Worship of the Virgin
The Story of a Remarkable Conversion From Roman Catholicism
T HE WORSHIP of Mary was originally only a reflection of the worship of Christ. As Mother of the Saviour of the world, the Virgin Mary unquestionably holds forever a peculiar position among all women. It is perfectly natural to associate with her the fairest traits of maidenly and maternal character, and to revere her as the highest model of womanly purity, love, and piety.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, did not stop at this. After the middle of the fourth century, it over-stepped the wholesome, Biblical limit, and transformed the “Mother of the Lord” into a “Mother of God.” The veneration of Mary gradually degenerated into the worship of Mary. The origin of this worship may be traced to the apocryphal legends of her birth and death which were current during the second and third centuries. But the Christians of that day unanimously and firmly rejected them as fabulous and heretical.
The deification of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Church was a slow process. First, her perpetual virginity was asserted, then that her conception as well as her birth was supernatural. The third step was the decision of the Council of Ephesus, 481, that Mary was"the Mother of God.” This decision, however, was rendered rather as a vindication of the divinity of Christ then as an exaltation of the glory of the Virgin. It had its origin in the Nestorian Controversy, and was designed to combat an error touching the person of Christ, that Nestorius was accused of teaching. This decision was hailed as a triumph of Orthodoxy, but it marks a distinct epoch in the progress of Mariolatry.
From this time, the worship of Mary grew apace; it agreed well with many natural aspirations of the heart. To paint the Mother of the Saviour an ideal woman, with all the grace and tenderness of womanhood, and yet with none of its weaknesses, and then to fall down and worship that which the imagination had set up, was what might easily happen. EVIDENCE WAS NOT ASKED FOR. PERFECTION WAS BECOMING THE MOTHER OF THE LORD; THEREFORE, SHE WAS PERFECT. She was adored and worshipped. She reigned as Queen in heaven, in earth, in purgatory, and over hell.
Numerous churches and altars were dedicated to her worship. Even her images were divinely worshipped and, in the prolific legends of the Middle Age, performed countless miracles, before some of which the miracles of the Gospel history grow dim. Prayers, hymns, and doxologies were allowed and prescribed to be addressed to her. The whole psalter was transformed into a book of praise and confession to the mother of Christ. This was done by Bonaventura, one of the great saints of the Church.
I will give a specimen for his profane parody of these inspired Psalms—of the 51st:“Have pity upon me, O great Queen, who art called the Mother of Mercy; purify me from my iniquities.” And so it runs throughout. The 149th Psalm is:“Sing a new song in honor of our Queen. Let the just publish her praises in their assemblies. Let the heavens rejoice in her glory ; let the isles of the sea and all the earth rejoice therein. Let water and fire, cold and heat, brightness and light, praise her; let her praises resound in the triumphant company of the saints. City of God, place thy joy in blessing her, and let her songs of praise continually be sung to her by thy illustrious and glorious inhabitants.“ The 19th Psalm: "The heavens declare thy glory O Virgin Mary, etc.” and so on to the end of the book. In every instance, the name of Mary is substituted for that of the Divine Being.
But of all the devotional writings on the worship of the Virgin, there are none that equal in bold blasphemy, “The Glories of Mary” by St. Liguori. I give only a few quotations, but they will show the character of the work, and give an idea of the religious reading the Church of Rome substitutes for the Word of God: “Mary is the Queen of the Universe, since Jesus is its King; everything in heaven and on earth which is subject to God, is also under the empire of His most Holy Mother! She is the Queen of Mercy alone; she is a sovereign, not to punish sinners, but to pardon and forgive them. The kingdom of God consists in mercy and justice. The Lord has, as it were, divided it, reserving to himself the dominion of justice, and yielding to his Mother that of mercy.”
“God having created the heavens and the earth, made two great luminaries, the sun to rule the day, the moon to preside over the night. The former is a figure of Jesus of whose splendor rays illumine the just who live in the day of grace; the latter is typical of Mary, whose mild lusters iIIumines sinners amid the dreary night of sin. It is towards this propitious orb that he who is buried in the shades of iniquity should look. Having lost divine grace, the day disappears; there is no more sun for him, but the moon is still in the horizon, let him address himself to Mary; under her influence thousands every day find their way to God.“ And so on throughout the entire book.
The necessary and inevitable tendency of Mary- worship is to supersede the advocacy of our Divine Lord. She is exalted and kept in continual remembrance as the advocate of sinners. He is left in the background and practically ignored as the mediator between God and man. PROTESTANTS HAVE BUT A FAINT IDEA OF THE CHARACTER AND EXTENT OF THIS WORSHIP AMONG ROMAN CATHOLICS. Ten prayers are offered to her, where one is offered our Lord. The Rosary and Litany of the Blessed Virgin are used more than any other prayers in the Prayer Book. The month of May is especially devoted to her worship, and as one has said, "The controversy with Rome threatens more and more to resolve itself into the question, whether the creed of Christendom is to be based upon the life of Jesus, or the life of Mary; upon the canonical, or the apocryphal gospels.”
In the consideration of this subject, there are to every honest inquirer after the truth three questions that cannot be solved:
1. How can Mary and the departed saints hear at once the prayers of so many Christians on earth, unless those they either partake of divine omnipresence or divine omniscience? And is it not IDOLATROUS to clothe creatures with attributes of the Godhead? Augustine, the most philosophic thinker of his age, felt this difficulty and frankly conceded his inability to solve it.
This is one of the most difficult questions to answer in connection with the worship of the Virgin and the saints. Various theories have been devised and advanced, each one illogical, visionary, and diametrically opposed to reason, and the entire tenor of Holy Scripture. The most rational theory of any is this, the mere statement of which is its own refutation: The Doctors of the Church admit that Mary is neither omniscient nor omnipresent, but they say that prayers offered to her, while she cannot hear them, are conveyed by God to her, and then she presents them to her Son, and he to the Father. Thus, prayer to the Virgin Mary goes in a circle before it finally reaches the ear of the Infinite One.
What a feeble, futile attempt to solve the incredible! How can it be that men of thought are deluded by such thin vagaries. The truth is, however, that after a dogma is adopted by the Church, that is by the Pope, their votaries are not allowed to think. As soon as a person begins to raise a question, or to entertain a doubt, he is assured that he is on dangerous ground. To doubt is a mortal sin.
2. AS TRADITION IS THE PRINCIPAL FACTOR IN THE ROMAN RULE OF FAITH, AND AS IT IS ENTIRELY SILENT IN REGARD TO THE WORSHIP OF THE VIRGIN FOR THE FIRST FIVE CENTURIES, WHERE IS THE AUTHORITY FOR THE INNOVATION?!
And if this is a new doctrine, one that was not taught by Christ or His apostles, nor or during the post-apostolic age, then the Roman claim that the Church is immutable, and that her teachings are the same in all ages, falls to the ground.
3. If the worship of Mary had the sanction of our Lord and His Apostles, how happens it that there is NOT A SYLLABLE IN ALL THE NEW TESTAMENT FAVORING SUCH A PRACTICE? Her name is not even once mentioned after the first chapter of the Acts. There are no allusions whatevereither in the Gospels or the Epistles to the intercessions of the Virgin, saints, or angels.
At A Protestant Church
Written before the turn of the 18th century
I N ADDITION to the mental quickening and the spiritual awakening that came to me from the daily searching of the Scriptures, and from intercourse with broad and pure-minded men, a strong desire sprang up in my heart to attend some non-Catholic service. I therefore inquired one day of Henry Henderson, with whom I was working, and a brother of James Henderson, my employer, if I might accompany him to church next Sunday. He was very glad to have me do so, and at the appointed time we met, and I went with him; it was in the afternoon. We went to the First Methodist Episcopal Church, the preacher being the pastor, Rev. John G. Gulick. As I HAD BEEN TAUGHT FROM CHILDHOOD TO BELIEVE THAT PROTESTANT WORSHIP WAS VERY BAD, YEA, DEVILISH—AND THAT IT WAS A MORTAL SIN TO PARTICIPATE IN SUCH WORSHIP, my first impressions of such a service were very strange.
