Sunday, May 29, 2011

WAS MARY WITHOUT SIN?


For those who may not be familiar with the Catholic teaching of the "Immaculate Conception," it is not referring to the conception or sinlessness of Jesus Christ, but to Mary’s. The Catholic Church considers this teaching to be an infallible dogma that must be believed by all Catholics. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:



Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:



The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (CCC #491)



But there are several problems with this concept of “Immaculate Conception” and sinlessness...



 


Not Biblical



First, it is an unscriptural concept - that is, except for Christ, Himself (1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5; 2 Corinthians 5:21), a whole life of sinlessness applies to no human found in the Bible. However, the Catholic Church insists that it also applies to Mary in the passage in Luke chapter 1 where the angel Gabriel addresses Mary and tells her that she is to give birth to the Savior.



The great majority of Bible versions render verse 28 as the angel saying, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you”... or something very similar. But the Catholic Church leans toward the Latin Vulgate (Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin). Catholics translate verse 28 in the Vulgate as “Hail, full of grace...” which they take to mean that Mary was so “full” of grace that there was no room in her life for any sin, and she was this way since the moment of her own conception and throughout her whole life.



In spite of its plain context, Catholics will go to great lengths to explain how they believe this simple verse really means much more than it appears to be saying. They will attempt to take advantage of every possible nuance in the Greek grammar and stretch it into a new meaning altogether. They have attained an amazing level of special pleading in attempting to defend this teaching. But it is a giant and illogical leap to go from the Bible’s description of Mary as a humble handmaid whom God has highly favored... to a person whose own conception was “different from the conception of all other human beings," who has obtained “an entirely unique holiness,” who possessed “a sanctity surpassing... the combined holiness of all angels and other men...”, and was conceived without sin and remained so throughout her lifetime. That’s an awfully big jump.



But how trustworthy is the Catholic interpretation of the Vulgate? As we stated before, most Bible versions we have do not agree with the Vulgate’s “full of grace.” Even Catholic Bibles like the New American Bible (NAB) and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) do not use “full of grace” in Luke 1:28. But, try as they may, Catholics cannot use this verse as proof of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Concerning the Greek word used for this phrase, one online Catholic source says:



But the term kecharitomene (full of grace) serves only as an illustration, not as a proof of the dogma. (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Immaculate Conception”)



To further weaken the Catholic interpretation of Luke 1:28, we read in this Catholic source:



The words of Gabriel, “Hail, full of grace” (Lk. 1.28), have also been appealed to as a revelation of the Immaculate Conception, on the grounds that to be truly full of grace, Mary must have had it always. This interpretation, however, overlooks the fact that the Greek term κεχαριτωμένη [kecharitomene] is not nearly so explicit as the translation “full of grace” might suggest. It implies only that God’s favor has been lavished on Mary, without defining the degree of grace. (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, Page 378)



So, by their own admission, this exaggerated interpretation of this simple passage in Luke is not at all what many Catholics are wanting us to believe.



 


Common Sense



But if we look at the context of Luke chapter 1, we can see that Mary is blessed among women (Luke 1:42; and in later manuscripts, 1:28). It is about childbearing. Elizabeth, Mary and the angel Gabriel all make significant statements here in chapter one, but NONE mention anything about Mary‘s “sinlessness” - ALL three refer to the special privilege of giving birth to the Messiah. THIS was how she was favored. No doubt, in those days, most every young Jewish woman would have given anything to have that honor.



But IF the angel is speaking here of Mary being “immaculately conceived,” why would he announce the news of these “special circumstances” surrounding her own conception so late in her lifetime (that is, so many years AFTER it happened)? This would be highly unusual. Why was this special news not announced at or around the time of her birth, like in the case of Jesus and John the Baptist? It seems that most every major announcement about someone in the Bible was “predictive” in nature (before it happens), not AFTER the fact. But this passage is about Jesus’ conception, not Mary’s.



 


All Have Sinned



The second problem is, not only is the Immaculate Conception not found in Scripture, but it is AGAINST the Scriptures. The Apostle John said:



If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8 - KJV)



Also, the Apostle Paul said:



... that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. (Romans 3:19 - KJV)



For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 - KJV)



The first three chapters of the book of Romans paint a very bleak picture for anyone who thinks he is free from sin, either Jew or Gentile (Romans 3:10-19).



