David Discovers another Marian Show Stopper

I’ve been publishing excerpts from the book I wrote with David Gustafson, and today was going to publish David’s reply to my reply, but he already did it himself in the combox. Instead, here is another of his observations. He has problems with Pius IX’s high praise of Mary…

I understand your point, and will address it in a moment, but before I enter that conversation, I want to give one more example, to round out my complaint of distorted honor to Mary:
In an earlier chapter, we discussed Pope Pius IX’s 1854 definition of the Immaculate Conception, the doctrine that gave its name to Washington’s National Shrine. Five years earlier, in 1849, Pius IX had asked the Catholic bishops of the world about their desire that the doctrine be defined as official church dogma. His encyclical letter, Ubi Primum,
included this high praise for Mary:

From our earliest years nothing has ever been closer to Our heart than devotion‑-filial, profound, and wholehearted‑-to the most blessed Virgin Mary. Always have We endeavored to do everything that would redound to the greater glory of the Blessed Virgin, promote her honor, and encourage devotion to her…. Great indeed is Our trust in Mary. The resplendent glory of her merits, far exceeding all the choirs of angels, elevates her to the very steps of the throne of God. Her foot has crushed the head of Satan. Set up between Christ and His Church, Mary, ever lovable and full of grace, always has delivered the Christian people from their greatest calamities and from the snares and assaults of all their enemies, ever rescuing them from ruin…. The foundation of all Our confidence, as you know well, Venerable Brethren, is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For, God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is His will, that we obtain everything through Mary.

Again, if Pius IX’s references to Mary were replaced by references to Jesus Christ, this excerpt would be uncontroversially Christian. As it is, however, it says things of Mary that should be said only of God: Nothing was “closer to [his] heart” than devotion to Mary? “The foundation of all [his] confidence” is Mary?
Not every papal statement is regarded by Catholics as an ex cathedra, infallible pronouncement. Can we therefore take this as a personal lapse by Pius IX and say that it’s not representative of Catholic Marian devotion, which should be Christ-centered? Or would that be an intellectually dishonest dodge?

How would you respond to David’s question?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06624317806947588259 Rachel Gray

    The statements that hit me the wrong way were the same ones David singled out: Nothing was “closer to [his] heart” than devotion to Mary and “The foundation of all [his] confidence” is Mary. It sounds very wrong on the face of it. But I would say those statements can be true in this sense: that God willed for Christ to come to us through Mary, so for the salvation Christ won for us, we can by extension thank Mary as well. God *could* have worked without Mary, but since he didn’t, we can say all our confidence is in her, etc. I assume this Pope made clear in his other writings, his body of work as a whole, that all good things (including the merits of Mary) come from God alone. A Protestant might reply that this passage taken by itself puts Mary above God and that can’t be excused by (or reconciled with) whatever the Pope taught elsewhere. I would reply with James 2:24 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” That verse, taken out of the context of the rest of the Bible, would give us a very different idea of salvation than the one the Church teaches. Salvation is *not* by works– except in the sense that we cooperate with God’s grace and perfect our faith in Him by the things we do. It’s only because of God that we have any merit; it’s only by His grace that we’re able to respond to his call and do good works– nevertheless, because He wills it, there’s a certain sense in which we can say “salvation is by works”. It makes me kinda cringe to write that, but that’s what the apostle James wrote!Likewise, it makes me cringe to read “The foundation of all my confidence is in Mary,” yet thanks to the grace of God, this is true in a sense. Christ came to earth because she cooperated with God’s will– it didn’t have to be so, but since it was, we have confidence in her. Caveat: I’m a very new Catholic still trying to come to a better understanding of Mary, and I speak under correction. :)

  • Jon

    I’m still struck by the fact that one can’t read anything about Mary without then thinking of her Son.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Maureen

