Refuting a Distortion of What St. Alphonsus de Liguori Actually Teaches in The Glories of Mary
Timothy F. Kauffman was raised Catholic, converted to Protestantism in 1990, and is now a Presbyterian (PCA). He has written, “I was saved out of Roman Catholicism, and into Christianity, . . . Roman Catholicism was out of accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Timothy is author of the books, Quite Contrary: Biblical Reconsiderations of the Apparitions of Mary (1994), Graven Bread: The Papacy, the Apparitions of Mary, and the Worship of the Bread of the Altar (1995), and is co-author with Robert M. Zins, of A Gospel Contrary!: A Study of Roman Catholic Abuse of History and Scripture to Propagate Error (April 24, 2023). He has been blogging about theology (mostly Catholicism) since 2014. His words will be in blue.
I will be responding to one portion of Timothy’s article, ” ‘We Don’t Worship Mary’ Part 2″ (6-15-14).
Do Roman Catholics acknowledge Mary as Creator?
This ought to be the easiest charge to refute, for Mary is herself created, and therefore came after the first moment of creation. Yet this has been no barrier to the remarkable ingenuity of Rome’s passionate Marian devotees. It begins with Mary’s universal motherhood, which Pope Leo XIII affirmed in his encyclical Adiutricem, saying that Mary became the mother of “the whole human race” at the foot of the cross.
That has nothing whatsoever to do with some reputed Catholic claim that Mary is “Creator.” So why is it brought up? It’s a perfect example of a non sequitur. When God through the prophet Samuel said that King David was “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14, RSV), did that raise David to the level of the Holy Trinity too? Maybe David — so the sort of reasoning Timothy applies here would claim — has as much love and mercy and compassion as God because this was stated? Or how about “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex 33:11)? Now Moses is equal to God, too, since he was on such intimate terms with God? We have to be careful in drawing conclusions that don’t follow at all. Protestants must work a little bit to understand Catholic language (sometimes very different and much more wide-ranging than their own), just as all of us must do our best to understand biblical language.
But her motherhood is necessarily elastic, according to apologist, Fr. Donald Calloway, because Mary’s spiritual motherhood stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve:
“Mary’s spiritual maternity is elastic, stretching all the way back to the beginning of time, because God made her the spiritual mother of all in light of the fact that she is the original intention of motherhood in the divine plan. … Yes, even Adam and Eve call her mother.”
I think it’s quite odd and a bit humorously ironic that a Presbyterian would object to an eternal decree of predestination made by God: being the folks who especially stress predestination and God’s sovereignty and providence (which we also believe in!). In any event, for God to so act in Mary’s case is not at all the same as her supposedly being eternal, not a creature, and, rather, a co-Creator with him. So this is just another way of expressing the same non sequitur. It may impress some uncritical readers already “in the choir” who mistakenly think it has some relevance to the sub-topic . . .
Yet even before Adam and Eve, Mary was yet a mother, taught St. Chrysologus, . . .
In God’s plan of predestination and election (He being outside of time), yes she was. Since she didn’t yet exist, this had to be only in God’s mind and will.
But Fr. William Most takes it back even further, defending the title “Eternal Mother,” because “her Motherhood … was planned from all eternity.”
Exactly. This is what I just expressed. It has nothing to do with Mary being a “co-Creator.” God decreed her life and calling from all eternity just as He does with all who decide to serve Him. Note there that “eternal” is not referring to Mary never having a beginning in time, but only to God’s eternal decree. Those who don’t read carefully enough may have gotten that impression.
Such adulation is then increased by St. Thomas of Villanova, who observes that while it was by God’s Word, His fiat, that all things were brought into existence,
How is that consistent with Mary being a co-Creator? “All”: means all. A=a. If God created “all things” that would include Mary.
yet, when Mary gave her permission for God to become Man, her fiat was even more powerful, more efficacious than God’s, and is to be venerated above even His:
“O powerful Fiat!” exclaims St. Thomas of Villanova; “O efficacious Fiat! O Fiat to be venerated above every other Fiat! For with a fiat God created light, heaven, earth; but with Mary’s fiat,” says the saint, “God became man, like us.” (Liguori, the Glories of Mary)
It’s dramatic language (especially to Protestant ears), but in the end, all this is saying in its essence is that Mary consented to being the mother of Jesus, the incarnate God, and so played a very real and commendable part of the incarnation and the resulting salvation that flowed from it. That’s very praiseworthy indeed, and so St. Thomas of Villanova praised her decision at the Annunciation. Catholics — as Timothy well knows — don’t venerate God. We adore and worship Him. The veneration here has to do with what Mary did. It’s the sort of perfectly biblical praise that the author of Hebrews gushed out:
Hebrews 11:32-38 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets —  who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated —  of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
All this, yet no Christian must ever dare offer Mary praise or veneration for agreeing to bear God the Son in her own womb?! That makes no sense whatsoever. God even shares His glory with His creatures, as Holy Scripture makes abundantly clear.
