Mary Mediatrix: Dialogue w Evangelical Protestant

Mary Mediatrix: Dialogue w Evangelical Protestant August 10, 2019

This dialogue came about as a result of Jack DisPennett‘s critique of my paper, The Blessed Virgin Mary: Biblical & Catholic Overview. His words will be in blue.

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See the section above on Eusebius about the lack of such an “important” doctrine from the early church. Either Eusebius was too dense to note such an important doctrine (which is doubtful since he is a very respected Church figure) or the early Christians were missing out on a very important channel of Grace.

I dealt with relatively late developments above. But this notion was not as completely lacking as you suppose. St. Irenaeus (130-202), in his famous Against Heresies (bet. 180-199) — 200 years before the New Testament Canon was defined for all time — wrote:

[S]o 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, 93, #224)

[F]or 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 Most, Mary in Our Life, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1954, 25)

If we think of the thing as a regular knot, then it is obvious that the last part of the knot tied (Adam’s sin) would have to be untied first (by Christ) and then Eve’s part of the knot would be untied. But we do have a perfect analogy of this, because of Christ’s obedience, the Church is then being sanctified (made perfect, holy) thereby loosing Eve’s sin. Hence, if you want to use this analogy, I don’t think Mary need be part of it at all. But the whole concept of knots does seem to be misleading, I think.

You’re missing the whole point of the analogy, which is the human element in both sin and redemption, by analogy:

1a. Eve (a secondary agent of Satan’s designs) disobeys God, sins, and thus helps to bring about the Fall, along with Adam.
1b. Mary (the second Eve and secondary agent of God’s designs) obeys God and thus helps bring about the Redemption from sin and the Fall, along with the second Adam, Jesus, by bearing the Incarnate Son who is the Redeemer.

2a. Adam (a secondary agent of Satan’s designs) sins and brings about the Fall.
2b. Jesus (agent of God’s designs, as He is God), as the second Adam, undoes the Fall and brings about Redemption.

It’s true that only the second pair of propositions is directly expressed in Scripture. But the first pair follows by close analogy to the first, which is why this thought appeared very early on in the Fathers.

Catholic apologist Fr. 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)

It never says that Eve was a virgin at the time. It doesn’t say that she wasn’t, either, but this argument is nevertheless speculative.

You missed the point again. There is no speculation at all here. St. Irenaeus in this context is talking about the Annunciation and Mary’s obedience to bear Jesus Christ: to become the Theotokos. That is the Eve-Mary parallel: Eve disobeyed when she ate the forbidden fruit; Mary obeyed the angel Gabriel and God when she was asked to consent to her wonderful mission as the Mother of God. Protestants accept the Virgin Birth, and Mary was a virgin at the time of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-27 and ff.).

Nor is this doctrine entirely unbiblical, as you suppose. Numerous passages speak of Christians participating in some sense in the dustribution of grace, and the “saving” of others (which are all that Mary’s role as Mediatrix involves, albeit more preeminently). I presented the following arguments elsewhere:

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

In the Bible, giving “salvation” to other people is done by either preaching the Gospel to them (1 Cor 9:22) so that they are saved, or by living a holy life so that people are attracted to Christ because of your good conduct. (1 Peter 3:1) In all cases, it is Christ who is completely doing the saving; we are just messengers.

But that’s largely what I was arguing. God saves, but He uses human agents to spread His grace, whereby we are saved. You in effect concede the point altogether when you say that we indeed participate in this distribution of grace and sometimes salvation, by evangelizing and being holy (a good witness). We aren’t contending that Mary saves anyone, but that God can use her in the application of His grace which alone saves anyone. I gave plenty of scriptural support for those notions, but you have not counter-exegeted them, so they stand unchallenged and unrefuted.

I don’t think that the Catholic understanding of a “store of merit” from the saints whereby we receive indulgences are what those above passages are talking about at all.

I gave my biblical arguments (above and below). It is no counter-argument to say what you say here: it is just a bald statement. The two verses you do mention above are in no way contradictory to Catholic thought in this regard. So you have really offered no disproof whatever.

It is also to be noted that the “seven spirits who are before his [God’s] throne” seem to participate in distributing God’s grace as well (Rev 1:4). If Paul, Timothy, and “seven spirits” can be so used and honored, why not Mary, the Mother of God? What is the fundamental objection, other than prior antipathy to so-called “Catholic excess?” If one objectively examines the thing itself as at least a biblical possibility, I see no problem whatever with it.

