November 30, 2020

Bryan Cross Interview (Part 5): Mary, Purgatory and the Eucharist


My sincere thanks to Bryan Cross and all the commenters in this discussion. The majority of our discussion has been constructive and helpful. Of course, there are deep feelings at work in these issues and some commenters reflect various levels of understanding other traditions and various levels of being able to communicate without rancor.

This final post deals with three issues causing continuing disagreement: Marian devotion, the doctrine of purgatory and the nature of the Catholic Eucharist.

10. Most Protestants would see three major impediments to reunion: Tradition in relation to scripture, the Papacy and the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Laying these aside, give me a quick assessment of three other issues that may be less intractable:

1) Marian devotion

As you know, some Protestants are coming to appreciate more deeply the Catholic Church’s historical understanding of Mary’s significance. (See “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life, A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together” in First Things, November, 2009.) Part of that, I think, is due to greater dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. Some Protestants are more sympathetic to understanding Mary as the second Eve, the ark of the New Covenant, and the theological implications of her being the Theotokos. Some are open to the possibility of her perpetual virginity. But the Catholic dogmas concerning Mary’s immaculate conception and assumption are much more difficult for Protestants. Part of this is because of the sola scriptura paradigm in which a doctrine needs to be taught explicitly in Scripture in order for it to be part of Christian belief or at least a required part of Christian belief. More importantly, perhaps, Protestants are concerned that focus on Mary could detract from focus on Christ. That’s why even terms like ‘Marian devotion’ sometimes elicit immediate negative emotional reactions from some Protestants.

From a Catholic point of view, anyone who loves Jesus, will love His mother, for His sake. And essentially that is what devotion is, i.e. love. Jesus was devoted to His mother, not just out of duty, but because as the perfect man He saw perfectly and continually the great gift she had given to Him, the sacrifice she made for Him. He loved her for what He shared with her, from her. He knew Himself more perfectly than any man ever has, and He loved Himself more than any man ever has. Knowing Himself, He continually saw her in Himself, in His humanity. And so she too is the object of His love, not just in His divine will as God, but in His human will as man. That is why loving Christ naturally includes loving His mother. He did not treat love for His mother as detracting from His love of Himself, but as part of the very expression of His perfect self-love. This is why Catholics do not view devotion to Christ’s mother as detracting from our love for Christ, but as an expression of our love for Christ. Because we (the Church) are Christ’s Body and by baptism are incorporated into His Body, therefore, in our baptism, Mary becomes our mother too. As Catholics we believe that when Jesus on the cross said to John, “Behold, your mother,” He was not only entrusting care of Mary to John. He was saying something more profound, to the whole Church, namely, “Behold, your mother.”

Honoring Mary honors Christ, because Mary is known to history only for the sake of her Son. She is known precisely because she is the Theotokos. So honoring her is a way of proclaiming the gospel that God became man. And since it is right to treat a thing according to what it is, so Mary deserves to receive the honor of Theotokos. Catholics and Protestants all agree that Mary is not divine, and therefore should not be treated as though she is divine. But we do not have to choose between treating Mary as divine or treating her as just any other woman. Mary is deserving of more honor than any other saint, but of course she is never to receive the adoration that is reserved exclusively for God.

Between Catholics and Protestants there is some disagreement concerning the meaning of “communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed. Again this is partly due to the underlying difference regarding the sola scriptura paradigm, partly due to worries about necromancy, and partly due to concern that attention directed to the saints in heaven detracts from Christ’s unique mediatorial role. For reasons of time and space I cannot address those here, but I think there is good reason for hope for greater agreement on this point. Christ’s defeat of death and our union to Him through faith and baptism joins us in a mysterious way to all who are united to Him, even those whose bodies now rest in the earth. That’s a beautiful mystery, an amazing foretaste of the joyous reunion of all the saints when Christ returns.

2) Purgatory

Here too I think there is good reason for a convergence between Catholics and Protestants. More Protestant scholars are writing about the subject of purgatory as a completion of our sanctification. The standing Protestant-Catholic disagreement regarding this doctrine here again is partly based on the more fundamental paradigm difference concerning whether every doctrine needs to be taught explicitly in Scripture. But we all agree on two things: first, that we cannot enter heaven without being perfectly sanctified, and second, that at least most of those who die in a state of grace leave this earthly life not yet perfectly sanctified. So it follows that we all agree that for most of us who die in friendship with God, some kind of cleaning up has to be done between the moment of death and entrance into heaven. So the substance of the disagreement is about whether that cleaning up takes place instantaneously or takes some time. And at that point it seems clear that the disagreement is not a schism-justifying dispute.

The more difficult part of this disagreement is that from a Protestant point of view, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory seems to make Christ’s work on the cross incomplete or insufficient. It seems to suggest that Christ only paid for some percentage of my sins, and left the remainder for me to pay for in purgatory. And that seems to detract from the greatness of Christ’s work on the cross. From a Catholic point of view, Christ has graciously allowed us in this present life to participate in His sufferings, through the various sufferings we endure here. This is why our sufferings in this present life are not meaningless or pointless. The Protestant conception of Christ’s work is substitution-as-replacement, while the Catholic conception is more properly understood as substitution-for-participation. And in my opinion this difference is one reason why Protestantism is more susceptible to a Health & Wealth way of thinking about suffering than is Catholicism. In the Catholic mind, our present sufferings are a gift to us by which we are further sanctified and by which we are more deeply joined to Christ. And so Catholics see the period of cleansing in purgatory in the same way, not as detracting from the work of Christ, but as participating in it. There is much more to say here, but I don’t have space. I think as Protestants come to reflect more on the Catholic notion of participating in Christ’s sufferings, it will help overcome the concern that a time of cleansing after death would detract from the finished work of Christ.

3) the Eucharist as a true sacrifice

The disagreement here too is partly based on misunderstanding, and partly based on different conceptions of participation. These underlie the disagreement about what takes place in this sacrament. Some Protestants mistakenly believe that the Catholic teaching is that Christ is re-sacrificed at every Mass. And the notion of Christ being re-sacrificed seems clearly to be in conflict with what the writer of Hebrews says:

“By that will [i.e. Christ’s] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God . . . For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:9-14)

But here is how the Catechism explains the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist:

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.” (CCC 1367)

The Catholic doctrine concerning the Eucharist is not that it is a re-sacrifice of Christ, but rather that it is our present participation in the very once-and-for-all sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross to His Father. How this takes place is a mystery. That is why it is called a sacrament, a word that means mystery. In the Person of the incarnate Christ, the eternal is conjoined with the temporal, without one eliminating the other. By that nexus of time and eternity upon the tree at Calvary, we now, through the sacraments Christ has instituted to be celebrated perpetually until He returns, are brought under that tree. In a mystery we are washed in the water that flowed from His side, and in a mystery we are nourished on His Body and Blood in an unbloody manner. Through these sacraments, drawn from the side of the New Adam while He slept, God the Father is forming a Bride for His Son. So for Catholics the Eucharist is the sacramental means Christ established by which we participate in His holy and perfect sacrifice, and by which we receive His divine life, i.e. grace, and by which we are knitted together in charity into His one Mystical Body. This is the meaning of St. Paul’s statement, “Since there is one Bread, we who are many are one Body; for we all partake of the one Bread.” (1 Cor 10:17) If the Eucharist were not a participating in His once-for-all sacrifice, but merely a remembrance of what He did, then in the Eucharist we would not receive His divine life, nor would it knit us together in His Mystical Body.


  1. Wrong premises and presuppositions => wrong conclusion

  2. Todd Erickson says

    My concern about Marionism (which was mentioned briefly, but not really addressed) was the idea that Mary is a perpetual virgin (and even, in some circles, that so was her mother), since it clearly states in the bible that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Can the church actually prove that all of Jesus’ siblings were half siblings? If this is so, where is the other mother? Are there any actual traditions, or is this something that was just brought in 4th or 5th century when proving Mary’s virginity became a big thing along with the divinity of Christ which has so wracked the church?

    I very much agree with the points on Purgatory and the Eucharist, excellently stated.

    • Someone correct me, but there weren’t words to distinguish between sibling and cousin in any of the original languages of the Gospel. A reference to Jesus’s brothers is a reference to his brothers-and-or-cousins.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Like the Aramaic words translated as “Brother” & “Sister” might be better translated as “Kinsman” & “Kinswoman”…

    • Yes, Todd, I a fellow Erickson am with you here on the virginity issue.
      Joseph sure got a raw deal if this perpetual virginity bit is true. She did have other children Daniel, James the Brother of Jesus, does not mean Jesus’ cousin.
      not only that but the perpetual virginity of Mary makes her a very bad role model for Christian wives. It isn’t that it isn’t in the Bible that makes me oppose it. It is that it is anti-biblical.

      • I can maybe get somewhere close to eye to eye with Bryan on the Eucharist. I do see holy communion as a participation of the one final sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The passover sacrifice wasn’t completed until eaten.
        But the purgatory bit, well needed do complete sanctification by our own works is where Lutherans and many in the rest of the protestant worlds part ways. Though if you buy into progressive sanctification, then I agree, you end up with purgatory. Only think is then you have to deal with all those verses where our sanctification is put in past tense with our justification and linked to baptism. 1 Cor. 6 comes to mind.

        • Bror,

          If sola scriptura is the rule, then sactification, our being set apart only for God and his purposes, is both a past event and progressive. We have been set apart for God and we are being made holy. Denying either will make for neater systematics, but will also replace scripture with systematics.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Islam is also “Sola Scriptura”. On steroids.

          • T Freeman,
            I do not replace scripture with systematics. What I do is realize that sanctification is complete, and yet ongoing though out my life. And it is not my work to begin with, having started in the Spirit, I do not try to finish in the flesh.
            I take issue with the progressive part, and that some Christian are more sanctified than others. I take issue with this dubious doctrine. We remain saint and sinner our whole earthly lives. The fact that we die, is proof enough of our sin, and the need for Christ’s death. I strenuously object to the idea that there should be a place in the afterlife for me to go and finish my sanctification. Though I do agree that if you think sanctification is up to you, and you must complete it with your works, your probably going to buy into the purgatory bit as a place for you to finish it. As it shows the fact that you died sort of proves you hadn’t purged yourself from sin.

