What Issues Divide Protestants and Catholics Concerning Mary?

Tonight John Ankerberg will examine the evidence concerning the position of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church and why it is that Protestants disagree. The high elevation of Mary can be seen by examining the church’s current teachings and papal encyc- licals. Roman Catholicism teaches today that Mary is the Mother of God. Pope Pius XXII’s encyclical in 1943 said, “She is the mother of our head.” Catholicism claims Mary is full of grace, therefore free of original sin and kept from all actual sin. The Pope’s encyclical agreed, claiming Mary is free from any personal or inherited blemish. Catholicism asserts that Mary is perpetually a virgin; that is, Mary was a virgin not only before, but during and after the birth of Jesus. In addition Catholicism claims Mary was bodily assumed into heaven where she now reigns with Christ. The Pope’s encyclical says, “Mary, now glorified in body and soul, reigns together with her Son.” Although it is not yet officially sanctioned, Catholicism has given to Mary the title of “Mediatrix of all graces,” and the Pope has agreed, teaching, “It was in answer to Mary’s all powerful prayers that the Divine Redeemer’s Spirit was given to the newly born church, and by her intercession, ob- tains from Him”—that is, Jesus—“abundant streams of grace to all the members of the mystical body.” 

Another title not yet officially sanctioned, but still given to Mary, is that she is co- Redemptrix with Jesus. The Pope affirmed this in his encyclical by teaching, “Mary offered Jesus to the Father for all the children of men who are defiled by Adam’s unfortunate fall,” and “By bearing her immeasurable sorrows, she has supplied what was lacking in the suffering of Christ for His Body, the Church.” 

Protestants believe Catholicism has elevated Mary to godhood. For example, Protestants can agree that Mary was the honored mother of the human body of Jesus, but object to using the title “Mother of God,” claiming it sets up a misrepresentation in most people’s minds. Protestants maintain that all Christians believe God is eternal and without beginning, therefore He has no mother. Both sides agree that Mary was the mother of Jesus who was both God and man but she did not add divinity to Jesus’ human nature. Therefore, Protestants say the title “Mother of God” should be dropped because it is a misleading term. 

Secondly, Protestants believe it is not biblical to teach that Mary was conceived without original sin and committed no actual sin during her life. Thomas Aquinas, the supreme theologian of the Catholic church, declared that only a sinner needs a savior, and Mary must have been a sinner since she stated, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Protestants think this doctrine deprives Christ of His uniqueness as the sinless one. 

Third, to say Mary is “full of grace” does not mean, as Catholicism implies, that Mary is sinless. Scripture also says Stephen, Elizabeth, Barnabas and others were “full of grace.” Yet no one claims they were sinless. 

Fourth, Protestants do not believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin. The Bible, according to Matthew 12 and Mark 6, plainly shows Mary had other children. 

Fifth, Protestants insist that scripture nowhere teaches that Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. 

And finally, Protestants insist that Mary cannot be co-Mediatrix or co-Redemptrix with Jesus, since the Bible states there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, and only Jesus can forgive a man’s sin. 

We invite you to join us for this discussion. Ankerberg: Welcome! Tonight we’re talking about the claims and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. My first guest is an ordained Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Mitchell Pacwa, who is a member of the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. He has also earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree and is currently a Professor of Old Testament at Loyola University in Chicago. My second guest is Dr. Walter Martin, Director and Founder of the Christian Research Institute in California. Walter is the author of many books, especially the classic book known as The Kingdom of the Cults, which both Protestants and Catholics read. 

Gentlemen, I’d like to start tonight with the topic of “Mary.” Here is an issue that has divided Catholics and Protestants down through the years and seems to be going that direction even more so. I think we ought to start off by saying that there’s no doubt about the fact that Mary, the mother of Jesus, deserves a high honor in the Church. She was picked out to be the mother of Jesus, and in Scripture says she responded to God’s call to her and she herself said, “Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” And I don’t think that anyone holding to the inspiration of the Scripture would deny the fact that Mary needs to be honored and recognized for the great things that she has done. But the problem comes with some of the other statements that the Roman Catholic Church is making. In fact, Walter, let’s start with you this week in terms of, “What do you see happening with these things being said about Mary.” Maybe you could outline those things you would like to talk about concerning the progress of Mary and what you think about that biblically. 