The only way I can think of that Mary could “save” people is by appearing to them in dreams and exhorting them to embrace the divine word, as Eusebius relates to us that the martyr Potamiaena did. I just don’t believe in a “store of merit” as Catholics do.

I deal with biblical arguments for merit and penitential issues elsewhere. To pursue this would be to switch the subject from biblical evidence for Marian doctrine, to biblical evidence for penance and merit, or from biblical theology to systematic theology. I urge readers to pursue those papers for my answers.

Mary’s secondary (to Christ) and wholly derivative function as the Mediatrix is no more a violation of Jesus’ unique mediatorship than any number of functions He sanctions and allows among His Body, the Church. We pray for each other, thus acting as mediators. One could just as easily say, “Why ask your fellow Christians to pray for you when you can ask Jesus?” as “Why do you ask for Mary’s prayers when you can go directly to Jesus?” Yet God commands us to pray for one another. God is Creator, but he gives us the privilege of procreation, in childbirth and parenthood. Jesus is the “chief” Shepherd of His flock (John 10:11-16, 1 Peter 5:4), yet He assigns lesser shepherds to watch over His own (John 21:15-17, Ephesians 4:11). And He is the supreme Judge, but He bids us to judge as well (Matthew 19:28, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3, Revelation 20:4). Many other similar examples can be found in the Bible.

I believe I stated clearly somewhere in my original writing that I was not against ASKING Mary to pray for you; what I am against is vain repetitions to Mary,

Who decides what constitutes vain repetition? Where is that in the Bible. Failing answers to those questions, you are saying little or nothing of any substance. See:

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The Rosary: ‘Vain Repetition’ or Biblical Prayer? [National Catholic Register, 3-16-18]
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semi-divine titles given to Mary,

We do no such thing. What is semi-divine, anyway? One is either divine or not. We believe Mary is a creature; therefore she is on no way, shape or form divine. Nor does Mother of God imply that, or Mediatrix, or any other Marian title.

and overemphasizing Mary in prayer. I will go into this further when I respond to the Rosary.

This would only apply if indeed the Catholic Church taught that Mary should replace Christ, or that asking her intercession is somehow in conflict with ultimately beseeching and praying to Jesus, just as Protestants deny that asking a pastor to pray for them is in conflict with asking God to grant some desire or need.

However, I do think that using the title “Co-redemptrix” is very misleading and should be done away with.

The popes hardly use it much at all anymore, precisely because it is so misunderstood; not because the view itself is erroneous.

In the English language, the prefix “Co” often implies equality with the other person, as in “co-owner” or “co-pilot.”

Yes; this is a problem of translation from Latin to English, and a loss of meaning, leading to a misunderstanding. I’ve dealt with it in other papers.

I also think that it is wrong to use Mediatrix as a title; sure, we are all little mediators; we can intercede for one another. But none of us can claim that as our title, since there is only one “Mediator” between man and God, the man Christ Jesus. All other mediators are “little mediators” and get their authority to mediate handed to them by Christ; hence, no one else besides Him should have “mediator” or “mediatrix” as his/her title.

You illustrate that you can accept the concept, by your statement: “All other mediators are ‘little mediators’ and get their authority to mediate handed to them by Christ.” What doesn’t follow is that we mustn’t use mediatrix because of Jesus’ unique mediatorship. We use words similarly all the time. God is the Creator. But we are procreators when we have children. God made that all possible, and in a sense, created each child. But we participated, didn’t we (as argued above)? God is the King, but we have human kings. He is our Father, and we have earthly fathers, etc. There is no inherent conflict or discord here. You have grasped the concept, as we believe it. The rest is just semantics and playing with words.

Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that Christians in general are God’s “helpers” or “fellow workers” (Greek, synergos):

2 Corinthians 6:1 Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. (cf. Mark 16:20)

1 Corinthians 3:9 For we are God’s fellow workers . . .

Why then, is it unthinkable for Mary to be a “fellow worker” with Jesus (albeit in a much more extraordinary fashion)? No one claims that the above verses teach our equality with God, simply because we work with Him, and are His fellow workers. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin is in no wise equal to God in function when she is a Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix.

Of course it doesn’t imply equality with God, but it still exalts Mary to too high of a level, a level that I think I have proved is not Biblical.

