Chapter XIX.

The Worship of the Virgin Mary.

There seems to be on the part of fallen man an inherent sense of his need of a man-God. The patriarch of Uz gave expression to this feeling, when he intimated his wish for a "days-man," who "might lay his hand upon us both." Our intellectual facilities and our moral affections are unable to traverse the mighty void between ourselves and the Infinite, and both unite in seeking a resting-place midway in One combining in himself both natures. The spirituality of God places Him beyond our grasp, and removes Him, in a manner, from the sphere of our sympathy. We are dazzled by his majesty and glory; his holiness overawes us; his greatness, seen from afar, and incomprehensible by us, seems to repel rather than invite confidence, and to chill the heart rather than expand it into love. "Is there no resting-place for our affections and sympathies," we instinctively ask, "nearer than the august throne of the Infinite?" We need to have the divine attributes reduced to a scale, so to speak, which corresponds more nearly with our intellectual and moral range, and exhibited in One who to the nature of God adds that of man. This feeling has received numerous and varied manifestations; and the effort to meet it has formed a prominent feature in every one of the great systems of idolatry which have arisen in the earth. The nations of antiquity had their race of demi-gods or deified men. In the modern idolatries it has operated not less powerfully. The Mahommedans have their PROPHET, and the Roman Catholics have their VIRGIN. "Here," says Popery, "is a being who may be expected to be more indulgent to your failings than Deity can be,--who will be more easily moved to answer your prayers,--and whom you may approach without any overwhelming awe;" and thus the false is substituted for the true Mediator. It is in the religion of the Bible alone that this instinct of our nature has received its full gratification. The wish breathed of old by the patriarch, and expressed with singular emphasis in all the idolatries that successively arose on the earth, is adequately met only in the "mystery of godliness,--God manifest in the flesh." But what we are here to speak of is the abuse of this principle, in the idolatrous worship of the Virgin.

Papists may make a shift to prove that it is a mitigated worship which they offer to the saints,--that they allow them no rank but that of mediators, and no function but that of intercession,--though even this worship, both in its principles and in its forms, the Bible denominates idolatry. But the worship of the Virgin is capable of no such defence;--it is direct, undisguised, rank idolatry. Roman Catholics give the same titles, perform the same acts, and ascribe the same powers, to Mary as to Christ; and in doing so they make her equal with God.

To Mary are given names and titles which can be lawfully given to no one but God. She is styled "Mother of God;" "Queen of Seraphim, of Saints, and of Prophets;" "Advocate of Sinners;" "Refuge of Sinners;" "Gate of Heaven;" "Morning Star;" "Queen of Heaven." In Roman Catholic countries she is commonly addressed as the "Most Holy Mary." She is often styled the "Most Faithful," and the "Most Merciful." In what other terms could Christ himself be addressed? The Papist alleges that he still regards her as but a creature; nevertheless he addresses her in terms which imply that she possesses divine perfections, power, and glory. The whole psalter of David has been transformed by Bonaventura to the invocation of Mary, by erasing the name of Jehovah, and substituting that of the Virgin. We give an example of the work:--"In thee, O Lady, have I put my trust: let me never be ashamed: in thy grace uphold me." "Unto thee have I cried, O Mary, when my heart was in heaviness; and thou hast heard me from the top of the everlasting hills." "Come unto Mary, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and she shall refresh your souls."

In the second place, the same worship is rendered to Mary as to Christ. Churches are built to her honour; her shrines are crowded with devotees, enriched with their gifts, and adorned with their votive offerings. To her prayers are offered as to a divine being, and blessings are asked as from one who has power to bestow them. Her votaries are taught to pray, "Spare us, good Lady," and "From all evil, good Lady, deliver us."[1] Five annual festivals celebrate her greatness, and keep alive the devotion of her worshippers. In Roman Catholic countries the dawn is ushered in with hymns to her honour; her praises are again chanted at noon; and the day is closed with an Ave Maria sung to the lady of heaven. Her name is the first which the infant is taught to lisp; and the dying are directed to entrust their departing spirits into the hands of the Virgin. In health and in sickness, in business and in pleasure, at home or abroad, the Virgin is ever first in the thoughts, the affections, and the devotions of the Roman Catholic. The soldier fights under her banner, and the bandit plunders under her protection.[2] Her deliverances are commemorated by public monuments erected to her by cities and provinces. In 1832, the cholera desolated the country around Lyons, but did not enter the city. A pillar, erected in the suburbs, commemorates the event, and ascribes it to the interposition of the Virgin. When the pontiffs would bless with special emphasis, it is in the name of Mary; and when they threaten most terribly, it is her vengeance which they denounce against their enemies.[3] In short, the Roman Catholic is taught that none are so miserable but she can succour them, none so criminal but she will pardon them, and none so polluted but she can cleanse them.

