The Mary of Roman Catholicism is a late 4th century novelty, utterly foreign to the Scriptures.

Semper Reformanda Radio recently produced five podcasts on the Roman Catholic view of Mary under the title Roman Catholics and their Queen. The purpose of this series of blog entries is simply to provide the data supporting those five episodes for listeners who would like to study the matter further on their own. Under each topic, we provide the Roman Catholic position and supporting data, and then provide countervailing evidence showing that the Roman Catholic position is actually a novelty.

The summary is simple: Roman Catholic beliefs about Mary originate not with the apostles or the Scriptures, but with novelties than can be traced, for the most part, to the latter part of the 4th century and beyond. For the first three centuries of Christianity, the Church believed as Protestants do today about Christ’s mother.

Episode 1: Queen Mary, Mother of God

Queen Mother

Roman Catholics teach that Mary, as mother of the King, enjoys powers, prerogatives, privileges and influence in that role, and is legitimately called the Queen Mother, with all the attendant royal honors.

  • The Roman Catholic support for this position comes from three basic premises:
    • Davidic Kings are identified along with their mothers in the historical record.
      • counterevidence:
      • Jehoram (2 Kings 8:16) and Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2) were both kings of the Davidic line, and yet were not identified with their mothers at their ascension
    • the term “Gebirah” is a term used of the Queen Mother of the Davidic line in the Old Testament, making Mary the permanent Gebirah.
      • counterevidence:
      • The term occurs only six times in the Old Testament, and four of those six refer to a woman who was not the the mother of a Davidic King:
      • one use refers to the wife of the King of Egypt (1 Kings 11:19); two uses refer to the grandmother of king Asa (1 Kings 15:13, 1 Chronicles 15:16); One use refers to Jezebel, the mother of a king of Israel (2 Kings 10:13, i.e., not a Davidic King)
      • Only two uses refer to the king’s mother in the Davidic line (Jeremiah 13:18, 29:2).
    • politically powerful women served in the royal court, and those women were the mothers of the presiding king. There are six such examples: Jezebel, Athaliah, Bathsheba, Maachah, Hamutal, Nehushta.
      • counterevidence:
      • Jezebel is dismissed from consideration because she was of the house of Israel not Judah (1 Kings 16:31, 2 Kings 10:13), and therefore was not the politically powerful mother of a Davidic King. Athaliah (2 Kings 8:26) is dismissed because her political power is manifested only after her son is dead, not during his reign (2 Kings 11:1-3). Neither would qualify as prefigurations of Mary.
      • The remaining four (Bathsheba, Maachah, Hamutal, Nehushta) are mothers of kings who were not the heirs apparent, but took the throne because of the influence of the mother
        1. Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, was not the next in line (1 Chronicles 3)
        2. Maacah’s son, Abijah, was not the next in line for the throne (2 Chr 11:18-23)
        3. Hamutal’s son Jehoahaz was not the next in line for the throne (2 Kings 23:31,36)
        4. Nehushta’s son, Jehoiachin, was not next in line to the throne (2 Kings 24:8-18, 2 Chr 36:9-11)
      • Since Jesus is the legitimate heir to the throne, and did not need His mother’s influence to secure the throne, none of these examples qualify as prefigurations of Mary.
  • In summary, we cite the conclusion of a Jewish scholar on the Gebirah in ancient Israel, based on the Old Testament record:
    • “These circumstances lead us to conclude that, as a rule, the gĕbîrâ or queen mother had no official political status in the kingdom, and the mere fact of her being a queen mother did not bestow upon her any official political status beyond the honor due to her by virtue of her position as mother. On the other hand, in those cases in which the gĕbîrâ did rise to a position of power in her son’s domain, we confront a purely individual occurrence which is the direct consequence of the woman’s character, ambition, and personal abilities. This highly circumscribed evidence can hardly be taken as testimony of the status and prerogatives of the gĕbîrâ. It points out the historical circumstances in which exceptional women were able to secure the royal succession for their sons, thereby themselves laying claim to a position of power in the realm.” (The Status and Right of the Gĕbîrâ: Zafrira Ben-Barak (Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 110, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 23-34))
  • Notably, in passages of Scripture where Mary appears to exercise power or prerogative in her relationship to Jesus, the Early Church took it as evidence of her sin, vaingloriousness and pride rather than evidence of her ostensible queenship. (See Mary’s Sinlessness, in episode 3). In any case, since the Assumption of Mary is considered the precursor to her coronation in heaven, and there is no evidence for the Assumption of Mary until after the 4th century (see The Assumption of Mary, in episode 5), we can safely place the origins of the queenship of Mary after the 4th century as well. The Early Church was completely unaware of it.

Mother of God

Roman Catholics teach that Mary, as mother of Jesus, is therefore to be addressed as Mother of God.

