The Place of Mary in Classical Fundamentalism (Pt. 2)

Author: Rev. Peter Stravinskas


Rev. Peter Stravinskas

(Part 2)

"Appreciating Mary Today" by Peter Toon is an interesting effort to find common ground on which to "appreciate Mary today." He ends his essay thus: "Having offered what is, I hope, a warm, scriptural appreciation of Mary, I still cannot escape the feeling that there is more to say than I have said and more than we Evangelical Protestants normally say, even in our most generous moods and compassionate moments." Waxing autobiographical, he writes:

I felt this, for example, recently in the retreat center called Maison Riviere in Sherbrooke, Quebec. It is run by Roman Catholic Sisters, who are most caring and who have a deep devotion to the one they call "our Lady." I looked at books by a variety of authors on Mary, sat in the chapel, walked in the garden, and listened to the singing of the nuns, and as I did so, the question was deeply impressed on my mind: Am I missing something?[1]

That event caused him to reflect yet more on his apparent, innate inability to say and do more in regard to Mary, against all logic, in his judgment:

I must confess that I am deeply impressed by the way in which some of my favorite writers—Bernard, Francis de Sales, Anselm, and moderns like Hans Urs von Balthasar—have both a profound love for our Lord and a special love for Mary. Take for example this extract from a prayer of Anselm: "Surely Jesus, Son of God, and Mary His Mother, you both want, and it is only right, that whatever you love, we should love too. So, good Son, I ask you through the love you have for your Mother, that as she truly loves you and you her, you will grant that I may truly love her. Good Mother, I ask you by the love you have for your Son, that, as He truly loves you and you Him, you will grant that I may love Him truly."[2]

And then in a most wistful manner, he writes: "I ask myself: Why cannot I pray in this manner? Is there something lacking in my theological and spiritual appreciation that prevents me from regarding Mary in this way? And as yet I have found no satisfactory answers to my questions."[3] But he may have come upon one answer, albeit unwittingly, as he tendered this summary evaluation: "In the joyful celebration of Mary, we hear, confess and believe the truth that God has taken the initiative for our salvation. Mary is a continuing witness to the divine initiative. She expressed '<sola gratia>', 'by grace alone', in a dynamic and compelling way."[4] Cranfield has highlighted this concept in a striking manner:

The virginal conception attests the fact that God's redemption of His creation was by grace alone. The <sola> of <sola gratia> is seriously meant and must be seriously acknowledged. Our humanity, represented by Mary, here does nothing more than just accept—and even that acceptance is God's gracious gift. That is the real significance of the <kecharitomene> of Luke 1:28. Our fallen humanity's role is here strictly limited. The male sex, which has been characteristically the dominant, powerful, aggressive element of humanity, is altogether excluded from this action (and must we not see included in this exclusion all dominant, powerful, aggressive manifestations of female <homo sapiens> as well). All our pride and self-reliant initiative set aside, our humanity's part is here simply to be made the receptacle of God's gift, to be enabled to submit to be the object of God's mercy: <Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.>[5]

It is significant that <Christian Research Journal> chose to publish a two-part series on "The Mary of Roman Catholicism," by Elliot Miller.[6] Like much of the newer Fundamentalist literature on Mariology, it seeks to avoid the shrill and polemical, except when certain neuralgic issues surface; it likewise takes <Redemptoris Mater> as a starting point for the discussion. Miller opens the discussion by suggesting that in the immediate post-conciliar period, theologians determined that ecumenism would call for "a more restrained posture on Mary."[7] Whether or not the decline in Marian devotion was primarily influenced by ecumenism is open to debate, but Miller's real point is that, with the accession of Pope John Paul II to the Chair of Peter, "Mary is now 'back in style',"[8] which realization distresses Miller so much so that "the time has come for a Protestant response."[9] He says:

The purpose of this two-part series is to explain in detail why Protestants consider the Catholic Mary to be unhistorical and unbiblical. While this may appear anti-ecumenical, it is ultimately the opposite. For if issues and concerns such as those raised here are not openly addressed, dialogue and communion between Catholics and Protestants (at least Evangelicals) will inevitably reach an impasse.[10]

He should be taken at his word and seen to have the precise attitude of <Unitatis Redintegratio>, which castigates a refusal to deal with substantive matters and "a false irenicism" which glosses over genuine differences.[11] Theological misunderstandings exist in the mind of the author; for example, that the Council of Chalcedon, rather than Ephesus, is responsible for the title of <Theotokos.>[12] There is also little ability to take nuances into account. This latter problem assumes major proportions when we study the works of Fundamentalists of even less theological acumen and less good-will.

On Mary's perpetual virginity, Miller accepts the fact that by the Second Council of Constantinople that doctrine was in place, although he does try to justify a failure to accept the teaching with appeals to early Fathers like Tertullian. He argues that the perpetual virginity of Mary "eventually won out, thanks to the rise of asceticism and monasticism."[13] While that is one possible explanation, another viewpoint, and the considered opinion of the present writer and that of the Reverend Boniface Ramsey, O.P.,[14] holds for the fact that asceticism and monasticism came about largely due to a belief in Mary's perpetual virginity. He fails to consider biblical and patristic data which advance the doctrine in question, let alone the firm adherence of the Protestant Reformers themselves.

