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What follows is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of Catholic and Reformation views of Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.  However, it attempts to illustrate a timeline and cautiousness of beliefs, particularly in the papacy, about her role.  (Pictured at left is Our Lady of the Way, the Madonna della Strada.  She is the patron saint of the Jesuits.)

The Catholic Church

It should be noted that various popes viewed the role of Mary differently:

Popular views like the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception developed into Papal teaching over time. In 1674 Pope Clement X (1670–1676) indexed books on Marian piety.[2] After the Council of Trent, Marian fraternities were founded, fostering Marian piety [3], some of which were outlawed by Popes. Not all Popes viewed Marian belief identically. Louis de Montfort was condemned in a Papal bull by Pope Clement X only to be praised by Pope Clement XI, canonized by Pope Pius XII and adored by Pope John Paul II.

431: The Council of Ephesus approves devotion to Mary as the ‘mother of God’.

1265-1268: Pope Clement IV composes poem about the seven joys of Mary.

1603: Pope Clement VIII’s papal bull Domenici Gregis condemns negations of Mary.  His papacy supports the creation of Marian congregations and praying the Rosary.

1673: Pope Clement X issues a papal bull condemning the type of Marian piety which Louis de Montfort would later embrace and outlaws certain Marian devotions.  However, other bulls encouraged the recitation of the Rosary.

1712: Pope Clement XI instructs the Holy Office not to persecute anyone using the words ‘Immaculate Conception’ when referring to Mary.  He lays the groundwork for — although does not institute — the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  He establishes the Feast of the Immaculate Conception for the whole Catholic Church.  He advocates the Marian teachings and devotions of Louis de Montfort (1673-1716).

1748: Pope Benedict XIV expands indulgences connected with praying the Rosary and furthered the congregations dedicated to the Sodality of Our Lady.

1769-1775: Pope Clement XIV decreed that only the Franciscans in Palermo could celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  This came after much popular unrest in the south of Italy surrounding the feast.  He later granted permission to other orders for private Masses only on this feast.  Interestingly, it is said that he pledged to dogmatise the Immaculate Conception, however, this did not happen.

1848: Pope Pius IX, bowing to popular clamour, appoints a theological commission to study a possible dogma around the Immaculate Conception.  He issues an encyclical, Ubi Primum, in which he asks for his bishops’ views on the Immaculate Conception.

1852: Pius IX appoints a commission of theologians to draft the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  Later that year, he asks a group of selected cardinals to finalise the text.

1854: Pius IX declares the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  He opposes petitions that this dogma be included in the creeds.

1869-1870: Pius IX opposes moves for a dogma of the Assumption (Mary’s physical ascent into Heaven upon her death).  Yet, he believed that Mary was a Mediatrix of salvation, as stated in Ubi Primum.

1878-1903: Pope Leo XIII issues a record 11 encyclicals concerning the Rosary.  He institutes the Feast of the Queen of the Holy Rosary.  He beatifies Louis de Montfort, referring to his Marian teachings, saying that a revival of the Catholic faith (weakening because of Modernism) would not be possible without Mary’s help.  He writes that Mary is Mediatrix and co-Redemptrix and is the first pope to fully embrace her role as Mediatrix.  He says that she administers all graces on Earth.  He relies on the writings of Thomas Aquinas in his justification of Mary as co-Redemptrix and mother of Christians everywhere.  Where the Church verified Marian apparitions, Leo XIII supported veneration at those sites.

1903-1914: Pius X affirms that Mary is the spiritual mother of all Christians.

1914-1922: Pope Benedict XV has a strong devotion to Mary and placed the world under her protection during the Great War (WWI).  Among other things, he promoted Louis de Montfort’s Marian devotions during the month of May.

1922-1939: Pope Pius XI engages in discussions about a dogma of the Assumption.  He often quotes Bernard de Clairvaux, who said that we have everything spiritual we need in Mary.

1944: Pope Pius XII declares the universal feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

1947: Pius XII canonises Louis de Montfort.

1950: Pius XII announces the dogma of the Assumption.  He leaves the Mediatrix question open.

1962-1965: The Second Vatican Council declares Mary the Mother of the Church.

1965: Pope Paul VI writes in his encyclical Mense Maio that Mary is the pathway to Christ.  Anyone who follows her will encounter Him.

1974: Paul VI promotes Marian devotions and declares that she is the mother of graces and has a special role to play in redemption.

1987: Pope John Paul II affirms Mary as the Mother of the Church in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater.

1997: John Paul II, addressing a public audience, re-emphasises Mary’s role.

