Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Biblical & Theological Primer on Mary Mediatrix

[originally uploaded in 1999]

A woman on my discussion list asked the following question:

Alright, in the midst of this disagreement, I have a few questions.... (forgive me if I seem ignorant on some points. I am not yet Catholic - a year from this Easter, hopefully - and so I am still learning the finer points of Catholicism).

As we all are. No one need be ashamed at learning or asking good questions, as you do. The only "dumb question" is the unasked question that should be asked.

The quotes you (Dave) offered make it clear that as Co-Redemptrix Mary was not equal in Jesus' role...obviously not, since she was not God incarnate. I am confused, however, as to the role to which she did perform... see her as the one human to be honored above all others, but I do not see how we owe our redemption to her - OTHER than the honor due to her as the Mother of God. Isn't she a vessel, more than a participant?? I can understand how she participated, at least, was involved, simply by her pain at seeing her Son so treated and so full of pain... but I don't see how that could make her part of the redemption in any other way. Could you please tell me what I got right? (and wrong!) I feel as if I almost understand this, but not quite there. Help? Thanks!

Perhaps the simplest way to explain it (and rest assured that I don't fully understand this, either, of course - it is just like many complex and deep areas of theology that no man fully understands), is by direct analogy. I hope I do this sublime subject justice:

1) In becoming man, God chose to involve a human being, Mary.

2) God didn't have to do so - He could have appeared at 30 years old to be baptized by John the Baptist if He so wished. He could have appeared as a grown man just like Adam did.

3) But God chose to involve human "mediation" in the Incarnation, by "including" Mary and human reproductive biology (i.e., in terms of a uterus and uterine development of a child, but not in terms of sexual intercourse). Mary was a real mother, not just a biological "conduit," so to speak. This is the sublime marvel of the whole thing: God could choose and use a human mother in order to come to earth and take on human flesh!

4) Now, an ancient theme in the Fathers is Mary as the "Second Eve." Eve said "no" to God and so caused (along with Adam) the Fall of Man. Mary, on the other hand, said "yes" to God at the Annunciation and so caused (along with Christ - but in an essentially lesser, and non-necessary, non-sufficient fashion) the Redemption of Man. We "get" Christ - the incarnate Man, the God-Man with a human nature - through Mary. He received His human body through Mary. He didn't have to, but He did. Hence we honor Mary above all other creatures as the Theotokos - the "God-bearer" - as well we should. Protestant theology is way off the mark here, and inconsistent with the strong Mariology of its founder, Martin Luther (he even accepted the Immaculate Conception - long before it was defined Catholic dogma).

5) So Mary is Mediatrix in that way, but there is also a further sense, which involves the notion of Co-Redemptrix and the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. As His mother, Mary offered up (with full consent of the will) Jesus on Calvary, with faith that it was all God's purpose; that this horrible event (humanly speaking) was predestined for the salvation of the human race. In doing so she did what all Catholics do at every Mass; we offer up Jesus (pay close attention to the eucharistic prayers) in His one sacrifice at Calvary, re-presented (i.e., made present, as opposed to another sacrifice) through the miracle of transubstantiation.

6) Mary participates objectively in the Redemption of humanity just as we participate objectively in our own individual salvation, through our free will (though it is all ultimately caused by God and His grace). We must willingly follow Jesus and keep His commandments, remain faithful and vigilant, and - precisely because we have free will - we may lose the graces of God which are necessary for us to obtain eschatological salvation (i.e., actual transformational salvation when we die - not the abstract "I am saved now" notion of Protestantism).

7) So, just as we are allowed the unfathomable privilege of participating in our own redemption, likewise God willed that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, the Immaculate one, the perpetual Virgin, the Second Eve, would play a part in the Redemption of all, by consenting to the Sacrifice on the Cross of her Son, who was God in the flesh. She doesn't (solely and sufficiently) cause the Redemption any more than we (solely and sufficiently) cause our own redemption. Her role is to freely assent and to bear the suffering in her immaculate heart that Jesus bore in His Sacred Heart (hence those two devotions in Catholic theology).

8) "Co" in Latin does not mean "equal"; it merely means "with" or "alongside." We see this even in English. If you have a "co-pay" with regard to health insurance, that doesn't mean that you always pay equally with your insurance provider (I sure hope not!). "Co-Pilot" sometimes means "equal" but usually not. Etc. But because the term Co-Redemptrix is so misunderstood, it has fallen out of use in the last 50 years or so. But nevertheless, Pope John Paul II has used it at least five times, as Dr. Miravelle notes.

9) This was God's marvelous plan - to involve a creature and a woman at every step of the way, so as to achieve a certain "balance" - if I may properly speak in such a way. Eve brought down the human race, acting with Adam; Mary helped to raise it, acting in concert with Jesus Christ, her Son, the second Adam (as Paul describes Him). If Satan could cause the fall of the human race through the frailty of Woman and Man, why is it not plausible that God could in turn bring about the Redemption of the human race in part through the Immaculate Mary, the Second Eve, the Theotokos? To me it all makes eminent sense. It is contrary neither to Scripture nor to common sense and reason.

10) There is no necessary reason - a priori - for thinking that God couldn't or wouldn't have done such a thing (many Protestants and Orthodox, and questioning Catholics seem to regard these notions as intrinsically impossible, excessive, idolatrous, and unbiblical). Nothing in these concepts is contrary to Scripture or Tradition. God clearly uses human beings as mediators. We pray for each other. Paul speaks of "having saved some" in the process of his ministry. Moses interceded and "atoned" for the Jews, and God decided not to destroy them, etc. We do good works of charity and are (hopefully) vessels of God's love and the gospel, helping others to see the light which we carry as believers indwelt with the Holy Spirit. It all comes down to free will, and bearing God's image within us.

11) All that being the case, it is nothing so unbelievable or extraordinary that God chose to involve Mary in the Redemption of mankind and the distribution of graces. God can do whatever He wants! We seem, oftentimes, to foolishly think (on an unconscious level, of course) that God can only do what we think He should do! :-) It is said in the Psalms and Prophets that God could raise up a rock or a tree to sing His praises, if stubborn men refuse to do so. God used a donkey (Balaam's ass) to speak and express His will once. He can use babies, or infants, and the most "unlikely," unexpected human beings. He appeared in a burning bush and in a cloud. He told Isaiah to walk around naked, and to describe men's actions as menstrual rags (that is the literal meaning of Isaiah 64:6). Why should anything He does or chooses to do surprise us?? The ending of Job makes this clear enough. We should never lose the sense of wonder and initial shock when it comes to God, and presume to judge what He "shouldn't" or "wouldn't" do. His thoughts are as far above ours as the stars are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9).

12) So, then, what is the a priori objection to His choice to use Mary in such a fashion, in order to parallel Eve's disobedience with obedience; to help redeem the human race, so that a human being among us has helped raise us to where we were always meant to be? When God took on human flesh, He raised it to heights unknown since before the Fall. We were all meant to be sinless and immaculate. Now we are to believe that God couldn't or wouldn't raise one solitary human being to a sinless state before they get to heaven (where sin has no entrance)? Or to help redeem the human race out of that glorious bounty of sinlessness and holiness and love for all men?

13) Therefore, God chose to use Mary for the purpose of redeeming mankind. She willed the Sacrifice on Calvary just as we will that someone ought to be redeemed or to repent, through prayer. We can merit graces given to ourselves or others by means of our own sufferings and penances (another aspect of this). There is such a thing as redemptive suffering, and we all can participate in that - how much more Mary, being sinless and not heir to even original sin?

14) Mary, being immaculate and the Theotokos, was in a unique position to help redeem all mankind by "joining in" (in purpose and will) with Christ on Calvary. She can obtain far more than any of us from God, on the basis of the Scripture, "the prayer of the righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). So God willed it so, and Mary complied. God chose to involve both the God-Man in salvation (essentially, sufficiently) and the Woman, the Second Eve (in collaboration, as a "fellow-laborer" with God, as Paul describes disciples). We participate in our own salvation by consent and obedience; Mary participates in the salvation of all who are saved by her consent and obedience to Calvary. In a sense, then, the difference between ourselves and the Blessed Virgin is only quantitative, not qualitative. God was pleased to do this, because it involved human beings, and He always desires for human beings to act freely in accord with His will.

15) Likewise, God chooses to distribute all graces through Mary. She is our Advocate and Supreme Intercessor, because she is so holy, and is the Mother of God. How is that in any way unbiblical? It is not! If Moses could successfully intercede on behalf of an entire sinful and disobedient group (the Jews in the wilderness), if Abraham's prayer could spare his nephew Lot (and Sodom and Gomorrah also, if enough righteous men had been found there) why is it so remarkable that God would choose to involve Mary in intercession and distribution of graces to an entire sinful and disobedient group (mankind)? If one thing can occur, so can the other.

16) The biblical evidence for all this (as Protestants will no doubt demand) is in kernel form. It stems from Mary's Immaculate Conception (full of grace - kecharitomene - Lk 1:28) and the New Eve concept above all, and has been consistently developed through the centuries by the Church. Catholics believe in such a thing as the "mind of the Church." When a consensus is reached by clergy and laity, popes and Councils, liturgy and pious practice, on a certain issue, we believe this is a legitimate part of Tradition, since we believe that God continually guides His Church, en masse, by means of the Holy Spirit, Who "teaches us all things." Protestants may scoff at this, but they have their own problems with the unbiblical and self-defeating nature of sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone as the Rule of Faith). Our overall system is far more biblical and self-consistent than theirs is. We need not "fear" the Bible in the least. Quite the contrary.

I hope and pray that I have done justice to this topic, and that I have helped others to understand this better. I am not a theologian, and have no formal theological training. But perhaps that is good, since (hopefully) I can express these points on a more popular level (assuming I do have correct beliefs concerning them). The academicians and theologians tend to write to each other and to become overly technical (not that that is a bad thing); hence they are not quite as useful for the larger population as they might otherwise be.


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