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Mary - Co-redemptrix?

A look at what the Bible says about Mary

In a recent US edition of Newsweek Magazine, the following article was published. The following is only the first portion of the article:

"A growing movement in the Roman Catholic Church wants the pope to proclaim a new, controversial dogma: that Mary is a Co-Redeemer. Will he do it, maybe in time for the millennium? Should he?

(By Kenneth L. Woodward)

"This week a large box shipped from California and addressed to "His Holiness, John Paul II" will arrive at the Vatican. The shipping label lists a dozen countries--from every continent but Antarctica--plus a number, 40,383, indicating the quantity of signatures inside. Each signature is attached to a petition asking the pope to exercise the power of papal infallibility to proclaim a new dogma of the Roman Catholic faith: that the Virgin Mary is "Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God."

Such a move would elevate Mary's status dramatically beyond what most Christians profess. But in the last four years, the pope has received 4,340,429 signatures from 157 countries--an average of 100,000 a month--supporting the proposed dogma. Among the notable supporters are Mother Teresa of Calcutta, nearly 500 bishops and 42 cardinals, including John O'Connor of New York, Joseph Glemp of Poland and half a dozen cardinals at the Vatican itself. Nothing like this organized petition drive has ever been seen in Rome. But then, it isn't often that Catholics beg a pope to make an infallible pronouncement.

If the drive succeeds, Catholics would be obliged as a matter of faith to accept three extraordinary doctrines: that Mary participates in the redemption achieved by her son, that all graces that flow from the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are granted only through Mary's intercession with her son, and that all prayers and petitions from the faithful on earth must likewise flow through Mary, who then brings them to the attention of Jesus. This is what theologians call high Mariology, and it seems to contradict the basic New Testament belief that "there is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). In place of the Holy Trinity, it would appear, there would be a kind of Holy Quartet, with Mary playing the multiple roles of daughter of the Father, mother of the Son and spouse of the Holy Spirit.

"Personally, I'm confident that there will be this recognition of Marian truth before the year 2000," says Prof. Mark Miravalle, 39, the leader of the petition drive and a lay theologian at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Miravalle has met with the pope several times and published three books since launching his bold initiative at a Marian conference in 1993. An infallible papal definition, he says, would put these doctrines "at the highest level of revealed truth".

The Vatican has answered that no such pronouncements are envisaged in the near future, certainly not under the present Pope. Nevertheless the petition does reveal that millions of Christians hold a view of Mary that is quite inconsistent with Scripture. This "high Mariology" is what this article will seek to address.

This "high Mariology" immediately raises two large questions: 1) What do Bible believing Christians believe about Mary? 2)What do Bible believing Christians believe about the Trinity? The answer of this article will be that Mary is "most honoured among women" but not part of the God-head and not able to receive prayers or act in any redemptive capacity. The Trinity consists of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three co-equal Persons. Mary is not a part of the Trinity. To regard her as such is blasphemy.

Mary in Scripture

While all Christian churches believe that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived in her womb by the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit the Roman Catholic church takes this much further. They teach that Mary was a virgin perpetually, that she never had intercourse with Joseph or any further children, that she was sinless and that she ascended into Heaven. None of these extra claims have any scriptural backing. In fact Scripture seems to refute them. Jesus brothers played an important role in the life of the early church. They seemed to have apostolic authority. Catholic theologians explain Jesus' brothers as half-brothers or cousins. This suffers from two faults a) Scripture does not refer to them this way or even imply it. They are always treated as natural brothers. b) In the early church the high authority they received would be more likely to be conferred to actual brothers than "cousins" or distant relatives. Here are some of the references to the brothers of Jesus.

(Matthew 12:47 NKJV) Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You."

(Matthew 13:55-56 NKJV) "Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? {56} "And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?"

(Mark 3:31 NKJV) Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him.

(Mark 6:3 NKJV) "Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?" And they were offended at Him..

(John 2:12 NKJV) After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

(John 7:3-5 NKJV) His brothers therefore said to Him, "Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. {4} "For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world." {5} For even His brothers did not believe in Him.

