Questions and Answers, Part 4

Hey Laura,


How long did the veneration of Mary and of icons and all that stuff go on before people really started to protest it? Was it first protested by Luther or was there disagreement before that? I Googled some of the basics of the ecumenical councils and found…

3. Council of Ephesus (431), of more than 200 bishops, presided over by St. Cyril of Alexandria representing Pope Celestine l, defined the true personal unity of Christ, declared Mary the Mother of God (theotokos) against Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, and renewed the condemnation of Pelagius.

7. Second Council of Nicaea (787) was convoked by Emperor Constantine VI and his mother Irene, under Pope Adrian I, and was presided over by the legates of Pope Adrian; it regulated the veneration of holy images. Between 300 and 367 bishops assisted.

I guess it’s still hard for me to understand why these people, after meeting and discussing over long periods of time (some of the same people who, while fallible, were able to recognize the heresy of Arius, etc.) were able to come to these decisions but we determine it not valid later? What’s up with that?

X

Hey girl, great questions.

Number 3, the council of Ephesus, I would agree with those things. I don’t have a problem calling Mary the Theotokos (which means “God-bearer” in Greek), because Jesus was and is God. Nestorius was a heretic who under-emphasized the divinity of Jesus — so the God-bearer thing was really a Christology issue, not whether or not Mary was divine-like or worthy of veneration. Christians have ALWAYS viewed Mary as worthy of honor.

I think we (meaning evangelicals) have reacted too far against the misuse of Mary’s life and example, and how Catholics especially have twisted it in a really sick way. So much so that we’ll talk in over-the-top language about Elisha’s miracles, David’s passion for God, Esther’s boldness and intelligence, but we won’t talk about Mary’s humility, joy, courage, and honor. We won’t even say what the Scriptures say about her, which is that she was highly favored by God, blessed among all women.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we don’t “decide” independently whether people were right. We make like the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see if the things they taught were in line with Scripture. Clearly it’s out of line with Scripture to worship icons or images, or to pray to the dead, or to worship Mary, so we have to reject that teaching because Scripture says not to make a graven image of God, not to try to communicate with or conjure up the dead, and to give worship to no one but God.

There was a TON of disagreement about the veneration of Mary, indulgences, purgatory, praying for the dead, images/icons, the Lord’s Supper all the way through Christian history. The problem was that the Roman church in the west and the Orthodox church in the east were in bed with the government which was often only nominally Christian, and so they could forcibly put down any dissent — and they frequently did. Look up groups like the Lollards, and dudes like John Wycliffe and John Huss.

One of the major reasons Mary-worship popped up so soon (in the 4th and 5th centuries, spreading from there) is that it connected pagan goddess-worship to Christianity (incidentally, it’s also a reason Catholicism caught on like billy-o in Latin America). When the Roman Empire was “made Christian” in the 4th Century, we’re not talking about a mass conversion of hearts and lives. You still have all these thousands upon thousands of pagans who no longer have just Artemis or any number of other pagan goddesses to worship but also this “new” religion. So folks come up with the idea (unfortunately not corrected by some irresponsible church leaders) that, see, this “Mary” person is the Queen of Heaven like our goddesses! We can “venerate” her like we worshiped Artemis!

Now, it’s obvious to me from reading church history that the worship of Mary became increasingly required over the years — so whereas there seem to be pockets of Mary-worship surrounded by a lot of harmless if slightly overzealous Mary-honor beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries, over the years the institutional church began to demand it more and more, until it was considered heretical and punishable by death not to offer prayers to Mary and think of her as the chief intercessor for us in heaven. Which is jacked up, just in case you’re curious.

Just because something is a long-standing tradition or really “ancient” doesn’t make it right. One of the oldest “churches” in the world is the heretical Coptic “church” which sided with Arius over Jesus’ nature. They believe that Jesus is less than God, that he was a created being that God elevated to divine status — basically what the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe only 1800 years before.

As far as the decisions being reached, you could probably find out about the votes on various subjects — I don’t know how good the records were that were kept of specifics. But some of the decisions provoked or were provoked by (in the case of the Icons thing) actual wars! So we’re definitely not seeing total agreement amongst the folks at these councils.

Lunch break’s almost over. Later.

L

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