Mary, Mediatrix: History and Vatican II

The theology of mediation in Sacred Scripture has been built on New Testament passages. In the light of this theology, mediators are retrospectively identified in the Old Testament, in moments of special divine power or illumination, as with the prophets. Angels also intervene between God and man. A mediator is, in religion, one who unites God and man. Christ is the perfect Mediator as the Son of God and true man. “For there is one God and there is one mediator (mesites) between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time” (1 Tim 2:5). What then of Mary as Mediatrix? (1) As will be abundantly clear from the historical evidence to be set forth later, the question arises from the life and practice of the Church.

The practice of addressing Mary as Mediatrix was not and need not be impeded by the Pauline text. The use of “one” (eis not monos) emphasizes Christ’s transcendence as a mediator, through the unique value of his redemptive death. The context is the salvation of the infidel, as the following verse makes clear: “God, our Savior, desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is a statement of the universality of salvation, not of Christ’s relationship towards those who have already come to him. On this relationship, Paul gave the fullest doctrine found in the New Testament (2). Existence “in Christ” is a transformation: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21); “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11). The absolute character of Paul’s affirmation of the unique Mediator is paralleled by Peter’s words: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

But these ideas must be seen in the full plan of salvation. Therein the initiative lies wholly with God, and this initiative is seen in the mission of the Son. Mediation is linked with mission, and depends on it (3). Thus St. Paul tells us how the Mediator appeared: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal 4:4). The two texts are closely linked by the idea of ransom, the verb exagerazo in Galatians and the noun antilutron in 1 Timothy. This time our role or status is described, “adoption as sons.” A still closer union with Christ is offered us: “And because you are sons, the Spirit of God has sent his Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal 4:6).

To describe his own lifework, Paul frequently uses the word apostolos, radically the same as the word in Galatians 4:4 (exapostello); he has been given a mission. Though the synoptics often speak of Christ as one sent (Mt 15:24; Mk 12:6-11; Lk 4:18, 9:48, 10:16), it is in John that the mission is explicitly related to the program of our salvation. “For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (3:17). “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (4:34; cp. 5:30, 6:38, 10:36; and 1 Jn 4:9-10). This mission Christ formally and explicitly shared with the apostles: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (20:21, the words used are apostello and pempo). Of the Baptist, John says: “There was a man sent from God whose name was John” (1:6).

It is not only Christ’s mission which is shared with men, but his very divine sonship (Jn 1:12), by which gift we are entitled to the name “sons of God” (1 Jn 3:l). The idea is in harmony with Galatians 4:4. It is the basis of all our kinship with the incarnate Son of God, with participation in his life and functions, with due attention to his infinite majesty. Participation in his eternal relationship with the Father surpasses immeasurably any share in his temporal function as Mediator. That this should be shared intimately by the one through whom his mission as Savior was effected, is a truth which was grasped early in Church history.

History of Marian Mediation

History will show that the truth is complex. The seeds were in the Eve-Mary analogy, though not all proponents of the view saw its implications. St. Irenaeus (qv) wrote: “Mary, espoused but yet a virgin, became by her obedience a cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race” (4). The same Irenaeus saw Christ’s mediation as a work of obedience: “He was made Mediator of God and men, atoning on our behalf to the Father, against whom we had sinned, and by his obedience effacing our disobedience” (5). Here was an interesting convergence of ideas. By the fourth century, the Eve-Mary doctrine was being expressed thus: “Death through Eve, life through Mary” (6). The use of this preposition in all languages hereafter will always have some reference to a mediating role. Pseudo-Theodotus of Ancyra (d.c. 446) was elaborate: “Through you, the sorrows of Eve have ceased; through you, evils have perished. Error has departed through you; through you, affliction has been abolished, condemnation destroyed” (7).