Today is a “holy day of obligation” in the Roman Church. Followers of Rome are obliged to participate in Mass on such days (exceptions, of course, exist). The reason for today’s obligation? The definition by the Roman Church of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. I will not, in this brief article, go back over all of the many problems with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, problems I presented as clearly as I could in my debate with Christopher Ferrara this past summer. I have only a few moments as I travel to comment on an article posted yesterday by Taylor Marshall, an apostate who is seeking, to the best of his abilities, to encourage apostasy amongst others in Reformed churches and seminaries. [Post-modernism infection alert: if identifying someone as an apostate immediately offends you, consider well whether you have become so conformed to the spirit of this age that a factual, documented assertion can be a source of offense to you. Marshall, like Robert Sungenis, graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR, Systematic Theology), so to one who continues to hold firmly to sola fide and sola scriptura, such a one has fallen from his profession, hence, committed an act of apostasy.] He has recently written a book, The Catholic Perspective on Paul (as if there is only one such perspective!), which has been sent free to a handful of seminarians across the country. He is one of the primary contributors to Called to Communion, a blog outpost of primarily former Reformed men who have defected to Romanism.
I was attracted to Marshall’s article for only one reason. Knowing that the Immaculate Conception is unknown to the authors of Scripture, unknown in the early centuries of the church, denied by many for centuries even after it developed out of the burgeoning Marian piety, and defined as dogma only 156 years ago, and assuming that such a “convert” to Rome would be aware of all of these problems, how would he present this dogma, one which so clearly demonstrates that Rome is in no way bound by either Scripture or tradition? Would he admit the facts of the case, present a balanced argument, and really seek to be truthful in calling his former co-religionists to his newfound faith? Or would he succumb to the essence of Romanism and, like his new found ultimate authority, spin the facts?
It did not take long to discover the answer. This graduate of Westminster Seminary presents a case that, to anyone with the slightest familiarity with the facts of the case, is egregiously fallacious and, quite simply, dishonest. It is, of course, possible that Marshall is ignorant of the facts concerning the history of the dogma; it is possible he accepted the surface level answers proffered by the Keatings and Akins and Sheas of the world, and abandoned all he had professed before without any kind of meaningful or in-depth inquiry. The fact that his bio proudly notes his distribution of Jack Chick tracts in the past does not bode well for the settledness of his convictions on the matter of Rome’s errors, to be sure. But looking at his presentation we note:
1) Honoring your mother does not mean you protect her from the stain of original sin, and the leap from Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Law and the overthrow of clear biblical teaching (and even the clear patristic witness that God alone is without sin) is another of the amazing gymnastic moves prompted by devotion to Romanism.
2) “She never sinned once.” She identified God as her Savior (and any and all suggestions that she herself understood the dogma of the application of Christ’s merits to her preemptively at conception are so utterly ridiculous they only illustrate the cultic nature of Marianism) and is never exempted from sin by inspired writers. Well known church historian J.N.D. Kelly listed such notables as Irenaeus (Haer. 3, 16, 7), Tertullian (De carne Chr. 7), and Origen (Hom. In Luc. 17), who taught that Mary committed acts of personal sin (a fact ignored by Marshall). It is another example of how “Scripture and Tradition” means nothing to the modern Romanist. Sola ecclesia.
3) Luke 1:28 has as much to do with Mary being immaculately conceived as the Lord’s words to Paul in Acts 23:11 mean Paul had never experienced fear in his life, or had an inherent characteristic of bravery, implanted in him at conception. Such eisegesis which ignores context, grammar, syntax, audience, and every other necessary element of interpretation, while common in Romanism, only shows its utter disconnection from the Apostles who wrote the inspired text.
4) Rome’s abuse of Genesis 3:15 is well known, even to the point of mistranslating the text! Ott admits the necessary interpretation of the protevangelium found in Ineffabilis Deus “is not found in the writings of the majority of the Fathers, among them the great teachers of the East and West” and that “The Bull does not give any authentic explanation of the passage. It must also be observed that the infallibility of the Papal doctrinal decision extends only to the dogma as such and not to the reasons given as leading up to the dogma. (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 200). The ability of the Romanist to not grin while saying “our biblical arguments may be ridiculous, but our conclusions are infallible” is another example of why truth-lovers should stay far, far away from the eastern shore of the Tiber River.
5) The interpretation of Mary being both the ark of the covenant in heaven AND the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 11 and 12 is, of course, not only foreign to the biblical text, but unknown to the early church as well. The earliest writers saw the woman as the church/Israel, depending, and the conjunction of both views into one, as in Marshall’s comments, came long, long after. But again, for the follower of sola ecclesia, it matters not how modern an interpretation is, as long as Rome promotes it. As Robert Sungenis commented in our debate in Santa Fe a few months ago, all that is needed is that “someone was talking about it” in the patristic period. It matters not what they said, or who said it.
6) Marshall’s list of patristic citations is a classic example of how Romanists abuse the early writers of the faith. Any reference to incorruptibility, purity, being “immaculate,” is read in the light of modern Roman dogma. The exercise of anachronism is patent and obvious, but Marshall seems oblivious to it. Mary was called pure, immaculate, holy, and everything else—and not a word of this has the slightest to do with establishing that any of these authors believed in the Immaculate Conception. It is one thing to say Mary was a pure virgin; it is another to extend this to say she never sinned, and was, in fact, kept from original sin by a pre-emptive application of the merits of Jesus Christ, a concept that simply did not even exist in the first at least half millennium of the Christian faith! Honest Roman Catholic historians and theologians admit this. As Ott admitted, “The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not explicitly revealed in Scripture….Neither the Greek nor the Latin Fathers explicitly teach the Immaculate Conception of Mary.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 200, 201).
Marshall closes with this statement:
I’ll close by saying that if you “Get Mary” you “Get Catholicism.” Mary represents everything that Catholicism is: sacraments, incarnation, sanctity, matrimony, celibacy, prayer, silence, love, charity, faith and works, and even the synergy of the divine work within human vessels.
He’s right. If you can accept these unbiblical, anti-biblical, exaggerated, mythological, a-historical Marian dogmas, you “get [Romanism].” This Mary, who has never existed, and is a gross misrepresentation of the humble servant of Christ who is truly blessed among women (but never exalted above women), represents all that is wrong with Romanism. But this statement also illustrates something else: Tiber swimmers are very focused on Rome, as Rome, in their conversion. When God, in His mercy, draws His elect out of the idolatry and false worship that is Romanism, what do they focus upon? Christ. Freedom. Grace. The finished work of Calvary. The contrast between the Romanist convert’s constant harping on Rome, “Home to Rome,” etc., and the testimony of the redeemed sinner that “Christ is my all,” is striking, and, by God’s grace, instructive.