The Evolving Doctrine of Mary: A Response. Counter-Response, And Challenge

By John Salza, Catholic Apologist & Randy Blackaby, Gospel Preacher

(Below you will find a response to Randy Blackaby's "The Evolving Doctrine of Mary: A Case Study in the Progress of Error," which was published in the September 2005 edition of this magazine (to read, click here). The response, written by John Salza, who dubs himself a "Catholic Apologist, Author and Creator of," is reproduced as it was received (the only change made was formatting). When you finish reading Mr. Salza's response, you may click on the link at the bottom of that page to read Randy's follow-up and debate challenge. —the editor)

Dear Mr. Blackaby:

I found your article "The Evolving Doctrine of Mary" on the internet and noticed that it contains many erroneous assumptions and conclusions regarding the Catholic Church's teaching on Marian doctrines. I have critiqued your article below and will be posting the critique on a number of Catholic websites including I wanted to notify you in advance. Should you wish to discuss, please send me an email.

John Salza

(Incidentally, I made several trips to Mr. Salza's web site, but was never able to find a posting of his response to Blackaby. If it is there, I would appreciate someone providing me with the link. The following format is Mr. Salza's. In order to make it a little easier to follow, I added some color and separated what Blackaby and Salza had to say by separate paragraphs, that's all. —the editor)

R. Blackaby: Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most interesting and important women found in Scripture.

J. Salza: While the Bible is full of many "interesting and important women," Mary is THE most important of them all. Who could be more important than the woman who gave flesh to the Word of God? Mr. Blackaby begins his article by downplaying the greatest human being God ever created.

R. Blackaby:The Bible describes her magnificent faith from the time she becomes pregnant until she stands at the foot of the cross. Hers is a compelling story. But Catholicism has developed the story of Mary over the centuries until today she is called sinless, “ the gate of heaven,” and the mediatress between God and man.

J. Salza: No where does the Catholic Church teach that Mary is the "mediatress between God and man." The Catholic Church teaches that there is "only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus who gave Himself as a ransom for many" (1 Tim 2:5). You notice right away that Mr. Blackaby makes accusations about Mary as "mediatress" (a word he evidently made up) without substantiating his accusations with references to Catholic teaching. Nevertheless, the Church and the Scriptures teach us that we can ask Mary and the saints to pray for us by virtue of the mediation of Christ, just like we ask each other to do so, because "the prayers of the righteous are powerful indeed" (Jm 5:16). That makes all of us "mediators" in the one mediator, Jesus Christ. This is why, for example, Scripture teaches that the saints mediate on our behalf in heaven by responding to the prayers of those on earth (Apoc 6:9-11; 5:8; 8-3-4).

R. Blackaby:How did she evolve from the very holy woman of the Bible to a sinless, undying female mediator through whom men can approach God? The answer may help us understand how all error progresses. Let’s start with reality. The story of Mary is a marvelous one. As a virgin she conceived the Christ child through the Holy Spirit, as prophesied 700 years before (Luke Isaiah 7:14). This woman was God’s instrument for bringing Jesus into the world in the flesh. Her strength is evidenced in the things she endured. Her story needs no mythological additions to make it wondrous, inspiring and faith-building. But the fact that additions aren’t needed doesn’t prevent men from creating “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:1-4).

J. Salza: Mr. Blackaby intimates that the Catholic Church's 2,000 year-old tradition regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary is nothing but "mythological additions," but does not provide any support for his novel opinions about Mary, other than his own private interpretation of Scripture (the same Scriptures the Catholic Church gave him). Let's see who is really advancing "mythological additions" as we proceed with this critique.

Fable Of The Immaculate Conception

R. Blackaby:Many presume the term “ immaculate conception” refers to the fact Jesus was born without sin. But that is not the case. Catholic doctrine teaches Mary was born without sin. “When we say that Mary was conceived without sin we mean that from the very first moment of her existence she was free from original sin, she was full of grace” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, page 17).

J. Salza: This is an accurate statement of Catholic teaching, but if Mr. Blackaby is going to cite from an authority, he should quote the official teachings of the Catholic Church (from the popes and the Magisterium). He should not rely on obscure books written by unidentified authors. While I have not read the book from which Mr. Blackaby cites throughout this article, it does not represent official Catholic teaching, that is, teaching issued by the Church's Magisterium. Perhaps Mr. Blackaby doesn't wish to cite Magisterial documents because he has an agenda, and has found a resource to support his pet theories. We shall see.

