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Looking Back In The Lutheran Spokesman

From July 1968

* ROME AND ECUMENISM . . . Marian Piety. Calling upon Mary and putting our trust in her ability to hear and help is part of Rome’s system of calling upon departed saints as helpers and intercessors. It reminds one very much of the mythology of the Roman world which had its patron gods and goddesses. So Rome has its patron Saints, and Mary is the queen of all of them and also of the angels. A queen reigning in heaven is a pagan thought. In a radio address entitled “The Madonna of the World” delivered by the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen on February 4, 1951, it is said that Hindus, Buddhists, and pagans in general can say “Hail Mary” because they believe in an ideal woman and that “Mary is among them preparing them for grace”; also that in all lands where there is an ideal woman, or where virgins are venerated, or where one lady is set above all ladies, the ground is fertile for accepting the woman as the prelude to embracing Christ. — “She is the fertile soil from which in God’s appointed time, the faith will bloom and flourish in the East.” This raises many a thought as to how the cult of saints and of Mary got into Rome.

Was it an adaptation and modification of pagan mythology under the guise of Christian names? Luther says: “Under the papacy we too have made gods for ourselves. We have heaped up gross idolatry in connection with departed saints and filled everything up with it. One honors St. Erasmus, so that he may give him money and goods. Another honors St. Margaret, as the helper of women in travail, another St. Christopher as the helper of the dying, and the Virgin Mary is honored by everyone as mediatrix and a helper in every need. So faith, reliance, confidence, and trust is given to another and not to the true God.”

One thing is certain and that is that the cult of patron saints and of Mary did not come from the Word of God. It does not say that the departed can hear us or help us. It nowhere advocates calling on them or even on angels. It teaches that Christ Jesus is the only Mediator and Advocate between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5 and John 2:1-2). It does not teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary, proclaimed by the Pope in 1854. It rather says that she rejoiced in God her Savior, Luke 1:47, and so placed herself among the host of sinners whom the Son of God, conceived in her of the Holy Ghost, had come into the world to save. Nor does it contain the dogma of the Assumption of Mary proclaimed by Pius XII, Nov. 1, 1950, which says: “That she received at last the supreme culmination of her privileges — to be carried aloft body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, and there as Queen to be resplendent at the right hand of her very own Son, the immortal King of the ages (see 1 Timothy 1:17).”

The cult of the saints and of Mary that got into Rome in devious ways was well developed and established at the time of Luther. Luther was steeped in it, especially in his attitude toward Mary, whom he considered his throne of grace, while looking upon Christ as an angry judge. But what he says later on this point strikes a different note. He writes: “That is the foremost damage and injury, that with the deep veneration of the Mother of God, Christ’s honor and our knowledge of Him has been weakened; since we are called Christians because of Christ and should cling to Him alone and should be God’s children and heirs through Him. That Mary has great grace came not through her merits but through God’s mercy. We cannot all be mother of God, but otherwise she is like unto us and was in need of grace through the blood of Christ no less than we. For the mother is not born to us and does not help us from sin and death. Though she has borne this Little Child and Savior of the world, she herself is not the Child and the Savior. Therefore we must wean ourselves away from the mother and cling fast to the Child alone.”

But in the ecumenical movement Rome will cling fast to the mother as well as to its position on the unity of the church in one outward body under one visible head. Concerning Marian piety it seems strange that anyone should speak or even write about “Luther’s lifelong devotion to the Virgin Mary.” He honored her to the end, as do we, as the handmaiden of God through whom God brought His only-begotten Son into the world for our redemption, but not as an advocate, mediatrix, and helper and as an “associate of the Divine Redeemer.”

–Otto J. Eckert