Mary in the Epistles by Thomas Stiverd Livius. part 1


WERE a candid and earnest Protestant asked what was the principal difficulty that prevented him from joining in the praises and honours which the Catholic Church offers to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he would reply, if we mistake not, that it was founded on the utter silence of S. Paul and the other Apostles regarding Our Lady in their numerous Epistles.

They enter, he would say, into such minute details concerning the whole spiritual life, and give so many precepts and exhortations on every virtue, that had "devotion to the Blessed Virgin" held the place in their minds that it did later on, and does still amongst Catholics, they could not possibly have left it, as we find they do, entirely unnoticed, without making to it even some distant allusion.

It would be useless to quote passages from Protestant writers insisting on this objection. They are innumerable. But the objection scarcely requires development. Its meaning is sufficiently clear at a glance : and we cannot deny that it has an apparent force. It is one, moreover, that presents itself to some Catholics, especially to converts to the faith in the early days of their conversion. Hence it is an objection that justly claims some explanation at the hands of Catholics.

To solve the objection entirely would demand a lengthened treatise on the formation and scope of Holy Scripture—particularly of the Epistles, which form so large a part of the New Testament—as well as a full explanation of the relations between Scripture and Tradition. Such a treatise is quite beyond our present purpose. We shall, however, treat cursorily on these topics, so far as their immediate application to the matter which we have in hand may seem to demand.

Our main object in these introductory chapters is first—after giving some reasons why the Evangelists say comparatively so little on our Blessed Lady in the Gospel—to account for the silence which the Apostles preserve regarding her both in their public preaching as recorded by S. Luke and also in their Epistles: and secondly to examine into the nature of this silence ; when we shall endeavour to show that devotion to Mary indirectly, but inevitably, flows from principles laid down in every page of the Apostolic writings.

Here, for the moment, we shall content ourselves with a general answer to the following question: What is the force of the argument drawn from the silence of the Apostles regarding devotion to the Blessed Virgin ; and does it prove that such devotion was unknown to them, was untaught, or forbidden by them ? If so, then we urge that the same argument of their silence must hold good with regard to other matters also, and will, in particular, henceforth abrogate Sunday observance as a Christian duty, and show that the ordinary mode of administering Baptism is quite indefensible.

First, as regards the observance of Sunday.

We are not now referring to the change, adopted by Protestants from the Catholic Church, of the seventh day of the week to the first: but what we mean is, that the objection made against our devotion to the Blessed Virgin on the ground of Apostolic silence, would prove that no day whatever in the week should be observed beyond the rest, or what would be almost the same thing, that there should be no week at all.

We may fairly retort his own argument on the Protestant in this manner :

We find amongst you that the Sunday, or the Lord's Day, or the Sabbath, is held to be an institution of the greatest religious importance. It affects the whole of your spiritual life in a very marked manner. Your apologists abound in treatises on the duty and advantages of observing the Sabbath, while your preachers and moralists and tract-writers often enough inveigh against the sin and evil consequences of sabbath-breaking.

Now, after carefully examining all the Epistles which have come down from the Apostles, and the history of their Acts, we find no allusion whatsoever to any such practice as Sunday observance existing as a Christian duty in their time amongst their disciples. (1) We read, indeed, of S. Paul preaching on the Sabbath day in the synagogues of the Jews, but this only proves that they observed it, and that he took advantage of the occasion. The Apostle preached, for that matter, wherever and whenever he could find hearers, whether on the Sabbaths in the synagogues, or to the heathen on Areopagus, or every day of the week, as at Ephesus for two whole years in the School of Tyrannus, or at Rome in his own hired lodgings. [Acts xix. 9, 10. xxviii. 30, 31.] But when S. Paul is writing to Christians he never exhorts them to observe the Sabbath, and nowhere mentions sabbath-breaking among the sins to be avoided. We should remark too that whereas all the other commandments of the decalogue are to be found in the Epistles, either in their formal or equivalent statement, the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath day, on which Protestants lay such special stress, is the one alone to which no allusion is ever made.

Nay, we might go even further than this, and show that the Apostle seems to speak of the observance of one day rather than another as something that may, indeed, be tolerated among those who are so weak as to attach importance to it, but must be positively resisted, if it is sought to elevate such observance into a duty.

