Do Catholics honor Mary more than Jesus?
My Catholic friends, don't be to hard on your non-Catholic friends because they believe this anti-Catholic literature and may even appear angry. I would suggest that Catholics respond to their non-Catholic friends in kindness. It is enough just to tell them the truth and let God be in charge of converting us. After all, "God is love" (1 Jn. 4:7-9) and we should love in imitation of God.
It is true, the more anti-Catholic literature I read and researched over time, the more Catholic I became. I began to study the history of the Catholic Church and the Bible through the eyes of the of those who opposed the Church. I read books and articles, and listened to people speak against the Catholic Church. Researching this information, I contrasted it with the Bible, history, and Church teaching. In the process, I found myself becoming even more Catholic.
I saw these same three things happening over and over again. There were people who were misrepresenting Church history, taking the Bible out of context, and misrepresenting Catholic teaching. These were the three major areas that were not being represented correctly, hundreds if not thousands of times.
• Taking the Bible out of context: I also discovered that these people were frequently quoting the Bible out of context and in so doing were coming up with distorted understandings of Scripture. What came out of these improper understandings of the Bible were thousands of contradictory interpretations of Scripture causing a type of theological anarchy among the thousands of Protestant traditions.
• Misrepresenting Catholic teaching: The people writing this literature would often times misrepresent Church teaching and then, on the basis of their own misrepresentations, claim that the Catholic Church is wrong. This fascinated me because they were often times not disagreeing with Church teaching at all, but with their own misrepresentations of Church teaching.
• Misrepresentation of Catholic history: The first thing I noticed had to do with history and their criticism of certain Church Councils. After all, they could criticize Catholic councils because they existed in history. I could not criticize their councils simply because they did not exist in history going back to Christ and the Apostles.
This, in a nutshell, is why through studying the writings of the adversaries of the Church, I actually became more Catholic. The question that I had as I did my research is this. Why is it necessary to misrepresent history, teachings of the Church, and the Bible in order to convince people that the Catholic Church is wrong? Below in detail I talk about these three main areas where the Catholic Church is misrepresented.
Taking the Bible out of context: Everyone is coming from some place. Our faith is handed on to us by others who have gone before us. This is what we call tradition. For example, Pentecostals have a Pentecostal tradition, Baptists have a Baptist tradition, Catholics have a Catholic tradition and Lutherans have a Lutheran tradition. We all read from the same Bible and yet we believe different things about this same Bible. Why, because we are coming from different traditions.
There is an understanding among Catholics and non-Catholics alike that the Bible properly understood in context does not contradict. To understand the Bible, we must take it in context. It is necessary to notice clarifying words, what comes before and after a Bible verse and what similar Bible passages say in other parts of the Bible. Usually, non-Catholics will accept the Bible as their only source of revelation. At the same time Catholics accept both the Bible and the teaching Tradition of the Church.
For them it is an open and shut case. Jesus spoke against human tradition. The Catholic Church speaks in favor of Tradition and so to them the Church is in clear violation of the Bible and Catholics should leave that non-Biblical Catholic Church and join a so-called Bible believing church. This sounds pretty persuasive until you notice three dots that indicate part of the context has been left out, verses 9 through 12. These verses show us that Jesus was not speaking against all tradition, but corrupt tradition. Please notice Mark 7:7-13 with the verses in bold that were left out.
Jesus said, "The worship they offer me is worthless, the doctrines they teach are only human–regulations. You put aside the commandment of God to cling to human traditions, but you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do. In this way you make God's word null and void for the sake of your tradition which you have handed down" (MK. 7:7, 8, 13, J.B.V.).
Once we see that part of the context was left out, we realize that Jesus was not speaking against all tradition! He was speaking against corrupt tradition, that is in violation of the fourth commandment. Honor your father and your Mother (Mk 7:10, Ex 20:12). In other words, if the money that they would have had to take care of their parents is (given to God), specifically the temple, then they no longer have to take care of their parents in their old age which is in violation of the 4th commandment.
I believe that the vast majority of people who speak against any and all tradition do not realize that they are taking Mark 7 out of context, at least until you bring it to their attention. A person coming from a Pentecostal tradition challenged me with this question. “Why do Catholics follow tradition when in Mark 7, Jesus very clearly speaks against tradition?” I agreed with her that Jesus spoke against tradition and then I asked her a question. “Do you know the specific man-made tradition that Jesus was speaking against and which commandment it violated?” She said “no.” Because she could not answer the question, I realized that she didn’t know the context. I explained to her that Jesus was not speaking against all tradition, but corrupt tradition which is in violation of the 4th commandment. She had nothing further to say.
On social media, I reference from time to time some of the various Christian faith traditions. One man was upset with me for applying the word tradition to his particular church. He responded in sarcasm by saying, “you, a Catholic talking to us about tradition, you ought to talk!” I explained to him that we both have a tradition. It’s just that Catholics have a tradition and admit it and you have a tradition and don’t admit it. He had no response. If he had challenged me and said that his church had no tradition, I would have quoted back to him his own words that are not in the Bible, but coming from his particular tradition.
The Catholic Church draws from both the Bible and tradition and honestly admits it and non-Catholic churches also draw from both the Bible and their tradition, and sometimes don’t admit it.
When people speak against any and all tradition, they are in fact taught this by their church tradition. They quote, in Mark 7:7-13 and then use this to speak against all tradition, when in fact Jesus was speaking against corrupt tradition. They are at the same time seemingly unaware that the Apostle Paul spoke for a living Apostolic tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that is not corrupt. The irony in all of this is that their arguments against all tradition don’t come from the Bible, but their tradition.
Misrepresenting Catholic teaching: The number one misrepresentation of Catholic teaching has to do with Jesus’ mother Mary. Some non-Catholic church traditions teach that the Catholic Church deified Mary.
While at my place of employment, I noticed one coworker who regularly seemed to be uneasy around me, but I didn’t know why. One day he just started yelling at me, “Why do you Catholics put Mary on such a high pedestal?” And so, I am yelling back at him, “Oh, do you mean where the Catholic Church makes Mary equal to God or even Greater than God?” And he said “Yes!” And so, I answered him, “never in the two-thousand-year history of the Church has the Church ever made Mary equal to God or greater than God!” He looked at me for a few seconds and walked away without saying anything. He, to his credit, later apologized for speaking in what he called "an area that he didn’t know that much about."
However, the question remains, why did he walk away without responding? The answer is simple. It says nowhere in the Bible that Mary is a God. She is the Mother of Jesus, who is both God and man. Everyone agrees with this. And so, if the Church deified Mary, it had to happen at some later date. At which Church council was Mary made into a God? In order for him to answer that question, he would have had to name a Church document or council where Mary was deified. The problem is that no such Church document or council exists. The deification of Mary is not Catholic teaching, but non-Catholic misrepresentation of Catholic teaching, not to be confused with actual Catholic teaching.
I was in a discussion on social media with a Baptist. He was wondering why Catholics make Mary into a god. I explained to him that Mary as a god is not Catholic teaching but non-Catholic teaching that is misrepresenting Catholic teaching. I asked him what his sources were. Interestingly enough, he claimed that that he knew of seven different Catholics who believed that Mary is a god. As the expression goes, I almost fell off my chair. I had never heard such a thing in my life. I told him that I found it interesting that he, who had never been Catholic, claimed to know of seven different Catholics who believed that Mary was a god and I, who have always been Catholic, have never heard of even one Catholic who thought that Mary was a god.
I further went on to say that if he had been honest, he would have said that he knew of seven ex-Catholics, who got their information from anti-Catholic sources, who believed that Mary is a god. He had no further response; I had caught him in a lie. In order to prove Mary is a god, Evangelicals and others have to go to non-Catholic sources that are misrepresenting Catholic teachings. They then disagree not with Catholic teaching, but with their own misrepresentations of Catholic teaching.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 971 makes it very clear that we honor Mary; however, adoration belongs to God alone. “All generations will call me Blessed.” The Church rightly honors “the blessed virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the Title of ‘Mother of God’, to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs… This very special devotion… differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.”
It is one thing for people to honestly disagree on an issue. It is quite something else when someone deliberately misrepresents another church and then disagrees, not with the teachings of this church, but with their own misrepresentations of this church’s teachings.
Misrepresentation of Catholic history: On social media there are many adversarial groups speaking against the Catholic Church. One Evangelical posed this historical question. “I would ask our Romanist visitors to name, please, a single bishop at the Council of Nicaea who believed as the Pope believes on each of these topics: Marian dogmas, Papal Authority (infallibility), Purgatory, transubstantiation?”
His question is worthy of an answer. As far as the topics that he mentioned, they were not dealt with at the Council of Nicaea. They were dealing with the nature of God, the Arian heresy, the day we celebrate Easter and other related topics.
I also asked him a question using some of his own language. “I would ask our Evangelical visitors to please give us the name of even one Baptist minister at the council of Nicaea"? He had no answer because the attendees at the Council of Nicaea were not Evangelical ministers, but Catholic Bishops. What he didn’t seem to realize is that in asking this question, he was unwittingly testifying to the fact that the Church of history is the Catholic Church. He evidently didn’t like it that I pointed this out and his response was to kick me out of his group discussion. He could criticize my Church for its historical Church councils, because the Catholic Church existed at that time and is the Church of history. However, I can’t criticize his Protestant councils since they did not exist prior to the 16th century many centuries later.