The simplicity of the service, including the interior furnishing of the church, the dress of the officiating clergyman, and the language in which hymns were sung and prayers offered, was most striking. The minister wore plain, black clothes; he helped himself, having no“altar boys” to wait on him; and every word was in plain English, instead of Latin. The sermon from the text, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil,” was plain, practical, forceful, and timely. I remember it as though I had heard it but yesterday. He touched upon Spiritualism, as the Fox sisters were then living in Rochester, and the subject was at that time attracting much attention.
That service was a revelation to me. It lifted the veil of prejudice that had been on my eyes concerning Protestant worship, and broadened my religious horizon. The Roman hierarchy are wise in prohibiting their people attending Protestant worship, for if that restriction were removed, there would be many more changes from one faith to the other.
In those days, there were three public services in city churches on Sunday, and the service in the evening in the First Church was a prayer and conference meeting. I had a strong desire to attend one of these services, but as I spent Sunday at my father’s, always remaining until Monday morning, I thus encountered a serious obstacle. The point was to find a reasonable excuse for returning to my boarding place on Sunday evening.
Fortunately, that winter there was a young man by the name of John B. Gough, a reformed drunkard, holding a series of temperance meetings in old Minerva Hall. His lectures attracted great attention, and I told my people I wanted to hear him. I went, and after hearing him awhile, I left, and went down to the Methodist meeting. After Mr. Gough finished his course there was a young colored man who delivered a series of lectures on abolition in the same hall. He also, was eloquent and popular, and drew large crowds on Sunday evenings, so I found no trouble in getting the consent of my parents to go to hear Frederick Douglass. I heard him, and also enjoyed the closing part of the prayer meeting.
It was in those meetings I received my first impressions touching the new life in Christ. The seed was there sown, or rather the incorruptible seed, the Word of God, which I had been hiding in my heart all these months, was there watered by the good Spirit, and the GERM WAS KEPT ALIVE, awaiting the coming fruitage. The spiritual singing, fervent prayers, and warm, heartfelt testimonies, concerning a present salvation were more persuasive and powerful than any argument that could be offered. I got an idea of what Paul meant when he told the young converts in Thessalonica that his gospel came to them not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.
My employer, Mr Henderson, evidently saw how the leaven of truth was working in my mind, for one day he asked me if I would like to go to a “class meeting.” I told him I would. Now, I did not know then what kind of a meeting that was. I had heard them talk about the“class meeting,” but I thought it was a meeting for those in charge of classes in the Sunday School, or what we would call a “teachers meeting.” The meeting was held on Wednesday evening. On our way up to the class-room, Mr Henderson said to me,"Now, Sammie, they may ask you to speak to-night.” “All right,” I said,“I am ready to speak.”We entered the well-lighted, plainly-furnished room, in which there were twenty or more persons seated. The meeting was in charge of George Evans, one of the most intelligent and best Bible scholars of that church. He opened the services with singing and prayer. He then spoke briefly of his experience in the divine life. I thought he spoke beautifully. Commencing at my right he next called upon each one to speak, and he replied, saying something that was helpful and comforting to each; in the meanwhile someone would strike in and sing some of the most beautiful and touching things I had ever heard.
I was thoroughly delighted with the meeting. There was an influence or spirit that seized my heart and awakened, as it were, all the latent good desires and purposes, and I there resolved that I would lead a better life. But before the meeting was half over, I began to understand the force of Mr Henderson’s remark as we entered the church, “They may want you to speak to-night.” I began to realize that I was caught unawares. I thought, of course, that all the others came with their little speeches all ready, and there I was a stranger, with nothing to say. The exigency was serious.
I saw no way out of the trap, for so I regarded it. The time was short in which to fix anything up. I had never a bad experience in that line before, and in my plight, I hit upon this plan as one and another spoke, I selected an expression or sentence from different testimonies, exercising my judgment in taking the best offered. When my turn came, the leader said to me, "Now, my lad, and what have you to say?” I did not think that I might decline, but I arose and spoke my little speech, which turned out to be the best of all, for it was made up of the choicest bits of all the testimonies I had heard. I went once more after that, but never again until I had an experience of the life of God in my soul and could testify to the saving power of Jesus’ blood applied through the operation of the Holy Spirit.