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  • « Questions for R. C. Sproul | Main | Free will vs. Free Agency »

    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:

    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. 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?

    Posted by John Samson on September 9, 2006 07:27 PM


    Matters such as this can only be decided scripturally.

    Isaiah 2:22
    Stop regarding man
    in whose nostrils is breath,
    for of what account is he?

    So, in essence Dr. White responds, "Don't talk to be about nuance, history, subtle distinctions, etc. ... I respond with a sledge hammer. That's the tool I have. The Catholic Church teaches clearly that only God is to be worshipped."

    There is no doubt that there are some Catholics that don’t understand the distinction latria and dulia very well. This goes without saying. However, one has to consider the possibility that the people who might be give a bit too much adulation to Mary or other saints are really doing their best to be close to God. What is to be made of the people who do understand the distinction of latria and dulia? Should they be condemned too? How can a Christian not be amazed and humbled when they consider what wonderful grace God bestowed on Mary when he made her the Theotokos?! Imagine for a moment what that must have been like for Mary.

    This points to an important distinction between Catholic Christians and other kinds of Christians. From the earliest times of the Church, people have been wondering and thinking and marveling at the way Jesus came to live with us as a man in his temporal existence. Some other Christians are suspicious of these kinds of wonderings and questions, and for good reason. Sometimes our imaginations can run away into la la land. This is why the Catholic Church has always insisted that pilgrims remain in prayer and seek further education. Not everyone does that well. That goes for Catholic Christians and any Christian. So, if you don’t understand devotion to the saints, at least try to understand that it is sometimes a clumsy response to the wonderful gift of faith. It’s just that some people do it better than others, but it’s still a loving response to faith.

    For the record, Patrick Madrid may not be the best Catholic to be talking to about these kinds of things. He sometimes lives more out of his Evangelical faith tradition than he does out of his Catholic.

    Just a quick response to John Samson and his image of a man bowing down to Baal and being brought before Moses; the difference between what someone who is worshiping Baal and someone who is venerating Mary is rather stark. The Baal worshiper is worshiping an established religion of that time. It was a religion that moved in a very different direction that what God wanted for his chosen people. Baal was a pantheistic religion with idols that they thought had magical power. The God of Israel is monotheistic. The Jews worshiped the one true God through things like reciting the Psalms and attending to the Arch of the Covenant.
    A person who venerates the saints is venerating and calling to mind how that particular saint lived a life as a virtuous Christian out of love and inspiration of the life of Jesus. The orientation is always to Jesus in the veneration of saints.

    It's sad really, when the objective is to enhance differentiation instead of spreading the good news. I truly feel that Mary was highly honored by Jesus, and wanted us to honor her also. Other than that, we are monotheistic indeed.

    I know this is an old thread, but let me add one thing that wasn't mentioned about bowing or prostration. In the old testament we see Moses and Joshua bowing before the Ark. Mary is the new Ark, so shouldn't it be fitting that we also honor her as Moses honored the Ark?

    what if the man was bowing before Moses after he had brought the ten commandments. Moses was a great man, was it fine to bow before him?
    please see revelation 19:10

    Dr White, thanks for the answer but i have some objections to what you said. However, i will be able to present my objections better if you would be gracious enough to tell me the position Mary has in your teaching. Hoping to hear from you soon.

    Well, i won't wait for reply before i say what i want to say. You see, biblical fundamentalism is the problem of Christianity today, that is, people lifting passages from the bible without regards for context to justify rubbish. You are a Dr but i think you need to go back to the classroom because you have allowed sheer hatred for the Catholic Church to blind your reason. Common sense should tell you that. Just a simple question: when you say, 'I love you' to your mom; and you say the same to your wife. Do they generate the emotion? Are you thinking of the same thing? When are you going to learn? Latria, Dulia and Hyperdulia is sheer common sense. Why catholics venerate and honour Mary is a question for another day. I will be ready to debate with you on this platform

    To Peter.

    Your arguments sound like Tim Staples or Scott Hahn's apologetics...weak as they are.

    You you say to your mom, "I love you."

    Of course we do. But we don't kneel before mom, or have idols of her or light incense to her or pray to her or ascribe the ability to hear/answer the millions and millions of prayers Roman Catholics offer to Mary daily.

    Dr. White gave about as good and concise of an answer as one can give. The Bible is very clear on this matter, dulia (ie. the veneration that Catholics give their saints) is worship. Whether it’s lesser worship (dulia) or greater worship (latria) it’s still worship. They worship their saints (dulia), they worship the angels (dulia) and they worship their goddess (hyperdulia).

    Of all the sins Babylon, Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth, committed/commits... indulgences (buying your way to heaven), prayers to the dead, prayers for the dead, mass murder (Inquisition, Crusades, Reformation burnings), purgatory, relics, icons, statues, Sunday sabbath worship, celebrating pagan holidays, their numerous pagan rituals/sorceries/sacraments, Eucharistic cannibalism, using priests, saints and the Babylonian Queen of Heaven, Ishtar (who they call Mary) as their “helping” mediators and intercessors, removing God’s word (ie. 2nd commandment), the blasphemous pagan trinity doctrine, etc. etc., it is idolatry (the filthiness of her fornication) that’s the worst, and is the main reason for her coming judgement and destruction. We have only ONE God, Yahweh the Father, and only HE is to be worshipped. And we have only ONE Lord and mediator between God and man, His Son Yeshua, our Redeemer.

    “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground... thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. As for our redeemer, the LORD of hosts is his name!!!, the holy One of Israel. Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.”

    The point of contention originates from the basis of the debate. That is: Protestants acuse Catholics of idolatry and Catholics respond with the principle of dulia verses latria.

    In the Catholic Faith, there is a difference because we have the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the highest possible worship of God there is because Jesus told us to “Do this in remembrance of Me”.

    Protestants do not have this so they can only offer God dulia. The part of a Protestant service called “Worship” starts with singing, then maybe a reading from the Bible. If singing and reading is your only form of worship then any Catholic displaying dulia to a saint or hyperdulia to the Blessed Mother is going to look a lot like the worship practiced by Protestants, maybe even more so. They have nothing comparable to Catholic worship.

    So instead of defending the Catholic principal of dulia, why don’t we ask Protestants to define and defend how their worship equals our litria?

    Clearly, "ealgeone" rejects even the Holy Trinity and considers worship of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to be idolatry. This is what happens when you reject the Catholic Church; you either descend into a heretical cult or you invent for yourself doctrine that you have deemed right. It all comes down to rejection of authority. When you reject the apostolic teaching of the successors of the apostles, you ultimately reject the teaching of the one who gave them authority, Jesus Christ.

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