R. Blackaby:We’re exploring how error evolves. So, did you catch in the Catholic explanation above about why they came to believe she was born without sin? It’s because they believe another errorthe idea that men are born in sin or inherit the sin of Adam through their parents.

J. Salza: This shows just how little Mr. Blackaby knows about Christianity. If people were not born into the sin of Adam, we would not need a Savior! St. Paul says that "through one man sin entered the world" (Rom 5:12). Paul further says "we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Eph 2:3). David says & quot;Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps 51:5). Job says "Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble…Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one" (Job 14:1,4). These Scriptures clearly teach that sin is part of our lives from the moment of conception. Mr. Blackaby probably subscribes to the erroneous belief that sin is only manifested when a person reaches the age of reason. But the Scriptures and the 2,000 year-old teaching tradition of the Church on original sin say nothing of the sort.

R. Blackaby:But the birth and sinless nature of Jesus cast the doctrine of inherited depravity in grave doubt.

J. Salza: Wait a minute. What is the doctrine of "inherited depravity"? Mr. Blackaby seems to be making up the doctrines as he goes along. The Church has never defined the doctrine of original sin as "inherited depravity." Such a description is more synonymous with the Protestant teachings of John Calvin. This shows just how much Protestants get their wires crossed when they venture out and interpret the Scriptures without the divine guidance of the Church.

R. Blackaby:If babies inherit the sinful nature of their parents, how did Jesus come to be born without sin? Why didn’t he “catch” or otherwise “pick up” all the sins of his ancestors through Mary?

J. Salza: Mr. Blackaby is now implicitly recognizing the legitimacy of the doctrine of original sin and why God effected the Immaculate Conception - because, as Job says, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one" (Job. 14:4). Jesus was born without sin because Mary was without sin, according to the will of God. Mr. Blackaby is simply begging the question, not refuting the conclusion. Surely, Mr. Blackaby is not going to argue that God couldn't create Mary without sin, is he? And is Mr. Blackaby really going to argue that God the Father would let the finger of Satan touch His Son in the womb of Mary? Mr. Blackaby later accuses the Church of blasphemy, but if Mr. Blackaby is going to advance such an argument about Jesus and Mary, then I can think of nothing more blasphemous than Mr. Blackaby's heretical theology.

R. Blackaby:So, Catholic scholars faced a choice. Repudiate the false notion of inherited sin or create an answer to the dilemma. They chose the latter route. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared Mary had been born without sin. Thus, they explained Jesus’ sinless nature and held on to the doctrine of inherited sin.

J. Salza: That is not at all the way things occurred. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not "created" to "answer" any "dilemma." The doctrine was always believed by a consensus of the Church Fathers, doctors, saints, medievals and popes since the birth of the Church on Pentecost Sunday. If Mr. Blackaby disagrees, then have him produce just one quote from the first five centuries of the Church that denied Mary was sinless. It was in the face of Protestant dissenters (like the likes of Mr. Blackaby) that Pius IX decided to dogmatize what the Church had believed for the previous 1800 years. As the loving father and shepherd of the universal Church that he was, Pius IX issued Ineffabilis Deus to spare his children from the confusion brought about by the heretical teachings of Protestant exegetes.

The belief in the Immaculate Conceptions goes all the way back to the Scriptures themselves. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he did not call her "Mary." He called her "full of grace" (in Greek, kecharitomene)(Lk 1:43). The word kecharitomene means that Mary received a complete and perfect endowment of grace from God. This perfect endowment occurred at Mary's Immaculate Conception, when she was created by God without sin. Only one other person in Scripture is described as "full of grace," and that person is Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

To demonstrate the perennial belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary, here are some quotes from the early Church fathers from the first five centuries of the Catholic Church:

He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption." Hippolytus, Orations Inillud, Dominus pascit me (ante A.D. 235).

"This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one." Origen, Homily 1 (A.D. 244).

"Let woman praise Her, the pure Mary. " Ephraim, Hymns on the Nativity, 15:23 (A.D. 370).

"Thou alone and thy Mother are in all things fair, there is no flaw in thee and no stain in thy Mother." Ephraem, Nisibene Hymns, 27:8 (A.D. 3 70).

"O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides." Athanasius, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin, 71:2 16 (ante AD 373).

"Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a Virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain of sin." Ambrose, Sermon 22:30 (A.D. 388).

"We must except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin." Augustine, Nature and Grace,4 2[36] (A.D.415).

"As he formed her without any stain of her own, so He proceeded from her contracting no stain." Proclus of Constantinople, Homily 1 (ante A.D. 446).

"A virgin, innocent, spotless, free of all defect, untouched, unsullied, holy in soul and body, like a lily sprouting among thorns." Theodotus of Ancrya, Homily VI:11(ante A.D. 446).

"The angel took not the Virgin from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged from Joseph, but gave her to Christ, to whom she was pledged in the womb, when she was made." ; Peter Chrysologus, Sermon 140 (A. D. 449).

"[T]he very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary, if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary." Jacob of Sarug (ante A.D. 521).

R. Blackaby:But it makes one wonder. If Mary was sinless, why did she say, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” (Luke 1:47-48)? Describing someone as your savior implies the need for salvation. Mary must have recognized she had sinned.

J. Salza: This shows just how little Mr. Blackaby understands about the Immaculate Conception. If Mr. Blackaby would have actually read the document he previously cited (Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus), he would not have to "wonder" any longer. Pius IX stated that Mary was granted this "singular privilege and grace by God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race." That is, the merits of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross were applied in advance to Mary. Just as God applied the merits of Christ's sacrifice to the Old Testament saints before Christ died on the cross, He did the same with Mary (only at the moment of her conception, not death). The only difference between us and Mary is that Mary was created and redeemed at the same time. The Scriptures are full of examples where God consecrates people in the womb to perform His divine work (Jer 1:5; Lk 1:41; Rom 9:9-12).

Therefore, Mary needed a Savior every bit as much as we do. That is why Mary rejoices in God her Savior. Mary's statement doesn't prove that she thought or knew she had sin. Mary's statement simply demonstrates that she knew she needed a Savior like everyone else. "It makes me wonder" how Mr. Blackaby can critique Catholic teaching with an internet article when he knows precious little about it.

Fable Of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

R. Blackaby:The Bible clearly states that Mary was a virgin who had never known a man sexually from the time she conceived until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18, 23-25; Luke 1:26-35). Thus, the birth of Jesus was absolutely unique. The manner of his birth helps depict the two-fold nature of our Lord, being man and God at once. But why would the Catholic church contend that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life on earth? They contend she never had sexual relations with a man or had any other children. To quote their approved writings, “It is Catholic faith that Mary was a virgin before the divine birth; during it; and after it— Our Lady never had any other children” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 14).

J. Salza: Once again, Mary's perpetual virginity has been believed by the Church for 2,000 years. Why? Because Mary is the Immaculate Ark of the New Covenant, as we just saw Athanasius say in 37 3 A.D. If Mr. Blackaby has read the Bible, he would know that the ark of the Old Covenant was, for the Jews, the most sacred article of religious worship. It contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron's rod that budded, and the manna from heaven. The ark was made of the purest gold (Ex 25:11-21), and the Jews celebrated its presence with veneration, vestments and songs (see 1 Chron 15-16). In fact, the ark was so holy that when Uzzah put his hand on it to prevent it from tipping over during a journey, God killed Uzzah for touching it (2 Sam 6:7; 1 Chron 13:9-10). God even slew some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they looked into the ark (1 Sam 6:19).

How is this relevant to Mary? Because the sacred writers teach that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, for the Old ark contained the written word, but Mary contained the Word made flesh. For example, the word "overshadow," which the angel Gabriel used to describe Mary's conception of Jesus, is the same word (in Greek,episkiasei) used to describe God's glory cloud "overshadowing" the ark of the Old Covenant (Ex 24:15-16; 40:34-38; 1 Kg 8:10-11; Job 14:4; 2 Mac 2:4-8). Mary was overshadowed by God's shekinah (glory cloud) and became the "Holy of Holies" of the New Covenant, pure and undefiled.

Luke makes direct comparisons between Elizabeth's greeting of Mary and David's greeting of the ark of the Old Covenant as described in the book of Samuel. For example,

  • In 2 Sam 6:2, David "arose and went& quot; to bring out the ark; in Lk 1:39, Mary "arose and went" to greet Elizabeth.
  • In 2 Sam 6:9, David says "how can the ark of the Lord come to me?"; in Lk 1:43, Elizabeth says "how can the mother of my Lord come to me?"
  • In 2 Sam 6:16, David leaps for joy before the ark; in Luke 1:41, John the Baptist leaps for joy before Mary.
  • In 2 Sam 6:11, the ark remains in the house for three months; in Luke 1:43, Mary remains in the house for three months.