Thus, writing to the Romans in favour of mutual charity and forbearance, he says :—" One judgeth between day and day, and another judgeth every day : let every man abound in his own sense." [Rom. xiv. 5.]  Whereas, writing to the Galatians against those who wished to impose the Jewish law on Christians, he says :—" You observe days and months, and times, and years ; I am afraid of you, lest perhaps I have laboured in vain among you." [Gal. iv. 10, 11.]

Hence we would ask a fair-minded Protestant to consider whether there is not as little in favour of the observance of the Sabbath in the Epistles, as there is in favour of devotion to the Blessed Virgin ; or, as we might rather put it, whether, from what is actually said in the Epistles about Sabbath observance, there is not more in apparent opposition to his practice, than he can thence allege to be in apparent opposition to ours.

The passage which, perhaps, above all others, a Protestant would bring forward from the Epistles, as most in direct opposition to devotion to the Blessed Virgin, is the following:—"Let no man seduce you willing in humility, and religion of angels" [Col. ii. 18.] or, as it is in the Protestant version :— " Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility [or, of his own mere will, by humility. Marg.] and worshipping of the angels."

Protestants interpret these words as condemnatory of all invocation of Angels and Saints. But they should bear in mind that the warning conveyed in them is immediately preceded by another regarding Sabbath observance :—" Let no man judge you in respect of a festival day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbaths." [Ib., v. 16.]

But were an objector to quote these last words against keeping the Sunday, as Protestants quote the words that follow against the invocation of Saints, what would be the answer ?

Probably, that the institution of the Christian Sabbath, though in some respects similar, was very different from that of the Jews ; that the Apostle was condemning the latter, not the former ; that he could not intend to blame the setting apart one day in the week for a more direct and perfect worship of God, and attention to our souls, since such a custom is both innocent and useful, and even necessary, considering what men are ; and the like.

Now we make a similar reply regarding " the religion of angels." Supposing that the phrase means the invocation of created spirits—which is a disputed point both among Catholics and Protestants (2) —still, we reply, the Apostle is not condemning such invocation as the Catholic Church sanctions, but what was being taught by certain philosophers and ancient heretics. [The Apostle had already bid the Colossians beware of such false philosophy and erroneous teaching in v. 8.] And to prove what we say, we point to the words that next follow :—" Not holding the Head, from which the whole body, by joints and bands being supplied with nourishment and compacted, groweth unto the increase of God."

The invocation of Saints (it is thus we argue) is certainly not an abandonment of the Head, but a most emphatic recognition of Him. To say, " Holy guardian angel, pray to Jesus for me," is not a denial that Jesus is the Head and Source of grace ; but it is simply to recognise the angel as a " joint or band," and to seek for a supply of nourishment and strength through that band from the Head.

We might go on to show that prayers offered to the Saints are most innocent and salutary, and that devotion to the Blessed Virgin—not as to the Head, but as to the neck, so to say, which connects the body to the head, and as being the principal of those joints or bands of which the Apostle speaks—is a devotion full of holy influences and spiritual profit. (3)

A Protestant, then, who finds it difficult to conceive that invocation of Saints and devotion to the Blessed Virgin could have existed in Apostolic times, because no direct allusion is made thereto in Apostolic writings, must not at once cry victory, as though he had already gained his point, and made out his case against Catholics. Before claiming such silence as a triumph, he should, if he is honest, and would be consistent with his principles, well consider first his own position. He holds firmly the observance of Sunday to be a very important religious duty, that it was in practice amongst Christians from the earliest times, and yet the entire silence of the Apostles concerning it does not militate against or shake his belief. For it is admitted on all hands, both by Catholics and Protestants, that the Christian observance of a Sabbath was taught by the Apostles as a duty, and practised in their days, though not the least trace or hint of this appears in the Apostolic Epistles.

Hence, we see that the mere argument of silence is very fallacious, and has of itself 110 conclusive force to determine the truth of questions in dispute.

We will now apply the same argument to another matter of religious observance common amongst Christians, viz., the almost universal mode of administering the Sacrament of Baptism, on which the Epistles are equally silent.

Protestants have for the most part, adopted the practice which has come down from the Catholic Church, of Infant baptism, and of baptism by affusion. They regard it as a Christian duty to have their infants baptised, and hold that baptism by aspersion, in place of immersion, is perfectly lawful. Consequently they must deem that such baptism is in accordance with the institution of Christ and the teaching of His Apostles. And yet neither in the Gospels, nor in the writings of the Apostles, nor in the history of their Acts, can any express warrant be found for this practice, nor any instance of such baptism be adduced, nor any direct trace of such custom be shown to have existed in Apostolic times. Nay, all that is said of baptism in the New Testament would seem to show the other way.

