Defense of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” vs. Calvinists

Defense of “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” vs. Calvinists December 9, 2016


Our Mother of Perpetual Help, a 15th Century Marian Byzantine Icon [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




The following exchange about the Our Lady of Perpetual Help devotion occurred on the Parchment and Pen blog. C. Michael Patton and others have been very gracious and polite in allowing me to give my dissenting viewpoint. I’d like to thank them and express my appreciation for that. C. Michael Patton’s words will be in blue; “Seven”‘s in green, and Vance’s in purple.

* * * * *

Here’s a topic for ‘combox tennis’: Should the following words be directed to anyone other than Christ? If so, to whom?

“In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul.”

. . . Please indulge me with a thumbs up (approve of this prayer as being within the boundaries of proper christian worship) or a thumbs down (categorically false and idolatrous).

Please avoid answering with a subjective “Well, who can really know?”

[ this is from the “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” prayer / devotion / novena ]

OK, in reality, if they say that prayer in the way that it sounds, then it is absolutely idolatrous. I wonder what our Catholic friends here would say. Maybe they could defend the use of this or somehow take away the sting.

I’m with you.

As to your Marian prayer, I would definitely say it was false, in error, and possibly even idolatrous (depending on how that was defined). But my question would still be whether a person who is that wrong in their theological understanding of how it all works, could still go to heaven. That I don’t know. My real question would be for a Catholic since Catholics also affirm that their entire salvation is through Jesus Christ.

Well, it is a great question. I wish that a Catholic would pipe in and help us understand.

Catholic Marian prayers are (needless to say) vastly misunderstood, because Protestants (unlike their founders) hardly have any Mariology at all anymore. They rarely understand even the basics of Mariology. It’s like trying to understand trigonometry and calculus without learning your times tables. Not likely . . . I wrote about some of these prayers and how they are wildly misinterpreted in these papers:


“In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul.”

You can at least see how Protestants would interpret this prayer as idolatry?

Don’t get me wrong, when a Catholic tells me “I don’t worship Mary” I believe them. Why would they say they don’t if they do. But this prayer, if it is not a surrendering of trust due only to God, it sure comes across such a way. You must understand where the Protestant protest comes from. As well, it seems to be highly suggestive and provocative toward Mary worship, especially for someone who first encounters it.

My suggestion: get rid of it or drastically reword it.

I don’t have much a problem with the Catholic understanding of the communion to the saints, or even prayer to the saints in the sense that you are simply asking them to pray for you . . . don’t do it, but I don’t think of it as saint worship necessarily. But this prayer is different.

Hope you understand where I am coming from.

Well, the Apostle Paul states several times that he was helping to save people or being a channel for them to receive divine grace. If it was okay for him to do, why not Mary, the mother of Jesus our Lord?:

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it [his many sufferings: 4:8-12,17] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you… (cf. 1 Pet 4:8-10)

Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

“Entrust[ing] [your] soul” to a human being gives you pause? Okay, there is Bible sanction for that too (or at least something very similar):

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.

So if someone wants to claim the Catholic prayer in question is Mariolatry, fine, but let them be consistent and say that the Bible teaches “Paulolatry” as well, if this is the reasoning. Of course no Protestant will say that, but since the Bible gives sanction to Pauline “saving” and “distribution of graces” then no one can say that the Theotokos participating in the same sort of thing is prima facie “unbiblical”.

If the Catholic Marian prayers were properly understood and interpreted correctly in the first place, the issue would never come up, but because Protestants have no frame of reference in which to interpret them (having not been taught any degree of Mariology to speak of at all), then they automatically view it as a species of idolatry, which it is not.

I say that — rightly understood — Catholic teachings do not contradict the biblical understanding of things at all. We believe, with James, that “the prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). Therefore, if indeed Mary is sinless (taught in Luke 1:28, closely examined and exegeted, as I have done), and God’s highest creation, then her prayers would be uniquely powerful (just as Elijah’s were, that James refers to); hence this sort of flowery language is perfectly acceptable. One goes to the person whose prayers of intercession have the most power.

Elsewhere in the prayer “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” it is made clear the origin of this extraordinary power of intercession that Mary has:

I give thanks to our Lord, who for my sake hath given thee a name so sweet, so lovable, so mighty. . . . He hath made thee so powerful, so rich, so kind, that thou mightest assist us in our miseries.

Dave, those examples are so different from the Mary prayer it alleviates no problems. Believe me, like I said, I am more than willing to give the benifit of a doubt, but, in all honesty, that seems rather far out to say that this prayer to Mary, “In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul” and Paul self conception concerning his role in preaching the Gospel here on earth are parallel. Are you asking Mary to come and preach the Gospel to people?

