My first personal encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary happened while I was a student at an Evangelical Anglican seminary in England. I had been brought up as an Evangelical and found my way into the Anglican church. There I was preparing for ordination. A Catholic friend who was a Benedictine oblate suggested that I might like to visit a Catholic Benedictine monastery.
While there I told one of the monks that during a time of contemplative prayer I had sensed God’s presence in a very real, but feminine way. The femininity disturbed me because I knew God isn’t feminine. The monk smiled and said, “Don’t worry. That’s not God. It’s the Virgin Mary. She is the Mediatrix. She wants to help you with your prayers and bring you closer to God.”
I was shocked. At the time the Virgin Mary played no part in my devotional life. As a good Evangelical boy I had memorized 1 Timothy 2:5, which says, “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Calling Mary “Mediatrix” confirmed my prejudice that Catholics believe things that contradicted the Bible. It also confirmed my suspicion that Catholics gave Mary an equal status with Jesus.
I put this notion firmly to one side and didn’t consider it again until after I had come into the Catholic Church. This postponement was possible because Mary’s role as co-redeemer and Mediatrix of grace is not a formally defined dogma of the Catholic Church. It remains a pious opinion—a useful devotional and theological way of meditating on Mary. My attention was drawn back to the question however, when I was writing Mary: A Catholic/Evangelical Debate with an old friend who had attended Bob Jones University with me.
A Stick to Beat Us With
I understand how Mary’s titles of Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix remain one of the sorest points in Evangelical – Catholic discussions. A Protestant who has heard of these titles will use them as a big stick with which to beat Catholics, and it is important to know how best to engage the discussion.
For genuine dialogue, it is vital to listen to and understand the Evangelical point of view. The sincere, well-read Evangelical objects to exalted devotions and titles for the Mother of God because he thinks they detract from the honor and worship due to Jesus Christ alone. A thoughtful Evangelical does not intentionally despise Mary; he sidelines the Mother of God to defend the proper devotion to her Son.
The place to start in any discussion of Mary as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix is to affirm that Catholics indeed believe that the death of Jesus Christ is all sufficient for the salvation of our sins. If you can quote an author who is a known devotee of Mary, it packs a stronger punch. “See, here’s someone who promotes Marian devotion,” you say, “He actually wants her to be proclaimed Co-Redemptrix, but insists that Christ’s death is all sufficient.”
For example, a booklet by the California-based Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici Petition Centre that promotes these titles for Mary begins with these words:
“The salvation of humanity was accomplished by God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The Passion and Death of Christ, our sole Redeemer, was not only sufficient but ‘superabundant’ satisfaction for human guilt and the consequent debt of punishment” (A New Marian Dogma? Coredemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces, Advocate).
The booklet goes on to explain, “But God willed that this work of salvation be accomplished through the collaboration of a woman, while respecting her free will (Gal. 4:4)”. This point introduces a good next step in discussing this Catholic belief with an Evangelical.
Will You Cooperate or Not?
Instead of wading into an argument about Mary being Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix, it is useful to discuss the principle and possibility of humans cooperating with God in the work of redemption. Protestants have a deeply ingrained resistance to the idea that we can cooperate with God for our redemption at all. In their desire to maintain the doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide, some of them go to the extremes of believing that we can do nothing at all to cooperate with God in our redemption because to do so would be tantamount to salvation by works.
As a result, most Evangelical belief systems contain a very strong element of Quietism. Quietism is a sort of fatalism: It is that heresy which says you can do absolutely nothing to engage in the work of your salvation. Instead each soul is like a leaf on the tide of God’s almighty Providence. Because of this understanding, it is difficult for many Evangelicals to comprehend the idea that God uses human cooperation to accomplish his will in the world. That human cooperation is actually crucial to the Redemption of the world is not part of their perspective.