Roman Catholicism, Mary, and Idolatry
Roman Catholics have an extremely high view of Mary and have attributed some astounding characteristics and abilities to her, such as her interceding for us, atoning for us, and delivering our souls from damnation (documented below). Protestants consider this elevation to be not only extreme, but idolatrous since they attribute to Mary what should only be said of God. Roman Catholicism responds by saying it venerates Mary and gets its doctrines on her from Sacred Tradition, which is an "inanimate thing passed from hand to hand,"1. Alright, so which is it, the sin of idolatry or the blessing of veneration?
The Roman Catholic church teaches there is a difference between idolatry and veneration. It says,
"Idolatry etymologically denotes Divine worship given to an image, but its signification has been extended to all Divine worship given to anyone or anything but the true God....An essential difference exists between idolatry and the veneration of images practised [sic] in the Catholic Church, viz., that while the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers, the Catholic knows "that in images there is no divinity or virtue on account of which they are to be worshipped, that no petitions can be addressed to them, and that no trust is to be placed in them." 2
The Roman Catholic Church has defined idolatry far too narrowly in its favor. Let's consider two things.
First, notice that it says "divine worship" should be given only to God. This works out to mean that other forms of worship to Mary are okay, as long as it isn't "divine worship." But what is "divine worship?" After searching through the Vatican Website3, the Catholic Encyclopedia4, the entire Council of Trent5, Vatican II6 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church,7, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,8 and the Catholic Dictionary9 the best I could find was, "Now the divine worship is directed to the glorification of God."10 That is a nice and brief comment, but it isn't descriptive enough. Why is it that in all these sources Divine Worship is not defined? Perhaps it is because offering a strict definition might make them vulnerable to criticism concerning their worship of Mary.
Catholicism says that divine worship is for God only, yet it also says it is okay to bow down before a statue of Mary, pray to Mary, believe that Mary delivers us from death, believe Mary atoned for us, etc., as long as you don't give her "divine worship." In other words, you can do almost anything worship-wise to Mary as you would to God, just don't call it "divine worship."
Exodus 20:5 and "worship"
The Hebrew word for "worship" in Exodus 20:5 (the Ten Commandments) is "shachah" שָׁחָה. Take a look at what the Strong's Enhanced Lexicon says about the word.
"172 occurrences; AV translates as “worship” 99 times, “bow” 31 times, “bow down” 18 times, “obeisance” nine times, “reverence” five times, “fall down” three times, “themselves” twice, “stoop” once, “crouch” once, and translated miscellaneously three times. 1 to bow down. 1a (Qal) to bow down. 1b (Hiphil) to depress (fig). 1c (Hithpael). 1c1 to bow down, prostrate oneself. 1c1a before superior in homage. 1c1b before God in worship. 1c1c before false gods. 1c1d before angel."11
Bowing down is part of the act of worship, as you can see above. Clearly, Roman Catholics who bow down before statues of Mary (and others) are risking breaking the commandment not to worship other gods and not to bow down before idols. The Catholic Church responds by saying that as long as it isn't divine worship given to Mary, it is okay. But this is nothing more than a word game. They do the same thing to Mary that they would to God and excuse it by saying that it isn't divine worship. The funny thing is that God doesn't make the same distinction as the Catholics do. God says don't do it. Don't bow down before images (Lev. 26:1).
Second, the Roman Catholic definition of idolatry used above says "the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers." Again after searching all the sources listed above, divine powers is not defined. The best I found was "divine power preserved Christ's body from corruption." (CCC 627) and "Divine power is inexhaustible" (Catholic Enyclopedia, Omnipotentce). Roman Catholicism does not attribute divinity to Mary (at least, not yet), but it does attribute divine powers to her: atonement of sin12; divine access to God13, delivering our souls from death14; her intercession brings us salvation15, etc.
Such magnificent attributes of Mary are found nowhere in Scripture. Let me say this again, none of these things are found in God's inspired word. They are, however, said to be found in the Roman Catholic Church's Sacred Tradition. I cannot help but consider what God said through the Apostle Paul about not exceeding what is written in the word of God.
"Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other," (1 Cor. 4:6).16
So, the Roman Catholic Church is commanded by Scripture to not exceed what is written in God's word. Has it done that? Has it exceeded the limits of Scripture? Yes, it has.
In the Bible, NASB, the word idol (and its cognates idols and idolatry) occurs 175 times in 162 verses. I read every one of the 175 verses and not once did I find a reference to the idolators actually considering the idols in their hands and/or to which they bowed as actually being alive, because that is what it would mean to claim that they were divine. Remember, Catholicism says, "the idolater credits the image he reverences with Divinity or Divine powers."17. But this is wrong. You see, the Catholic Church is stacking the definitional deck in its favor so as to separate itself from the biblical teaching of idolatry and maintain its practice of bowing down before various statues and praying to saints.
