Our Blessed Mother & The Saints

White Man Can't Jump - A Response to James White's Book: Mary - Another Redeemer?

by John Pacheco


I came across James White’s book “Mary:  Another Redeemer?” in the early months of 1999.  It was given to me by a Baptist friend of mine who was making some inquiries into the Catholic faith.   I was rather surprised when he turned up on my door step one day, and handed the book to me. He told me that he “wouldn’t be needing it anymore”, and indicated that he was in no rush to have it returned.  We chatted for a few minutes about some inconsequential things, and then he left.  As I turned and shut the door, I could not help thinking that it was rather apparent that Mr. White’s book did not have the desired effect on this former-Baptist-now-Catholic convert.  I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

Based on my previous conversations with my Baptist friend, I assumed that he had accepted many of the truths of Catholicity on a doctrinal and historical level.  It was, therefore, a surprise when he told me one day of a rather remarkable supernatural occurrence he had with the Blessed Mother - the scope of which, unfortunately, is beyond the scope of this piece. I promised him that I would return the book to him soon, but he insisted that I need not be concerned in doing so.

Being an amateur in apologetics, and an apologist of no real consequence, I pondered whether my comments in this field could offer any novel perspective on the subject of Marian theology.  I concluded that it was unlikely, but then again, picking apart James White’s book was just too tantalizing.  And so, here I am now - a few weeks later - offering my views of Mr. White’s treatment of Mary’s place in Catholic theology.

I have always been intrigued how Protestants deal with Marian apparitions.  Some dismiss them as fraud; some dismiss it as psychological delusions or mass hypnosis; and others resort to explaining it as demonic influences.  Of course, many of these explanations are entirely possible, but the compelling evidence in Church approved apparitions certainly excludes many of the rational-natural explanations.  Hence, one is left with the supernatural explanation only - is it from upstairs or downstairs?  Early in his book, Mr. White touches on this topic, and completely dismisses any possible valid, heavenly supernatural encounter with the Blessed Mother.  He writes, “for most of us, stories like this strike us as representative of simple excesses of devotion or mass delusion or hysteria or something.” (p.14)  Of course, Mr. White implicitly allows for a wide speculation on what he could mean by ‘or something’.  Ostensibly, it could mean  anything.  But his speculation seems to imply that the apparitions are demonic.  Of course, for him, they must be or else he must concede a doctrine that he would be loath to accept - the Immaculate Conception - which was confirmed by the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes in 1858.

For what it is worth to the reader, and to those who are skeptical about Marian phenomena, I, myself, have experienced the scent of roses and incense - not to mention other related incidents - and I would certainly not consider myself  “excessive or delusional”.  And so when Mr. White asks:  “Why would a parishioner at a church in Scottsdale think she is hearing from Mary?” (p.14)  I wonder if it is even possible for Mr. White to fathom that the parishioner thinks she is hearing Mary because she may, in fact, BE hearing from Mary.  Mr. White’s false religion precludes him from making an objective assessment of Marian apparitions, and so his conclusions hardly come as a great shock.

Being rather unimpressed by Mr. White’s cavalier and dismissive attitude toward the subject early in the book, I was anticipating that the rest of the book to follow a similar thread, and it would be, so to speak, ‘easy pickins’.  I am pleased to report that it did not disappoint.  The following piece, therefore, will seek to pick out some of the arguments Mr. White proposes that warrant a response - if only to show Mr. White’s defunct methodology.

It never ceases to amaze me how, when discussing doctrinal matters with Protestants, they insist on defining the issue under discussion FOR the Catholic Church.  Catholic Apologists are always coming across such a tactic in discussing the Church’s position on many divisive doctrines.  We have all heard the ‘salvation by works’ charge, but ‘Mary worship’ certainly takes the proverbial cake in the Protestant conception of Catholic devotion to Mary.  It was with some hopeful optimism, therefore, when, casually flipping through the book initially, I came across Mr. White’s rather even-handed intention on the subject:  “It is our intention to allow Rome to define her own beliefs.” (p.17)

Yet, when I actually started reading the book, my initial impression changed.  Although Mr. White admits that Rome believes that Mary “in no way impinges upon the unique privileges and worship of Christ” (p.15), he nonetheless interjects this caveat:  “the issue is not [Rome’s claim], but whether these teachings do compromise the uniqueness of Christ despite Rome’s claims to the contrary.” (p.15)  So now we see the Polaroid developing:  Rome teaches that Mary does not equal Christ, but that does not necessarily mean (wink, wink) that she does, in fact, believe it!

Immaculate Conception

Now, Mr. White’s first attack focuses on Luke 1:28 where the Vulgate translates the Greek word ‘kecharitomene’ as ‘gratia plena’ or the equivalent of ‘full of grace’ in English.  Thus the translation of the verse is therefore: “Hail, full of grace.”  This does not sit well with Mr. White:  “The fact that such a simple greeting, so easily understood in its context, has to be forced into service as the foundation for entire dogmas illustrates how little biblical evidence there is for any of the Roman Catholic doctrines concerning Mary.7” (p.24)

What translates as ‘biblical evidence’ for Mr. White is not biblical evidence per se, but the accepted biblical evidence that Mr. White will concede.  He is well aware that there is a wealth of biblical evidence for Mary’s exalted place in Christianity, and for whatever reason, he omitted a discussion on them in his book.  In considering the translational merits of ‘kecharitomene’, all due deference should be given to a giant among the fathers on this question.  St. Jerome, a genius scholar in Greek and Hebrew, was 1500 years closer to the original languages than any scholar today.  (His translation, the Latin Vulgate, helped form the basis for the English translation ‘full of grace’.)  It therefore makes him a much better judge of the exact meaning of any Greek or Hebrew word in the Scriptures.  For Catholics to prefer a saint, genius-scholar, and a early church father’s rendering of the sacred text to that of a twentieth century Calvinist is not, I humbly submit, an act of imprudence.

Secondly, the word ‘kecharitomene’ is a perfect passive participle.  It means one endowed with favour or grace in a *permanent or perfect* fashion.  According to Greek grammatical lexicons, the perfect stem of a Greek verb means the ‘perpetuation of a permanent result or completed action’.  While it is not appropriate to say that the more contemporary translations (‘Greetings, O favoured one, etc.) are wrong in their translations, they do not capture the notion of perfection that St. Jerome’s ‘gratia plena’ does.  Thus, when St. Jerome’s rendering is captured in English as ‘full of grace’, it is not difficult not understand how the immaculate conception of the Blessed Mother is witnessed to by the passage.

Moreover, notice that the angel does not address Mary by name but by her title or state.  This is extremely significant.  Typically we see the Apostles speaking to Jesus as ‘Lord’.  “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8).  “Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?’” (Luke 12:41).  “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28).  Again and again, the New Testament is replete with such examples of addressing a superior by his proper title.  And so it is with Gabriel and Blessed Mother of God.   The Archangel does not simply call her by name as he had done earlier with Zechariah:  “Do not be afraid Zechariah…” (Luke 1:13), he addresses her by her state before God; that is, ‘full of grace’.

As an aside, I happened to look up Mr. White’s footnote 7 at the end of the passage above.  This is what he says:  “For the Roman Catholic reader who finds the witness of the early church to carry more weight than most Protestants, a study of the long process that brought this passage to such prominence and the fact that it was not seen to bear these meanings by the early Fathers should be helpful.”  When I read such magnanimous advice from Mr. White, I had to pick up my lower jaw from the floor.  What happens, I wondered, when those other thorny topics that Mr. White so blithely passes over jump out at the reader to show that they were all Catholic?!?  Issues like Church Authority, the Eucharist, Water Baptism, Justification, Petrine Primacy, and many other Catholic beliefs including many Marian praises that would make many Protestants extremely uneasy.