“But,” the Catholic objects, “there are exceptions to this rule!” He will insist that the phrase “all have sinned” does not really mean all. He’ll say, “Is not Jesus, Himself, an exception?” Of course, He is, but this is Paul’s whole point in the opening chapters of Romans. It goes without saying that He is the only reason that we can be saved at all. This is the common theme throughout Scripture... every person is a sinner and Jesus is the “cure.” He is not AN exception, He is THE ONLY exception.



Some may say that Adam and Eve were exceptions because they were created without sin. Well, that may be true but they later fell into sin, so no one can suggest that they were sinless throughout their lives. They still fall into the category of “all have sinned.”



What about unborn children, babies, or the mentally handicapped? They don’t have any sin, do they? These, like everyone else, are born with the sin nature, and given the chance, they would inevitably sin somewhere down the line. But these are not proper exceptions. They are exceptions only in the sense that they are not responsible for what they do. When Catholics speak of Mary as an exception, they are referring to a person who is accountable. A baby or a mentally ill person may sin, but God, in His grace, does not hold it against them. According to James 4:17:



Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (KJV)



So, babies and the mentally handicapped who are not aware of sin are not accountable, and therefore, are not true exceptions to the rule. A true exception would be another human who was tempted in all things, yet victorious over sin, as Jesus was (Hebrews 4:15). Since Mary doesn’t fit into any of these categories, appealing to babies, the mentally handicapped, or Adam and Eve is useless and does not prove that she is (or can be) an exception.



 


Who Crushes/Bruises the Head of the Serpent?



With very little effort, one can find a multitude of images of Mary standing with her foot on the head of a serpent, because Catholics usually link the Immaculate Conception of Mary with Genesis 3:15, where God says to the serpent:



And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel. (NASV)



Many Catholics reason something along these lines: Satan is the epitome of sin, but Mary had a perfect “enmity” (hostility or opposition) toward the devil. This perfect enmity could not exist if there was any sin in Mary. So, since enmity exists between her and Satan, she could not have any sin. Therefore, somehow she is the one who crushes the head of the serpent. But can this be true? No, it’s not. It is Jesus Who does the crushing. The New Catholic Encyclopedia says:



Much confusion has resulted from the fact that the second half of this verse [Genesis 3:15] was inaccurately translated in the Vulgate to read, “SHE shall crush your head.” This translation, which has strongly affected the traditional representations of the Blessed Virgin, is today generally recognized to be a mistake for “it [or “he,” i.e., the seed of the woman] shall crush...,” and consequently CAN NO LONGER BE CITED in favor of the Immaculate Conception. (New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII, page 378 - emphasis added)



Most Catholics today seem to be unaware of this correction.



 


It Just Has to Be



The third problem is that the Catholic Church insists that the Immaculate Conception is not just “fitting,” but necessary:



If it was necessary that the precursor of the Lord [i.e., John the Baptist] should be so pure and "filled with the Holy Ghost" even from his mother’s womb, such a purity was assuredly not less befitting His Mother. (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, under “Immaculate Conception” - Emphasis added)



To become the Mother of the Savior, Mary, 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role'. The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as 'full of grace.' In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace. (CCC #490 - Emphasis added)



[Apparently, here, the writers of this Catechism seem to be unaware of the problems associated with “full of grace,” as mentioned above in the New Catholic Encyclopedia]



In one papal article, we read:



In order to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring, Mary had to be free from all power of sin, and to be so from the first moment of her existence.”



AND



The absolute hostility put between the woman and the devil [Referring to Genesis 3:15] thus demands in Mary the Immaculate Conception, that is, a total absence of sin, from the very beginning of her life.



[Once again, even Pope John Paul II must also have been confused or unaware that Genesis 3:15 “can no longer be cited in favor of the Immaculate Conception," according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia (copyright 1967) above... which was, by the way, in circulation long before the pope uttered this statement]



AND



St Irenaeus presents Mary as the new Eve, who by her faith and obedience compensated for the disbelief and disobedience of Eve. Such a role in the economy of salvation requires the absence of sin. It was fitting that like Christ, the new Adam, Mary too, the new Eve did not know sin and was thus capable of co-operating in the Redemption.


(“MARY’S ENMITY TOWARDS SATAN WAS ABSOLUTE” - Pope John Paul 2 - The Pope's catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 29 May (1996) - the 21st in the series on the Blessed Virgin - Emphasis added)



And in another papal article:



This great doctor of the Church [Augustine] certainly realized that Mary's status as Mother of a completely holy Son required total purity and an extraordinary holiness.”



AND



“...a fundamental insight of faith: the Mother of Christ had to be perfectly holy from the very beginning of her life."


