Monday, June 3, 2013

There's Something About Mary, Part I: Introduction

Mother's Day was last month, and that brought out a number of discussions about Mary in the Catholic Church. This, combined with the high number of people who are swimming the Tiber lately, tells me that a series on the Marian Doctrines is warranted here.


What do I mean by "swimming the Tiber?" There is a river called the Tiber in northern Italy, which one has to cross to go into Rome. Hence "swimming the Tiber" has become a reference to Protestants converting to Catholicism. And that is happening a lot these days--there has been a significant trend of evangelicals in particular who are converting to Catholicism. (For example, read Jeff Dunn over at iMonk, and you'll see someone who I would bet will swim the Tiber within a year, based on his writings.)

While there was little outrage among early Protestants, eventually the Marian Doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC from here on) became a major problem a few centuries later. Protestants began to compare Marian Doctrines to idolatry, and Catholics said that they were being too harsh. Now, as Catholics and Protestants have (rightly!) become closer friends, the Marian Doctrines have faded into the background. I now have heard many Protestants who have downplayed the differences, simply saying, "They go a bit further with Mary than I'm comfortable with, but it's not that big a deal." Many who swim the Tiber admit a lack of comfort at the beginning, but say that they get used to it eventually.

What Catholics say

It's probably worth reminding people, then, exactly what the Catholics say about Mary. Each of the following are quotes from major Catholic figures:

  • "We cannot discuss the action of Christ, the universal Mediator, on His mystical body without also speaking of the influence of Mary." --Fr. Garrigou Lagrange, Three Ages of the Interior Life
  • "Error would consist in wishing to go to our Lord without first going to Mary...Protestants have fallen into this error." --ibid
  • "Our Blessed Lady [is] 'the mold of God'--the mold fit to cast and mold gods. He who is cast in this mold is presently formed and molded in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ in him." --St Louis de Montfort
  • "Mary, who is the Star of the Sea, leads all her faithful servants into a safe harbor. She shows them the paths of eternal life. She makes them avoid the dangerous places. She conducts them by her hand along the paths of justice. ....If you follow her, you cannot wander from the road." --ibid
  • "They must take his Blessed Mother and his saints as intercessors...it's necessary [for] strength to come to us from God." --St Teresa of Avila
  • "Christology and Mariology are inseparably interwoven." --Pope Benedict XVI
  • "There is no more direct road than by Mary for uniting all mankind in Christ." --Pope Pius X

(Note: I find it particularly obnoxious that many Catholic writers and bloggers, including some above, do not capitalize Jesus' personal pronouns but do capitalize Mary's. Does not that alone indicate a subtle reduction of Him and elevation of her?)


Clearly, as you read the above you see that the Mary of the RCC and the humble, mostly forgotten servant-girl of Protestantism are greatly different. Protestants, led by the fact that Mary appears in only 0.2% of the New Testament texts, tend to see her as a minor character...while to the Catholics she is the central key to understanding and accessing Christ.

So clearly, we have some extreme variances here.

The Marian Doctrines

There are four approved Marian Doctrines in the Catholic Church:

1.  Perpetual virginity - Mary was a virgin before, during, and after giving birth.

2.  Theotokos - Mary is truly the Mother of God, in that she literally carried a flesh fetus of Jesus in her womb.
3.  Immaculate conception - Mary was conceived without sin and lacked original sin/sin nature.
4.  Assumption - Mary did not die, but was taken body and soul into heaven.

In addition, a fifth is currently widely supported in the grassroots, and is raising petitions to send to the Pope for consideration. It would name Mary as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix, wherein Mary is said to have shared in Jesus' suffering at the Cross and the distribution of graces which come from this.


In this series, we will evaluate the Marian doctrines individually and collectively, to determine where we stand on them.

The series contents are:

Part 1:  Introduction (this post)
Part 2:  The Historical Mary
Part 3:  The Ret-Conned Mary
Part 4:  Doctrine 1 - Perpetual Virginity
Part 5:  Doctrine 2 - Theotokos
Part 6:  Doctrine 3 - Immaculate Conception
Part 7:  Doctrine 4 - Assumption
Part 8:  Doctrine 5 (proposed) - Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix
Part 9:  Conclusion

Obviously I come into this with a particular perspective, though I will as always do my best to be as objective as is possible. Let us see where we go. Who knows, maybe I will be surprised and find more to them than I suspect? I've certainly been surprised and changed my conclusions based on these studies before. But somehow on this one...I doubt it.

Regardless...it should be fun.



(Administrative note:  Notice that I said "Part 1, 2, 3..." instead of "Week 1, 2, 3....". That is because I have a busy couple of months at work coming up and can't be positive that I will be able to post each week.)

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