Finally, let us turn now to the Magnificat of the Blessed Mother: (Luke 1:46-47)

Greek:  kai eipen mariam megalunei h yuch mou ton kurion 47 kai hgalliasen to pneuma mou epi tw qew tw swthri mou

“And Mary said: ‘My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (NASB)

“And Mary said, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (KJV) “And Mary said: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (NIV)

“And Mary said: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (RSV)

“And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” (DR)

“And Mary said: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (NAB)

The significance of these verses lies not in the fact that Our Lady needs a Saviour - a fact that is conceded by the Church - but in the word that Mary uses to describe how her soul relates to God.  According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the Greek word for ‘magnify’ is ‘megaluno’ {meg-al-oo'-no}(#3170).  The meanings of the word given include the following:

1) to make great, magnify
1a)  metaph. to make conspicuous
2)  to deem or declare great
2a)  to esteem highly, to extol, laud, celebrate
3)  to get glory and praise

This word occurs eight times in the New Testament.  The Concordance segregates the meaning into the following categories:

i) to show great - 1 instance (Cf. Luke 1:58);
ii) to enlarge - 2 instances (Cf. Matthew 23:5, 2 Cor 10:15);
iii) to magnify - 5 instances (Cf. Luke 1:46, Acts 5:13, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:17, Phil 1:20)

A careful study of Acts 5:13, Acts 10:46, and Acts 19:17 clearly demonstrate that the sense of them is in no way parallel in significance to the Blessed Mother’s usage in Luke 1:46.  All these verses attest to the greatness and exultation of God, but there is generally no link to any particular individual.

Acts 5:13: “But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.”

Acts 10:46: “For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God.”

Acts 19:17: “This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.”

Now, there are two instances where the word ‘magnify’ is used in an explicit subject-object paradigm.  The first is in the Magnificat:

“And Mary said: ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” (RSV)

And the second occurs in Philippians 1:20:

 “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. “ (NASB)

The background to Philippians 1:20 relates to Paul’s imprisonment, and through his suffering in his body he may glorify, exalt, and magnify God.  This teaching, by itself, is very Catholic.  But how is one to read Mary’s rather bold proclamation?  How can a sinner’s soul ‘magnify’ or ‘make conspicuous’ God?  St. Paul’s body can magnify God through his suffering when he unites it with Jesus’ suffering, but how can Mary’s SOUL increase our appreciation of who God is if she was a sinner?  The answer lies in the implication of the text; namely, it suggests that Mary's soul is holy, pure, stainless - in a word - immaculate.  She can only magnify God if her soul, through which she magnifies God, is transparent of sin.

Perpetual Virginity

In chapter three, Mr. White attacks Mary’s perpetual virginity - a belief, ironically, that Mr. White’s religious founder, John Calvin, also held.   Historically speaking, the first accounts of the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary are discovered in a number of second century apocryphal works, namely the Protogospel of James, the Book of Sybils, the Ascent of Isaiah, and the Acts of Peter.  Although these texts do not suffice for doctrinal certainty of the dogma, they nevertheless point to an established belief of the early Christian community.  And, although the texts are apocryphal,  it cannot be substantially held that all teachings in them are such.  After all, there is rarely a work that is entirely apocryphal in content.  Rather, when a work is rendered ‘apocryphal’ in content, it is understood that such a label is directed at most of the teachings rather than all of them.  Hence, since the whole work assumes the classification of the majority of the content, or even only some of the content, then it is certainly not justified in dismissing all of the teaching in it. (An analogy can be drawn to the seriously deficient and scandalous encyclopaedia-work, Catholicism, by Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame University.  The American bishops have rejected its use in teaching the Catholic faith, but not all of the teaching in it is inaccurate.  Indeed, there is much in it that is very accurate.)  Therefore, Mr. White cannot so easily dismiss the early Christian witness to the perpetual virginity simply because they are contained in apocryphal literature.  In addition to the apocryphal texts, there are allusions made by St. Justin (165 A.D.) and St. Irenaeus (220 A.D.) which suggest that they too believed in the teaching, although admittedly, there are no explicit statements by them to that effect.

While the dogma was somewhat disputed by heretics of the early Church (Tertullian rejected it for instance), many of the great Church Fathers did accept it including Origen (254 A.D.), St. Athanasius (Discourses Against The Arians, 2:68), St. John Chrysostom (370 A.D.), St. Gregory of Nyssa (Virginity, 14:13, 370 A.D.), Didymus the Blind (The Trinity, 3:4, 381 A.D.), St. Epiphanius of Salamis (The Man Well-Anchored, 120, 374 A.D.), St. Basil the Great (380 A.D.), St. Ambrose (397), St. Jerome (Against Helvidius:  The Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 19:21, 383 A.D.) and St. Augustine (Sermons, 186:1, 391 A.D).  Ironically, James White also believes that Athanasius, Basil, and Augustine all taught ‘sola scriptura.’  Well, if ‘sola scriptura’ taught the perpetual virginity of Mary, I wonder what other wonderful doctrines are just around the corner!!!

From a concilliar point of view, the Fifth Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 553 A.D.) refers to Mary as ‘aeiparthenos’ (i.e. ever-virgin), and anathematize those who denied that she was the Mother of God or ever-virgin.  Moreover, the Lateran Council of 649 A.D. declared this: “If anyone does not, according to the Holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever-virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, who before the ages was born of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without corruption, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned.”

I was rather amused to see Mr. White use the oft argued ‘heos’ argument, which has been smashed by Catholic scholars many times over, dusted off from its antiquity and resurrected yet again .  (For those interested in an excellent recap of the topic, and might I say a devastating critique of the Protestant “argument”, please refer to Father Ronald K. Tacelli’s piece in Envoy Magazine.   Mr. White points to Matthew 1:25 to suggest that the word ‘until’ implies that Mary had other children.  Joseph, after all, “had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.”  But, as Mr. White well knows, the Greek words ‘prin’ (‘before’) and ‘heos’ (‘until’) do not necessarily mean that the state before the event does not continue after the event.  In other words, these words do not necessarily convey a reversal or change of the situation before the use of those prepositions.  Hence, Mary’s virginity was not necessarily lost after the birth of Jesus.

There are many references which vindicate the truth of this.  The list presented here is a sample: Genesis 8:7, 26:13, Numbers 20:17, Deuteronomy 2:15, 34:6, 2 Kings 6:25, 1 Chronicles 6:32, 2 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Chronicles 26:15, Judith 14:8, Judith 15:5, Tobit 2:4,  Psalm 57:1, Psalm 72:7, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 123:2, Psalm 141:10, Psalm 142:7, Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:12, 2 Samuel 6:23, Isaiah 14:2, 33:23, Ezekiel 24:13, 1 Maccabees 5:54, Matthew 13:33, Matthew 14:22, Matthew 16:28, Matthew 18:34,  Matthew 26:36, Matthew 28:20, John 4:49, Romans 8:22, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 4:13,  1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Timothy 6:14, 2 Peter 1:19, Revelation 2:25-26.

Although he does not continue with his other thoughts on ‘heos’ in his book, Mr. White goes a little further on this topic in his debate with Gerry Matatics on the Marian doctrines.  In his cross examination of Mr. Matatics, Mr. White ostensibly concedes that ‘heos’ alone does not prove the Protestant contention that Mary had other children.  Instead, he directs his listeners to the fact that Matthew 1:25 uses ‘heos hou’ and not just ‘heos’ alone.  He asked Mr. Matatics if he could provide just one other reference of this phrase in the rest of the New Testament which would support the Catholic interpretation of the passage.  In other words, Mr. White was suggesting that, given his confident challenge, there was no other evidence in the New Testament Greek which would allow ‘heos hou’ to be interpreted as a state which does not change after the ‘heos hou’ clause.

Well, I did a little digging, and I found the exact opposite to be true.  I used the NASB bible and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance to locate some verses which may, in fact, support the Catholic position.  The Greek is listed first followed by the English translation. 

Matthew 1:25 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“kai ouk eginwsken authn ewV ou eteken ton uion authV ton prwtotokon kai ekalesen to onoma autou ihsoun.”

“but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

Matthew 13:33 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“allhn parabolhn elalhsen autoiV omoia estin h basileia twn ouranwn zumh hn labousa gunh ekruyen eiV aleurou sata tria ewV ou ezumwqh olon.”

“He spoke another parable to them, "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”

Matthew 14:22 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“ kai euqewV hnagkasen o ihsouV touV maqhtaV embhnai eiV to ploion kai proagein auton eiV to peran ewV ou apolush touV oclouV.”

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.”

Matthew 26:36 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“ tote ercetai met autwn o ihsouV eiV cwrion legomenon geqshmanh kai legei toiV maqhtaiV kaqisate autou ewV ou apelqwn proseuxwmai ekei.”

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."

Luke13:21 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“ omoia estin zumh hn labousa gunh enekruyen eiV aleurou sata tria ewV ou ezumwqh olon.”

"It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened."

Luke 24:49 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“kai idou egw apostellw thn epaggelian tou patroV mou ef umaV umeiV de kaqisate en th polei ierousalhm ewV ou endushsqe dunamin ex uyouV.”

"And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high."

