Recommending Mary: A Review of Marian Veneration by Francis Cardinal Arinze

Oct 2nd, 2017 | By Casey Chalk | Category: Blog Posts

For Protestants interested in better understanding the subject of Mary and Marian devotion in Catholic faith and practice, there are many good books, including several that have been published within the last ten years.1 One of the most accessible — both in terms of clarity of writing, doctrinal precision, and breadth of subjective address — is Marian Veneration, written by Francis Cardinal Arinze, and published earlier this year. Arinze, the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the current Cardinal Bishop of Velletri-Segni, succeeds in providing a strong, surprisingly crisp (122 pages!) explanation and defense of the Catholic Church’s doctrine on Mary. This book is a great resource for both Protestants and Catholics.

Arinze’s book is not principally an apologetic for Marian veneration, as the text is as much a summary of Marian teachings for Catholics as it is for interested non-Catholics. Nevertheless, the cardinal, whose upbringing and religious development in Nigeria exposed him to many brands of Protestantism, makes clear early on that he will be addressing many of the most common Protestant objections. He writes,

There are some Protestants or Evangelicals who challenge Catholics on their Marian devotion. They suggest that Catholics give to the Virgin an attention that they consider excessive or that is not biblically based or that tends to overshadow the central place due to Jesus Christ. Well-prepared Catholics can easily see the defects in such objections or half-truths and give due answers to those who sincerely desire to listen.2

For those Protestants willing to give a charitable hearing to explanations of Catholic doctrine, this is a veritable introduction to Catholicism’s understanding of Mary.

The first chapter tackles terminology, explaining what the Catholic Church means in offering devotion to Mary: the honor Catholics give Mary (hyperdulia) is categorically and intrinsically different from that given to God (latria). Moreover, the concept of giving veneration to humans has a Biblical pedigree: the Jews gave special honor to Moses, Abraham, and the prophets (Matthew 23:29-36; John 8:39), while the writer of the letter to the Hebrews calls the saints of the Old Testament a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Furthermore, there is a corollary between Abraham and Mary: Abraham is the father of all those who have faith in God, while Mary is the mother of the Savior of the world, and the second person of the Trinity.3 This is the reason for the ecumenical Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) declaring Mary not only Christokos, or Christ-bearer, but Theotokos, God-bearer.

Arinze follows this by a 14-page exposition on Mary’s unique role in Holy Scripture, one that is thorough in its range, given its brevity. He argues that the Bible “attributes to the Blessed Virgin Mary a place not reserved to any other woman.” This is because, as even many Protestants acknowledge, her role is prophesied from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, while also appearing in the closing book, Revelation. Mary’s role is central to Isaiah’s prophecy regarding the Messiah, that book announcing that the LORD will give a sign: “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:10-15). Mary’s role is required for the salvation of man, as, to paraphrase Saint Bernard, the whole world waited upon her consent to bear Immanuel. Furthermore, it was to Mary, and Mary alone among all the women of history, to carry in her womb the Second Person of the Trinity.4 It is Mary whom Elizabeth calls “the mother of my Lord,” and it is Mary who utters the Magnificat, a song of praise and recognition of the fulfillment of God’s promises that is both spiritually powerful and pervaded by Scriptural allusions . Through this song, Mary proves that she is not only “conversant with the Sacred Scripture,” but a well-schooled theologian of the Old Testament.5

A careful reading of the Gospels will demonstrate that Mary is present at many of the most important moments of Jesus’ life and that of the early Church, that she is consistently and uniquely praised, and that she provides an ideal model for the Christian life. It is Mary who elicits the first miracle of Jesus’ public ministry, recorded in John 2 at Cana, and it is Mary who asserts one of the shortest, clearest directives for the Christian life: “do whatever he tells you.” Arinze’s chapter also addresses common Protestant objections, including that Jesus on two occasions seemed to distance himself from his mother (Luke 8:19-21 and its corollaries in Matthew 12:49 and Mark 3:34; Luke 11:27-28). In the latter, Jesus responds to a woman who declares the womb that bore Him to be blessed, by saying, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Is this a rebuke of the woman’s pronouncement, a devaluing of the role of his mother? Arinze thinks no: “Mary is the first of those who hear the word of God and do it” at the annunciation depicted in Luke 1, and thus Jesus is referring “primarily to Mary.”6