          • I personally don’t buy into purgatory either, but if your sanctification is “ongoing throughout [your] life” where is it going? Toward a more mature and fruitful Christ-likeness. And is there something real being changed or strenghthened? Yes; the inner-man that was born of the Spirit and the message about Jesus. Because that inner-man can be strengthened as Paul says, certain godly qualities, as Peter describes, can become “yours and increasing.” Yes, our flesh will always be prone to sin as long as we’ve got it, but our inner man can become more mature and fruitful as we, by God’s help, pick up our cross and let our flesh be denied day after day. I suppose we can call this change toward goodness and away from evil that has happened in too many Christians to count something other than “sanctification” but that seems odd from a biblical perspective.

            I don’t get why it is a problem to say what anyone without religious education already knows, which is that some folks are, despite being just as human as the next guy, are bearing more fruit of the Spirit than others as a regular pattern of life and are more receptive and cooperative with the work of the Spirit in and through them, and have become more so over time. Why “train” in godliness if such training will not increase godliness? Yes, our flesh cannot produce this. But not all effort is “flesh.” Why tell someone to “pursue” love and faith if doing so doesn’t increase our likelihood of catching them? If not even all Christians will be treated the same at judgment, why is it dubious doctrine to say that some Christians have experienced more thorough sanctification, more growth in Christ, than others? If we are to use different terms to justify the difference in judgment, which terms?

          • T Freeman,
            Perhaps I could have clarified “ongoing” a bit better, as to say constantly being renewed. Not to ignore verses that say train in godliness. But I don’t think that is talking about progressive sanctification, I think that is a recent theological development that is constantly being read into verses like that.
            Yes you can train in Godliness. You can grow in faith, love, and knowledge. But attaching this to a program of progressive sanctification is very dangerous. To be sanctified is to be holy. You are either holy or your are not. Though us Lutherans believe you can be Saint and sinner at the same time. In a manner of speaking, and this is brought out in “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection,” the original progressive sanctification tract, if you are not sanctified then neither are you saved. I f there is a bar I am to reach in my sanctification then, well we are all screwed. Purgatory starts sounding like a nice option at that point. This is why it is quite dubious to say some have experienced more sanctification than others. To start talking about our growth in faith and love in terms of sanctification is to attach it to our salvation. Then there are only too options, religious snobbery and hypocrisy, or despair. It has made our sanctification a result of the work of the law, and not the Holy Spirit, or Jesus Christ who sanctifies his bride the church through the washing of water with the word, or Baptism.

          • Okay; I think I’m seeing your perspective. So you see sanctification (holiness) as tied to our legal status primarily and less in terms of our calling and the uses to which we actually make ourselves available. Therefore, “to start talking about our growth in faith and love in terms of sanctification is to attach it to our salvation.” Alright. I can see then the objection. I tend to view “holiness” more as a matter of calling and function (called to be set apart for certain activities, and in fact moved by God-given motives) and less a matter of legal status. In any event, you would instead see someone’s “growth in faith and love” in terms of calling and in functional terms (not legal), and it would be the fruit of that growth (or lack thereof) upon which God would treat Christians differently in the final judgment? You just wouldn’t call that growth (or lack thereof) “being made holy” or sanctification because that’s a legal/justification term? Am I following?

          • At a gross, very coarse level, what do I struggle with daily that interferes with my sanctification?

            The world, the flesh, and the devil.

            As you say, there is a past event of sanctification. It is my struggle with these three that is progressive. But I don’t think progressive sanctification necessitates purgatory.
            I’m no theologian, and so I’m sure iMonk will moderate this out if it’s in terrible error (sorry for the trouble, Michael), but:

            The world will be remade.
            I will receive a new flesh (which has a new nature) when resurrected.
            The devil will be subjected to judgment and a lake of fire.

            So far as I can see, there is no real role for purgatory in any of these three events. But that is because I think Brian is absolutely correct when he says,

            “So the substance of the disagreement is about whether that cleaning up takes place instantaneously or takes some time.”

          • T Freeman,
            “In any event, you would instead see someone’s “growth in faith and love” in terms of calling and in functional terms (not legal), and it would be the fruit of that growth (or lack thereof) upon which God would treat Christians differently in the final judgment?”
            Growing in faith and love has to do with this world and this world only. We Lutherans are adamant that our “good works” do nothing for us in the sight of God, but are for the pure benefit of our neighbor. So no, I don’t think you are following me quite right. It is precisely this idea that he is going to treat us and reward us differently for doing good or bad that makes the whole thing nothing more than an exercise in the Pharisaical leaven. You confirm my worst fears about what evangelicals believe.

          • Scott
            “As you say, there is a past event of sanctification. It is my struggle with these three that is progressive. But I don’t think progressive sanctification necessitates purgatory.’
            I don’t know that it necessitates it. But when you propose as Wesley did that you have to reach 100% sanctification before you die or you won’t be saved, well then what do you do with aunt sally who was a believer, but still smoked while volunteering at the food bank? (Not thati think smoking is a sin, but… I’m reason from a different perspective of my own.)

          • Bror,

            Wow. I don’t know if I’ve ever confirmed someone’s worst fears regarding evangelicalism (or anything else). You may want to hold out hope that I’m not properly an evangelical or that I have some redeeming qualities. I can’t say I am particularly motivated by doing better or worse than anyone else at the judgment. I’ll be thrilled to pass. But it seemed obvious to me from Jesus’ “last and first” comments, from Paul’s comment that some will be saved “as one narrowly escaping through flames” that there will be variations of experience, even of the saved, so I figured I’d use that as a reference point, a place of common ground, to really understand your view of growth in Christ. Frankly, if judgment is exactly the same experience for every believer, that’s really not a point I care about. I’m trying to understand what exactly is going on from your perspective when a person grows in grace, in love and in faith. It seems that you’re saying that these are not properly part of “sanctification” as you see that as a term denoting legal status, not as a process whereby we are transformed into greater Christlikeness, growing in love and faith. Any growth, as you say, is only for people’s benefit. Now I’m hearing you correctly.

          • I think we are getting somewhere T Freeman.
            As for some being narrowly saved etc. though. You see I’m trying to understand you. Notice how you made sanctification there a salvation issue? Notice how you made the works, or progress made in sanctification a salvation issue? That is what I am getting at. And “evangelicals” may quibble with me as to what they believe, but that seems to be an all too common undercurrent in everything I hear them saying. It’s how they phrase things etc. And often I don’t think they are even conscious of it.
            as for being saved narrowly. Well I don’t know that that necessarily means Jesus is going to be counting up all our good works and grading on a bell curve. I think that might be something many are conditioned to read into it. It may just mean that they hear and believe the gospel on their death bed. Quite frankly though I think we’re all pretty lucky to be saved, especially given how bad the church is these days of proclaiming the Gospel.
            Growth in faith and love, we benifit ourselves I suppose in having a stronger faith here on earth. As far as good works are concerned though, other people benefit, not just people, I need to emphasize other people. My neighbor benefits, not me.
            Here in Mormon land, our neighbors use our driveways to get themselves to heaven. It only takes me to the garage, but they think shoveling it for me might get them on another spiritual plane. That type of thinking is anethema to me.

    • Todd, someone somewhere is maintaining that St. Anne was a virgin? Bwuh? I have to say, I have never, ever seen that one before.

      The short answer to that is that there are crazy people all over.

      The same part in the Gospels where it talks about his brothers and sisters also asks “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”

      “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?”

      Christians as a whole have answered “No” to the first part of that. Catholics and Orthodox just extend the ‘no’ to the brothers and sisters part 🙂

      Because there are those who are happy to say they are Christians and to say it would make absolutely no difference to the faith if Joseph – or another man – was the physical father of Jesus, but orthodox opinion does insist that it would. And they’d probably point to the same passage: isn’t this his father? his mother? his brothers and sisters?

      Also, Marian dogmas tend to be, in a strange way, guards for doctrine. Discussing too much reverence paid to Mary, in good faith and with the best intentions, and clearing her out of the way may seem like restoring the balance. But it has a funny way of rebounding on the nature of Jesus.

      After all, the Theotokos definition was used by the Council of Ephesus precisely to address the question of the two natures of Christ. Start messing around with relegating Mary to a kind of ‘human incubator’ and it does lead most times to either denying the full humanity or the full divinity of Christ – the latter the error of our days, when the “wise teacher”, “revolutionary”, “radical activist” or “community organiser” interpretation is appealing.

      I’m guessing that you haven’t been graced by the lesson of the Syro-Phoenician Woman? That she challeged Jesus to rise above the racism of contemporary Judaism to a wider view of God’s inclusive love?

      “Well, it seems that Jesus is simply being true to his calling when he calls this woman a dog. She comes from an unclean people and an unclean spirit possesses her daughter. And Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the one who came to purify Israel, to redeem the Jews from sins. Jesus comes to heal the children of Israel, and Jesus will not waste what he has to give on people like this woman and her daughter. As far as Jesus is concerned, they are not part of God’s plan.

      But this Gentile woman teaches Jesus something. This woman, who Jesus calls a dog, opens Jesus’ eyes to a reality he had not expected. God’s love overflows further than ever asked or imagined. Yes, through Jesus God invites the Jews to the table of eternal life, but it’s an extravagant banquet. The table can’t hold all the food; when God provides, there is always more than enough. God is like my dad; he always makes way too much food for the people he invites for dinner. There are always leftovers.

      For some reason, Jesus doesn’t see that at first. But the woman doesn’t take “no” for an answer. “Lord,” she says, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (v. 28). It’s a clever response, one that seems to surprise Jesus into a new awakening. She’s right, dogs eat too—they also get some of the food from the table.”

      • I don’t think the woman taught Jesus anything. I think rather he was using the response he knew he’d get from her to teach the disciples something.

        • I agree, Deb, but what I was trying to get at was a strain of liberal exegesis/theologising which downplays Jesus’s divinity to the extent that He is almost just another prophet, with human fallibility, and no knowledge of His mission until helped along by outsiders such as the Syro-Phoenician woman. That He never even considered the Gentiles but saw Himself as sent exclusively to the Jews, until the encounters with the Samaritan woman and the Centurion and so forth.

          Or even nuttiness such as the tweaking of the Lord’s Prayer to address “Our Father and Mother who art in Heaven.”. Old-fashioned traditional Catholics know we have a mother in Heaven; we also know she is not part of the Trinity 🙂

    • Michael Harris says

      Here’s my beef. How do we know Mary? She’s dead. We are not in a relationship with her. We know Jesus because He has sent His Spirit to dwell in our hearts. His Spirit fellowships with our spirits. The Spirit enlightens His word, to reveal Him to us. Are we called to have a relationship with Mary? Is it the Spirit’s job to bring us into ontological fellowship with her? Nevertheless, she shall be called Blessed throughout all generations.

