Mary Mediatrix and the Church Fathers (vs. James White)

Mary Mediatrix and the Church Fathers (vs. James White) March 23, 2017

+ Documentation That White Accepts the Scholarship of the Protestant Church Historians I Cite (J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff)


Assumption of the Virgin (1637), by Guido Reni (1575-1642) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




James White wrote a book called, Mary — Another Redeemer? His words will be in blue.


Evidence of the Mary Mediatrix doctrine in a primitive, relatively undeveloped sense, is seen in aspects of St. Irenaeus’ teaching. St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) wrote:

“. . . so also Mary . . . being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.”

(3, 22, 4; from W. A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1970, vol. 1, p. 93, #224)

“. . . for in no other way can that which is tied be untied unless the very windings of the knot are gone through in reverse: so that the first joints are loosed through the second, and the second in turn free the first . . . Thus, then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied
through the obedience of Mary.”

(Against Heresies, III, 22,4; from William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)

William Most comments:

“Mary, says St. Irenaeus, undoes the work of Eve. Now it was not just in a remote way that Eve had been involved in original sin: she shared in the very ruinous act itself. Similarly, it would seem, Mary ought to share in the very act by which the knot is untied — that is, in Calvary itself.”

(in Most, ibid., 25)

“Just as the human race was bound over to death through a virgin, so was it saved through a virgin: the scale was balanced — a virgin’s disobedience by a virgin’s obedience.”

(Against Heresies, V, 19, 1; cited in Most, ibid., 274)


Protestants like White often act as if this is extraordinary special pleading to see in remarks such as these a kernel of the notion of mediatrix or the always vastly misunderstood term, “co-redemptrix”. Funny, then, that the well-known Protestant patristics scholar J. N. D. Kelly doesn’t think so (he precisely agrees with me):

The real contribution of these early centuries, however, was more positively theological, and consisted in representing Mary as the antithesis of Eve and drawing out the implications of this. Justin was the pioneer, although the way he introduced the theme suggests that he was not innovating . . . Tertullian and Irenaeus were quick to develop these ideas. The latter, in particular, argued [Against Heresies, 3, 22, 4; cf. 5, 19, 1] that Eve, while still a virgin, had proved disobedient and so became the cause of death both for herself and for all mankind, but Mary, also a virgin, obeyed and became the cause of salvation both for herself and for all mankind. “Thus, as the human race was bound fast to death through a virgin, so through a virgin it was saved.” Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing [Ibid, 4, 33, 1] her womb as “that pure womb which regenerates men to God.”

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: HarperCollins, revised edition of 1978, 493-494, emphases added)

Even Bishop White is not a Church historian, so if it comes down to a conflict of historical fact between White and Kelly, it is obvious who has the advantage and who can be trusted for the facts. And that is not all one can find by way of Protestant historians. How about Philip Schaff? He writes:

The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century in an allegorical interpretation of the history of the fall, and in the assumption of an antithetic relation of Eve and Mary, according to which the mother of Christ occupies the same position in the history of redemption as the wife of Adam in the history of sin and death [Rom 5:12 ff., 1 Cor 15:22] . . . Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a “mother of all living” in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, as Eve by her disobedience was the fountain of sin and death.

[Footnote: “Even St. Augustine carries this parallel between the first and second Eve as far as any of the fathers . . . “]

(History of the Christian Church, Vol. III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity: A.D. 311-600, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974; reproduction of fifth edition of 1910, 414-415, emphases added. This work is available in its entirety online, too)

But James White makes the following profoundly ignorant historical summation:

…the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary. [pp. 75-76 of his book]

An old wise proverb says that “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” but maybe White can somehow pretend that these notions were absent from history, when they clearly were not, according to Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (two of the very best and most-cited, at that). Best wishes! I don’t envy him. And I think we can already see one reason why Bishop White won’t come out from behind his word-processor and defend his own historical absurdities from his book.

Furthermore, Lutheran historian Jaroslav Pelikan (who converted to Orthodoxy after the following was written), observed the true focus of patristic and Catholic Mariology, during St. Irenaeus’ time:

. . . as Christian piety and reflection sought to probe the deeper meaning of salvation, the parallel between Christ and Adam found its counterpart in the picture of Mary as the Second Eve . . . in is fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

For it mattered a great deal for christology whether or not one had the right to call Mary Theotokos [Mother of God] . . . an apt formula for their belief that in the incarnation deity and humanity were united so closely . . . It was a way of speaking about Christ at least as much as a way of speaking about Mary.