Subsequent chapters follow the same quick, Scripturally- and theologically-driven analysis in reference to Mary’s role as “Mother of God” and “Mother of the Church,” her role in salvation history, and her faith. Arinze also applies the same approach in his explanation and defense of Marian devotional beliefs and practices, arguing that “true Marian devotion is Christocentric,” which should “lead us to Christ, and, through him, to the Eternal Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”7 This is because, as noted above, Mary’s whole life is defined by that dictum uttered to the servants at the Cana wedding feast: “do whatever he tells you.” True Catholic Marian devotion orients the Christian not to Mary as telos, but God. “When Elizabeth praises her, she [Mary] praises God who has done great things for her.”8 This is further evidenced in such practices as the rosary: of twenty different mysteries for meditation in the rosary, eighteen of them are directly referring to Christ. Devotional sites Protestants may know as being affiliated with Mary, are also Christocentric. Lourdes, in France, gives pride of place to Christ in the Eucharistic celebration, Eucharistic procession, Benediction, and the Way of the Cross. Arinze also cites St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, one of the most prominent advocates of Marian devotion in Catholic history, who taught: “If devotion to Our lady removed us from Jesus Christ, we should have to reject it as an illusion of the devil.”9

One of Arinze’s last chapters is devoted to to the nexus between Marian devotion and ecumenical dialogue. He acknowledges Protestant doubts about Catholic Marian veneration, doubts which are usually driven by concerns that it is not biblical, or not sufficiently Christocentric, or even idolatrous. Here the Cardinal portrays not only a charitable, dialogue-focused approach (“you can win an argument and lose a friend,” he acknowledges), but a strong familiarity with Marian devotion within the Protestant tradition. Luther, he notes, “accepted and observed most of the Marian doctrines,” while Calvin believed in her perpetual virginity. Zwingli and the early English Reformers likewise retained many of the Catholic Marian dogmas, to include her immaculate conception, divine motherhood, and her perpetual virginity.10 Readers may however wish that Arinze had devoted some space to explaining why the early Reformers embraced these Marian doctrines (did they think they were Biblical? Did they believe some early Church traditions to be binding for Christians?), and how exactly it came to pass that most Protestants came to harbor deep suspicions of any special honor given to Mary. Arinze makes only a brief reference to rationalism in Protestant denominations as a cause of declining reverence for Mary.

Marian Veneration accomplishes much for a book that can be read in an afternoon. Besides those topics addressed above, Protestants interested in understanding more about Marian topics even more foreign to Reformed sensibilities — such as Marian apparitions and shrines, Marian societies and associations, and Marian prayers — will find the same kind of logical and theological precision given to these subjects. Arinze has provided one of the best, most easily accessible texts currently available as an introduction to Catholic teaching on Mary, one that will benefit both Protestants and Catholics.

———————————————————————

For those interested in other Catholic texts on Mary, particularly ones accessible to those unfamiliar with Catholic Marian dogma, I would like to briefly recommend another book. This is David Mills’ Discovering Mary, which covers much of the same ground as Arinze’s book. Mills’ book is notably useful for its structure: the author lists common questions regarding Mary (particularly those he held as a former Episcopalian), and then addresses them from a Catholic perspective. The introduction to his book is also very accessible to Protestants, as Mills provides an honest summary of his own sentiments and opinions about Mary and Marian devotion — ones I myself resonated with as a former evangelical and Reformed Christian.

  1. I recommend specifically David Mills’ Discovering Mary and Tim Staples’ Behold Your Mother, which I will mention in a little more detail at the end of this post. []
  2. Francis Cardinal Arinze, Marian Veneration (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2017), 9. []
  3. Arinze, Marian, 14-15. []
  4. Arinze, Marian, 18-20. []
  5. Arinze, Marian, 22. []
  6. Arinze, Marian, 28. []
  7. Arinze, Marian, 51. []
  8. Arinze, Marian, 51 []
  9. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary (Rockford, Il: TAN, 1985), no. 62. []
  10. Arinze, Marian, 98-101. []

10 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Greetings Casey,

    Mary did bear the long expected Jesus and rightly do Christians honor her. Obviously she had a central role in the birth of our Savior and in events immediately before and after the birth. Her Magnificat truly is a wonderful prayer to God, her Savior.

    In generaI, though, the Gospels and New Testament are rather quiet about Mary. I do not see that Mary is “consistently and uniquely praised” in the Gospels and the New Testament in general. Consider Matthew 12.46-50:

    While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

    Clearly in this passage when Jesus spoke of those who do the will of His Father in heaven, He was pointing to His disciples not to Mary.

    Hugh Steele

  2. Hi Hugh (#1),

    Thanks for the comment. You wrote,

    the Gospels and New Testament are rather quiet about Mary. I do not see that Mary is “consistently and uniquely praised” in the Gospels and the New Testament in general.

