Thursday, February 01, 2007

Roman Degradation of Mary

In a perfect storm of events, books, and blogs, I have been recently thinking on the subject of Mary and her place in the Reformed Church. Mr. Bonomo of Reformed Catholicism has posted his thoughts on Mary. His post is provocatively entitled, ‘The Protestant Degradation of Mary.’ The question obviously becomes do Protestants degrade Mary or do Romanists elevate her to a status she does not deserve?

Mr. Bonomo admits up front in his post that the Scholastics went too far. He rejects Mary’s Immaculate Conception and any idea of Mary as co-meidator (which I believe includes prayers to her). In this we agree. So far Rome has gone too far. What then does he reject in Protestantism? He asserts that the Reformed church does not go far enough in her praise perhaps by even refusing to call her blessed. But do Protestants and Reformed Protestants actually refuse to call her blessed? The Scripture itself calls her blessed, and what person would actually think that Mary was not blessed when God chose her to birth the savior? Mr. Bonomo admits that her blessedness derives itself from the savior in her womb, what Protestant church disagrees with that? The Reformed Churches and confessions all accept the third and fourth ecumenical councils that describe Mary as the Theotokos (God-bearer), so where has she been degraded?

The only real difference then between Protestants or at least Reformed Protestants and Mr. Bonomo’s position is the latter’s choice to remain silent or accept the supposed Patristic evidence for a Perpetual Virginity of Mary and the question of actual sin in Mary. Mr. Bonomo would rather not impute sin to her because it is not expressly stated in the Bible she sinned. Mary’s own words proclaim God as her ‘savior’ (Luke 1:47) expressing a sinful state that would need salvation, and that would seem to be enough for me to impute sin to her. The argument is made in the comment section that such a salvation could be for original sin rather than actual sin. But, then who is tainted with original sin, but does not ever actually sin? Would that not create quite a slippery slope theologically? Plus, the bible has no problem imputing sin to all mankind in such statements as ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). I think these Scriptural statements enough for me to rest assured she sinned as the rest of us do.

The Perpetual Virginity is a more troubling idea. The Bible does clearly state Jesus to have brothers and sisters. Matthew 13:55 names his brothers, and Matthew 2:46-50 makes clear it is his mother and his brothers. I see no compelling reason to think that ‘Mary the mother of James and Joses’ in Matthew 27:55 is anything than another name for the blessed Mary, the mother of Jesus as well as James and Joses. This along with the idea that it would have been sinful for Mary to withhold herself from Joseph for their entire marriage is enough to put to rest her perpetual virginity. The troubling aspect of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is why it was so important to Medieval Theologians. It was important because virginity was important. That sexual love was somehow wrong, sinful, or at least a lesser way. Mary was the embodiment of holiness; thus, she must have never partaken of such a sinful thing as sexual love with her husband. This theology is embedded in Romanism still today. Vows of celibacy are still required showing that somehow virginity is a higher holier road. The Roman Church needs the Perpetual Virginity of Mary because if she had relations with Joseph then she is no longer ‘Mary full of grace’, but rather ‘Mary just like the rest of us’.

Kevin Johnson of Reformed Catholicism makes the accusation that lip service may be paid to Mary, but devotion to her does not show up in Reformed churches. Again, I argue that Mary shows up enough. Nothing is denied her that Scriptures give her. I preached from the Magnificat this year, and I heard a Reformed sermon on the radio about Mary this Christmas. Are we really being called to task because not all Reformed Churches think Mother’s Day sermons are appropriate? If we are all agreed that icons of her are forbidden, prayers to her are forbidden, the extra-biblical miracles about her are wrong, then where is the disagreement? What activities exactly are the Reformed Churches not doing for Mary that need to be done? We know for a fact that Enoch was a prophet, a righteous man, did not die and was taken to heaven, but no one ever raises the charge that churches are not devoted enough to him and his life. So what is the difference?

It is my belief that Protestant churches get a bad wrap about Mary. She is given every laud given to her in Holy Writ. Most Reformed churches preach unashamedly through Luke, Matthew and John, all of which necessitate sermons on Mary. The Biblical evidence has to viewed as against her sinlessness and perpetual virginity, plus both are necessary props for the modern Roman dogmas, which these gentlemen appear to reject. The Marioloty of Rome is an actual threat to the gospel by making her a co-redeemer and mediator, but it is the Reformed who seemed to get lectured about Mary more often than not. I believe it is the Protestants who defend Mary, and the Romanist who degrade her by making her into something she is not, one who does not bare the savior, but is a savior.