(The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), University of Chicago Press, 1971, 242-243)

The concept (in early development) of mediatrix was there in the quotes themselves and in the summary of Irenaeus’ teaching by Kelly and Schaff, where they actually relate it to “redemption” and “salvation” and use words like “mediate” and “instrumental” with regard to Mary’s place in the economy of redemption. The word no more has to be present than the word “Trinity” has to be in the Bible, in order to think that the teaching is there.

Co-redemptrix is also implicit in the concept of Second Eve, by its very nature, as shown above. It’s not just development (though that is a crucial component of this discussion), but the fact that the concept of New Eve was already in full force at this early stage (as early as Justin Martyr, who died in 165 — and Kelly says it looks like he was just passing on what he received).

It is not necessary to have a “Roman Catholic notion of development of doctrine” in order to accept this development, but to have whatever kind of development Schaff and Pelikan and Kelly accept (since they are not Catholics). This is the whole point. It’s not a “Catholic thing”; it is an “historical thing.” Schaff detests the very doctrines he is describing, and makes no bones about it, but he is also (invariably) an honest historian who presents the facts — whatever he thinks of them.

White detests the doctrines, too, but then tries to vainly pretend that they were absent from patristic history. This is the difference, and this is one of a multitude of reasons why I have long maintained that White is a sophist and special pleader. He himself accepts development in one area but denies it in another, and his criteria for doing so are completely arbitrary, self-contradictory, and instances of glaring double standards.

Development of Mariology is no different than development of any other doctrine. One may quibble with it because it is supposedly so “unbiblical,” but then one would have to also toss out the canon of Scripture, which is absolutely unbiblical. Etc. I’ve made all the arguments.

As far as I am concerned, so far, not one thing I have contended has been overthrown or refuted. It was claimed (by White and his defenders) that St. Irenaeus taught not a thing about Mary Mediatrix. I responded with Protestant historians Kelly and Schaff (and a bit indirectly), Pelikan, who thought quite otherwise. It was claimed that I was demanding people to accept a presupposed Catholic version of development of doctrine. I showed how that was not the case, and my extensive reasoning for why I think that, in the review itself, needs to be dealt with.

In fighting heresy, one may express points of Mariology, just as he might express various aspects of christology, soteriology, anthropology, theology proper, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If you are fighting heretical theology, you have to give orthodox theology to counter it (in fact, fighting error is often the occasion for some of the most elaborate expositions of orthodox theology, as a counterpoint; e.g., St. Augustine’s reactions to the Manichees and Donatists and Pelagians).

And if Mary is mentioned in any “theological” way, that is Mariology, pure and simple. It may be very primitive and undeveloped (of course it is, in the second century (Irenaeus’ era), though it is remarkably and surprisingly well-developed, given Protestant hostile assumptions about how little it should be by this time), but it remains Mariology because it offers some theology and interpretation of Mary.

Catholics have always stated that Mariology is christocentric, and that this was its primary purpose. It was to safeguard the deity and incarnation of Jesus. This is precisely why I cited Jaroslav Pelikan, in agreement with Catholic theology and perspective:

[I]n its fundamental motifs the development of the Christian picture of Mary and the eventual emergence of a Christian doctrine of Mary must be seen in the context of the development of devotion to Christ and, of course, of the development of the doctrine of Christ.

White hasn’t proven that to argue about Christ necessarily excludes discussion of Mary, as if the two are like oil and water or two magnetic poles.  Mariology was (and is) a subset of christology. This is how Irenaeus approaches it, and how the Catholic Church does, as well.

Secondly, when people are presenting a primitive, undeveloped form of a doctrine, they don’t themselves know how far it will be developed in the future, by definition. If they did, there would be no development! But there is development, of every doctrine. The canon of Scripture developed; so did original sin, and the Hypostatic Union, and trinitarianism, and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and Mariology, and sacramentology, and the doctrine of the atonement, and eucharistic theology. Irenaeus would have been incapable of presenting, e.g., the full intricate doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, which was fully-developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

This is not just Catholic “special pleading” and “anachronistically reading our ‘papist’ views back into the 2nd century. I cited J.N.D. Kelly arriving at the same exact same conclusion about this very passage:

Irenaeus further hinted both at her universal motherhood and at her cooperation in Christ’s saving work, describing her womb as ‘that pure womb which regenerates men to God.’

So how is it that I am somehow the unreasonable one even though I can cite one of the leading Protestant patristic experts in exact agreement with my interpretation of Irenaeus?

Schaff (repeat!) also asserts a “universal motherhood” as an early patristic belief:

Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, are the first who present Mary as the counterpart of Eve, as a ‘mother of all living’ in the higher, spiritual sense, and teach that she became through her obedience the mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race, . . .