      • If Mary is dead, then what will be the status of all those after the Resurrection? Are they dead as well, even though in the glorified body?

        Catholic and Orthodox theology considers Mary to be in heavenly glory, in her body and soul, in anticipation of the General Resurrection. Protestant opinon, of course, differs on this.

    • “It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin. … Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” -Martin Luther (Weimer’s The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)

      “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.” -John Calvin (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)

      “there have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage (Mt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company…And besides this our Lord Jesus Christ is called the firstborn. This is not because there was a second or third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or no there was any question of the second.” – John Calvin (Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562)

      “I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.”- Ulrich Zwingli (Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, in Evang. Luc., Op. comp., V6,1 P. 639)

      Not this is all absoulte “proof”, but it does go to show that there is more to it then might at first e apparent. When Luther, Calivn, Zwingli, Pius V and the Eastern Orthodox all agree on *anything*, it’s pretty significant.

      • “When Luther, Calivn, Zwingli, Pius V and the Eastern Orthodox all agree on *anything*, it’s pretty significant.”

        Or it can just be that they can’t break out of a life long learning. This is where bad tradition can stomp on truth.

        When you’ve heard something all your life, evidence or logic to the contrary is hard to accept.

        • Fair enough, that’s I said it isn’t “proof” as such. But what’s to stop me from saying the same thing about you? What makes your interpretation of the Bible superior to that of the major Reformers, who knew the Greek NT in and out, much better than either of us, let alone the undivided opinion of the Apostolic Churches from the earliest date? The Scriptural evidence for your position is weak in my book, and seems to me to be simply a tradition of man. To just dismiss the majority opinion as “refusing to look at the evidence” doesn’t cut it when making claims of superiority to the entire Christian heritage.

      • Todd Erickson says

        These are also all people who would have sworn that the earth was flat, correct? Or that the space between planets was filled with ether? Or that germs were caused by bad humors?

        Each of those passages essentially amounts to “nobody reasonable could possibly believe other than this”. And each of those persons has been shown to have flawed beliefs about things. I would even put forward that most of christianity spends its time in flawed thinking, otherwise we’d inhabit a different earth. *shrug*

        • Nobody believed the Earth was flat back then. Total myth:

          I’m curious to know what the theological equivalent of the microscope or telescope that has changed things since their time regarding the Scriptural evidence. They already had the Textus Receptus, which while not as complete as our current manuscript knowledge of the NT, was still pretty good. The burden of proof lies on the innovators, not the tradition. The Perpetual Virginity of Mary was found to be compatible with the Bible, which people knew quite well in the middle ages, well past the start of the Reformation.

          I’m sorry, but this answer is entirely unconvincing. Again, what’s to prevent you from being wrong yourself? We have our scholars who know the Scriptures in and out who disagree with you. Who can say which interpretation is right?

      • Sam,
        I can sympathize with people wanting to believe the perpetual Virginity of Mary. I realize many did, and have.
        you can come up with all sorts of crazy interpretations to hold on to that. But for me it is just wrong to believe that the Mother of our Lord tortured the adopting father of our Lord that way. The Bible is pretty clear that that sort of behavior is to be frowned upon, you know denying your spouse marital relations. It is a poor role model for Christian wives, that she would have been setting.
        And as far as the majority opinion goes, be careful when claiming all fathers, and naming a few. I haven’t read them all. But Eusebius puts forth some fairly good evidence that Jesus had actual brothers, and sisters. He doesn’t seem to buy into the perpetual virginity bit.
        Though there is I suppose good reason to use it as a title for her.

        • The problem is, I don’t see the perpetual virginity interpretation as “crazy”. Indeed, your comments about Mary “torturing” Joseph strike me as bizarre and materialistic in nature. It reminds me of a incident in the Gospels:

          “The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.’

          But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.’ And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:23-31)

          There is a tradition in Christian history of spouses choosing to live chaste marriages, the key to it being mutual agreement, which is completely compatible with Paul’s teaching on marriage. It does happen with very holy couples, and to find it unthinkable of the couple God chose to make his dwelling with seems to be a stretch, to say the least. There is no problem with Mary and Joseph never having marital relations, even if they were married, unless one wishes to read a problem into the situation. You have to assume that they weren’t living out a marriage of chaste marriage, assume that the “brothers” mentioned in the Gospel are Mary’s sons. There is no objective reason to reject the doctrine, only personal emotional ones.

          • I sure as h*** hope that the tradition in Christian marriages is chastity! That is not the same thing as celibacy though. I think my wife and I have a very chaste marriage.
            Sam, come on.
            We live in the world today. Mary and Joseph lived in the same world. People don’t get married to live celibate lives. Now when they get old and loose their libido, O.K fine, but I’m not about to describe that as more holy than the young couple acting like jack rabbits. Your views on sex are amazing to me. Not quite in line with scripture either I dare say. Paul also does not recommend celibacy for long periods of time.

          • I meant celibacy. It does happen, and has happened (yes, even with younger people: ), and there is nothing wrong with it as long as it is mutual. Paul actually recommends celibacy as a complete lifestyle, whether married or unmarried.

            I will come out and say that this is not how I plan to act if I get married, but it is legitimate, and fits in perfectly well with a Christian sexual ethic.

    • Consider the following:

      The ages of the brothers and sisters are not mentioned in the Bible. There is no evidence that they are younger or older in Scripture, so either way, we’re using conjecture to come to a conclusion. The Eastern Orthodox and some Catholics (including myself) think that these siblings are all older, children of Joseph’s from his first marriage that ended when his first wife died.

      Think about the episode when the brothers think Jesus isn’t in His right mind and come to end His ministry — in the culture of the day, a younger brother would not have publicly rebuked the oldest brother because it would have brought shame on the whole family.

      Also, there is the case of Mary and Joseph “losing” Jesus on a day-long journey out of Jerusalem, then then hurrying back the next day and finding Him on the third day. Jesus was only 12 when this happened. Without birth control, there would have been younger brothers and sisters in tow — let’s say at least 3, and probably one nursing baby. Travel was difficult and dangerous, and if they had little kids with them, Joseph would surely have left Mary and the little kids in the safety of the caravan they were traveling with and gone back alone or maybe with one adult male relative. It’s not like they just turned the minivan around and went back with all the little kids safely buckled into car seats and state troopers manning the interstates to keep people safe from thieves and other criminals.

      Then you have the interesting confrontation between the people of Galilee and Jesus, where they say, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not Mary his mother?” In a male-driven society, they wouldn’t have had to mention Mary at all if all the kids had the same mother and father. Plus, they were assuming that Joseph was Jesus’ father, so of course they would have called any of Joseph’s kids His brothers and sisters, even if they were only step-brothers and step-sisters.

      Also, you have Jesus entrusting Mary to John’s care as He was dying on the Cross — something that wouldn’t have been necessary if she had other children to look after her.

      Finally — and this is the clincher for me — one has to consider the fact that Joseph and Mary were not 21st Century Christians living in the U.S. where sexual relations is some sort of “right.” They were first century Jews, and very devout Jews who likely knew very well the Old Testament teaching on (a) the Messiah and (b) the Ark of the Covenant. Mary, having receive the Holy Spirit (first human ever to experience that), conceived the Messiah, the Son of God in her very womb, which made *her body* the new Ark of the Covenant. If you go back and read the OT writings about how the Ark of the Covenant was treated — how one touch by an unworthy person, even meant in “goodwill” could cause instant death — you come to realize that no devout Jewish man would even think about having sexual relations with her. This doesn’t mean that sex between a husband and wife is dirty or sinful in any way. Mary and Joseph were in a very unique situation. Both of them had a sacrificial attitude about bringing Christ into the world — Mary laying down her body, her reputation, her family relations, everything! Joseph, too, risking his reputation (which could affect his livelihood), his family and so forth. Would they have also given up sex for this? In a Church were celibacy is a legitimate lifestyle, we Catholics have no problem understanding how this could be. When I used to be evangelical, however, I did witness a big push for marriage and I believe it was even written into our by-laws that the preachers had to be married according to Scripture, so the idea of a celibate lifestyle is a bit too foreign.

  3. Thank you, Bryan and iMonk, for presenting this extremely helpful and lucid presentation of Catholic/Protestant contrast. Great questions and great answers, exceptional all around.

  4. …I was referring to all 5 parts naturally, not just this one!

  5. It seems to me that for him to say that when Jesus says to John “behold your mother” we are to understand that Jesus is saying something not only to John but something very profound to the whole church about Mary being our mother in the church, then we also have to apply a similiar meaning of some sort towards Jesus’ words to Mary “behold your son”. He argues that these words have much more meaning than just John’s care for Mary. I don’t understand, actually I think that”s a pretty large jump to get to what he said. Can someone help me understand this better?

    • All of Our Lord’s words from the cross are super-charged with eschatological meaning or cosmic significance. The Fathers gave profound interpretations to every word of the Passion narrative, everything from the words “I thirst”, to his loud cries. Like the Indians using the buffalo, everything is put to use, nothing is discarded. And many of the saints, from the Early Fathers, to Augustine, Ambrose, Bernard, to Alphonso Liguori and even Fulton Sheen, preached and wrote on the last words, so we have ample testimony from every century. So the words “Behold thy mother” have to be read within that hermeneutic.

      Any thoughts?

      • But Curtis, the words “behold your son” are part of Jesus’ words spoken from the cross. My question is why aren’t those words given the super-charge of exchatological meaning and cosmic significance as “behold your mother”? Or did I miss what you meant?

        • Personally, and with no research at all done on this, I would assume that “Behold your son,” in Bryan’s paradigm, is just a further emphasis of “Behold your mother.” Like Jesus is saying, “John (as the Church), Mary is your mother as she is mine…Mary, John (as the Church) is your offspring just as I am.” Maybe it’s more complicated than that. I dunno.

        • I think the two “beholds” are intended to give a double command: one command to Mary to be the mother of John, one command to John to honor Mary as his mother. So they are not redundant.

          But the command was not restricted only to John, although it did entail a unique role for him. John was the only apostle present, although since he was the youngest and best-loved, he was also the best choice. Tradition attests that all the apostles thought of Mary as their mother, although John did tend to her practical needs more than the others. The last mention of Mary in Scripture is that she was living with the apostles, praying for the Church, which also has great significance. Then, when the other apostles left to evangelize other countries, John and Mary stayed together in Ephesus and later on Patmos, but all the apostles returned to Patmos when Mary was terminally ill, which indicates they considered her their adopted mother.

          On last thing – the cross is often compared to a throne and Jesus on the cross is often compared to a king sitting on his throne giving orders to his citizens before temporarily leaving the country. Thus the hymn Regnavit a ligno crucis. I believe that is the image that must be kept in mind when interpreting Christ’s words on the cross as the Church does.

  6. Michael, thanks for hosting this interview; and Bryan, thanks for giving it. It works against what seems to be the largest cause of fear and mistrust b/n Catholics and Protestants: ignorance and bad information concerning the other.

    As I read this, it reminded me of a conversation I had with you (Michael) here regarding the Law/Gospel hermeneutic. In response to my comment that Christ’s teachings are part of God’s grace to us, you replied that such a point made faith = obedience, at which point I would have just joined the Catholic church. I didn’t take that as an insult, but found it odd considering the many points of difference, such as those discussed in this interview, most or all of which I share the Protestant view. And, while I still have little to no intent of becoming Catholic, I think making the argument that to agree with Catholic teaching on any point of historical difference with Protestants is equivalent to joining the Catholic church not only minimizes the significance of all the other issues, but also makes the road to Rome more likely for those that hear such an argument. It’s like the argument that says to accept evolution is to accept athiesm. It’s intended, generally, as a shock or guilt by association argument, but it can backfire in a big way. If we tie “evolution” to “athiesm” then we’ve helped a lot of folks who might otherwise stay Christians leave the faith when they attend biology 101 at their highschool or university (which, as you know, is what’s happening). Same with tying one Catholic distinctive to leaving Protestantism altogether. Thankfully, leaving Protestantism for Catholicism isn’t a particularly bad thing in my view, but I imagine it’s not something that you or other folks who use such an argument want to see happen on just one issue without considering them all.

    • Having read the Law v. Gospel debate between you and iMonk I fully agree with you on this point. I hope Michael responds.

  7. Laura Short says

    Eastern Orthodoxy has always taught that St Joseph was a widower and that these brothers and sisters were children from his first marriage to Salome. This makes these children Jesus’ half-brothers and half-sisters. St. Jerome (later), teaches that the term “brother” in biblical times had a broader meaning and included cousins and other more distant relatives. But authoritative Orthodox sources contradict this, naming the eldest son, Justus, Joseph’s wife Salome, and his sisters Salome and Esther along with an unnamed third sister.

    Orthodox Christians also believe that Mary was and remained a Virgin before and after Christ’s birth. Many of the EO’s beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary are reflected in the text _The Nativity of Mary_, which was not included in Scripture, but is considered by the Orthodox Church to be an accurate history. This history tells us that the child, Mary, was consecrated at the age of three to serve in the temple as a temple virgin. Zachariah (her cousin Elisabeth’s Husband…remember the account in Luke), at that time High Priest of the Temple, did the unthinkable and carried the young Mary into the Holy of Holies as a sign of her importance; that she would become the Ark in which God would dwell and save His people. When Mary was twelve, she was required to give up her place in the Temple and marry (generally to a Levite, a priest), but she desired to forever remain a virgin in dedication to God. And so it was decided to marry her to a close relative, Joseph, older and a widower, who would take care of her and honour her dedication to God since he, also, had taken a similar vow upon the death of his Wife.

    So it is that after Christ’s birth, Orthodox believe that Mary, the Theotokos (God-Bearer), remained a Virgin, continuing to serve God always. When she was about seventy, Mary called all the apostles to her before she died. St Thomas arrived late and was not present at her death. Wishing to honour her, one last time, he opened her tomb but found that her body was gone. The Orthodox believe she was assumed into heaven.

    It is interesting to note (as mentioned yesterday) that three of the Reformers supported the Perpetual Virginity of Mary: Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Could it be that we today, millenia removed from this history, we have become too sceptical of it to believe it?

    • Thank you for this! It seems to be an excellent example of how a tradition that doesn’t appear in the Bible can be documented, so to speak, as historically as the Bible. Now it is much clearer to me the logic upon which perpetual virginity exists. Before, I figured it was just a cultural apparition of ‘sex is bad.’

      • What I don’t understand is, what is the theological significance of Mary being a perpetual virgin? I mean, if she was unmarried I would say whatever, celibacy is great and all. But the thing is that she was a married women! Didn’t the Apostle Paul say to married couples not to restrict themselves from each other!?

        Would be a bad example of a marriage if the women and husband weren’t joined in one flesh…isn’t that true theologically and biblically?

        • What Paul said exactly is, “Do not deprive each other EXCEPT BY MUTUAL CONSENT and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5)

          If Mary and Joseph continued in mutual consent and were not lacking in self-control, it would not be WRONG for them to abstain from sexual relations for any length of time. Please note that Paul did not specify a time limit on this. It would be possible for a very devout couple to abstain for years and years without threat of falling for temptation.

    • I’ve never understood the Catholic Church’s position on Mary being a purpetual virgin as a statement that sex is evil. What I’ve heard is that Holy Spirit overshadowed her, just as the Ark of the Covenant was overshadowed by the glory of the Lord. Mary became the dwelling place of the new Covenant, just as the Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of God in the Old Covenant. Saint Joseph, believeing that Mary was a virgin overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and beleiving that she carried God made Flesh–wouldn’t consider “touching the Ark” that had been claimed as God’s dwelling place. In a sense Mary was the wife of the Holy Spirit–a status Joseph accepted and respected.

    • Dolan McKnight says

      There are actually two main sources for the non-canonical stories of Mary’s life; The Gospel of pseudo-Matthew ans well as the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. Jerome purportedly translated pseudo-Matthew, although most scholars do not think it matches the style of Jerome’s Vulgate. Most scholars believe that the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary was written by a different author and at a later date than the Gospel of pseudo-Matthew. There are no extant Greek or Hebrew versions of either of these Gospels and most scholars think they were boty originally written in Latin.

      If we accept the above, the date of these books was at the earliest the late fourth century. This does not mean that they could have been copies or compilations of the Old Latin texts or possibly of oral legends. That they were not included in the canon is significant and, from a Protestant view, are not to be relied upon for doctrine.

  8. Ben Witherington III and the comments (34 at present) on his July 8, 2009 post on the James Ossuary address this issue (i.e., Mary’s perpetual virginity and Jesus’ brothers):—more-on-the-james-ossuary.html

  9. Michael,
    Thank you for bringing the observations of Bryan Cross for us to read.
    Can you also bring a Roman Catholic priest or bishop here and ask the same questions so that we can see a comparison/contrast?
    I think it would be a valuable experience for your readers, if you can arrange that.

    • I have referenced Fr.Longnecker, but I don’t want to confuse Catholic readers of IM with statements from church officials. 🙂

      Just kidding.Sortof.


      • Christiane says

        Well, how ’bout a ‘compromise. Invite John Michael Talbot. He’s a monk, but not a priest.
        And he is very in tune with the Franciscans: you know that St. Francis of Assisi WAS a Church reformer. Most Protestants have no idea of the good that he did for the Church.
        In any case, various points of view are always beneficial. Thanks for referencing Father Longnecker. That helps.

  10. Michael Harris says

    Here’s a great article by Richard Bauckham on the Relatives of Jesus:

  11. Statements like, “between Catholics and Protestants there is some disagreement concerning the meaning of “communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed…” show the basic flaw underlying much of this interview and a great deal of popular Catholic apologetics–with which the interviewee seems particularly enamored. When someone sets up a Catholic/Protestant dichotomy (a popular move with apologists of all stripes), the statement to follow is inevitably a gross error: which Protestants? Anglicans? Lutherans? Methodists? American Evangelicals?

    “More Protestant scholars are writing about the subject of purgatory as a completion of our sanctification.” My question is, who? What Protestants? I haven’t exactly noticed a flood of publications on the topic, but maybe I’ve missed this phenomenon. Back up your claims.

    This is really all just too sloppy for me, sorry.

    • I found myself wondering along the same lines.

      “More Protestant scholars are writing about the subject of purgatory as a completion of our sanctification.”

      Really, I’ve never heard of it. I consider myself well read and up to date and I see no basis for this statement. I grant the fact that its a high possibility that some protestant has written on the subject, but to state it as if its a popular trend is misleading and wrong.

    • In Bryan Cross’ defense, I don’t think the iMonk wanted him to write a book or even 15 pages explaining differences in things like the communion of saints.

      • If Bryan Cross is making the rhetorical move that says in essence: “many people like you are changing their minds on this topic–why aren’t you?”then I think that calls for a little evidence. If it’s true, back it up–that would actually be very interesting and informative for this audience. If it’s not true then don’t say it.

        The reason I brought this up is that a great deal of what counts for apologetics these days consists of statements just like these, a sort of “people are saying…” “the early church believed…” “Protestants think that….” level of discourse that is non-scholarly at best (no sources or discredited sources, few footnotes, lots of stuff taken out of context, etc.) and probably pretty deceptive at worst.

    • “which Protestants? Anglicans? Lutherans? Methodists?”

      Yes. This is an area where the RCC tends to lump together birds of totally different feathers. In general I think of three flavors of non Orthodox. Anglican, Lutherans, and most everyone else. Withe LDS and similar off on another plane entirely.

  12. I have always interpreted the perpetual virginity of Mary as a manifestation of warped view of sex as something dirty or sinful. Doesn’t scripture make it clear that Joseph had normal relations with his wife when it says in Matthew 1:25:

    “But he had no union with her UNTIL she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus”? (Emphasis is mine.)

    Yes, I suppose that the word “until” could be interpreted as saying something about the period of her pregnancy only, and that the scriptures say nothing about the following period. However, it seems so much more natural to interpret this to mean that after she gave birth, he had normal relations with her.

    Why is it such an important concept to Catholics and Easter Orthodox Christians that Mary be perpetually a virgin?

    • Thomas:

      All the Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologetic arguments I’ve heard or read (on the ‘Net or in books) on the meaning of “until” in Matthew 1:25 that strive to prove or support the perpetual virginity of Mary/The Theotokos are flawed and attempt to prove too much and/or say more than can lexically or grammatically or syntactically be claimed about the Greek wording. As you say, the normal/natural reading of the passage is that they engaged in marital relations after Jesus’ birth.

    • This is what I wonder too…why is the concept of her perpetual virginity so important? And if it is so crucial, why didn’t Jesus talk about it in any way? Would it have just been too inappropriate for him to even allude to?

