Catholicism The Church

The Marian Dogmas and the Faith Once Delivered

For both Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, Mary occupies a significant place in devotional life. (Other sacramental traditions may honor her to lesser degrees, but more so than Protestants.) Protestants have been reluctant to afford her this same devotion for several reasons. Above all, the New Testament does not place the emphasis on her that approaches anything near what has developed in history. Secondly, such devotion detracts from the uniqueness of Christ as the only Redeemer.

Any Christian should recognize the place Scripture does give to Mary. She is indeed blessed and favored—what a privilege to bear the Son of God! Such favor speaks to what God has done, rather than what she did. Indeed, she willingly accepted the announcement of what Gabriel told her. In so doing, she showed herself a humble, obedient servant of God. We should honor her example as we do that of other such servants recorded in Scripture. But history has gone far beyond this.

It is demonstrable that the Marian dogmas we have at this point are not those of the New Testament, nor the early church. Matthew and Luke record the virgin birth, which is significant in the history of salvation. But the significance is due to the hypostatic union of Christ. He is the God-Man, having a fully divine nature (not of human origin, not of paternally human lineage) and fully human, which is the role Mary played. In other words, it may be inaccurate to term the virgin birth of Christ a “Marian Dogma” for it has to do with Christ. After these gospel records, we find Mary in Acts 1, gathered with the other disciples as they await the day of Pentecost. Thereafter, the New Testament record is silent, except for a nameless, oblique reference in Galatians 4:4 (“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.”). Some may cite Revelation 12 as an example, but the case that this refers to Israel is much stronger than it is for a Marian reference.

Beyond this, we enter into what history has developed and supports, and what the church as an institution has promoted, not just as helpful, but as vital, necessary. This includes Mary’s own conception as free from sin, her perpetual virginity, her bodily assumption, and her intercession. But each of these requires us to say that history is prescriptive, authoritative, not simply a record of what happened. The idea that Mary herself was conceived without sin lacks any biblical evidence. It rests solely on tradition.  Her perpetual virginity is a perplexing thing, for it touches not one bit on anything christological. In other words, if after the virgin birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph had a normal marital relationship—as would be the expectation in a Jewish marriage—if they indeed had other children, this is inconsequential for anything related to the Lord Jesus Christ. His full deity and humanity remain unaffected, his suffering, death, and resurrection; none of these are altered or improved. Considering Mary as a perpetual virgin does not help a believer consider these aspects of Christ’s life and ministry at all. Indeed, it is diverting.

Some will argue that these doctrines do have a biblical basis, but it is a curious defense to make. The Roman Catholic Church affirms that the Bible is not a unique authority. “The Church, to whom transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’”[1] If Scripture and Tradition are equally normative, why is there a need to tether these doctrines to Scripture? I submit that the questions raised by Protestants and others about these doctrines have forced some to seek a biblical warrant for them, strained as it may be.

But the doctrines do present a good test case. Must a believer hold to these? If so, why and on what authority? The answer can only be the authority of the church—of history—that which later developed has authority alongside and indeed above the biblical record. In the most recently added Marian Dogma, her bodily assumption into heaven (1950), Pope Pius XII made belief in this doctrine a matter of orthodoxy vs heterodoxy. “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”[2] In other words, doubt or denial of whether Mary was bodily assumed into heaven puts one into the class of an apostate. This is an example of something anyone living after 1950 must believe, (according to Rome) but was unknown to the earliest Christians.

Setting the developments of history alongside Scripture as an equal authority means that it is not “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) that is the substance of our belief, but a continually developing, continually expanding body of teachings. To give another example, in 2008, several Roman Catholic cardinals asked the pope to “proclaim Mary as ‘the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race.’”[3]

The pope did not accept the proposal, but in the Roman Catholic model of tradition alongside revelation as an equal authority, there is nothing that would prevent its acceptance. But it would wholly undermine the New Testament proclamation that there is one mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus. Those who hold that the Marian dogmas are but a worship preference, or a different approach, a way of getting closer to God, must deal with the implications of them. Styling them in this way misses their significance, that is, the manner in which they detract from the person and work of Christ. They do not promote faith in the Son of God, rather they turn faith aside where God has not put the focus.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II (United States Catholic Conference: Washington, DC, 2000), 26.

[2] Munificentissimus Deus (

[3] “Cardinals Hoping for a 5th Marian Dogma,”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *