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Monday, December 26, 2022

Do Catholics Really Worship the Virgin Mary?

By:   Hugo Klapproth (Michael Matt’s Great-grandfather)
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Do Catholics Really Worship the Virgin Mary?

Editor’s Note: It is my pleasure to reintroduce my great-grandfather Hugo Klapproth and his “new” book, Letters to a Protestant Friend (Available Here). Full disclosure: The book is new only to English-speaking readers living 130 years after it was published in the original German here in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Apart from being a thoughtful historical sketch, this little book also makes a considerable contribution to Catholic apologetics. As a convert from Lutheranism and a professional newspaper editor, Hugo Klapproth’s apologetical arguments to his Lutheran friend are some of the most effective I have ever read. Mary “worship,” Faith alone, sola scriptura, the papacy, the “non-biblical” roots of purgatory, and the Sacrament of Confession—all the go-to Protestant arguments are refuted with expert biblical exegesis, considerable historical acumen, and the patient reproach of one old friend to another. Here, then, is an excerpt from Chapter 3 on Mary and Papal Infallibility. MJM


Dear D.,

I now come to the “deification of man in the Catholic cult of Mary and in that of the Saints.” To deify someone doubtless means to place him on the same level as God, to bestow divine honors to him, to adore him. Do you really think that we Catholics do not know the First Commandment?

Honestly, that means that if one charges us with divinizing Mary and the saints, we Catholic not only deny all of Christianity, but that we also degrade ourselves in the sight of the Jews and the Moslems. Admittedly, we venerate her, and we venerate them, but in the measure that God Himself cherishes the both of them.

If an ordinary mother, whose son is respected and has become famous through heroic deeds which he earned on behalf of the well-being of his fellow citizens and his Fatherland, and whose mother is therefore not permitted to be mocked or denigrated or blasphemed or reviled, how much more has Mary earned that highest honor and distinction?

Above all, with respect to Mary, it should indeed be clear to every Bible-believing Protestant that God did not cherish anyone among all his creatures more than He cherished her. This should be obvious. The fact that this actually is not the case is proven, as so often, by the irreverent manner in which Mary is spoken of in the pages of Protestant books and even from orthodox Protestant pulpits.

A clear-seeing Protestant says when addressing this point:

There is a relationship of consistent flight from the Mother of God, a constant fear of her, or of even uttering but a word of the greeting that the Eternal Father sent to her through the mouth of an angel, thereby issuing the first blow against the old curse separating us from Him and His love. We are permitted to call out an ave pia anima as often as we want to any other human person who has gone before us to our eternal home, but not to the Mother of Christ, because that would be—Catholic! (Dietlein, Evang. Ave Maria, Halle, 1863, VII).

I can assure you that the Protestant disrespect for Mary alone would now be sufficient to prove to me that Protestantism cannot be the religion of Jesus Christ. “Every heresy has always ended with a contempt for the Virgin” (Hettinger, Apol., Freiburg, 1869, II, 1, 529).

No, whoever sees and honors the Bible as the true Word of God must look upon and honor in Mary that “blessed among women”; and he must “laud her as blessed through all generations” until the end of time.

In truth, the veneration of Mary is so natural for the Christian who is logical in his belief; it is so completely understandable for every true disciple of her Divine Son, that only a total blindness could misjudge it.

If I call upon the name of Jesus,
I can never speak to Him alone,
After ‘Jesus’ I call upon ‘Mary’
Think first of Him and then of Her!

Who, indeed, is he who separates Mother and Child,
Who after all are so closely bound together?
You who bore for us the Son of God,
Remain for us forever Mother.

By chance, an American leaflet came into my possession today that illustrates the rationality of the Catholic veneration of Mary in a very simple although no less accurate manner. And because Protestantism has impressed upon us precisely such an irrational caricature of the Catholic Marian cult, I wanted to cite a passage from this here:

The Fourth of July takes first place among all the civil holidays of this land. It is the day on which the freedom of this country was born; the day in the year 1776 when a number of excellent, noble and freedom-loving men gathered together in Philadelphia and signed a document which announced to the crowned head of England that the colonists were tired of British tutelage and tyranny and that they were breaking away from it. And so the dawn of freedom broke forth across this entire land.