There is scarce an act which it is lawful to perform towards God which the Roman Catholic is not taught to perform towards the Virgin. One of the most solemn acts of worship a creature can perform is to give himself in covenant to God,--to make over himself to Jehovah,--for time and for eternity. The Papist is taught to make this solemn surrender of himself to the Virgin. "Entering into a solemn covenant with holy Mary, to be for ever her servant, client, and devotee, under some special rule, society, or form of life, and thereby dedicating our persons, concerns, actions, and all the moments and events of our life, to Jesus, under the protection of his divine mother; choosing her to be our adoptive mother, patroness, and advocate; and entrusting her with what we are, have, do, or hope, in life, death, or through eternity."[4] Some of the most sublime and devotional passages of the Bible are applied to the Virgin Mary. From the work quoted above we may give the following illustrations, in which a strain of mingled prayer and praise suitable to be offered only to God, is addressed to the Virgin:[5] --

To the Virgin Mary is likewise applied the eighth Psalm thus:--

It is true, the theologians of the Church of Rome profess to distinguish between the worship offered to Mary and the worship offered to Christ. The saints are to be worshipped with dulia, the Virgin with hyperdulia, and God with latria.[6] But this is a distinction which has never yet been clearly defined: in practice it is utterly disregarded; it seems to have been invented solely to meet the Protestant charge of idolatry; and the mass of the common people are incapable of either understanding it or acting upon it. We not unfrequently find them praying in the very same words to God, to the Virgin, and to the saints. We may instance the well-known prayer to which, in 1817, an indulgence of three hundred days was annexed. It is as follows:--

According to the theory of lower and higher degrees of worship, three kinds of worship ought to have been here employed,--latria for God, hyperdulia for Mary, and dulia for Joseph; but all three, without the least distinction, or the smallest alteration in the words or in the form, are worshipped alike.

In the third place, the same works are ascribed to Mary as to Christ. She hears prayer, intercedes with God for sinners, guides, defends, and blesses them in life, succours them when dying, and receives their departing spirits into paradise. But passing over these things, the great work of Redemption, the peculiar glory of the Saviour, and the chief of God's ways, is now by Roman Catholics, plainly and without reserve, applied to Mary. The Father who devised, the Son who purchased, and the Spirit who applies, the salvation of the sinner, must all give place to the Virgin. It was her coming which prophets announced;[7] it is her victory which the Church celebrates. Angels and the redeemed of heaven ascribe unto her the glory and honour of saving men. She rose from the dead on the third day; she ascended to heaven; she has been re-united to her Son; and she now shares with Him power, glory, and dominion. "The eternal gates of heaven rolled back; the king's mother entered, and was conducted to the steps of his royal throne. Upon it sat her Son. . . . . 'A throne was set for the king's mother, and she sat upon his right hand.' And upon her brow he placed the crown of universal dominion; and the countless multitude of the heavenly hosts saluted her as the queen of heaven and earth."[8] All this Romanists ascribe to a poor fallen creature, whose bones have been mouldering in the dust for eighteen hundred years. We impute nothing to the Church of Rome, in this respect, which her living theologians do not teach. Instead of being ashamed of their Mariolatry, they glory in it, and boast that their Church is becoming every day more devoted to the service and adoration of the Virgin. The argument by which the work of redemption is ascribed to Mary we find briefly stated by Father Ventura, in a conversation with M. Roussel of Paris, then travelling in Italy.

"The Bible tells us but a few words about her" [the Virgin Mary], said M. Roussel to the Padre, "and those few words are not of a character to exalt her."

"Yes," replied Father Ventura, "but those few words express every thing! Admire this allusion: Christ on the cross addressed his mother as woman; God in Eden declared that the woman should crush the serpent's head; the woman designated in Genesis must therefore be the woman pointed out by Jesus Christ; and it is she who is the Church, in which the family of man is to be saved."

"But that is a mere agreement of words, and not of things," responded the Protestant minister.

"That is sufficient," said Father Ventura.[9]

Not less decisive is the testimony of Mr. Seymour, as regards the sentiments of the leading priests at Rome, and the predominating character of the worship of Italy. The following instructive conversation passed one day between him and one of the Jesuits, on the subject of the worship of the Virgin.

"My clerical friend," says Mr. Seymour, "resumed the conversation, and said, that the worship of the Virgin Mary was a growing worship in Rome,--that it was increasing in depth and intenseness of devotion,--and that there were now many of their divines--and he spoke of himself as agreeing with them in sentiment--who were teaching, that as a woman brought in death, so a woman was to bring in life,--that as a woman brought in sin, so a woman was to bring in holiness,--that as Eve brought in damnation, so Mary was to bring in salvation,--and that the effect of this opinion was largely to increase the reverence and worship given to the Virgin Mary."

"To prevent any mistake as to his views," says Mr. Seymour, "I asked whether I was to understand him as implying, that as we regard Eve as the first sinner, so we are to regard Mary as the first Saviour,--the one as the author of sin, and the other as the author of the remedy."