St. Irenaeus  wrote in Against Heresies, III, 21, 7:

7. On this account also, Daniel, foreseeing His advent, said that a stone, cut out without hands, came into this world. For this is what “without hands” means, that His coming into this world was not by the operation of human hands, that is, of those men who are accustomed to stone-cutting; that is, Joseph taking no part with regard to it, but Mary alone co-operating with the pre-arranged plan. For this stone from the earth derives existence from both the power and the wisdom of God. Wherefore also Isaiah says: “Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I deposit in the foundations of Zion a stone, precious, elect, the chief, the corner-one, to be had in honour.” So, then, we understand that His advent in human nature was not by the will of a man, but by the will of God.

Miravalle gives the Latin of the relevant phrase: sola Maria cooperante dispositioni.

James White claims that mediation and co-redemption are “completely absent” from “the early Church.” But Kelly, writing about Irenaeus’ Mariology, uses descriptive words like “cause of salvation,” “through a virgin it was saved,” “universal motherhood,” “cooperation in Christ’s saving work,” and “[her womb] regenerates men.” Schaff uses words like “The development of the orthodox Mariology and Mariolatry originated as early as the second century,” “redemption,” ‘mother of all living’,” and “mediate or instrumental cause of the blessings of redemption to the human race.” What more does one need?

Furthermore, a few centuries later, these concepts became extremely explicit in some of the Fathers (precisely as we would expect from the nature of development itself). So. e.g., St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) wrote:

Mary was alone when the Holy Spirit came upon her and overshadowed her. She was alone when she saved the world — operata est mundi salutem – and when she conceived the redemption of all — concepit redemptionem universorum.

(in Mark I. Miravelle, ditor, Mary: Coredemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate: Theological Foundations, Santa Barbara, Califiornia: Queenship Publishing, 1995, p. 14; from Epist. 49,2; ML 16, 1154)


She engendered redemption for humanity, she was carrying, in her womb, the remission of sins.

(in Miravelle, ibid., p. 14; from De Mysteriis III, 13; ML 16,393; De instit. Virginis 13,81; ML 16,325)

St. Ephraem of Syria (c. 306-373) called Mary the “dispensatrix of all goods.” (in William G. Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1963, 48)

Basil of Seleucia (died c. 458) referred to her as the “Mediatrix of God and men.” (in Most, ibid., 48)

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) wrote:

“Hail, Mary, Mother of God, by whom all faithful souls are saved [sozetai].

(in Miravelle, ibid., p. 13; from MG 77, 992, and 1033; from the Council of Ephesus in 431)

The expression Mediatrix or Mediatress was found in two 5th-century eastern writers, Basil of Seleucia (In SS. Deiparae Annuntiationem, PG 85, 444AB) and Antipater of Bostra (In S. Joannem Bapt., PG 85 1772C. The theory developed in the work of John of Damascus (d.c. 749; see Homilia I in Dormitionem, PG 96 713A) and Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (d.c.733; see Homilia II in Dormitionem, PG 98 321, 352-353).

(see Miravelle, ibid., 134-135)

The Protestant reference Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. F. L. Cross, 2nd ed., Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p. 561), states concerning Patriarch Germanus:

“Mary’s incomparable purity, foreshadowing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and her universal mediation in the distribution of supernatural blessings, are his two frequently recurring themes.”

St. Andrew of Crete (c. 660-740) referred to Mary as the “Mediatrix of the law and grace” and also stated that “she is the mediation between the sublimity of God and the abjection of the flesh.”

(Nativ. Mariæ, Serm. 1 and Serm. 4, PG 97, 808, 865; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

St. John of Damascus (c. 675-c. 749) spoke of Mary fulfilling the “office of Mediatrix.”

(Hom. S. Mariæ in Zonam, PG 98, 377; in Miravelle, ibid., 283)

But remember, James White has informed us on pp. 75-76 and 137 of his book:

In fact, not only is the idea of Mary as Coredemptrix or Mediatrix completely absent from the Bible and from the early Church, it does not have its origin in history but in this kind of piety or religious devotion that is focused upon Mary.

[T]he push to define Mary as Coredemptrix flows out of the piety seen so plainly in Alphonsus Ligouri [sic] and Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. It does not come to us from Scripture, nor does it come from history.

White consistently misspells Liguori as “Ligouri”. That saint lived from 1696-1787. White appears to date this theological development to him, but he is more than 1200 years off the mark, since, as shown, the very terms mediatrix or mediatress were being used in the 5th century by at least two writers, and the concept in kernel can be traced as far back as Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. So much for Bishop White’s historiographical abilities . . . they are almost as deficient as his theological methodologies and conclusions.