Martin: I think, primarily, as you said, that Mary was the greatest woman that ever lived, the mother of our Savior, and as such, should be honored above all women. There’s no doubt about that. However, in Protestant theology, the development of Mariology—or as some have called it, “Mariolatry,” there is not only a concern in Protestant thinking, but also a concern in some areas of Roman Catholicism. Vatican II, specifically in the translations of the dialogue of the bishops, was very concerned with the fact that the Virgin Mary was receiving more attention, adoration, than Christ in Latin America and in Spain and in other parts of the world. They felt some of the delegates had gotten out of hand and they referred to it as “the cult of Mary.” My own personal feeling on the subject is that the Mary of biblical theology is quite different from the Mary of evolutionary Catholic dogma. The Mary of biblical theology is a simple Jewish maiden, selected by God. She says, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.” She says, “My soul doth magnify the Lord…my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior.” The fact that she identifies God as “Savior” indicates the fact that she is willing to confess the fact that she’s a sinner, as everybody else, who is in need of a Savior. The fact that Mary died is proof that she was a sinner because the “wages of sin is death,” and death has passed upon all men, according to Romans 5—in that all have sinned. Mary died, was resurrected, and assumed into Heaven, according to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception… 

Pacwa: No. The Assumption. 

Martin: Excuse me…the Assumption of Mary. I think the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and other specifics of Catholic theology lead Protestants to believe—and I’m one of them—that… 

Ankerberg: Tell us what it is, Walter. What is the Immaculate Conception? 

Martin: Yes. There has been a perversion of the doctrine of Mary. Now, I think that we should define what this perversion is, and you asked, “What’s the Immaculate Concep- tion?” What’s taken place, as I have observed—and I’m sure we’ll get some dialogue on this subject pretty quickly—is that Mary parallels Christ in Catholic theology. First of all, she is proclaimed to be the Mother of God; she is proclaimed to be immaculately conceived, which means that she was conceived without the stain of original sin. She is proclaimed to be a perpetual virgin; she is proclaimed to be assumed bodily into Heaven after her death which means that she was transformed into a new body. She is proclaimed “Queen of Heaven”; she is proclaimed “Mediatrix of All Graces,” which maintains that as Christ dispenses redeeming grace to mankind, Mary will with Him have the final word as to who will or who will not receive that grace of God. And, finally, number seven, as “Co- Redemptrix of the Universe.” Now, these are what I would call “seven steps to deity.” Because “Mother of God” obviously is a term which is indicative of an enormously high position. Two, that she is perpetually virgin means that she was forever throughout her life maintained free from sin. She was immaculately conceived which means she was conceived by the Holy Spirit so that she—that her own nature, from her mother was…to quote this correctly…. 

Pacwa: Ann. 

Martin: Her mother, Ann, yes, conceived Mary without the stain of original sin, if I have it correctly. 

Ankerberg: She was free from all sin, original and personal. 

Martin: Oh yes… 

Pacwa: Right. 