Kevin D. Johnson said...

I don't know why but it seems your permalink to this post isn't working...just thought I'd let you know.

Jonathan Bonomo said...


As I insinuated in my post and in the comments, I'm with you in your abhorence of Roman Mariolatry. And I never said that my disagreement is with an official stance taken by the Reformed churches, but rather with an unofficial practical neglect among evangelicalism. Also, I stated in the comments that I never took, and refuse to take now, a stance on her perpetual virginity.

As far as her calling God her Savior goes, it's interesting that you only picked one out of the four options I gave in the comments to explain this, and at that not even the one which is superior. She is speaking with reference to God's deliverence of his people by sending his Messiah, thus echoing the praise of Hannah in 1 Sam. 2. She is part of the holy nation of which God is Savior, and thus God is her Savior. This does not necessitate our saying that she herself actually committed sin. And whether she did or not is irrelevent in light of the context of the passage

Either way, the semantics of these doctrinal differences isn't as huge deal to me as you might think by reading my post. You can believe she committed actual sin and it doesn't really matter much to me. What matters to me is the practical problem that Protestants talk more about how sinful she was than anything else. This is anti-Roman reactionism, not a biblical approach to her dignity and her role in our salvation.

This may not be the case with you or with your congregation, and if it is not then for that I am thankful. But it is the case with every Protestant group I have been associated with in all my years as a Christian.

Lee said...

Mr. Johnson,
Thank you for letting me know of the problem. I had some problems with blogger myself today. I will see if I can get it cleared up.

Mr. Bonomo,
I tried to reflect what you thought about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary by stating you preferred to be silent. I dealt with the issue anyway because, as I hope my opening indicated, a lot of differing events in my life right now have lead me to think on the issue of Mary. I used your blog as a guide to discussing Mary because of the organization and well thought out nature of your post. It seemed easier to use your blog as a guide rather than try to explain many different events and answer each one of those.
I do believe that you are closer to a Reformed position on Mary than a Roman one. I have not had as wide an exposure to differing Protestant cultures, so I will take your word for it that she is degraded in some circles, but I do not believe that to be the case in Reformed ones. She has always been held up as a woman blessed of God and full of faith, a worthy example for us today. I do believe that it has become necessary to speak of her sinfulness when preaching on texts misused by Rome so that the people are protected from error. I do wish that it did not have to be so, but I am not sure I fault Protestantism for that mistake, but rather Rome for their misuse of her.
I still think you are much closer to Protestant view of Mary than a Roman one.

Andrew McIntyre said...


I don't think we Reformed teach anything false about the blessed virgin. I just think that we don't give her enough attention, and our treatment of her in our Systematics is lacking or nonexistent.

For instance, I think it is proper to say that Mary was "full of grace" for she received bountiful favor from the Lord, which is what grace is, in essence. Also, there is a sense, as the theotokos, that she is the mother of the Church. I would interpret this metaphorically and with caution, but that is my point. We need to treat these things instead of just reacting against Rome. We Reformed have been around, at least as a separate movement, for 500 years. Certainly reaction against Rome should no longer be the impetus for any theological treatment of any topic except on a polemical basis.

Now, you know me well enough to know that I will not be saying any Hail Marys tonight before I go to bed. I just think that we need to have a full and complete Mariology.


Lee said...

I am not sure we need a Mariolotry any more than we need an Enoch-olotry. We confess her in the Apostle's Creed and the Heidelberg, but more than that I am not sure we need. Also if our Mariolotry is just a list of what we can and cannot say about Mary (theotokos = yes, mother of church = probably not in my opinion) then how is that not a reaction against Rome?

Andrew McIntyre said...


Just to be clear, I am not advocating a "mariolatry," which would be the worship of Mary. I am advocating a Mariology, a doctrine concerning Mary. I know that is what you meant in your comment, but I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression.

I think Mary is theologically more significant than Enoch biblically and, especially, historically. I think it would be more analogous to compare her to Abraham in importance. For instance, just as I think it is proper for a believer to claim Abraham as his spiritual father, so I think it is proper to claim Mary as his spiritual mother.


Lee said...


You are right, I was not trying to say you worship Mary. Thank you for correcting my using the wrong word.
As for Mariology, I think this is worhty of another post.

TAR said...

This is from the Catholic Catechism . They can not honestly make Mary sinless when this is their own doctrine

578 Jesus, Israel's Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all embracing detail - according to his own words, down to "the least of these commandments".330 He is in fact the only one who could keep it perfectly.