      By the way, I was raised Catholic, and never once did I hear this concept explained at Mass or in my CCD classes. (The phrase “ever virgin” flew right over my head…I guess I missed the “ever” part. Hey, I was 13!) However, my family wasn’t consistent in taking us to church, and I drifted away from my church after I got confirmed (the early eighties), so maybe that’s why.

      Decades later, I now attend a nondenominational Protestant church, and while I sometimes long for the Catholic Mass with a real ache that I can’t explain, puzzling things like Mary’s perpetual virginity keep me at a distance. (Not to mention that my husband is a Baptist and I don’t want to divide us by “reverting.”)

      The concept of Mary’s perpetual virginity does confuse me, but what confuses me even more is that it’s been elevated to such importance. I’ve read Catholic teachings about it, along with this series of Bryan Cross essays, and I still don’t understand why believing in this is so crucial. If it’s considered on topic, can anyone explain this to me? Not so much the idea itself, but why it’s so important for Catholics to believe in? I truly don’t understand. Thank you.

    • Thomas, please refer also to 2 Sam 6:23, which says, “Michale the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death.” Does that mean she had children AFTER the day of her death?

      The word “until” means “up to the point of.” It does not mean “up to the point of, but not afterwards.”

      The Bible never states openly that Mary and Joseph had sex (like it does with David & Bathsheba and other couples). The Bible never states that Mary gave birth to any child other than Jesus. It’s conjecture to say she did, and it’s conjecture to say she didn’t, and we all base our conjectures on tradition, not Scripture.

      • The word “until” means “up to the point of.” It does not mean “up to the point of, but not afterwards.”

        It also doesn’t mean “up to the point of, but then afterwards.”

        I.e., Matthew 1:25 simply says nothing about Joseph and Mary’s sexual relations (or lack thereof) after Jesus’ birth. It only describes the situation prior to Jesus’ birth.

        FWIW, the syntax of Matthew 1:25 is not identical to that of 2 Kingdoms 6:23 (LXX). That 2 Kingdoms uses an aorist for ginomai (“is/become/happen”) and Matthew 1:25 uses an imperfect for ginôskô (“know”) may or may not mean anything in terms of how the “until” (“until when” in Matthew) is to be understood. Zerwick says “author only concerned here to indicate virginal conception.”

        • As I said, it’s conjecture to say Mary had sex with Joseph and had more children and it’s conjecture to say Mary didn’t have sex with Joseph and didn’t have more children, because the Bible is not explicit.

  13. I find the description of the Eucharist to be interesting in-so-far as there is little I disagree with. It is definitely in disagreement with those who believe that the Eucharist celebration is only symbolic, but there are a whole group of protestants that don’t take such a view. I agree that what happens during communion is mystical, and that the Church as a whole has erred in it’s attempt to nail down exactly what happened.

    I think more of the protestant disagreements that Bryan didn’t touch on has to do with things such as how the Real Presence of Jesus is understood, the fact that only those officially blessed in the line of the Apostles are able to share the true Eucharist with their congregation… Not to mention the closed communion (although, I understand from the point of view of the RCC theology why this is the case, but I have issues with any Christian group who defines who is in and who is out based on membership).

    If it was as simple as Bryan stated it to be, I think I could be much more in line with the RCC.

  14. Regarding Purgatory: The official doctine was onle defined at the time of the pseudo-council of Florence in 1439, and subsequently encoded at Trent. Reading the discussion regarding purgatory as it occurred at Florense is quite interesting. Whereas the Roman church claimed patristic support, the Greeks showed from John Crysostom that the word fire, as used by the Apostles, contextually seen, clearly does not provide for temporal fire, as the doctrine of purgatory would have it. Thus they rendered. These extracts are enlightening:

    …”Your doctrine,” they continued to tell the Latins, “would perhaps have had some foundation if he (the Apostle) had divided bad works into two kinds, and bad said that one kind is purified by God, and the other worthy of eternal punishment. But he made no such division; …

    I especialy like this one:

    ..”Only one Father remains,” they continued, “Gregory the blessed priest of Nyssa, who, apparently, speaks more to your advantage than any of the other Fathers. Preserving all the respect due to this Father, we cannot refrain from noticing, that he was but a mortal man, and man, however great a degree of holiness he may attain, is very apt to err, especially on such subjects, which have not been examined before or determined upon in a general Council by the Fathers.” ….

    All this and more from:

    • I think the “temporal fire” part, depending on how you define it, is the wrong interpretation of Purgatory. There is no “real” fire since the soul and purgatory are beyond time and space. The actual doctine is very brief and ambiguous as to the nature, time, place and space of purgatory. Little is said except that it exists.

      • Rick, at Florence the Roman Church itself tried to use the temporal fire argument.

        From the same source:

        When giving in this answer (June 14th), Bessarion explained the difference of the Greek and Latin doctrine on this subject. The Latins, he said, allow that now, and until the day of the last judgment, departed souls are purified by fire, and are thus liberated from their sins; so that, he who has sinned the most will be a longer time undergoing purification, whereas he whose sins are less will be absolved the sooner, with the aid of the Church; but in the future life they allow the eternal, and not the purgatorial fire. Thus the Latins receive both the temporal and the eternal fire, and call the first the purgatorial fire.

        • For a Catholic, the question is whether Bessarion was speaking finally, definitively and dogmatically for the Catholic Church. If what he said was the final and definitive teaching presented under the authority of the Pope, then what he said was a problem. Otherwise he just a Catholic theologian who mispoke–and lots of them have done that.

          • And that is why I continue to say that the issue rises and falls with papal authority. Compared to that, all these other things are side-debates.I would guess that is why Luther only split after receiving the papal Bull, and not before.

  15. “Jesus was devoted to His mother, not just out of duty, but because as the perfect man He saw perfectly and continually the great gift she had given to Him, the sacrifice she made for Him.”

    The great gift she had given Him? This was the work of the Holy Spirit. Her response is to be praised, but it was not her gift.

    • Just for Quix says

      I see that Mary’s gift was willing submission to God’s will for her to be the miraculous vessel for Jesus’s human life, conjoined in mystery and majesty with the work of God through the Spirit.

      Protestants (of which I am one) are wise in their general emphasis on the fallen nature of humanity, and redemption being the sole work of God. However, we notice that God chooses to perform His work, not in a flash of external cosmic lightning that changes believers into post-human creatures. Instead He performs His work of redeeming creation and and building His Kingdom that grows in Light in spite of, yet in a cosmic embrace of, our human condition, including sinful weakness. It takes nothing from God’s work to praise Mary for her human submission to — and God-illumined participation in — His work as a “gift” to God. Such responses and participation in His work are not the “boastful works” nor “filthy rags” I see so many of my fellow Protestant believers continually emphasize to the detriment of their God-invigorated humanity.

  16. Bryan,

    I was waiting for you to touch on Eucharist and you worded it beautifully. To me, unity can be found only through the Eucharist. The Church is the Body of Christ because the Eucharist is at the center. When we partake of the Eucharist, we submit ourselves to Christ and His teachings and unite ourselves to His One Body transcending time and space.

    In essence, the Eucharist is what truly unites us. No Eucharist, no unity. The unity must be considered imperfect.

    • I think the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist and the role and power of the priest will always be a stumbling block for those who don’t accept what the church claims for its priests.

      (FWIW, Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “Year for Priests” beginning with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 19, 2009. The year will conclude in Rome with an international gathering of priests with the Holy Father from June 9-11, 2010.)

      Words of The Curé of Ars

      What is a priest? A man who holds the place of God — a man who is invested with all the powers of God. When the priest remits sins, he does not say, “God pardons you”; he says, “I absolve you.” At the Consecration, he does not say, “This is the Body of our Lord”; he says, “This is My Body…”Saint Bernard tells us that everything has come to us through Mary; and we may also say that everything has come to us through the priest; yes, all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts. If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest.Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin, or to an angel, will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; he can say to you, “Go in peace; I pardon you.” Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love. Without the priest, the Death and Passion of our Lord would be of no avail.The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you. After God, the priest is everything. Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts. When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no Sacrifice, and where there is no longer any Sacrifice there is no religion. Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table? The priest. And what is the Food? The precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. O God! O God! How You have loved us! See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world.
      If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place. Saint Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, “There is he who made me a child of God, and opened Heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul.

      What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of our Lord, at seeing the Master Whom they had loved so much! The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loretto. But the fingers of the priest, that have touched the adorable Flesh of Jesus Christ, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained His Blood, into the pyx where His Body has lain, are they not still more precious? The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.

      ~Saint Jean Marie Vianney~ The Curé of Ars [1786-1859]

      • This to me, IMHO is so frightening. Not one priest would be needed for my salvation. Jesus Paid it all. As much as I have enjoyed this whole series, I have now been pushed right out of the conversation by this one. wow.

      • If there are any Catholics posting here who would disavow or repudiate what the Curé of Ars writes about the authority and power of the priest, I would like them to step forward and say so, and specifically say what they would reject and why, and what powers they say the priest does and does not have in accordance with the above or in opposition to the above.


        • The style is over-the-top 19th century stuff, but it is the teaching of the Church throughout the ages, down through the present day.

          See this and following in the CCC:

          • Wow.

            It’s interesting, EricW, that while the Protestants generally eschew the idea of a “priest,” the shepherding movement has an almost identical view (minus the Eucharist) of what spiritual authority means (ie, this person is as Christ to you who are under their authority).

            Very interesting. Not in a draw-me-towards-Catholicism kind of way, though.

  17. I think Bryan’s explanations are sufficiently plausible if one wants to believe them. Or, the case of the RCC, if you HAVE to believe them.

    And this is my major issue – have to believe.
    Let’s set aside purgatory and the Eucharist for the moment and look at Marian dogma.
    If I understand correctly, a RCC believer must affirm these dogmas to be saved. No ifs , ands or buts.
    Even if the Marian dogmas are plausible (which I think they are not, ) how did they become salvific issues? Part of the gospel?

    If I understand it correctly, I am excluded from salvation because I cannot, with good conscience, affirm these dogmas. I can believe in the complete deity/humanity of Christ, his virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, resurrection, second coming, judgment and the Trinity, but if I balk on Marian dogma, I go to hell?

    I remember hearing a statement by Scott Hahn’s wife to the effect that there are 3 obstacles to Protestants becoming RCC – Mary, Mary and Mary. In my case, I can affirm that.
    My #1 issue has never been transubstantiation, or justification by faith alone, purgatory, papal authority (though they are on the list,) it is Marian dogma.

