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Mary Who?

 T.A. McMahon

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The Evolving Doctrine of Mary... A Case Study in the Progress of Error (Below)



A few months ago I was asked by Grizzly Adams Productions/PAX Television Network to appear in a documentary with the tentative title "The Mystery of Fatima." For those not familiar with the subject, it is claimed that in 1917, Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to three young shepherd children in the rugged hills a few miles west of Fatima, Portugal, giving them secret messages to be revealed at a later date. Growing up Catholic, I was very aware of the apparitions of Fatima, and like most of my Catholic grade-school friends, I had anxieties about what we perceived to be secrets too frightening to imagine.

The video production company was looking for a critic, and I reluctantly decided to be interviewed. My reluctance had to do with how things rarely turn out the way one would hope, especially when dealing with secular productions. Based upon the interview, the program (which I have yet to see) could well have me crying out with Job, "For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me" (3:25).

The appeal of Mary is a growing phenomenon which needs to be addressed biblically, having spread far beyond the traditional borders of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Mary, who has at least a thousand times more shrines dedicated to her than even her Son, is rapidly becoming the "queen of ecumenism," someone whom diverse religions can honor, rally around, and even worship without offending their respective theologies. The Los Angeles Times reported that "A growing number of Americans from all Christian denominations are reaching out to the Virgin Mary as a comforting conduit of spirituality and a symbol of peace in troubled times. ...It's not just Catholics who are interested in Mary and following the apparitions...." [1]

Surprisingly, apparitions of Mary even appear in Islamic countries, where multitudes of Muslims turn out to honor her. For example, in the late 1960s thousands witnessed "a lady composed of light" who was holding a baby as she seemed to be moving across the roof of a Coptic Orthodox church on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. "Several nights each week, thousands of Muslims fell to their knees on prayer rugs spread wherever space permitted, and wept before the 'magnificent, wondrous, glorious form of Our Lady from Heaven.'" [2] While such a reaction may seem puzzling to western Christians, there is a substantial basis for it. An entire chapter (Maryam) in the Qur'an and numerous other verses therein, as well as hundreds of hadiths, pay homage to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Islamic scholar Aliah Schleifer writes in her book Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam that Mary is esteemed above the most revered women of the Muslim faith, including Muhammad's two favorite wives Khadija and Aisha, and his daughter Fatima. According to Schleifer, one hadith quotes Muhammad as saying he would take Mary as one of his wives in heaven: "The Messenger of God said, 'God married me in Paradise to Mary....'" [3] Schleifer concludes,

From the perspective of the classical Muslim scholars, Mary, in the Qur'an and Sunna, is a symbol that brings together all revelation. As a descendant of the great Israelite prophets, the bearer of the word, the mother of Jesus, and as traditional Sunni Islam's chosen woman of the worlds, Mary is symbolic of the Qur'anic message that revelation has not been confined to one particular people.4

In addition, the fact that an apparition claiming to be Mary appeared near a place named for Muhammad's favorite daughter has endeared millions of Muslims to "Our Lady of Fatima." In 1992 The Fatima Crusader reported that more than 500,000 followers of Islam turned out to honor a statue of the Fatima Mary in Bombay, India.

It would seem that at least some apparitions of Mary share the Muslim's respect for the Islamic faith. Our Lady of Medjugorje, who has made numerous appearances in the wartorn area of Bosnia and Herzegovina (where Roman Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox are killing one another), allegedly communicated to one of the visionaries, "Tell this priest, tell everyone, that it is you who are divided on earth. The Muslims and the Orthodox, for the same reason as Catholics, are equal before my Son and I [sic]. You are all my children." [5]. Catholic Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, popular television evangelist of the late '50s and early '60s, predicted that Mary would be the key to reconciling the faiths of Rome and Mecca.