(Acts 1:14 NKJV) These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

(1 Corinthians 9:5 NKJV) Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?

(Galatians 1:19 NKJV) But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord's brother.

There is no indication here of "perpetual virginity" - on the contrary there seems to be a large family of four brothers and at least two sisters. Two of the brothers - James and Jude, wrote New Testament epistles. There is some suggestion that normal marriage relationships resumed after the birth of Jesus.

(Matthew 1:24-25 NKJV) Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, {25} and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.

The phrase 'did not know her until..' means that after Jesus was born Joseph did "know" Mary - that is have sexual intercourse with her. Without this it would not have been a marriage! It would have been a deception, an illusion, a friendship perhaps, but not a marriage for being "one flesh" is an essential part of Christian marriage. (Genesis 2:24) You can be married in God's eyes without a formal ceremony but you cannot be married in God's eyes without sexual intercourse.

There are no mentions in Scripture of her being sinless nor of her assumption into Heaven. However these two doctrines were established by the Catholic Church in 1854 and 1950 respectively with the pronouncements:

"Mary..at the first instance of her conception was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, by the singular grace and privilege granted her by Almighty God, through the merits of Christ Jesus, Saviour of mankind."


"the immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, when the course of her earthly life was run, was assumed in body and soul to heavenly glory"

The declaration of the sinlessness of Mary is just removing back a generation the problem of how Jesus could be born without sin and does nothing to solve the problem. Surely it is even more difficult to imagine Mary - born of two human parents to be sinless than it is to imagine Jesus to be sinless considering that He was born of Mary and the Holy Ghost.

The Mary of Scriptures is certainly a holy and devout woman and the mother of Jesus Christ. In the three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) she only appears once in the public life of Jesus and that is in an almost negative light. In fact it downplays her special significance. It is important in that it is the only statement from the lips of Jesus about the spiritual status of His mother.

(Matthew 12:47-50 NKJV) Then one said to Him, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You." {48} But He answered and said to the one who told Him, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" {49} And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! {50} "For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother."

What Jesus is saying here is that Mary holds no special "motherly" place in the Kingdom of God. All who are obedient to the will of the Father are His "brother and sister and mother". Certainly Mary was obedient and faithful but she takes her place alongside the many faithful women of Christian history. It is not being a relative of Jesus that makes you special to God but whether or not you are obedient to His will.

There are no biblical mandates for any of the titles given to Mary such as Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, and Mediatrix. In fact such titles have an occult ring to them and the first two originated in the city of Ephesus which was devoted to the cult of another "Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven" that is the Greek goddess Artemis or Diana. These titles seem to have originated out of religious confusion not biblical scholarship. The title "Queen of Heaven" has very negative connotations in Scripture. It is used five times in the book of Jeremiah to describe a very popular form of idol worship. Here is just one of the references.

(Jeremiah 7:18 NKJV) "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger.

The are two references in John's gospel to Mary. First at the wedding at Cana, then at the foot of the cross. On both occasions she is an involved spectator and a believer. The wedding at Cana makes clear that she carried no special authority over her Son.(John 2:3-4 NKJV) And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." {4} Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come."Mary may have influenced Jesus but she could not command Him. She was not "the mother of God". At the cross when the sword is piercing her own soul, she is cared for by Jesus as an act of filial piety. She is not involved with the act of redemption on the cross and is not suffering for mankind as a whole. She is suffering her own grief as a mother and receiving from Jesus, not contributing to, His work. She is clearly among those He died for, a recipient not a dispenser of salvation. We see this in her evident neediness and the care Jesus takes of her. She needs to be cared for by the apostle John. She is not strong enough alone. She is a human and not a heavenly being (to borrow a phrase from Hans Kung a radical Catholic theologian). She is not a Saviour.

This leaves us with the infancy narratives and the reference in Acts. The Acts reference is easily dealt with so I will do that first.(Acts 1:14 NKJV) These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. The only thing that can be deduced from this verse without undue extrapolation is that Mary was part of the believing community before Pentecost and participated in its life of worship and prayer.