This day is justly celebrated in a splendid way on account of that fact. Businesses are closed, everywhere one hears the joyful and jubilant shouts of the people, everywhere resound rifles and pistols and the thunder of cannon. In the cities, brilliant parades are held; soldiers in gala uniforms move with shining guns and pistols, accompanied by drum rolls and star-spangled banners through the densely animated streets. In the evening the cities glow with innumerable stars reflecting the manifold colors of the bonfires and the shooting off of rockets. The rattling of the fireworks seem as though they will never come to an end. The houses of the citizens sport festive decorations. A number of homes are emblazoned with the portrait of a noble man who is justly known to every American under the name of the Father of his Country. Not infrequently, one sees next to the painting of this man that of a woman as well. And if one asks who this woman might be, the answer is that she is the mother of George Washington.

Screenshot Klapproth paper ad

Let us imagine someone who might be angered over the display of that picture, mock it, and ask why it was being publicly displayed.  After all, what had she done for the country? Had she led the American Army? Did she draw up the battle lines and lead the troops to victory? Did she plunge into the fray with a weapon in her hand to strike the cocky British on the head? No, the answer would be; nothing of the sort. She was nothing more than a common woman, an everyday housewife. ‘Therefore, down with the picture’, the critic might cry out!

What would one say to such a man? Is it not true that he would be told that he had lost his reason and had gone mad? What if he went further; if he picked up stones and mud to hurl at and dishonor and soil the picture of this truly fine and noble woman; what then? Is it not true that in less than no time a hundred hands would rise to avenge the scandal, and the evildoer would later tell of his good fortune if he had managed to get out of the situation by the skin of his teeth?

But who is this woman, this mother, in comparison with the Mother of God? Who is her son, on whose account she is honored, in comparison with the Son of Mary, who freed not only one land, one people, but the peoples and the nations and the men of all lands and of all times, and freed them not from the tyranny of an earthly power, but from the slavery and the dominion of the devil? This woman is someone who re-opened the gates of heaven closed to us through sin and destroyed the sentence of our rejection; a woman who made us the children of the Father of her Son, who is the Lord, God, Creator, and Guide of all things, and His own co-heirs. How ineffably high and exalted must Mary now stand above all other mothers, since her Son so infinitely towers above all other sons of men!

If an ordinary mother, whose son is respected and has become famous through heroic deeds which he earned on behalf of the well-being of his fellow citizens and his Fatherland, and whose mother is therefore not permitted to be mocked or denigrated or blasphemed or reviled, how much more has Mary earned that highest honor and distinction: she, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has redeemed the whole human race from its sins; she who was the means by which this Redemption came to pass!

How curious this is! Scarcely did I start writing this letter to you, when the American Press reported the unveiling of a Mary Washington Monument in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the accompanying discourse of President Cleveland. This speech forms a kind of counterpart to what I just noted above. The Protestant speaker said, “I believe that the man who forgets a love for his mother is capable of every treason and every deprivation and cannot be trusted. George Washington said: ‘All that I am I owe to my mother.’ Therefore, we should never forget that if fame and honor fall due to a man, a share in that fame and that honor is due to his mother.”

How curious that such an unintended but no less conclusive justification of the Catholic Marian cult should come precisely in this month [May, 1894]; the month that we Catholics are used to dedicating to the special veneration of the mother of our Lord. And, by the way, the mother of Washington was also named Mary.

Still, however much we Catholics honor and distinguish Mary, never has it occurred to us to compare her, a creature, even only distantly, to God; much less to place her on the same level with God. She, for us, is infinitely small and limited with respect to God. We ascribe to her absolutely no power whatsoever other than that which she has obtained from God. And the same holds true for us with respect to the other saints. We pray to God—the Catholic Catechism tells us this—so that He may help us through His Omnipotence; we pray to the saints so that they may help us through their intercession with God.

The living, also, pray for one another, but does anyone think that this somehow cripples Christ’s role as mediator?

But can we not see in this prayer a kind of mistrust of Jesus Christ? No, for we expect first of all grace and eternal life from God’s will alone, through the merits of Christ. We look, secondly to the intercession of the saints, as well as to those of the angels, as can also be seen in Holy Scriptures themselves, as, for example, in the Revelation of St. John (5:8), where twenty-four Elders are said always to be before the Throne of God, unceasingly bringing the prayers of the saints to the All Highest.

