Friday, March 26, 2010

Catholics Don't Worship Mary (And We're Not Tritheists Either)

[Virgin Mary icon]One of the most common critiques among Protestants of Catholics is that Catholics supposedly worship Mary.

This of course is untrue. All Catholics I have ever come in contact with are repulsed at the idea of worshiping Mary. "A person only worships God," they tell me. The Church's teaching is very clear that God alone is to be worshiped.

But there are, I will admit, sometimes things that I hear or see things in the Catholic Church that give me pause as a former Evangelical. Most often, I have found however, this is due simply to my own inexperience and misunderstanding.

Here's an example of how I think this works:
I have been taught that a common Muslim critique of Christianity is that it is Tritheistic. Not Trinitarian, but Tritheistic - that is, a religion that has 3 gods. This is of course untrue, we say. We believe that there is 1 God, but that he has 3 persons. 1 God, 3 persons. Simple, right? Not to a Muslim. And honestly, not simple to most people.
3 persons but still only 1 God? Sounds silly, illogical, and downright confusing. They hear us baptize people "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit". Sounds like three gods, not one. Now, a Muslim might admit that technically speaking, most Christians will say that there is only 1 God in their theology, but in practice we can all see that most people do not understand the idea of the Trinity very well if at all, and it most likely leads to them to act more as Tritheists than Monotheists.

Islam, they say, is clearly better at avoiding this problem. It sets aside the confusing, misleading talk of a Trinity - something that does not seem to be taught as explicitly as the oneness of God in Scripture - and emphasizes very clearly that there is only 1 God. They are following the 1st Commandment of the 10 Commandments better and more clearly than we are.

So how do Christians respond to such a critique? Are we sure that there aren't some uninformed Christians somewhere who worship 3 gods instead of the 1 God?
I can't prove there aren't. But what I do know is this: although Christians are not constantly qualifying the fact that they worship only 1 God, we all know that that is what we do and that is what we mean when we speak about the 3 different persons of the Trinity. And although the idea of the Trinity might have the potential of obscuring the fact that there is only 1 God, the doctrine properly understood does not, and in my experience does not.

This, I offer, is analogous to attacks that Catholics worship Mary. Catholics do not worship Mary. They give her the honor due her place in the plan of salvation but nothing more. She was the Mother of our Lord and God Jesus Christ the Savior of the World and thus should have some special place. Catholics are not constantly qualifying this because they all know that they honor Mary, but only worship God. Sometimes, however, and probably more often than many Protestants might think, they make it very explicit how they think about Mary in relation to God.

Here is some of the Church's teaching on Mary in it's own words which make it abundantly clear that everything is about Jesus:

"There is but one Mediator as we know from the words of the apostle, 'for there is one God and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a redemption for all.' The maternal duty of Mary toward men in no wise obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows His power. For all the salvific influence of the Blessed Virgin on men originates, not from some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. It flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ."For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

"The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.

"But [this council] exhorts theologians and preachers of the divine word to abstain zealously both from all gross exaggerations as well as from petty narrow-mindedness in considering the singular dignity of the Mother of God. Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Holy Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church's magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always look to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity and piety. Let them assiduously keep away from whatever, either by word or deed, could lead separated brethren or any other into error regarding the true doctrine of the Church."
(Vatican II Council, The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church, paragraphs 60, 62b, 67b)

Anything good Catholics ever say about Mary is fully grounded in the goodness of God. She is who she is only because of God's incomprehensible grace that comes through Jesus alone.

Catholics don't worship Mary. They worship God.


  1. The Muslim concept of the absolute indivisible unity of God seems simple at first, but has some unpleasant philosophical ramifications. The Trinity makes more sense

  2. Trencherbone,
    I agree. I hope I was clear that I DO believe the Trinity and that it makes sense.

  3. Yeah, you were clear that you believe it, and clear that it makes sense to you. But you lost me on why it should make sense to anyone else.

  4. Hey Evan,
    I wasn't really trying to explain why Catholics venerate Mary so much as that they don't worship her, acknowledge a reason why people often accuse them of such, and offer a way to help non-Catholics understand that Catholics don't worship Mary.

  5. Sorry, I was unclear. I was referring to your earlier comment about the trinity. I know that this article isn't about that, but I don't think the analogy you made works very well for a non-catholic.

    "although Christians are not constantly qualifying the fact that they worship only 1 God, we all know that that is what we do and that is what we mean when we speak about the 3 different persons of the Trinity"

    To me, this seems like you are saying that the trinity is true because the church says it is, and analogously, Catholics don't worship Mary because they say they don't.

    It might seem like I'm down on you a lot in these comments, but I don't mean to be. I'm just trying to help you see how your essays look to a non-catholic.

    1. Im A, non catholic. But, the scripture clearly says that there are three that,bare witness in heaven, Father, word, and Holy Ghost. and for you to understand any of it, you atleast have to start someware.
      Jesus asked the jews, in his time,what they came out to see, a reed shaken in the wind, or a man in soft rament, they atleast read the old testament.
      A reed is the way they wrote, it was a pen, And he was being sarcastic.
      Basically, saying what you want God to write it on the sky for you.

      The ink used by the Greek scribes for writing on papyrus with their [reed] pens was a carbon-based ink, black in color, and made from soot, gum, and water.

      There's only one place where God actually wrote, on a wall for someone and they died,
      the same night it was enturpreted.
      Daniel;5' Belshazzar and David, before he was made king.
      There are many different meanings to this story, but the significance is, that David had the spirit of God in him and it is the Holy ghost, the reason that noone else could enturpret it is because that it was written by God and is scripture, written and only enturpreted by men of god with the Holy ghost.
      So set to your seal that Got is True and you will understand. Jesus os the word made flesh and is the way, TRUTH and life.

  6. Oh I'm sorry I misunderstood you.

    I am not "saying that the trinity is true because the church says it is, and analogously, Catholics don't worship Mary because they say they don't."
    I'm saying that, whether or not the Trinity is true, the Trinity does not entail that Christian worship 3 gods, although, depending on your background, it might seem like that to an outsider. I think the same is true of the veneration of Mary.
    I'm trying to get non-Catholic Christians to see what it's like to be on the receiving end of an accusation like that. In the same way that any non-Catholic Christian would be confused by and would deny an accusations that the worship 3 gods, Catholics don't understand why people accuse them of worshipping Mary when they don't.

    I agree that obviously the analogy won't mean much to a non-Christian. That would require a different analogy.

    1. It may be, that we pray to God and it clearly says that our prayers are acceptable to God through Chris. 1st Peter 2:5/
      But I also understand that the only way we could have the scripture was because it was cannonized, and given to us, by the Catholic church. And as for Brantly, the scripture that we read was written by people that started the Catholic church. So unless you give your life up and only serve, God, and that means to never have any pleasure for yourself and only eat what it takes to live, not watch TV, and be married to Christ and not a woman. Which is what all of the Holy apostles did, than you, will just have to depend on the ones who did.

  7. Even some Christians don't get it. It doesn't help that there's an unhinged cartoonist ( disseminating b.s. tracts all over the place. I know where you're coming from though.

    This discussion made me think of a theological question: what unique purpose does the holy spirit serve in the trinity (aside from bringing it to a nice round number)? How would Christianity be any different if it were just the father and the son? Is there anything the holy spirit does that God or Jesus couldn't

  8. Hey Jenna,

    The Trinity gets complicated and I'm not totally confident enough to feel I could go into great detail without making an error.

    But, what I can say, is that the Holy Spirit does a ton! First off, each of the three persons are fully God. God is not divided into 3 parts. The Father is all of God, the Son is all of God, and the Holy Spirit is all of God.
    The persons are only distinct by relation, as far as I understand, which gets complicated to explain, so I won't right now.
    In terms of what the Holy Spirit is said to do specificially, here are some things:
    The Holy Spirit inspired the prophets and apostles and inspired Scripture. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us and applies Christ's work in our lives. The Spirit is what unifies the Church. The Spirit guides and leads us. The Spirit works in people's hearts to lead them to Christ.

  9. hi Brantly,
    I am no where near as eloquent as the person who explained the Trinity to me was...but he used mathematical property. Instead of is more like 1X1X1=1.

    I think there is someone who has written more extensively on it, but I read this person's exlanation...but then, he deleted his blog and hasn't been back on. I could get more info for you if you are interested.

  10. Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa and the scientist Johannes Kepler used the image of the circle and the sphere to explain the Trinity.

    One Circle with the Center who represents the Father, the radius that is the Son, and the circumference that is the Holy Spirit

    One Sphere with the center that is the Father , the radius that is the holy Spirit and the Surface that reflects the Father and that is the Son. In this perspective the radius (the Holy Spirit) also represents the link between of love between the Father and the Son.

    The image of the Triangle is also good i believe , indeed the sides are relations and cannot exist independantly without destroying the Triangle.
    It is the same thing with the Trinity in which the Essence is structured in three Persons. And these Persons are nothing but the Essence.

    ps : sorry for my bad english.

  11. What I don't get is why everybody forgets about Joseph? Here's this guy going to get married, find out she's pregnant, is a stand up guy and decides he will discreetly deal with it, and then quietly submits obediently to God when the angel tells him the real story. A hardworking, honest, noble man of integrity. Where's the Joseph devotion?

    1. I understand where you are coming from, but he's just the obedient bystander that let the church be, and did'nt have her killed, because she was pregnant out of wedlock, do you think that the person that did'nt kill the church should deserve anything?
      He only did what he was told, and others that didnt believe were silenced by angels.
      For example John the babtist's father.
      And the ones that tried to stop it like Paul, were blinded, but then devoted his whole life to helping the church. So Im asking you Where is josephs devotion to the church?