2 Peter 1:19 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“kai ecomen bebaioteron ton profhtikon logon w kalwV poieite proseconteV wV lucnw fainonti en aucmhrw topw ewV ou hmera diaugash kai fwsforoV anateilh en taiV kardiaiV umwn

“So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.”

The Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, also vindicates the Catholic claim on ‘heos hou’.  For those interested, here are a number of references which Dr. Art Sippo has found: Genesis 26:13, Deuteronomy 2:15, 2 Kings 6:25, 1 Chronicles 6:32, 2 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Chronicles 26:15, Judith 14:8, Judith 15:5, Tobit 2:4, Tobit 2:5, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 72:7, Psalm 123:2, Psalm 141:10, Psalm 142:7, Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:12, Isaiah 33:23, Ezekiel 24:13.

I was very troubled by Mr. White’s blatant disregard for the facts concerning this issue since it obviously impacts his credibility in the rest of the book.  One must wonder how someone who holds himself out as a Doctor of Theology can engage in such negligent research, and be righted by an insignificant and amateur Apologist such as I, who knows nothing of Greek whatsoever.  I do take credit, however, in being astute enough to type in the Greek phrase ‘heos hou’ in the text field, and then point and click on the search button.

Next, Mr. White turns his attention to the New Testament references of Jesus’ ‘brothers and sisters’. There are about ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned, including Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31-34; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:1, 5; 7:10; Acts 1:14. Having a very broad and wide range of meaning in the bible, the Greek word for brother, adelphos, cannot be restricted to the literal meaning of a blood brother.  The word could refer to any male relative, including a cousin or uncle, and even friends or allies (Cf. 1 Sam. 9:13; 20:32; 2 Sam. 1:26; Amos 1:9). Lot is described as Abraham's "brother" (Gen. 13:8), even though he is, in fact, Abraham’s nephew (Gen. 11:27).   Similar parallels are found in Gen. 29:15 and 1 Chron. 23:21-22.  The word is also used to describe kinsman in Deut. 23:7, Neh. 5:7, Jer. 34:9, and 2 Kings 10:13-14.

James White cites historian Philip Schaff who argues that since the New Testament Greek renders cousins as ‘anepsioi’ (Cf. Col 4:10), and renders kinsmen as ‘sungeneis’ (Mark 6:4, Luke 1:36, John 18:26, etc.), there is indeed a distinction being made between brothers (‘adelphoi’) and other relationships (‘anepsioi’, ‘sungeneis’).  Hence, Catholic claims that ‘adelphoi’ mean cousins or other relations are not at all persuasive from the New Testament usage.  This attempt is, once again, an embarrassment to Mr. White’s scholarship.  Let the reader notice that Mr. White is supporting an argument from necessity.  Essentially, he is saying that since the Greek makes this distinction, then it applies categorically across the New Testament without exception.  In other words, if White’s argument were true, we should NEVER see ‘adelphos’ being used in the broad sense of the word; that is, it should ALWAYS be used to explain a sibling relationship.  To concede even one instance of ‘adelphos’ being used in a broad sense, therefore, would refute Mr. White’s position, and unfortunately for James White, there are a multitude of these concessions in the New Testament.  For the sake of brevity, I have provided only some here.

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.” (Matt. 23:8)

“Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”  (Mark 3:35)

“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…” (Luke 17:3)

“Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time…” (1 Corinthians 15:6)

And so, as these passages clearly show, ‘adelphos’ (plural - ‘adelphoi’) can and is used to identify people other than direct siblings.  This is a rather fundamental point which James White does not address.  The question is: Why?  What kind of scholarship ignores such a formidable obstacle to the Protestant position?

The next issue regarding the Blessed Mother’s virginity concerns Mary’s response to the Archangel after the Annunciation:  “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1:34). Catholic exegetes have rightly observed that the question would essentially be a meaningless one unless Mary had a previous understanding with Joseph about her observance of virginity.  (Unless, of course, Protestant apologists want to suggest that Mary was promiscuous or ignorant of the biological function).  Since Mary was not yet married to Joseph and the angel indicates a future act (“The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.” [Luke 1:35]), Mary’s response strongly suggests a perpetual rather than  mere present state.

Still, Mr. White objects to this unusual arrangement:  “The idea of a married virgin is simply out of harmony with the Bible’s teaching concerning the nature of marriage (let alone Jewish custom of the day).”  No, it’s not, Mr. White.  Biblically speaking, St. Paul at least allows for the possibility of virginity within marriage as long as the couple both assent to it:  “Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. I say this by way of concession, not of command.” (1 Corinthians 7:5-6).  Here St. Paul is intrinsically conceding that a married couple *may* live celibate lives.

Even the most strict laws and traditions have exceptions. No one is saying that Mary and Joseph’s marriage was usual - indeed it was not, but then again, the child born to them was not either.  And so when a right (or obligation) of a law (or tradition) faces a circumstance that it did not before consider, the implications of that law may not apply to the case.  Is it so unbelievable, so implausible that the Mother of God Incarnate wanted to keep herself completely for God by not uniting herself to another, and that, as a consequence of that, an exception is made to the general expectation of a marriage?  The circumstances surrounding Mary’s marriage to Joseph were exceptional.  Why is it so difficult to believe that their relationship was also exceptional?  In fact, I will be giving my views later on in the critique on how this unusual relationship falls nicely into place when Catholics speak of Mary as the ‘Spouse of the Spirit’.  The Protestant objection is predicated on a presumption of natural law, albeit a usual one.  Nevertheless, it is still a presumption which can only be confirmed by the oral tradition of the early Christians.  And on this point, Mr. White is in the company of the an insignificant minority.

As for Jewish custom  or tradition, this is what “A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” says:  “If it be objected that such a thing [a married virgin] would be at complete variance with accepted Jewish thought, we answer first that the Incarnation and all its circumstances were also at variance with prevailing Jewish Messianism and thought.  The whole Gospel shows this.  Secondly, it is false to assert that the observance of virginity was utterly foreign to Jewish ideas of the time.  Such sentiments as here manifested by Mary (and it is to be concluded that Joseph was of the same mind) were shared by other Jews, such as the well-known sect of the Essenes as Josephus makes plain (Ant 18,1).  Some object that, in such a case, why had she allowed herself to be betrothed to Joseph?  We may reply that she may have been left with little choice in the matter owing to the tyranny of the established custom, even though she had made her vow before betrothal.” (p.941)

Immaculate Conception (Again)

In chapter four, Mr. White revisits the question of the Immaculate Conception.  He apparently does not like the fact that it took over eighteen centuries to define this teaching.  In fact, he seems to be rather irked by this:  “As we will see, the early Church simply does not transmit to us such a ‘tradition’ regarding Mary, nor an interpretation of the relevant texts that have been pressed into service to support the later development of these doctrines.” (p.152, f.5) Well, that is not entirely true, of course.  But I am not expecting Mr. White to supply the testimony of the early Fathers, so I have provided a few here:

“You alone and your Mother are more beautiful than any others; for there is no blemish in you,  nor any stains upon your Mother.  Who of my children can compare in beauty to these?”  (St. Ephraim, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8, 370 A.D.)

“Come, then, and search out Your sheep, not through Your servants or hired men, but do it Yourself.  Lift me up bodily and in the flesh, which is fallen in Adam.  Lift me up not from Sara but from Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of ever stain of sin.” (St. Ambrose of Milan, Commentary on Psalm 118, 22:30, 387 A.D.)

Later Mr. White makes the rather remarkable claim that St. Augustine had taught “very clearly” that only Christ was conceived free of original sin.  Perhaps, then, Mr. White would like to comment on this teaching from St. Augustine:

“Having excepted the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honour of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins, - for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear Him in who there was no sin? - so I say, with the exception of the Virgin…if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women…would they not have declared in a single voice: ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us!’” (Nature and Grace [36,42])

After Mr. White answers for his whopping error on St. Augustine’s belief in Mary’s sinlessness, he can then attempt to extricate himself from the Catholic bishop’s rather un-Calvinistic opinion that Mary “merited to conceive”  Jesus.

