Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Theology Throwdown

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Monday, February 14, 2011

A regular visitor and commenter upon my blog – one whom I also appreciate – recently posted a remark that, “Catholics pray to Mary, and Jesus said, “no man comes to the Father except through me.”

Never mind the fact that that sentence is like a metaphorical mix – or rather, a mixing of one’s metaphors. It’s like asserting that a ‘stitch in time saves a cat’s nine lives,’ or ‘a penny saved is no use crying over spilled milk.’ It’s totally discombobulated.

That remark was prefaced with the statement that the author began to “question the church and I started studying the bible for myself. What I discovered was that 95% of catholic doctrine is in DIRECT CONTRADICTION to biblical teachings.”

It would seem to me, that in order to know 100% of Catholic doctrine, one must have been a phenomenally astute theologian, and spent years in theological studies. Naturally therefore, I do not know “95% of Catholic doctrine,” so I will have to confine my remarks to that one statement in this entry, with which I began.

Before I proceed, here is a wee bit of information about me.

I am Catholic. I wasn’t born that way, but rather, became one, after circulating through various Protestant denominations and unorthodox theological traditions.

I do not have a theology degree, although I am a student of the Holy Scriptures – as any Christian should be. As well, I adhere to orthodox positions.

Within Protestantism, Marian doctrine is clearly maligned and ill-spoken of, most frequently because it is misunderstood. Having previously been a Protestant, and participated in the RCIA process with Protestants, I was privileged to hear their questions concerning Marian doctrine. And I confess also that I sought some clarification on this issue, as well. (RCIA is “Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” the process by and through which one becomes Catholic.)

Before proceeding further, it is important to understand that the Scriptures indicate that Mary had a choice about whether to bear the Savior. She cooperated with God’s plan. The reader will recall that she said, “Be it unto me according to Thy word,” after the angel made the announcement to her. cf.Luke 1:38 (KJV) She could have said, ‘no way!,’ but she did not. Thus, she cooperated in faith with, thereby facilitating the Almighty’s plan of salvation.

So first, let’s address the first clause, that “Catholics pray to Mary…”

Is that true?

Yes, it is true. Catholics also pray to Jesus, to God the Father Almighty, and to other saints.

So, why do Catholics pray to Mary, and to other saints?

In order to answer that question, we must first understand the meaning of a word – and the meaning of the word we need to understand is “pray.”

“Where were you 30 minutes ago, pray tell?”

Here is a sentence from a court document: “I pray this court will allow me time to make corrections.

Is there anyone whom believes that by using the word “pray” in either of those two preceding sentences, that any act of worship was being commenced?

No, of course not.

In one sense, to “pray” is to make a humble request, while in another, it is an act of addressing “God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.” Determining intent depends upon the context of usage.

Here is an excellent remark from the website FishEaters.com on the issue: “All worship in the sense of latria is God’s alone. All grace comes from God alone. Only Christ can save us. Please read these three sentences again; they are core Catholic doctrine as taught for 2,000 years.” The reader should be aware that “latria” is the supreme worship rightfully due to the Almighty exclusively.

As a matter of fact, that page is – in my opinion – perhaps one of the best expressed, and most thorough on the issue of prayer to saints (and Mary is a saint), that I have ever read. I wholeheartedly encourage the reader to take a few minutes and thoroughly read and digest it.

Undergirding this issue, of course, is the very idea that the saints in Heaven are alive. Though one’s body may have expired, the spirit lives on.

We see this example of life after death even before the resurrection of the LORD very clearly in the Gospels of Matthew ch.17 and Luke ch.9, when Christ Jesus was transfigured and the disciples witnessed Moses and Elijah both speaking with Jesus upon a mountain which was later to become known as “The Mount of Transfiguration.”

Obviously, Moses and Elijah had been dead for quite some time. By most learned accounts, Moses lived ca.1500BC/1331BCE, while the prophet Elijah is supposed to have lived ca.852BC/900BCE.