Redemptoris Mater reads in part:

The Church teaches that Mary appeared on the horizon of salvation history before Christ. [57]
If the greeting and the name “full of grace” say all this, in the context of the angel’s announcement they refer first of all to the election of Mary as Mother of the Son of God. But at the same time the “fullness of grace” indicates all the supernatural munificence from which Mary benefits by being chosen and destined to be the Mother of Christ. If this election is fundamental for the accomplishment of God’s salvific designs for humanity, and if the eternal choice in Christ and the vocation to the dignity of adopted children is the destiny of everyone, then the election of Mary is wholly exceptional and unique. Hence also the singularity and uniqueness of her place in the mystery of Christ. [58]

2002: John Paul II publishes his apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, which cites St Louis de Montfort’s God Alone:

Our entire perfection consists in being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus Christ. Hence the most perfect of all devotions is undoubtedly that which conforms, unites and consecrates us most perfectly to Jesus Christ.
Now, since Mary is of all creatures the one most conformed to Jesus Christ, it follows that among all devotions that which most consecrates and conforms a soul to our Lord is devotion to Mary, his Holy Mother, and that the more a soul is consecrated to her the more will it be consecrated to Jesus Christ.[59]

I have highlighted dates concerning St Louis de Montfort to show how certain perspectives can be in out of favour depending on popes or social movements at the time.  More importantly, it is worth noting how long it actually takes for a new dogma to be instituted.

Perspectives of the Reformers

Martin Luther

The LCMS (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod) states (emphases mine throughout):

Like Luther himself, Lutherans hold Mary in high esteem for the chosen role she played in God’s plan of salvation. Lutherans have never objected to denoting Mary as the “Mother of God” (theotokos, “God-bearer”), since she was the mother of Jesus and Jesus was and is indeed God. Since the Son of God was and is sinless, it is evident that some miraculous “exception” was made in the conception of Jesus through Mary that prevented original sin from tainting the Christ-child. This accounts for Luther’s comments about Mary being “entirely without sin” (as far as the conception was concerned). Lutherans today are not bound to Luther’s personal views regarding how this was accomplished; in any event, it is clear from Luther’s other and later writings on Mary that he did not hold to the view that Mary was personally devoid of all sin (which would mean that she would have had no need of forgiveness or salvation). Luther also held to the semper virgo (the perpetual virginity) of Mary. This, again, is a personal view to which Lutherans today are not bound. Scripture is not clear on this matter, and Lutherans do not regard it as a theological issue.

In his early years Luther was still greatly influenced by his rigorous Roman Catholic and monastic training. In his later writings he clearly rejects invocation to Mary and/or the saints as having no Scriptural mandate or promise. None of this undermines the opening sentence of this e-mail, which should be underscored as the final word on this issue.

Update: I am grateful to Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod for a clearer view of Lutheran beliefs about Mary —

GJ – I omitted … the part copied from the LCMS website, because I thought it was too mixed around to clarify matters. That was not Churchmouse’s fault, but Missouri’s. The LCMS cannot get justification by faith right, so we can hardly expect them to deal with lesser matters.
The early Luther still preached on the Assumption of Mary, but his later sermons declared she was a sinner. The Medieval exaggerations had Mary without any actual sin (Immaculate Conception of Mary – try to get that right, Lutherans) and rising into heaven (the Assumption).
Conservative Lutherans have agreed in the past that Mary never had children after Jesus (perpetual virginity) but that is a historical opinion and not a Biblical doctrine.
Obsession with Mary grew after 400 AD and transported newly invented opinions and events back to Biblical times. Many fables grew up about Mary and still exist in traditional Roman Catholic literature.
Pope John Paul II increased the emphasis upon Mary during his pontificate.


John Calvin

From Wikipedia:

Although Calvin shows considerable hostility to Roman Catholic mariology, he has a decidedly positive view of Mary herself, and he did not hold to a number of the Protestant views on her that became common after the Reformation …

To Calvin, Mary is an idol [as represented by] the Roman Church, and she diminishes the centrality and importance of Jesus. Hence, his Genevan Catechism not only outlawed Marian veneration, it also punished related behavior, such as carrying a rosary, observing a saints day, or possessing holy relics.[2]

In the Genevan Catechism, Calvin writes of Mary that she gave birth to Jesus through the Holy Spirit without the participation of any man, following both the account in the Gospels and the words of Martin Bucer and Heinrich Bullinger, and hence he held her to be a virgin during her pregnancy. He rejects the idea that references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters in the New Testament prove that Mary was not a perpetual virgin, citing flexibility in the terms used.[4] Likewise, he argues that in Matthew 1:25 (“[Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she had brought forth her firstborn son”) neither the term “firstborn” nor the conjunction “till” certainly contradict the doctrine of perpetual virginity.[5]

At the same time, Calvin argues that the claims that Mary took a vow of perpetual virginity in Luke 1:34 (“How shall this be, since I know not a man?”) is “unfounded and altogether absurd,” and moreover he says that, had she taken such a vow, “[s]he would, in that case, have committed treachery by allowing herself to be united to a husband, and would have poured contempt on the holy covenant of marriage….”[6]

Mary is, in Calvin’s view, properly called the Mother of God. Commenting on Luke 1:43 in which Elizabeth greeted Mary as “mother of my Lord,” he takes note of the divinity often associated with the title Lord, saying: “[Elizabeth] calls Mary the mother of her Lord. This denotes a unity of person in the two natures of Christ; as if she had said, that he who was begotten a mortal man in the womb of Mary is, at the same time, the eternal God…. This name Lord strictly belongs to the Son of God ‘manifested in the flesh,’ (1 Timothy 3:16,) who has received from the Father all power, and has been appointed the highest ruler of heaven and earth, that by his agency God may govern all things.”[9]