Martin: That she is assumed into heaven bodily parallels the resurrection of Christ. So the Immaculate Conception parallels the virgin birth. The perpetual virginity—free of actual sin—parallels the sinlessness of Christ during His earthly life. The bodily assumption into Heaven parallels the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “Queen of Heaven” parallels Christ as King of the Universe. “Mediatrix of All Graces” parallels Christ as Mediator, and “Co-Redemptrix of the Universe” participates with Him in the redemption of mankind. All of these have raised her step-by-step to the place where Pope Pius XII, in the Marian Year in which he proclaimed the Assumption of Mary, said, “Enraptured by the splendor of your heavenly beauty and impelled by the anxiety of the world, we cast ourselves into your arms, O, immaculate mother of Jesus, and our mother, Mary. God crowned you Queen of the Universe. O, crystal fountain of faith, bathe our minds with eternal truths; O, fragrant Lily of all holiness, captivate our hearts with your heavenly perfume. O, conqueress of evil and death, inspire in us a deep horror of sin. O, well beloved of God, hear the ardent cries which rise from every heart in this year dedicated to you. Convert the wicked, dry the tears of the afflicted and the oppressed. Comfort the poor and the humble. Quench hatred. Sweeten harshness. In your name, resounding harmoniously in Heaven, may they recognize they’re all brothers. And, finally, happy with you we may repeat before your throne that hymn which is sung today around your altars: You are all beautiful, O, Mary, you are the glory; you are the joy; you are the honor of our people.” Sorry about that! She is not the “crystal fountain of faith” —Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of faith. She is not the “glory and joy and honor of Christians” —Jesus Christ is our glory. In Him is the hope of glory. Christ is the One we honor, and it’s pretty obvious, just from reading throughout the prayer, that titles are conferred upon her which belong to God. “Convert the wicked and dry the tears of the afflicted” is the job of the Holy Spirit, who “convinces the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.” It is the comfort that she is giving, allegedly, that is the very reason Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, which was to be our “Comforter.” Now, giving Mary all her due right, all the positions she is entitled to, she is not “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” And that we have to confess in the Catholic Church in which we say, “Our life, our sweetness and our hope, to thee we cry, poor banished children of Eve.” Now, Mary is not our life—Jesus Christ is our life. She’s not the sweetness of our life— He is the sweetness of our life. She certainly isn’t our hope, because “Christ in you is the hope of glory.” What I’m objecting to, from a biblical perspective, is that the Mary of the Bible is not the Mary of Catholic theology. We have now developed what Bishop Strossmayer said in 1870, “We have made a goddess of the Virgin Mary.” Now, that I think, is probably what upsets Protestants more than any other thing, apart from the infallibility of the papacy; which is the idea that Mary, a mere creature, created by God, is paralleled in Catholic theology dogmatically with Christ Himself. So that Cardinal Spellman in New York wrote, “O, Mary, gate of heaven, none shall enter in except through thee.” Sorry about that! Sorry! “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” “I am the door of the sheepfold.” “I am the gate.” “By me if any man enters in, he shall be saved.” What we see in Catholic theology is the blasphemy of attaching to a woman, even in her high position, the titles and position and offices of God. And that’s why I feel very strongly that we must deal with it as biblical theology. 

Ankerberg: Okay, Fr. Pacwa, come on back the other way. Do you agree or disagree, first of all? 

Pacwa: Oh! I would hope that, you know, you don’t come too close to blasphemy in some of this too, against the Mother of God. There are a lot of things…and there’s a lot of points to try to deal with and I won’t be able to remember them all. First of all, the titles of Mary are titles that did definitely “develop” and in no way do we deny that. But they developed in the Councils because of defining who Christ is. To call her the “Mother of God” is essential for the faith, because otherwise it’s to say that Jesus, “God and Man,” is not God and that is the point of calling her the “Mother of God”. To call her simply the “Mother of Christ,” is as if to separate Christ’s divinity from His humanity, and that cannot be done by anybody Orthodox. You have to call Jesus God and Man from the moment of His conception, and at no other moment beyond that. And therefore, from that moment on, she is the Mother of God. The Councils that defined her as “Mother of God,” did it because of trying to protect our understanding that Jesus is God from the moment of His conception and not one second later. 

Ankerberg: I don’t see any problem with that statement. Maybe Walter does. I did the Greek on that myself… 

Martin: I do. 

Ankerberg: …and, well, if you’re saying that she is the one that produced God… 

Pacwa: No. And Catholics never taught that. Never! 

Ankerberg: No, but it sounds like that, doesn’t it? 

Pacwa: No, that is only what people who teach heresy would teach because the Catholic Church never teaches that a human creature can ever produce divinity. She is the Mother of Jesus Christ, God and Man, and therefore, the Mother of God because Jesus is God. 