Finally, John in the Apocalypse also makes a direct connection between the ark of the Old Covenant and Mary. When John received his apocalyptic revelations, the Jews had not seen the ark of the covenant, their center of worship, for six centuries. In Apocalypse 11:19, John tells the Jews that he has finally seen the long, lost ark. However, instead of describing to the Jews all the gory details, he, in the very next verse, describes the "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Apoc 12:1). Why would he do such a thing, when the Jews would have been begging John to tell them about the ark? Because John is emphasizing to them and to us that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, and is worthy of veneration and praise even more so than the old ark. Mr. Blackaby passed right over all of this in his efforts to accuse Mary, the undefiled Ark of God, of sin.

R. Blackaby:Like our first fable, this one is rooted in yet another false premise. The Catholic church teaches that abstinence from marriage and sexuality is a superior position spiritually. This is why priests, nuns and other church leaders take vows of celibacy.

J. Salza: I don't know what Bible Mr. Blackaby reads, but St. Paul teaches the same thing. Paul says "it is better for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor 7:1), and wishes that everyone were celibate like him (1 Cor 7:7). Paul teaches that marriage can introduce worldly temptations that can interfere with one's relationship with God (1 Cor 7:28). In fact, Paul says just the opposite of what Mr. Blackaby is advocating when he says: "So that he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Cor 7:38). Again, Mr. Blackaby is way off the mark.

R. Blackaby:But to maintain their doctrine on celibacy, the myth about Mary’s perpetual virginity runs headlong into conflict with the Bible. The Bible only declares that Joseph did not know his wife sexually “till she had brought forth her firstborn son 221; (Matthew 1:24-25).

J. Salza: If Mr. Blackaby is referring to the word "till" as implying that Mary had relations in the future, Mr. Blackaby has shown that he doesn't have a sound understanding of biblical Greek. The word "till" (from the Greek, heos hou) is an action that only describes the past, never the future. He knew her " not until" she bore a son means that he knew her "not up to the point that" she bore a son. The phrase has nothing to do with Joseph's relationship with Mary after she bore her son.

For example, Jesus says "Truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished" (Mt 5:18). This doesn't mean that after heaven and earth pass away, all will no longer be accomplished. When Jesus says He will be with us "until the end of the world" (Mt 28:19), this doesn't mean that He will no longer be with us after the end of the world. Luke says that Anna was a widow "until" she was eighty-four (Luke 2:37 ). This does not mean that Anna was not a widow after she was eighty-four. There are many other examples of this in the Old Testament as well (Gen 8:7; 28:15; 2 Sam 6:23).

If Mr. Blackaby is referring to the phrase "firstborn son," this phrase was a common Jewish expression to mean "the first child to open the womb." See Exodus 13:2,12. Under the Mosaic law, the "firstborn son" had to be sanctified (Ex 34:20). "Firstborn" status does not require a  "second born" because the term has nothing to do with the mother having other children. As Ezekiel prophesied: "This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; therefore, it shall remain shut" (Ezek 44:2).

R. Blackaby:Jesus is declared to have had brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3; Matthew 12:46-50; Acts 1:14).

J. Salza: Again, this is quite an element aryapologia and demonstrates Mr. Blackaby's lack of proficiency in Koine Greek. First, note that none of these verses ever say that Jesus' "brothers and sisters" are children of the Virgin Mary. Second, throughout Scripture, cousins are called "brothers" (in Greek, adelphoi) because there is no word for "cousin" in Hebrew or Aramaic. For example, in the book of Genesis we see that Lot is Abraham's nephew (Gen 11:26 -27), but later we see that Lot is also described as Abraham's "brother" (Gen 13:8; 14:14,16). Laban calls Jacob his "brother" even though Jacob is his nephew (Gen 29:15). Scripture also shows that "brothers" can refer to those not even related by blood, such as a friend (2 Sam 1:26; 1 Kg 9:13; 20:32) or an ally (Amos 1:9). I have also demonstrated in my book and on my website that the "James and Joseph" of Mark 6:3 are Jesus' cousins, not his biological brothers.