And first as regards Infant baptism :

(4) Any one who had only his Bible to go by would, we think, naturally suppose that baptism was intended only for adults. For whenever in the New Testament baptism is spoken of, or its administration is recorded, we find that certain moral dispositions are required for its reception, and personal acts attributed to the baptised, of which responsible adults could alone be capable. Such, for example, as hearing and accepting the word preached, believing, repenting, and receiving instruction in the faith. [Acts ii. 38, 41; viii. 36-38; ix. 18 ; x. 34-48 ; xviii. 8 ; xix. 5; xxii. 16. Matt, xxviii. 19. Mark xvi. 16.]
 Hence were the express statements of Holy Scripture on baptism our only source of information, we should conclude that infants were inadmissible to the sacrament.

As regards the Epistles in particular, there is nothing whatever to be found in them, if we regard only their letter, that would lead us to suppose that the baptism of infants was practised in Apostolic times, nor is a single word there said by the Apostles on what is now almost universally held to be the duty of Christian parents in this matter. Indeed, we should gather from the very words of S. Paul, in the passages of his Epistles, where he speaks of baptism, that he is directly contemplating the baptism only of adults, since the effects of the sacrament which he there describes cannot meet with their adequate realisation, save in adults. Such effects are the death of the baptised to sin and to sinful works, together with their rising to the new life of holiness ; [Rom. vi. 3-14.] their hearts being cleansed from an evil conscience, as their bodies are washed in the clean water; [Heb. x. 22. Compare also 1 Peter iii. 21.] their being washed from their past actual sins, and their personal sanctification. [1 Cor. vi. 9-11. Compare v. 11, " But you are washed,"with Acts xxii. 16, "Rise up, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins."]

Then, again, with regard to the mode of baptism.

If we are to go exclusively by what we find expressly written in the New Testament, we should have to conclude that baptism must be by immersion alone : For this is the only mode of baptism there spoken of, and, so far, at least, as their own words imply, the only mode contemplated by the Sacred Writers.

The baptism of John, which was a preparation and figure of Christian baptism, was by immersion. [Mark i. 5. Acts xix. 4.] It was in this way that Jesus Christ Himself, the Head of the Church, was baptised. [Matt. iii. 16.] Thus, too, we read in the Acts, the first Christians were baptised. So obviously was this the ordinary and recognised mode of baptism in Apostolic times, that it at once suggested itself to the Ethiopian eunuch on his accepting the preaching of Jesus, by Philip. "As they went on their way," writes S. Luke, " they came to a certain water, and the eunuch said: See here is water, what doth hinder me from being baptised ? And Philip said : If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he, answering, said : I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptised him. And when they were come up out of the water," etc. [Acts viii. 35-39.] So, again, in the account of the conversion of Lydia, through the preaching of S. Paul at Philippi, it is expressly mentioned that this took place by the river side, as though to indicate that the consequent baptism of herself and of her household, recorded in the same narrative, was in the waters of that river. [Acts xvi. 13-15.]

As regards the Epistles : S. Paul calls baptism the "bath of regeneration," and, again, "the bath of water; "[Tit. iii. 5. Eph. v. 26.] and the very notion of a bath implies immersion. Moreover, all the symbolism and figures which the Apostle makes use of in his teaching on this sacrament are drawn from baptism by immersion, and in that mode alone can find their full and proper verification. It is because Christians had been immersed in the baptismal water, that S. Paul can speak of them as having mystically died, and been buried with Christ in His death, through the laver or bath of regeneration, and of their having risen thence with Christ to the new life of grace and sanctification ; [Rom. vi. 3-11. Col. ii. 12.] of their having in baptism put off the garment of the old Adam, and put on that of the New, and of their being clothed with Christ. (5)

Notwithstanding, then, this objection of silence, and other difficulties of a more positive nature in the New Testament, which appear, at first sight, to weigh against Infant baptism, and baptising otherwise than by immersion—still Protestants, for the most part, recognise, with Catholics, the baptism of their infants to be a Christian duty, and agree that immersion is not obligatory, but that baptism by affusion, or even aspersion, is sufficient and lawful. They must consequently hold that such baptism—in this twofold aspect—is, in no sense, opposed, but wholly conformable to the institution of Christ, and to the teaching of His Apostles.

