By Jonathan Ekene Ifeanyi
In the fifth century of the Christian era, St Augustine, the celebrated Bishop of Hippo, the greatest Christian theologian after St. Paul and Father of the Western Church, wrote:
“Excepta itaque sancta virgine Maria, de qua propter honorem Domini nullam prorsus, cum de peccatis agitur, haberi volo quaestionem—unde enim scimus quid ei plus gratiae collatum fuerit ad vincendum omni ex parte peccatum, quae concipere ac parere meruit, quem constat nullum habuisse peccatum?” (De Natura et Gratia c. 39)
I have translated it thus:
“Therefore, except the Holy Virgin Mary, in whom there is none whatsoever because of the honour of the Lord, concerning sin therefore, I want a question to be had: For from where do we know her to whom more grace will have been conferred than was necessary to conquer sin completely, who deserved to conceive and make visible Him who existed to have had no sin?”
Protestants believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary is just an ordinary woman, like every other sinful woman on earth, hence they feel at liberty to speak all manner of blasphemies against Her as they wish. They should be pitied and prayed for!
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, has been venerated by Christians since the apostolic times (1st century). This is because She is the Mother of God, Jesus Christ. Protestants blaspheme by saying that Mary had other children apart from Jesus, and they argue on this by citing some passages of the scripture which talk about Jesus’ brothers. (cf. Acts 1: 14; Gal. 1: 19). They are completely wrong. The word “brother” in Greek (which is the original language of the New Testament Bible) is ἀδελφος, adelphos (the plural is ἀδελφοὺς, adelphous). The word in Greek has a wider meaning—it means not only ‘‘brother’’ but also ‘‘cousin’’, etc. In Latin the word ‘‘brother’’ is ‘‘frater’’, which also has a wider meaning than the English word. Frater means ‘‘brother’’, ‘‘cousin’’, ‘‘friend’’, ‘‘ally’’, etc. Even the English word “brother” does not just have one meaning. The English word ‘‘brother’’, apart from meaning ‘‘a boy or man who has the same mother and father as another person’’, is also used when talking about other male members of an organization or other men who have the same ideas, purpose, and so on. It is also used for a male member of a religious group.
Protestants hold this blasphemous opinion, of course, because they do not have the grace of God in them. It should be noted that people who do not have the grace of God can even live in mortal sins without being conscious of that; and that is always the unfortunate case, not just of the Protestants, but also of all non-Catholics, that is, all who have not received Catholic baptism. They can blaspheme without knowing that they are actually blaspheming and that this can lead them to hell. Indeed modern Catholics must note, as the 2nd Council of Orange taught in 529 AD, that every man, living on this earth, as a result of the fall of Adam, is in such a condition that he can take no steps in the direction of salvation until he has been renewed in the divine grace given in baptism, and that he cannot continue in the good thus begun except by the constant assistance of that grace, which is mediated only by the Catholic Church. In other words, the grace of God, which makes us to always be conscious of the things of God, that is, to strive to please God in all things and to avoid sins, comes to all men and women only through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the only Church founded here on earth by Jesus Christ. Hence the Catholic Church insists that to really be saved, one must actually embrace Catholicism. In his works ‘On the Spirit and the Letter, On Nature and Grace, On Original Sin, and other works St Augustine argued that while Adam was created with the power not to sin, he lost it by sinning. Adam left bondage to sin as a heritage to his descendants—all humankind. Because humans are born with free will but not with the power not to sin, they need the grace of God and the redemption of Christ to be saved—and this grace and redemption come to us through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, a Church which is simply Corpus Christi—Christ’s Body.
Hence, in the Athanasian Creed, a solemn Definition, that is, a dogma which, as Catholics, we must believe in order to be saved, we read:
“Whoever wishes to be saved must before all else hold the Catholic Faith. Unless one keeps this Faith whole and inviolate, he shall most certainly perish in eternity.”
This dogma, however, was contradicted by the Second Vatican Council, and there is no time to go into that here. The same evil Council also contradicted the Church’s teaching on grace by declaring that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of (the Catholic Church’s) visible structure” (Lumen gentium, 8). Today's pluralistic and godless society creates an environment of indifference in matters of religion in order to achieve a false and empty unity and liberty. It is said that everyone must be allowed to believe as they see fit and do what makes them happy. The implication is that God is not very concerned about whether one believes in what is true, for all will be saved as long as they are “nice.” Some come to this conclusion by asserting that there does not exist any objective truth for us to adhere to, which in turn leads to a denial of the existence of God. Others say that there exist only a few basic objective truths that we need to believe in order to be saved. Both opinions miss the plain reality of the order established by God—the Catholic Church is the unique divine institution given to us for the salvation of mankind. This assertion implies that all non-Catholic religions are false and that only the Catholic Church contains the entire deposit of Truth given to the Apostles by Christ. Although these statements are denied and scorned by today's world, they are fully in accord with common sense, and are simply the constant teaching of the Catholic Church.
