Mariolatry is false and excessive worship of the Virgin Mary; offering to her the divine honor due only to the Creator. The Catholic Church rejects and denounces Mariolatry as a sin against the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me"! The Triune God alone deserves divine worship, which theologians call lautreia.
But His saints can receive a lesser honor called dulia. Because God has exalted the Virgin Mary above all other saints, she should receive the highest form of dulia, often called hyperdulia. But hyperdulia is still less than the supreme honor and worship which we owe our Creator, so it does not amount to Mariolatry.
How This Teaching Exalts Christ
As highly exalted as Mary is, she is still nothing in comparison to her Son and Creator. When we consider Mary's greatness, we remember that God is infinitely greater, and are struck with wonder!
God alone deserves and must receive divine worship: "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matthew 4:10). Angels cannot receive this worship: "Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility, and worshipping of angels" (Colossians 2:18; see also Revelation 19:10; 22:8-9). Human beings also cannot receive it (Acts 10:25). But the Bible also tells us in regard to creatures to give honor where honor is due (Romans 13:8) such as civil authorities and parents: "Honour thy father and thy mother" (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).
Mary is our heavenly Mother, as discussed in a past article. Since God commanded us to honor our mothers, Mary certainly deserves our honor.
Marian devotion began when the Angel Gabriel saluted Mary, saying "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Luke 1:27, Douay); words undoubtably given him by God. The Holy Spirit then inspired Elizabeth to carry on the devotion, by making her cry out "Blessed art thou among women...blessed is she who believed". God inspired the first devotees of Mary; He even inspired Mary herself to prophesy "From henceforth all generations shall call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). God clearly wants all people to call Mary blessed! The Catholic Church fulfills God's will in this matter.
Early Christian Witness
The Church has never offered Mary divine worship (adoration). St. Epiphanius comments as follows on the Collyridians, a Gnostic sect which worshipped her:
"The doctrine of this sect is quite ridicuous and, one might say, an old folk's tale. For which scripture ever taught such a thing? Which of the prophets ever bade us worship a man, to say nothing of a woman? For (Mary) is a chosen vessel, but a woman, and in no way different in nature, highly honored though she is in her will and her senses, as are the bodies of the saints." (Epiphanius, Panarion, 79:5:1-2; 374 AD)St. Ambrose also states the Church's opposition to adoring the Virgin:
"It can scarcely be doubted that the Holy Spirit too is to be adored when He that, according to the flesh, was born of the Holy Spirit is to be adored. And let no one divert this to the Virgin Mary: Mary was the temple of God, not the God of the temple. And therefore He alone is to be adored, who was working in the temple." (Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit, 3:11:79; 381 AD)Yet the Church has always offered her a lesser honor, fitting for a creature. One of the oldest catacombs contains a drawing of the Madonna and Child dating back to the second century. The oldest known prayer to Mary, the Sub Tuum Praesidium, dates back to at least 300 AD:
We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God.More quotes:
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
But deliver us from all dangers,
O ever-glorious and Blessed Virgin!
"For neither did Mary, who is to be honored and praised above all others, marry anyone, nor did she ever become the Mother of anyone else, but even after childbirth she remained always and forever and immaculate virgin."(Didimus the Blind, The Trinity, 3:4; c. 381 AD)More to come soon...
The term Mariolatry consists of two Greek words: Mariam, Mary, and latreia, service or worship. Latreia is a Greek noun which occurs five times in the New Testament (Jn 16:2; Romans 9:4; 12:1; Hebrews 9:1, 6). The last four clearly refer in context to the offering of sacrifice. The verb form, latreuo, is often used to indicate service in the Temple, which involved the offering of animal sacrifice (Hebrews 8:5; 9:9; 10:2; 13:10). So latreia clearly connotes the holy service of temple worship, particularly the offering of sacrifices to God.
Does the Catholic Church offer latreia - sacrificial worship - to Mary? No; the Sacrifice of the Mass is always offered to God alone. Since Catholics do not offer latreia to the Mother of Jesus, we cannot be accused of Mariolatry.
Prayer and worship are not identical. Prayer is essentially conversation, while worship is the profound adoration and sacrifice offered to the Creator alone. Catholics believe that one can pray to any heavenly being but must worship God alone. A Catholic who prays to Mary knows that she is not God and so does not receive the honor due God in devotion.