Hence it is clear from the principles and practice of Protestants themselves, that a doctrine, or a religious observance is not to be condemned as not Apostolic, false or wrong, simply on the ground that no mention of it is made in the written word, or even because certain objections therein may seem to be against it, and cannot be fully cleared up from that word alone. For the observance may find its justification by an appeal to reasons drawn from other sources. And such a doctrine or practice may justly be held to be in entire accord with the faith delivered by Christ to His Apostles, to have formed a part of their own teaching and practice, and rightfully to claim, as a religious duty, the assent and obedience of all Christians.

Thus we have applied the argument of silence to two most important matters of the Christian life, viz., Sunday observance, and the Sacrament of Baptism, as ordinarily administered amongst Christians, and have seen that whatever objection or difficulty such silence presents is over-ruled on other grounds, as being alone by itself, of no real force either against the lawfulness, or even the obligation of these religious usages ; but that, on the contrary, their constant recognition by almost universal Christendom, forms a conclusive proof that they have been ever held, though on grounds independent of Scripture, to have had the sanction of the Apostles in their teaching, and to have been practised by their disciples in their own days.

We claim, then, that the same line of reasoning holds good also with regard to Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and that the mere silence of the Apostles on this matter in their Epistles, has no force to disprove the existence of such devotion in their times, and affords no solid argument against believing that they themselves taught and practised this devotion, and inculcated it on their disciples.

(1) We readily allow that the mention of the " first day of the week " in a few places of the New Testament may tend to con firm an already-formed conviction that the Christian Sabbath was an Apostolic ordinance. But such casual mention is far too slight and indefinite to serve for proof of the fact, or of any obligation for Christians to keep the Sunday, and could avail for corroboration with those only who had already accepted the observance as Apostolic on other grounds.

The following are the passages referred to : —

Matt, xxviii. 1. Mark xvi. 2, 9. Luke xxiv. 1. John xx. 19. Where " the first day of the week " is recorded as that of our Lord's Resurrection, and John xx. 26, of one of His appearances to His disciples : " After eight days again," that is, on the fol lowing first day of the week.

Acts xx. 7. Where S. Luke writes : " We came to Troas . . . and on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with them."

1 Cor. xvi. 2. Where S. Paul gives order that " on the first day of the week everyone put apart with himself, laying up what it shall please him," so that the collection of alms be ready when he should come to Corinth.

Apoc. i. 10. Where S. John writes: "I was in the spirit on the Lord's day."

Protestants, on their side, should not here forget that though the New Testament is silent on the practice in the Church of devotion to Our Lady, still Catholics can appeal for its justification and support to certain plain passages in the Gospel that bear with far more importance on that devotion, than do these passing allusions to the first day of the week on Sunday observance. We mean where S. Luke records how the Archangel Gabriel was sent by God Himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, how reverently he saluted her, and with what words of praise he ad dressed her ; how Elizabeth, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, broke forth in benediction of Mary, humbled and amazed at the too great honour that the Mother of her Lord had done her in deigning to visit her; how the Baptist, yet unborn, rejoiced at her presence, and was sanctified at the voice of her salutation ; how the humble Virgin herself uttered her inspired prophecy, proclaiming that thenceforth and for ever all the generations of God's faithful should unite in ascribing to her blessing and praise.

(2) It is wonderful how any " text" will serve the purpose of those who are determined to " have a hit" at Catholics. Melancthon took "the religion of angels" to be celibacy, be cause our Lord declares the angels to be unmarried, and, there fore, the doctors of the Church call celibacy, " the angelic life." On the other hand, the late Dr. Gumming, who had Popery on the brain, interprets S. Paul's words to Timothy:— " In the last times some shall depart from the faith giving heed to doctrines of devils," in this way : " doctrines about intercessors, or canonised men."— Voices of the Day, p. 428. So it is all the same, angels or devils, if only the Church can be attacked.

(3) -


Sir,—People see things very differently. I should be exceedingly sorry to back my mere opinion against any body of Church men infinitely better read and more deeply acquainted with Theology than I should ever dream of professing to be ; still but comparatively few of your readers have for years been Roman Catholics, but few have known high and low, rich and poor, in that communion as I have, and yet, as you know, I have, like Ffoulkes, Capes, and others, had my own mental troubles and uncertainties on the questions in dispute between Canterbury and Rome.