He provides a fairly accurate review of the history of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; he is certainly to be commended for not falling into the usual Fundamentalist technique of declaring the dogma an "invention" of Pope Pius IX.[15] He does not, however, advance the discussion in any meaningful manner, relying on all the standard Fundamentalist objections and not adequately dealing with Catholic responses.

On Mary's Assumption, what is perhaps most interesting is Miller's obvious willingness to deal with Tradition, even if the history of it all does not impress him in the final analysis. He does contradict himself at one point, declaring that there is "no mention of the Assumption in either Scripture or Tradition,"[16] even though he has just spent a full page surveying patristic texts on that topic. He concludes the first installment with the honest statement that "the real issue in this disagreement between Catholic and Protestant theology is the oldest issue: authority." He goes on to say that no real Christian unity will be able to occur from the Protestant side, so long as Catholics "recognize an authority equal to Holy Scripture."[17] Even allowing for his less than precise encapsulation of the difficulty, one must appreciate the truthfulness of the assertion.

In the second part, Miller deals with Mary's spiritual motherhood and her status as co-redemptrix and mediatrix. Not unexpectedly, he rejects all of these outright, even while noting that the latter two are surely not defined dogmas and, at best, are "subordinate, secondary, dependent."[18] He is clearly impressed by the argumentation of Frank Sheed in these areas, deeming him to be "among the foremost Catholic apologists" and referring to his presentation of these teachings as having "a disarming effect because there is a strong element of truth in it."[19] Ultimately, however, he refuses to be swayed. He ends the discussion by declaring that "the Church appears to have painted itself into a theological corner. In trying not to detract from Christ, its theologians have so defined the role of Mary as to make it entirely dispensable: Everything we need we get from Christ." He is thus caused to ask, "If that's the case, what is the point or importance of Mary's mediation?"[20] He would do well to reflect on the insight of his fellow-Evangelical Tony Lane, cited earlier, who realizes that just because a doctrine is not central or primary should not lead one to regard it as unimportant.[21] He maintains that Catholic piety on these approaches to Mary "illuminates the fact that the Church's inadequate view of Christ's mediation is directly related to its distinctive doctrine of justification."[22] Again, he has hit upon a basic issue.

In treating the question of Marian veneration and invocation, he reduces all to the level of the ridiculous by falling back on the silly and common Fundamentalist argument which goes thus: "And even if they [Mary and the other saints] could hear some prayers, how could Mary hear all of the hundreds of thousands of prayers that undoubtedly are addressed to her every minute of the day?"[23] He is not being contentious but simply reflects the Fundamentalist inability to fathom an eternity devoid of human constraints.

Miller does concede that "it is regrettably true that some Protestants—no doubt in reaction to Catholic excesses—have almost forgotten Mary. This is no more the will of God than it would be for Christians to ignore Moses, John the Baptist, or the apostles Paul, Peter, and John." But he can bring himself to say no more than this: "In other words, while Mary is not exalted above every other created being in the Bible, she <is> one of the most important figures found in it. 'Blessed among women,' she is the preeminent feminine model of faith and obedience—worthy of honor and admiration." But then comes the disclaimer: "Just as much can be gained from contemplating and imitating the life and faith of a Paul, Elijah, or Samuel, so with Mary."[24] He finishes with an appeal that "our Catholic brethren will fully embrace what God has made available to them through their great High Priest, [so that] they will no longer feel a need for prayer to Mary, or any other created being."[25] Although <This Rock> magazine viewed the Miller series as an "attack on Mary,"[26] I would not completely concur, especially due to the rather restrained language and tone, in contrast to some of the tracts yet to be examined. Father Mateo does, however, engage Miller in helpful dialogue, leading him to consider additional data, particularly coming from biblical and Protestant sources.

An outgrowth of Miller's articles was his decision to produce a book on the topic with Kenneth Samples,[27] although consideration will only be given here to new approaches or material not substantially treated in the series of the <Christian Research Journal.> In the Foreword, Norman Geisler remarks on the necessity of this work because, "in going beyond Scripture in her teachings about Mary, Roman Catholics have threatened Scripture as the sole authority for the faith."[28] He goes on to see in Catholic Mariology an assault on the Protestant doctrine of <solus Christus.> And in less-than-ecumenical style, he castigates the Catholic dogma of the Assumption as "little more than baptized paganism," even while acknowledging that "Mary has hardly been given her God-appointed respect in most Protestant circles as the 'favored one' of the Lord (Luke 1:28). While many Catholics over-exalt Mary, many Protestants do not even see her correctly as the most blessed among women (Luke 1:42)."[29]

Miller and Samples introduce their venture by claiming that Pope John Paul II's presentation of Mary as the source of Christian unity "could be viewed as a paradox because his two predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI, had deliberately <de-emphasized> Mary for the sake of promoting unity with their 'separated brethren' " (emphasis in original).[30] They offer no evidence for the position, however. They also want to make it clear that when they speak of the "cult of the Virgin," as they do in the title, they are "using here the definition of 'cult' which indicates obsessive devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or ideal."[31] Further on, they helpfully admit that "at the Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553), the Church used the phrase <ever-virgin> (Greek: <aeiparthenos>) with reference to Mary.[32] In light of the earlier statements of Geisler, it is notable that they are willing to accept something beyond Scripture as a source of authority or at least as providing valid information.

Strangely, Miller and Samples want to ground Marian devotion in "pagan soil," all the while conceding that by the time such development had occurred, "nobody considered themselves [sic] pagan."[33] Of course, this posture of theirs is somewhat necessary since agreeing to an earlier-than-medieval date for this brings it all too close to the apostolic Church; at the same time, creating more distance forces the less-than-convincing conclusion to which they seem required to come.

Many inaccuracies demonstrate some lack of control over Catholic sources (e.g., the identification of Xavier Rynne as Xavier Range on page 142). As in Miller's earlier articles, there is no serious endeavor to engage the Protestant Reformers in their own Mariology; in fact, there seems to be a conscious decision to avoid such a possibility. In a positive vein, the two Fundamentalist theologians write that they "have avoided using the term <worship> in regard to Catholic devotion to Mary out of respect for the fact that ever since the Second Council of Nicea (A.D. 787), the Catholic Church has officially taught that there are three degrees of devotion to be practiced by Christians," going on to list the categories as <latria, dulia, hyperdulia.>[34] That does not stop them, however, from alleging that Mary has, regardless of that theological fact, "been worshipped by millions all over the world, especially in the Latin countries, and the Church has done very little to discourage it."[35]

Miller and Samples also seem to exhibit a peculiar fascination with Marian apparitions, devoting half the book to this matter. In a welcome nod toward dialogue, they allow the Reverend Mitchell Pacwa, S.J., the opportunity to respond to their volume, albeit in only a few pages and then with a rebuttal following. As an overall assessment, it is probably fair to say that the authors have generated more light than heat and have made a good contribution to a Protestant re-consideration of Mariology and to ecumenical exchange.

"The Evangelical Mary" by the Reverend John De Satge exhibits a very different and much less nervous attitude toward the Mother of the Lord than that of Miller and Samples; it is also much more scholarly.[36] His basic thesis may be summed up as follows: ". . . a proper relationship with our Lord's Mother safeguards the conditions essential for evangelical religion, the heart of which is to know Christ as your Savior."[37] Reflecting the style of St. Anselm, found so appealing to Toon, noted above,[38] De Satge explains:

If evangelical religion is not to be merely metaphor or sentiment or coziness, it must say things about the Savior which mean that though He is fully human and our Brother, He is a great deal more besides. And those are the very things that lead us to call His Mother the Mother of God. The things which Catholics say about Mary safeguard the things which Evangelicals say about her Son.[39]

He explicitly rejects the position that since Marian devotion can become distorted, it must be shunned completely: "Proper Marian devotion, on the contrary, opens up further reaches of experience to the searching and the succor of the Gospel."[40] Of course, in many ways, he does not represent the mainstream of evangelical thought; holding for non-negotiable doctrines, he is not tied to a specific context: "My Protestantism is relative, not absolute. If evangelical religion can exist in another theological frame, I have no special concern for Protestant theology."[41] Putting an even finer point on it all, he declares:

Once the Catholic Church has reordered its house, the time for protest is past and the evangelical should go home as soon as may be. I believe that, in Marian matters at least, that point has been reached. The task before those who believe as I do is to help our fellow-heirs of the Reformation appreciate that which they had previously denied.[42]

An extraordinary statement, to be sure. But he goes yet further:

It seems to me that our Lady stands in the life of her Son's people as a gracious hostess, making one free of large rooms which hitherto had been closed or dark and forbidding. She is supremely fitted to do this, being wholly one of us and wholly yielded to God, the Mother of God who through grace is the daughter of her Son.

May evangelicals who rejoice in her Son's Gospel take their proper share in calling her "blessed," who accepted so fully that grace by which they live.[43]

Gottfried Maron's "Mary in Protestant Theology"[44] offers a very careful and insightful overview of history and theology within the Reformed tradition in regard to Mary. He hits upon the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception as something of a turning point, but not one-sidedly; rather, he argues that "since that time it has met with both sharp repudiation and friendly agreement in close succession."[45] Trying to find common ground, he honestly stakes out the potential territory: In the strict sense, <there cannot be a Protestant "Mariology"> as an independent topic, because Mary has not value in herself, and can only be rightly seen in relation to her Son. A Protestant doctrine of Mary must therefore first of all be Christologically based and centered."[46] That is certainly a legitimate point of departure and light years ahead of other types of discussions.

The Reverend J. A. Ross Mackenzie explores "Mary as an Ecumenical Problem."[47] Echoing many of the sentiments of De Satge, Mackenzie reminds his Protestant brethren:

To be true to the Reformation does not mean to echo in our day the legitimate protests of Luther and Calvin and those who came after them. "No Popery" and "No Mariolatry" may make popular battle cries, but to be truly "reformed" does not mean to be like the generals who are always fighting the last war. It means to listen afresh to the Word of God as a reality higher than any of our traditions, as that which judges us and our past, and calls us into a new future. A re-examination of the meaning of Mary may well form part of this larger <metanoia> which Protestants, at their best, have always sought.[48]

However, popular preachers of Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism, to whom we now turn our attention, have a very different idea and agenda.