    • Just really quickly, because it’s been addressed in much more detail elsewhere (see comments in previous parts of the interview), NO, you are not excluded from salvation if you cannot in good conscience affirm certain dogmas. If you 100% affirmed the dogmas, and all other of the Church’s dogmas, and 100% believed the Catholic Church to be the one, true Church, that would be one thing (although under Catholic teaching there would still not be a mortal who could definitively say, “I know that JohnB5200 is hellbound”). But in this case, to all appearances, there’s no reason for anyone to claim you are excluded from salvation.

  18. I have to say, I’m pleasantly surprised by how civil this discussion – on what one would presume would be the absolute hot-button topics – is turning out.

    Yes, we’ll all fully and frankly exchanged views, but there hasn’t been any hair-pulling or name-calling.

    Maybe there’s hope yet! 😉

  19. JohnB5200 –

    “If I understand it correctly, I am excluded from salvation because I cannot, with good conscience, affirm these dogmas. I can believe in the complete deity/humanity of Christ, his virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, resurrection, second coming, judgment and the Trinity, but if I balk on Marian dogma, I go to hell?”

    Relax – as you stated do not understand it correctly. If you believed a point of doctrine to be true yet despite this and with full knowledge and consent of the will you rejected it – then you would/might be in trouble. Hence the whole “Judge not ….. ” thingie.

    The Catholic Church wants sons and daughters not zombies. If it still interests you – wrestle with it. Like a patient Mother – The Church is “big enough” to handle the tough questions.

    • Bill,
      While I appreciate the ecumenical spirit of your comments, I just cannot believe that they reflect the official position of the RCC church.
      Do you really think that I could trot down to my local parish and sign up for RCIA with the explicit understanding that I will never accept Marian dogmas? Do you think priest accede to that and confirm me?

      • My wife went through RCIA and asked plenty of questions–especially about Marian teachings. No one was offended that she was skeptical.

        There are people who go through the classes but decide at the end that they just do not believe what the Church teaches and that they don’t want to be confirmed and they don’t want to enter the church. RCIA is a time for mutual discerment. There were no tortures or anathamas for those who didn’t want to procede and they are still accepted when they visit the church. We do not think they are destined for hell–by their baptism they are still brothers and sisters in Christ.

        • Sorry, I was unclear.
          My point was not that I would be unwelcome in RCIA, but that I could not ultimately be confirmed in the RCC without affirming Marian dogmas.

          • There is no final exam or ‘inquisition’. It is really a matter of conscience. Even to be strict about it, as a practicing Catholic I do not have to fully embrace and ‘swallow whole’ such things – only be willing to place trust in the Chruch ahead of my own questions and continue to pray and work through my questions. It is only when I am not willing to trust the judgement of the Church over my own opinion and obstinately reject the Church’s teaching that I enter into trouble.

            As for entering the Church at the conclusion of RCIA it really is up to one’s conscience the vast majority of the time. There is no quiz, no legal contract, no inquisition. If you want to become a Catholic you’re going to be accepted. If you’ve argued and fought the entire way through RCIA it would be a blessing if a good pastoral Priest were to visit with you and ask if you are ready and counsel you wisely as to where you are in good conscience.

  20. Reading Bryan’s overview of Marian devotion, I have to admit to getting the same, sick feeling I do whenever I weed through Catholic statements and arguments regarding it. On the surface, most apologists make it sound extremely reasonable, logical, and spiritually encouraging.

    And yet – it still feels like disrespect at best to me, heresy at worst. There is absolutely no Biblical support for directing prayers, devotion, adoration or anything smacking of worship towards any entity except God. And I’m hardly a die-hard sola Scriptura guy, but the lack of precedence here should really make us think very, very hard before spreading the “love” around. By the arguments made, shouldn’t we love the disciples and Joseph, too? And some of the OT saints? Didn’t they enjoy special roles in the fulfillment in God’s plan for redemption?

    On a more personal level, I just don’t get the point of Marian devotion. We’re finite beings, with finite energy and focus. Why, when God has told us He does not desire to share His glory with anyone else, would we even want to start giving another human devotion over and above the normal commitment we give to friends and family? Why, if we have been given access to the very throne of God through Christ, would we use that to say, “Oh, sorry. I really wanted to talk to that lady over there.”

    I also think this, posted above:

    “How do we know Mary? She’s dead. We are not in a relationship with her. We know Jesus because He has sent His Spirit to dwell in our hearts. His Spirit fellowships with our spirits. The Spirit enlightens His word, to reveal Him to us. Are we called to have a relationship with Mary? Is it the Spirit’s job to bring us into ontological fellowship with her?”

    is spot on. The basic problem with Marian devotion – of which there are MANY – is that it inevitably leads to a de-emphasis on the person and works of Christ, good intentions and well written codicils notwithstanding.

    • As a convert to Catholicism, I understand your reluctance and distaste for Marian devotion. It was actually many years before I began to consider praying a rosary, asking for Mary’s intercession or really studying Marian dogma.

      But what I found was actually a fuller view of Christ and his love for me. As Catholics, we believe fully in the communion of saints and in the concept of the Church being the body of Christ. We are truly all one family, whether still alive on earth or having gone before. Mary is part of “so great a cloud of witnesses” who is cheering us on to greater holiness and devotion to God, as are other holy men and women in heaven.

      I don’t feel it at all de-emphasizes the person and works of Christ to ask Mary – or my own mother, my Bible study group, my priest – to pray for me. It actually does the opposite, in that it makes me appreciate the family that I am part of, and which Christ is the head of, through him, with him and in him. The prayers of the righteous “availeth much” and it is an honor to ask any holy person, here or in heaven, to pray for me.

      I worship God alone. I respect and honor holy men and women who went before me. Why is this wrong in your view?

    • “By the arguments made, shouldn’t we love the disciples and Joseph, too? And some of the OT saints?”

      To answer your questions, Yes, and Not just some, but all.

      That’s (part of) what the Communion of the Saints is all about. If it’s not too horrifying to anyone’s sensibilities, here’s the Litany of the Saints (the older one; there’s a slightly different revised modern one as well):

      Actually, I’m kind of surprised that the old chestnut of the veneration of the saints/images hasn’t cropped up yet 🙂

  21. By the arguments made, shouldn’t we love the disciples and Joseph, too? And some of the OT saints? Didn’t they enjoy special roles in the fulfillment in God’s plan for redemption?

    Aranion — We can and we do! We’ve got feast days for just about everybody who did anything good in Sacred Scripture or Church history. In the Eastern Churches, we regularly venerate the “holy and just ancestors of God” which includes pretty much everyone in the Gospel genealogies.

    You also said:

    Why, when God has told us He does not desire to share His glory with anyone else, would we even want to start giving another human devotion over and above the normal commitment we give to friends and family?

    First of all, I’d need you to document where God says “I don’t want to share my glory with anyone else.”

    The fact is that God LOVES to share his glory with His people. That’s why he lets us be “co-workers in redemption” with Him, as St. Paul says.

    When we remember the good things God has done through His people, we praise God. In the Eastern Churches, we very often sing the refrain “Thou who we glorify in thy saints, save us who sing to Thee.” We don’t glorify the saints for their own sake, we glorify God for doing amazing things through them.

    You also ask why we would ask someone else for help when we can ask Jesus. The simple answer to that is: Because we can and because the prayer of the righteous man availeth much.

    It’s really no different than asking another Christian on earth to pray for you, except that they’re before the throne of God and have been made holy.

    As for Marian devotion detracting from Christ, would honoring your mother make you feel deprived of the honor that you had coming? Or would you be happy to see your mother, whom you love with all your heart, being praised?

    I think there’s a serious disconnect with a lot of protestants on the idea that Mary is really Jesus mother, His actual mother. He loves her like you love your mother, only infinitely more because He’s God. Realizing that was, for me, a very big moment.

    Anyway, I hope those thoughts are of some help.

    • As for Marian devotion detracting from Christ, would honoring your mother make you feel deprived of the honor that you had coming? Or would you be happy to see your mother, whom you love with all your heart, being praised?

      As for veneration of God’s creation detracting from worshiping the Creator, would paying reverential tribute and honor and veneration to what God created deprive or misplace or demean the veneration and adoration that God has coming to Him alone? Or would Christ be happy to see the things and persons He created, which people love with all or even half or even part of their heart, being revered and venerated by His people?

    • First of all, I’d need you to document where God says “I don’t want to share my glory with anyone else.”

      (emphasis mine)

      Isaiah 42:8:

      I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.

      Isaiah 48:11:

      How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.

      Coupled with the many instances of God describing Himself as a jealous God and the utter lack of precedent for giving adoration to anyone else besides the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…I don’t see Marian devotion as something that’s a natural outgrowth of devotion to Christ. Especially when Christ himself redirected honor given to Mary back to God.

      The fact is that God LOVES to share his glory with His people. That’s why he lets us be “co-workers in redemption” with Him, as St. Paul says.

      I don’t see this as God sharing His “glory” with us, but God loving us enough to be real, free agents that can impact the world around us.

      When we remember the good things God has done through His people, we praise God. In the Eastern Churches, we very often sing the refrain “Thou who we glorify in thy saints, save us who sing to Thee.” We don’t glorify the saints for their own sake, we glorify God for doing amazing things through them.

      In and of itself, I get on board with this. God obviously loves to work through the body, and I think we’re called to recognize Him moving in us.

      You also ask why we would ask someone else for help when we can ask Jesus. The simple answer to that is: Because we can and because the prayer of the righteous man availeth much.

      It’s really no different than asking another Christian on earth to pray for you, except that they’re before the throne of God and have been made holy.

      In theory, I can agree with this. It’s the actual practice that I have problems with.

      First, we don’t know the state of the dead. Are they in a position to petition God? Does God allow them to hear our request to them, requesting prayer for us? Is Mary somehow “more special” to God in heaven than “Jane Christian” who lived and died in 20th century America, so that God’s more inclined to hear Mary’s prayers over and above Jane’s?

      Second, I think it is disingenuous to argue that Marian devotion does not and has not led to skewed theology and emphasis among the laity. Dogma and papal announcements can parse and define the nature of Marian devotion as precisely and exhaustively as possible…but most Catholics, as with most Lutherans, Episcopalians, etc., are not fluent in theological language. It seems to be inviting trouble.

      As for Marian devotion detracting from Christ, would honoring your mother make you feel deprived of the honor that you had coming? Or would you be happy to see your mother, whom you love with all your heart, being praised?