Mary stands out as an exceptional believer in the infancy narratives. She is humble and submissive and has an extraordinary grasp of the revolutionary implications of what was occurring inside her. Her theology, as reflected in the Magnificat - (Mary's utterance of praise to God), was a celebration of God's choosing of the poor and humble to carry out His greatest purposes.(Luke 1:46-55 NKJV) And Mary said: "My soul magnifies the Lord, {47} And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour. {48} For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. {49} For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. {50} And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation. {51} He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. {52} He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. {53} He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty. {54} He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy, {55} As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever."Such an inspired utterance of praise makes Mary equivalent perhaps to one of the writers of the psalms. It does not make her part of the God-head or the Queen of Heaven. All the concepts and many of the phrases in the Magnificat are found in the Old Testament. This is beautiful praise but not a major revelation.

The infancy narratives show a submissive young virgin who accepted her difficult role graciously, who absorbed the things said to her and who endured persecutions and difficulties for the sake of the child. She was a very good mother. Joseph however is clearly head of the household. When major moves had to be made it is Joseph that God sends the angels to. He gets three angelic visits to Mary's one. Joseph lived until Jesus was at least 12 years old. We know this from the details of the trip to Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus ministry he seems to have passed away and Mary is a godly widow. While Mary is "most blessed among women" she is not divine and cannot be seen as part of the Trinity or part of the redemptive process. There is nothing unique about Mary's faith - it is the faith of a good believer.

How Did The Worship of Mary Arise?

The rise of the status of Mary is due to a very wide range of factors. Certainly there is a biblical core to it without which it would not have begun. However, the forces driving it further are a mixture of the pagan, the human and the expediently political. Some of the early driving forces were as a replacement in people's affections for the worship of goddess Diana/Artemis, a mingling of pagan goddess worship with early Christianity especially Celtic and Germanic goddesses and Near Eastern "mother divinities", Augustine's view that Mary was sinless - perhaps influenced by Augustine's high regard for the example of his devout mother Monica, theological rivalries between Alexandria and Constantinople, and a bungled church council where the anti-Mary-worship lobby arrived too late for the decision. The phrase "never too much of Mary" has been a watchword since the Middle Ages.

Exalting Mary makes popes popular and the doctrines of Papal infallibility and the veneration of Mary have risen hand in hand. For centuries the doctrine of Mary will lie dormant and relatively undeveloped. Then it seems to get a sudden boost. Mary has always been popular with the people but not always popular with the theologians. Despite what you may at first think there is a great deal of reserve among many of the more biblical Catholic theologians particularly over the excesses of Mary worship. Hans Kung's "On Being A Christian" is one such work that is critical of the elevation of Mary and has supplied most of the material for this paragraph.

How Should We Respond?

The bible-believing Christian community needs to gather together and perhaps have a symposium that produces a definitive theological stance on the doctrine of Mary that can be accepted by all major Protestant denominations and many Catholic theologians. There should be Catholic input into the symposium. It should not be reactionary, it should be loving, but it must start with the terms that the Bible is the only source of authority on such matters.

Secondly, we should communicate clearly to the Catholic Church that any hopes of ecumenical co-operation will be completely lost if Mary is elevated any further. It must be said that even her present status is an enormous matter of concern. We should ask the Catholic Church to address the issue.

Thirdly, we need to draw a firm line of fellowship. The present Catholic doctrines on Mary are not acceptable to bible-believing Christians but the proposed changes would render it absolutely impossible to have any further fellowship with Catholicism. It would mean that many ministers fraternals and ecumenical associations and co-operative ventures would have to disband and that the Catholic church would have to be declared as being outside historical Christendom. This would be very painful and the most grievous split in the body of Christ in 1000 years (since the orthodox, Catholic split). I am sure it would also lead to division within the Catholic Church.

Fourthly, and not quite in contradiction, we need not be afraid of giving Mary appropriate honour as "most blessed among women". Protestantism needs a softer side, it began with very German roots, and the qualities of humility, submission and nurturance that Mary epitomises should be eagerly incorporated into our church life.


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