2. Popular Preaching and Apologetics

The Reverend Jimmy Swaggart summarizes his understanding of the place of Mary in Christian life and doctrine in this manner:

In all the Early Church, no statement is reported of an apostle referring to Mary as the "Mother of God." There is no hint of prayers being offered to her, nor admonitions given to the saints to honor her beyond what the Bible suggests as normal deference.

Surely, if this great fabrication were valid, we would have at least a word from the Early Church concerning Mary.

The silence is deafening![49]

One immediately notes the combativeness of the style but also the inability to appreciate history or development of doctrine, in even the most minimal way. His fellow Evangelicals of a more professional bent would certainly wish to distance themselves from him. And one would have to ask for his definition of "Early Church" or else to question his grasp of exactly what was taught and believed in that period.

Perhaps the premier anti-Catholic writer of this century, Loraine Boettner, minces no words in his estimation of Catholicism's "worship" of Mary.[50] The following passage is worth quoting in full to give some flavor to the allegations, but also to demonstrate the kind of theological reflection that goes into such statements:

The Roman Catholic Church officially denies worshipping Mary. Officially she says that Mary is only a creature, highly exalted, but still a creature, in no way equal to God. Yet she tells us that Mary hears the prayers of millions and that she constantly gives attention to her followers throughout the world. It may well be that, as Rome says, she does not <intend> idolatry. But the intention and the practical working out of the system are two different things. We must insist that it is worship, and that therefore it is <idolatry> as practiced by millions of people who kneel before Mary's statues and pray and sing to her. Most of these people know nothing at all of the technical distinctions made by their theologians between adoration and worship. It certainly is idolatrous to give her the attributes of omnipresence and omniscience and to give her titles and functions which belong to God, as when by the late Pope Pius XII, she was officially designated the "Queen of Heaven," and "Queen of the World," and when prayers are made to her for salvation (emphases in original).[51]

Once again we witness the coalescence of several characteristics: First, the refusal to take seriously the Church's insistence on the worship of God alone; second, the apparent failure to understand Catholic theological terminology (e.g., that "adoration" and "worship" are synonymous and that the word he is searching for is "veneration"); third, the desire to put the worst face possible on Catholic piety, along with a fertile and mischievous imagination which perceives all Catholic laity as illiterate and superstitious peasants. Swaggart who, in many ways, took up the mantle of Boettner some years later, echoes the same type of talk:

Catholics <are> taught (although they will deny this) that Mary is to be given worship equal to God—and higher than that afforded the angels and saints. She is to be addressed as "My Mother." Even casual observation of Catholics reveals that both conversations and services bring forth more references to the "Blessed Virgin" than to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity (emphasis in original).[52]

Boettner continues in a more theological vein by arguing that Catholic Mariology labors under an incorrect exegesis of John 19:

The natural meaning of those words is that they were addressed to Mary and to John as individuals, that from that time forward Mary should look upon John, the beloved disciple, as her son, as the one who in her life would take the place of Jesus, and that John should assume the duties of a son and care for Mary with filial affection, that he should comfort her in her loneliness, as a true son would. And that Mary and John so understood those words is clear from the immediately following verse, which reads: "And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home" (vs. 27).[53]

When Boettner holds for "the natural meaning of those words," as he does for various passages that refer to the Lord's "brothers and sisters" on the very same page, he does not see that he cannot have it both ways. If, indeed, "the natural meaning" of "brothers and sisters" is to be taken, why would Christ entrust His Mother to someone outside the family when siblings were available?

But Swaggart does not see even as much as Boettner does in the Johannine passage, which merely "talks about how Mary stood at the foot of the cross and observed with great sorrow the death of her Son—her Savior and our Savior—the Lord Jesus Christ."[54] And apparently no more than that.

Boettner continues his attack on what he calls "so much of the myth and legend [that] has [sic] been added to Mary's person" in Catholicism, alleging that the Church has turned Mary into a weak, submissive individual, without offering any proof for the charge. He maintains, however, that "when most mothers would have been in a state of collapse [on Calvary], Mary persisted through a long and agonizing ordeal which only the most valiant spirit could have endured."[55] Had he taken the trouble to read any number of Marian meditations done by the Fathers or various spiritual writers over the centuries, he would have learned that many others arrived at that evaluation before him. Of course, one might also ask if he or any who share his perspective would ever preach the encomium to Mary which he wrote? But what is the real issue here?

Rome's purpose in exalting Mary and in thus rendering her weak and ineffectual, according to Boettner, is nothing less than malevolent:

The most important service rendered by this caricature of the Blessed Mary is that of maintaining the control of the Roman clergy over Roman Catholic women. For the promotion of the Church program, it is absolutely essential that they remain spineless, mindless, "meek and mild," as Mary is pictured, willing to accept dumbly a half-life in which their role is merely to bear [children] and to drudge.[56]

His diatribe is unabated: "In an alternative to her child-bearing services for the glory of Rome, the Catholic woman is offered the privilege of becoming a holy drudge within the Church, namely, a nun in a convent. Here again the Blessed Virgin plays a key role, that of recruiting officer." This makes sense, he says, since the nun is "almost a replica of the Blessed Virgin."[57] When all the nastiness is cleared away, one is left wondering if the author's concern is genuine theological discourse or providing a veneer of theology to countenance bigotry.