    Luke 1:26-28 records the Angel saying to Mary: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” Nobody else in the NT is called “full of grace.” Luke 1:39-56 records Mary’s cousin Elizabeth declaring: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Again, Elizabeth says that Mary is “blessed… among women.” No one else is called thus in the NT.

    Mary also elicits Jesus’ first public miracle in John 2:3-5. Revelation 12 depicts Mary in regal terms (“a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars”). There are more, but I think that’s sufficient to demonstrate that Mary is “consistently and uniquely praised” in the NT.

    As for the passage you cite from Matthew 12, no, I don’t think it is “clear” that Jesus is not including Mary in his statement. As I wrote in the above article: “Jesus responds to a woman who declares the womb that bore Him to be blessed, by saying, ‘blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ Is this a rebuke of the woman’s pronouncement, a devaluing of the role of his mother? Arinze thinks no: ‘Mary is the first of those who hear the word of God and do it’ at the annunciation depicted in Luke 1, and thus Jesus is referring ‘primarily to Mary.'” This is a position with support in the Church Fathers. See the below from Chrysostom:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200144.htm

    in Christ, casey

  3. Thanks, Casey, for the link to Chrysostom’s homily.

    The homily was a little difficult reading, and if I understood correctly I agree with much that Chrysostom wrote. If Mary has any standing before Jesus, as she most certainly does, it is because she heard God’s word and obeyed it, not because she bore and nursed Him.

    In Matthew 12 was Jesus responding to the bad manners of Mary and her sons? I do not know. In any case Jesus used the occasion as a teaching moment. If we take what Jesus said in Matthew 12 at face value, then Jesus real family(His brother, sister, mother) are those who do the will of His Father in heaven. Is Mary part of Jesus’ real family? Absolutely yes. Are we part of Jesus’ real family? Yes, if we do the will of His Father in heaven.

    Is Mary the Queen Mother seated at Christ’s right hand in heaven? No, the scripture support just is not there. Revelation 12 is not entirely convincing. It could just as well be about the church or Israel.

    On another point, through the thousands of years before Mary there were people who heard God’s word and did it. There were many men and women who preceded Mary in obeying God.

    Again, I enjoyed reading Chrysostom. Thanks for the link and your comments,

    Hugh

  4. Hello Hugh and Casey,

    If I may please allow me to add something that I was pondering recently when listening to one of Dr. Feingold’s lectures. It was on the nature( for lack of a better term) of “grace”. Grace is not something any of us has by way of our human parentage, so when Mary is declared by an angel to be “full of grace”, she had to receive that from God. In other words, the angel isn’t recognizing some natural virtue, so this means that scripture is saying that the reason that Mary is declared to be favored is because God specially filled her with Himself beforehand. On a natural level Mary would have nothing that God would find to merit His favor, therefore He graced her and then found( for a lack of a better word) that she possessed the very life of God within her.
    When I was a protestant I just thought that the angel found Mary to be beautiful and modest, and ready to do God’s will. But that isn’t what grace from God is. No one is ready to do God’s will on their own.
    If I say that the grace that Mary has comes from herself, that would be like saying that Mary is a deity. Because Grace can only come to us from above us. Man cannot have grace except it be given by God. The truth that Mary has full grace means she participates in the very life of God perfectly.

    God bless you!

  5. Hi High (#3),

    If Mary has any standing before Jesus, as she most certainly does, it is because she heard God’s word and obeyed it, not because she bore and nursed Him.

    I’m not sure what exactly you mean by “standing before Jesus.” Do you mean some kind of special honor? If that’s the case, I would argue she has honor for both things — both hearing and obeying God’s word, but also bearing and nursing the Word Incarnate. She was chosen as a unique vessel of God’s glory for some reason — indeed, Luke 1:30 says that she had “found favor with God,” implying there was something unique about her that she was chosen for such a glorious purpose as bearing the Son of God.

    In Matthew 12 was Jesus responding to the bad manners of Mary and her sons? I do not know. In any case Jesus used the occasion as a teaching moment. If we take what Jesus said in Matthew 12 at face value, then Jesus real family(His brother, sister, mother) are those who do the will of His Father in heaven. Is Mary part of Jesus’ real family? Absolutely yes. Are we part of Jesus’ real family? Yes, if we do the will of His Father in heaven.

    I’m not sure what interpreting a Biblical passage “at face value” means. It would seem to imply perspicuity, which I don’t subscribe to.