It should be stated first that there is an actual Greek term for Mother of God, “μήτηρα τοῦ Θεοῦ,” and second that the Early Church did not use the term. The title “Theotokos” (θεοτοκος) was deliberately chosen by the Early Church precisely because it avoided identifying Mary’s maternity with Christ’s divinity. Rather, early writers went out of their way to declare that in Christ’s divinity He was motherless. There is simply no logical means to get from the Early Church’s point A (“In Christ’s divinity He was motherless”) to Roman Catholicism’s point B (“Mary is the Mother of God”) without significant leaps and theological innovation. As we will demonstrate, that innovation occurred in the latter part of the 4th century.

  • The Roman Catholic support from the Early Church comes from the following five sources:
    • Papyrus 470 in the John Rylands Library, on which is found a prayer for the protection of the Theotokos. Based on the opinion of papyrologist Edgar Lobel, Roman Catholics place it in the 3rd century and consider it evidence for ante-Niceæn prayers to Mary (see The John Rylands Library (Manchester), Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri, Volume III, Theological and Literary Texts (Nos. 457-551), ed., C. H. Roberts, M.A. (Manchester University Press (1938) 46-47).
      • counterevidence:
      • It is true that Lobel was “unwilling to place [papyrus] 470 later than the third century,” but papyrologist C. H. Roberts, editor of the Catalogue, disagreed in the strongest terms: “…such individual hands are hard to date, and it is almost incredible that a prayer addressed directly to the Virgin in these terms could be written in the third century. The Virgin was spoken of as by Athanasius; but there is no evidence even for private prayer addressed to her (cf. Greg. Naz. Orat. xxiv. II) before the latter part of the fourth century, and I find it difficult to think that our text was written earlier than that” (John Rylands Library, Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri, Volume III, 46).
      • Other sources have it “mostly dated to after 450” A.D.. There is no compelling evidence placing it earlier than the latter part of the 4th century. Even esteemed Roman Catholic Mariologist, Juniper Carol, can only say that it “was written certainly before the close of the fourth century.”
    • Hippolytus (170 – 235 A.D) is said to have used the term Theotokos in his third century work, De Benedictionibus Patriarcharum.
      • counterevidence:
      • Roman Catholic scholars acknowledge that “the title Theotokos was an interpolation” in de Benedictionibus, and was not found in the original text (O’Carroll, Michael, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (The Liturgical Press, 1982) 172)
    • Origen (185 – 254 A.D.). It is reported by historian Socrates (5th century) that Origen used the term in his Commentary on Romans (Socrates, Ecclesiastical History, Book VII, chapter 32).
      • counterevidence:
      • There are no extant copies of Origen’s alleged Commentary on Romans. As the New World Encyclopedia states, Origen “is cited as the earliest author to use the title Theotokos for Mary but the text upon which this assertion is based is not genuine.”
    • Dionysius of Alexandia (d. 264 A.D.) is alleged to have used the term “ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Θεοῦ μου” (the Mother of my God) in his epistle Against Paul of Samosata.
      • counterevidence:
      • Even Roman Catholic apologists agree that Dionysius’ letter is a forgery from the late 4th century: “Subsequent criticism has proved that it [the epistle Against Paul of Samosata] is a forgery of the 4th century,” specifically a forgery of the Apollonarian era (The Witness of Heretical Bodies of Mariology (Dublin Review, No. XX, (London: Burnes, Oates & Co.) April 1868) 320-361), which “flourished in the latter half of the fourth century” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Apollonarianism). John Cardinal Newman, erstwhile Anglican turned Roman Catholic, also acknowledged that the letter ostensibly from Dionysius of Alexandria to Paul of Samosata is “certainly spurious” (Newman, Select Treatises of St. Athanasius, Volume 2).
  • Roman Catholic Mariologist, Fr. Michael O’Carroll, acknowledges “the first certain literary use of the title [Theotokos] is attributed to Alexander of Alexandria” in about 324-325 A.D., just before the Council of Nicæa (Fr. Michael O’Caroll, The History of the Term Theotókos). We concur with this. The problem for Roman Catholics is that Alexander used the term in a way that Protestants find entirely unobjectionable and that is completely incompatible with the Roman Catholic Latinization, “Mother of God.”
    • Alexander’s use of Theotokos occurs in his Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius in which he juxtaposes two terms—theogonias and theotokos—in order to distinguish between Jesus’ divine generation by His Father, and His reception of a body from Mary:
      • “…rational beings cannot receive the knowledge of His theogonias (θεογονιας, divine generation) by the Father. … our Lord Jesus Christ, who in very deed, and not in appearance merely, carried a body, of Mary, theotokos (θεοτοκου, bearer of God)” (Alexander of Alexandria, Epistles on Arianism and the Deposition of Arius, chapter 12).
      • Here Alexander uses Theogonias in contradistinction to Theotokos, separating the concept of Christ’s divine generation by His Father (θεογονιας), and His body carried in Mary’s womb (θεοτοκου).
    • By juxtaposing the two terms, Alexander effectively ruled out the later Latinization—”Dei Genitrix” or “Dei Mater” (Mother of God)—of the term “Theotokos.” Note that the terms “γονιας (gonias)” and “genitrix” are the Greek and Latin roots for the organs of generation in English (gonads, genitals). In other words, in regard to His divine generation, Jesus did not have a mother, but in regards to His flesh, He did. In saying it this way, Alexander avoided linking Christ’s divine generation to Mary’s physical motherhood. This is consistent with other early writers’ expressions:
      • Lactantius (250-325 A.D.): “For in His first nativity, which was spiritual, He was ‘motherless,’ because He was begotten by God the Father alone, without the office of a mother. But in His second, which was in the flesh, He was born of a virgin’s womb without the office of a father…” (Divine Institutes, Book IV, chapter 13,)
      • Eusebius (c. 333) used the term Θεοτοκου in his commentary on Psalm 110:3 (109:4), specifically, “ the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning… .” Commenting on this verse, Eusebius repeatedly emphasizes that the Psalm foresees the generation of Christ’s flesh in the womb of Mary by the Spirit, i.e., “της ενσαρκου γεννησεως” and “την ενσαρκον γεννησιν” (Migne, Patrologia Græca (P.G.), vol. 23, cols 1341-1344). The eternal generation of Christ by the Father is not in view.
      • Athanasius (c. 356 A.D.) “[The Scripture] contains a double account of the Saviour; that He was ever God, and is the Son, being the Father’s Word and Radiance and Wisdom; and that afterwards for us He took flesh of a Virgin, Mary, bearer of God (θεοτοκου), and was made man.” (Against the Arians, Discourse III, paragraph 29)
      • Augustine (354 – 450 A.D.),  “… without a mother He was God … . According as He was God, He had not a mother; … She was the mother, then, of His flesh, of His humanity… .”(Lectures on the Gospel of John, Lecture 8, paragraphs 8-9), paragraph)
    • Such statements as in His divine generation “He was motherless” and “without a mother” and “He had not a mother” are wholly irreconcilable with “Dei Genitrix,” “Mater Dei,” (Mother of God), the errant Latinization of Theotokos. When the early church used the term Θεοτοκου, it was in view of the generation of His flesh, not His divinity. Lactantius, Eusebius, Alexander, Athanasius and Augustine are consistent on that point, showing just how inappropriate it was to render the term as “Dei Genitrix” later in Latin.
    • That inappropriate Latin rendering of Theotokos (Dei Genitrix, Dei matre, Matrem Dei, etc.) does not actually manifest until the latter part of the 4th century and the early 5th:
      • Ambrose, de Virginibus (377 A.D.), Book II, paragraph 7: “Dei matre,” (Migne, Patrologia Latina (P.L.), vol. 16, col. 209)
      • John Cassian, de Incarnatione Christi (419 A.D.), Book II, chapter 2: “Matrem Dei,” (Migne, P.L., vol. 50, cols. 32, 35); “Dei mater” (cols. 36-37); Book II, chapter 5: “genitrix Dei,” “Dei matrem,”  (Migne, P.L., vol. 50, col. 44); Book II, chapter 6 “Dei matrem” (Migne, P.L., vol. 50, col. 46); Book VII, chapter 25: “Matrem Dei,”  (Migne, P.L., vol. 50, col. 254).
  • In sum, we do not object to the Early Church’s use of Theotokos, because the Early Church used it in order to avoid calling Mary the Mother of God. Roman Catholicism is ever eager to find early use of the Greek term θεοτοκος in order to justify the later incorrect Latinization, Dei Genitrix or Mater Dei. However, the earliest confirmed use of θεοτοκος is found in juxtaposition with θεογονιας, and is clearly used to distinguish between Jesus’ divine generation by His Father, and His reception of a body from Mary (as in Eusebius), isolating Mary’s maternity from Jesus’ divine generation. This is consistent with the Early Church’s belief and explicit statements that in His divinity, Jesus had no mother. The statement “in His divinity He was motherless” simply cannot be reconciled with the later Roman Catholic innovation, “Mother of God.” In fact, that actual term does not arise in Latin until the latter part of the 4th century, and Roman Catholic claims to have found the actual title “Mother of God” in Greek sources are based on a document that was later found to be a late 4th century forgery (Dionysius’ letter Against Paul of Samosata).

We hope this raw data will be of assistance to those evaluating and studying the unscriptural Roman Catholic view of Mary. We will continue this series with part 2, on Mary as “Ark of the New Covenant.”


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