Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Ancient Idolatry Clothed in Modern Attire

“The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and {they} pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me.” (Jeremiah 7:18)
“From the earliest ages of the catholic church a Christian people, whether in time of triumph or more especially in time of crisis, has addressed prayers of petition and hymns of praise and veneration to the Queen of Heaven. And never has that hope wavered which they placed in the Mother of the Divine King, Jesus Christ; nor has that faith ever failed by which we are taught that Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, reigns with a mother's solicitude over the entire world, just as she is crowned in heavenly blessedness with the glory of a Queen.”1
- Pope PIUS XII, 10/11/1954

I have never been a big fan of the Roman Catholic doctrine, adoration, and veneration of Mary, the mother of our Lord, but I must say that I was shocked recently when I was directed to the book of Jeremiah. In chapters seven and forty-four, Jeremiah points out the idolatry of Israel in their worship of a false god referred to as the queen of heaven. Realizing the inflammatory nature of pointing to this correlation between the pagan religion and the Roman Catholic Church’s view of Mary, let me first articulate what I am not saying today.

I am not saying that the Roman Catholic veneration of Mary is the same as the worship of the pagan goddess listed in the Bible. I think that it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that the goddess in view in the context of the Old Testament is most often referred to as Ashtoreth. Whereas Ashtoreth was a fertility goddess and her worshipers often included sex as a part of their ceremonies, those devoted to Mary are influenced more toward celibacy. Primarily due to this difference, I believe that for one to draw the conclusion that simply because the names are the same in both cases that therefore the object of adoration is the same, is not, I don’t think, warranted.

Having that out of the way, I think that the Roman Catholic doctrine and subsequent veneration of Mary is nothing less than idolatry, but I don’t believe that the same goddess is in view as the one worshipped by Israel and the surrounding nations. Even though Roman Catholics have been relentless in their attempts to de-idolatrize the specific acts of venerating saints and relics, but above all the veneration, or hyperdulia, of Mary, I am unable to see how the line that they draw actually makes this type of veneration not a form of idolatry.

Before that, however, Roman Catholics defend the use of this title for Mary because even though it was used to address a pagan goddess, the title “king of kings” was ascribed by Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar. But in the very same sentence that Daniel gives this title to the king of Babylon, he puts him underneath the God who gave him his power.
37 "You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; 38 and wherever the sons of men dwell, {or} the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given {them} into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. (Daniel 2:37,38a)

Daniel was not ascribing worship to Nebuchadnezzar, nor was he offering prayers or burning incense to him. He was interpreting the king’s dream, and in the context of this interpretation, Nebuchadnezzar is seen as the chief king of human kings while making it clear that he is compared to the One who gave him his power. Furthermore, even if the reference to a pagan deity did not bear the title of queen of heaven in Scripture, the justification of elevating anyone to the status of queen has no basis in Scripture. One example (the only one I could find) of proof texts given for this by Roman Catholic apologists provided Ephesians 2:12, Revelation 1:6 and 5:10 as the defense of the general queenship of Mary. But when you read them, these references say nothing about men and women being kings or queens (in fact, I have no idea what the relevance of Ephesians 2:12 is, look it up), but that we are a kingdom of priests. We are a kingdom of priests, not priests who are kings. The only other reference that seemed to be used to argue the Roman Catholic point that I could find is from Jesus’ words in Matthew 19,
And Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)

If this verse applies to all believers (as I tend to think that it does) and if it is not simply the apostles of Christ (as it may), then Mary would sit on a throne judging the tribes, perhaps the one right next to me. But this does not declare that those who sit on the thrones will be kings, but that they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel. We cannot and must not be sloppy or free-handed with our theology.

In one attempt to show the supposed absurdity of objections with the general idea of veneration (that are far more in scope than simply in applying to Mary) such as my own, things like the bronze serpent that Moses had made and the Cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant are brought up as examples of images used in a similar way as the Roman Catholic Church uses relics and upholds certain saints. The most compelling Scriptural argumentation in favor of the Roman view would be those that deal with the bronze serpent that Moses constructed so that the people could be healed from their present affliction.

Moses constructed this serpent at a time when the Israelites were complaining, yet again, about their food and their plight and complained against God and Moses. Because of this, God cursed them and sent venomous snakes into their camps to afflict them,
7 So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery {serpent,} and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:7-9)

God commanded Moses to construct an image and He commanded that if any Israelite were bitten by a snake that they could look up at this raised up image of the serpent and be healed. But whether it was the supernatural healing from snake bites by looking at the serpent or the supernatural passing-over by God’s killing of the first born because of the Lamb’s blood on the door of their homes in Egypt; the power of God that He displayed both in healing and preservation had no relation to anything intrinsically holy with the things themselves. And this was made even more clear by the fact that when the nation worshipped and burned incense to the statue instead of God who used the statue, it was destroyed with the Ashtoreth poles and other high places during Hezekiah’s purge (cf. 2 Kings 18:4).

Similar to the bronze serpent, any adoration or veneration of any relic, saint, or of Mary that draws any attention to the object or persons themselves and away from God in Christ is also idolatry. Was Mary blessed and honored to have been chosen to give birth to our Redeemer? Yes. Were Joseph and Mary especially blessed and chosen for their part in raising Jesus in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Yes. But does this elevate Mary to some queenly role in the heavenlies because of her own virtue and grace that her own suffering merited at the foot of the cross? No. And I say without any hesitation that this veneration, whether dulia or hyperdulia, is an idolatry and a heresy. Because it is simply, at its core, an elevation of a mere woman to a level that must be described as being at least goddess-like. This special veneration, or hyperdulia, of Mary as the Queen of Heaven (among other things) is not the exact equal of the pagan devotion to the queen of heaven as described in Isaiah, but it is an ancient idolatry clothed in modern attire.
“For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:25)

Mary is not the Queen of Heaven, nor is she the Spouse of the Holy Spirit as Roman Catholics like to refer to her. She is, as I am; a sinner made a saint by the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. She is no more a saint deserving of hyperdulia (or any dulia) than I am.

1 This statement was given at Rome, from St. Peter's, on the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the eleventh day of October, 1954, in the sixteenth year of Pius’ Pontificate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Num 21:7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.

The Holy Spirit as Tongues of Fire can bite you and kill you as in Ananius & Saphira or bring you Life as in tongues of fire at Pentecost. The Key is look at your sin as on the Cross and you will Live --- as the Serpent of sin is taken from you.
Shalom Reg

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