    Is Mary the Queen Mother seated at Christ’s right hand in heaven? No, the scripture support just is not there. Revelation 12 is not entirely convincing. It could just as well be about the church or Israel.

    That you assess there is insufficient Scriptural support for Mary as Queen of heaven, and that thus the Catholic doctrine should not be believed, presumes the sufficiency of Scripture and sola scriptura, both of which the Catholic Church rejects, and, I would argue, go against the grain of Church authorities throughout the early Church period. Moreover, that Revelation 12 is “not entirely convincing” to you presumes a Protestant paradigm where the norm is Scripture’s inherent perspicuity, and where individual Christians have freedom to define the boundaries of acceptable Christian belief and practice. I would argue that there are significant problems with both of those a priori positions. Maybe a few good questions worth asking in this discussion are the following: what criteria are used to determine what are normative Christian beliefs and practices? What confidence can we have in those criteria? By what authority are those criteria delineated?

    On another point, through the thousands of years before Mary there were people who heard God’s word and did it. There were many men and women who preceded Mary in obeying God.

    I agree, and would say it’s entirely compatible with Catholic teaching.

    Again, I enjoyed reading Chrysostom. Thanks for the link and your comments,

    My pleasure, thanks for the dialogue. Peace in Christ, casey

  6. Hi Casey,

    I have been confronted on Luke 11:27-28 many a time. I should like to note that there is a very strong similarity between Luke 11:27-28 and Luke 1:45.

    Luke 1:45
    45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

    Luke 11:28
    28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

    The Holy Spirit in the voice of Elizabeth proclaims “….. mother of my Lord…..” And then goes on to state that Mary is blessed because she believed that what was spoken to her from the Lord in Luke 1:26-38.

    It is Jesus pointing us to Luke 1:45 and to Mary as the model of our faith. Mary gives the perfect response to faith in her Son.

    The theologian Timothy George (Beeson Divinity School) once said that Mary would be a good subject for Catholics and Protestants to investigate since Mary is present in many important episodes of Christ’s life, (paraphrased from a discussion I listened to in 2015, I can’t find the citation).

    Blessings,

    R. Zell

  7. I appreciate the Q&A here and thank everyone for that. Today listening to Dr. Anders I here a question about Mary’s perpetual virginity and he referred to the catechism #499 and confirmed it was indeed dogma. I’ve read it understand it.

    I have a virtual ton of information on Mary that I’ve just acquired to overcome any lack of faith, so I suspect eventually I would discover the answer to my question which is, who, and how did the church reach that conclusion?

    I’ve decades of “protestant” study of Christian beliefs and have no trouble suspending disbelief in favor of faith if there is anything close enough that I can have faith. Without more information on this one, God will have to slap me up side the head with 2×4 of faith to believe.

    I’ve not had difficulty in confessing “therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,” until today I read 499 and thought about it. A secondary question arose. If Mary is ever-Virgin (besides the miracle of 499) then considering the customs, the law, etc., Mary not consummating her marriage to Joseph would be hard to believe as that would seem to be heretical or blasphemy or something violating the concept of marriage, and if for some reason I don’t understand that not consummating her marriage to Joseph seems to invalidate the sacrament of marriage.

    So my initial question is who, how, here, when did 499 become dogma? That would be at least a 2×2 smack, but I think I’ll need more info on how not consummating her marriage doesn’t blemish the sacrament of marriage.

    For the record, I want to believe. Have tried and failed to get into RCIA. (after 47 years Christian). I think that is a geographical issue, but now this to get beyond. Thanks for any blessing to my lack of faith.

  8. Hello Norman (re: #7),

    See the second paragraph in comment #261 of the “Sola Scriptura Redux” post. There are links there that will take you to resources that will answer your questions about the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. Norman,

    I would say that the Church came to the conclusion that Mary remained a virgin because the Apostles knew her, then the earliest church teachers knew the Apostles, and that fact was passed down until it was eventually written down.

    There are two arguments to consider. First, the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus had “brothers;” it says that Jesus had “adelphios” (because it was written in Greek). Adelphios is broader than “brothers” or siblings, and includes extended family. But this argument doesn’t prove Jesus didn’t have siblings, it merely shows that it is possible that the people described as “adelphios” were extended family.

    The second argument is stronger. If you actually look into the people described as Jesus’ brothers, the Bible makes clear that they were not the sons of Mary-mother-of-Jesus, but of another Mary (it was a common name): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_A-p38y9cjU.

  10. Thank you for your time and references Bryan.

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting