Mary, Rival of Jesus?
There is no doubt, as we learned in our previous article , that the Bible describes Mary as a great woman. God chose her to bring Jesus into our world. But the Scripture is silent regarding the when, what, how, and where of her birth. We do know that she was from the royal line of King David, yet the song of Mary affirms that she was like every other human, one in need of a Savior: 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior' (Luke 1:46, 47).
The Bible is also silent on how Mary was conceived, nor does it speak of her being a virgin her entire life. We also learned that she couldn't be, strictly speaking, 'the mother of God' because Jesus was her creator and existed before she was born. (See John 1:1–3.) And while Mary was addressed by Gabriel as 'highly favored' (Luke 1:28), this does not prove that she was a dispenser of grace. Even in the last reference to her in Scripture, in Acts 1:14, where she is with the apostles on the day of Pentecost, she is simply one among the believers, not holding any significant position.
There is also no record in the Bible of Mary's death, which is not surprising since there is no record of the death of any of the apostles or many other heroes in Scripture. The Bible does not speak of Mary ascending to heaven after her death, nor does it say anything about her body not seeing corruption. There are many things about Mary in which the Scriptures are silent.
A Biblical Portrait of Jesus
In order to provide a foundation for understanding the lengths to which Mary has been elevated by some churches, let's first review some of the primary qualities about Jesus found in the Scriptures.
- Jesus was the creator of all things. 'All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made' (John 1:3).
- Jesus was born the holy one. 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God' (Luke 1:35).
- Jesus never sinned. 'For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin' (Hebrews 4:15).
- Jesus was full of grace and born with human flesh. 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth' (John 1:14).
- Jesus was given to the world by God the Father. 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16).
- Jesus was a compassionate healer. 'When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick' (Matthew 14:14).
- Jesus is our High Priest in heaven. 'Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens' (Hebrews 8:1).
- Jesus is our advocate before the Father. 'My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous' (1 John 2:1).
- Jesus is our only intercessor with God. 'There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus' (1 Timothy 2:5).
- Jesus alone can save us. 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12).
- Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins. 'He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself' (Hebrews 9:26).
- Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth. 'Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man' (John 1:51).
- Jesus name alone is used when praying to the Father. 'In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God' (John 16:26, 27).
- Jesus reveals God the Father. 'No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him' (John 1:18).
- Jesus helps us when we are tempted. 'Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted' (Hebrews 2:17, 18).
- Jesus is the only way to the Father. 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me' (John 14:6).
- Jesus is the doorway to salvation. 'I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture' (John 10:9).
- Jesus brings us redemption through His blood. 'In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace' (Ephesians 1:7).
- Jesus is our refuge. 'That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us' (Hebrews 6:18).
- Jesus is compared to the sun. 'For the Lord God is a sun and shield' (Psalm 84:11).
- Jesus is our life. 'For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory' (Colossians 3:3, 4).
- Jesus changes us when we behold Him. 'But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord' (2 Corinthians 3:18).
- Jesus is omnipotent (all-powerful). 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me' (Philippians 4:13).
- Jesus is called the last Adam. 'It is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit' (1 Corinthians 15:45).
- Jesus' name has power over demons. 'Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name"' (Luke 10:17).
- Jesus is our fortress and refuge. 'My lovingkindness and my fortress, my high tower and my deliverer, my shield and the One in whom I take refuge, who subdues my people under me' (Psalm 144:2).
- Jesus is the one who gives eternal life. 'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
- Jesus is our hope. 'Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope' (1 Timothy 1:1).
- Jesus is worthy to be praised by all the beings in the universe. 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!' (Revelation 5:12).
- Jesus died, rose again, and is seated at the right hand of God. 'Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us' (Romans 8:34).
We see in the Bible that Jesus holds a unique and divine role as a member of the Godhead. But there are those who teach and believe otherwise. You may not be aware that the Roman Catholic Church attributes all of these attributes of Jesus to Mary as well. And if this is true—as we'll consider through the writings of a prominent Catholic doctor—then we need to ask if it is right that Mary should overshadow Jesus and take away the glory that belongs to Him alone.
We want to clarify that there are, of course, many good and faithful Christians within the Catholic denomination. This article in no way intends to attack individual Catholics. Rather, our study focuses on the beliefs and teachings of the Roman church.
Let's now look at several statements made by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, a famous author of the Roman Catholic Church. This prestigious church leader lived in the seventeenth century, wrote and published 22 books, and was later canonized as a saint in 1839 by Pope Gregory XIV.
He has been called a doctor of the church—a title that holds great meaning for this denomination. The Roman Catholic Church has 36 doctors in its almost two-thousand-year history. These individuals are considered the most authoritative writers in the Roman church. One of the books he wrote is called The Glories of Mary, a volume that we'll quote from extensively in this study.
The works of Liguori are more than just the opinion of a member of the Catholic Church. The Glories of Mary is considered a collection of the best writings of the early church fathers, of the doctors, and of the saints of the church on Mary. It is a compendium of Catholic wisdom about Mary from the early church.
Liguori provides us with the reason for his work.
'I endeavored to collect, from as many authors as I could lay my hands, on the choicest passages, extracted from Fathers and theologians, and those which seem to me to be the most to the point, and have put them together in this book, in order that the devout may with little trouble and expense be able to inflame themselves with the love of Mary, and more particularly to furnish the priests with matter for their sermons, wherewith to excite others to devotion towards this divine Mother.' —The Glories of Mary, p. 29, 30
The edition of The Glories of Mary used in this article was published in 1931 by the Redemptorist Fathers. It has the imprimatur of Cardinal Patrick Hayes from April 16, 1931. The imprimatur means that this book is officially condoned by the Catholic Church to be read by the faithful.
Most of Liguori's quotations are from the apocryphal books of Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach) and Wisdom of Solomon—books considered inspired by the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. In his book, he uses very few quotations from Scripture. The places that he does quote Scripture are mainly from Song of Solomon and Proverbs. Texts that apply to the church, he assigns to Mary.
Liguori's book often takes biblical texts out of their context. For example, he states on page 101, 'If Mary is for us, who shall be against us?' That's a quotation from Romans 8:31 about Jesus. Another example, 'Mary was prefigured by the dove which returned to Noah in the ark with an olive branch in its beak, as a pledge of the peace which God granted to men' (p. 202). Where in the Bible are we told that that the dove represents Mary? It's simply a human opinion.
After Liguori died, his grave was opened in Nussera. Three fingers were cut off his writing hand and were sent to Rome by the wish of Pope Pius XII, who stated, 'Let those three fingers that have written so well for the honor of God of the Blessed Virgin and of religion be carefully preserved and sent to Rome.'
You will discover everything that the Bible attributes to Jesus, Liguori's book, The Glories of Mary, attributes to Mary. The following is just a partial list of examples.
Fallacious Claims about Mary
Let's compare some of Liguori's claims about Mary with the Bible.
- Co-creator of the World. Liguori quotes from Saint Bonaventure to support the idea that Mary was a co-creator of our world with God. 'The world which thou [speaking of Mary] with God didst form from the beginning continues to exist at thy will, O most holy Virgin … I was with Him forming all things' (p. 368). However, no place in the Bible speaks of Mary's existence at the creation of the world. She was born long after this world came into existence. (See John 1:1–3.)
- Born without Sin. While the Bible affirms that Jesus was born without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), Liguori claims Mary was also born holy. He writes, 'Mary was conceived without sin, that the divine Son might be born of her without sin' (p. 296). Furthermore, just as we know Jesus never sinned, Liguori states that Mary never sinned during her lifetime either. 'The Blessed Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial one' (p. 299). This denies Paul's statement about humans, that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3:23).
- Dispenser of Grace. The Bible teaches that Jesus is full of grace (John 1:14), but Liguori, quoting Father Contenson, indicates that such grace comes to us through Mary. Speaking of Jesus, Contenson says, 'My wounds are ever-flowing fountains of grace; but their streams will reach no one but by the channel of Mary. In vain will he invoke me as a Father who has not venerated Mary as a Mother' (p. 155). Liguori further states, 'As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever it receives from the former, so does Mary pour out upon us who are in this world the heavenly graces that she receives from the divine sun of justice' (pp. 159, 160). Quoting from St. Bernadine, one of the great saints of the Roman Catholic Church, he states, 'From the moment that this Virgin Mother conceived the divine Word in her womb, she acquired a special jurisdiction, so to say, over all the gifts of the Holy Ghost, so that no creature has since received any grace from God otherwise than through the hands of Mary' (p. 161). Though the Scriptures only attribute such divine grace is given only through Jesus Christ, the Roman church states that it comes to us only through Mary.
- Liguori continually describes Mary as sympathetic and easy to approach. He even goes so far as to speak of her in the role of a priest and advocate. For instance, quoting St. Bonaventure, 'Before Mary, there was no one who could thus dare to restrain the arm of God. But now, if God is angry with a sinner, and Mary takes him under her protection, she withholds the avenging arm of her Son and saves him' (p. 124). This is a distorted picture of Christ and cannot be found in the Bible. Liguori says, 'Christ is a faithful and powerful Mediator between God and men, but in him men fear the majesty of God. A mediator, then, was needed with the mediator himself; nor could a more fitting one be found than Mary' (p. 196). A mediator is needed for the mediator? Where in Scripture do we find such an idea?
- According to Liguori, Mary is not only our advocate, but she's also our intercessor. Consider this prayer written to Mary: 'O Mother of holy love, our life, our refuge, and our hope [all attributes of Christ], thou well knowest that thy son Jesus Christ, not content with being Himself our perpetual advocate with the eternal Father, has willed that thou shouldst interest thyself with him, in order to obtain the divine mercies for us' (p. 117). Liguori also says, 'Although Mary is under an infinite obligation to the Son for having chosen her to be his Mother, yet it cannot be denied that the Son is under great obligation to her for having given him his humanity; and therefore Jesus, to pay as it were what He owes to Mary, and glorying in her glory, honors her in a special manner by listening to and granting all her petitions' (page 42). These are characteristics that the Bible only gives to Jesus. (See Hebrews 7:25.)
- In a prayer, Liguori identifies Mary as the savior. 'O Mary, I hope most certainly to be saved by thy means. Pray to Jesus for me. Nothing else is needed; thou hast to save me; thou art my hope. I will therefore always sing O Mary, my hope, thou hast to save me' (p. 247). That stands in contrast to the words of Scripture: 'Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12).
- Ladder to Heaven. Though Jesus says that He is the ladder between heaven and earth (John 1:51), Liguori quotes Saint Bernard, who says, 'This divine Mother, O my children, is the ladder of sinners, by which they reascend to the height of Divine grace: she is my greatest confidence, she is the whole ground of my hope' (p. 201). And, 'With reason does St. Bernard call her "the sinners" ladder;' since she, the most compassionate Queen, extending her hand to them, draws them from an abyss of sin, and enables them to ascend to God' (p. 83).
- Addressed in Prayer. The Bible teaches us to pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13, 14), yet Liguori suggests otherwise. Quoting the Abbot of Celles, he states, 'Address yourselves to the Blessed Virgin for by her, and in her, and with her, and from her, the world receives, and is to receive, every good' (p. 162). Thus, he teaches we are to pray to Jesus through Mary. Liguori also states, 'There is no one, O most holy Mary, who can know God but through thee; no one who can be saved or redeemed but through thee, O Mother of God; no one who can be delivered from dangers but through thee, O Virgin Mother; no one who obtains mercy but through thee, O filled with all grace' (p. 171). According to Liguori, the only way that we can know Jesus and the Father is through Mary.
- Help When Tempted. The Bible teaches that Jesus helps us when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:14–18). The Glories of Mary states that we 'need only, when tempted by the devil, imitate little chickens, which, as soon as they perceive the approach of a bird of prey, run under the wings of their mother for protection. This is exactly what we should do whenever we are assaulted by temptation: we should not stay to reason with it, but immediately fly and place ourselves under the mantle of Mary' (p. 94).
- The Door. Jesus said, 'I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved' (John 10:9). Liguori quotes St. Lawrence Justinian, who asks, 'How can she be otherwise than full of grace, who has been made the ladder to paradise, the gate of heaven, the most true mediatress between God and man?' (p. 153). He also quotes St. Bonaventure, who says, 'Mary is called "the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her"' (p. 160). He quotes St. Ambrose, who said, 'Open to us, O Mary, the gates of paradise, since thou hast its keys' (p. 238).
- The Bible tells us to flee to Jesus who is our refuge (Hebrews 6:18). But Liguori, in speaking of the Old Testament cities of refuge, said, 'Nowadays these cities are not so numerous; there is but one, and that is Mary, of whom the Psalmist says, Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God' (p. 119). Thus, we are encouraged throughout the book to flee to Mary for refuge, not to Jesus. Moreover, we are told to come to Jesus and go 'boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need' (Hebrews 4:16), but St. Antoninus boldly states, 'Mary is that throne of grace to which the Apostle Saint Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, exhorts us to fly with confidence' (p. 257).
- The Sun. While the Scriptures compare Christ as 'a sun and shield,' (Psalm 84:11), The Glories of Mary states, 'Take away the sun, and where will be the day? Take away Mary, and what will be left but the darkest night? When a soul loses devotion to Mary, it is immediately enveloped in darkness' (p. 90). Also note, '"If any one is disregarded and condemned by Mary, he is necessarily lost," and therefore we may with reason exclaim, "Woe to those who are in opposition to this sun?"' (p. 91).
- Changes Hearts. The Bible says that we're transformed by beholding Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18). Notice what Liguori says about how we are changed: 'Thou art so pure, and I defiled with many sins; thou so humble, and I so proud; thou so holy, and I so wicked. This, then, is what thou has to do, O Mary; since thou lovest me, make me like thee. Thou hast all power to change hearts; take, then, mine and change it. Show the world what thou canst do for those who love thee. Make me a saint; make me thy worthy child. This is my hope' (p. 70).
- The Scripture says, 'The Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil' (1 John 3:8). But notice what Liguori says: 'As wax melts before the fire, so do the devils lose their power against those souls who often remember the name of Mary and devoutly invoke it; and still more so, if they also endeavor to imitate her virtues' (p. 147, 148).
- Exalted Name. The Bible says that Jesus has a name that is exalted above every other name. Notice this amazing statement: 'The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name after that of thy Son above every other name, that in thy name every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth' (p. 260). He applies to Mary a passage from Philippians 2, which speaks of Christ.
- The Bible teaches that Jesus is omnipotent and can do all things (John 11:38–44). But notice this quote from Richard of St. Lawrence: 'Yes, Mary is omnipotent, for the queen by every law enjoys the same privileges as the king. And as the power of the son and that of the mother is the same, a mother is made omnipotent by an omnipotent son' (p. 181). He also quotes St. Germanus of Constantinople, 'O Mary, thou art omnipotent to save sinners, nor needest thou any other recommendation; for thou art the mother of true life' (p. 275).
- The Second Eve. The Bible declares that Jesus is the last Adam (Romans 5:12–21; 1 Corinthians 15:22). The conclusion is thus made—though it is found nowhere in the Bible—that Mary must be the last Eve. 'Hence St. Irenaeus remarks, that as Eve was seduced, by a fallen angel, to flee from God, so Mary was led to receive God into her womb, obeying a good angel; and thus, by her obedience repaired Eve's disobedience, and became her advocate, and that of the whole human race' (p. 112). He also quotes Saint Bernard, that, 'As a man and a woman cooperated in our ruin, so it was proper that another man and another woman should cooperate in our redemption, and these two were Jesus and his Mother Mary' (p. 165). Yet the Bible says, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord' (Jeremiah 17:5).
The Bible unquestionably attributes all glory to Jesus. Numerous references exalt Christ as the One who alone should receive glory. 'You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created' (Revelation 4:11). 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!' (Revelation 5:12).
Still, we find a false teaching in The Glories of Mary that exalts Mary to a position as a rival of Christ, replacing the role of Jesus. The book steals the glories of the Lord and gives them to a created being. This could only be done if we make Mary divine—which is exactly what is being taught, as we'll see.
'It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man' (Psalm 118:8).
*This series of articles is based on messages by Pastor Stephen Bohr.
To find additional information on his ministry, please visit www.secretsunsealed.org. To purchase his full series on Mary, please click here.