You’ve uncovered another genuine show-stopper! At first reading it takes your breath away. Pius IX’s praise of Mary is high, but granting Mary high praise has been part of the fullness of Christian worship from the earliest ages of the church. While we’re slinging long quotations back and forth, allow me one:
O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all. O [Ark of the New] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides. Should I compare you to the fertile earth and its fruits? You surpass them…If I say that heaven is exalted, yet it does not equal you…If we say that the cherubim are great, you are greater than they, for the cherubim carry the throne of God while you hold God in your hands.
This quotation is from St. Athanasius in the fourth century. (Someone I’m sure with whom you would wish to agree on the question of orthodox belief) When it comes to Mary which is closer in feeling and sentiment to Athanasius—the quotation of Pius IX or your own position?
Pius IX thus seems to be in good company, but let me take your complaint seriously. As a former Evangelical I understand how Pius IX’s statement sounds over the top. It sounds that way to me too. I understand what he’s saying, and part of me wishes he hadn’t put it that way. So is Pius IX’s statement just a personal lapse? Yes and no. We have to remember two things. It is not a lapse into heresy, but it is a personal expression. Pius IX is stating his own personal devotion to Mary. He is not making a definitive statement of dogma. Second, this is part of a document about Mary. It is therefore an explication of a detail, not our whole belief system. You have to read it closely and place this within the context of the whole history, teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. I’m not exactly comfortable with the way Pius IX expressed himself, but I think I would feel just as awkward trying to defend the following passage from an evangelical textbook that praises the Bible:
The Bible … has produced the highest results in all walks of life. It has led to the highest type of creations in the fields of art, architecture, literature, and music.… [Y]ou will find everywhere the higher influence of the Bible. … William E. Gladstone said, “If I am asked to name the one comfort in sorrow, the sole rule of conduct, the true guide of life, I must point to what in the words of a popular hymn is called ‘the old, old story,’ told in an old, old Book, which is God’s best and richest gift to mankind.”
Does Mr. Gladstone really believe that not Jesus but the Bible is his “one comfort”, his “true guide”, “God’s best and richest gift to mankind”? I don’t think so, and it would be unfair to use this purple passage as “proof” that Evangelicals really do worship the Bible instead of Jesus. You have to look at the whole picture to understand the parts.
A close reading of any papal statement about Mary must include the Catholic assumption that all devotion to Mary is inextricably linked to devotion to her Son. So, for example, all hope and salvation do come through her, for Jesus comes through her. Her merits are great, but the doctrine Pius is about to define makes clear that those merits are the gift of grace. Nothing has been closer to his heart than devotion to Mary precisely because she has drawn him into ever more intimate union with her Son. The foundation of his confidence is found in Mary—i.e., the one who is “in” Mary is Jesus. Pius’ trust in her may be ”great” but he doesn’t say it surpasses his trust in God.