Saturday, January 5, 2008


The Catholic Encyclopedia states that scandal "must be evil in itself, or in appearance; this is the interpretation of the words of St. Thomas: minus rectum."

I know this term is commonly used in situations that are easy to understand (for one who understands the nature of sin): e.g., where some nuns flaunt heresy, or where a priest becomes corrupt. In these situations, the sinners scandalize the church, and may lead others into similar sin.

Other scandals have been of a much broader base, and much more painful to stamp out. In these situations, it seems that God uses all sorts to effect the principles of semper reformanda. People like Luther have done the church well (at least in some regards). Trent banned the sale of indulgences because of the grave risk of corruption. Even modern Tort Lawyers (of all people!) have helped end scandal by suing the church for its priests sexually molesting children. In this instance, while each particular abuse was scandalous, the systematic under-reactiveness to (apparently) rampant deviancy made it a meta-scandal.

Of Protestant stock, I (naturally) feel concern that Marian 'piety' is dangerously unchecked within Catholicism. This was especially apparent when I lived in an area of Southern California that had a large population of Catholic Mexican immigrants. The danger I perceive, and that I'd like to dispel within myself or be able to recognize along with some like-minded Catholics, is that such 'piety' often turns into superstition in practice (and arguably even idolatry) for some groups.

Here I see a helpful historical lesson from the sale of indulgences. Perhaps the Church is right about indulgences, and perhaps it's right about the propriety of Marian devotion. But if indulgences can be checked because of their tendency toward scandal, can Marian piety be similarly checked (to avoid superstition and even idolatry)? How ostracized would a faithful Catholic be for seeing a need for such a check?

I'm not trying to be shocking, and probably most will be sympathetic with where I'm coming from. The real $1,000,000 question is whether, stipulating (ex arguendo) that the Catholic Church's teachings are preserved from error by the Holy Spirit, and given that I still have much to learn about Mary's role in the order of salvation, is it possible that there is scandal in the Catholic Church for not checking Marian excesses?

Would any of my Catholic fellows feel able to admit this as a possibility?


clay said...

I believe I commented on an earlier post you had about Marian devotion. I'll be very interested in what responses you get from Roman Catholics, converts or otherwise, as to whether they recognize a danger at all. I wonder if Catholics generally even see a problem. I know I have found them generally very short tempered on this subject.


Thos said...


I hope I do get a response on here. I've been e-mailing a devout Catholic (not a convert) along these lines. If no one is willing to discuss, I'll try to summarize this anonymous Catholic's helpful views in this combox.

I don't know that I've found many folks to be short tempered about this though. It's just very hard to discuss when we come from totally different backgrounds about Mary. We all must work so hard to hash out our understandings and differences. Christ asks for Unity! Thanks for commenting, and I hope you and I can play some small part in that unity.

Peace in Christ,

Amy said...

The timing of this particular post is interesting, because just a few weeks ago I would have said "No, there's no excess, just a misunderstanding by those outside of Catholicism on what Catholics really believe."

A little background first: I was raised a Catholic, then drifted away from the Church during my teens and early 20s. During that time, I considered myself a New Ager. I even became involved in goddess worship and Wicca. One of the books I read described the goddess as the Blessed Mother, and claimed that Christians just misunderstood who she really was, that she was actually THE goddess, and that Jesus wasn't really God, just HER SON.

When I came back into the Catholic Church, I was astounded to hear Catholics being accused of worshiping Mary. I thought, "they have no idea what true Marian worship is!" For the past 10+ years, I've maintained that stance. I am sure that she had a huge hand in bringing me back to her Son (I *know* she didn't like being confused with God!), so I have a huge devotion to her.

However, last week I experienced true Marian worship for the first time. At a Bible study, a man in his 70s, who has been a practicing Catholic his entire life, proclaimed that Mary was the short ladder to heaven, that Jesus was the longer, harder ladder to heaven. I couldn't believe it! I'd never heard a Catholic say such a thing, I'd only heard things like that in the new age movement.

Now, after talking to several Catholic educators about it (and discovering that this is not unheard of), I can see that there is a need in some quarters to clarify the Church's teachings on Mary.

There is a big "Marian Movement" in the Church, and some involved in that (not all...) will give supposed apparitions of Mary a greater authority than her Son. That needs to be stopped, and fast.

Amy said...

I realized after I posted the comment that I need to add another comment about apparitions.