(“CHRIST’S GRACE PRESERVED MARY FROM SIN” - Pope John Paul 2 - The Pope's catechesis at the General Audience of Wednesday, 5 June (1996) - the 22nd in the series on the Blessed Virgin - Emphasis added)



Having said all this, if it was absolutely necessary for Jesus (Who is sinless) to live in a sinless womb, then it was ALSO logically necessary that MARY must have been born in a sinless womb. In other words, if Mary had to be unstained by sin in order to carry Jesus in her womb, then Mary’s mother also had to be sinless in order to carry Mary, and her grandmother before that, and her great grandmother before her, etc, etc... But, of course, this would be absurd.



So, the Catholic has a dilemma: Either, 1) this absurd line of continual sinless pregnancies must have taken place, or 2) these official Catholic sources that insist that sinlessness was necessary, can’t be trusted. If anyone claims a third option here, he will have to show proof of it, from either logic or Scripture.



 


A Sinless Environment?



The fourth problem with the Immaculate Conception is, if Jesus had to be conceived and sustained in a sinless environment (like Mary’s body), then wouldn’t He also need to be born and raised in a sinless environment? One would think so.



Or does this great “need” to maintain such a pure environment when in the womb, suddenly become irrelevant after Jesus was born? Shouldn’t those places and people in His “outside environment” need to be just as sinless as Mary’s womb? If no, why not? One has to wonder... why would the Catholic Church insist that the only thing in His environment that needed to be sinless was His mother?



Catholics insist that a sinless womb was “deserved” and “fitting" for Him. But, was being born in a smelly stable (Luke 2:7) “fitting"? Did not the Savior of the world deserve better? Of course He did. Did He deserve to die on a cross like a hardened criminal? Absolutely not. But it was NOT His purpose in coming to this earth to receive what people thought He “deserved,” or to receive what “seemed fitting” to man. If that would have been His purpose, then He would not have suffered and died on the cross, and we would all be lost. The bottom line is, He didn’t need to live in a sinless womb, just as He didn’t need to live in a sinless atmosphere outside the womb. His sinlessness did not come from His mother - it came from Himself (being God), so it could not be tainted or defiled by His environment.




So what?



OK, so why would any of this matter to us as Christians? What possible harm could this teaching of the Immaculate Conception cause? Why do we Protestants “pick on Mary," do we hate her or something?



No, we don’t hate Mary and we are not trying to take anything away from her. We believe that Mary was a godly, humble servant who was chosen to give birth to and raise the Christ. But the Catholic Church gives her a role that the Bible does not. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is an extraordinary claim which demands extraordinary proof. Could God have made her sinless? Sure, God could have easily done it if He wanted to, but again, although they claim otherwise, we certainly find no biblical support for this teaching.



Ultimately, it is Catholic Tradition which has produced this teaching and not Scripture. But, unfortunately for the Catholic, Sacred Tradition has a special set of problems all its own. See here: http://answeringcatholicclaims.blogspot.com/2010/05/what-about-tradition.html



The idea of someone else being sinless violates one of the main distinctions between Jesus Christ and mere men. This distracts from our focus on the uniqueness of Christ - in fact, it seems that most of the Catholic teachings on Mary seem to blur His uniqueness - and thus will turn some away from Him to over-focus on Mary. For example, in the eyes of many Catholics, Mary seems to be “more approachable” than God. But this is an unbiblical, dangerous and slippery slope. Embracing this kind of mindset will make it much easier to fall victim to false apparitions (visions) of Mary, as well.



No doubt, what started out in the early church as a genuine and well-intentioned study into the life of Mary and how she fits into the scheme of things, has over the centuries gradually transformed into an out-of-control infatuation, obsession, and even idolatry, toward Mary. Catholics will try to downplay this and say that the teaching was always there from the beginning, but that it simply “developed” over the years, like many other Catholic teachings. But this excessive devotion was a result of ignoring scriptural truth and has caused multitudes to fall away from God through idolatry.



My friends, souls are at stake here. If we can’t trust the Catholic Church when she solemnly declares an infallible teaching, then which of her teachings CAN we trust? Let us, rather, learn to trust in the God-inspired Bible, and only those teachings that agree with its principles.



 


 

20 comments:

  1. Dear Russell,

    Who decided which books are inspired and belong in the Bible?

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  2. Hello Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment.

    To answer your question, God is the One who “decided” which books belong in His Bible. The early church simply recognized which books were inspired.

    Many Catholics will try to fully equate “the early church” with the modern Catholic Church, but this is simply begging the question. Many Catholic teachings were unknown to the early church, so it is wrong to say that they were “Catholic,” as in the modern Roman Catholic Church sense.