Now, Mr. White’s objection to the Immaculate Conception poses a serious dilemma for him.  You see, Mr. White rejects that it took so long for such a doctrine to be held definitively by all Christians.  Yet, the very same argument can be presented against virtually ALL Christian doctrines.  True, some were defined earlier than others, but time is hardly a barrier to God’s will in defining truth for the Church.  The only thing the Church can be “faulted” for is dealing with the Christological controversies first before finishing the Marian questions later.  Protestants make a big broo-ha-ha over the Immaculate Conception and Assumption being defined so late in the Church’s history.  But this view is the result of disjointed sects who see their own history as the beginning of ‘true’ Christianity.  Hence, eighteen centuries are a long time for them since it is at least four and a half times older than the oldest of their sects.  For a Church that has been there from the beginning, 1800 years may be a drop in the ocean of time. If the world lasts for one million years, I somehow doubt that a future James White will be carping about nineteenth century dogma.  The mysteries of the faith do not come nicely packaged from God all at once in a nice little bundle.   It is interesting, though, that a comprehensive 90-page dialogue I had with a subordinationist produced the same type of objection that James Whites gives - not about Mary, however, but about the Trinity itself!

“These three passages (Gen 3:15, Luke 1:28, 1:42) are all that can be adduced to provide  the basis for saying the belief is “implicitly” found in Scripture.  In reality, of course, one could find anything in Scripture by using this standard.” (p.40)  Yes, that is essentially a true statement, and Protestantism is the epitome of that observation.  But then again, Catholics do not believe the Scriptures alone are the Word of God in the first place.  Catholic Apologists should thank James White, however, for finally admitting, although unwittingly, the utter futility of  ‘sola scriptura’.  Protestants have been ‘finding anything in Scripture’  for centuries, and the sad and obvious results are before us.

Mr. White then goes on to cite Philip Schaff who claimed that seven Popes taught against the Immaculate Conception (Leo I, Gregory I, Innocent III, Gelasius I, Innocent V, John XXII, Clement VI).   Given the scope and depth of Mr. White’s book, there is generally no need to cite exact references where the speakers are well known and regarded, among students of the subject, as holding to a particular doctrine.  Nevertheless, Mr. White has made a remarkable claim, which if true, would effectively prove his case.  He has charged - or rather his tendentious Protestant historian, Philip Schaff has charged - that seven Popes have taught against the Immaculate Conception.  Surely Mr. White realizes that ‘inquiring Catholic minds want to know’ from whence these Papal writings can be found, and it is incumbent on him to supply those references.  Presumably, Mr. White’s source, Philip Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, should provide references to those documents.  If Mr. White were confident in his claims, why does he not cite them so we can all have a look?  It is not possible to rebut something when you do not even have the references to rebut!!!

But the cause is not lost completely.  Mr. White affords me the opportunity to address at least one comment from one of the Popes he cites, Pope Leo I.  He writes, “Leo I, the great bishop of Rome from 440 to 461 A.D., rejected the idea that anyone but Christ was sinless.  He taught, ‘Alone therefore among the sons of men the Lord Jesus was born innocent, because alone conceived without pollution of carnal concupiscence.’” (p.40)   I thought to myself as I was flipping to the source, ‘well at least I have one direct source I can look into’.  I was expecting to see some thing like “Pope Leo I, Sermon on something, etc., etc.”  Instead I chuckled to myself when I read ‘Walter Burghardt….Mariology…etc’ Yet another second hand source.  Good grief!  Ah, but Mr. White’s supporter’s might say, ‘don’t be so fastidious, John!  Go and see if you can find this teaching of Pope Leo.  Knock and the door shall be opened; seek and you shall find.”  Alas, divine providence was not with me in that endeavour for I searched and searched, but did not find it.  But take heart my dear Protestant fellow, I will say, for I did find some writing of this stupendous Pope, and I should warn you that they do not witness to Mr. White’s claim at all:

“Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other. Rightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin's purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honour.”  SERMON XXI. ON THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY

“The origin is different but the nature like: not by intercourse with man but by the power of God was it brought about: for a Virgin conceived, a Virgin bare, and a Virgin she remained. Consider here not the condition of her that bare but the will of Him that was born; for He was born Man as He willed and was able. If you inquire into the truth of His nature, you must acknowledge the matter to be human: if you search for the mode of His birth, you must confess the power to be of GOD…”

“For the uncorrupt nature of Him that was born had to guard the primal virginity of the Mother, and the infused power of the Divine Spirit had to preserve in spotlessness and holiness that sanctuary which He had chosen for Himself: that Spirit (I say) who had determined to raise the fallen, to restore the broken, and by overcoming the allurements of the flesh to bestow on us in abundant measure the power of chastity: in order that the virginity which in others cannot be retained in child-bearing, might be attained by them at their second birth…”

“And to this end, without male seed Christ was conceived of a Virgin, who was fecundated not by human intercourse but by the Holy Spirit. And whereas in all mothers conception does not take place without stain of sin, this one received purification from the Source of her conception. For no taint of sin penetrated, where no intercourse occurred. Her unsullied virginity knew no lust when it ministered the substance. The LORD took from His mother our nature, not our fault. The slave's form is, created without the slave's estate, because the New Man is so commingled with the old, as both to assume the reality of our race and to remove its ancient flaw.”  SERMON XXII. ON THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY, II.

Whatever the context of the Pope’s teaching as cited by Mr. White, his historical deductions from a ‘one-liner’ certainly do not compare to the clear and unmistakable teachings cited above.   It is a common tactic of James White to use selective citations of the Fathers, ripping them out of their clear meaning to suit his theology.  It takes a vivid imagination to believe that Catholic bishops of centuries gone by (with all the smells and the bells) believed in ‘sola scriptura’.  It defies common sensibilities.  Any sober analysis of Mr. White’s debates against Catholic Apologists (especially those with Matatics and Staples) can verily testify that Mr. White misrepresents the Father’s teachings.  It is entirely consistent of him, therefore, to continue to do so with the Popes.


The next chapter in the book deals with Mary’s title as the ‘Mother of God’.  The chapter is rather short, and there is not much at all that Mr. White brings forth.  Hence my comments will be equally brief.   In the course of discussing this topic, he says this:  “Granted that Jesus Christ is truly God in human flesh, how, then, are we to understand the relationship between the divine and the human in Christ?  Was He really a man at all?  Did His deity swallow up his humanity?  Was there some mixture of the two?  Or was Jesus two people:  one divine and one human, merely sharing one body?” (p.46)  Now, it is rather remarkable that James White could even ask these questions knowing full well that many of them cannot be settled by the bible alone. The answers to the Christological controversies which plagued the earlier centuries concerning Christ - persons, natures, wills, substance, etc. are ABSENT from bible.  How Mr. White can believe unequivocally that the bible alone teaches (without the aid of the Church’s Magisterim) the orthodox position in these matters is truly enigmatic. Even though many of them are loathe to admit it, Protestants must rely on Catholic definitions to have any hope of defending Trinitarian related topics to subordinationists.

Although he does concede the title ‘theotokos’ to Mary, Mr. White tries to distance himself from the Church on the subject.  He asks the reader to believe that the title’ Mother of God’ says virtually nothing about Mary and everything about Jesus:  “ ‘Mother of God’”, he writes, “is a phrase that has proper theological meaning only in reference to Christ.  Hence, any use of the term that is not simply saying, ‘Jesus is fully God, one divine Person with two natures,’ is using the term anachronistically, and cannot claim the authority of the early church for such a usage.” (p.46) This statement defies not only history, but the clear and unmistakable clear meaning of the phrase.

Historically speaking, the entire Church has always venerated Mary as the Mother of God - a fact that Mr. White will not volunteer to his Protestant readers:

“The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [180 A.D.])

“We acknowledge the resurrection of the dead, of which Jesus Christ our Lord became the firstling; he bore a body not in appearance but in truth derived from Mary, the Mother of God.”  (Alexander of Alexandria, Encyclical Letter to All Non-Egyptian Bishops, 12 [324 A.D.])

“Though still a virgin she carried a Child in her womb, and the handmaid and work of his wisdom became the Mother of God.”  (St. Ephraim, Songs of Praise 1:20 [338 A.D.])

“The Archangel Gabriel bears witness, bringing the good tidings  to Mary.  The Virgin Mother of God bears witness.”  (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 10:19 [350 A.D.])

“The Word of God begotten of the Father from on high, inexpressibly, inexplicably, and eternally is He that is born in time here below of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, 8 [365 A.D])

“Being perfect at this side of the Father and incarnate among us, not in appearance but in truth, he reshaped man to perfection in himself from Mary the Mother of God through the Holy Spirit.” (St. Epiphanius, The Man Well-Anchored, 75 [374 A.D.]).

“Do not marvel at the novelty of the thing if a Virgin gives birth to God.”  (St. Jerome, Commentaries on Isaiah 3:7:15 [408 A.D.]).