And yet, there they were, speaking with Jesus Christ. And how do we know it was the two of them – Moses and Elijah? We know so from the eyewitness accounts. Consider how we would recognize a figure from history, were they to come back from the dead. We would recognize them because we had seen their likeness, either in photographs or statues, or paintings, or in motion pictures. And, it would be reasonable to presume that the Apostles recognized Moses and Elijah similarly – from drawings, paintings or statues.

To be certain, Mary had need of a savior, whom happened to be the LORD Jesus Christ. It also happened that when Mary’s cousin Elizabethheard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thine womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” cf Luke 1:41b-43 (KJV)

So we see that Elizabeth made that pronouncement of Mary, that she was “blessed art thou among women.”

But Elizabeth wasn’t the only one that said so. Earlier, the angel Gabriel said to Mary something quite similar – “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” cf Luke 1:28 (KJV)

Simply as a colloquial observation, I would imagine that it would be okay to repeat the things that the angel Gabriel (whom is in the presence of the Almighty) gave as a message directly from the throne room, which, interestingly enough, was also delivered by Elizabeth.

You must admit, it must have been was a huge blessing to give birth to the savior of all humanity. So yeah… “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” Jesus.

Right?

Mary, very obviously, was a particularly unique and highly special vessel through which the Almighty chose to work to bring Christ Jesus to us. There is doubtless, no argument that such a vessel is worthy of at least some respect! And to light a candle in her honor, or in remembrance of her, is no more an act of worship of her than lighting the flame at JFK’s tomb is an act of worship of him. And we light candles as a symbolic act of remembrance for all kinds of people, some deceased, others living. No one seems to protest that.

And yet, the respect rightfully due to her as a specially chosen and unique vessel in no way detracts from or diminishes her own need for salvation and a savior. As is all humanity, she was a woman in need of salvation. As I wrote, “Obviously, Mary had need of a savior.” It just so happened that she gave birth to that savior.

Now… concerning the second part of that sentence, the clause “and Jesus said, “no man comes to the Father except through me.”

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5).

The Church has NEVER asserted, taught or claimed that Mary is a mediator between God and man. To be clear, a mediator is someone whom settles disputes or acts to reconcile, bring peace, accord, or reconciliation to two or more parties to each other.

Again, I defer to another site that expresses the issue much better than I can. Catholic.com writes this about mediatorship: “Asking one person to pray for you in no way violates Christ’s mediatorship, as can be seen from considering the way in which Christ is a mediator. First, Christ is a unique mediator between man and God because he is the only person who is both God and man. He is the only bridge between the two, the only God-man. But that role as mediator is not compromised in the least by the fact that others intercede for us. Furthermore, Christ is a unique mediator between God and man because he is the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 9:15, 12:24), just as Moses was the mediator (Greek mesitas) of the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:19–20).

The site continues: “The intercession of fellow Christians—which is what the saints in heaven are—also clearly does not interfere with Christ’s unique mediatorship because in the four verses immediately preceding 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul says that Christians should intercede: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and pleasing to God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1–4). Clearly, then, intercessory prayers offered by Christians on behalf of others is something “good and pleasing to God,” not something infringing on Christ’s role as mediator.”

Again, to clarify, to intercede means to act on behalf of someone, often in the sense that such an one is in difficulty or trouble.

There are people whom identify themselves as “prayer warriors.” The exceeding majority, of such prayer they pray is intercessory prayer. Does that in any way make them supplanters of God’s plan, or do they by being intercessors, in any way interfere with His will?

Of course not!

They actually cooperate with His will.

The same is true for prayers to Mary and other saints. Catholics ask Blessed Mary, “all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”

Notice the last clause of that prayer – “to pray FOR me TO the LORD our God.”

That is most clear. It is, in fact, explicitly clear. There is NO mistaking. “Pray FOR me TO the LORD our God.”

Are there prayers in Heaven?

Most certainly, yes!

Here’s what 17th century evangelical John Wesley wrote in his “Notes on the Bible” concerning Revelation 8:3 – “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.” (KJV): “… for as the prayers of all the saints in heaven and earth are here joined together.

Prayers of all the saints in heaven and earth…

Interesting, eh?

Heaven AND Earth.

Here ends the lesson.

Amen.

Come quickly, LORD Jesus.