Many years ago, I was present when a Protestant minister was speaking about the history of Christianity beginning with Adam and Eve. He then brought up the New Testament, the story of Jesus in the Gospels and then went on to speak of Fr. Martin Luther and some of the other Protestant reformers to the present. I remember looking around at the audience and thinking to myself, am I the only one who sees what this minister has done?
He made no reference to Christianity from the death of the last Apostle till the time of the Protestant reformers. It is not unusual for Protestants to shy away from history because Christian history is in fact Catholic. This is also one of the major reasons why very educated thoughtful non-Catholics, including Protestant ministers become Catholic.
I am not the only one who has noticed this. An Evangelical noticed this same thing when she took a history class at her Bible College. Here is what she had to say “There was something in that history that bothered me to no end. Between the Book of Acts and the Reformation, it appeared there was not very much to report. I wondered what the Holy Spirit had been doing during those 1,500 years. No one seemed bothered by this giant gap. I found it hard to believe that the work of God had gone largely undone until the Azusa Street revival in California, the cradle of Pentecostalism, in the early 20th Century” (Kristyn Lorraine Hall, August 29th CHNewsletter). This is one of the reasons why Kristyn Hall eventually became Catholic.
Why did they ignore the 1,500 years before Luther Calvin and Zwingli? They could not talk about the Protestant history because it hadn’t happened yet. All they would have been able to talk about was Catholic history.
The first Protestant Reformers who rebelled against the Church were all Catholic. Fr. Martin Luther and Fr. Ulrich Zwingli were Catholic priests. John Calvin was not a priest, but went to a Catholic School. If Protestants want a history that goes back to the time of Christ, they will have to go back to the Protestant Reformers and then through the Catholic Church all the way to Jesus and the Apostles.
I have listened to a number of comments on the history of the Bible by Protestant pastors, who moved away from their non-Catholic church(s) to the Catholic Church. In the process, they discovered that the Bible is Catholic. As one Protestant pastor put it. "Where did the Bible come from? Do we think it just dropped down from the sky?" Marcus Grodi convert, talks about this. He had led Catholics out of the Catholic Church, to his Church using the Bible. His expression was "show it to me in the Bible!" On the other hand, he remembers when he first realized that the Bible is a Catholic book.
"I remember that strange empty feeling when I first realized that the only reason that I have the Bible was the Catholic Church."
Jesus said that His Church is ONE. This being the case then the obvious question is this, of the tens of thousands of non-Catholic denominations, non-denominations, and fellowships, which ONE is it. This is actually very important to the best of non-Catholic Christians; they want to be in a church that teaches the true Gospel. This is where the term "church hopping" comes from as they search for this true Church which promotes the full Gospel. There are wonderful non-Catholics out there who believe as Jesus taught, that the truth will set you free. They do not want to be in a church that is teaching the Gospel incorrectly, as the Apostle Paul puts it, a "different Gospel" (2 Cor. 11:3-5). Once this is settled, they may have to do this multiple times because of job changes and relocation.
One of the ways that non-Catholics try to get around dealing with this ONE Church is to declare it “invisible.” They don’t want to admit that the Catholic Church is that visible Church formed by Christ and the Apostles. And by calling it "invisible" instead of ONE, they are trying not to deal with the huge fragmentation of thousands of contradictory theologies that continue to this day in Protestant Christianity.
Not too long ago, I remember joking to a Baptist friend of mine that every time I visit a Protestant Church, I find that it is in fact visible, with visible attendees, visible pastor, visible Bibles etc. I said to her "if the Church that Jesus founded is supposed to be ‘invisible’ then this church can't be it because it is very visible." She later became Catholic and yes, the Catholic Church is very visible.
The great Anglican historian, John Henry Newman in his research of the history of the Church came to this conclusion. “To be deep in History is to cease to be Protestant.” Newman did cease to be Protestant and became Catholic. One of the major reasons why Protestant ministers today become Catholic is because they ultimately discover that Christian history is ultimately Catholic and Orthodox.
There are hundreds of examples where the Church is not represented accurately. I have given a few examples in these three main areas. As a Catholic these misrepresentations did not lead me away from my Church. They actually drew me nearer. I reasoned that if falsehoods against the Catholic Church are the primary ways that you prove it wrong, then it must be that one true Church established by Jesus Christ. There are many wonderful non-Catholics, who like us are seekers of the truth and when they begin to see that they were given a less than correct understanding of the Church they sometimes begin to fall in love with the very Church they were taught to hate.
I warn Catholics not to take it personally when non-Catholics are somewhat caustic. They have been taught many things about our Catholic Church that are not true. In fact, many (but not all) are taught that Catholics are not Christians. They are Pagans at best, or Satanists at worst. Put yourself in their shoes. If you had been brought up in their tradition(s) and were taught these things wouldn’t you be doing the same things they are doing. And so, it is for us to simply tell people the truth not pushing it on anyone. Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn. 8:1-33). If there is any converting to take place let Jesus do that! After all, it is His truth that sets us free.