Secondly, to say that the title ‘Mother of God’ says nothing about Mary but everything about Jesus (to the exclusion of Mary) is pure absurdity.  Mr. White is right in pointing out that the title was used in defending Christ’s divinity, but in so doing, another central Christian truth is made manifest - the Church comes to understand who Mary is as well.  After all, it was Nestorius who proposed that Mary was ‘Christokos’ not ‘Theotokos’, the bearer of Christ instead of the bearer of God.  Who is the subject in the title ‘Mother of God’ anyway?  The answer is self-evident:  Mary is the subject.  The prepositional clause ‘of God’ describes who Mary is.  Mary does not describe who God is.  Moreover, if it were only about Jesus, then why bring Mary into the question at all?  Indeed, I see no categorical reason to do so if you are simply arguing about the divinity of Christ.  In discussions I’ve had  with Jehovah’s Witnesses about the identity of Jesus Christ, Mary rarely enters the discussion at all.  So, the question is, Mr. White, why would Nestorius need to do so if his only focus was Jesus and not Mary as well?

Who is the focus of the phrase ‘Jesus of Nazareth’?  Jesus or Nazareth?  Answer:  Jesus, of course.  Likewise, it is the ‘mother’ in ‘Mother of God’ that is the focus of ‘Theotokos’ which literally means ‘God bearer’.  Hence, in holding to the ridiculous proposition above, all that Mr. White succeeds in doing is showing his readers just how desperate the Protestant is to blot out Mary in order to elevate Christ.  Any hint at venerating Our Lady with what is true and proper as the channel of our salvation would smack of ‘Romanism’:

“In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam, but being nevertheless as yet a virgin (for in Paradise "they were both naked, and were not ashamed," inasmuch as they, having been created a short time previously, had no understanding of the procreation of children: for it was necessary that they should first come to adult age, and then multiply from that time onward), having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, BECOMES THE CAUSE OF SALVATION, both to herself and the whole human race.”  (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:22:24, 189 A.D.)

And if St. Irenaeus is too Catholic, consider this from Martin Luther:

“Men have crowded all her glory into a single phrase:  the Mother of God.  No one can say anything greater of her, though he had as many tongues as there are leaves on the trees.” (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Magnificat). [James White makes a big deal about the Catholic Church ‘departing from biblical truth’.  Methinks he should wake up and see how Protestants today have departed so radically from even their founders’ beliefs!]

James White and the Assumption

Mr. White seems to like this subject immensely.  He thinks he has the upper hand when discussing this doctrine, since unlike other Catholic doctrines, he is not buried with the explicit testimony of the Bible and the Fathers which support Catholic beliefs.  He thinks that since there is only modest evidence for the dogma of the Bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, it somehow exonerates not only his rejection of it, but the rejection of oral tradition as well when he debates sola scriptura with Catholic Apologists.  This is what Mr. White says on the topic:  “Normally, we would divide the discussion between biblical and historical information.  However, there is nothing in the bible that even remotely suggests the idea that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven.” (p.52)

There are a number of things to address here.  First, there is no biblical contradiction in the idea of assumption.  We know that, in the last day, all the elect will be Bodily Resurrected or ‘Assumed’ into heaven.  As James Akin points out, “in the Old Testament we know that he gave this grace to Enoch in Genesis 5:24. We also know from 2 Kings 2 that God gave it to the prophet Elijah at the end of the prophet's life when he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. And the book of Jude hints (v 9) that the same grace was given to Moses after he died and that his body also was assumed into heaven. So even though God will one day give a glorious assumption to all of us, he has already given it to a number of people, and the teaching of the Catholic Church is merely that Mary is one of them.”  And there is, of course, Matthew 27:51-53:  “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they were into the holy city and appeared to many.”

Second, there are indirect references of Mary’s Assumption (Cf. Genesis 3:16-19, Psalm 131:8, Revelation 11:19-12:6).  It is true that none of these references are explicit, and cannot be inferred from the passages without understanding the grounds on which the dogma was formulated.  Earlier in the book, Mr. White talked about the sparse proof of the Immaculate Conception (Cf. Gen. 3:15, Luke 1:28, 1:42), but there are just as few, numerically speaking, principal ‘proofs’ that Protestant Apologists typically use to prove sola scriptura (2 Tim 3:16, 1 Cor 4:6, Acts 17:11), and the exegesis drawn from them is considerably weaker in scope and depth to prove their case than those used by Catholics to witness to Mary’s Immaculate Conception or Bodily Assumption.

The Immaculate Conception forms the principal foundation for the Assumption since if Mary is free from sin, then it follows that her body should also be free from the punishment of sin - corruption in the grave.  Other bases for dogma include the previous defined doctrines about Mary:  her perpetual virginity and motherhood of God.  It also includes her participatory work in salvation with Jesus.   Ultimately, the dogma is an inferred one, but that does not detract from its historical truthfulness.  An inferred truth is as true as an explicit one, and given the colossal inferences required for sola scriptura, I can see no reason for Protestants to reject this particular teaching and remain consistent in their exegesis.

Mr. White then says that “we find modern dogma crashing upon the rocks of historical reality.” (p.53) Now, I am unsure what Mr. White means by this.  Perhaps he has selectively omitted those references (from Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma that he constantly cites) which expose his distortions.  St. Gregory of Tours (594 A.D.) and Sergius I (687-701), among others,  figure prominently in supporting the teaching.  St. Gregory teaches, “But Mary, the glorious Mother of Christ, who is believed to be a virgin both before and after she bore Him, has, as we said above, been translated into paradise, amid the singing of the angelic choirs, wither the Lord preceded her.” (Eight Books of Miracles, [1,8 (al.9)])  One must wonder which “historical reality” Mr. White is talking about - his own or everyone else’s.

But is that the earliest references to the Bodily Assumption of Mary?  No.  According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1917), “at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that "Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven."

Furthermore, the same source says of the Feast of the Assumption in the seventh century: “In the liturgical books which deal with the feast either of the dormition or of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin there are expressions that agree in testifying that, when the Virgin Mother of God passed from this earthly exile to heaven, what happened to her sacred body was, by the decree of divine Providence, in keeping with the dignity of the Mother of the Word Incarnate, and with the other privileges she had been accorded. Thus, to cite an illustrious example, this is set forth in that sacramentary which Adrian I, our predecessor of immortal memory, sent to the Emperor Charlemagne. These words are found in this volume: "Venerable to us, O Lord, is the festivity of this day on which the holy Mother of God suffered temporal death, but still could not be kept down by the bonds of death, who has begotten your Son our Lord incarnate from herself."”

In the chapter, Mr. White also takes aim at the “Transitus Mariae”, which became prominent after the Council of Ephesus in 431.  Since it is apocryphal, Mr. White deems to dismiss its contents and its witness completely.   This particular literature grew out of the Nestorian controversy which Ephesus settled, and we have Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Arabic texts of it.  If there were evidence of widespread Christian belief in this teaching, certainly such dissemination would qualify as such.  Indeed, many scholars place this work in the third century, and noted Mariologist Michael O’Carroll adds, “The whole story will eventually be placed earlier, probably in the second century - possibly, if research linked with archaeological findings on Mary’s tomb in Gethsemani, in the first century.”  (O’Carrol, Theotokos:  A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Wilmington:  Glazier, 1982) s.v. “Assumption Apocrypha,”, 59)

In his book, Mr. White cites Pope Gelasius who condemned this literature in general,  Mr. White makes a big deal about this supposed “defined teaching” of the Pope against the Assumption, but soon afterwards notices that he finds his inferential pants around his ankles.  He concedes in a footnote:  “Some might suggest that the Bodily Assumption was orthodox while the rest of the writings in which it was found were not. Yet, the fact remains that the first recorded instance of the concept is found in documents condemned as heretical, and there is no reference to Gelasius exempting the doctrine from the condemnation he pronounced upon the literature as a whole.” (f.10, p.154)

So, by that reasoning, does the fact that Pope Pius V condemned Wycliffe’s version of the bible (which he placed on his list of  ‘Index Forbidden Books’ (~1570 A.D.))  mean that he had to specifically exempt all passages which were orthodox?  Of course not.  But that is the obtuse result of Mr. White’s historical inferences.  Moreover, does that blanket condemnation of a whole work, of which an orthodox teaching may be included, even compare to an actual definition? Earlier in the chapter, Mr. White cited ‘Munificentissimus Deus’ in which it said:  “We pronounce, declare, and define that the dogma was revealed by God, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, after completing her course upon earth, was assumed to the glory of heaven both in body and soul.”  Now, if Mr. White can produce such a contradicting definition from Pope Gelasius I or any Pope for that matter, then I would be interested in hearing it.  Until he does, it is his argument, not the Church’s teaching, which comes ‘crashing upon the rocks of historical reality.’