Anyway, again, you must understand how difficult it sounds. I don’t see why you can’t just get rid of the prayer in favor of something different if it is not what it seems to be. This would help people from getting confused and accusing you of things you don’t do. The prayer is not inspired in your view is it?

All that I am asking is that you at least consider how difficult it is and not write people off acting as if we just understood what you were saying it would make all the difference. I think I do understand what you are saying, but the prayer still says something different in good ol’ Oklahoman. :)

Michael, I used to be an evangelical Protestant. You’re not telling me anything new. I had to work through many of these same issues in order to become a Catholic. Were you ever a Catholic? If one used to firmly believe one thing, then they knew it from the inside. I was not just a Protestant, but a Protestant apologist and cult researcher. I was on the largest Christian radio station in Detroit talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Protestant in 1989. So I know where you’re coming from, and I understand the Protestant outlook through and through.

Your choice is simple: you can go the same old tired route (the stuff you say you believed just five years ago) and conclude that Catholics are idolaters who are so stupid and clueless that we don’t even know that Mary is different from Jesus, or you can accept the validity of the reasoning I have given you (and additional explanations from others) or at least acknowledge that there are issues here that are difficult to understand at first but that it is not nonsense and idolatry. The prayer is going nowhere. It has a long tradition and it is perfectly orthodox.

You say we should just get rid of it? By the same token I could say, “why don’t you get rid of one or more beliefs from TULIP?”, since Calvinists are vastly misunderstood and don’t really believe what many people attribute to them (making God the author of evil; making evangelistic efforts null and void, turning men into will-less automatons, etc.)? You wouldn’t do that, on those grounds, so why do you think it is reasonable that we would or should do so?

I have no problem saying that it is tough for a Protestant to comprehend. Of course it is. I already dealt with that in my previous responses by saying that one can’t comprehend trigonometry without first learning their basic arithmetic.

Mariology is not Christian kindergarten; it is advanced studies in Christian graduate school.

“In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul” and Paul self conception concerning his role in preaching the Gospel here on earth are parallel. Are you asking Mary to come and preach the Gospel to people?

You have not properly understood the analogy that I made. Paul’s saying that he “saved” people and telling Timothy that he can “save” his hearers (when we all know that it is God Who does the saving and Paul is only a vessel of same) is precisely the same that we think of Mary. The logic is exactly the same:

1. Paul: “I might save some . . . save both yourself and your hearers”.

2. (the logical converse) Spiritual seeker: “Paul, please save me by your powerful intercession and distribution of God’s grace. In your hands I place my seeking after eternal salvation because I know your intervention on my behalf is profoundly powerful.”

3. Ergo: logical equivalent of saying to Mary: “In thy hands I place my eternal salvation” because if the thought is “If Paul and Timothy [human beings] can ’save’ other human beings, then clearly there is a dynamic at work far different from just God alone and the person being saved. God uses human beings in the process.”

In other words, if Paul can say that he saves others, then others can ask him to save them, and we are in exactly the same place where the Marian prayer takes us. Mary is the mother of Jesus. Paul didn’t even see Jesus before the Resurrection. So if this is true of Paul, it can certainly be true of Mary.

Yet you say, “those examples are so different from the Mary prayer it alleviates no problems.” I disagree; it is a close analogy. We know that Paul doesn’t ultimately save anyone; it is God. Catholics know the same about Mary. It is only by attributing gross ignorance to Catholics en masse (even to many of our greatest theologians) that Protestants come up with the hogwash that they do about our supposed Mariolatry.

The real lack of knowledge and sufficient thought and reflection is seen, rather, in a statement like the one above: “attributing omniscience to a created being is a bit blasphemous.” But of course no one is doing that! Saints in heaven do not have to have all knowledge in order to hear prayers. They are in eternity, with God. They’re out of time. That completely solves that problem. It doesn’t require omniscience at all, but merely being in another sphere in terms of time or dimensions.

Someone thinks that is insufficient? Very well, then, read what your own Protestant theologians and Bible commentators say about the relationship of time and eternity and how we will be like Jesus when we get to heaven. It’s a perfectly plausible, biblical, acceptable understanding of the afterlife. It’s sheer foolishness to make out that such a scenario requires a saint to be omniscient and therefore God-like.

Dave, I appreciate that you have been on the other side, but this does not seem to be helping. In fact, it might be hindering. I think that from your perspective you feel that it is your duty to justify all those things that you had a problem with before without recognizing the extent of the problem. If reformation does not come for you in doctrine, can’t it come in communication? Again, I take you at your word when you say you don’t worship Mary.

