After listening to countless hours of Catholic Answers Live, I’ve noticed many of the questions can often be difficult, odd, unanswerable, or simply confusing. For instance, a caller recently asked Patrick Madrid something like, what happens to guardian angels after those they are “guarding” die? Do they get reassigned to a new a person, or do they retire? I admit, I’d never thought about this question. Patrick was busy thumbing through the Summa Theologiae searching for the answer, and quickly came up with his own speculative answer on the spot. You won’t find that answer in the Bible, that’s for sure, but to come up with any sort of answer did impress me.
The next question was about Mary. Did Mary know she was sinless? If you’re like me, you do a quick scan of the Bible in your head and think, “there’s no possible way Madrid can get this answer from the Bible.” But lo and behold, Madrid attempted a Biblical answer. I’ve included Madrid’s answer to hear:
Madrid says, “At least as far as Scripture is concerned, we can only glean a few comments from the Scripture from the Blessed Virgin Mary, most notably in Luke chapter 1.” Luke chapter 1 is one of the key passages of Scripture many Catholic Marian answers are mined from. In fact, if you take a look at Madrid’s Pocket Guide To Catholic Apologetics (Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2006), almost all his points about Mary include Luke 1 proof texts. If it’s a question about Mary, and a Catholic apologist is involved, you can usually predict accurately Luke 1 will be utilized. Take a minute to read Mary’s song in Luke 1:
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me? holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”
Madrid mines from this text, “Mary needed a savior obviously.” In his Pocket Guide To Catholic Apologetics, Madrid says, “Mary’s sinlessness did not mean that she did not need a savior; she herself proclaimed Him to be such. Christ indeed saved Mary from sin- from all sin- but he did this for her prior to her contracting sin. We, on the other hand, are saved after we fall into it” (p.30). One thing should be most obvious: nowhere in Luke 1 does it state Mary lived her life sinless, nor can the act of being saved prior to sin be exegeted from the text. In fact, Madrid’s interpretation is in direct contradiction to Romans 3:10-18, as well as countless other Scriptures that clearly teach the universal scope of sin on all of mankind. Even Madrid’s Pocket Guide references Romans 5:12-19 and Ephesians 2:1-3 when speaking of original sin.
Following in the same manner, Madrid states,
“She knew that God saved her from sin in a particular way.”
“She knew that God had done great things for her, and that this special gift she had been given by God, she may have not understood the full extent of it, but I think she certainly understood to some extent that she had a special grace otherwise these statements she’s making I think wouldn’t have, they would not have as much meaning otherwise.”
She knew? Based on what? Not this text, that’s for sure.The caller then asks the same question to Madrid that I would have: Could you not take Mary’s statements as just pertaining to Mary being pregnant with Jesus? Madrid answers, “There’s nothing wrong with interpreting it that way.” Considering the fact that Mary’s song is filled with familiar expressions from the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament, and considering that the thrust of the entire Old Testament was about Jesus, the caller makes a very accurate observation. The emphasis of Mary’s song is on the Messiah, and God’s mighty acts of sovereignty and providence over all mankind. By allowing for this interpretation, though espousing one completely different, Madrid demonstrates something I find often in Catholic apologetics: affirm everything to cover all bases.
Further speculating on Luke 1, Madrid states, “To some extent, maybe not to a great extent even, Mary understood that God had given her a special grace, a special favor,” and, “Mary had some inkling she had a special gift of sinlessness.” “To what extent she knew it, how technically she was able to comprehend the details of it, I don’t know, and Scripture, and Scripture doesn’t tell us. That would be my guess.”Guess indeed. Here Madrid argues that Mary may have only had a strong hunch on her sinlessness. Obviously, a person this side of eternity can only know their lives up to the point lived. Dr. White has made an excellent point in his book on Mary pertaining to this:
“Mary speaks of God as her savior. Are we really to imagine that she said these words with an understanding of a dogma that would not be defined for another 1,800 or more years? She would have had to have had a personal understanding of her own experiential sinlessness and the preemptive application of the merits of Christ to her in order to say these words in the way Roman Catholic theologians would have us understand them. Given that it is obvious that she did not fully understand the work of her Son at the Cross, how could she possibly view herself in such light?” [Mary: Another Redeemer? Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998), pp. 151-152].