Protestants must recognize that all Tradition has been received, but not all of it is developed in its fullest at T=0.  The Catholic Church teaches that the ‘deposit of faith’ has been received, but the entire exposition and development of all Christian truth has yet to be accomplished.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that certain fundamental truths of Christianity were present only in their seed, hidden - in a sense - from the world’s eyes until such time as the Holy Spirit moved for the belief to become more explicit. Some seeds, after all, grow faster than others - and this is true for all Christian doctrine not just Marian ones. When the teaching regarding the Assumption started to gain more notoriety, neither did it not detract from existing Catholic truths, nor was it conspicuously opposed.  There is nothing in Mary’s  Assumption, as an act, which is *contrary* to the Faith - either in Scripture or Tradition, and there is nothing in Mary’s Assumption that *contradicts* or impugns any Catholic belief.

The fact that such a belief was less explicit for centuries should not, in my opinion, bother Protestants.  Why?  Well, because it does not seem to disturb them that such a “fundamental truth” as ‘sola scriptura’ was completely invisible for thirteen centuries.  The difference between the two, is, of course, that the Assumption is not like the Christological or Ecclesiological controversies because it is a matter of physical fact:  was she or was she not assumed into heaven?  To answer in either the affirmative or the negative does not detract one iota from other Catholic dogmas.  On the other hand, the belief in sola fide was never taught by the Church - or anywhere else for that matter until the great deformers did it in the sixteenth century.  That is a momentous difference - the Assumption can remain somewhat hidden and then later publicly accepted as defined truth because it does not encroach on the Faith.  ‘Sola Fide’ and the other Protestant theological atrocities cannot hope to claim the same status.  The fact that Mr. White regards such a later development as some kind of great refutation of the teaching only shows how deficient his reasoning is.  If he wants to be consistent in the application of this methodology, he has just afforded us a compelling reason to reject two of his ‘fundamental truths’ - sola scriptura and sola fide.

In the course of the history of the church, Church Councils were called to define and protect the very Traditions that were handed down by the Apostles.  This fact is apparent and indisputable -  from the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem disputing with the Judasizers; to the Arian controversy settled by Nicea; to Nestorius and ‘Theotokos’ at Ephesus; to the iconoclasts in the eighth century; and to the Great Deception in the sixteenth century, ostensibly known to us today as the “Reformation”.   All of these councils were precipitated by crises in the history of their times, and the reasons for them were rather apparent in light of the historical situations.  However, there were some definitions which were not so apparent.  The definition of Papal Infallibility, for instance, falls into this latter category (at least it did for me).  Only in hindsight can we appreciate the great wisdom of the Holy Spirit in delimiting the boundaries and explicating the charism of Papal Infallibility.

As Dr. Art Sippo explains:  “In the 18th &19th Centuries, you had the rise of nationalistic local Church movements such as Josephinism (Austria), Gallicanism (France) and Febronianism (Germany) which sought autonomy from centralized Magisterial teaching on the grounds that Kant's epistemology was correct and that it was impossible to know "things in themselves." The category of a posteriori truth was called into question and only a priori truth was considered valid. This would eliminate any particular material truths and limit authentic knowledge only to some formal truths derived transcendentally. Vatican I attacked this premise and insisted that using the powers of the human mind it was possible to come to a certain knowledge of things in themselves and to draw valid a posteriori conclusions on matters that were not formally true. In particular it insisted that belief in God could be derived by unaided human reason working on precepts. it also insisted that the superintendance of the Holy Spirit could protect the Church from both formal and material error.

“Without the Traditions of the Church, maintained by a strong international episcopate and centralized Papal authority, Christianity would have degenerated into a westernized form of Hinduism long ago with numerous disparate cults espousing strange doctrines. Protestantism is undergoing such an autodemolition as we speak although most Protestants lack the integrity to admit it. Protestantism was built upon the borrowed capital of the Catholic Tradition. It is only the Catholic Tradition that can save it from total destruction and subversion into pandemonium.”

A comparable situation existed (and exists) for the two Marian dogmas infallibly defined by Pope Pius IX (Immaculate Conception - 1854) and Pope Pius XII (Assumption - 1950).  Of course, not everything that Mr. White challenges is totally without merit or substance.  Indeed, one may ask why did it take so long for such Apostolic Truths to be definitively taught only within the last 150 years.

The first thing to be considered is that, as previously intimated, the modern twentieth century mind - especially the immediate ones in this decade - are “twentieth century-centric”.   Today, Christians (and everyone else for that matter) tend to view their lifetime as the consummated end of history.  We look for the end times, and rarely appreciate that, as a Church, we may be in the early church not the one near the Apocalypse.  Certainly, then, it is not possible to use the line of reasoning that is tacit in Mr. White’s objection to the these latter Marian dogmas.  We simply do not know in what age the Church exists today.  It is simply a presumption on Mr. White’s part that we are not in the early church.  And so, it does no good for him to claim (and that is all it is most of the time - a claim), “Well, in the ‘early’ Church, they did not believe…”  What if the world ends in 20,000 A.D.?  1950 A.D., the year the Assumption was defined, is going to look like 195 A.D. to us!

The second consideration that must be respected is that, as a historical definition, these two dogmas were momentous from a historical perspective.  It is true that the reason for the timing was rather obscure, but as we have approached the latter part of the second millennium, the veil that God placed over our eyes has been removed.   The greatest attack in this rationalistic age whose pernicious attack on the dignity of the human person was embodied by Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and realized through Charles Darwin (1809-1882.  The Social Darwinists of the early twentieth century agreed that the ‘problem’ with society was its theistic and Judeo-Christian principles which favoured the inalienable rights of each person over the Darwinian belief in utilitarianism - which espoused the greatest good for the greatest number.  Hence, from this anthropological heresy arose the attack on the Christian world view in general and Christian Motherhood in particular.

It takes no great insight today to see how the cheapening of human life and motherhood has come about.  The apostasy of the Protestant Churches on artificial contraception, beginning with the Anglican Church in 1930, and then the inevitable onslaught from the rest of society are now apparent for all to see - abortion, sterilizations, the state-sponsored perversity of fornication and homosexual unions, and the consummate destruction of the family.  In response to this, we see God reminding us of who we are and the dignity which He holds for his children, His mother, and for all mothers - indeed life itself.  He has done this by summoning forth the truth about His Blessed Mother which has been present from the beginning, veiled somewhat yet still present, awaiting its moment for full exposition.  In the midst of the rationalistic furore, we see God saying to us that indeed motherhood has dignity; that life itself is intrinsically valued in His sight.  The dignities conferred on Mary by God; namely to be conceived without sin and bodily assumed into heaven, testify to God’s infinite love and respect that He has for the dignity of motherhood, which is rejected and mocked today more than it has ever been.  And so, we come to another great incontrovertible truth of Christianity in these latter two centuries:  As the Mother is glorified, then so is the Son (and as the Son is glorified so is the Father).

The Veneration and Worship of Mary

Mr. White titles chapter 7 of his book with the eye catching phrase ‘worship of Mary’.  Remember what Mr. White attested to in chapter 1:  “It is our intention to allow Rome to define her own beliefs.” (p.17)?  Yet, as Mr. White well knows, ‘mariolatry’ is not the Catholic Church’s teaching at all.  It is one thing to disagree with a biblical distinction between veneration and worship, but it is quite another to say that Catholics worship Mary.  Still, Mr. White rejects this and demands that there is no “functional” difference in actual Catholic practice.  He maintains that although Rome tries to maintain a distinction, there is no biblical basis for it, and the Catholic practice in veneration detracts from God.  Catholics will never abandon the practice of venerating the saints so Mr. White’s objection to this “idolatrous” practice will remain with him.  Yet, is this a fair indictment of the Church’s practice?  Is it just to refuse both the historical or biblical record of the distinction?  Certainly not.  In fact, in the fifth century, St. Epiphanius condemned the Collyridian sect who did, in fact, worship Mary.  Yet, this is hardly an issue in today’s Church.