I don’t see how you have proven that. I showed that the fundamental concepts involved are applied by St. Paul to himself. It is only a matter of degree. Mary is preeminent among creatures, but she is still a creature, and in no way on a level with God.

I think that it is dangerous to give all of these laudatory titles to mere mortal people; the New Testament gives such laudatory titles to the Members of the Trinity.

The New Testament calls Jesus Savior and Redeemer. We don’t call Mary Savior,and even Co-Redemptrix, rightly-understood, in no way implies that Mary is a Redeemer as Jesus is.

I would conclude that such doctrine seems to insinuate a heavenly rankings system in which God is supreme and yet Mary stands at the top of the, having more grace, love, and godliness than any other created being.

Indeed it does. And it has much scriptural warrant or analogy, which you again largely ignore.

While I don’t deny that there may be such a heavenly “rankings system,” it seems that Christ would rather not tell us who will sit at His right and left hand (Matthew 20:23).

That was directed to His disciples, in the context of silly discussions about who was the greatest. Jesus was the King of Israel and successor to David, who was an archetype of the Messiah. It is said of Bathsheba, David’s wife, and mother of King Solomon, his son, that Solomon bowed down to her, and that she had a throne on his right (1 Kings 2:19; cf. 15:2,10). The queen-mother was the most important woman in the king’s court, and they were often named in the biblical history of the kings of Judah.

Yes, but Jesus’ whole ministry was all about blowing to pieces peoples’ traditional fleshly understanding of things.

This is merely what I would call a “pious Protestant platitude,” with little content. You asked about someone sitting at Jesus’ right hand, and I gave a biblical analogy, which related to Mary as both Spiritual Mother and the Queen of Heaven. But you don’t have much appreciation for biblical typology, which is all-too-common amongst Protestants, over against the Fathers, who used it all the time (and the ancient Jews).

Jesus said that His mother and brothers were those who did the will of God.

I dealt with this sort of rather-common but exceedingly weak Protestant “objection” in my paper: “Did Jesus Renounce Marian Veneration? (Lk 11:27-28)”.

Jesus was more worried about the spiritual than the physical, and this is why He cut down the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, between rich and poor, etc.

I don’t see how this is relevant to our discussion.

He cared for His mother, yes, but He never insinuated that her carrying Him in her womb gave her a special position of grace as a mediatrix.

His goal was to proclaim the Kingdom of God and make Himself known (which was His mother’s goal, too). But the absence in the Bible of Jesus saying something like: “Venerate my mother because she is the mediatrix of all graces” is no more troublesome than His never saying in Scripture: “I am God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, equal in power, glory, and essence with My Father, with Two Natures (the Hypostatic Union) in my one Person.”

Both notions are developments in theology, and both (in terms of full understanding) are mostly post-biblical developments, based on the reflection of the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit of the Church into all truth. The Church was working on and developing Christology all the way up to 451 and the Council of Chalcedon (the Hypostatic Union), some 400 years after Jesus’ death. Development is a fact of Christianity, and Mariology is one area which has exhibited much development, even up to our own times.

Jesus couldn’t even guarantee that two of His closest disciples would sit near Him in His Glory, because He knew that their mere earthly relationship with Him does not give them privilege over others who might come later in history who might be closer to Him in the Spirit.

Jesus can do whatever He wants. He could make weak St. Peter the Rock and build His Church upon the notion of a human leader. Likewise, He can choose to give His mother whatever honor He deems fitting and in accordance with His purposes in salvation history. I have given plenty of Scripture, but you keep giving me your own opinions, which don’t — with all due respect — count for much if they clash with Scripture itself.

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Related Reading:

Mary Mediatrix: A Biblical Explanation [1999]

Mary Mediatrix vs. Jesus Christ the Sole Mediator? [1-30-03]

Mary Mediatrix & the Bible (vs. Dr. Robert Bowman) [8-1-03]

Mary Mediatrix and the Church Fathers (+ Documentation That James White Accepts the Scholarship of the Protestant Church Historians I Cite [J. N. D. Kelly and Philip Schaff] ) [9-7-05]
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Mary Mediatrix: A Biblical & Theological Primer [9-15-15]

Mary Mediatrix: Close Biblical Analogies [National Catholic Register, 8-14-17]

Mary Mediatrix & Jesus (Mere Vessels vs. Sources) [8-15-17]

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(originally 1-21-02)

Photo credit: Dolorosa (1660), by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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