R. Blackaby:And Hebrews 13:4 declares that marriage is honorable, including the sexual component ("the bed").

J. Salza: Once again, in the typical Protestant fashion, Mr. Blackaby selectively chooses certain Bible verses from which he then forms overall theological conclusions. This is no way to exegete Scripture.  If Mr. Blackaby found a verse that says Mary had relations with her husband, he would have something. But since the Bible never teaches such a thing, he is required to build a case by eisegeting passages that have nothing to do with Mary. His approach is quite elementary and can be easily refuted.

R. Blackaby:The Apostle Paul taught that husbands and wives should not deprive or defraud one another of the sexual component of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) and the sexual union is a part of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” (Matthew 19:5-6).

J. Salza: Actually, Paul opens up this teaching on marriage by saying in the first verse "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor 7:1), which rebuts the whole thrust of Mr. Blackaby's argument. It is only to avoid "sexual immorality" that Paul encourages sexual relations (1 Cor 7:2). Paul is clearly teaching that the greater good is abstinence for the kingdom, but he is also rebutting those in the early Church who believed that sexual relations were evil (v.28). If a married couple would be led into sin because of their sexual drives, Paul teaches them not to deprive each other unless by mutual agreement. These are general teachings about living a chaste marriage, and have nothing at all to do with the Blessed Virgin Mary. (Since Matthew 19:5-6 has nothing to do with the teachings of Paul as Mr. Blackaby suggests, I will provide no comment on it, other than to say that it, too, has nothing to do with Mary either.)

R. Blackaby:It is interesting that the Catholic church will “annul” a marriage and say it never really existed if it isn’t sexually “consummated.” Did Mary’s marriage to Joseph never really exist?

J. Salza: Once again, Mr. Blackaby doesn't understand Catholic teaching, even though he pretends he does. The Church does not teach that marriage must be consummated in order to be valid. It only teaches that a consummated marriage cannot be dissolved since the couple has been joined together in a one flesh union (now we can go to Mt 19:5-6). The Church teaches that marriage is an exchange of rights to the acts proper to the procreation of children, but couples can choose to forgo these rights for the sake of the kingdom of God. This is precisely what Mary and Joseph did, so that their marriage would be entirely devoted to the service of the Incarnation.

R. Blackaby:What a tangled web is weaved when error is compounded by more error. But that is the nature of the evolution of false teaching.

J. Salza: The only thing that is "tangled" up is Mr. Blackaby's exegesis of Scripture and his understanding of Catholic theology. It is no wonder why he fails to provide any support for his conclusions from the patristics, medievals, or popes. His private judgment theology is the only "error that is compounded by more error."

Fable Of The Assumption Of Mary Into Heaven

R. Blackaby:Some books call this the “great assumption.” That’s a pretty good description. This Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary never died but was taken directly to heaven like Enoch and Elijah. “When the course of our Lady’s life on earth was ended she was taken up body and soul into heaven” ( Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 34).

J. Salza: Nota bene - Unlike what Mr. Blackaby just advanced, the Catholic doctrine does not teach that "Mary never died." The fact is that the doctrine doesn't say whether Mary died or not. Mr. Blackaby obviously does not  read the papal documents he feigns to read. Even the book from which Mr. Blackaby quotes accurately sets forth the Church's teaching by saying "when the course of our Lady's life on earth was ended," but it doesn't say that "Mary never died." If Mr. Blackaby can't even properly articulate Catholic dogma, then why should we believe any of his conclusions regarding that dogma?

R. Blackaby:The Bible says absolutely nothing about Mary after reporting her and Jesus’ brothers assembling with the disciples after the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14). So, why did Catholics feel a need to create this doctrine?

J. Salza: Perhaps Mr. Blackaby can show us where "The Bible has to say something" in order for that something to be true. This is quite an "assumption" (pun intended) on Mr. Blackaby's part. The Bible "says absolutely nothing about" the canon of Scripture, and yet Mr. Blackaby believes that the 27 books of the New Testament are divinely inspired. In fact, the Bible "says absolutely nothing about" a lot of things that Mr. Blackaby believes regarding the Trinity and Christology, but when in comes to Mary, it must be in the Bible for it to be true. This shows that Mr. Blackaby operates in a world of his ow n making, one that is based on theological relavistism.

R. Blackaby:Remember, error leads to error. Remember how the doctrine of original sin led to the development of the doctrine of immaculate conception? That doctrine didn’t end the problems Catholics had with the idea that men inherit sin from their forefathers.

J. Salza: I have already addressed these erroneous and unsubstantiated contentions with quotes from Scripture and the early Church fathers. And yes, Mr. Blackaby, "error leads to error," which is why every one of your false premises lead to false conclusions.

R. Blackaby:By declaring Mary sinless, they created a new dilemma. Everyone who has read the book of Romans knows the Bible declares “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). But, wait a minute. If Mary had no sin, why would she die? Why would she receive the wages of a sinner when she hadn’t earned them?

J. Salza: Notice how Mr. Blackaby assumes Mary died, even though the Church never said that she did. Mr. Blackaby is creating a straw man so that he can knock it down in order to appear like he knows what he is talking about. But this shouldn't fool anyone. Nevertheless, let's play along and assume Mary died. This poses no problem for Paul's statement about the wages of sin being death.

First, as an aside, Paul's statement "the wages of sin is death" is intended to encapsulate the five previous chapters concerning his teaching on justification, not whether Mary died or not. Paul is teaching that, if the Romans were to base their relationship with God on their own natural powers and not grace, they would be condemend, just like the Jews were condemning themselves under their continued observance of the Mosaic law. That is, if the Romans were trying to "earn" their salvation from God, the "wages" from such efforts would lead to death (see also Rom 4:4). This is why Paul follows up his statement with "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23). This is also why Paul repeatedly teaches the Romans that they are "justified by faith, and not works of the law" (Rom 3:20,28). Paul was teaching the distinction between law versus grace, which is the key paradigm on his teaching of justification. In a system of law, we try to "earn" our salvation with "wages" that lead to death. But in a system of grace, salvation is a "free gift" which leads to eternal life. Paul's teaching has nothing to do with whether or not the Blessed Virgin Mary died.

Second, Jesus and Mary, even though they were sinless, still inherited the defects of the body, to the extent these defects were not inconsistent with their perfection of grace (this is the teaching of the angelic doctor, Thomas Aquinas). For example, Jesus and Mary had hunger, thirst, and fatigue. These were defects of their human natures that were brought into the world by Adam. These defects are to be distinguished from other defects such as proneness toward evil and difficulty in doing good. Neither Jesus nor Mary suffered from these kinds of defects because they would be inconsistent with their perfection of grace. Thus, if Mary did die, which would be the natural consequence of her human nature, her death cannot be attributed to her having any sin on her soul.

R. Blackaby:Catholic doctrine had created a clear conflict. So, the choice was to repudiate the doctrines of the immaculate conception and original sin or “fix” the conflict with an explanation. Catholics chose the latter course. In 1950, the year before I was born, it became official Catholic dogma that Mary didn’t die.

J. Salza: Again, notwithstanding his 56 years of wisdom, Mr. Blackaby plainly shows his ignorance of Catholic teaching. Pius XII's dogmatic teaching in M unificentissimus Deus on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary does not say that "Mary didn't die." Mr. Blackaby is showing the world that he does not comprehend the teachings of the Catholic Church, even though he is using the internet to convince you otherwise. "Error leads to error" indeed.

Fable Of Mary As Mediatress Or Mediatrix

R. Blackaby:If Mary was sinless and went straight to heaven without facing the judgment of our Lord, she certainly would be greater than the mighty lawgiver of old, Moses. She would be greater than Abraham, the model of faith. So, where does her “assumption” lead?

J. Salza: Yes, I would certainly agree that Mary is greater than Moses and Abraham - combined. Mary is greater because God chose her to bring the Son of God into the world. While Moses brought into the world the Word on tablets, Mary brought into the world the Word made flesh. And although Abraham was an ancestor of Jesus (2,000 years removed), Mary was Jesus' mother. Who, dear reader, do you think is greater?

R. Blackaby:We really see how error evolves into complete and total blasphemy now. The Catholic church calls Mary a mediatress or mediatrix (feminine form of mediator). “The name mediatress is given her insofar as she exercises this influence in heaven” (MaryR 12;Doctrine for Everyman, p. 40). This is problematic because the Apostle Paul said, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If Mary is a mediator, that makes “two” of them.