The chapter is the longest in the book (p.57-84), but it is the one that says the least…at least anything of real substance.   Mr. White begins his exegesis by citing Exodus 20:5:  “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous…”  Then he adds, “The word used in the Greek version of the Old Testament for the phrase ‘serve them’ is the word from which the word ‘latreia’ is derived, showing that ‘worship’ and ‘service’ are intimately related and not two separate ideas in the bible.” (p.58)   Many times Protestant positions which first look pretty strong turn out to be very weak, and in many cases, they actually support the Catholic position rather than detract from it.  This is the case here.  What is the subject of Exodus 20:5?  That is, what is the “them” that we are not to worship?  The verse before shows us who the subject is:  “You shall not make for yourself an idol…”  Obviously, all idols are false and are forbidden to be worshipped or venerated by this commandment.  But it does not say that ALL images or pictures are not to be venerated.  On the contrary, we see God explicitly allowing and even encouraging veneration to holy objects that represent Him or heaven  (Cf. Exodus 25:15, 38:7; Numbers 21:8-9; 1 Chronicles 28:18-19; 2 Chronicles 3:10).

The Protest line is thus:  “Since Catholics use ‘douleia’ in the distinction between God and the saints (God - ‘latreia’/ Saints - ‘douleia’), then there should also be a biblical delineation.  But there is none since this word ‘douleia’ is also applied to God.  Therefore, there is no biblical basis for the distinction between ‘latreia’ and ‘douleia.’”  After all, as Protestants point out, Galatians 4:8 says this: “However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.”  The word for slave here is ‘douleuo’.  Paul, they argue, is talking about the same type of service that should be given to the true God, but is given to false gods. He uses ‘doulos’ in Rom 1:1 to identify his own status of servitude to God.  Moreover, Jesus uses it in Matt 6:24 to speak of true service to God, and Luke uses it in Acts 20:19 to indicate proper service to God.”

Of course, there is a biblical distinction between ‘douleia’ (veneration) and ‘latreia’ (worship) despite Protestant fantasies to the contrary.   The Greek word ‘douleia’ occurs five times in the New Testament(Romans 8:15,21; Galatians 4:24, 5:1; Hebrews 2:15) and in none of those passages do they refer to God. On the other hand, the Greek word ‘latreia’ appears five times in the New Testament and is translated as “service or divine service” in reference to God only (John 16:2; Romans 9:4, 12:1; Hebrews 9:1,6).

And there are, of course, plenty of Old Testament references which distinguish between worship and veneration. I have provided but a few here.

“Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.”  (Exodus 18:7)

 “Then David said to all the assembly, "Now bless the LORD your God." And all the assembly blessed the LORD, the God of their fathers, and bowed low and did homage to the LORD and to the king.” (1 Chronicles 29:20)

“Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, "My lord the king!" And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself.” (1 Samuel 24:8)

In all of these passages, it is manifest that there is such a distinction between worship and veneration…unless of course Mr. White wants to say that Moses and David were idolatrous.

The remainder of the chapter is principally devoted to quoting St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s work The Glories of Mary.  It is not within the scope of this piece to comment on each of Mr. White’s criticism of the saint’s work.  Instead, I will pick a few curious comments he makes, and expose them accordingly.  Generally speaking, Mr. White’s approach to exposing ‘Mariolatry’ is extraneous and obscurantist.  He picks out a few saints whose deep devotion to the Blessed Mother was well known, and whose writings were meant as a devotional exercise within the family of the faithful.  Mr. White comes along, imbuing his silly heretical Protestant objections against the manifest co-operation that the faithful have in Christ’s redemptive work.  His objection is founded on ‘sola fide’ which excludes such a participatory act - especially such a fitting one that the Blessed Mother plays.

He objects to St. Alphonsus teaching that “it is the will of God that all graces should come by the hands of Mary.” (p.61)  Well, if the origin of grace Himself came to the world through her womb, why is it so difficult to believe that all His graces should flow through her hands?  It is much easier to believe the latter than it is to believe the former.  But, then again, Protestantism has always had a disjointed and inconsistent acceptance of the Incarnation so it is not surprising to see it balking at an Incarnational view of how grace is bestowed on us.

On page 65, Mr. White invites the reader to contrast “the Mary of Scripture with the Mary of apparitions and visions to see the vast difference exists.”  In his debate with Gerry Matatics on the Marian dogmas, James White repeatedly focused on the lack of biblical information about Mary.  Miraculously, in this book, he finds enough biblical text to draw such a meaningful conclusion on the contrast between the ‘Mary of Scripture and the Mary of apparitions’.  One has to wonder which Mary will appear the next time James White speaks on the subject.

“In fact”, continues Mr. White, “not only is the idea of Mary as Co-redemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.” (p.75)  Yes, Mr. White, the doctrine was not explicitly revealed in the early Church, but neither were many of the Christological doctrines that you now accept such as the Trinity, the two natures and wills in Christ, etc.  Some of the Fathers had subordinationist tendencies until a Council settled the issue dogmatically. These are all developments in the faith, albeit earlier ones.  Therefore, unless Mr. White allows his other positions to be undercut by his own standard, methinks he doth protest too much.  While the Co-redemption and Mediation of the Blessed Mother are later developments in Catholic theology, they contradict nothing in the deposit of faith already received and defined.  Alas, the pernicious doctrines that Mr. White believes do not enjoy the same status.

The final commentary I wish to make on this chapter is directed at this comment:

“The confusion (or intrusion) of the means by which God brought the Messiah into the world (Mary) with the idea that Mary then became an intermediary between the world and Christ, or worse, between believers and Christ, is one of the most damaging results of centuries of evolution within Roman Catholic theology - a process that is not, quite obviously, guided nor bounded by Scripture.” (p.77)

There are a couple of remarks to be made here.  First, it’s the “same old, same old” from Protestant Apologists - the “either/or” phenomena that engulfs the cancer we call Protestantism.  Scripture or Tradition, Faith or Works, Justification or Sanctification, etc. - all being fatuous dichotomies which have no serious biblical basis whatsoever.  In this particular instance, the knife comes between the Mother and the Son - it’s Jesus ALONE; it’s the head apart from the body.  After all, no one could possibly participate with Him.  The tree is cut off into a myriad of branches, and the limbs of the body scattered.

Mr. White must like humour.  He makes the absurd comment about Catholic theology being a process “not, quite obviously, guided nor bounded by Scripture.” (p.77) One has to surmise whether he believes the boundaries of the Scriptures alone provide the basis for the plain truth.  I should think we should ask John Wesley, William Miller, Ellen G. White, Charles Russell, Felix Manalo, William Riley and many others.  It is surely an incontrovertible fact that all of these great Protestants would agree with James White that the bible alone is the sole infallible rule of faith.   The problem with this is….well that’s another story.

Pass on the next two chapters...

The next two chapters are rather inconsequential for the purposes of this critique.  Mr. White says a few things which I could contest, but I choose not to do so in order to focus on the more principal objections he makes in the book.  Chapter Eight is entitled ‘Vatican II and the Blessed Virgin” and Chapter Nine is entitled “John Paul II and Mary.”

Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate

And so here we are.  The climax to which Mr. White has been building, the ‘new Mary question’ as he puts it - Mary’s Co-redemption in our salvation.  The problem with this particular doctrine for Protestants  is not Mary  per se, but rather the basis for justification.  For, if we are justified by faith alone without works of charity, then there is no room for anyone else in the question of justification.  However, if works do play a necessary role, then it logically follows that our participation and the participation of others in justification do have a bearing on our eternal fate.  Hence, this question is, in certain respects, an irrelevant one.  There’s no point in talking about Mary’s Co-redemption if one does not first concede the fact that it is possible to participate in one’s own salvation as well as the salvation of others.  Until the question of justification (and the ancillary questions to it i.e. predestination, sanctification, etc.) is answered first, it is an act in speculative futility for Protestants to even hope to speak intelligently about the issue.

