Examples of false and harmful devotion to Mary

May 13, 2023 • 5 min

From St. John Henry Newman’s Letter to Dr. Pusey in reply to his Eirenicon, page 118
By St. John Henry Newman

8. After such explanations, and with such authorities, to clear my path, I put away from me, as you would wish, without any hesitation, as matters in which my heart and reason have no part, (when taken in their literal and absolute sense, as any Protestant would naturally take them, and as the writers doubtless did not use them,) such sentences, and phrases, as these:

  • that the mercy of Mary is infinite;

  • that God has resigned into her hands His omnipotence;

  • that (unconditionally) it is safer to seek her than her Son;

  • that the Blessed Virgin is superior to God; that He is (simply) subject to her command;

  • that our Lord is now of the same disposition as His Father towards sinners, viz. a disposition to reject them, while Mary takes His place as an Advocate with Father and Son;

  • that the Saints are more ready to intercede with Jesus than Jesus with the Father;

  • that Mary is the only refuge of those with whom God is angry;

  • that Mary alone can obtain a Protestant’s conversion;

  • that it would have sufficed for the salvation of men if our Lord had died, not to obey His Father, but to defer to the decree of His mother;

  • that she rivals our Lord in being God’s daughter, not by adoption, but by a kind of nature;

  • that Christ fulfilled the office of Saviour by imitating her virtues;

  • that, as the Incarnate God bore the image of His Father, so He bore the image of His Mother;

  • that redemption derived from Christ indeed its sufficiency, but from Mary its beauty and loveliness;

  • that as we are clothed with the merits of Christ so we are clothed with the merits of Mary;

  • that, as He is Priest in a like sense is she Priestess;

  • that His Body and Blood in the Eucharist are truly hers and appertain to her;

  • that as He is present and received therein, so is she present and received therein;

  • that Priests are ministers as of Christ, so of Mary;

  • that elect souls are born of God and Mary;

  • that the Holy Ghost brings into fruitfulness his action by her, producing in her and by her Jesus Christ in His members;

  • that the kingdom of God in our souls, as our Lord speaks, is really the kingdom of Mary in the soul—and she and the Holy Ghost produce in the soul extraordinary things—and when the Holy Ghost finds Mary in a soul He flies there.

Sentiments such as these I never knew of till I read your book, nor, as I think, do the vast majority of English Catholics know them. They seem to me like a bad dream. I could not have conceived them to be said. I know not to what authority to go for them, to Scripture, or to the Fathers, or to the decrees of Councils, or to the consent of schools, or to the tradition of the faithful, or to the Holy See, or to Reason.

They defy all the loci theologici. There is nothing of them in the Missal, in the Roman Catechism, in the Roman Raccolta, in the Imitation of Christ, in Gother, Challoner, Milner, or Wiseman, as far as I am aware. They do but scare and confuse me.

I should not be holier, more spiritual, more sure of perseverance, if I twisted my moral being into the reception of them; I should but be guilty of fulsome frigid flattery towards the most upright and noble of God’s creatures, if I professed them,—and of stupid flattery too; for it would be like the compliment of painting up a young and beautiful princess with the brow of a Plato and the muscle of an Achilles. And I should expect her to tell one of her people in waiting to turn me off her service without warning.

Whether thus to feel be the scandalum parvulorum in my case, or the scandalum Pharisaeorum, I leave others to decide; but I will say plainly that I had rather believe (which is impossible) that there is no God at all, than that Mary is greater than God. I will have nothing to do with statements, which can only be explained, by being explained away.

I do not, however, speak of these statements, as they are found in their authors, for I know nothing of the originals, and cannot believe that they have meant what you say; but I take them as they lie in your pages.

Were any of them the sayings of Saints in ecstasy, I should know they had a good meaning; still I should not repeat them myself; but I am looking at them, not as spoken by the tongues of Angels, but according to that literal sense which they bear in the mouths of English men and English women.

And, as spoken by man to man, in England, in the nineteenth century, I consider them calculated to prejudice inquirers, to frighten the unlearned, to unsettle consciences, to provoke blasphemy, and to work the loss of souls.

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