Taking into account Calvin’s belief in headship, this means that Mary could have original sin and not pass it on to Jesus, considering the male is the one who passes on original sin in the doctrine of headship. Since Jesus was conceived by God himself and not by a human man, original sin was not passed on

To call on Mary for salvation is nothing but blasphemy “exsecrabilis blasphemia”, because God alone has predestinated the amount of grace to each individual in his absolute will…

… the graces of Mary are seen as a gift of God attributed to her.[16] On the other hand, Calvin called Mary a treasure of grace[17], because, Mary preserved in her heart not only for her own use but for the use of all things entrusted to her. She preserved things in her heart, not just for herself, but for all of us. “She has preserved in her heart the teachings which open the heavenly gates and lead to Christ”.[18] God wanted to determine the time in which they would be revealed.[19]

Calvin considered himself the real follower of Mary, because he freed her from undeserved Papist honour which is due only to Jesus Christ, and for returning this honour to Him alone.[20] Calvin stated that Mary cannot be the advocate of the faithful since she needs God’s grace as much as any other human being[21] If the Catholic Church praises her as Queen of Heaven, it is blasphemous and contradicts her own intention, because she is praised and not God.[22]

English Reformers

From Wapedia:

One aspect of the English Reformation was a widespread reaction against Mary as a mediatrix alongside Christ, or sometimes even in his place. Such exaggerated devotions, in part inspired by presentations of Christ as an inaccessible Judge as well as Redeemer, were criticized by Erasmus and Thomas More and rejected by the Church of England. Together with a new emphasis on Scripture as the fundamental standard of faith, there was a renewed devotion by the Reformers to the belief that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God the Father and humanity. This rejected any overt devotion to Mary and diminished her place in the life of the Church.

The English Reformers’ positive teaching about Mary concentrated on her role in the Incarnation. It is summed up in their acceptance of her as the Mother of God, because this was seen to be both scriptural and traditional. Following the traditions of the Early Church and other Reformers like Martin Luther, the English Reformers such as Hugh Latimer, Thomas Cranmer and John Jewel accepted the perpetual virginity of Mary. They neither affirmed nor denied the possibility of Mary having been preserved by grace from participation in original sin. The Book of Common Prayer in the Christmas collect and preface refers to Mary as “a pure Virgin”.

From 1561, the calendar of the Church of England contained five feasts associated with Mary: The Conception of Mary, Nativity of Mary, Annunciation, Visitation, and Purification. There was, however, no longer a feast of the Assumption (August 15): not only was it not found in the Bible, but was also seen as exalting Mary to a level above Christ. Scottish and Canadian revisions of the Prayer Book restored August 15 as the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Despite the novel lack of devotion to Mary, starting in the 16th century, reverence for her continued in the use of the Magnificat in Evening Prayer, and the naming and dedication of ancient churches and Lady Chapels. In the 17th century writers such as Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, and Thomas Ken took from catholic tradition a fuller appreciation of the place of Mary in the prayers of the Church. Andrewes in his Preces Privatae borrowed from Eastern liturgies to deepen his Marian devotion. This re-appropriation can be traced into the next century, and into the Oxford Movement of the 19th century.

In 1922 the creation of a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham under the aegis of Father Alfred Hope Patten, reignited Anglican interest in a revival of the pre-Reformation pilgrimage. From the early 1930s Walsingham became a centre of Anglican as well as Catholic Marian pilgrimage …

Much has been made of the difference between the Mariology of Anglicans and that of Roman Catholics. Because Anglicanism does not have an official view about these doctrines, it can be difficult to say with precision what Anglicans believe. The description here attempts to sketch out the areas where Anglicans are in agreement that there is no official binding doctrine.

In addition to the worship (latria) properly given only to God, Roman Catholic Mariology contends that a greater veneration (hyperdulia) is given to Mary than the dulia given to the other saints. While Anglicans can agree that God alone is to be worshipped, many do not agree that Mary should receive a degree of veneration above the other saints. Many Anglicans agree with the Eastern Orthodox, that Mary is simply the greatest of all the Saints, and that she should be venerated as such.

Anglicanism also does not accept the doctrines of the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception as binding, though some Anglicans do accept these doctrines, particularly the former. Even then, they are not held to the particular forms used by the Roman Catholic Church to define them. Many agree with the Eastern Orthodox rejection of the Immaculate Conception, while agreeing that Mary was without actual sin during her life. Many also are more in agreement with the Dormition of Mary as understood by the Orthodox.

Tomorrow’s post explores changes over the past decade or so to increase Mary’s role and make it official Roman Catholic dogma.

Further reading:

‘Mariology of the Popes’

‘Immaculate Conception’

‘Assumption of Mary’

‘St Louis de Montfort’


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