Still, it is always amusing to see how Mr. White tries to do so.  After all, he claims, “no matter what the level of suffering present in Mary’s life, there is not a single bit of evidence that this suffering is related to redemption itself.” (p.123) Of course, as Dr. Sippo pointed out in his 1991 justification debate with Mr. White, our Protestant Apologist prefers the letters of St. Paul as interpreted by sixteenth century reformers to the Gospels themselves.  And, in those Gospels, it is more than clear that Jesus teaches that suffering and works are necessary for salvation (Matthew 10:38-39, 25:31-46; Luke 6:46-49, 12:36-46; John 8:31-32, 14:21-22). Mr. White makes the bold claims that there is not a “single bit of evidence that this suffering is related to redemption itself.”  I wonder whether he has understood the implication of these scriptures to his beliefs:

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Colosians 1:24)

In all fairness to Mr. White, however, it is unlikely that such passages will have any effect on him.  The reason is simple.  It does not matter what the Catholic Church teaches regarding Mary.  He simply refuses to accept it, and prefers his own straw-man to what the Church has taught.  Consider, once again, his obstinance in distorting the teachings concerning Mary:  “As we move into the areas of Mary as Co-mediatrix and Advocate, these parallels become so glaring, and so obvious, that they defy, by their very statements, caveats and conditions placed on them by Rome.” (p.127-128)  So says James White.  Rome’s conditions and caveats seem to have no relevance to this man, but then again it seems that he wishes to impose and construct a doctrine that Rome does not teach.  After all, it’s easier to dissemble a lie, then it is to dissemble the truth.

Mr. White says that the Scriptural support used to defend Marian doctrines, especially this one, are “so far removed from anything that could possibly have been in the mind of the original writers.” (p.129)  When he said the same thing in a debate on the Marian doctrines with Gerry Matatics,  I was astonished.  How could James White possibly know or even claim to know what was in the mind of the sacred writers!!???!!!  Next thing you know, he will be claiming to actually know, for certain, what the Scriptures mean!  Imagine such a revolutionary idea!

“The Holy Spirit acts ‘only by the Most Blessed Virgin, his Spouse’?  How can such a statement not be said to be utterly contrary to God’s Word?” Who can hold the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God and still believe this?” (p.134)  It is precisely because of the bible that the Catholic Church can use such language and refer to Mary as ‘the Spouse of the Spirit’.  The real question is how such a title is not universally accepted by all Christians who hold the bible as the authoritative Word of God.  How is Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit?  First of all, such a title is not to be meant as an exhaustive statement as to what human spouses share together, but only an important aspect of the ‘spousal relationship’.  After this is understood and appreciated, the rest of the relationship is rather self apparent.  The Holy Spirit is a person.  Mary is a person.  Together they beget another person - Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity.  Inasmuch as two people co-operate in bringing forth another person, they are legitimately called Spouses of one another.  Now, if the Spouse of the Third Person co-operates in begetting the Second Person, why is it so difficult to accept that all graces should accrue through her when all graces were in her and flowed through her when she bore Jesus Christ, the same God, who incidentally, is called the “source of all graces” by Mr. White on page 141?  In anyway Mr. White likes to slice it, if he denies that Mary is the Spouse of the Spirit, he ends up denying one or both of Christianity’s most central tenets:  the Trinity or the Incarnation.  He can take his pick - either way, he loses.

The Final Chapter:  “A Biblical Response”

In response to Mary participating in our salvation, Mr. White turns his attention to 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus …”  He concedes that the Greek word ‘heis’ for one need not mean ‘only’,  but could also mean simply ‘principal’ in referring to Jesus as the one (principal) mediator.  However, he notes, “are we to really think that Paul’s point is that there is only one main God (first, primary, etc.) but not one sole, only or exclusive God?  Surely that is not what Paul is communicating.  Instead, just as Paul is insisting that there is exclusively only one God (absolute monotheism), so too he is insisting that Jesus Christ alone is the unique and only mediator between God and man.” (p.139)  So in other words, since the first ‘one’ (referring to God) has an exclusive context, then so should the second ‘one’ (referring to mediator) have an exclusive not merely principal meaning.

This is a cogent argument which needs to be addressed.  Let us take Mr. White’s view in the passage, which ironically, comes on the heals of the greatest negation of Calvinism that exists in the bible (1 Tim 2:4).  Let us concede that Jesus is the only, exclusive Mediator.  Does this detract, therefore, from Mary’s role in the mediation of Christ?  I answer with a thunderous NO!  Does the fact that there is only ONE American President detract from his office when he delegates the duties of state to the vice president or the numerous secretaries?  No.  When he does so, does that mean he is not the only President?  Or when one of his representatives attends a function on his behalf or with him, does that detract from his principal function as the President?  Of course not.  There is nothing inconsistent in saying that Jesus is the only, singular and exclusive Mediator and still allow for Mary’s co-operation in it.  Yet, who would strip the title from the bearer if he should allow some participation in that mediatorship? It is one thing to say that only through the mediatorship of Jesus we shall be saved, but it is quite another to insist that the Son may not delegate a participation in that mediatorship to whom He pleases.  It is not totally unlike the power and authority given to Peter in the keys:  the ultimate authority lies with Jesus but that does not preclude him from delegating to whom He wishes.

But is this ‘participation’ a biblical idea?  The whole ministry of Jesus Christ was one of ‘participatory discipleship’, and the bible is replete with this idea.  There would be no point to the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20 if it were otherwise.  Although it is not within scope of this piece to explore this topic, I offer one more of many explicit examples of Jesus Christ Himself confirming this truth:  “Peter said, ‘Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?’  And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. ‘Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.’” (Luke 12:41-44)

Mr. White then turns his attention to explaining Christ’s perfect atonement:  “You see, we may ask God to be merciful to ourselves or to others, but when Christ says, ‘Father, be merciful,’ He can then point to a perfect Atonement as the reason the Father can and will be merciful.  Hence, He is the only Mediator, and none can join in His work.” (p.140)  But one must interject:  why cannot the Blessed Mother point to that same atonement and say the same thing? Are we to believe that the Mother of the Incarnation, who was chosen to *participate* in the birth of redemption itself, does not have a role to play in that same redemption?  Where is the evidence or rationale for the cessation of the participation which began at the Annunciation?  Are we to believe that this most Blessed Woman, chosen from all eternity to bear the Second Person of the Inexhaustible and Glorious Trinity, is casually placed aside in some kind of socialist utopian heaven, and whose petitions are no more effacious than Katie Luther?  Get a grip.

Sometimes an opponent talks too much, and lets you see just how small and puny his world is.  Mr. White offers that opportunity in his book, and effectively shows how provincially modern his views are by commenting on the Orthodox churches’ view of a Co-redemptrix definition :  “The Pope has shown great interest in dialogue with the churches of the East, yet many of them, even though holding to a high - and in many cases wholly unbiblical - view of Mary, would find such a dogmatic definition distasteful.” (p.143)  The noteworthy phrase here is Mr. White’s opinion that the Orthodox also have a “wholly unbiblical view of Mary”.  Here Mr. White assumes the role of arbiter of what is biblical and what is not WITHOUT any claim to the authority that such a belief requires.  He is the arbiter, you see, of Apostolic Churches that can trace their roots to the Apostles themselves.  And, if you should inquire from whence the authority for such a juridical act comes, he should respond quite confidently:  “from the bible alone of course”.   And all Catholic and Orthodox will ponder how such a fundamental truth had evaded them all these centuries!

A Stumbling Block

All things being equal, the only thing that saves a Protestant from damnation is his ignorance.  Certainly, there are many good and holy Protestant Christians, and many will no doubt join their redeemer when they pass from this life.  Nevertheless, for them, ignorance is bliss.  For, if they were not ignorant of the truth of the Catholic Church, and remained outside of Her, they would be guilty of a grave mortal sin and hence headed to perdition.  Obviously, the more a Protestant researches Sacred Scripture, Church History, Reason, and the Natural Law, the divine foundation of the Catholic Church cannot be denied.  If it is denied, it has come as a result of a serious moral defect in the inquirer.  So, that is why Mr. White’s case is so urgent.  Many of his Protestant contemporaries have seen the truth and have submitted to it, but he has remained obstinate and continued his rebellion against the Church of God.  This is serious business.  Mr. White’s salvation is in grave peril because he has been faced with the truth on a numerous occasions yet he still rejects it.

In this book, the rebellion against the Catholic Church is manifested in the denial of the dignity and honour that is due to the Mother of Jesus.  She is a stumbling block to Mr. White.  The privileges afforded to her by Almighty God stand as a towering refusal of the Truth to bend to either the Rationalism of the Age or its counterpart known as Protestantism.  In the end, they are both two faces of the same coin.  Just as Communism and Capitalism are both aimed at the worship of Man, so Rationalism and Protestantism is aimed at rebellion against the Authority of God and His Church.  This is the reason why the Mother is placed where she is:  to unite the true followers of Jesus or to sift out the false ones.  As Jesus shares his redemptive work with those He loves so too does His Mother share in His sign of contradiction to the unbelieving world.  She, like her Son, is a stumbling block over which this White man can’t jump.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
December 1, 1999