J. Salza: As we have already stated, Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and man. But that does not preclude Jesus from applying His role as mediator anyway He sees fit. In fact, right before Paul says that "Jesus is the one mediator" (1 Tim 2:5), Paul appeals for mediation from others besides Christ, by urging that "supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men" (1 Tim 2:1). How can Paul appeal to mediation from others if Jesus is our only mediator? Because, as St. Paul answers, "this is good, and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:3-4). Therefore, although Jesus is our one mediator, He has charged us to be intercessors, or subordinate mediators with Him. We are able to do this by virtue of our baptismal priesthood.

This is why Paul can say "I complete in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church (Col 1:24). Was anything lacking in Christ's sufferings? Of course not. Paul is teaching us that God invites us to participate in the work of Jesus Christ, whether it be through intercession, suffering, works of charity and so forth. God is not threatened by the great glory and responsibility He gives His children. Indeed, the God that is worshiped in the Catholic Church is a loving Father who is intimately involved with His children and who invites their participation, just as earthly fathers do for their children.

R. Blackaby:So, the Catholic church had a choice. Back away from this doctrine or develop it further. They chose the latter.

J. Salza: What "developments" is Mr. Blackaby referring to, anyway? He cites no documents. Nevertheless, the Scriptural basis for saintly intercession is clear. How much more evidence does Mr. Blackaby desire?

R. Blackaby:Calling her the “mother of God,” they also described her as the “gate of heaven” because, they say, no one can enter the blessed kingdom without passing through her.

J. Salza: Wait another minute. Elizabeth calls Mary "the mother of God" when she says: "How can the mother of my Lord (Greek: kuriou; Heb: Adonai; Latin Vulgate: Domini) come to me?" (Lk 1:43). Is Mr. Blackaby criticizing the words that Elizabeth chose when she greeted Mary? This is troubling indeed, since both Elizabeth's declaration and Luke's recording of same were inspired by the Holy Ghost. Also, where, Mr. Blackaby, does the Church teach that "no one can enter the blessed kingdom without passing through her [Mary]?"

R. Blackaby:So, Catholics pray to Mary. They claim that Jesus, as judge, is too harsh, but that Mary will not refuse anyone. Wow! That makes Mary sound more full of grace and mercy than even our Lord. And he’s the one who died for our sins on the cross.

J. Salza: When anti-Catholics make such sweeping statements about the teachings of the Church, we must take them to task. Tell us, Mr. Blackaby, where the Catholic Church teaches that "Jesus, as judge, is too harsh, but that Mary will not refuse anyone"? Can you refer me to a specific papal or conciliar teaching? A paragraph in the catechism perhaps? Or any book at all with a Catholic imprimatur? The Catholic Church teaches no such thing. But Mr. Blackaby has demonstrated that he really doesn't know, or perhaps doesn't even care, what the Church really teaches. He is a man on a mission, and that is to denigrate the Church that Jesus Christ has built upon the rock of Peter (Mt 16:18-19), the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

R. Blackaby:Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God “in my name” (John 14:13-14). Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter preached as the church first began, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He was speaking of Jesus, not Mary.

J. Salza: We have no disagreement here. Mary is not our Savior. Jesus Christ is our Savior. The foregoing passages have nothing to do with Mary, nor do they take away from Mary's uniqueness as the Mother of God, the Ark of the Covenant, and the woman "full of grace."

R. Blackaby:Jesus declared that “all power” had been given to him “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). That wouldn’t leave any for Mary.

J. Salza: Just because the Father gave "all power" to Jesus, this does not mean that Jesus cannot share it with others. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus does share it with others. He confers upon His apostles the authority to forgive and retain sins (John 20:23); He gives Peter the keys of authority over the Church and the power to bind and loose (Mt 16:18-19); He also gives the other apostles the authority to bind and loose (Mt. 18:18); He gives the priests of the Church the authority to anoint the sick and forgive their sins (Jm 5:14-15); He gives baptized Christians the authority to suffer redemptively (Col 1:24); He gives the apostles the power to confect the Eucharist (Mt 26:26-28); He gives Christians the power to intercede for others (all kinds of examples in the writings of Paul, James and John). Again, Mr. Blackaby, if God is not threatened by the power He gives His children, you shouldn't be either.

R. Blackaby:So, the Catholic church had a choice. It could repudiate this error and worship Jesus as Lord and only mediator, or it could develop this doctrine further. It chose to develop its error.