      I do honor Mary’s role – she endured more than I ever have, or likely will, to play a key role in God’s act of salvation for humanity. I see her as a great role model for faithfulness, submission, and peity. But I glory and honor I reserve for God.

      I think there’s a serious disconnect with a lot of protestants on the idea that Mary is really Jesus mother, His actual mother. He loves her like you love your mother, only infinitely more because He’s God. Realizing that was, for me, a very big moment.

      While Scripture is silent on Jesus’ love for Mary being somehow deeper and more holy than his love for you, or for me, I understand your point. And again, I think Mary should be held up as one of the great role models of faith, like Paul and Peter.

  22. all of this (the post and the back and forth) hurts my heads:)

    but serioulsy it seems to me that all of these issues sooner or later come down to the issue of authority and scripture or scripture and tradition

    i don’t see how any progress can be made when folks are using two totally different starting points

    • I agree.
      As NotRC stated in the initial post, incorrect presuppositions lead to wrong conclusions.
      In this case, if one presumes apostolic succession, papal authority, the Magesterium & tradition all the rest of the doctrines becomes no-brainers.
      If you reject or question papal authority, there can really be no fruitful discussion.

      As with evolution, if someone is committed to materialistic naturalism and denies the possibility of the supernatural, there is really no point in further discussion.

  23. Waltzing Matilda says

    I don’t believe in praying to Mary for one simple reason: If you want to absolutely guarantee that I won’t do something for you – bother my mother about it. I don’t want anyone bothering my mother. I’m not going to bother his mother.

    • Do you really think that asking for Mary’s prayers is bothering her? Somehow I don’t think that Jesus, who did ask us to pray for one another, would be bothered by our asking his mother to intercede for us.

    • And yet, the Bible tells us that Mary will take our needs to Christ. See John 2:1ff, the wedding at Cana. Jesus was a guest at the wedding. Mary was either a guest or had some sort of role, but that’s not specified. She goes to Jesus and says, “They have no more wine.” He says it’s not time for Him to start His ministry, and she simply says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you to do.”

      If we weren’t supposed to learn something about Mary in this passage, it could have very neatly been written without her in it at all. John could have written, “On the third day, a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee, and Jesus and His disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus said to the servants….” Instead, John took the time to write out the interaction between Christ and His mother. This is why Catholic and Orthodox believers know that we can ask Mary to pray with us and for us, and she will take our (legitimate) needs to Him while directing us to “Do whatever He tells you to do.”

      She doesn’t seem to mind, and He doesn’t seem to take it as an affront that the issue was drawn to His attention by His mother.

      (P.S. Sorry that things aren’t so great between you and your mom. BTDT. It’s difficult to relate to one’s parents on an adult level, isn’t it?)

  24. NotRC said:
    . . . would paying reverential tribute and honor and veneration to what God created deprive or misplace or demean the veneration and adoration that God has coming to Him alone? Or would Christ be happy to see the things and persons He created, which people love with all or even half or even part of their heart, being revered and venerated by His people?

    Well, yes, that would be a problem. If someone were doing that.

    But Catholics and Orthodox (let’s be honest here, the vast majority of Christians who ever drew breath) venerate the saints with a totally different kind of honor than is reserved for God alone.

    I could go into the distinction between dulia and latria, but you can look that up on your own if you’re interested. Suffice it to say, it is not unlawful to give honor to creatures. It is unlawful to give to creatures honor that is due only to God. It’s perfectly lawful to give a war vet a medal or to give someone an award for service to their Church or community. It’s even lawful to write a song in praise of all the good things someone has done.

    So, in your opinion, what is the honor due only to God, and how do you see those venerating the saints giving that honor to God?

    • Matt:

      I know the difference between dulia and latria, which is why I specifically used the words “veneration” and “adoration” in my post (your Reply should have stayed in that nested thread). I know the distinction that Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox make between those terms. The lines blur, however, especially when it comes to Roman Catholic veneration of Mary in not just popular usage but in some of the writings of the church’s priests and saints. Orthodox veneration of the Theotokos is not as close to adoration/worship as things that Roman Catholics have written about the Mother of God, but there are some Orthodox writings and statements that also blur or cross the line into adoration/worship.

      • I think particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries (I may be a little off), many essays in praise of Mary look positively idolatrous to modern eyes. It is important to note, though, that that was certainly a flowery time in popular literature. I do think time and place need to be taken into account when evaluating any given literary work. But I’m not pretending that fact is an answer to all seemingly excessive Marian devotion: just some.

        I think it is important to remember, too, though, that in the Catholic/Orthodox paradigm, there is no verbal praise, etc., that even approaches the honor and glory of the Eucharist. In comparison to the honor and glory it presents to the Father, even the most glowing poetry, prose and song are dim and shadowy.

  25. Sorry, last line should read “. . . how do you see those venerating the saints giving that honor to the saints?

  26. I appreciate Mr. Cross’s intellectual honesty. Often posts on “Christian unity” try to gloss over the tough points, which makes Mr. Cross’s straight forward explanation of Catholic doctrine refreshing. If ecumenicism is truly about trying to get me to the join the Catholic Church, then it’s good to get that out in the open. No hidden agenda.

    I also appreciate the fact he is very well read and knows his stuff. The idea behind Catholicism is a Magisterium with defined teaching, but unfortunately many people who claim the label “Catholic,” either don’t know or knowingly reject certain Magisterial teaching. This can make it confusing for those of us attracted to the “teaching authority” claims of Catholicism, but have difficulty seeing how that “authority” is followed at the parishioner level.

    Good series of posts Michael. Thanks for the diversity.

    • This can make it confusing for those of us attracted to the “teaching authority” claims of Catholicism, but have difficulty seeing how that “authority” is followed at the parishioner level.

      And it will be 1000X more confusing if you ASSUME that the RCC in front of you follows or believes in x,y. or z. As one born and raised RCC, with my parents still with ROME, let me tell ya that what comes out of the Vatican, or the Magisterium, and what my Mom believes are two VERY different things. Let the dialogue-ee beware.

      Peace to all who love the LAMB
      Greg R

  27. A genuine question —

    Is Mary mentioned in Acts, the Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, or Revelation? If she is not, from a Catholic perspective, given her importance to the Church, how can her absence from these books be explained?

    • Catholics will say she is the Woman clothed with the Sun in Revelation 12.

    • Not sure if this helps, but she is specifically mentioned in Acts 1:14: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”

      I pretty sure the Church teaches that Mary is presented, at least symbolically (I think), in Revelation, but I’m sure she’s not explicitly named.

    • This also goes to the Catholic view of Sacred Tradition, wherein we believe that not everything must be explicitly stated in the Bible. Tradition cannot contradict the Bible, but there are Christian beliefs that aren’t overtly in Scripture.

      The fact is that Christians have honored Mary from the very beginning. The practices of proclaiming feast days in her honor, building churches in her honor, asking her intercession, etc. are ancient.

      • In the original post, Mr Cross says, “As Catholics we believe that when Jesus on the cross said to John, “Behold, your mother,” He was not only entrusting care of Mary to John. He was saying something more profound, to the whole Church, namely, “Behold, your mother.””

        In a comment, i think someone mentioned that all the words spoken by Jesus during the Passion have special meaning. But, St. John didn’t mention this exchange with Jesus in any of his epistles. I guess there could be many reasons as to why this was not included. It just strikes me as odd as it not being mentioned.

        Most of the reasons justifying the Catholic position seem reaching to me (e.g. “From a Catholic point of view, anyone who loves Jesus, will love His mother, for His sake”). I can’t see how the RCC gets from A to B. This basic question that I ask is one of those questions, to me, that needs a response first. Stating that Sacred Tradition gives me the answer still does not address the issue as to why Saints Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude fail to mention such an essential dogma of the Church. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

        • Should I assume that Saints Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude did not have a devotion to Mary since there is no evidence of such devotion?

  28. So… are any Catholics going to step up to the plate and address what the Curé of Ars says about priests and the Eucharist, as I requested in my post above:

    Will they confirm what he wrote? Reject it? Explain why they affirm it and/or why they reject it?

    Because, after all, this IS the bottom line – i.e., the Eucharist and who and what priests are, and what power and authority they have. All the rest that divides Roman Catholics and Protestants is secondary stuff.

    • Can you be more specific? If you can supply a specific quote or a reference, I’m sure someone will be able to respond.

    • Sure, he’s absolutely right. Jesus gave us priests to minister the sacraments to us. That’s awesome and we Catholics are very happy about that. I guess I fail to see the problem.

      • Matt:

        Do you in toto and without qualification accept everything the Curé of Ars there says and writes about priests and the Eucharist? If not, what do you not accept, and why?

        • You’ll have to be more specific. Cradle Catholics are not going to understand your issues at all, and converts are going to think “Amen and Hallelujah!” to the whole thing. “Alter Christus” is central to the Catholic understanding of Sacrament.

          • I guess I’m not sure which part I’m supposed to balk at? I don’t have any problem with any of it. Could you point out the parts you find troubling, EricW?

          • My point exactly.

          • I’ll stand by it. I can see how it can be taken the wrong way, and at times in the Church clericalism has been / is a problem. But as for the proper role and function of the priesthood St. John V. is 100% correct.

          • Matt:

            I didn’t post it related to what parts I might find troubling.

            I posted it because I think the Roman Catholic understanding of the Eucharist and the priest’s role/authority related to that are the real bottom-line issues that separate Roman Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism, and that other issues like Mary and Purgatory or arguments about what Paul meant by justification pale in importance in comparison. (I have a book entitled Rereading Paul Together: Protestant and Catholic Perspectives on Justification, David E. Aune, Editor.)

            So I posted the statement by the Curé of Ars (which, by the way, I learned of from listening to the local Catholic radio station/EWTN affiliate re: the Year of the Priest) to present what appears to be correct Catholic belief and understanding re: these things so that Catholics can confirm or correct it, and it appears that you and some other Catholics indeed confirm it.

            I.e., the Curé of Ars statement illustrates in black and white (so to speak) – even if the language is a bit flowery – what is meant and and believed and taught by the Church and its members re: the priest and his role and authority and power related to the Eucharist. It may be “disturbing” to some to read it, but I think that very response indictates a proper reaction to the claims the Church makes for the Eucharist and its priests. (And, it’s not a Lorraine Boettner caricature.)


    • Thanks, EricW – I didn’t go up far enough in the post to see the quote.

      Christ gave his Church bishops and priests to continue his ministry on earth. The sacraments are a tangible means of experiencing grace, and we believe the priest has that authority to confect those sacraments through succession that can be traced back to Peter.

