John MacArthur is a prolific and popular writer at the reformed end of the Evangelical spectrum. He is also a fierce anti-Catholic. On his blog he wrote a series of articles titled Exposing the Heresies of the Catholic Church which are (and I do not say this lightly) surprisingly bad. I will be responding to some of the more egregious errors in a little series of my own. It would be most charitable to read his article all the way through first – then come back and read my reply.
This article concerns Exposing the Heresies of the Catholic Church: Mary Worship. MacArthur’s article is not very long, yet even in this small space he manages to concoct a combination strawman/slippery slope argument that rivals the humorous DirectTV ad. I have a screenshot of it below with the important points highlighted. First, in yellow, are the actual statements that the Catholic Church issued concerning the veneration of Mary (Ineffabilis Deus,1854), after this, in red, is MacArthur’s “interpretation” of the text:
So MacArthur’s take-away from Mary being the most exalted human being in Heaven is that she is the fourth person of the Trinity.
MacArthur is using a flawed hermeneutic here (one that is, unfortunately, not unusual in some circles) that apparently says one may read anything into the text that its words can possibly bear. Only if words like “Queen” or “co-redeemer” are being used the way MacArthur reads them does his conclusion follow. That he has misrepresented Catholic teaching is obvious to anyone who takes the time to see how the Church uses those terms. For this one need only consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Mary.
The Catholic View of Mary
The most important thing to note about the Church’s teaching on Mary is that “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. ” (CCC 964). Whatever else is said of her, no matter how inappropriately exalted it might sound, it is Mary’s role in the ministry of Christ that merits it. Thus, her titles always need to be understood according to her roles (which always, themselves, depend on Jesus Christ). Once this is grasped, the objections becomes far less tenable.
Queen of Heaven
According to Catholic theology, Mary was “preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (CCC 966). As the highest ranked human being, she is called “Queen of Heaven.” This not only fits her description in Revelation 12, but it is also derived from the Old Testament.
In the Davidic Kingdom the queen was often the king’s mother. Because the kings often had many wives, issues would arise with only one being the queen. So, the mother of the King was considered the queen of the kingdom (e.g., I Kings 2:17-25 where Solomon is on the throne with his mother Bathsheba. See also Gen.16:4, 8, 9, 1 Kings 11:19; 15:13; 2 Kings 5:3; 10:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16; Psalm 123:2; Proverbs 30:23; Isaiah 24:2; 47:5, 7; Jeremiah 13:18; 29:2). Catholics see this as a prophetic type of the Kingdom role of Mary – if Jesus is King, Mary is Queen (cf. Ps. 45 and Luke 1:31-33).
This does in any way support the ludicrous idea that Mary is considered “an additional member of the Trinity”!
Co-Redeemer / Mediatrix
Mary had a faith that never wavered. From assenting to bearing the God-Man, to her agony at his death on the cross, Mary faithfully joined Jesus in his work. After her death, she prays for sinners and (like us when we pray), this can result in salvation. Thus it is said that, “her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . . Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.” (CCC 969). Thus, it is not that Mary died for sinners or bought their freedom from sin – it is that by her faithfulness, actions, and prayers, the work of Christ took place. Whether or not it could have been different is not the issue. God chose to work through Mary, and her involvement makes her a partner in the plan of salvation. That is what is being acknowledged in her title of “co-redeemer” (aka Mediatrix).
Note that immediately following this declaration, the Church is quick to add that,
“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. . . . rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. (CCC 970)
Mary’s exalted status in the work of salvation is based on her exalted role. We are co-redeemers and mediators in a sense as well. Paul writes that we are to “intercede” or “mediate” for others as part of our “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19). (In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, he even claims to have saved some people!) Any mediating ability we (or Mary) have depend on Jesus’s mediation. There is only one redeemer – one who mediates salvation between mankind and God (1 Tim. 5:2) as to his incarnation and redemption, but that does not mean there are no “sub-mediators” within mankind as well (we tacitly admit this every time we ask others to pray for us). This, in fact, is taught in First Timothy itself: “let intercessions to be made for all men” (cf. Heb. 7:24-25).
The fact that Jesus is our one mediator does not preclude him from including others in his activity. We see this in other examples as well: Matthew 23:8 indicates that we have “only one teacher,” yet James 3:1 and Ephesians 4:11 indicate there are many teachers. One verse later we are told to “call no man ‘father’, for you have one Father, who is in heaven,” yet both Peter and Paul do this very thing (1 Cor. 4:14–15; Phil. 2:22; Phm. 10; Titus 1:4; 1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim. 1:2; 1 Pet. 5:13). Jesus is the Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), but so are the leaders of the Church (1 Pet. 5:2).
No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among 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.” (CCC 970)
For whatever reason, God has chosen to use a variety of creatures in his work, and when he does so it is not inappropriate to indicate that by the use of titles. This does not “ascribe to men the infallible characteristics that only belong to God.” These particular titles of Mary simply picks out her roles. They do not elevate her to “an alternative avenue of access to God.”
On Marian Veneration
Protestants confuse a lot of things that Catholics distinguish. One place this becomes problematic is that Protestants see prayer and worship as the same thing. But prayer simply means “to ask.” No one overhearing an older English conversation between two men with one saying, “I pray thee, Lord, where are the fairgrounds?” would think the speaker was worshiping the man as a god! So one can “pray to” someone without worshiping them. And, if the saints in Heaven are able to know what is happening on Earth and offer prayers in response (which they apparently can – Rev. 6:9-11), then “praying to them to pray for us” should not be an issue.
Further, there are distinctions amongst the types of honor appropriately given to various persons. In Latin these are called Latria, Dulia and Hyperdulia. Latria is worship and is the worship that is due only to God (that is why idol worship is called idolatry – idol+latria). Dulia is not worship, it is the giving of due honor. We do this when we throw an astronaut a parade or make a statue of a president. Hyperdulia is the highest honor given to the highest of humans – the Virgin Mary (considered so for being honored by God as the mother of Jesus). Mary is not worshiped – no sacrifices are given to her. In fact, while the word “worship” appears nearly 100 times in the Catechism, it occurs zero times with relation to Mary.
MacArthur sums up his issues with the Catholic view of Mary by saying that, “it’s often a shock for Catholics to read the Bible and see how little is actually said about Mary. . . . It warps the truth of Scripture and distorts the Person and work of Jesus Christ.” MacArthur himself might be surprised that only a few pages are devoted to Mary in the Catechism. He might also be surprised by what the Catholic Church actually teaches – because the “warping” on display here is MacArthur’s ridiculous inferences and subsequent slander of Catholic teaching. If MacArthur is really interested in “unleashing the truth,” he might start with his dishonest presentation of Catholic piety – because this kind of blatant misrepresentation can only hurt his cause.