Swaggart expends much energy denying to Mary the title, "Mother of God." He writes: "No, Mary is <not> the Mother of God. Mary was the Mother of the human being, Jesus. Mary served a biological function that was necessary to bring about a unique situation."[58] Aside from the fact that Swaggart's language suggests non-acceptance of Chalcedonian Christology (Jesus referred to as a "<human> being"),[59] he also shares the frequent Fundamentalist technique of reducing Mary's role in the Incarnation to that of mere biology.[60] He goes on: "The unbiblical worship of Mary has its perverted foundation in the insupportable misnomer, 'Mother of God'. The <correct> scriptural description of Mary is the simple biblical expression, 'Mary, the Mother of Jesus' [Acts 1:14]."[61] This surely appears like a lack of familiarity with the history of Christian doctrine, whereby Nestorius was condemned, precisely for the same kind of argumentation offered by Swaggart.[62] Here he completely parts company with the more intellectual branches of his religious family, like Hodge and Wright.[63] He seals his discussion of the divine maternity thus: "<If this had happened, we would have a quadrinity instead of the Trinity"> (emphasis in original),[64] reminiscent of Wright.[65] Of course, Swaggart is once more indebted to Boettner in this regard, as he holds that the Catholic use of this title has made "Roman Catholics come to look upon Mary as stronger, more mature, and more powerful than Christ. To them, she becomes the source of His being and overshadows Him."[66] Boone wastes little time on such a topic, noting that a Fundamentalist would simply "denounce the very idea of Mother of God as papist poppycock."[67]

In treating the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, Swaggart judges that "when the Catholic attributes the Immaculate Conception to Mary, they [sic] are conferring divinity upon her by this claim." He proceeds to give the definition of "worship" from Webster's Dictionary and concludes, with little basis in the dictionary definition, that "the Catholic Church has, in effect, declared her divine and thus renders her worship that <should> be reserved only for deity." Then switching gears, he declares: "By their [sic] constant reference to her, worship is afforded."[68] But he has not really touched on the Immaculate Conception, requiring him to pick up that theme again some pages later:

By her own words Mary refuted the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47).

This statement totally discounts the theory of an Immaculate Conception and the Catholic contention that Mary was ever without sin. If God was her Savior, then she must have needed salvation, which presupposes some history of normal sin. <No Scripture even hints that Mary was sinless> (emphasis in original).[69]

This is rather standard fare among Fundamentalists regarding the Immaculate Conception, particularly the citation of the Lucan verse, with the attendant interpretation. Nowhere does Swaggart demonstrate the most remote knowledge of the Catholic notion of prevenient grace. He seems to think that the entire issue is sealed with the following statement:

This false cult of Mary worship is another effort by Satan who knows that one cannot completely accept Christ as long as one retains heretical concepts of Mary. Incidentally, Luke's statement in 1:28 quotes Gabriel's words as being, "Blessed art thou <among> women." It does not say, "Blessed art thou above women."[70]

It is worth noting that Swaggart obtains the above almost entirely from Boettner, without offering attribution.[71]

On the matter of Marian mediation, Swaggart states it succinctly: "There is no hint in the Bible that Christ will have a 'staff' to assist Him or that Mary has any role to perform in such a position. There is no need for additional mediators or motivators." He puts an even sharper edge on it all: "We blaspheme when we imply that Jesus Christ would not satisfactorily accomplish His eternal job without persuasion from His earthly Mother."[72] Sarcasm aside, it is clear that no concept of human mediation can be entertained. This discomfort with human mediation is likewise found in Swaggart's mentor, Boettner:

Despite all protestations to the contrary, the fact is that the worship, intercessions, and devotions that are given to Mary obscure the glory of Christ and cause the Church to set forth a system of salvation in which human merit plays a decisive part. While asserting the deity of Christ, Rome nevertheless makes Him subservient to the Virgin, and dispenses salvation at a price through the agency of the priest. This most blessed of women, the Mother of Jesus, is thus made His chief rival and competitor for the loyalty and devotion of the human heart. In Romanism, Mary becomes the executive directory of deity, the one through whom the prayers of the people are made effective.[73]

Church, priesthood, and Mary are all seen as threats to Christ, rather than associates of His (by His own free and sovereign Will) in the work of the redemption of the human race.