Official Catholic documents refute that charge. The Roman Catechism, first published in 1566, states:
"We do not address God and the Saints in the same manner, for we implore God to grant us blessings or to deliver us from evils; while we ask the saints, since they are friends of God, to take us under their patronage and to obtain for us from God whatever we need...it is strictly incumbent on all not to transfer to any creature the right which belongs exclusively to God" (Part IV).The 1917 Code of Canon Law distinguishes between the types of honor due God, Mary and the Saints:
"The worship which is due to the Most Holy Trinity, to each of the Divine Persons, to our Lord Jesus Christ, even under the Sacramental Species, is cultus latriae; that which is due to the Blessed Virgin Mary is cultus hyperduliae; that which is due to others who reign with Christ in heaven is cultus duliae." (c. 1255 paragraph 1)The Baltimore Catechism #3 informs us that "The first commandment does not forbid us to honor the saints in heaven, as long as we do not give them the honor that belongs to God alone" (#214 emphasis mine). It then adds the following explanation:
"The veneration paid to the saints in heaven differs essentially from the adoration of God. The saints are creatures and are not to be given the supreme worship due to the Creator alone. The supreme honor given to God only is adoration in the full and strict sense of the word. The veneration given to the Blessed Mother and to the saints is an act of respect and honor of an entirely different nature." (p. 130).The "Penny Catechism" released by the Catholic Truth Society states "It is forbidden to give divine honor or worship to the Angels or Saints, for this belongs to God alone." (q. 184).
In 1966, the Second Vatican Council noted that devotion to Mary, "differs essentially from the cult of adoration, which is offered equally to the Incarnate Word and to the Father and the Holy Spirit" (Lumen Gentium 66). The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes these very words in paragraph 971.
So the Church certainly does not teach us to worship Mary!
No, some people have offered divine worship and sacrifice to Mary, but not with the sanction of the Catholic Church.
The Collyridians, a small fourth-century sect in Arabia, used to offer cakes to the Blessed Virgin; a practice most likely copied from-the worship of certain pagan goddesses (Jer 44:18-19). As we saw above, St. Epiphanius strongly condemned this practice in his Panarion, and the Church has always regarded such activity as idolatrous and sinful.
Practitioners of certain Afro-Caribbean religions (such as Santeria and Vudun) offer animal sacrifices to "orishas" (African spirits) which they syncretistically identify with certain Catholic saints, including various Madonnas. Since the worshipers primarily offer sacrifice to the orisha, and consider the particular Madonna to be a manifestation of that spirit (a notion which the Church rejects), the Mariolatry here is only secondary. Nonetheless, the Church condemns such practices as a distortion of the Catholic Faith. (See the article, Is Santeria Catholic, for more on this.)
Neo-pagan feminists, who have abandoned the One True God in favor of a contrived "goddess", are often conflicted on the image of Mary, but some of them claim that she is a manifestation of "the goddess". Some New Agers, who consider Jesus to be an "Ascended Master", have also labeled Mary an "Ascended Lady Master" and a manifestation of the "Divine Mother". So some neo-pagan feminists may choose to invoke Mary's name during their "rituals" as one of the many names of their "great goddess". Though this is a form of Mariolatry, it is no more Catholic than the New Age concept of the Virgin Mary. The Church denies that she is a goddess and rejects the "divine mother/great goddess" fabricated by twentieth century feminists and New Agers!
So while Mariolatry has existed and still does exist in different forms, it is not a Catholic practice.
If such people exist, they have not been properly instructed in their faith, and should be taught correct Catholic doctrine. Their misunderstanding, however, does not negate the truth of the Catholic faith.
A study of the pagan goddess cults will reveal that, apart from a few externals (ie. the goddess may be considered a virgin and/or mother), they have nothing in common with Marian devotion. Catholic devotion to the Virgin is beautiful and wholesome, and cannot compare to the profane, debauched worship once offered to goddesses.
Moreover, converts from paganism despised the darkness and superstition of their old faith, and would never have carried its practices over into their new life in Christ. It is unthinkable that the martyrs who gave their lives rather than offer incense to an image of Caesar would worship Isis or Cybele under the guise of Jesus' Mother! As we saw above, Marian devotion existed in the Church even during the centuries of persecution. So devotion to Mary did not originate with pagan goddess worship, but with early Christians who despised paganism and would never have adopted its practices.
Incidentally, atheists love to level a similar argument against Christ, claiming that the Christian belief in His saving death and resurrection is derived from pagan myths of the "dying god". Both this notion and the one mentioned above are absurd. I wonder if those who postulate that Marian devotion is "pagan" know that they are using an argument used by infidels?
No, we do not. Mary is not equal to or greater than Her Creator. She is a finite creature, so she is nothing in comparison to the Infinite God. All that Mary is or has she receives from the Most High, and apart from Him she is nothing.