Mary has played a key role in the conversion to Catholicism of some of that Church's leading apologists such as former Reformed theologian Tim Staples and Scott Hahn, a graduate of the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Seminary and former Presbyterian minister. Staples credits "the Lord and his Mother" with helping him convert to Romanism. He writes, "I had despised for so long the Catholic belief in Mary's intercession. But...I finally gave in to her loving call...." [6] For spiritual assistance in his conversion Hahn turned to praying the rosary, in which 153 of 170 prayers are offered to Mary. He writes in his conversion story, "I proceeded to pray [the rosary], and as I prayed I felt more in my heart what I came to know in my mind: I am a child of God. I don't just have God as my Father and Christ as my brother; I have His Mother for my own." [7] Franciscan University, where Hahn is a professor, is one of the foremost promoters of tours to the shrine of Our Lady of Medjugorje. [See APPARITIONS OF THE VIRGIN MARY]

More and more Protestants are becoming attracted to Mary. The historic St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City prominently displays a statue of Our Lady of Fifth Avenue. The late John Cardinal O'Connor and Orthodox Archbishop Peter were on hand for its dedication in 1991. Charles Dickson wrote a popular little book in 1996 encouraging a reconsideration of Mary among evangelicals. In A Protestant Pastor Looks at Mary, he points out that Luther and Calvin were more agreeable toward Mary than later generations of their followers. Dickson quotes from a letter Luther wrote to the Duke of Saxony:

    "May the tender Mother of God herself procure for me the spirit of wisdom profitably and thoroughly to expound this song of hers."

One enthusiastic Amazon.com reviewer writes,

    "[Dickson's] book is superb!....this book by a Protestant is the best book about the Holy Virgin I have read to date. This book made me cry and it made my spirit laugh. After reading this book, few people will be able to deny Mary's role in the lives of all Christians... [and] how the Rosary is for all Christians. ...This book also helps construct a bridge between Christian groups. It attempts to establish some much needed common ground (with lots of success). Will Protestants and Catholics ever be able to agree about Mary? Well, this book sure will help that happen!"

In response to the question, "Will Protestants and Catholics [or Muslims, for that matter] ever be able to agree about Mary?", a more basic question must be asked: "Mary who?"

The Mary of the Orthodox Church was sinless but not conceived immaculately. The Mary of Islam is confused with Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, whose father was Amram. She is not the Mother either of God or of the Son of God ("Allah has no son" ­ Surah IV:171). The Mary of Catholicism was immaculately conceived, the Mother of God, a perpetual virgin, Mediatrix between God and man, and the Queen of Heaven.

Then there's the Mary of the Bible.
For anyone who has an interest in learning the truth about Mary, the only trustworthy account is to be found in the Scriptures, where information is presented by those who knew her personally and, more importantly, whose writings were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Fewer than 90 Bible verses address the life of Mary. In them we find a wonderfully humble servant of the Lord who rejoices in Him as her Savior (Luke 1:47). Obviously her heart was not "immaculate" nor was she conceived without sin because her Son, her Savior, came not for the sinless but "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). The Catholic Church seems to be confused over this issue of Mary's sinlessness because it considers her to be the woman of Revelation 12, "clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." This specific imagery is reflected on innumerable statues of Mary around the world. Yet the Bible says this woman gave birth in pain and travail (Revelation 12:2), and pain and labor are part of God's judgment on sinners (Genesis 3:15-16). So either the (recently beatified) "infallible" Pope Pius IX, who engineered her immaculate conception into Church dogma, was wrong about Mary's sinlessness, or the "infallible" Pope Pius XII and numerous other Catholic theologians were wrong about Mary being the "woman" of Revelation 12:1-2

Mary's ministry was simply the birth and nurturing of the child Jesus. Once He reached adulthood, she played no influential part in His earthly service. It's at the wedding feast of Cana, which began the public ministry of Jesus, that her last words are recorded. Fittingly, she tells the servants, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (Jn 2:5). There is no doubt that she is exemplary among biblical saints as a model of obedience and submission to the will of God, especially in the appointment to which she was called. In keeping with the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (Jn 3:30), Mary faded into the background.

Search the Scriptures as you will and you will find no leadership role for Mary among the Apostles. She taught no doctrine. We never hear of the Apostles seeking her out for counsel. Other than the gospels, Mary is mentioned only once in the New Testament, where the Book of Acts tells us of her simple participation in a prayer meeting along with her sons. The teaching that Mary was a perpetual virgin is also contradicted by many other verses (Matthew 12:46; Mark 6:3; John 7:3,5; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19; Psalm 69:8; etc.).

When you compare what the apparitions around the world say and do in claiming to be Mary, you get, to borrow a phrase, a Mary "quite contrary" to the one presented in Scripture. In subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways the apparitions are given to self-aggrandizement and self-promotion all to the devaluation of Jesus and their instructions are often anti biblical and anti-Christ. The "Mary" who spoke to Father Gobbi, the founder of the Marian Movement of more than 100,000 priests, declared, "Each of My statues is a sign of a presence of Mine and reminds you of your heavenly Mother. Therefore it must be honored and put in places of greater veneration...." [8]

Consider Our Lady of Fatima: "Say the Rosary every day to obtain peace for the world....Pray, pray, a great deal, and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because they have no one to make sacrifices for them....God wishes to establish in the world the devotion to My immaculate heart. If people do what I tell you, many souls will be saved and there will be peace." [9]

This is not the humble and submissive Mary of the Bible. The rosary invokes prayers to Mary ten times for every one for the Lord; Jesus is the Prince of Peace; only Christ's once-for-all sacrifice saves souls from hell; neither is Mary's heart immaculate, nor are we to be spiritually devoted to anyone other than our Lord and Savior. The Marian apparitions present a status for Mary which is without support or precedent in the Scriptures. The Apostle Peter, a contemporary of Mary and regarded by Catholics as the first pope, wrote nothing about her. (See Peter’s Role) The Apostle Paul, through the Holy Spirit, gave more specific instruction in living the Christian life than any other writer in the Bible, yet made no mention of the alleged importance of devotions or reparations to Mary. In contrast to the apparitional Mary who claims to have been "conceived without sin," Paul called himself "the chief of sinners," yet God made him the most productive figure of the New Testament after Christ. The Apostle John, who wrote the last book of the Bible and was given the care of Mary by Jesus himself, says nothing about venerating her.

The apparitions are clearly not the mother of Jesus, although they make every attempt to be perceived that way. Many appear as a young woman bearing an infant. So who's this child? Jesus was in His thirties when He returned triumphantly to His Father. Obviously, the apparitional Mary has the superior position in the relationship; what small child would not be obedient to his mother? Moreover, rather than as a helpless babe, the Bible exalts Jesus as the King of kings, Lord of lords, Creator of the universe, the glorified Son of God, God manifested in the flesh!

Apparitions are the primary source of many major Catholic liturgies, rituals, and dogmas. The Brown Scapular which "releases souls from purgatory" came from Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in 1251; in 1830 an apparition introduced the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception along with the Miraculous Medal; the Dominican Order claims its founder initiated the devotion of the rosary through the counsel of an apparition of Mary in the thirteenth century.

Although mankind is being drawn into every kind of spiritual deception in the last days before the return of Jesus, it is especially sad that the real mother of Jesus, the remarkable "handmaid of the Lord" (Luke 1:38), is so terribly misrepresented, thereby drawing millions away from her Son. In the Gospel of Luke (11:27-28) we find a well-meaning woman saying to Jesus concerning His mother, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!" Had the Mary we know from Scripture been present, we can be certain that she would have added a hearty amen to her Son's poignant response: "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" May our obedience to God's Word be our passion. TBC


1 L.A. Times, 12/25/98

2 Fatima Prophecy, Ray Stanford

3 Schleifer, Mary the Blessed Virgin of Islam, 64

4 Ibid, 100.

5 Medjugorje Day by Day, Richard Beyer, Ave Maria Press, 1993

6 Patrick Madrid, Surprised by Truth, Bascilica Press, 1994, 239-40

7 http://kutai.kinabalu.net/scotthahn.html#journey

8 Fr. Don Stefano Gobbi, To the Priests, Our Lady's Beloved Sons, 1998. 383

9 Our Lady of Fatima's Peace Plan from Heaven, Tan Books and Publishers, 1983, inside back cover


The Evolving Doctrine of Mary
A Case Study in the Progress of Error
By Randy Blackaby

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most interesting and important women found in Scripture. The Bible describes her magnificent faith from the time she becomes pregnant until she stands at the foot of the cross. Hers is a compelling story.