      Therefore, the Eucharist, for example, becomes the Body and Blood of Christ through the words of consecration by the priest. Without the priest, there is no authority to administer that sacrament, so you’d better believe that I am grateful for a priest who can preside over the Mass.

      As far as the sacrament of confession, Catholics understand (or should understand) that it’s Father So-and-So acting “in persona Christi, ” that is, as God’s representative on earth with the authority given to him to forgive sins (see John 20:21-23). The priests themselves know that they are men, but men given the sacred obligation and power to forgive sins in a tangible way, through oral confession and forgiveness.

      I think we need to keep in mind that the language in the essay is a little flowery and hyperbolic, as was common in that day. I can see where Willoh was put off by some of the over-the-top verbiage

      • PL, this view of the priesthood is, for me another serious stumbling block regarding the RCC. To be clear, I have nothing but admiration and respect for anyone, nun or priest, minister or choir director, who devotes their life to godly service. And I think having a body-within-a-body of people who are by vocation ministering to the church universal is a blessing.

        However, from your post and my own knowledge of Catholicism, priests are given far too much an intercessory and mediating role. We see repeatedly in the New Testament that one of the consequences of the crucifixion and resurrection was shifting the priesthood from a privileged or special sect to the entire body of believers; we are called a “kingdom of priests.” It’s important to think about the context of that phrase: to Jewish readers, the meaning was clear: it was no longer necessary to have a dedicated priestly class for carrying out godly duties and roles. ALL believers are now considered priests, with no curtain separating us from the holy of holies. Christ Jesus is our mediator, and we need no other. Each Christian is called to be, indeed given the right by the blood of Christ to be, a priest.

        Whether I’m in a Catholic church or in a desert hut hundreds of miles away from anyone, I need no human to act as a priest between God and me or to make wine and bread acceptable for communion.

        • To the Jewish readers, the meaning was clear: “And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” – Exodus 19:6

          The Israelites were a nation of priests, yet there was still a priesthood. The Christian priesthood is early, deeply early, the Apostolic Churches believe from Christ Himself. The Church does have an understanding of the Baptismal priesthood of all believers:

          “1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: “Therefore . . . we are members one of another.”71 Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”72

          1268 The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.”73 By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”74 Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers.

          1269 Having become a member of the Church, the person baptized belongs no longer to himself, but to him who died and rose for us.75 From now on, he is called to be subject to others, to serve them in the communion of the Church, and to “obey and submit” to the Church’s leaders,76 holding them in respect and affection.77 Just as Baptism is the source of responsibilities and duties, the baptized person also enjoys rights within the Church: to receive the sacraments, to be nourished with the Word of God and to be sustained by the other spiritual helps of the Church.78

          1270 “Reborn as sons of God, [the baptized] must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church” and participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God.”

    • The writings of St John Vianney are his own thoughts and reflections. They are not Sacred Scripture. They were written 200 years ago and reflect the teaching and understanding of a man and a priest of that time.

      His writing is simply that: his own writing. It is not dogma, nor is it an article of faith. I find the posting of this part of his writing to be divisive, disturbing, and not in the spirit of this discussion.

      And that is the response of one cradle Catholic.

    • That’s always been one of my favorite pieces of writing from St. John Vianney, actually.

      It has been my experience that whenever one is tempted to say “God could not possibly be so generous!”, one is usually wrong.

    • Eric,

      While those wouldn’t be my words, I do agree with what Vianney says. As I had said earlier, the Eucharist is the source and summit of Church life. It’s what brings to us eternal life per John 6. Through the Eucharist, we are united to Christ but only if we are free of sin (through the sacrament of Reconciliation). Through our Communion with Jesus Christ, heaven is opened up to us. We can’t make it their on our own. We need Christ and we need to be in Communion with Him through the Eucharist.

      The Sacraments all point us to a life in Christ centered around the Eucharist. The priest is the tool that God uses to administer His Grace through the Sacraments. It’s His grace. The priest is the vehicle.

      This makes the role of the priest the most important job on earth. His job is to deliver people to God.

  29. Standing on either side of the Tiber makes it look like a formidable divide and one most will likely never cross. But from God’s view of things, those on either side who belong to him, it must look small. Overall, I believe these to be helpful discussions and have been informative for me.

    Distant relatives can appear very foreign to each other. But the more we focus on Jesus, God’s One and Only and the Author and Perfector of our faith, thru lifting him up and loving God and one another in words and deeds (vs. exegeting one another), we may begin to take on a greater family resemblance.

  30. Eric W, you quoted Saint Jean Marie Vianney writing about priests: “At the Consecration, he does not say, ‘This is the Body of our Lord’; he says, ‘This is My Body.’ ”

    I think we are supposed to take from that, that the priest is saying he Himself is Jesus. I have never gotten that understanding and I am a “cradle Catholic.”

    Read This shows all the words that the priest says during a mass and it explains some things about those words. At one point, it says, “Then the Priest, standing at the side of the altar, washes his hands, saying quietly:
    Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” If the priest felt he was Jesus, he would not need cleansing from his sin. In another part, it says, “To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.” And most importantly, “In the formulas that follow, the words of the Lord should be pronounced clearly and
    distinctly, as the nature of these words requires: “On the day before he was to suffer” (The Priest takes the bread and, holding it slightly raised above the altar, continues) “he took bread in his holy and venerable hands,” (He raises his eyes) “and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying” (He bows slightly.) TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT OF IT, FOR THIS IS MY BODY, WHICH WILL BE GIVEN UP FOR YOU.”

    The priest is saying what Jesus said. The priest is not Jesus, is not God. The priest ask God to make our offerings holy. The priest does not make them holy. God does.

    • The priest is acting in the person of Christ, but is never himself supposed to be Christ. It is God who makes the elements of the Host holy, but he does it through the priest.

      • We hear and see Jesus today THROUGH the person of the priest. He is made just as present now as when He walked the earth. It is the One Sacrifice, happening then in physical space and time and now in faith and by His instruction.

        Thank God the priest is only repeating Jesus’ words, and is acting “in Christ’s person.” The priest is just as sinful as anybody, just as imperfect, just as fallen. He acts only as Christ told us that he should do.

        I too am a cradle Catholic and I got that message loud and clear from the very beginning. I remember the grade-school giggling when Father reminded us that he, too, was a sinner, since our immature understandings had to accept that face. We didn’t think nuns had hair, either.

  31. I wonder how many Catholics even know that the Catechism says this in Article 3 about Mary’s virginity: “499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.”

    The bold part was my emphasis of those words. Think about what that is saying. I believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit but that Mary actually gave birth “naturally.” Jesus did not somehow just appear outside Mary’s body. I am a Catholic that is a bit saddened that this is in our Cathechism. I didn’t even know this was a Catholic teaching until a couple years ago when a priest pointed it out. I am willing to bet that many Catholics (including priests) do not believe that when Jesus was ready to be born, he just somehow appeared outside of Mary’s body. Yes, I know we believe many other incredible things, but somehow, I just think that if God chose to be incarnated as a human being, he went all the way!

    • Yep. Pre partum, in partu, and post partum. Per the Infancy Gospel/Protoevangelium of James, Salome inserted her finger inside Mary after Jesus was born to see if she was a virgin, and found the hymen intact. From The Protoevangelium of James:

      And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; and I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished; and I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still. And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and work-people reclining: and their hands were in the trough. And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards. And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course.

      19. And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: O man, whither are you going? And I said: I am seeking an Hebrew midwife. And she answered and said unto me: Are you of Israel? And I said to her: Yes. And she said: And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave? And I said: A woman betrothed to me. And she said to me: Is she not your wife? And I said to her: It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit.

      And the widwife said to him: Is this true? And Joseph said to her: Come and see. And the midwife went away with him. And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. And the midwife said: My soul has been magnified this day, because my eyes have seen strange things— because salvation has been brought forth to Israel. And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to you: a virgin has brought forth— a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God lives, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

      20. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show yourself; for no small controversy has arisen about you. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for You know, O Lord, that in Your name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Your hand. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: Salome, Salome, the Lord has heard you. Put your hand to the infant, and carry it, and you will have safety and joy. And Salome went and carried it, saying: I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel. And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. And behold a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things you have seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.

    • Is this really that important to our faith and Christianity?

      I believe the line of thought–my thoughts only–is that since Mary is the New Eve and was sinless, her giving birth to God would not result in pain of childbirth as she would be outside of Eve’s punishment as noted in Genesis 3. Thus, her childbirth would have been painless and her hymen intact.

      To me, this isn’t that important if it was or if it wasn’t. She still gave birth naturally…actually, it would have been the way birth occurred before the Fall of Man.

      Again, my speculation and really not that germane to my faith but I understand the line of thinking.

    • I don’t think the teaching is that Jesus was magically transported outside her body, just that there was no permanent physical wound from the childbirth. This doesn’t strike me as problematic at all.

  32. I left the Roman Catholicism for many reasons, Marian “dogma” being chief among them. Can anyone find me anything in Scripture or a Church Father in the first 300 years of Christianity praying anything resembling this:
    Hail, Holy Queen

    Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
    Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
    To thee do we cry, poor banished
    children of Eve, to thee do we send
    up our sighs, mourning and weeping
    in this valley, of tears.
    Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
    thine eyes of mercy toward us; and
    after this our exile show unto us the
    blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus;
    O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.

    Pray for us, O holy Mother of God

    That we may be made worthy of the
    promises of Christ.
    She is not my life, nor my sweetness, nor, and most especially, not my hope! The only, “most gracious advocate” I am trusting in is the Holy Spirit that the Savior sent. Save me the Latria/Dulia distinction! Why don’t any of the Epistles, while trying to exhort and encourage infant churches and christians, encourage these kinds of prayers to the departed saints? Not one exhortation? And to respond to that with, “Well, you’re just trapped in the muddied thinking of Sola Scriptura.” Is ridiculous. On a purely subjective note, when you first became a believer, did you ever have a qualm of conscience or need to be lead through complex argumentation to defend the legitimacy of, let’s say, the Lord’s Prayer? I sure didn’t. I was happy to say it, and still am. But prayers like the Hail Holy Queen, requires you to overcome your “malformed” conscience, brain washed by Protestant thinking. Pay no mind to that trepidation that this just might be idolatry, this prayer is perfectly acceptable before the face of the Living God. I’m sticking with, “My sheep know my voice” and “Sanctify them by the Truth. Your Word is Truth.”

    Grace and Peace in the Lord Jesus Christ!