Now back to our main discussion. It must also be noted that, when the Bible mentions James, Simon and Jude as the “Brethren of the Lord”, it never speaks of them as sons of Mary and Joseph, as the Protestants falsely hold. The Bible uses the word “brethren” in a wider sense—as male members of the Christian faith, or as cousin or near relative. St James the less, for example, who is called the “brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1: 19), was the son of Cleophas and Mary—cousin of the Blessed Mother of Christ.
Protestants also claim that the Gospel of St Luke says that St Joseph knew her not until She brought forth Her first-born Son. This indicates, they claim, that after Jesus was born Mary and Joseph conducted themselves as normal married couple; and that Jesus was the first-born Son, indicating that other sons were born to Joseph and Mary afterwards.
However, the word “till” or “until” in sacred scripture does not necessarily mean a change of circumstances after a given event takes place. For example, in Psalm 109 we read: “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at My right hand until I make Thy enemies Thy footstool”. Does this mean that after God the Father makes the enemies of God the Son His footstool, the Son no longer sits at the Father’s right hand?
Also, in 2 Kings (6: 23), we read: “Therefore, Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until the day of her death”.
Does this mean that the woman gave birth to a child after she died?
On their claim that first-born Son indicates that other sons were born to Joseph and Mary afterwards, the biblical scholar, St Jerome, himself the celebrated translator of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin, Secretary to Pope Damasus 1, points out that the scriptures frequently employ the term “first-born” to denote a mother’s first child, no matter if the child is followed by more children or not.
If Jesus truly had “brothers and sisters”, who were they and what were their names? How many brothers did He have? And how many sisters? And what roles did they play in the history of our salvation, in the New Testament?
In the Gospel, we see what Jesus did, while He was hanging on the cross, just about to die: “When Jesus therefore saw His mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (cf. John 19: 26-27) This is the origin of Catholics’ veneration of Mary as the Mother of the Church, as their Mother. Why did Jesus hand over His mother to St John, a stranger, since He had other “brothers and sisters”? Could His “brothers and sisters” not take care of their mother after Jesus’ departure?
In the Catholic Church, Mary is honoured as the ‘‘Mother of God.’’ Protestants hold that this title is man-made. They are completely wrong. On the contrary, it was God Himself who first honoured her through the mouth of the Angel Gabriel, as we read: “And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1: 28; carefully notice that these words, “Hail full of grace”, intact in the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, simply exist no where in modern false Catholic Bibles which the priests read everyday in the Novus Ordo masses, having been replaced with the Protestants “hail highly favoured”!). Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, called Mary ‘Mother of my Lord’: “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” she asks (Luke 1: 43). Mary herself testified: ‘‘Behold,…from now on all generations shall call me blessed: because He that is mighty has done something great for me, and holy is His name’’. (Luke 1: 48-49): These generations, who will call her blessed, we find only in the Catholic Church.
Protestants are wrong by saying that the Catholic Church “has substituted Mary for Jesus, in what is known as the hyperdulia of the Virgin Mary.” They are equally wrong by giving the impression that ordinary members of the Catholic Church—except the leaders—do not understand the meaning of this doctrine. Catholics do not worship the Holy Virgin because She is not God. Our catechism—which even well catechized Catholic children from age 7 know—teaches us that, “it is forbidden to give divine honour or worship to the Angels and Saints, for this belongs to God alone.” (cf. The Traditional Catechism of the Christian Faith, p.35). The same catechism also teaches that “we should pay to the Angels and Saints an inferior honour, for this is due to them as the servants and special friends of God” (ibid).
Cult in general means honour paid in a spirit of submission and dependence to a superior because of his excellence. Whether it be merely interior, or exterior as well, cult differs according to the position or excellence of the person to whom it is paid. Since the excellence of God is infinite, He being First Principle and Supreme Master of all things, the cult to which He has a right is supreme. It is known as latria and to pay it is an exercise of the virtue of religion. This same cult is due to the Sacred Humanity of Our Blessed Lord considered as belonging to the uncreated Person of the Word, and in a relative manner it is due to crucifixes and to pictures and statues which represent Him. Created persons who have a certain excellence are entitled to the cult called dulia: a cult of respect. Thus, in the natural order respect is due to parents, kings, teachers; in the supernatural order it is due to the Saints, the heroicity of whose virtues has been recognized. The latter cult paid to God’s servants honours God Himself, Who is revealed to the world in the Saints and draws us by them to Himself. It is commonly taught in the Catholic Church that the Blessed Virgin is entitled to a cult of hyperdulia, or supreme dulia, because of her eminent dignity as Mother of God.
