Equivocation is the error in dialogue and in logical discourse where the meaning of a word changes in a discussion. It is when a person confuses the meaning of a term by changing contexts. An example would be "Evolution states that one species can change into another. We see that cars have evolved into different styles. Therefore, since evolution is a fact in cars, it is true in species." The problem here is that the first use of "evolution" deals with the theory of biological organisms that change through mutations. The second use deals with intelligent design of cars without mutational changes. They are different uses entirely. So, equivocation is an error. It is an improper method of discourse and persuasion and should not be used to establish doctrines.
Roman Catholic theologians are masters of equivocation--especially when it comes to Mary. With equivocation they have managed to develop doctrines that have absolutely no basis in scripture. Let's take a look at what they have said about Mary, who is perhaps the best example of Roman Catholic equivocation, so we can see how they develop their doctrines.
"Her cooperation in the objective redemption is an indirect, promote cooperation, and it derives from this that she voluntarily devoted her whole life to the service of the Redeemer, and, under the cross, suffered and sacrificed with him." 1
The problem here is that the phrase "suffered and sacrificed with him" can be understood in two distinct ways. First, as a mother, she suffered by watching her son Jesus die on the cross. In a small sense, it could be said that she was participating in a sacrifice, but only in the sense that she was in anguish when seeing him suffer. Likewise, others who watched Jesus die would have suffered as well and in that sense participated in his death by simply watching it. Second, the phrase "suffered and sacrificed with him" can also be taken to have a redemptive quality when dealing with Christ on the cross. After all, Jesus suffered and atoned for sin on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). The problem is in the ambiguity of the phrase "suffered and sacrificed with him," which is taken from the sense of Mary's motherly anguish and extended by the Roman Catholic Church into a co-redemptrix role, which is completely foreign to the biblical text. It is like saying Jesus suffered on the cross to atone for sin. Mary suffered watching him die. So Mary's suffering atoned for sin. With this equivocation and others like it, the Roman Catholic Church has said such things as the following:
- "in the power of the grace of redemption merited by Christ, Mary, by her spiritual entering into the sacrifice of her divine son for men, made atonement for the sins of man and (de congruon) merited the application of the redemptive grace of Christ. In this manner she cooperates in the subjective redemption of mankind." 2
- "by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix (helper), Adjutrix (benefactress), and Mediatrix." 3
Now, it should be obvious that there is not the slightest hint in the Bible to support the blasphemous statement "Mary, by her spiritual entering into the sacrifice of her divine son for men, made atonement for the sins of man." But, Roman Catholicism's elevation of Mary to such a high degree has prompted it to find ways to embed into scripture and its philosophical methodology a way to invent doctrines. Also, there is no biblical support whatsoever for the idea that Mary "by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation." Yet, the Catholic Church has invented this doctrine as well. Do you see what the fallacy of equivocation can do? It is a wide open door though which almost any doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church can be introduced--even when there is absolutely no biblical support for it whatsoever.
Instead of reading into the text what it does not say, the Roman Catholic Church needs to trust God's word and not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6). The Bible tells us that it was Jesus who suffered for our sins (Mark 8:31; Luke 24:46; 1 Pet. 2:21-24) and by his suffering redeemed us (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12). No one else did this--no one, including Mary. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament is the word "suffer" associated with Mary. In John 19:26-27, where Mary is at the cross of Christ, nothing is said of her suffering. Of course, we know she was grieving; but the point is that the inspired word of God does not associate Mary with the word "suffering."
So, the Roman Catholic Church equivocates by saying that Mary suffered (watched her Son die) and then changes the meaning of that suffering to be similar to the kind of suffering undergone by Jesus on the cross when he was crucified (Matt. 27:35), became sin (2 Cor. 5:21), and atoned for us (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Col. 1:20; Heb. 2:17). The fact is Mary was not crucified. Mary did not become sin. Mary did not make atonement. Let's take a closer look at what the inspired Word of God does teach.
- Isaiah 53:4-6, "Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
- "Matthew 27:35, "And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves, casting lots; 36 and sitting down, they began to keep watch over Him there. 2 Cor. 5:21, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
- 1 Pet. 2:24, "and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed."
The Scriptures attribute the atonement, suffering for atonement, etc., to Jesus alone. There is absolutely no mention of this concept concerning Mary. But, this has not stopped the Roman Catholic Church from saying such things as . . .
" . . . in suffering with Him as He died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to restore supernatural life to souls." 4
As blessed as Mary was, she did not atone for sin. She suffered because of what she saw Jesus going through, but her "cooperation" was completely passive. She obeyed God and raised Jesus under Jewish law, but at the cross she grieved. In no way does this mean that she participated in the atoning work because the atoning work was that of Christ alone. To say that anyone would participate in the work of Christ on the cross--to atone for sins--is to take the focus off of Christ, deny the sufficiency of Christ's atonement, and add someone else to the formula of God's redemptive work to accomplish salvation through the Word of God incarnate.
The Roman Catholic Church not only uses the fallacy of equivocation to produce new doctrines that are not found in scripture but also ones that are in direct contradiction to it. This is why we must keep our eyes on Jesus and trust the Bible as our guide to spiritual truth. Otherwise, as is evidenced by Roman Catholicism, all sorts of doctrines will be introduced. Who knows what is next--Mary is divine?
- 1. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma; Rockford, Illinois: 10 books, 1974, page 214.
- 2. Fundamentals of Catholic dogma, page 213.
- 3. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Solemnly Promulgated by Holiness Pope Paul VI, Nov. 21, 1964 , #62.
- 4. ewtn.com/faith/teachings/marya3.htm