The venom of Boettner comes to the fore on nearly every page. He refers to Catholicism's "full-fledged system of Mariolatry" and concludes his analysis thus: "How complete, then, is the falsehood of Romanism that gives primary worship and devotion to her [Mary]!"[74] He has special words of opprobrium reserved for St. Alphonsus Liguori who, "more than any other person, has been responsible for promoting Mariolatry in the Roman Church, dethroning Christ and enthroning Mary in the hearts of the people." He goes on: "Yet instead of excommunicating him for his heresies, the Roman Church has canonized him as a saint and has published his book [<The Glories of Mary>] in many editions."[75]

When Boettner deals with prayer to Our Lady, he reduces everything to the level of the ludicrous:

There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that any departed human being, however good, has any further contact with affairs on this earth, or that he can hear so much as one prayer from earth. How, then, can a human being such as Mary hear the millions of Roman Catholics, in many different countries, praying in many different languages, all at the same time? Let any priest or layman try to converse with only three people at the same time and see how impossible that is for a human being. They impose on Mary works which no human being can do. How impossible, how absurd, to impose on her the works which only God can do! Since Mary is not omnipotent nor omniscient, such prayers and worship are nothing less than idolatry—that is, the giving of divine honors to a creature.[76]

The shallowness should be apparent, even to a child, for Boettner has hemmed in eternity with temporal limitations.

The same author claims that "in Romanism probably ten times as much prayer is directed to [Mary] as to Christ." Where does he get that statistic? From the fact that "the most popular prayer ritual of Roman Catholics, the rosary, has ten prayers to Mary for each one directed to God." Boettner intends this analysis to be taken seriously as he winds up the treatment with great satisfaction: "Mary is unquestionably the chief object of prayer."[77]

Desiring to adhere to the scriptural data on Mary, Boettner charges that "Roman tradition has so altered the picture of Mary that the Mary found in the New Testament and the Mary found in the Roman Catholic Church are two different and conflicting persons."[78] Attempting to follow his own advice, he decides that Jesus "was ever careful to call Mary 'woman', never 'Mother'."[79] His literalism has made him conclude that because Mary is addressed by Jesus only twice in the Gospels and there called "woman," therefore, that is what the Lord must have called her all the time! His contemporary disciple Swaggart fails similarly in the opposite direction when he says that Mary was a "little teenaged maiden."[80] Where does the Bible say that Mary was "little" or "teenaged"? Of course, poetic expressions are quite valid and normally none of this matters, unless one is committed to taking the Scriptures literally and to the principle of adding not an iota to the received text.

Amazingly, Boettner summarizes the entire Marian discussion by declaring that "as evangelical Protestants we honor Mary." He also warns against "neglect[ing] to give Mary the distinguished and honored place which the Scripture itself accords her."[81] Having read his Marian musings, one can legitimately wonder what place he thinks that might be.

Some of the most vicious material on Mary, however, comes from the pen of Joseph Zacchello, who claims to have been a Catholic priest. Some of his work would be no more than humorous, were it not intended to be a serious contribution to the salvation of Catholics from pagan idolatry. One instance of this comes out in his calculations of the number of "Hail Mary's" recited in any given day by Catholics the world over. Using the Catholic population of his time, estimating that one "Hail Mary" takes at least ten seconds, assuming that half the world's Catholics say at least one "Hail Mary" a day, and allowing for even more through rosaries, litanies, etc., Zacchello decides that this "low estimate" would require Mary "to listen to 46,296 petitions every second of time from one end of the year to the other, or, in other words, have to listen to 46,296 petitions at one and the same time, simultaneously." All of this is supposed to challenge Catholics to consider if they still are willing to say that Mary "is only a creature" if she can pull off a feat such as described by Zacchello.[82]

Then, moving onto the use of Marian sacramentals, Zacchello asks:

How is it that priests meet with many and unforeseen accidents and deaths, even being shot to death in church while performing their priestly duties, if the wearing of the scapular of the Blessed Virgin, which all priests and good Catholics wear, is "a badge of her special protection"? Why do good Catholics have accidents, some of them fatal? "By their fruits you shall know them"—the rosary, the scapular.[83]

One final line of attack on Mary taken by Fundamentalist polemicists revolves around the allegation that Marian devotion is rooted in pagan goddess worship. Swaggart maintains that the source of Madonna-like images is to be found in Babylon:

The image of mother and child had been a primary object of Babylonian worship for centuries before the birth of Christ. From Babylon, this spread to the ends of the earth. The original mother figure in this tableau was Semiramis—the personification of unbridled lust and sexual gratification. And once we start to study the worship practices of heathen nations, we find amazing similarities embraced over wide areas and through long periods of time.

These nations all trace their common worship from Babylon—before its dispersion in the days of Nimrod. <Thus, worship of Mary is Babylonian in origin. There is absolutely no suggestion of such worship in Scripture> (emphasis in original).[84]

As should be clear by this point, this insight is not the product of Swaggart's own mind; it comes, without attribution, from the work of Boettner.[85]

One fascinating angle highlighted by Ralph Woodrow is the purported reason for the holding at Ephesus of the ecumenical council which declared Mary "Mother of God." He explains:

At Ephesus? It was in this city that Diana had been worshipped as the goddess of virginity and motherhood from primitive times! She was said to represent the generative powers of nature and so was pictured with many breasts. A tower-shaped crown, a symbol of the tower of Babel, adorned her head.[86]

In case the connection is not immediately apparent, he continues:

When beliefs are held by a people for centuries, they are not easily forsaken. So Church leaders at Ephesus—as the falling away came—also reasoned that if people would be allowed to hold their ideas about a mother goddess, if this could be mixed into Christianity and the name Mary substituted, they could gain more converts.[87]

Woodrow also has an interesting theory on Marian iconography:

The Egyptian goddess of fertility, Isis, was represented as standing on the <crescent moon> with stars surrounding her head. In Roman Catholic churches all over Europe may be seen pictures of Mary exactly the same way! The accompanying illustration below (as seen in Catholic catechism booklets) pictures Mary with twelve stars circling her head and the crescent moon under her feet![88]

One wonders if Woodrow[89] would be willing to indict not only the Catholic Church on this score but also the author of the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation. Similarly, one must observe how adamant Barth was in arguing against attempts at establishing connections between paganism and Christianity:

It is not to be recommended that we should base our repudiation on the assertion that there has taken place here an irruption from the heathen sphere, an adoption of the idea, current in many non-Christian religions, of a more or less central and original female or mother deity. In dogmatics you can establish everything and nothing with parallels from the history of religions. The biblical witness to revelation itself worked with "heathen" world. The assertion may be ever so correct in itself: but leave your Catholic opponent at peace in this respect. Such an assertion cannot possibly be a statement of Evangelical belief. It cannot, therefore, be a serious question for Catholicism.[90]

3. Some Summary Reflections

As we come to the end of this article, we find some interesting points of continuity and discontinuity between and among the three groups we have surveyed, namely, the original Protestant Reformers, their Fundamentalist descendants of a more serious theological bent, and their Fundamentalist heirs whose efforts are more directed to popularizations than true professional reflection.

Men in the first group took seriously Mary and her place in the Church; in point of fact, for the most part, they did not challenge Catholic Mariology, except in terms of piety or devotional practices. Luther, the most "Catholic" of them, appears to have accepted all the traditional Marian doctrines, including the as-yet-undefined teachings on the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. Certainly, they all adhered to Mary's perpetual virginity and all thought that Mary should be held in honor in Christian life and worship, as evidenced by their maintenance of several Marian feasts, prayers and hymns. They were concerned with abolishing what they perceived to be the Marian excesses of the medieval Church and not taking an axe to the entire tree. The primary source of irritation seems to have come from the Catholic invocation of Mary, with a view toward obtaining her intercession.

Theologians of the second group, beginning with the Fundamentalists of the last century, took a quantum leap away from the Marian doctrines of their Reformation fathers. The reason is hard to ascertain, except for the conjecture that many of those doctrines were already either marginalized or eliminated in the reformation communities to which the Fundamentalists had belonged before their departures into new denominational settings. Some contemporary Fundamentalist theologians tend to exhibit a more open and tolerant attitude toward Mariology and are disposed to engage in intelligent theological discourse on the subject; others are as adamantly opposed to it as were the original Fundamentalists, many of whom insist that they are simply being faithful to the Reformation tradition, all data to the contrary notwithstanding.

The final gathering of Fundamentalists one might be tempted to ignore or denigrate as being alternately theologically innocent and naive or else virulent and vicious, if not a bit of both options. Not to consider them in a profound way would be to commit a colossal error since they seem to be the very ones who are most in touch with "real people," both their own and Catholics whom they seek to attract to their "pure" version of Christianity.

Some common threads can be found among the various Protestants as they encounter Marian doctrine and devotion. The first stems from a theology of revelation, linked to an absolutist understanding of <sola Scriptura> (generally much more extreme than found in the first Reformers), which makes Mariology inadmissible since it cannot be easily found in the written Word of God. The second views the Marian dimension as unacceptable because of the principle of <solus Christus,> again, more radically interpreted than in the Reformation era. A final concern surfaces over alleged pagan connections between Mariology and goddess worship; this aspect would never have entered the minds of a Luther, Calvin or Zwingli, revealing tremendous anxieties about appropriate ways to incorporate anthropological, historical and cultural elements into the Christian Faith. At this level in particular, it is also interesting and important to observe how much these writers and preachers rely on each other, simply repeating whole sections of each other's works in a completely uncritical manner.

Rev. Peter Stravinskas is editor of <The Catholic Answer> and author of several books including <The Catholic Response> and <The Catholic Church and the Bible>.


1 Peter Toon, "Appreciating Mary Today," in Chosen by God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective, ed. David F. Wright (London: Marshall Pickering, 1989), 224.

2 Ibid., 225.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 226.

5 C. E. B. Cranfield, "Some Reflections on the Subject of the Virgin Birth," Scottish Journal of Theology 41 (1988): 189.

6 Elliot Miller, "The Mary of Roman Catholicism," Christian Research Journal (Summer 1990): 9-15; (Fall 1990): 27-33.

7 Ibid., 9.

8 Ibid., 10.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 11, in Austin Flannery, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-conciliar Documents (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Co., 1980), 462.

12 Miller, 11.

13 Ibid., 11-12.

14 Boniface Ramsey, "Matrimony: The Early Church," The Catholic Answer, September/October 1993, 42-43.

15 Nor does he do so with regard to the definition of the dogma of the Assumption by Pope Pius XII.

16 Miller, 15.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 29.

19 Ibid., 30.

20 Ibid.

21 See n. 102.

22 Miller, 31.

23 Ibid., 33.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Father Mateo, Refuting the Attack on Mary (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 1993).