True devotion to Mary necessarily leads us to God, who has made her who she is. Even the Hail Mary, which Catholics consider the greatest prayer to her, reveals Mary's utter dependence upon God:
In my town there is an Evangelical congregation which, a little over a decade ago, began to outgrow their small church building. So they shopped around for a larger place, and finally purchased the local Masonic temple, which was up for sale. They cleaned it out, moved in and still worship there to this day.
Now tell me, are they now worshipping the God of Freemasonry, just because that building was once used for that purpose? Do they no longer worship the same God they did in the other church? Of course not; they are obviously worshipping the same God they always have. The former use of the building is irrelevant, since its former owners are gone. The same thing goes for Catholic churches built over ancient pagan temples.
Does Calvary Chapel worship Mount Calvary? Would an Evangelical congregation named "Bible Christian Fellowship" worship the Bible? Obviously not; just because a church is named in honor of someone or something does not mean that person or thing is an object of worship. Catholics worship God alone in all our churches, regardless of whom they are named after.
Poetry is not theology. Many a chivalrous poet has addressed his lady-love as "goddess", but that does not mean that he really believes that his beloved is a female pagan deity. It was simply an example of chivalric flattery. Some religious poets copied this style in their lyrics to the Virgin, even to the point of calling her "goddess", but that does not change the teaching of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Mary is a woman, not a "divine female".
Here's a similar example: sometimes a singer or poet will say that he "adores" his beloved. Now the theological definition of adoration is "divine worship"! Does the singer really mean that he worships his beloved as God? No, it's just poetic hyperbole. And if you were to sing such a song to your spouse, it would not make you guilty of idolatry!
That being said, I must add that the practice of calling Mary a "goddess", even in chivalrous terms, is troublesome and most certainly can lead to misunderstandings. I, for one, wish the medieval poets had not done so, but I also realize that they could not have forseen the problem it would cause centuries later. Back then, everyone was Catholic and knew that Mary is not a literal "goddess", so such language would not have been misunderstood. It was clearly poetic exaggeration, all too typical of that genre. It's only the modern Protestant suspicion that Mary is a "Catholic goddess", coupled with lack of appreciation for the idioms of medieval chivalric poetry, which causes problems today.
Had you read further in that book, you would have found that he denies that Mary is God by nature. You cannot take one expression out of context.
The title "divine Mother" can mean a variety of things. First, it may relate to the term "divine Motherhood", which theologians use to refer to Mary's Motherhood of God the Son. Thus divine Mother may be a synonym for Mother of God, which, as we saw above, does not indicate that Mary is deity.
Second, divine could indicate "Godlike" rather than "God by nature", as in the saying "to err is human, to forgive is divine". This does not mean that every person who forgives is God by very nature, but that forgiveness is a godly deed. Since Mary is a godly woman, she could in this sense be called "divine".
Finally, it could relate to the Biblical truth that all Christians are destined to become "partakers in the divine nature" (II Peter 1:4). This ancient Christian belief does not mean that we become God by nature in a pantheistic, vendantist or even Mormon sense, but that at the resurrection believers shall be glorified, perfectly conformed to the divine image and likeness, filled with the Holy Spirit and will see the Holy Trinity face to face (the Beatific Vision). We shall see God as He is (Jn 3:2) and reflect His glory so perfectly that we would "seem" to be "divine", though in reality we remain human creatures by nature.
Mary already enjoys this exalted state in heaven. She so reflects God's glory that she seems to have a divine quality about her, thus we could call her "the divine Mary", while fully recognizing that she is still human and a mere creature by nature. There is nothing objectionable in calling Mary "divine" if we understand it in those terms.
What do you mean by "treated like a goddess"? This is a vague charge often made but never explained. (The Collyridians, who offered raisin cakes to Mary, are the only ones I know of who actually "treated Mary like a goddess", and the Church condemned them!)
It seems to me that, in this case, worship is "in the eye of the beholder", but not in the heart of the devotee. f a non-Catholic sees Catholics carrying a statue of Mary through the streets, or adorning a shrine or kissing an icon, he or she may think that they are "treating Mary as a goddess", when in fact the Catholics themselves know that they are honoring the Mother of Jesus, not worshiping a female pagan deity.
How do we give her honor due God alone? Do we offer sacrifices to her? No, so we do not give her divine honor. And if we do not intend to worship her, then we do not do so "in practice".
Human beings have been known to worship lots of creatures less exalted than Mary. The ancient Egyptians worshipped certain animals, the Druids worshipped plants, some pagans even worshipped rocks. If someone wants to worship a creature he certainly doesn't need lofty concepts to inspire him.