When we consider that Mary’s powerful fiat is greater even than that of God, it is no wonder then that St. Bernard concludes the obvious: that Mary was there even earlier than Genesis 1:10. She must have been there at Genesis 1:1, with God, forming all things:
“St. Bonaventure… says, addressing her, The world which thou with God didst form from the beginning continues to exist at thy will, O most holy virgin;” the saint adhering in this to the words of Proverbs applied by the Church to Mary: I was with Him forming all things.” (Liguori, the Glories of Mary).
Do Roman Catholics acknowledge Mary as Creator? Yes, they certainly do, and Rome’s saints are the very model Roman Catholics are to imitate. Once this is established, the rest of the components of latria, or worship, flow from it with epistemological certainty.
How are we to understand (and explain) this? How do St. Bonaventure and St. Alphonsus get to or arrive at this conclusion about the Blessed Virgin Mary? Taken literally, or prima facie, don’t words like the above imply that Mary was literally creating with God, akin to Jesus’ role as co-creator with His Father, stated in very similar Bible passages?
It’s certainly — agree or disagree — a complex theological topic, so I thought it would be helpful to consult the opinion of my friend, Dr. Robert Fastiggi, who is a Catholic theologian (Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit), one of the editors and translators of the latest (43rd) version of Denzinger’s Enchiridion (2012), and editor and translator also of the revised version of Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (2018). In other words, he is exactly the sort of person who has the credentials to discuss a matter like this. He wrote the following in personal correspondence with me:
When certain passages are taken out of their historical and theological context they can be misunderstood. But the same can be said about certain Scriptural texts. When Jesus says, “the Father is greater than I” in Jn 14:28, the prima facie meaning seems to be that He is less than the Father (i.e. not fully God). It would take centuries for the Church to overcome those, like the Arians, who deny the full divinity of Christ. In the 5th century, we have the Pseudo-Athanasian Creed and St. Pope Leo I explaining that Jn 14:28 means that Jesus is less than the Father according to his humanity but equal to the Father according to his divinity” (cf. Denz. H. 76 and 295). But “if that was the intended meaning of Jn 14:28, why didn’t Jesus make it clear?” And why does the meaning of Jn 14:28 take so much jesuitical casuistry to explain it? I think you get my point. People who don’t want to understand the meaning of various texts within their proper context will always have objections.
[W]hether she be the first-born inasmuch as she was predestined in the divine decrees, together with the Son, before all creatures, according to the Scotists; or the first-born of grace as the predestined Mother of the Redeemer, after the prevision of sin, according to the Thomists; nevertheless all agree in calling her the first-born of God. This being the case, it was quite becoming that Mary should never have been the slave of Lucifer, but only and always possessed by her Creator; (2nd Part, Discourse I: Mary’s Immaculate Conception, I; my bolding and italics for emphasis)
St. Bernard says, “that the Creator of men becoming man, must have selected himself a Mother . . .*. . . he created her spotless.*. . . truly God created Mary such . . .*. . . in the words of St. Illdephonsus, “Suckle, O Mary, thy Creator, give milk to him who made thee, and who made thee such that he could be made of thee”*Ah, my Immaculate Lady! I rejoice with thee on seeing thee enriched with so great purity. I thank, and, resolve always to thank, our common Creator . . .*. . . the beloved of thy Creator.*. . . the Church celebrates the first moment in which her soul was created and infused into her body . . .
. . . to become the Mother of her Creator.*She was troubled; for, being so full of humility, she abhorred every praise of herself, and her only desire was that her Creator, the giver of every good thing, should be praised and blessed.*This Mary herself revealed to St. Bridget, when speaking of the time in which she became Mother of God: “I desired not my own praise, but only that my Creator, the giver of all, should be glorified” . . .*. . . God created light, heaven, earth . . .*Father Suarez traces the reason for which “the dignity of Mother of God in above every other created dignity;” . . .*Our Lord himself also revealed to St. Bridget that the beauty of his Mother surpassed that of all men and angels. Allowing the saint to hear him addressing Mary, he said: “They beauty exceeds that of all angels, and of all created things” . . .
In a small portion of the entire book, ten “clear clarifications” of the matter of Who created all things (and it doesn’t include Mary) occur in Discourse I and 22 more in Discourse IV, which is immediate context, for a total of 32 instances. So what are we arguing about? Did Timothy not consult this context? Did he not make the easy searches that I made? How is it good research, then, if he failed to do so, as seems to be the case? He linked to a good online copy of the work. He could have easily searched it, and this would have refuted the contention that he put into print, that I now have to take time refuting.
I reiterate that it’s useful to apply the method of “interpreting the less clear by the more clear” in questions of Catholic Mariology, just as it’s very helpful in biblical hermeneutics.
ADDENDUM: Timothy has “replied” (if indeed one can call it that) on his blog.
Photo credit: [public domain / PXFuel]
Summary: I reply to the serious accusation made by Presbyterian Timothy Kauffman that Mary is “Co-Creator” according to what the Catholic Church supposedly teaches.