Worship is a subjective entrustment of our lives to a source in which we have ultimate reliance. We have non-ultimate reliances in our lives such as our cars to get us to work, our fathers to protect us when we are young, etc. All reliances are secondary to the primary. This I understand. Our ultimate reliance for Salvation does not come through anything other than God, although we do rely upon other people to have their secondary part in God’s plan. If you are simply saying that Mary is a secondary reliance like all others secondary reliances (albeit, a very good one), I take you at your word.

In this case, the problem is first one of communication.

You say that this:

“[Mary] In thy hands I place my eternal salvation and to thee do I entrust my soul.”

Really means this:

“[Mary] In thy hands I place the hope of my eternal salvation since you are one of the many who can pray to the One who can save me and to you I entrust my soul since your are one of the many who can intercede through prayer on my behalf to the One who can take care of my soul.”

You see. You are having to jump through hoops here to explain the first. All I am saying is be sensitive to the concerns of those who just take the first at face value. Make the first say the second and it would alleviate yourself of having to write books to justify the first.

To compare this with Calvinism is helpful to a degree, but in its present form presents a non seq. In other word, TULIP is what it is. It does not have to explain itself to take away the sting of miscommunication. In fact, once you do explain TULIP you find that there is integrity in communication because it means exactly what it says. The problem does not have to do in communicating its points at face value, but the interpretation of its implications.

For example, if you were to say that this is one of the points of Calvinism, then there would be a parallel:

God is responsible for sin.

Indeed, this is problematic. There are very few Calvinists who would actually go this far with it. Now, they may communicate it as such, but then they would, like you, have to jump through hoops to explain that this does not mean what it seems to mean. They may say this:

God is responsible for sin only in the since that he is the creator of free will beings that choose to sin, but He Himself is not the ultimate first cause of its genesis.

Here is what I would tell a Calvinist (of which I am one) who has as part of his regular confession the first. Don’t say it!! It miscommunicates what you mean. Just say what you mean! If you don’t, you will do two things. 1) You will scare people away because they have simply thought you meant what you said (who would blame the), or 2) You are going to cause some of your own to actually believe that God is the creator of sin and promote this doctrine as such.

This is the same with many issues and confessions in Mariology. You scare people away based upon a perfectly understandable misreading of your doctrine based upon popular communication and, in some cases, you cause your own to fall into idolatry simply because they take this at face value.

Not that I have any platform to give advice Dave, but I would try to see this first as a theologian and a pastor, rather than an apologist. It seems that as an apologist you are seeking to justify this prayer as it is, failing to recognize how it communicates.

Again, I really appreciate your willingness to dialogue.

Hi Michael,

That was an interesting psychological-sociological analysis of my argument; now would you like to actually interact with the argument itself:-)

Dave, as I have said from the beginning, I don’t have THAT big of a problem with what you mean, but the misleading way in which it is communicated. The ball is in yo’ court my friend.

I’ve already answered. The devotion will not and should not change simply because it is misunderstood and because Protestantism has a virtually nonexistent Mariology. And I showed that it also was unreasonable to say that it should, based on an analogy to your own belief-system.

Substantive dialogue deals with the objective assertions of the opponent at some point, rather than merely subjective, stylistic issues and how things are received. Postmodernism (you said on White’s webcast that your bookshelf is filled with this sort of thing) clearly is influencing you to the detriment of your argumentation here. It’s all subjective and little objective analysis of objective stuff.

My method, on the other hand, is to use Scripture and logic, and history where necessary.

Dave, again, I think you are too caught up in your apologetic defenses here. I am simply offering a suggestion to you. It is fine if you don’t agree, but my points were valid and not relativistic in the slightest. There was no response from you concerning your non seq with Calvinism and Paul.

Huh? I made a very extensive response. Obviously you disagreed with it, but that is far different from claiming I made “no response.”

I argued that your comparison to Calvinism had no parallel. The same with regards to your reference to Paul. If you don’t believe me, this is fine, everyone has the right to be wrong :)

The prayer has no interpretive context. Because of this, people have to take it at face value. You interpret the face value meaning much differently, which is fine (and a bit relativistic), and then say that it is Protestants fault for mistakingly thinking Catholics worship Mary. Like it or not, the prayer does suggest this.

Dave, while I know you cannot reform in doctrine, you can reform in communication. The “it says this, but it really means this” is confusing both to Catholics and Protestants.

If you are going to teach and defend the prayer, I would rework it. Do you think that Mary will really get THAT upset? :) Just think about what I am saying, that is all I ask.

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