Martin: It’s based on a false syllogism. I was taught: Jesus is God; Mary is the Mother of Jesus, therefore Mary is the Mother of God. You were, too. All right, let’s take that syllogism and apply it. God is Trinity. Mary is the Mother of God. Mary is the Mother of the Trinity. The same logic holds and is devastating. She is the Mother of God the Son, Second Person of the Trinity. God in human flesh. She gave Him a human nature. 

Pacwa: We never have said that she is the Mother of the Trinity. 

Martin: I know that. I’m just trying to show that the syllogism which we have, which leads us to the conclusion that she is the Mother of God. 

Pacwa: Only if you take it to the point of heresy,… 

Martin: It makes her the Mother of the Trinity. 

Pacwa: …and that that is never taken to that point. Such a point would be ridiculous…. 

Martin: …it is heresy to say she is the Mother of God, because God is Trinity. 

Pacwa: The problem with it is that you then end up agreeing with Nestorius and Arius… 

Martin: Never! Never!

Pacwa: Well, that’s exactly what they tried to deny—that Mary is the Mother of God and as such that they ended up denying His divinity. 

Ankerberg: All right. I can see your basis for saying that, but when you get on to the next four, I don’t see a basis. Let’s move on. 

Pacwa: All right, well, the other things about the definitions of Mary and what she is, again, always took place ancillary to defining Christ, throughout the history of the Councils. Do you have any disagreement with that? 

Martin: Yeah, one disagreement. The Councils do not define Christ. The New Testament defines Christ. The Councils confirm the text. 

Pacwa: But they define what that authentic and Orthodox faith has to be from Scripture, because other people who claim to read Scripture well, do not, and they pervert the doctrine of the New Testament. And so the Councils make it clear what that definition is. 

Martin: But the Roman Catholic publications I have tell me—and I can produce the references quite easily—that all that is necessary for salvation… all that is necessary for salvation is contained in Holy Scripture. 

Pacwa: Right. And it’s also all contained in tradition. 

Martin: I won’t get into “tradition” right now, but it sure is contained in Holy Scripture. 

Pacwa: It’s contained in Scripture and tradition. 

Martin: If that’s true, and the Fathers reproduced all but six verses of Holy Scriptures within three centuries plus the text and the manuscripts. If that’s true, then you didn’t need Councils to define what they recognize as the already existing body of truth. The Councils were called to deal with heretical doctrines. 

Pacwa: Right. And, one of the things that they do along with fighting those heretical doctrines is to clarify who Christ is. They also make the statements about Mary. And that’s all that I’m saying. 

Ankerberg: Okay. Let me push you right on what you’re saying, then. Then the Council found this in Scripture: “The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception maintains that the most blessed Virgin Mary in the first instance of her conception when she was born, by a unique grace and privilege of the Omnipotent God and in consideration of the merits of Christ Jesus, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” It is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore must be firmly and con- stantly held by all the faithful.” Would you tell me where the Council got that from Scripture? 

Pacwa: Okay. First of all, when Mary is addressed by the angel, she is said to be the “one of grace…” 

Martin: Never “theotokos.” Not till the third century. 

Pacwa: Again, we’re talking about “theotokos.” We’re talking about dealing with her in terms of Immaculate Conception. And the thing about the angel’s address is to call her “the gracious one” — the one filled with grace…St. Jerome translated it “the one full of grace.” And the sense then of grace and sin being incompatible with each other led to the doctrine of the Church being believed by everybody…. As a matter of fact, the doctrine that you give there is defined only in the 1850’s and it’s based on the faith of the community, the statement that refutes one of the things that you said. And you said something falsely in terms of what we believe. We do not believe that Mary is sinless, apart from the merits of Christ, as the declaration on the Immaculate Conception says, “She is sinless only because of the merits of Christ,” and that she could not be sinless any other way. 

Ankerberg: Why did Mary offer a sacrifice in Luke 2:21 for her sin? 

Pacwa: Where does it say it was for her sin? It was for “uncleanness”. Uncleanness in Jewish studies, as you well know, does not mean anything…necessarily something sinful. For instance, if a human being touches the Scriptures, you become “unclean.” Does touching the Bible make you commit a sin? 

Ankerberg: Was it a sin in Leviticus 12 enough to have a sacrificial offering? 

