The Mediatrix in the Church's Teaching
Editor's Note: Apologist Jacob Michael presents a succinct Catholic Apologetic based on the Holy Scriptures. He has chosen to call his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures? He utilizes the approved and superior Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic version in his apologia and holds to the Council of Trent's decree to "accept Sacred Scripture according to the meaning which has been held by Holy Mother Church and which She now holds. It is Her prerogative to pass judgment on the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Scripture and will not accept or interpret it in a manner different from the unanimous agreement of the Fathers."
Some passages below are highlighted in blue bold for emphasis.
The writing of this essay constitutes a sort of personal victory for me. As a Protestant convert to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, there were many dogmas and teachings of the Church that I had to wrestle through in my mind. Many converts experience the same thing, and most will tell you that the last and greatest obstacle they had to overcome were the Marian doctrines.
I don't know exactly why this should be, but the fact remains: Our Lady and her prerogatives take some getting used to, at least, intellectually speaking.
For me, personally, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption were not terribly difficult to understand or accept. The really difficult teaching, although it has not yet attained dogmatic status, was the teaching regarding Mary as the Mediatrix of Grace.
After a great deal of study, however, I am now able to present this essay, in which I believe I can show that Scripture itself implicitly teaches that Mary is the channel through which Our Lord dispenses His graces. A tough challenge, some might say, but it really surprised me how easy it was to see this teaching in Sacred Scripture, once I had the right interpretive keys in hand.
I said that the Church has not dogmatically defined Her teachings on Mary as Mediatrix, and that is true. However, I did find that this seems to be very much a part of the Church's tradition, and one could argue that it is already firmly established as part of Her body of teaching.
I do want to focus the majority of this essay on the Scriptural basis for this teaching, but I do think it is necessary to also draw out the basis for this teaching in Tradition, if only to show that it does exist there.
We begin with as early a witness (second century) as St. Irenaeus:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient... But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she... having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, become the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race... And thus also it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Against Heresies, 3:22:4)
St. Irenaeus here advocates a sort of "New Eve" typology in relation to Mary. He draws out certain parallels between the two women, and concludes that Mary constitutes a kind of "reversal" of Eve. What Eve bound up by her disobedience, Mary has loosed and set free by her obedience. St. Irenaeus puts it most strongly in this way: "Mary... [became] the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race."
Later in this same work, Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus returns to the Mary/Eve parallel:
For just as the former [Eve] was led astray by the word of an angel, so that she fled from God when she had transgressed His word; so did the latter [Mary], by an angelic communication, receive the glad tidings that she should sustain (portaret) God, being obedient to His word. And if the former did disobey God, yet the latter was persuaded to be obedient to God, in order that the Virgin Mary might become the patroness (advocata) of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so is it rescued by a virgin; virginal disobedience having been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. (ibid., 5:19:1)
Once again the saint draws certain parallels between Eve and Mary, drawing the conclusion that Mary has become the "advocate" of Eve, and that Mary's obedience - in some mystical way - balances the scales that were tipped by Eve's disobedience. The words are strikingly clear: "the human race... is rescued by a virgin."
We find similar statements among the other early Fathers as well. St. Ambrose writes:
That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. At last it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Highest overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. (The Book Concerning the Mysteries, 3:13)
This great saint chooses to frame the teaching of the Mediatrix in this way: Mary "conceived" Redemption, and she did so "for the race of men."
So also with St. Jerome:
In those days, as I have said, the virtue of continence was found only in men: Eve still continued to travail with children. But now that a virgin has conceived in the womb and has borne to us a child of which the prophet says that "Government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called the mighty God, the everlasting Father," now the chain of the curse is broken. Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary. (Letter XXII, 21)
St. Jerome returns to a theme here that we saw earlier in St. Irenaeus: Mary reverses what Eve set in motion. He says, "now that a virgin has conceived" - speaking of Mary - "the chain of the curse is broken." A more concise statement of Mary's role as Mediatrix could hardly be found than this one: "life has come through Mary."
We move ahead, then, to some of the most recent papal statements on this teaching. It is not my purpose here to give a defense of the patristic tradition regarding Mary as Mediatrix, so you will pardon me for skipping right from St. Jerome to the more modern popes. My intent is only to show that this teaching has existed from the earlier Fathers of the Church, and continues to exist in our times.