    Please see this recent article on this topic here:

    http://answeringcatholicclaims.blogspot.com/2012/02/did-catholic-church-give-us-bible.html

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  3. God never decides which books goes to the canon or not. It is a hasty generalization to say that the majority thinks then it is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

    If we are Christians, we should be informed that Jesus did not write any book of the bible and doesn't have a secretary to write the accounts of his life(while alive).

    I would say that all teachings of the Church are base on traditions..even the bible is base on tradition. Our faith is base on tradition..and so with the Judaism..Always referring to the Patriarch..which people are only talking..

    NOW if the argument is base on SCRIPTURES...then it is useless to say..

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  4. Good article. Man chose the books of the Bible based upon pre-existing OT documents and oral traditions. That is why the Septuagint is so important. Without question most early Christians used it and it contained some deuterocannonical books!

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  5. the only thing we inherited from adam that makes us sinful is the flesh. That is why the flesh which Jesus inherited had to be sinless. Also objects in themselves are not sinful that is why we do not need the environtment of Jesus to be sinless.

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    Replies
    1. Our "flesh" is not what is sinful. When we die our bodies are not condemned to hell, our soul is (if you are not saved). Jesus had the appearance of a man, but not man's corrupt nature. He mentions this in John 3:14 when talking to Nicodemus about being born again. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up," (N.I.V.) Jesus is like the brass serpent, he has taken the form of a venomous "snake" but he does not have a serpentine nature like regular men. And I would like to bring up the loophole of, "If Jesus had to be born of sinless flesh, then Mary had to be born of sinless flesh, and Mary's mother was born of sinless flesh........" Just doesn't make sense.

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  6. Hello Russell,

    Do you believe in the concept of total depravity (or "original sin")?

    Jesse

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  7. Jesse,

    I’m not sure if you’re saying that these two (“original sin” and “total depravity”) are the same thing or not, and I’m not wanting to get into a big discussion on these, since this would probably start drifting into a different topic (Calvinism). But I would basically describe original sin as the INHERENT TENDENCY to sin that we are all born with. You don’t have to TEACH a child to lie or to be selfish. It just comes natural. What we DO have to teach him is NOT to lie and NOT to be selfish.

    Concerning total depravity, I have never developed any formal definitions of my own about it, but I would say that man is indeed, in some sense, depraved:

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 – KJV)

    But this doesn’t mean that even man’s will is always so wicked that he can’t make decisions. We are not just mindless robots. The Bible is abundantly clear that we MUST make choices, even spiritual choices. If God is telling us to choose, yet we can’t, then He is unfair. He is telling us to do something that we simply CANNOT do. But God didn’t make us robots, He made us children.

    Anyway, I don’t care to go off on a tangent or delve into a debate on Calvinism, but I hope this answers your question.

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  8. Who Crushes/Bruises the Head of the Serpent?

    Genesis 3:15

    The case is here is not on who crushes the serpent 's head. Its about the enmity which exits between the woman and the sepent. If the emnity exists the woman is free from sin just as simple as that.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Mug,

      Enmity also exists between the serpent’s seed and ALL God’s people. Does the mere existence of enmity mean that ALL Christians are also free from sin?

      Delete
    2. You said "Enmity also exists between the serpent’s seed and ALL God’s people. Does the mere existence of enmity mean that ALL Christians are also free from sin?"

      can you show from the Bible that Emnity exists between the serpent 's seeds and All God 's people? do you understand what the word emnity really means

      Delete
    3. Hello Mug,

      According to “Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament,” enmity simply means a “hostile mind” or “hatred.”

      According to “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance,” it means “hostility, a reason for opposition, enmity, hatred.”

      “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

      Since true Christians (on the one hand) and the devil and his world system (on the other) have these feelings toward each other (according to the above definitions of enmity), I believe that it is appropriate to say what I had said.

      So, I’ll ask you again: Does the mere existence of enmity between Christians and the devil mean that ALL Christians are also free from sin?

      Delete
  9. Hi Russel,

    Do you think that Scripture passages such as Genesis 1:1, John 17:5, Colossians 1:15-17, and Isaiah 43:10-11 pose a dilemma for the "Mother of God" doctrine taught in Romanism? Should we respond to them by saying that Mary is only the mother of Jesus' human nature, not His divine nature? Or, would this approach be considered heresy? How would you respond to the Catholic Mother of God belief?

