The following article by Edward Sri, S.T.D. is an excerpt from a chapter in the recently published Marian anthology, Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, Seat of Wisdom Books, A Division of Queenship, 2008. Fifteen international Mariology experts contributed to the text. The book features a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke and has 17 chapters divided into four parts: 1. Mary in Scripture and the Early Church; 2. Marian Dogma; 3. Marian Doctrine; and 4. Marian Liturgy and Devotion.
Belief in Mary’s loving intercession was expressed in early Christian art, prayer and teaching. Whether it be in the many frescoes of the Roman catacombs depicting Mary in a prayerful position, or through early Church Fathers who portray Mary in heaven as praying for those on earth, or through other Fathers who address Mary and prayerfully seek her supplication, Mary’s intercessory role is clearly attested to in the first four centuries of the Church (1). As an example of how highly developed the understanding of Mary’s intercessory power could become in the early church, consider the prayer Sub Tuum Praesidium, which can be dated approximately to the mid-third century: “We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all danger, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin.” From this we see evidence of early Christians confidently turning to Mary for protection in the face of the trials and dangers in life and asking her to intercede for them. It is not surprising that the Church throughout the centuries would refer to Mary as our “Advocate,” indicating her unique power of intercession, taking petitions from God’s people on earth and presenting them before her Son in heaven.
Closely related to Mary’s advocacy is her role as Queen—another Marian title found in the early Church and developed in the Tradition throughout the centuries. In fact, many magisterial teachings will note how Mary exercises her royal office through her role as Advocate, interceding on our behalf. This article will examine Mary’s role as Advocate and Queen, first by exploring an important Biblical foundation for these two titles: the queen mother, who held a royal office in the kingdom of David, and exercised her office especially through her role as advocate, interceding for the people of the kingdom. Next, we will outline how the Church’s Tradition and magisterial teaching has developed the understanding of Mary’s advocacy and queenship throughout the centuries. And finally, some theological issues regarding Mary’s role as Advocate and Queen will be addressed.
The Queen Mother and Advocate in the Davidic Kingdom
The mother of a ruling monarch held an important position in many Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. She is known to have influenced political, military, economic and cultic affairs in the royal court and played a key part in the process of dynastic succession. In fact, it was generally the king’s mother who ruled as queen, not the king’s wife. We see this in Hittite, Ugaritic, Egyptian and Assyrian kingdoms, as well as in ancient Israel (2).
The importance of the king’s mother may seem odd until we recall that most Ancient Near Eastern kings practiced polygamy and had large harems. While kings may have had many wives, they each had only one mother, and the queenship was given to her. This, in fact, is what one finds in ancient Israel, where the king’s mother was given preeminence over all the women in the kingdom of Judah, even over the king’s wives. She was given the title Gebirah—or “Great Lady”—and reigned as queen in her son’s kingdom.
We can see the importance of the queen mother expressed in many texts of the Old Testament. First, the succession narratives of 1 and 2 Kings present the mother of the king as having such importance that almost every time a new Davidic king is introduced in the Kingdom of Judah, the mother’s name also is mentioned—but the wife’s name is not. Thus, at the crucial transition points of dynastic succession, the narrative consistently highlights the queen mother’s important place alongside the new king. As one commentator has explained, “On the throne the queen mother represented the king’s continuity with the past, the visible affirmation of God’s ongoing plan for his people, the channel through which the Lord’s dynastic promise to David was fulfilled” (3).
The queen mother held an official position in the kingdom of Judah. She is described as having a crown (Jer 13:18) and a throne (1 Kings 2:19; cf., Jer 13:18). It is also significant that 2 Kings 24 mentions the queen mother among the members of the royal court whom King Jehoiachin surrenders to the king of Babylon. In this passage, the queen mother is the first of the king’s royal court listed as being given over to Babylon to go into exile (2 Kings 24:12-15). Miguens notes how this highlights the queen mother’s preeminence in the royal court:
She is mentioned before the “wives of the king” (2 Kings 24:15) and before the ministers, dignitaries and officers (2 Kings 24:12, 15; Jer 29:2). Significantly these biblical passages say that the gebirah is the second, only to the king, in the list of prominent official persons brought into captivity. This detail speaks very highly of the political significance of “the mother of the king” (4).
The queen mother was not simply a “figurehead” position. She had real royal authority, participating in her son’s reign. For example, consider the following prophecy, which the prophet Jeremiah addresses both to the king and the queen mother:
Say to the king and the queen mother: “Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown has come down from your head. … Lift up your eyes and see those who come from the north. Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?” (Jer 13:18, 20).