J. Salza: I don't know how long Mr. Blackaby's "Bible Christian" sect has been around, but the Catholic Church, for 2,000 years, has been worshiping Jesus Christ as its only Lord and Savior. The only "error" that this critique has demonstrated is the error of Mr. Blackaby's approach to Sacred Scripture.

R. Blackaby:And that latter course is pure blasphemy, assuming for Mary the prerogatives of deity. In the same Catholic document previously quoted, it reads, “All power is given to thee ( Maryrb) in heaven and on earth” and “at the command of Mary all obey— even God.” What? Even God obeys Mary?

J. Salza: If the Catholic Church actually taught what Mr. Blackaby believes she teaches (that we worship Mary), then such teaching would be blasphemous indeed. But as we have seen, the only thing that is blasphemous in this dialogue is Mr. Blackaby's unfounded and unsubstantiated allegation that we worship Mary as God. This is the product of Mr. Blackaby's fallacious hermeneutic, faulty biblical exegesis and unfamiliarity with the early Church fathers, not to mention his evident prejudice against the Catholic Church. When people try to interpret the Scriptures outside of the living Tradition of the Church who gave us them, they end up "twisting the Scriptures to their own destruction" (2 Pet 3:16).

R. Blackaby:“The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name…above every other name, that at thy name, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,” says the same Catholic document.

J. Salza: Again, another quote from the unknown. What Catholic document? Mr. Blackaby doesn't say. But I can assure you, whatever "Catholic document" Mr. Blackaby is quoting from, it i s not from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Yes, the Blessed Trinity gave Mary a unique name ("full of grace";kecharitomene), but no, "Jesus" is the name above every other name. Mr. Blackaby has yet to prove any of his contentions in this article.

R. Blackaby:All that leaves a Bible believer with mouth agape.

J. Salza: What leaves my mouth "agape" is the lack of "agape" that Mr. Blackaby has for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Why Opposing Error Is So Important

R. Blackaby:Perhaps you are seeing not only the errors of Catholicism about Mary but the more important issue—how error evolves into monstrous and blasphemous false doctrine that totally repudiates the teaching of Scripture and elevates the human to the level of divinity. Beginning with the doctrine of original sin, the myths and fables about Mary have grown until now she is viewed as sinless and virtually equal with Jesus. There has been a move afoot for several years now to declare her a co-mediator with Christ. Her supposed assumption into heaven and associated doctrines make her equal in glory with Jesus and her declared mediation makes it seem she actually has greater influence than the Lord himself. This article has explored the development of one area of false doctrine in one human denomination. But the principle applies in the Lord’s church as well. If we teach and believe error and then refuse to repent when it obviously conflicts with the clear teaching of scripture, then we can expect the error to evolve into much more egregious error.

J. Salza: Mr. Blackaby ends the article the same way he began the article and the same way he argued throughout the article - making unsubstantiated claims about what the Catholic Church teaches, all of which are utterly false. Mr. Blackaby closes his article by stating that the Church raises Mary "to the level of divinity"; that Mary is "virtually equal to Jesus"; that Mary is "equal in glory with Jesus"; and that Mary may even have "greater influence than the Lord himself." Yet Mr. Blackaby doesn't cite papal writings, decrees, encyclicals, bulls, apostolic letters, conciliar documents or Catechisms of the Catholic Church to prove his points. Certainly, Mr. Blackaby has a 2,000 year-old corpus of Catholic teaching into which he can tap to prove his assertions. Instead, Mr. Blackaby relies upon his own interpretation of Scripture. The only official teachings Mr. Blackaby produced from the Church were Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus (1854) and Pius XII's Munificentissimus Deus (1950), and we demonstrated that Mr. Blackaby misrepresented the teachings in these documents. For the benefit of the reader, I have attached these two papal decrees below:

Sticking with Mr. Blackaby's theme, the only thing this article has demonstrated is that error compounds error when one attempts to intepret the Scriptures outside of the living Tradition of the Catholic Church. Yes, Mr. Blackaby, opposing error is important. That is why I chose to write this rebuttal to your article.

John Salza is a Catholic apologist and the author of The Biblical Basis for the Catholic Faith (Our Sunday Visitor). He can be reached at

Click Here To Read Blackaby's Response

(Randy Blackaby preaches in New Carlisle, OH. He can be contacted at

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