The living, also, pray for one another, but does anyone think that this somehow cripples Christ’s role as mediator? However, should you doubt that those dwelling in the hereafter know something of us, and if you still consider the Bible to be valid to look to for God’s Word, then you can easily rid yourself of your doubt if you would glean the message of still further scriptural passages besides those mentioned above: Luke 13:10; Tobias 12:12; Zacharias 1:12; 2 Maccabees 15:12-15.

Even Luther, although he often contradicts himself in this regard as he does in every other matter as well, has testified to calling upon the aid of the saints. Thus, he once admitted: “I say and hold fast with the whole of Christianity that we should honor and call upon the loving saints; for who would contest that in our day, God, through His Holy Name, still visibly performs miracles at the sites of their holy bodies and graves?” (Wittenberg 7, 7).

Testimonies to the invocation of the Saints can be found in Luther, albeit alongside contrary statements, until the year 1541; that is to say, five years before his death.

Here is a passage from a splendid apologetic pastoral letter that the Bishops of Prussia addressed to the faithful of their dioceses from the tomb of St. Boniface, in Fulda, in January of 1889. They wrote:

The crown of all of the distortions of the teachings of the Catholic Faith is the assertion that the Catholic Church…attributes the adoration which is due to God alone to the Virgin Mary and to the saints as well. We reject this assertion with the deepest disgust. We Catholics direct all of our reverence, consisting of our Faith, Hope, Love and Worship, solely and alone to the true, living, Triune God.

To direct this divine worship to any creature whomsoever, however exalted he or she might be in the order of nature and grace, is idolatry in the eyes of every Catholic. The reverence to God is the sole thing that we call worship. That which we direct to the Mother of God is essentially and totally different. Just as little as the honor and love that children render to their parents, or subjects to their princes, contradicts the love due to God—it, in fact, fulfills His fourth commandment—does reverence to the saints contradict the worship due only to Him.

Rather, this arises from that divine reverence and shares in its same goal. We honor the saints as friends of God, as true followers and members of Christ because God Himself honors them this way as well. However, all honor that we render to them we render on account of God and for the glorification of God, who through His grace sanctified them and gave them to us as a model.

This applies in the highest measure to the reverence that we render to the Most Blessed Virgin in fulfillment of the words: ‘Behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’ For this reverence has its sole ground and its sole goal in Jesus Christ, in whom we believe as the true Son of the Eternal Father and the true Son of the Virgin Mary. In offering such reverence we are far removed from considering Mary as someone other than a creature.

Yes, she is the purest and most holy among all creatures, but all of her purity and sanctity have been given to her through the merit and grace of Jesus Christ for His honor. We also honor Mary no differently, no more, and no less than God Himself, according to the witness of the Gospel through the message of the angel, who honored her in greeting her as ‘full of grace’; as someone in whom ‘the Lord is.’

If we call upon Mary, the angels and the saints, we do not expect grace and help from them due to their own power. Rather, we expect these blessings through their intercession, from God alone, through their and our sole Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Asking the Mother of our Savior and the glorified saints for the help of their prayers is just as reasonable and Christian as our appealing to our fellow Christians on earth for their prayers.

If Saint Paul in his epistles asks for the prayers of the faithful, should it therefore be wrong if we commend ourselves to his intercession in Heaven? Or should the ‘Our Father’ lose its strength due to the fact that we bring the memory of our Salvation in Christ Jesus to Him through the greeting of the angel, and add the petition: ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, prayer for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death?’

Also, we do not ascribe to the saints either omniscience or any other divine characteristic, but rather trust that God will allow them to have our supplications recognized, so that they can continue in Heaven the work of the Christian love that they practiced on the Earth. The Catholic Church teaches that this reasonable and pious recourse to the saints, which emergences directly from the article of the Apostles Creed regarding the Communion of Saints, is salutary and beneficial, and that it applies in a special way to our own age. For it is indeed beneficial and salutary to oppose to the absorption in earthly affairs and the illusions of transient desires models of heavenly feeling; to set against these, holy lives full of self-renunciation and the eternal Kingdom of Christ and his elect that is also our eternal goal.

In the meantime, your Hugo greets you.

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Last modified on Tuesday, December 27, 2022