Latria v. Dulia in Roman Catholicism
I am sure many of us as Bible believing Christians have been totally bemused by the adoration Roman Catholics give to Mary. It seems so obvious to us that prostrating oneself before a statue of Mary, lighting candles to her and praying to her is an act of worship. In that Scripture is clear that only God Himself is to be worshipped, we find it hard to imagine how people could be deceived enough to see these acts as legitimate and even pleasing in God's sight. But when we talk to Roman Catholics on this issue we soon hear them speak of a distinction between latria and dulia - between true worship given to God, and the high esteem that is rightly to be given to men.
How are we to respond when we hear this? It is obviously a very important issue. The line between the true worship of God and rank idolatry needs to be clearly defined for the sake of our souls. In this regard, I thought you might be interested in reading the fairly brief response my friend Dr. James White gives to someone writing to him on this very question.
Firstly, here's the letter/question written to Dr. White:
I have read in many of your posts about the impossibility of justifying the Catholic latria v. dulia distinction. Maybe I'm confused about something, but this distinction seems rather obvious to me. Thomas Aquinas, for example says this about "dulia": "Wherefore dulia, which pays due service to a human lord, is a distinct virtue from latria, which pays due service to the lordship of God. It is, moreover, a species of observance, because by observance we honor all those who excel in dignity, while dulia properly speaking is the reverence of servants for their master, dulia being the Greek for servitude. So "dulia" (though given to the saints in the Catholic Church) is given to those "who excel in dignity." It would be appropriate to render dulia (as far as I know) to our parents, political leaders...anyone worthy of honor. You certainly wouldn't call *that* idolatry. Indeed, in the old Anglican wedding service, the bride and groom used these words: "With my body I thee worship." Now this is certainly not something we would say today (as worship has become almost exclusively a theological concept), but it shows the way in which even a term like "worship" may be used to express the honor due to a non-saint human being. So...it is this sort of honor or "worship" which Catholic believe is due to saints (as I see it). In fact, I heard a Catholic leader on the radio recently say that we ought to see the saints as friends, brethren, not superhuman benefactors who may take the place of God for us. Anyway, my question is how you justify the rejection of any distinction between latria (adoration due to God) and dulia (the honor due to those worthy of honor as creatures). If you have engaged this topic directly at some point, it would be wonderful to be referred to that essay.
Dr. James White responds:
Actually, I have addressed the issue in The Roman Catholic Controversy and in my debate with Patrick Madrid on Long Island relative to the veneration of saints and angels. The topic illustrates, very clearly, the difference between deriving your theology from God's divine revelation in Scripture and deriving it from other sources. There simply is no biblical basis for saying it is acceptable to give service to created beings but only worship to God, for both concepts are part and parcel of the single meaning of "worship" in Scripture. "You shall worship and serve God alone" cannot be changed into "you shall worship God alone; but as long as you call your religious devotion 'service' you can 'serve' Mary and angels and saints, too." The Bible not only does not recognize such a distinction, it denies it, both lexicographically (both latria and dulia trace back to biblical usages and both terms refer to divine worship) as well as by direct assertion. Paul refers to the idolatry that marked the pagan past of the Galatians as "service" in Galatians 4:8 ("However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves ["served," root term being douleuo, leading to dulia in Latin] to those which by nature are no gods"). So if one begins with the Word as your ultimate authority, no amount of quibbling from later sources will change the reality of the definition of worship. And believe me, ask Uzzah if God is serious about the topic of worship (2 Samuel 6:3-7).
Aquinas does not define biblical terms, and his comments are not reflective of biblical usage. Later uses of "worship" in any language are, likewise, utterly irrelevant, of course, as that would lead to the common error of anachronism, reading later uses back into the biblical context. Of course, that is exactly what Rome does. I have heard many an apologist use old or middle English uses of "worship" as if this is somehow relevant to the matter at hand, and, of course, it is not. Can you picture it? A man is caught bowing down before a Baal in Moses' day in his tent. He is brought before Moses, and when asked for a reason for his idolatry, the man replies, "Oh, that wasn't idolatry. Don't you know that someday, in a language that will come into broad use in about 3,000 years, you will be able to argue for a less strict use of the term?" I'm sure that would go over about as well as the, "Oh, I wasn't worshipping the idol by bowing down and lighting candles before it, I was giving it dulia instead" excuse. Both excuses would go with the idolater under a pile of rocks.
So the better question to ask would be, upon what basis does any Roman Catholic believe the distinction he or she embraces that allows him or her to bow down before a statue and light candles and repeat prayers will stand before the holy God who gave us His Word and who has revealed that He seeks pure worship?