A common objection or charge by Protestants and other Christian groups against the Catholic Church, (and Orthodox Churches as well) is that the Veneration of Our Lady and the other Saints is tantamount to "worship." These past several months I have looked into ancient paganism and how the pre-Christian pagans viewed things, (as well as how different their views are from both renaissance, and modern misunderstandings of pre-Christian pagans) and it has revealed to me a new insight and understanding of worship, and new evidence against the charge of Marian Devotion being "idolatry." The common polemic against Marian Devotion goes something along the lines of, the pagans of old couldn't part with the goddesses they worshipped, so either the Church and/or the pagans themselves came-up with Marian Devotion to disguise/replace goddess-worship. In this blogpost, I plan to show that quite the contrary is true, that all ancient pagan observers of the Catholic Faith would've recognize that the Catholics were Monotheists, and that Marian Devotion doesn't come anywhere close to goddess worship for them.
Before we get into the ancient worldview and how Marian Devotion would've been viewed, I think we should just briefly go over the Catholic understanding of worship, and present something that any Traditional-minded Catholic apologist would explain regarding the veneration of Saints. The word worship originally just meant honouring someone and didn't have the exclusively religious meaning it has now; in the Catholic Faith there are two specific forms of worship, adoration and veneration, understanding these two terms is crucial to understanding how Catholic Spirituality works. The term adoration is pretty much synonymous with the modern-day meaning of the word "worship," it's something that only God alone is worthy of, the original Latin term meant having a deep, personal devotion to a specific deity and thus, was taken up by the Latin-rite Church to refer to the worship of God. Veneration refers to simply honouring someone; when someone of high rank in Roman society was honoured, that act of honouring was known as veneration. The Saints are venerated because of their high rank in the Kingdom of Heaven, veneration of Saints does not detract from the worship due to God but is rather an act of participation in His Kingdom.
The Importance of Liturgy in Adoration
So now that we've defined our terms, let's look at the ancients' understanding of how deities were adored. When the ancient pagans came across different countries and cultures, when they wanted to identify which deities these other people were adoring, they carefully examined one thing in particular, their liturgies. It was the liturgies above all else that identified for the pagans which deity was which, in fact there was actually a study done by scholars in which they compared the rituals of Amaterasu with those of Greek deities, and they discovered striking similarities between the rituals of Amaterasu, and those of the Greek goddess Demeter.
There is a phrase in Latin, lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, "the law of prayer is the law of belief, is the law of life," in other words, how you pray determines what you'll believe which in turn determines, how you will live your life. In the ancient world, the highest form of prayer was liturgy, and it was in liturgy that one learned the most about one's deity. The same is true for the One True God of Israel, some of the most important doctrines and dogmas of the Faith are contained, right in the Mass. For centuries, Catholics learned the Faith, not from the Bible or a catechism, (not that those aren't very important, and things we Catholics do and should read in this in this current age of the Church) but by worshipping at Mass, it was there that they learned and internalized the Faith. Now, let's get to the main point of this post.
One Liturgy, One God.
Is there any liturgy dedicated to Mary? There are certain practices dedicated to Her like the Rosary and May Crownings, and Masses on Her feast days do mention Her a lot; but the answer is ultimately no, the there is only the Mass, and it is only directed to One God, the Triune God of Israel. So when the ancient pagans observed Catholic practices, they would see the Catholics adoring only God, they would never consider devotion to Mary to be anything like goddess-worship, because there was no liturgy dedicated to Mary, let alone any liturgy that resembled the liturgies dedicated to their own mother goddesses. Likewise a pagan convert who had devotion to Our Lady would never consider his or her prayers to Her to be anything like adoration, because again, there is no liturgy through which this pagan convert can adore Her.
Now there are obviously other concerns and objections that weren't covered in this blogpost, like praying to a pagan deity but not worshipping him or her, (which yes, would still be a violation of the First Commandment) historical instances where Marian Devotion replaces pagan devotions to mother goddesses, and the simple fact that most Protestant groups reject liturgy in whole or in part. But I still think that this is an important thing to consider when it comes to Devotion to Mary, how the ancients understood worship and adoration, and how the would've viewed Devotion to Mary. The Catholic Faith after all, is a continuation of a story that was taking place back then, an ongoing story going all the way back to the accounts of the Bible, the Story of Salvation.
Glory to God
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