Pacwa: If you touched the Bible, you have to go to the Midrash. 

Ankerberg: What I’m saying is, “Why did she think that she had to offer that offering, if what you’re saying is true?” 

Pacwa: Okay, because along with touching Scripture, another sacred item is blood. And after birth, for a month or so, I’m told—I don’t know; I’ve never given birth—but I’m told that women continue to have bleeding. And so that period of waiting before a sacrifice is to make sure the bleeding stops, after giving birth, and then the woman is consid- ered to be sacred…she also is unclean after her period—not because that’s a sin, but because the blood she sheds is sacred, as is all blood. And so a sacrifice is offered. Now, Mary goes ahead and offers a sacrifice and our understanding of her offering of the sacrifice is that she had no need to, but she did to obey the Jewish law just like Jesus had no need to be circumcised, but He was. He had no need to offer two turtle doves for Himself, but they were offered. He had no need to pay the temple tax, but He did as a sign; so that she obeys Jewish law, the way her Son, who had no need to obey Jewish law did. 

Martin: All right, look, you said something very important that is really a key. You said, “The Immaculate Conception in 1854 was the result of the long centuries of the accu- mulated community of the Church.” I want you to listen to some of the long centuries. Clement of Alexandria, “The Word, Jesus Christ, alone was born without sin.” Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians in the Church, “He, Christ, alone being made a man but remaining God never had any sin nor did He take on flesh of sin, though He took flesh of the sin of His mother.” Ambrose, “Of all that are born of women, the Holy Lord Jesus was the only One who experienced not the contagion of earthly corruption.” St. Bernard, “For this reason, our astonishment is not small in seeing that some of you are believed to be able to introduce a new feast that is unknown to the rite of the Church that cannot be approved by reason, that it is condemned by the ancient traditions, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.” You and Bernard do not agree, and he’s Canonized! 

Pacwa: Well, one of the things about Bernard is that he was wrong because there was a long-existing feast, often called the “Feast of St. Ann” conceiving Mary and was referred to… 

Martin: But not of the Immaculate Conception. 

Pacwa: …but it was of St. Ann conceiving Mary without sin… 

Martin: Recognizing that she…. Oh, no, I don’t think it was without sin. 

Pacwa: …and one of the things about Bernard’s statement is that he does not deny the Immaculate Conception as it’s understood, he denied in his statement—that you’re quoting there…if you’ll quote the rest of it—that she was immaculate before she was conceived. And St. Thomas Aquinas makes the same denial. Neither Thomas nor Bernard believe that Mary was sinless before she was conceived. 

Martin: They don’t believe she was sinless afterwards either. 

Pacwa: They don’t say that. They merely posed a question of the immaculate… 

Martin: Well let me give it to you. “What honor should we believe in attributing to Mary that honor may be had, you say, for her conception,” —Thomas—“which was anterior to her birth? Because without this conception neither her birth should be honored. Then would say if others, according to your own reasoning, were to maintain that it is necessary to hold feasts in honor of her parents? This is logical” —it’s the angelic doctor —“Then it would be necessary to honor her grandparents, and her great- grandparents, and there would be no end at all. There would be feasts without number on the earth and it would be converted into a paradise.” Again, that’s Thomas Aquinas. Again, Peter Lombard—“But this is asked on what account and whence is it that Mary was conceived without original sin? We say this was impossible.” Melchior Cannas, famous professor of Canon law and dogmatic theology on the subject—“The dogma that holds the blessed Virgin was free from the original sin was nowhere delivered in Holy Scripture.” St. Antoninus— “If the Scriptures are duly considered and the sayings of the doctors ancient and modern who have been devoted to the glorious Virgin, it is plain from their words she was conceived in sin.” Leo I—“The Lord Jesus Christ alone among the sons of men was born without sin.” Pope Gallatus—“It belongs to the Immaculate Lamb to have no sin.” Gregory I—“Christ alone was truly born holy.” Innocent III—“Eve was produced without sin but she brought forth in sin. Mary was brought forth in sin but she brought forth without sin.” I have four other quotes on Mary.