There have been two opposed false tendencies in regard to the cult of Mary. According to the testimony of St. Epiphanius, the Collyridians wished to pay her divine cult and to offer sacrifice to her. This error might be termed Mariolatry. It was of brief duration. Opposed to it is the Protestant contention that the cult offered to Mary by Catholics is a form of superstition.
To answer this charge, the Catholic Church insists that the cult of latria or adoration can be and is offered to God alone. If we adore the Sacred Humanity, it is because of Its personal union with the Word; if we offer relative cult of adoration to the crucifix, it is because it represents Our Saviour, for it is quite clear that the crucifix and other representations of Our Saviour have no other excellence than that of representing Him. Were relative adoration to be offered to Our Lady because of her connection with the Word made flesh, it might easily be mistaken for adoration offered to her because of her own intrinsic excellence, and would therefore be an occasion of grave error and of idolatry, as St. Thomas remarks.
The cult due to Our Lady is therefore one of dulia. This statement is of faith, because of the teaching of the universal magisterium of the Catholic Church; hence the condemnation of the opposed propositions of Molinos.
The cult of hyperdulia is due to Mary formally because she is Mother of God, since the dignity of her divine motherhood belongs by its term to the hypostatic order and is therefore very much higher than that which follows upon her degree of grace and glory. If Mary had received only the fullness of grace and glory without having been made the Mother of God, if, in other words, she were higher than the other Saints only through her degree of consummated glory, a special cult of hyperdulia would not be due to her.
It is the more common and more probable opinion that hyperdulia differs from dulia not in degree only but in kind, just as the divine maternity belongs by its term to the hypostatic order, which is specifically distinct from that of grace and glory.
The cult of hyperdulia is offered to Mary since she is Mother of the Saviour. But we should remember that for the same reason she is Mother of men, universal Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix.
Protestants quote from Exodus: “Thou shall not make to thyself a graven thing” (Exodus 20: 4-5) and hence condemn us as idol worshippers because of the images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Saints which we have in our Churches. They are completely wrong. This commandment does not forbid the making of images, but the making of idols; that is, it forbids us to make images to be adored or honoured as gods. If it forbids the making of images, why then did the same God ask Moses to make the images of cherubim—Angels in heaven—to be put in the sanctuary of the Lord? (cf. Exodus 36:1-2; 37: 6-9). Again, when snakes were biting the children of Israel on their way to the promised land, why did the same God ask Moses to make the image of a fiery serpent, so that whoever looked at it might be healed? (cf. Numbers 21: 8).
We must note that, by rendering Mary the cult of hyperdulia we move her to look down on us with immense love, and for our part are drawn to imitate her virtues. The cult of hyperdulia leads effectively to salvation, for Mary can obtain the grace of final perseverance for all those who pray faithfully to her for it. For this reason true devotion to Our Lady is commonly looked on as one of the signs of predestination: though it does not give absolute and infallible certainty of salvation—a possibility ruled out by the authority of the Council of Trent (Denz. 805)—it gives rise to a firm hope. This firm hope rests on Mary's great power of intercession and her special love for those who invoke her. In this sense St. Alphonsus asserts (The Glories of Mary, Part I, ch. viii) that it is morally impossible that they should be lost who have the desire to amend their lives and who honour the Mother of God faithfully and commit themselves to her protection. Those who have no serious desire to amend their lives cannot, of course, look on the fact that they keep up a certain appearance of devotion to Our Lady as a probable sign of predestination. But a sinner who tries to give up sin and turns to Mary for assistance will find that she will not fail him. This is the opinion of St. Alphonsus (Ib., ch. I, 4) and of most modern theologians.
Finally, Catholics, particularly in Nigeria which is a Muslim/Protestant country, must realize the fact that we live in a period of great heresies which many of the saints and ancient prophets predicted. In order to conquer the heresies of our time, both the priests and the lay faithful must cling to Our Lady, terror of demons and destroyer of all heresies. The cult of hyperdulia offered to Mary in the Church confirms in a general way the foundations of our Faith as Catholics, since it derives from the Redemptive Incarnation, and, thereby destroying heresies: “Cunctas haereses interemisti in universo mundo.” The same cult leads to holiness by suggesting the imitation of Mary’s virtues, and it glorifies the Son by honouring the Mother.