Of course, he might want to argue that the 5th century (when St. Augustine and St. Jerome and St. Cyril of Alexandria lived) was not the time of the “early Church.” It wouldn’t be the oddest thing he has argued.

We need to avoid amateur historians like James White who is clearly in over his head when trying to discuss early Mariology. I’m no historian, either, but it is very easy for me to find substantiation from the best Protestant historians of Church history and the history of doctrine, for my point of view.

I thought it would be fun to search James White’s site in order to find out what he thinks of the scholarly abilities of Kelly and Schaff. This is what I found:

1) Article: “Exegetica: Roman Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics” (3-4-02)

White cites “Protestant church historian” Kelly once with regard to whether Rome had a single bishop or a group of bishops in the second century (the same era as Irenaeus).

2) Article: “Did The Early Church Believe In the LDS Doctrine of God?” (7-27-00)

White, arguing against Mormonism, cites Kelly at length, introducing him as “One of the greatest patristic scholars”. And he is the only historian White cites, in an article about the “early Church”.

3) Article: The Pre-existence of Christ In Scripture, Patristics and Creed” (7-27-00)

Again, in an article dealing in part with patristics, White cites only Kelly as a scholar in his section “Patristic Interpretation.” And then in the following footnotes, look who he mentions:

“25) For the text of the Nicene Creed, see J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (New York: Longman Inc., 1981), pp. 215-216 and Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985) vol. 1:27-28.

26) Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1:30.”

4) Article: “A Test of Scholarship” (11-13-98)

Again, Kelly is proclaimed as “One of the greatest patristic scholars” and White notes after a very long citation from Kelly: “I am appending a selection of quotations from the early Fathers that substantiates the conclusions of . . . Kelly quoted above.” White writes later:

“. . . J.N.D. Kelly’s fine work, Early Christian Doctrines (1978), a work that occupies a space close to my desk (for frequent reference).”

Jaroslav Pelikan’s comments on the notion of theosis in the early Church are also cited at length.

5) Article: “How Reliable Is Roman Catholic History?: An Example in a Recent Edition of This Rock Magazine” (7-25-00) [no longer online]

Kelly is cited three times as an expert on early Church ecclesiology. It stands to reason, that if Kelly can be used in an effort to show that Catholic Answers’ history on a certain disputed point is inaccurate, he can also be used in such a fashion against James White. After all, Kelly is obviously White’s favorite patristics scholar and historian of the early Church.

6) Article: “A Debate Between Professor James White, Director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, and Brother John Mary, Representing the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” (7-24-00) [no longer online]

Kelly is cited as an expert about the very Church Father under consideration:

“I note that J.N.D. Kelly asserts that Ireneaus, Tertullian, and Origen all felt Mary had sinned and doubted Christ (Early Christian Doctrines, 493).”

Note: Kelly sees no contradiction between Irenaeus’ belief in a non-sinless Mary and a Mary who is involved in co-redemption. He asserts that Irenaeus believed both things about Mary. So this is no disproof of the question at hand, but rather, a strong proof, since Kelly is obviously not an advocate of specifically “Catholic” dogma.

Philip Schaff is also cited pertaining to the question of whether Pope Sylvester called the Council of Nicaea.

7) Article: “The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology” (7-21-00)

White cites “noted patristic authority J.N.D. Kelly” with regard to the Council of Chalcedon and Christology, and his work is recommended for further reading on the Council.

Philip Schaff is mentioned even more times on White’s site (29 compared to 11 for Kelly):

8) “An In Channel Debate on Purgatory” (2-21-02)

White cites Schaff twice with regard to the views of Pope Gregory the Great.

9) “Catholic Legends And How They Get Started: An Example” (4-11-00)

Schaff is cited interpreting a letter from Pope Zosimus.

10) “Failure to Document: Catholic Answers Glosses Over History” (10-25-00)

Schaff is mentioned twice with regard of the history of the proceedings of Vatican I.

11) “Whitewashing the History of the Church” (8-31-00)

Schaff is cited with regard to Cyril’s views and the Council of Florence. This provides us with more delightful irony (never lacking when one deals with the illustrious Bishop White), since if Schaff can be cited as a “witness” to alleged Catholic “whitewashing” of history, he can be utilized to show White engaging in this practice (with White’s full consent!).

12) “Truths of the Bible or Untruths of Roman Tradition? James White Responds to Tim Staples’ Article, “How to Explain the Eucharist” in the September, 1997 issue of Catholic Digest” (7-25-00) [no longer online]

Schaff is cited twice with regard to historical debates on transubstantiation.


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