Madrid then argues that any rational person could figure out that something unusual and different had been given to Mary. Yes indeed, something unusual did happen to Mary, and that is explained in Luke 1:35-37, but it is going beyond the text to state that Mary was given the gift of sinlessness, as if God almighty couldn’t bring forth a holy, righteous savior from fallen humanity apart from making her sinless.
The host of Catholic Answers attempted to help Patrick out by referring to the angel’s greeting, “Hail, full of Grace” and uses this to infer Mary must have realized she wasn’t committing sin. But as Eric Svendsen has pointed out, “Modern scholarship has dismissed the translation ‘full of grace’ as a nonviable rendition” of the Greek term used. Svendsen notes even Catholic sources are avoiding this translation:
“Even a Catholic source such as Zerwick avoids the translation ‘full of grace,’ opting instead for the less theologically loaded praises ‘endowed with grace; dearly loved.’ The MNT task force translates it as ‘graciously favored by God,’ while noting that the Douay Rheims translation, ‘full of grace,’ is not literal and is gradually being replaced among Roman Catholic translators. The most recent standard Catholic translations the NAB and the JB, have followed suit in their renditions (NAB, ‘O highly favored daughter’; JB, ‘So highly favored’) [Eric Svendsen, Who Is My Mother? (New York: Calvary Press, 2001) p. 129].
Madrid’s last comment is the most revealing. He states to the host, “I suspect that if you and I could sit here for a couple of hours we could come up with additional ways of looking at this that would make sense according to Scripture.” I believe that these men actually could do just that. How ironic that one of the typical charges made against Protestants is that of Biblical interpretive anarchy: that those without an infallible interpreter come up with all sorts of interpretations of the Bible. Here is a fine example of just that, speculation on a Biblical passage while reading one’s theology into it. If anyone is guilty of misusing a text, it is Madrid’s interpretation of Luke 1. To see Madrid’s speculative Biblical exegesis on Mary in action, take a look at this article from Dr. White, A Biblical Basis for the “Immaculate Conception”? (A Review and Rebuttal of Patrick Madrid’s Article “Ark of the New Covenant” in “This Rock” magazine, December 1991). Madrid puts forth things like, “Mary’s Immaculate Conception is foreshadowed in Genesis 1, where God creates the universe in an immaculate state, free from any blemish or stain or sin or imperfection.”
For the last few months, I’ve regularly listened to the Catholic Answers broadcast. I do this, because in order to really understand a different Gospel, particularly one I’m responding to, I find it helpful to actually read the materials they write, and listen to the shows they produce. To hear these people present Roman Catholicism from their own perspective is a revealing reminder that theology is not simply theoretical. The guests and hosts of Catholic Answers are deeply committed to their beliefs. They have a goal of bringing people into their church, and vigorously and unabashedly promote their beliefs.
One cannot accuse me of simply being cheered on by those that oppose Rome without actually checking out their materials. I don’t expect everyone do this, nor do I recommend it. At times, it can be very draining and depressing. There have been times, after listening to 3 or 4 hours of Catholic Answers, I long for the clarity and wisdom of the sacred Scriptures. I long to hear the depth and richness of the actual Gospel of Jesus Christ, that by faith in Him alone can I ever have peace with God. After listening to Roman Catholic apologists speculate on Mary, guardian angels, discuss what is, or is not a mortal sin or a venial sin, and what to do to be restored to right standing with God, I’m overwhelmed by the clarity and beauty of the Bible. In fact, after listening to Catholic Answers, I have an even greater appreciation for sola scriptura.