Avoiding Two Marian Extremes

In discussing the person and role of Mary, Mother of Jesus, two extremes must always be avoided. The first extreme is what we call the extreme of Marian excess. This means to place the Blessed Virgin on the level of the divine, to ascribe to Mary a divine nature that would grant her equality with God Himself. This, of course, violates the revealed truth about the complete, though exalted, humanity of Mary. Although historically there have been very few occasions when the Mother of Jesus has been posed as a “goddess,” nonetheless, it remains a Marian excess that is obviously a grave danger to the Faith.

The second extreme regarding the person and role of the Blessed Virgin is what we can call Marian defect. This means to minimize the role of the Blessed Virgin. What is meant by minimizing the role of Mary? This would be to ascribe to Mary the role of being only a “good disciple,” a “sister in the Lord,” a mere “physical channel of Jesus,” but nothing beyond these.

Unfortunately it is this second extreme that is encountered more widely today. This extreme also violates the revealed truth of the role of the Blessed Virgin, for Mary is revealed, as we will talk about, both as intercessor and as Spiritual Mother. And to deny Mary the role of Spiritual Mother is to deny that aspect so central to her own identity and to her relationship with Christ and His Body, the Church.

As we shall see, examples of Mary’s role as intercessor and Spiritual Mother are clear in Scripture in such places as John 2:1 at the wedding of Cana, where Mary intercedes for the first miracle of Jesus, as well as in John 19:26, where at the foot of the Cross Mary is given the role of Spiritual Mother of John, the beloved disciple, and all later disciples of the Lord.

We can find both of these extremes, Marian excess and Marian defect, referred to in a statement from the Second Vatican Council regarding the proper balance of Marian devotion:

It (the Council) strongly urges theologians and preachers of the word of God to be careful to refrain as much from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in considering the special dignity of the Mother of God. Following the study of Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, the doctors and liturgy of the Church, and under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium, let them rightly illustrate the duties and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which always refer to Christ, the source of all truth, sanctity, and devotion. (1)

The question must then be asked: What safeguards the Christian from these two Marian extremes? What protects us from a “false exaggeration” in Marian excess or “too summary an attitude” in terms of Marian defect? The answer can only be the authentic teaching office of the Church, the Magisterium. The Magisterium is that teaching authority that Our Lord has granted to His apostles and their successors, who, guided by the Holy Spirit, have the crucial responsibility to safeguard, interpret and serve Divine Revelation. And this is the revelation of God as contained in both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture.

Let us return to the words of the Second Vatican Council and see how God’s full Word is revealed to us:

In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them “their own position of teaching authority.” This sacred Tradition, then, and the sacred Scripture of both Testaments, are like a mirror, in which the Church, during its pilgrim journey here on earth, contemplates God…. Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles…so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence. (2)