Virgin is said to have taken possession of all the sanctuaries of Ceres and Venus, and the pagan rites associated with them are reported to have been perpetuated in part in honor of the Mother of Christ. At Naples lamps burning before the image of the Virgin are said to have replaced those before the family gods. At Naples, too, the popular cult of the Madonna is conjectured to have proceeded from that of Vesta and Ceres. . . . The conjecture is offered that figures of Isis and Horus suggested the form for pictures of the Virgin.”
Thus the true origin of the worship of Mary is found to exist in the transposition of the popular polytheistic custom of worshipping goddesses into the realm of the church. No wonder it was not possible to establish a Christian source for this doctrine—it never was Christian from the very start!
WITH this background, what should be said in evaluating the Catholic position regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus? Certainly we appreciate the sincerity of intention demonstrated in desiring to hold in highest esteem one whom the Heavenly Father has greatly honored. However, we cannot be negligent in pointing out the dangers that accompany even such a sincere effort, if it is not based firmly upon the written Word of God.
Consider some of the titles and offices that have been heaped upon Mary: “Refuge of Sinners,” “Seat of Wisdom.” “Morning Star,” “Our Life, Our Sweetness and Hope,” “Advocate,” “Mediatrix,” and “Co-redemptrix.” In the language and meaning of the Holy Scriptures, such terms (except the last two, which are unscriptural) properly belong to our Lord Jesus Christ. To remove them from him and grant them to another amounts to a usurpation of his just place in the hearts of believers. Do we really believe that anyone should receive glory comparable to our Lord Jesus, or be raised to a level so high as to complete in effect with his lofty position in honor or devotion?
The Bible is consistent in directing our attention to the One who is most worthy of receiving our praise: “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to him that appointed him.” (Heb. 3:1,2) “He is before all things . . . he is the Head of the body, the church . . . the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” (Col. 1:13-18) Yes, it is Jesus who was found faithful, even unto the ignominious death of the cross. And for this reason the Father has “highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”—Phil. 2:8-11
We are not endeavoring in any way to detract from the nobility and purity of the character of Mary, or to lessen the place of honor which should be accorded to her. Unquestionably, to deserve the honor of being selected as the mother of Jesus, she possessed the finest and most virtuous qualities to be found in the human race. We merely desire to point out that men may fall into the serious error of granting undue reverence and worship, to the extent of setting up a rival to Jesus Christ or even to God himself, when reliance upon the Holy Scriptures is neglected in this regard.
Returning to the Scriptures, we see that it is to Jesus Christ, and to him alone, that we are directed. He it is, through the Father’s appointment, who gave himself in sacrifice to atone for our sins. He it is who suffered the Just for the unjust, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows; who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. (Isa. 53:4,5) He it is who can now sympathize with us in our weaknesses and assist us in our difficulties.
Because of his great sacrifice on our behalf, it is Jesus who has become our great High Priest, our Advocate, and our Redeemer. Yes, he has entered “into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” (Heb. 9:24) When we come short of God’s standard of perfection, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1) And we may raise our petitions to the Father with confidence, for “we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. . . . We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”—Heb. 4:14-16.
“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due . . . fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Rom. 13:7) Truly, Mary does deserve our esteem; and the Lord Jesus Christ our worship and praise. May all of us in our devotions endeavor to follow the pattern which the Holy Spirit has given us and look to the Scriptures for the correct emphasis of our honor and worship.
 Francis Cassilly, Religion, Doctrine, and Practice, p. 70.
 Rev. Joseph Deharbe, Abridged Catechism of Christian Doctrine, p. V.
 Ibid., p. XIV
 “Immaculate Conception,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, VII, 674.
 Knights of Columbus Religious Information Bureau, Let us Judge Catholics by the Bible, p. 34.
 Ibid., p. 36.
 “Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, XV, 459.
 Ibid., p. 460
 Manuel Perez Vila, I Found the Ancient Way, p. 23
 “Immaculate Conception,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, VII, 674, 675.
 Vila, op. cit., p. 42.
 “Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, XV, 460.
 Ibid., p. 462.
 Ibid., pp. 463, 464.
 Kenneth Scott Latourette, The First Five Centuries, p. 319.
 Ibid., pp. 320, 325