But saying the Roman Catholic Church is practicing idolatry doesn't prove anything. So, let's turn to God's word and take a look at the examples of idolatry and then see if the Roman Catholic Church practices the same thing concerning Mary.
|I D O L A T R Y|
|Idolatry of in the Bible||Examples of with Mary|
|Altars to Idols||2 Chron. 33:15, "He also removed the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, as well as all the altars which he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside the city."||"From the beginning of Christianity special veneration was paid to the Mother of God, which in the language of theology is called hyperdulia, to distinguish the honour rendered to her from that given to the other saints. It is not strange, therefore, that after the main or principal altar, the most prominent is that dedicated in a special manner to the Mother of God; and to indicate this specific preference, this altar is usually placed in the most prominent position in the church, i.e. at the right (gospel) side of the main altar. In general it signifies any altar of which the Blessed Virgin is the titular."18|
|Bowing Down to Images||Lev. 26:1, "You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God." See Joshua 23:7||All across the world, images of Mary are elevated in Feasts and Churches. In those churches, people very often bow down to statues of Mary. This is a violation of scripture.|
|Images in the House of God||2 Chron. 33:6-7, He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. 7 Then he put the carved image of the idol which he had made in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen from all the tribes of Israel, I will put My name forever;||Roman Catholic Churches are full of images of all sorts in, what we could call, the houses of God, the Roman Catholic Churches. The most prominent are those of Mary.|
|Idols in the hearts||Ezek. 14:3, "Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?"||Veneration of Mary is accomplished in the heart. "The Blessed Virgin, as manifesting in a sublimer manner than any other creature the goodness of God, deserves from us a higher recognition and deeper veneration than any other of the saints; and this peculiar cultus due to her because of her unique position in the Divine economy, is designated in theology hyperdulia, that is dulia in an eminent degree."19|
|Kissing statues||Hosea 13:2, "And now they sin more and more, And make for themselves molten images, Idols skillfully made from their silver, All of them the work of craftsmen. They say of them, “Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!"||All over the world, Catholics not only bow to statues of Mary but will ceremoniously kiss the statue's feet. There is no record found from the Vatican that denounces such a practice.|
|Making Graven Images||Exo. 20:4-5, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,||It should go without saying that statues and images of Mary are too countless to number within the Roman Catholic Churches around the world. If Mary is in heaven, and they make images of her, then they violate the Scripture.|
|Making Male and Female Images||Deut. 4:15, "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, 16 lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,"||The Roman Catholic Church is full of male and female statues representing Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and others. They are often used in worship services and many people bow down before them.|
|Prays to||Isaiah 44:17, But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god." See also Isaiah 45:20, “Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; They have no knowledge, Who carry about their wooden idol, and pray to a god who cannot save.||CCC par. 2675, "Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries..."|
|Request for Deliverance||Isaiah 44:17, But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god."||Par. 966, "...You [Mary] conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death."|
|Worshipping Images||Deut. 4:19, "And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven." |
Ex. 20:4-5, "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..."
|"...when she [Mary] is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son..." (Vatican Council II, p. 420). Statues of Mary often have her depicted with Stars in her crown, an allusion, says Catholicism to Revelation 12:1-2, " And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; 2 and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth." 20|
|Worship of false gods|| |
Acts 10:24-26, "And on the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them, and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 And when it came about that Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter raised him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am just a man." Rev. 22:8-9, "And I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. 9 And he said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brethren the prophets and of those who heed the words of this book; worship God."
|"...when she [Mary] is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son..." (Vatican Council II, p. 420).|
Does the Roman Catholic Church promote idolatry? According to the scripture and its own practices, yes it does.
"Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry," (1 Cor. 10:14).
- 1. Catholic Encyclopedia, Tradition and the Living Magisterium
- 2. Catholic Encyclopedia, Idolatry
- 3. vatican.va
- 4. newadvent.org
- 5. history.hanover.edu/texts/trent.html
- 6. cin.org/vatiidoc.html
- 7. scborromeo.org/ccc.htm
- 8. Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Tan Books and Publishers Inc, Rockford Ill. 1974
- 9. Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Phd., S.T.D., Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Huntington IN, 2002
- 10. Summa Theologica, 2nd Part of the 2nd Part, Questions 93, newadvent.org/summa/3093.htm
- 11. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (H7812). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.
- 12. Fundamentals of Catholic dogma, Ott, page 213
- 13. Vatican Website: Encyclical of Pope Leo 13th on the Rosary, Octobri Mense, Pope Leo 13th, 1903-1914
- 14. CCC 966
- 15. CCC par. 969
- 16. The Vatican Website translates this verse as, "I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, so that you may learn from us not to go beyond what is written, so that none of you will be inflated with pride in favor of one person over against another.
- 17. Catholic Encyclopedia, Idolatry
- 18. Catholyc Encyclopedia, Altar of Our Lady
- 19. Catholic Encyclopedia, Adoration
- 20. Labor Pain is part of the curse and Mary is not supposed to be under the curse. Therefore she would not have felt labor pains and this could not refer to her.
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