"He replied that such was precisely the view he wished to express; and he added, that it was taught by St. Alphonso de Liguori, and was a growing opinion."[10]

But we can adduce still higher authority in proof of the charge that Rome now knows no other God than Mary, and worships no other Saviour than the Virgin. In the Encyclical Letter of Pius IX., issued on the 2d of February 1849, soliciting the suffrages of the Roman Catholic Church, preparatory to the decree of the pontiff on the doctrine of the immaculate conception, terms are applied to the Virgin Mary which plainly imply that she is possessed of divine fulness and perfection, and that she discharges the office of Redeemer to the Church, "The most illustrious prelates, the most venerable canonical chapters, and the religious congregations," says the Pope, "rival each other in soliciting that permission should be granted to add and pronounce aloud and publicly, in the sacred Liturgy, and in the preface of the mass to the blessed Virgin Mary, the word 'immaculate;' and to define it as a doctrine of the Catholic Church, that the conception of the blessed Virgin Mary was entirely immaculate, and absolutely exempt from all stain of original sin." The document then rises into a strain of commingled blasphemy and idolatry, in which the perfections of God and the work of Christ are ascribed to the Virgin, who "is raised, by the greatness of her merits, above all the choirs of angels, up to the throne of God; who has crushed under the foot of her virtues the head of the old serpent.[11] The foundation of our confidence is in the Most Holy Virgin, since it is in her that God has placed the plenitude of all good, in such sort, that if there be in us any hope,--if there be any spiritual health,--we know that it is from her that we receive it,--because it is the will of Him who hath willed that we should have all by the instrumentality of Mary." We need no other evidence of Rome's idolatry. The document, it is true, is not a formal deed of the Church; but the difference is one of form only; for the pontiff assures us that the sentiments it contains are not his own only, but those of "the most illustrious prelates, venerable canonical chapters, and religious congregations;" and of course the sentiments are shared in by a vast majority of the members of the Church. The document fully installs Mary in the office of Saviour, and exalts her to the throne of God; for, in the first place, it expressly applies to her the prophecy in Eden, and ascribes to her the work then foretold,--crushing the head of the serpent; and, in the second place, it applies to Mary the ascription of Paul to Christ,--"In him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily," and in doing so, exalts her to the throne of mediatorial power and blessing. The pontifical decree on the subject of the immaculate conception may after this be spared. Already Rome has consummated her idolatry, and its evidence is complete. That Church has installed Mary in the office of Redeemer, and exalted her to the throne of Deity.

To raise Mary to an equality with God, is virtually to place her above Him; for God can have no rival. But Roman Catholic writers teach, in express terms, that she is superior. In invoking her, they hold it warrantable to ask her to lay her commands upon her Son, which implies her superiority in power to Him to whom, the Bible teaches, "all power in heaven and in earth has been committed." And, second, they teach that she is superior in mercy, and that she hears prayer, and pities and delivers the sinner, when Christ will not.[12] This doctrine has not only been taught in words, but has been exhibited in symbol, and that in so grotesque a way, that for the moment we forget its blasphemy. In the dream of St. Bernard,--which forms the subject of an altar-piece in a church at Milan,--two ladders were seen reaching from earth to heaven. At the top of one of the ladders stood Christ, and at the top of the other stood Mary. Of those who attempted to enter heaven by the ladder of Christ, not one succeeded,--all fell back. Of those who ascended by the ladder of Mary, not one failed. The Virgin, prompt to succour, stretched out her hand; and, thus aided, the aspirants ascended with ease.[13]

[1] Stillingfleet's Popery, by Dr. Cunningham, pp. 92, 93. [Back]

[2] The brigands in some parts of Italy and Spain wear a picture of the Madonna, suspended round the neck by a red ribbon. If overtaken unexpectedly by death, they kiss the image, and die in peace. [Back]

[3] When the present Pope fled from Rome, he threatened the Romans with the vengeance of the Virgin. Finding her not so ready to espouse his quarrel as he expected, he solicited and obtained 40,000 soldiers from France. [Back]

[4] Contemplations on the Life and Glory of Holy Mary, A.D. 1685, [quoted from Dr. Cunningham's "StilIingfleet."] [Back]

[5] Quoted from Dr. Cunningham's "Stilliiigfleet," pp. 96-97. [Back]

[6] Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, p. 52. [Back]

[7] Keenan's Catechism, pp. 106-107. [Back]

[8] The Glory of Mary, by J. A. Stothert, Missionary Apostolic in Scotland, pp. 145,146; London, 1851. [Back]

[9] New York Evangelist, Jan. 3, 1850. [Back]

[10] Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, pp. 43-45. [Back]

[11] The doctrine of the pontifical bull we find re-echoed in the sermons and tracts of inferior priests. "It was sin that cost Mary all her sorrow; not her own, but ours. For our disobedience she painfully obeyed." (The Glory of Mary, by James Augustine Stothert, p. 130.) [Back]

[12] See Seymour's Mornings among the Jesuits, pp. 46-56. [Back]

[13] Mornings among the Jesuits, p. 56. [Back]