Monday, February 08, 2010

Swan on Madrid and the Rosary

In doing some research for another article I'm working on, I came across the following from James Swan on the blog.  Note, Swan's objection is to Madrid's mentioning of the Rosary - yet if you listen to the clip, it's mostly about confession and getting out of mortal sin.  The Rosary is a tool or weapon against falling into mortal sin - but we ALL make mistakes - we ALL fall and we ALL need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession or Penance). 

Swan writes:  This MP3 clip is from a broadcast of Catholic Answers live (December 2008). Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid answered a caller concerned about her mortal sin. After explaining how the Catholic Church instructs such a person to go through confession, absolution, and penance, Madrid says to pray the Rosary because it is the "strongest weapon outside the sacraments that we have to combat mortal sin." The Rosary is not just a repetitious prayer in the Catholic veneration of Mary, but thestrongest weapon to keep one from mortal sin.
Again, whereas the Rosary is mentioned, the main thrust of Madrid's response is to answer this person in regard to mortal sin and that it was important still to go to Mass, but not receive the Eucharist until one has made it to Confession first.  That being said, the Rosary is, perhaps, one of the strongest if not the strongest weapons to use to keep one from committing mortal sin.  Why is it such a strong weapon?  Because the Rosary in not "vain repetition" as our Protestant friends would think (as I used to think too!), no it is sets of meditations primarily upon the life and passion of Jesus Christ!  In the standard Rosary of 15 decades (each "decade" being 10 "Hail Mary" prayers), each decade is spent in meditation upon an event - 13 of which primarily deal with the life and passion of Jesus Christ!  If we add in the Luminous Mysteries, added by Pope John Paul II, that's 5 more decades devoted to the life of Jesus Christ!  So, of the 20 decades - TWO of them have meditations primarily upon Mary (the Assumption and the Coronation).  

So, how about all those "Hail Mary" prayers?  Aren't we praying TO Mary?  Why not pray directly to Jesus?  There's NOTHING to stop the Catholic from praying directly to Jesus!  However, the "Hail Mary" is moreso a prayer or petition asking Mary to pray for and with us TO JESUS!  How often, when we are in need, do we ask our fellow Christians to pray for us and/or with us?  That being said, much of the "Hail Mary" comes to us directly from Scripture!  Allow me to illuminate: 
"Hail Mary, Full of Grace!"  The Lord is with thee! (Luke 1:28)
"Blessed art thou, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)!" (Luke 1:42)
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen."  (This second part, as you can see, is not so much a prayer TO Mary, but rather a petition asking Mary to pray for us now, and as we're dying). 
So you can see, there's not a whole lot to get excited about here!  The first half of the "Hail Mary" comes directly from the greeting of the Angel (Gabriel) to Mary and the greeting her cousin Elizabeth made upon Mary's visit.  It seems an appropriate manner to greet her when petitioning her to pray for us. The second part recognizes that Jesus is God and Mary is His mother, and asks her to pray for us both now and at the hour of our death.  Keep in mind too, while praying this - we're actually meditating primarily on the life of Christ!
Swan continues:  In his book, Where Is That In The Bible?Madrid mentions the repetitious Rosary helps Catholics "meditate on key episodes of the Gospel narrative, as well as mysteries of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary" (p. 136). This prayer asks "Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, to intercede on our behalf and use her prayers as a weapon of grace against the evil one, the Red Dragon spoken of in Revelation 12... when we pray the Rosary, we go well-armed into battle against the adversary, who is 'prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour'" (p.137).

   True, all Christians are engaged in a real battle against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Yet God has not left us to fend against the ravages of sin on our own. But before we consider Madrid's "strongest weapon," why not look into the Scriptures?
There is nothing to stop one from looking to the Scriptures!

Swan continues:  Over the years I've heard many sermons on "putting on the full armor of God" as expounded by Paul in Ephesians 6. Paul exhorts us to "put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." He mentions the "belt of truth," "the breastplate of righteousness," "the shield of faith," and "the helmet of salvation." He says to pray in the Spirit on all occasions. In Ephesians Paul doesn't tell Christians to meditate on the "mysteries of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary."
Well, this would be a rather anachronistic argument, now wouldn't it Mr. Swan?   The Most Holy Rosary was not given to us for quite a number of centuries, even though the counting on beads, or knots in a rope, actually predate Christendom. 

Swan continues: Rather, he asks the Ephesians to pray for him as he proclaims the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 6:19). In fact, the entire epistle to the Ephesians is soaked in devotion to Christ. Christians are instructed to be "imitators of God," while Mary, Madrid's strongest weapon, is conspicuously absent.
And again, there is nothing to stop the Christian from petitioning fellow Christians and other Saints - the benefit of the Holy Rosary is a) in the meditations, putting your heart and mind focused on Christ and b) petitioning Jesus' mom to pray for us to Him as well.

Swan states:  Paul doesn't mention the Rosary as a means of fighting sin and standing strong in the faith. 
And again with the anachronism!  One has to wonder why a Protestant apologist would think such an "out of time" argument would be valid.  Perhaps to someone weak in their faith or one who thinks St. Paul carried with him the King James Version of the Bible, maybe someone like that might be fooled by such argumentation but no one who knows even a little bit of history of the Holy Rosary would be fooled by this.

Swan posits:  One would think if the Rosary is the "strongest weapon outside the sacraments that we have to combat mortal sin" he would've mentioned it. Perhaps Paul mentioned it elsewhere to the Ephesians, but didn't write it down? Perhaps this is an unwritten Tradition?
And more and more of the anachronistic argument!  Perhaps Mr. Swan should consider that the Holy Rosary was first given to St. Dominic by the Blessed Virgin in the late 12th to early 13th century.  Yes, that's some 1200 years AFTER St. Paul was martyred in Rome - so it's not very likely that St. Paul would be talking about something which would not exist for another 1200 years!

Swan asks:  Perhaps it's been defined as such by an infallible authority?
Actually, no - there is no infallible teaching on the Rosary.  It was a private revelation to St. Dominic - and though intended to be shared, it is still a matter of private revelation.  No Catholic HAS to participate in Rosary prayers.

Swan continues:  Perhaps Madrid is engaging in private judgment as to his positive disposition towards the Rosary?
No again.  Patrick Madrid is expounding upon private revelation which has been approved/authenticated by the Church.  I reiterate, it has not been elevated to a "de fide" or dogmatic teaching - so no Catholic HAS to participate in the Holy Rosary.  If I may share, when I first converted from being a Lutheran, I asked my confessor about this.  Since I was a Lutheran previously, I had some reservations about praying the Rosary, the good Monsignor Waterhouse (may he rest in peace) simply said, "then don't do it!"  He went on to say, "I can't understand why you wouldn't - but if you're uncomfortable with the Rosary, don't say it."  That removed a lot of concern from me, and then when I studied the Rosary itself from a more objective point of view, I came to understand it better and those earlier reservations have gone by the wayside.

Swan concludes:  The answers to these questions probably won't be forthcoming any time soon.
Well, "soon" is relative.  Mr. Swan posted this over a year ago, so my answers did not come "soon" after he posted this blog, but they came within the same day of me reading the blog - I trust that is "soon enough" for him.  I cannot say if Patrick has or has not directly responded to Mr. Swan.


For more information on the Most Holy Rosary and its history, please look at these links:


  1. As a former protestant, now Catholic, I too have had qualms about praying the rosary. I think your arguments in answer to Mr. Swan regarding anachronism aren't going to persuade many Protestants however.

    Yes it may outdate Protestantism itself, but as it wasn't a practice by the Apostles and isn't in scripture then that is precisely the damaging aspect for Protestants.

    I think the Rosary isn't the issue and rather a discussion of the source of authority is at the heart of the issue. If Swan is operating from a sola scriptura mindset then the rosary isn't the biggest issue at hand.

    I guess in my opinion since it is not dogmatic nor obligatory there are bigger fish to fry then the rosary, and both sides should recognize that.

  2. Thanks TW, I agree that the mere fact that Swan's arguments are anachronistic isn't going to convert anyone over - but such an obvious chink in the armor could not be left unnoticed.

    I do not expect any one article by me or any other apologist to instantly convert anyone. However, if we can consistently present where folks like Swan here have taken great liberties to present such an anachronistic argument (which essentially reduces his argumentation to a falsehood) then perhaps one day "the light will go on" and some will come out of that "darkness" and into the True Light of the Church which Jesus Christ Himself built nearly 2000 years ago.

    I agree, there are bigger fish to fry, but you know - if you fry up enough little fishes you can still make a meal of them!

    The other aspect here is that if we just let such an obviously WRONG argument to go unanswered, then the weak-spirited may see support in such an argument for their false path they are on. I believe it is our duty to point out such bad arguments, even if they seem rather obvious and/or non-dogmatic in nature.

    Thanks again for your comment. If you have anything else to add to help us be more persuasive, please continue!

    In JMJ,

  3. Hi CathApol,

    I know this post isn't on transubstantiation, but I saw your response to Rhoblogy's post on transubstantiation. While I'm not Catholic and don't hold to the doctrine, I'm also not really fundamentally against it. I don't see it in scripture, but I don't know that there's anything terrible about holding to it, since I think the Eucharist, whatever the true nature of it is, is a very intimate and spiritual moment with Christ.

    That said, I am interested in the formulation. William Lane Craig, in one of his Defenders podcasts, talked about the issue and mentioned something interesting a Catholic told him about Transubstantiation and how it made sense in the Catholic's mind. Craig asked him how Christ's body had not been exhausted throughout the years. I can't remember the answer. Could you extrapolate on it for me? The answer, as I remember, had something to do with the nature of the substance consumed.

    In Christ.

  4. Hi bossmanham,
    I have made a separate blog entry to answer you to be more on-topic with your question regarding transubstantiation. Please continue this discussion over there.



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