But Catholicism has developed the story of Mary over the centuries until today she is called sinless, “the gate of heaven,” and the mediatress between God and man. How did she evolve from the very holy woman of the Bible to a sinless, undying female mediator through whom men can approach God? The answer may help us understand how all error progresses.

Let’s start with reality. The story of Mary is a marvelous one. As a virgin she conceived the Christ child through the Holy Spirit, as prophesied 700 years before (Luke Isaiah 7:14). This woman was God’s instrument for bringing Jesus into the world in the flesh. Her strength is evidenced in the things she endured. Her story needs no mythological additions to make it wondrous, inspiring and faith-building.

But the fact that additions aren’t needed doesn’t prevent men from creating “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:1-4).

Fable Of The Immaculate Conception
Many presume the term “immaculate conception” refers to the fact Jesus was born without sin. But that is not the case. Catholic doctrine teaches Mary was born without sin. “When we say that Mary was conceived without sin we mean that from the very first moment of her existence she was free from original sin, she was full of grace” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, page 17).

We’re exploring how error evolves. So, did you catch in the Catholic explanation above about why they came to believe she was born without sin?

It’s because they believe another error—the idea that men are born in sin or inherit the sin of Adam through their parents. (See The Myth Of Original Sin on THIS Page)

But the birth and sinless nature of Jesus cast the doctrine of inherited depravity in grave doubt. If babies inherit the sinful nature of their parents, how did Jesus come to be born without sin? Why didn’t he “catch” or otherwise “pick up” all the sins of his ancestors through Mary?

So, Catholic scholars faced a choice. Repudiate the false notion of inherited sin or create an answer to the dilemma. They chose the latter route. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared Mary had been born without sin. Thus, they explained Jesus’ sinless nature and held on to the doctrine of inherited sin.

But it makes one wonder. If Mary was sinless, why did she say, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” (Luke 1:47-48)? Describing someone as your savior implies the need for salvation. Mary must have recognized she had sinned.

Fable Of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
The Bible clearly states that Mary was a virgin who had never known a man sexually from the time she conceived until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18, 23-25; Luke 1:26-35). Thus, the birth of Jesus was absolutely unique. The manner of his birth helps depict the two-fold nature of our Lord, being man and God at once.

But why would the Catholic church contend that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life on earth? They contend she never had sexual relations with a man or had any other children. To quote their approved writings, “It is Catholic faith that Mary was a virgin before the divine birth; during it; and after it—Our Lady never had any other children” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 14).

Like our first fable, this one is rooted in yet another false premise. The Catholic church teaches that abstinence from marriage and sexuality is a superior position spiritually. This is why priests, nuns and other church leaders take vows of celibacy.

But to maintain their doctrine on celibacy, the myth about Mary’s perpetual virginity runs headlong into conflict with the Bible. The Bible only declares that Joseph did not know his wife sexually “till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matthew 1:24-25). Jesus is declared to have had brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3; Matthew 12:46-50; Acts 1:14). And Hebrews 13:4 declares that marriage is honorable, including the sexual component (“the bed”).

The Apostle Paul taught that husbands and wives should not deprive or defraud one another of the sexual component of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) and the sexual union is a part of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” (Matthew 19:5-6).

It is interesting that the Catholic church will “annul” a marriage and say it never really existed if it isn’t sexually “consummated.” Did Mary’s marriage to Joseph never really exist?

What a tangled web is weaved when error is compounded by more error. But that is the nature of the evolution of false teaching. [Read More about Mary’s Virginity]

Fable Of The Assumption Of Mary Into Heaven
Some books call this the “great assumption.” That’s a pretty good description. This Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary never died but was taken directly to heaven like Enoch and Elijah. “When the course of our Lady’s life on earth was ended she was taken up body and soul into heaven” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 34).

The Bible says absolutely nothing about Mary after reporting her and Jesus’ brothers assembling with the disciples after the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14). So, why did Catholics feel a need to create this doctrine?

Remember, error leads to error. Remember how the doctrine of original sin led to the development of the doctrine of immaculate conception? That doctrine didn’t end the problems Catholics had with the idea that men inherit sin from their forefathers.

By declaring Mary sinless, they created a new dilemma. Everyone who has read the book of Romans knows the Bible declares “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). But, wait a minute. If Mary had no sin, why would she die? Why would she receive the wages of a sinner when she hadn’t earned them?

Catholic doctrine had created a clear conflict. So, the choice was to repudiate the doctrines of the immaculate conception and original sin or “fix” the conflict with an explanation. Catholics chose the latter course.

In 1950, the year before I was born, it became official Catholic dogma that Mary didn’t die.

Fable Of Mary As Mediatress Or Mediatrix
If Mary was sinless and went straight to heaven without facing the judgment of our Lord, she certainly would be greater than the mighty lawgiver of old, Moses. She would be greater than Abraham, the model of faith. So, where does her “assumption” lead?
 (See Footnote 1)

We really see how error evolves into complete and total blasphemy now. The Catholic church calls Mary a mediatress or mediatrix (feminine form of mediator). “The name mediatress is given her insofar as she exercises this influence in heaven” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 40). (See Footnote 2)

This is problematic because the Apostle Paul said, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If Mary is a mediator, that makes “two” of them.

So, the Catholic church had a choice. Back away from this doctrine or develop it further. They chose the latter.

Calling her the “mother of God,” they also described her as the “gate of heaven” because, they say, no one can enter the blessed kingdom without passing through her.

So, Catholics pray to Mary. They claim that Jesus, as judge, is too harsh, but that Mary will not refuse anyone. Wow! That makes Mary sound more full of grace and mercy than even our Lord. And he’s the one who died for our sins on the cross.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God “in my name” (John 14:13-14). Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter preached as the church first began, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He was speaking of Jesus, not Mary.

Jesus declared that “all power” had been given to him “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). That wouldn’t leave any for Mary.

So, the Catholic church had a choice. It could repudiate this error and worship Jesus as Lord and only mediator, or it could develop this doctrine further. It chose to develop its error.

And that latter course is pure blasphemy, assuming for Mary the prerogatives of deity. In the same Catholic document previously quoted, it reads, “All power is given to thee (Mary—rb) in heaven and on earth” and “at the command of Mary all obey—even God.”

What? Even God obeys Mary?

    “The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name…above every other name, that at thy name, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,” says the same Catholic document.

All that leaves a Bible believer with mouth agape.

Why Opposing Error Is So Important
Perhaps you are seeing not only the errors of Catholicism about Mary but the more important issue—how error evolves into monstrous and blasphemous false doctrine that totally repudiates the teaching of Scripture and elevates the human to the level of divinity.

Beginning with the doctrine of original sin, the myths and fables about Mary have grown until now she is viewed as sinless and virtually equal with Jesus. There has been a move afoot for several years now to declare her a co-mediator with Christ.

Her supposed assumption into heaven and associated doctrines make her equal in glory with Jesus and her declared mediation makes it seem she actually has greater influence than the Lord himself.

This article has explored the development of one area of false doctrine in one human denomination. But the principle applies in the Lord’s church as well. If we teach and believe error and then refuse to repent when it obviously conflicts with the clear teaching of scripture, then we can expect the error to evolve into much more egregious error.


Footnote 1 “Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”  Cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus: DS 2803; Council of Trent: DS 1573. [English translation of the Catechism Of The Catholic Church.  www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s2c1p7.htm#411]  (PLACE IN TEXT)

Footnote 2 "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix."    [English translation of the Catechism Of The Catholic Church. www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p123a9p6.htm#969]   (PLACE IN TEXT)


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