27 Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples, The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and Apparitions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992).

28 Ibid., 11.

29 Ibid., 12.

30 Ibid., 13.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid., 24.

33 Ibid., 67.

34 Ibid., 70.

35 Ibid.

36 John De Satge, "The Evangelical Mary," in Mary's Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1982), 25-33.

37 Ibid., 27.

38 See n. 141.

39 Ibid., 28.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid., 31.

42 Ibid., 33.

43 Ibid.

44 Gottfried Maron, "Mary in Protestant Theology," in Mary in the Churches, eds. Hans Kung and Jurgen Moltmann (New York: Seabury Press, 1983), 40-47.

45 Ibid., 44.

46 Ibid., 46.

47 J. A. Ross Mackenzie, "Mary as an Ecumenical Problem," in Mary's Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1982), 34-41.

48 Ibid., 37. Echoes of the above attitude can be found in a piece coming more than a decade later, evidence of the durability of the hope expressed by Ross Mackenzie. [Cf. Donald G. Dawe, Mary, Pilgrimages and Protestants: Do They Belong Together? (Surrey, England: Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 1993).]

49 Jimmy Swaggart, Catholicism and Christianity (Baton Rouge: Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, 1986), 114.

50 Patrick Madrid [in "Any Friend of God's Is a Friend of Mine," This Rock (September 1992), 12.] evaluates his work thus: "While Boettner's pseudo-scholarly brand of anti-Catholicism is an embarrassment to better-educated Evangelicals, Roman Catholicism is widely used as a source for anti-Catholic arguments. His arguments must be reckoned with."

Significantly, Kenneth Samples and Dan Kistler, in their Catholicism Bibliography [San Juan Capistrano, CA: Christian Research Institute, 1989], have this to say about Boettner, essentially giving credibility to Madrid's comments: "While this volume contains some valuable insights, overall it is biased and fails to accurately represent Catholicism."

51 Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), 149.

52 Swaggart, 96. Samples and Kistler [see n. 175] say that Swaggart "lacks theological depth and accuracy."

53 Boettner, 156.

54 Swaggart, 108.

55 Boettner, 165.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 Swaggart, 97.

59 M. L. Cozens, in A Handbook of Heresies (London: Sheed and Ward, 1974), makes the point thus:
Protestants, if asked to declare their belief in the Incarnation, nearly always define it in terms which prove their underlying Nestorianism. Even when they are willing to say that Jesus Christ is God, they shrink from the Catholic statement, that God was born of Mary; that God shed His blood for us on Calvary; that God died. Today as in the fifth century, in London as at Ephesus, the honor of Mary is the safeguard, the outpost of the adoration of her Son. To acknowledge the Theotokos is to believe in God the Son made man" [45].

For the same basic point, albeit made with more finesse and ecumenical sensitivity, see Yves Congar, Christ, Our Lady and the Church (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1957).

60 See nn. 71 & 100.

61 Swaggart, 101.

62 This becomes even more interesting when coupled with Swaggart's earlier reference to Jesus as a "human being."

63 See nn. 65 & 111.

64 Swaggart, 102.

65 See n. 120.

66 Boettner, 134.

67 Kathleen C. Boone, The Bible Tells Them So: The Discourse of Protestant Fundamentalism (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), 28.

68 Swaggart, 107.

69 Ibid., 111.

70 Ibid.

71 See Boettner, 137. Boettner also asserts that this doctrine places Mary "on a plane of absolute equality" with Christ (161).

72 Swaggart, 112.

73 Boettner, 146.

74 Ibid., 133.

75 Ibid., 140.

76 Ibid., 142.

77 Ibid., 146.

78 Ibid., 149.

79 Ibid., 154.

80 Swaggart, 98.

81 Boettner, 155.

82 Joseph Zacchello, Secrets of Romanism (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, n. d.), 130. Interestingly, the exact same statistic is cited by Ralph Woodrow in Babylon Mystery Religion (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1981), 24.

83 Ibid., 132.

84 Swaggart, 103-104.

85 Boettner, 136.

86 Ralph Woodrow, Babylon Mystery Religion (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, Inc., 1981), 17.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid., 19.

89 One must regrettably observe that Woodrow's style and content are not unique to him and are, in fact, the norm in the anti-Catholic and anti-Marian proselytism of most Fundamentalists, as will be seen in Chapter V.

90 Barth, 143. Put in a more popular mode, the research staff of the Christian Research Institute warn, in the context of a discussion of the pagan origins of Easter, against what they term "the genetic fallacy—i.e., the view that just because a belief or practice is of unfavorable origin it should automatically be discarded or condemned today." See Should Christians Practice the Celebration of Easter? (San Juan Capistrano, CA: Christian Research Institute, 1993).

This article was taken from the Summer 1994 issue of "Faith & Reason". Subscriptions available from Christendom Press, 2101 Shenandoah Shores Road, Ft. Royal, VA 22630, 703-636-2900, Fax 703-636-1655. Published quarterly at $20.00 per year.