We begin with a few statements by Pope Leo XIII, who reigned near the end of the 19th century:
With equal truth may it be also affirmed that, by the will of God, Mary is the intermediary through whom is distributed unto us this immense treasure of mercies gathered by God, for mercy and truth were created by Jesus Christ. Thus as no man goes to the Father but by the Son, so no man goes to Christ but by His Mother. (Pope Leo XIII, Octobri Mense, 4)
Thus is confirmed that law of merciful meditation of which We have spoken, and which St. Bernardine of Siena thus expresses: "Every grace granted to man has three degrees in order; for by God it is communicated to Christ, from Christ it passes to the Virgin, and from the Virgin it descends to us." (Pope Leo XIII, Iucunda Semper Expectatione, 5)
How rightly, too, has every nation and every liturgy without exception acclaimed her great renown, which has grown greater with the voice of each succeeding century. Among her many other titles we find her hailed as "our Lady, our Mediatrix,"[St. Bernard, Serm. II in Adv.] "the Reparatrix of the whole world,"[St. Tharasius, Orat. in Praesentatione] "the Dispenser of all heavenly gifts."[On Off. Graec., 8 Dec] (Pope Leo XIII, Aduitricem, 8)
It may be useful here to draw out a few sentences from this pope in order to help us give shape to the definition of the "Mediatrix." We have already seen how the Fathers define the terms: life comes through Mary, the cause of salvation is Mary, the advocate of Eve is Mary. Pope Leo XIII puts it this way: Mary is she through whom mercy is dispensed, and all grace passes from Christ through her to us. Neither is Pope Leo XIII alone in such statements, for he calls upon St. Bernard and St. Tharasius to provide him with titles for Mary such as "Mediatrix," and "Reparatrix."
We move from Leo XIII to Pope St. Pius X, the greatest archenemy of Modernism and Liberalism in the early 20th century.
Nevertheless, by this companionship in sorrow and suffering already mentioned between the Mother and the Son, it has been allowed to the august Virgin to be the most powerful mediatrix and advocate of the whole world with her Divine Son... We are then, it will be seen, very far from attributing to the Mother of God a productive power of grace--a power which belongs to God alone. Yet, since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us "de congruo," in the language of theologians, what Jesus Christ merits for us "de condigno," and she is the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces. (Pope St. Pius X, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, 13-14)
The sainted pope here utilizes the term that St. Irenaeus used some 1,800 years before: Mary is the "advocate" of the whole world. The Holy Father also draws out a distinction that we must, of necessity, pay close attention to: Mary is not the source of grace, and she does not have "a productive power of grace." This, the holy pope says, is "a power which belongs to God alone." Rather, she is "the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces," a fine distinction that must be maintained. The role of Mary as Mediatrix does not make her equal with God, since only He can be called the source or producer of grace. Mary is dependent upon Him as her source, and only by His will and consent do these graces flow from Him through her hands.
We see the same teaching in Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI:
It is for this reason that all graces contained in the treasury of the Redemption are given to us through the hands of the same sorrowful Virgin. (Pope Benedict XV, Inter Sodalicia)
Trusting in her intercession with Christ, who whereas He is the "one mediator of God and men" (1 Timothy ii, 5), chose to make His Mother the advocate of sinners, and the minister and mediatress of grace... (Pope Pius XI, Miserentissimus Redemptor, 21)
Let them pray to Him [Jesus], interposing likewise the powerful patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of all graces, for themselves and for their families, for their country, for the Church (Pope Pius XI, Caritate Christi Compulsi, 31)
The titles should be getting familiar to you by now, as well as the role of Mary in relation to Christ. He is the head of the Body, while she is the neck. She is the advocate of the human race, and it is through her hands that Christ chooses to dispense His graces.
Well, what does the modern Church teach about this? Some have said that the Mediatrix doctrine was primarily an older, perhaps medieval, superstitious teaching that the modern Church has outgrown. Actually, the most recent Church council, Vatican II, affirmed this doctrine:
This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect... By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator. (Lumen Gentium, 62)
With the Second Vatican Council, we come to the end of an all-too-brief survey of this teaching as it has been expounded since the early Fathers. In the next installment, we will turn our attention, then, to Sacred Scripture and examine a few passages. I want to look at three specific examples, all of which situate the Blessed Virgin right in the center of Christ's redemptive work. Those examples are as follows: the Wedding at Cana, the Woman of Revelation 12, and the Presentation in the Temple.
The Mediatrix at the Wedding at Cana
If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at email@example.com and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.