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2 Responses to “Theology Throwdown”

  1. jim said

    Thank you for your thought-provoking and succinct treatment on “praying” to Mary by Catholics. As one who appreciates the proper use of language, being lost in America at a frightening rate, it warms the heart a bit to see a careful discussion of prayer not to mention latria. And here your points are well grounded theologically, historally and rationally. Why, for example, should the God who commanded us to “honor our father and mother” be in the least put out if we venerate them? Quite the opposite we obey God by honoring them. This distinction is critical and evident to anyone in pursuit of truth rather than dispute.

    However, beyond this point, your argument quickly begins to faulter – and I must say, for my own part, I wish it wasn’t so.

    When it comes to praying to Mary – the main point under consideration – you have made a distinction without a difference, pratically speaking. For the real question is not whether a definitional distinction can be made, but rather one in practice can be discerned.

    If in fact, in every day practice, those prayers are petitions for everyday assistance, such as “I pray thee pass me the salt,” no concern need be raised about the matter. (Although certainly arguments still would be). But this is hardly the case. “Mother Mary…save us…” is a cry for deliverance, for intercession not between the petitioner and God, but between petitioner and those persons or circumstances that threaten and no amount of discussion over the precise meaning of “save” will change this reality. And this point must not be overlooked: even if such a technical, definitional distinction could be made by the theologically savvy, would that impact in anyway the word is used in the venacular, by the vast majority of individuals who say such prayers? Unfortunately not.

    I wholeheartedly agree the Church (the group of all believers in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, Savior and Lord) is undivided by heaven and earth. And can find little rational distinction between asking

    St. Peter or my brother, Peter, to pray to God on my behalf. Moreover, such a request to St. Peter could hardly be harmful – if he cannot hear or will not act little time or effort is lost and if he hears and responds then the more the better. Would anyone, even most non-believers, object to having Peter, John or, more centerally to this post, Mary praying to God for them? (Here a distinction between everyday Catholic and Protestant arguments might diverge. Whereas Catholics emphasize a special relationship between Mary and Jesus on the basis of her motherhood, Protestants may find a similarly close relationship on the basis of her faith.)

    But the point remains: Can anyone imagine the word “pray” being used by an ordinary person in an everyday context to have any meaning but the overtly religious one? Or put another way, have you, the reader, ever used the word or even had anyone you knew use consistantly use the word in any other fashion, pray tell? In this regard, the example above: “I pray this court…” as the others are falacious because they have long since dropped from our language. When the vast majority of Catholics speak of praying to Mary, they are being more honest in their description. They mean what they say and I see no reason not to take them at their word. They mean they are asking Mary or a particular saint to ACT on their behalf directly. They are not asking them to pray for them. They are praying to them in the everyday sense of the word not its 18th century usage – for a take it the court case above was not the O.J. Simpson trial (either of them).

    The statement that Catholics only “pray to” Blessed Mary to pray on their behalf is belied by the fact that such a request, as construed by the author would not be called “prayer” or “praying to” by anyone you passed on the street.

    If further evidence is needed I encourage the reader to examine those formalized prayers adopted under John Paul II, which have not found such outward support under Pope Benedict XVI.
    I appreciate the post in question not because it has much to say to Protestants about prayer, but because it has much to say to Catholics and if taken seriously, might be a clarion call for them to return to their theological roots. And I appreciate it because it has some very worthwhile things to say to Protestants about Mary, and might serve as a friendly guard against overreacting and a friendly reminder to recognize the amazing work God accomplished in this young girl who willing faced public shame, the alienation of her betrothed, the anger of her family and even the loss of her life because she trusted God above all else. After all, giving birth to the Savior of the World is not something the world was going to honor, particularly at the time.

    Frankness and grace are the order of the day in our dealings as Catholics and Protestants. We do not need to decry 95% of Catholic doctrine as false nor are we served by “lessons” propping up places where in practice it has erred.

    To a sin-wearly world we must be ambassadors of God’s Love or nothing at all.

    • Warm Southern Breeze said

      Jim, thank you so kindly for sharing your thoughts! Your reply is most erudite, and I find your observations spot-on. I am humbled by your commentary. I sincerely thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

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