There is, however, one point on which never, for a single moment, have I ever had one moment's doubt—and that is, that the veneration and invocation of the Blessed Virgin is productive of good, not ill, in those who practise it. Fully and heartily do I re-echo the words of two such thorough Englishmen as Newman and Faber, the latter a relation of my own. The former, when he says, " He who charges us with making Mary a divinity, is thereby denying the divinity of Jesus ; " the latter, when he says, " Jesus is obscured, because Mary is kept in the background."

It may be said we are the creatures of habit—possibly it is so, but whether habit or not habit, all I know is that, as a lad in my teens, I learned ever in my prayers to add the " Hail Mary " to the " Our Father," and now a man between forty and fifty, I do not think a night or morning has ever gone by without the same old boyhood prayer being offered. Certainly my adoration of Jesus has not been impaired by my veneration of His Immaculate Mother. This is rather an opening of the closet of one's soul to the jeers of a general public; but I feel intensely that the adoration of Jesus as God can never be complete if the in tense veneration of His Mother is not part of the devotional system of the worshipper.



—Church Times, Dec. 13, 1889.

(4) It will perhaps seem superfluous for us here to remark that the Catholic Church teaches that infant baptism is not only in entire conformity with the doctrine and practice of the Apostles, but also that this may be inferred from certain passages in the New Testament. On this subject we will quote the words of the Catechism of the Council of Trent: " Infants are by all means to be baptised. That this law (of baptism) is to be understood, not only of adults, but also of infants, and that the Church has received this its interpretation from Apostolic tradition, is confirmed by the concurrent doctrine of the Fathers. Besides, it must be believed that Christ our Lord was unwilling that the sacrament and grace of baptism should be denied to children of whom he said—"Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come to me, for the kingdom of heaven is for such "— (Matt. xix. 14)—to children whom He embraced, on whom He imposed hands, whom He blessed.— (Mark x. 16.) Moreover, when we read that some entire family was baptised by Paul, children, who are included in their number, must, it is sufficiently obvious, have also been cleansed in the salutary font. Circumcision, too, which was a figure of baptism, affords a strong argument in favour of this practice. But children were circumcised on the eighth day, everyone knows.— (Gen. xxi. 4, Lev. xii. 3, Luke i. 59, ii. 21.) If, then, circumcision, ' made by hand, in the despoiling of the body of the flesh' (Coloss. ii. 11) was profitable to children, it is clear that baptism, which is the circumcision of Christ, not made by hand, is also profitable to them. Finally, as the Apostle teaches, ' if by one man's offence, death reigned through one ; much more they, who receive abundance of grace, and of the gift, and of justice, shall reign in life through one, Jesus Christ.'— (Rom. v. 17.) If then through the sin of Adam children contract original guilt, with still greater reason may they attain grace and justice through Christ our Lord, to reign in life, which cannot be effected otherwise than by baptism. (Cone. Trid. Sess. 5, decret. de Peccat. Orig., et Sess. 7 de Bapt. cap. 12, 13, 14.) Wherefore pastors will teach that infants are by all means to be baptised. ..." (Catec. Rom. Pars ii. De Bapt. Sacram. n., 32.)

The teaching of the Catholic Church on the validity and lawfulness of baptism otherwise than by immersion is shown from the same Catechism, as follows : " As in the administration of this sacrament, it is also necessary to observe the legitimate mode of ablution (legitimae ablutionis rationem), the pastor will deliver the doctrine on this point also, and will briefly explain that, by the common custom and practice of the Church, there are three ways of administering baptism—immersion, affusion, and aspersion, and that, administered in any of these three ways, it is to be held true and valid baptism ; for in baptism water is used to signify the washing of the soul, which it accomplishes ; whence baptism is called by the Apostle a laver. But ablution is not more really accomplished by immersion, which was long in use from the earliest times of the Church, than by affusion, which we now see to be the general practice, or aspersion, the manner in which there is reason to believe Peter administered baptism, when on one day he converted and baptised three thousand persons." — Acts ii. 41, — Ib. 17.

(5) Gal. iii. 27. We do not deny that the Apostle's symbolism finds its expression, to some extent, in baptism by affusion and aspersion, but not so fully or precisely as in that by immersion. We might say, indeed, that the former modes derive their significance from their association in our thoughts with the more general use in primitive times of immersion.