Yes, but just because "some Catholics" say something does not make it official Church teaching. The pope and magesterium have never declared Mary to be the "feminine face of God"; nor will they ever, for this phrase is too vague and open to heretical interpretations.
Even those Catholics who use it are speaking poetically, not literally. They do not believe that the One True God has multiple faces and that Mary is one of them, nor do they think that Mary is somehow "part of God". Rather, they mean something to the affect that Mary's maternal love for us is so Spirit-filled and Godlike that it images God's own love for us, which Scripture compares to the love of a mother (Is 49:15; 66:13; Mt 23:37).
This does not mean that Mary is God; it means she is godly, which, of course, is the ideal for every Christian. Evangelicals are concerned that others will "see Jesus" in them so that they will have a good testimony before the world and lead others to Christ by their lifestyle. We Catholics "see Jesus" in Mary, but this does not make her God any more than "seeing Jesus" in a good evangelical makes him or her God.
So the statement "Mary is the feminine face of God" means that God dwells in Mary's heart and loves us through her, and Mary loves us with a mother-love which is holy and Godlike. Though the phrase is admittedly vague and should probably be avoided, there is nothing objectionable in the belief.
Jesus did not condemn Marian devotion here, but defined its proper focus. Mary's greatest virtue is not her childbearing, but her faith and obedience; the fact that she heard the word of God and kept it. This must be the primary reason why we honor her, as it was the primary reason Elizabeth praised her: "Blessed is she who believed" (Luke 1:45).
Our God and Savior Jesus Christ is not so small that a mere creature can "overshadow" Him! If you think that Mary can take Christ's place, you attribute to her more power than we do!
Catholics know that Jesus is God and Mary is not. Therefore our devotion to her does not overshadow her Son.
We portray Mary holding the Christ Child because that is what she did when He was a baby. Most mothers hold their infants. Yet we know that that Babe is not a helpless infant, but our God and King Who sustains all creation, including the woman who holds Him. We do not believe that Mary is greater than Jesus because she is older than Him (in time, that is); she had to be older in order to be His Mother!
No, Jesus is not a creature; He is God Incarnate. Catholics don't refer to Jesus as a creature because it smacks of the Arian heresy (which denies the Deity of Christ). Though His Sacred Humanity is certainly a creature, His Person is God the Word, so Jesus is not a mere creature like you or me...or like Mary!
When we say that Mary is the highest of all creatures, we mean that she is the greatest mere creature. Obviously, the Humanity of Christ is greater than her, because it is hypostatically united to God! This is why Catholics sometimes say "Mary is the highest creature after the Sacred Humanity of Jesus". This statement is also correct.
You are taking that out of context. Jesus actually said "Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". In context, He was speaking of John's public ministry, saying that it was greater than that of any other prophet (vvs 9-10). But notice He quickly adds that the least in the kingdom will be greater than him, thus opening the possibility that one may surpass John in santicity.
Mary made herself the least and lowliest person on earth (Lk 1:48); thus she has been exalted above Saint John the Baptizer.
That is not biblical! Scripture tells us to honor our parents (Ex. 20:12), Church leaders (I Ti. 5:17), civil authority and all people (I Peter 2:17)! Paul tells us to "give honor where honor is due" (Romans 13:8).
If God did not want creatures to receive honor, why did the Holy Spirit inspire Elizabeth to honor Mary (Lk 1:41-45)?
Isaiah 42:6 refers in context to graven images. God does not want us to offer divine worship to false gods. But Catholics do not offer Mary divine worship (latreia), we offer her a lesser honor called hyperdulia.
Although our Creator does not give the glory which belongs to Him alone to any creature, including Mary, He does bestow "grace and glory" upon the upright (Ps 84:11). Mary, being upright, has been glorified by God, and therefore deserves some honor, howbeit inferior to the honor given the Most Holy Trinity.
What if someone stood before the Lord on the Last Day and said, "I never honored my father or mother because I wanted to honor You alone, Lord, and no one else". Would the Lord be pleased with that person? Or would He more likely reply: "But I commanded you to honor your parents, so you have, in fact, dishonored Me by your disobedience!"
If it is not God's will that you honor Him alone, then He will not be pleased with that statement! We should obviously worship Him alone, but as we have seen, we can give honor to creatures without worshipping them.
If we do not intend to do so then we don't! God looks upon our hearts and sees our intentions (I Samuel 16:7), while you look at the outward appearance and judge us according to your own opinions and prejudices. "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (Jn 7:24).
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