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  10. Luke 1:42-43
    42 and she loudly exclaimed, “How blessed are you among women, and how blessed is the infant in your womb! 43 Why should this happen to me, to have the mother of my Lord visit me?

    asking that question, would also mean that you should ask why Elizabeth called Mary the Mother of her Lord? was it because Mary was the mother of Jesus 's Lordship? the Catholic has never taught that Mary is the Mother of Jesus 's divine nature, but is the Mother of Jesus, the Person who is both Fully Human and Fully Divine.

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  11. Hello Jessie,

    Thanks for the questions.

    The Scriptures you presented are great ones. But I think the issue with the Catholic insistence on using the term “Mother of God” is not that they are trying to say that Mary is the maternal parent of God the Father (that would be ridiculous and they know that), but rather that their emphasis is on the deity of Jesus. Jesus is God, so this title was given to Mary to point to and solidify Christians’ belief of His divinity. I believe that this was the way it was historically used.

    Having said that, I still think that the title tends to cause people to focus on MARY more than it does Jesus. But we can certainly make a case for the deity of Jesus WITHOUT using this title, so there is no need at all to call Mary the “Mother of God.”

    It almost seems as though Catholics are LOOKING FOR an excuse to exalt Mary.

    Anyway, thanks for the comments.

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  12. Russell,

    Allow me to clarify myself a bit.

    Well, the technical term "Mother of God" was adopted by the Church around 430 A.D. and has obviously been used since then.

    But, I am emphasizing the fact that God is eternal. Jesus' divine nature has ALWAYS been in existence. His human nature has not. By definition,a mother is only the mother of what originates within her womb. Is that a valid argument refuting Mary as the mother of the Creator or is what I just said faulty logic? That's my question.

    I like your last statement regarding how Catholics always search for reasons to justify their exaltation of Mary. In fact, I could not have said it better myself!

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  13. Hello Jessie,

    I think that Protestants and Catholics are just looking at it from different angles. Mary was the mother of the Creator (Jesus Christ), but, as you said, Jesus did not "originate" from her womb.

    We should view Mary as the Bible views her. Nothing more, nothing less.

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  14. Greetings Russell,

    My apologies for not getting back to you sooner. But you have left me with a few questions. So please hear me out.

    1.) Would you occupy the passages that I listed above as proof against the Catholic "Mother of God" teaching? Or are they irrelevant to the debate? What are your comments on Hebrews 7:3?
    2.)You asserted that we could build a case for the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ without using the mother of God logic. How would you do that? Any thoughts? Am I misunderstanding you or something?

    I have intentions on writing an article addressing the issue of whether Mary was the "Mother of God" or not.

    Peace be with you in the name of Jesus Christ.

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  15. Hello Jessie,

    I would agree with you when you said that Mary is only the mother of Jesus' human nature, not His divine nature, and I don’t think that any Catholic would disagree with your using the verses above (Genesis 1:1, John 17:5, Colossians 1:15-17, and Isaiah 43:10-11). Catholics would agree with these, and I’ve never heard any Catholic try to imply that Mary is actually the “mother” of God the Father. That’s not what they are saying.

    But I still think that that the way they use the term can be misunderstood by others who may be weak-minded. Although it is technically true (in the sense of being Jesus’ biological mother, the mother of His humanity), it just seems to give Mary too much “attention” to say that she is the “Mother of God.” It can easily lead to her inappropriate exaltation. This is why I think it should be avoided.

    Furthermore, if Mary is called the “Mother of God,” then why isn’t Mary’s mother ever called the “Grandmother of God”? Why does no one exalt her (Mary’s mother) in the same way? I think we have reason to suspect an ulterior motive here.

    Concerning Hebrews 7:3, I’m not sure if this ties in at all, since we know so little of Melchizedec. Maybe Melchizedec is a type, or “Forerunner,” of Jesus Christ (perhaps even an appearance of Jesus, Himself), we don’t know, so I really don’t want to speculate here.

    Concerning building a case for the deity of Jesus Christ without using the “Mother of God” stuff, I would simply point to verses that I’m sure you are familiar with, e.g., John 1:1, John 10:30-33, Colossians 2:8-9, and Isaiah 44:6 used together with Revelation 1:8, 17-18, Revelation 2:8 and 22:12-13.

    Jessie, I hope this helps, and good luck with the article if you decide to post it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi Russell,

    How's life been treating you?

    I am currently writing a series of articles addressing the issues presented by mariology:
    https://rationalchristiandiscernment.blogspot.com/2017/03/general-overview-of-mariology.html

    They all follow after the link that I am providing.

    Thanks for you kind support!

    ReplyDelete