    This all comes under the heading of “except Jesus, of course.” We see this very early in the Bible, with “no man is without sin”. Except Jesus, of course. (And Mary, who like Eowyn and Merry, is no man.) :)Seriously, though, nobody would have a problem with me saying, “I love my mom most of anything!” Wouldn’t they assume “except Jesus, of course”? Do we always have to say it explicitly, like some kind of legal document, because we’re Catholics and hence suspect? Dang it, life is too short to guard our tongues for everyone who might possibly take scandal, somewhere. It’s time for them to start assuming a little good intention from me and mine, and worry about causing _us_ scandal. If other people can’t understand a perfectly normal figure of speech, they should go take a poetry and rhetoric class.Especially when, next weekend, I have to deal with neopagan acquaintances who really do think Mary’s a goddess. So I really don’t need this from Christians, who should have our back, but actually are the ones who keep spreading the pagan meme!(Why, yes, I’m in a bad mood and not sleeping much, which leaves me with a foul temper. And I’m soooo looking forward to next weekend’s social obligations. At least I get the joy of Pentecost afterward.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02971229049336038270 Jim Janknegt

    Can you love your mom too much. Or your children ? or your neighbor? If it is true, self sacrificing, servant love of course not! So neither can you be too devoted to Mary, or the saints because that is what God desires. One of the first things I discovered as a protestant when I was around Catholics with true Marian devotion is that there is a whole lot that is assumed and unspoken. Like all merits ascribed to Mary come from Jesus and all graces coming through Mary come from Jesus and all glory and devotion given to Mary pass through to Jesus. Mary’s life is an example of humility and obedience to Jesus. One cannot be around her and devoted to her without having the same humility and obedience. Once I was able to appreciate all of this I love having her as my mother. My devotion to her is growing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05713878947084713014 DGus

    Dear Jim J: You epitomize my concerns when you say, “Can you love your mom too much. Or your children ? or your neighbor? If it is true, self sacrificing, servant love of course not! So neither can you be too devoted to Mary….” Your “if” (“if it is true, self sacrificing servant love”) flagrantly begs the question.Love for wife, mother, or child most certainly CAN be idolatrous (and IS idolatrous in some observable circumstances) precisely because human love DOES tend to be distorted and disordered. The human husband needs both to be urged to love his wife AND to be warned of the sin of uxoriousness. The human mother needs both to be encouraged to love her child utterly AND to be warned not to let that love be a spiritual distraction (and degrade into something less than real love).Even assuming that Marian devotion is God’s will, the Christian who is encouraged to devote himself to Mary ALSO needs to be warned to avoid excess, distortion, and distraction. Idolatry is not some exotic, oriental eccentricity; it is the default condition of fallen humans; it is a very nearby sin, always a risk for the religious person. The Apostles treated it as a subject about which believers needed to be warned. I’ll borrow from a footnote of mine in that book that Dwight is excerpting, and point out that Paul said, “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14); John said, “keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). For other New Testament teaching against idolatry, see Acts 7:41-43, 15:20-29, 17:16, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:11, 6:9, 10:7, 12:2; 2 Cor. 6:16; Gal. 5:19-20; 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Peter 4:3; Rev. 2:14, 2:20, 9:20, 21:8, 22:15.Are you saying that excessive Marian devotion could never devolve into idolatry and therefore need not be warned against or guarded against? That’s what Protestants fear you are taught by the RCC. It seems very non-Apostolic to us. Why not say, instead, “Good point. Thanks for the reminder. Now, join me in a rightly ordered, Christocentric ‘Hail, Mary.’”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18231879006543780827 MMajor Fan

    From our earliest years nothing has ever been closer to Our heart than devotion‑-filial, profound, and wholehearted‑-to the most blessed Virgin Mary. – Notice that he is saying closer to our “heart”, he is not saying closer to our “soul”, who is of course God through his Son Jesus Christ. Therefore there is no comparison implied. Always have We endeavored to do everything that would redound to the greater glory of the Blessed Virgin, promote her honor, and encourage devotion to her…. – He is emphasizing that people should not do anything to detract from the glory of her role of virginity and motherhood and honor, because (unsaid by him but clear) that would detract from the glory of Jesus Christ and impugn in turn his honor. One of the common heresies is to attack Jesus Christ by dishonoring the Virgin Mary. We still see that today. Great indeed is Our trust in Mary. The resplendent glory of her merits, far exceeding all the choirs of angels, elevates her to the very steps of the throne of God. Her foot has crushed the head of Satan. Set up between Christ and His Church, Mary, ever lovable and full of grace, always has delivered the Christian people from their greatest calamities and from the snares and assaults of all their enemies, ever rescuing them from ruin…. – As Pope he not only loves God through Jesus Christ but he FEARS God, in the pious, Biblical sense. Here he is waxing poetic but theologically sound because he is saying people do NOT need to FEAR Mary, because they can trust in her to be as a mother. If he had said to fear Mary, he would really be on shaky ground because fear (in the sense of fearing the consequences of loss of God through sin and therefore judgment and justice of God) is a devotion reserved for the Lord. The essence of Marian devotion is knowing that she never plays the role of God as judge, so even in times of calamities (which may have come about by sin), one can approach Mary with confidence and not fear. That is why he uses the difficult to understand image of Mary between Christ and his Church, and at the foot of the throne of God. It is not that one has to go through Mary, but that the throne of God is the site of not only one’s love of God but also where fear of God is required (again, in the sense of understanding God’s role as judge). The Pope is trying to say that on the way to God in love and judgment one can obtain love and support from Mary without fearing judgment., because she is a step down from the throne of judgment and does not judge or usurp God’s role. The foundation of all Our confidence, as you know well, Venerable Brethren, is found in the Blessed Virgin Mary. For, God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is His will, that we obtain everything through Mary. – He is explaining the analogy that is well known that Mary is the new Ark by virtue of her being able to contain within her every hope, grace, salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Remember, when the Church arose away from the Judaic temple, there is no longer the physical sanctuary that only the High Priest could enter. Christianity showed the High Priest, Jesus Christ, coming to humans, out of the temple. The temple was, for that place and time, Mary’s womb. The Pope is trying to explain that Jesus Christ emerged from her womb, and thus everything was obtained through Mary (physically), rather than as in old times Moses, and then in Judaic times pre Christ the High Priest guarding the temple’s High Holy access. The Pope is using the word “through” like a door, Mary as the Ark and door where from Jesus Christ emerged into the world. He is discussing and admiring the purity of that Ark and door where for Jesus Christ emerged. He is not saying that this is the ongoing condition of the Christian’s relationship with God. Remember John 3:4 where Nicodemus asks Jesus “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born again?” and Jesus replies that “a man be born again of water and the Spirit.” Jesus Christ, God’s gift to the world, was born once through the womb, and that is through Mary and this is what the Pope means. The Pope is not referring to ongoing salvation which is being “born again of water and the Spirit.” Also, remember the woman in the crowd who praises Mary’s “womb” and “paps” for having bore Jesus, and Jesus corrects her that rather, blessed are those who hear and believe. For once Jesus emerged (was born) from the new Ark, he is the “everything” that the Pope is referring to. The Pope was taking time to remind people of the foundation of Mary’s “yes” in giving birth to Jesus, who is the everything. Yours in Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I don’t read that blurb like a fundamentalist. I see a heart bubbling over with love and admiration.There’s a certain Jewish rabbi whom I love that tended to the same kind of overstatement…about plucking out eyeballs that cause you to sin! Chopping off the right hand if it causes you to sin! –and given the context of this passage, we know what that right hand was doing! Yikes.So, should we treat this passage as fundamentalist-literalist like as the pope’s devotional statement? If so, we’d have a lot of blind Christians with a hook prosthesis for the right hand.The citation of 1 Cor 10:14 is interesting, because in context, it’s discussing meat offered to idols and partaking of the cup of demons. I have NEVER heard of anyone offering meat to the demon Mary! If you know of such an offering, do tell!A Catholic cannot love Mary unto idolatry, because she is not God. She is a creature. We cannot love and honor her anywhere near the level that God can, did, and does; we lack the capacity and the power to do so.When Jesus tells the woman in the crowd that it is more blessed to believe than just be merely wombs and tits, he was talking about Mary, too, praising her faith above mere biology; Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit (before it was available to all at Pentecost), cried out, “Blessed are you who BELIEVED that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled!”So, to paraphrase, Mary believed, and it was reckoned to her as righteousness! LOL. Still, what God entrusted to her was greater than Abraham.As shown at the wedding feast at Cana, you don’t have to ask Mary for her intercession, she does it anyway.Still, she’s your mama, according to Rev 12. You should talk to her more often. Be nice to your mama.kentuckyliz

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12594214770417497135 Maureen

    Idolatrous love isn’t loving too much. It’s loving too little. It’s refusing to be happy with a mom or a little clay figure, and insisting that really, they’re little gods.People want to be loved and praised for who they are, not for being somebody else entirely. It suggests that the person praising you and claiming to love you has never even seen you.So yes, it’s impossible to love too much (as God’s infinite love for us demonstrates).


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