By addressing both the king and the queen mother, this passage recognized the queen mother’s important royal office. In ominous imagery, the king and queen mother are told to “take a lowly seat”—symbolizing how both had thrones, but would lose them soon. Moreover, both are told they will lose their crowns—also foreshadowing their political downfall. Most of all, both king and queen are described as having the responsibility to shepherd the flock of the people of Judah, a flock that is about to be taken away from them: “Where is the flock that was given you, your beautiful flock?” The important point for our purposes is to note how this prophecy portrays the queen mother as participating in the king’s reign: she has a throne and a crown with the king, and she shares in the king’s mission of shepherding the people.
The queen mother’s royal authority can best be seen if we compare Bathsheba’s role in the kingdom when she was the wife of the king, to her role when she became the mother of the king. In 1 Kings 1, her husband David, the king, is still alive, so she is just the king’s wife. When she wants to enter the royal chamber to meet him, she bows before her husband and pays him homage (1 Kings 1:16). As she leaves she honors the king, saying, “May David live forever!” (1 Kings 1:31).
In the next chapter, David has died and Bathsheba’s son Solomon has assumed the throne, making her queen mother. When she enters the royal chamber this time as mother of the king, she is treated much differently than when she was just the wife of the king. The narrative tells not of Bathsheba bowing before the king, but of King Solomon rising and bowing down before her. Then Solomon has a throne brought in for her, symbolizing her royal status. Even more striking is the place where Solomon places Bathsheba’s royal seat: at his right hand. The queen mother being seated at the king’s right hand has the greatest significance, for in the Bible the right is a position of authority and supreme honor. As Gray observes, “Nowhere else in the Bible does the king honor someone as Solomon does the Gebirah.” (5).
The queen mother also served as a counselor to the king (6). We have some evidence of this in the Old Testament. For example, in Proverbs 31, a queen mother gives wise counsel to her son about how to serve the poor, rule the people with justice, avoid too much alcohol and choose a good wife. Although not always this positive, the queen mother’s counsel seems to have had the ability to greatly influence affairs in the kingdom. 2 Chronicles 22:3, for example, tells how King Ahaziah “walked in the ways of the house of Ahab (an evil king), for his mother was his counselor in doing wickedly.” This shows how at least this particular queen mother’s counsel was so influential it led the king into wickedness.
The influence of the queen mother is seen in the intercessory role she played in ancient Israel (7). She served as an advocate, taking petitions from the people and presenting them to the king. Her intercessory function can be seen in the passage from 1 Kings 2 when Bathsheba went to meet her royal son, Solomon. In the context, Solomon has been crowned king, and Bathsheba has thus become queen mother. Her new intercessory power is immediately recognized when a man named Adonijah asks Bathsheba to bring a petition of his to the king. Adonijah expresses great confidence in her intercessory role, saying “Pray ask King Solomon—he will not refuse you” (1 Kings 2:17). Bathsheba agrees and then goes to the king.
After she is welcomed by the king, who bows before her and gives her a throne at his right hand, Bathsheba tells Solomon she has a small request to bring to him. Solomon responds by saying “Make your request my mother, for I will not refuse you.” Indeed, Solomon’s words reveal the king’s ordinary commitment to the queen mother’s petitions (8).
In sum, we have seen that the queen mother held an official position in the royal court, sharing in the shepherding responsibilities of the king, and serving as a counselor for the king and as an advocate for the people.
The Queen Mother in Prophecy: Isaiah 7:14
We also see the importance of the queen mother in Israel’s prophetic tradition, particularly in the Emmanuel prophecy of Isaiah 7:14. This passage, filled with strong Davidic overtones, is important for our study because it is associated with Israel’s messianic hopes and was explicitly related to Mary and Jesus in the New Testament (Mt 1:23).
The prophecy comes during a period of dynastic crisis. Syria and the Northern Kingdom of Israel threaten to invade the Kingdom of Judah. Ahaz, the king of Judah, fears that the dynasty may be coming to an end with him (Is 7:1-6). Isaiah is sent by God to assure a doubting Ahaz that the kingdom will survive this foreign threat and challenge him to entrust his throne to the Lord. Isaiah then gives a sign to the house of David that will serve as a confirmation of Yahweh’s protection of the Davidic dynasty:
Here then O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin (almah) shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel (Is 7:13-14).
At a most basic level, the child represents an heir to the Davidic throne. Such a view best demonstrates how this sign for the house of David r