I am not denying that anyone who is in heaven can, or does, help out those of us still trying to get to heaven. I am saying that we can be deceived, either by our imaginations, the words of others, or satan.

Also, those extra appearances fall under private revelation, and aren't binding on the faithful.

Bob said...

Hi Tom,

Is there a scandal? After some thought, I did come up with a scandal, although this would be a matter of dispute within Catholic circles.

I view the Marian apparitions associated with Medujorge as false. I expect that they will not gain the Catholic Church's seal of approval as did Lourdes and Fatima. As Amy correctly points out, these are private revelations and a Catholic is free to dismiss them even if they are approved (they are not necessary for salvation, but they may be helpful). Medujorge fails the smell test both on the obedience to the local ordinary (who told the seers to stop) and on personal piety (unlike Lourdes and Fatima, the Medujorge seers failed to embrace religious life). However, there are otherwise orthodox Catholics who attach great importance to Medujorge, so I do not expect a heavy hand here. The Church has put restrictions against priests leading pilgrimages there, so that people should understand that the seal of approval is not yet given. The Church generally works slowly, and that's something you should understand and be patient about.

On the other hand, apparitions such as Bayside have not gained widespread support and they are not approved by the local ordinary.

I don't know if these sorts of things fit into your idea as problematic Marian pieties. Perhaps I should go another direction.

I have done the total consecration to Mary according to the method described by St. Louis Marie de Monfort. I admit that some passages within his writings, True Devotion to Mary, gave me pause, and I'm sure you would probably freak out upon reading them. But there is also this, St. Louis Marie de Montfort was explicit about the limitations of Mary, that she was not divine, that she was a sure method to Christ, and that she is united to the will of Christ. Mary points to Christ, that a true devotion to Mary is a true devotion to Christ through Mary. I'm also calmed by the fact that the Catholic Church approves of this devotion.

Mark Shea (a former evangelical Protestant) is shortly coming out with a series on Mary. I will definitely be purchasing this series, for Mark seems to have a way of illuminating "difficult" things like this (a sort of C.S. Lewis method of presenting theology to the common man). He recently posted an interesting comment on his blog a while back, and I think it succinctly captures Mary's role. I hope I paraphrase it accurately enough. There was one thing the Son could not be in His incarnation as man -- He could not be a disciple, for that we have Mary as the most perfect disciple.

Of course, there's more than that. We love Mary, because Jesus loved Mary, His mother. Mary is an icon of the Church, and by adoption (John 19:27) we are members of His family, brothers in Christ, part of the Body of Christ. As Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, bearing Christ as a pure tabernacle, just as the Church bears the Eucharist, the source and summit, in her tabernacles. Mary points to Christ even in the most simple prayer (sourced to Scripture) "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death."

Well, I certainly let the flood gates open there. I hope you don't mind. :-)

Peace be with you,

StBasil said...

Interesting post. Can there be Marian excess? I think so. It appears to me illogical to think that something could not go to excess. The most glaring, albeit obvious, example would be the Canadian sect who began teaching that Mary was the fourth person of the Most Holy Trinity.

But can there be excess in the daily devotion of the Faithful? Well, it depends. The Holy Rosary isn't excess nor are the Marian prayers the Church has approved. I think excess comes in when we trust more in Mary for our salvation than in Christ, when we think she has accomplished it for us to the extent that we in some way take away from Christ. I honestly don't think that happens too often. But it could happen.

Mary plays an extraordinary role in our salvation, as evidenced from the fact that she bore God in her womb. That in itself makes her crucial to our salvation. That continues in her mediation for us before Christ, her Son. We must not confuse true love and devotion to Mary, which may upset many a Protestant, with excess.

Also, many Protestants try to quantify devotion. I've heard them say, "Well you pray one Our Father and one Glory Be but TEN Hail Mary's in a decade of the Holy Rosary." Yeah? So what? If you talk to your mother once and your father five times does it necessarily mean you love one more? No.

The late-Pontiff John Paul II wondered if Marian devotion would detract from Christ. He concluded it would not because she always points to her Son. If we go to Mary she says to us, "Do whatever He tells you to do." So long as our Marian devotion keeps us in that state of "wanting most of all to do what Christ wants us to do" then I think it is not in excess.

Just my thoughts.

P.S. I'm a revert so I was Protestants for some years before my return, by the grace of God, to Christ's one Church.

Pax Christi tecum.

Devin Rose said...

Howdy Thos and friends,

One thing to consider as well is the affect of a faith that has permeated a culture for centuries, as the Catholic faith has in Mexico and in Latin America.

I have heard that 95% or more of Mexicans say that they are Catholic; I am sure that is true, but how many go to Mass every Sunday? Probably less than 50%.

Nonetheless, the Catholic faith has influenced their culture strongly and so you can end up with people who are not well-catechized but who have some type of love or devotion to a part of the faith, and in Latin America, it is usually to the Virgin Mary (under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe oftentimes).

Many of these women are faithful, well-meaning ladies, but they have just never been taught or never sought to learn clearly what the Church teaches with regard to reserving worship for God alone, while honoring Mary as a great saint.

Some others are just culturally Catholic and may be swayed by superstitious ideas which are not Church teaching.

When we think we "know" a religion, we are often the hardest people to get to examine what that religion really is, and I think that is a challenge of evangelization in Latin America: People already "know" the Catholic faith, so why should they be interested in learning more about it (i.e. what it really teaches).

In part, I think that this is why Evangelical and charismatic denominations are making inroads in Latin America: They are making the faith more vibrant and real to the people.

I live in Texas, and many parishes around here are about half Hispanic, half Anglo; we have our share of very dear little Mexican ladies who have great devotion to the Virgin Mary. Are some of them a bit off theologically? Probably so, but correcting these errors is not the most urgent item on the agenda for most pastors, for various reasons.

In short, I think that Catholics need to learn their faith better and pastors and bishops, as well as the lay faithful, need to work harder with the Holy Spirit to teach the faith.

Blessings in Christ!

TheDen said...


I just stumbled over here from Godfearin's site.

I am a Cradle Catholic who has never strayed although haven't always been devout in my life either.

In regards to your question, I think everyone above has answered it pretty well although let me add my two cents as well.

Will there be a "scandal." Unlikely as the official teaching of the Catholic Church won't change to accomodate the "excesses" of Marian devotion.

For example, they won't recognize an apparition until after they've stopped (and probably not until 100 years or so after) and have been reviewed to be declared free of doctrinal error.

Additionally, the Catholic Church holds very clear what Mary's role is.

That being said, there are a lot of people within the Catholic Church who may falsely believe that Mary has a more important role than she really does. They are wrong and if any member of the Church (i.e. priests/bishops) were to support this, they would most likely be reprimanded by their superiors.

It's interesting because the Church is responsible for "holding the party line" and since it's so big, you always have people who try to push things to extremes in ALL examples.

I personally think a scandal would more likely come from people who call themselves Catholic and don't adhere to teachings like birth control, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, or women priests. That area seems a lot more volatile and a lot of "Catholics" tend to disagree with Church teaching on these points.

Thos said...

Thanks to all for some superior comments. These have been some of the most thoughtful responses I've gotten in my half a year of blogging. I will post a reply when I've had time to carefully take in and consider your thoughts. I've also had input from a couple of trusted e-mail sources that I will try to share.

If you think of anything more, do share!

Peace in Christ,

Cow Bike Rider (alias, Chris Sagsveen) said...

I received a book from a friend this past week titled "Introduction to Mary - The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion" by Mark Miravalle (Professor of Theology and Mariology aat Steubenville). Anyway, I just started reading it last night (not long after reading your post). Very interesting timing because Chapter 1, the first few sentences, the author states, "In discussing the person and role of Mary, Mother of Jesus, two extremes must always be avoided. The first extreme is Marian excess. This is to place the Blessed Virgin on the level of goddess, to ascribe to Mary a divine nature that would grant her equality with God himself". He goes on to state, "The second extreme regarding the person and role of the Blessed Virgin is what we can call Marian defect. This is to minimize the role of the Blessed Virgin, to ascribe to Mary less than what the sources of divine revelation reveal about her. Marian defect, for example, would limit the Mother of Jesus to being only a "good disciple," a "sister in the Lord," a mere "physical channel of Jesus," but nothing more."

The book appears excellent. Chapter 1 goes on to discuss that proper "understanding of the unity of Tradition and Scripture is extremely important in the proper study of Mariology." "Devotion to Mary will be authentic and spiritually fruitful only when it is based on the authentic doctrine that comes from the Word of God entrusted to the Church."

The author does an excellent job of describing the role of the Magisterium in safeguarding the deposit of faith in Scripture and Tradition.

That's Chapter 1 in a nutshell, but I think gives an excellent introduction to Mary, which he follows up in later chapters on Devotion, Mary in Scripture, Mary in the Early Church, the Four Marian Dogmas, the Mother of All Peoples, etc.

In reading some of your past posts/questions regarding Mary, perhaps this book is a good answer to some of your questions.

Thos said...

Again, thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I was really overwhelmed. Thanks to those who gave reading assignments and were ALSO kind enough to summarize the reading. That’s helpful since no one could read recommendations as fast as they roll in. Sorry this comment is so long.

Amy’s input was of a recent, but rare, experience of observing someone commit Marian “worship”, aka excess, aka Mariolatry, aka sin (so aka individual scandal). I’ve read plenty of Mariology, so particular Catholics’ experience, as Amy shared, is most helpful. Anecdotes can often be far more helpful than mountains of reading. That Amy has seen little of this sin, and that it stood out to her as problematic is encouraging to me. I would feel the same way, and it’s nice to think I wouldn’t be alone.

I posed the short ladder/long ladder analogy to another faithful Catholic I know to get his input. His immediate reaction was to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, and find the underpinning of a reasonable, non-heterodox view in the analogy. He later came to the conclusion that the statement was indefensible. It is helpful for my efforts at defining “proper” Catholic Marian boundaries to see the tensions at play (and the conclusions reached).

Amy’s and Bob’s point that private revelations do not have to be believed is commonly made. Amy, I certainly would think long and hard before buying into any. What is presently simmering on my skillet of a brain is how meaningful that assurance is if messages from apparitions have woven their way into declared Marian doctrine. But wacked-out Mary-adoring websites about events such as Medjugorje aside, reading the Marian part of Lumen Gentium yesterday was helpful. I got the sense that private revelation is spoken of in doctrinal discussion only insofar as it agrees with doctrine (and not the other way around, so the private revelation drives doctrine, which would make it, uh, public revelation)… I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts along this line.

Bob, a trusted e-mail source of mine had also mentioned to me scandal he know if regarding a Catholic ignoring a Bishop’s instructions and going to the disallowed Bayside apparition (about which I really know nothing at all). It’s nice to know that you and others see the obedience to authority as a principle, and not just a custom of Catholicism, such that proclaiming disallowed events is scandalous. Also, Bob, your post plus two trusted e-mail sources equaled three recommendations or discussions of St. Louis Marie de Montfort, which certainly caught my attention. Another said that for me to read his views would be to “take the bull by the horns.”

Interesting observation also that the son could not be a disciple. But then, in a way, he was a disciple of the Father’s will. This highlights a nice point, that touting without diminishing Christ’s words is a walk on eggshells. I get the impression that the healthy Catholic’s heart is in the right place (so not breaking eggshells) but it’s hard to get the clear perspective from the outside of what’s actually occurring.

S.B. made a comment I would like to cling to. I hope it’s a faithful summation of a Catholic view: “I think excess comes in when we trust more in Mary for our salvation than in Christ, when we think she has accomplished it for us to the extent that we in some way take away from Christ.” I often get the impression that the quick potion of saying “well, we know she can only really do this by God’s power” may take care of too many alarming symptoms. Your view seems more modest (if I may paraphrase to see if I have it), that even if one acknowledges God as the ultimate cause of salvation, looking more to Mary as the practical cause of it is an excess (not that she wasn’t a practical cause, but the reliance on her continuing practical assistance over the Sons definite grace-filled assistance seems to be problem). This is a big point to me! but maybe others would think it’s silly or minor. Causation can be a sloppy discussion to have though.

Devin’s point that post-Catholic cultures will give Catholicism an unfair appearance of superstition was simple and profound. I guess I knew it, but your articulation was excellent. I have to believe that most of the lucky-charm rosary displays by the Mexicana automota in SoCal were by “cultural” Catholics who were not catechized in their faith. That’s a big problem, but a different one, and one I understand from Protestantism’s own experiences.

Chris, thanks for articulating Miravalle’s extremes. A trusted e-mail source had explained essentially the same ends, but from a different author. I guess a “Marian Dearth”, the norm of Protestantism, tends to at least run afoul of her statement in Luke that “every generation shall call me blessed.” I think his benchmark for “Marian Excess” is set a little high (that it’s only reached when one sees her as goddess and equal with God himself). But I would tend to think that… I hope S.B. had it closer, or at least that his view as I understood it is permissible.

Finally, TheDen convinced me that scandal probably isn’t the right word for what I’m getting at. Perhaps what I’m getting at is something only in my imagination. If Catholicism says that Catholics have to attend Mass each Sunday (or Saturday evening) or they are sinning. If 60% (made up number) of registered Catholics in this country don’t do that (because they’re not in good standing with nor interested in the Church), that’s both a scandal and yet not something that gives me doubts about the Church (it just affirms my views of human nature). If 90% of married Catholics practice contraception, same deal. So I guess as long as people practicing Marian excesses (resulting in superstition or even idolatry) are not typically the faithful, catechized Catholics, maybe it’s not worth writing home about.

Peace in Christ,

StBasil said...

A couple points in response. It's nice to see someone so genuinely involved in the issues to really think these things through. Anyway, you said:

"I got the sense that private revelation is spoken of in doctrinal discussion only insofar as it agrees with doctrine (and not the other way around, so the private revelation drives doctrine, which would make it, uh, public revelation)… I would love to hear anyone’s thoughts along this line."

Private revelation is always judged by public revelation; what we know for sure is used as the measuring stuck for what has come lately. If a Marian apparition contradicts Church teaching, and it has been proved to do so, then it cannot be approved. It does not work the other way around. Now, Mary may appear to us to urge us on to perhaps dogmatize something but she would never come and create something herself. If that makes sense.

You referred back to what I had said:

"I hope it’s a faithful summation of a Catholic view: “I think excess comes in when we trust more in Mary for our salvation than in Christ, when we think she has accomplished it for us to the extent that we in some way take away from Christ.”"

Many Protestants would read what I said and think that the Holy Rosary does that or that other Marian devotions do. That's not my point. Those point to Christ. They should create within us a greater trust and love for Christ. But if people are missing Christ by their devotion to Mary then that is a problem. I think it would have to go to very far lengths to reach that point and I can't really think of an example. We have to have a great trust in Mary, in her intercession for us, knowing that her prayers have special efficacy before the Throne of Christ, however that has to be understood that Christ is always the first cause and the root. Here is your paraphrase:

"that even if one acknowledges God as the ultimate cause of salvation, looking more to Mary as the practical cause of it is an excess (not that she wasn’t a practical cause, but the reliance on her continuing practical assistance over the Sons definite grace-filled assistance seems to be problem)"

You'd have to define "practical cause" for me but if by it you mean that Mary by her actions is the cause of our salvation, i.e. her intercession, then I think I'd be want to agree. I would say that God is the first cause of our salvation whereas Mary would be a part of His plan. The cause is always Christ but He allows Mary to partake in that plan much like He allows us to do so too. We evangelize and in that way co-operate with God to save souls (although it is always God accomplishing it). So too with Mary. She co-operates with God in His plan of salvation, and thus has a genuine role, but it is always God accomplishing our salvation as the first cause.

Marivalle, whose classes I have taken, explains it well. Mary can never be put in the place of God. I think that is my point. If people go to her as if she were God then that is excess.

Personally, I trust and rely on Mary - and our Holy Patriarch St. Joseph's - help but not in the same way I do with God. I trust in Mary and Joseph insofar as they plead and intercede for me before God. They are creatures like me but they are there with God. They were chosen for a very lofty place in the plan of salvation according to divine providence, but all they have God gave to them. I trust in God, however, in a way I never could with the Saints. He is my Source, my Salvation. He is the cause, the root, the essence of it all. They go to Him on my behalf but I go to the Father, in Christ, as my Source of all. There is an essential difference.

Notice, too, that in every accepted Marian apparition she points souls to God, asks them to repent and pray and fast, asks them to flee sin. That is a genuine sign of God at work.

Pax Christi tecum.

Becky said...


I couldn't have said it better.

About the Marian apparitions, could they be true? Possibly. Could they be false? Possibly. Only God and time can answer that truthfully. Generally the Catholic church doesn't like to authenticate visitations until they have completed. There are a lot of acclaimed miracles with Medujorge, such as the sun dancing, etc... Some see it, others don't. However, on specific apparition proves that God has sent Mary as a messenger to us to lead us back to her Son, and that was in Eygpt. Mary appeared concecutively for 3 years, several days a week to everyone who was there. That included Muslums, Jews, Catholics, non-believers. Everyone could see her. There are Youtube videos of it, but none are very clear.