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Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces

Against the Jansenist heresy the Church taught as a divinely revealed truth that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for all men without exception. Innocent X, and after him, Alexander VIII and Clement XI, were obliged to inculcate this afresh (Denzinger 1096, 1294, 1382). St John had already stated clearly:

He, in his own person, is the atonement made for our sins, and not only for ours, but for the sins of the whole world. (I John, 2:2)

Also St Paul:

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. (II Cor. 5:19)

It is his (God’s) will that all men should be saved and be led to recognize the truth. (I Tim. 2:4)

This divine will cannot remain unproductive, but must have a real effect in the natural as well as the supernatural order. (I Sent. 46. 1. 1., de Ver: 23: 2c and ad 2um.) Therefore God’s grace, contrary to the teaching of Calvin, is at the disposal of all men.

Notwithstanding all this, the Church confesses explicitly at the 19th Ecumenical Council of Trent:

Although Christ died for us all (II Cor. 5:15) not all receive the benefit of his death, but only those to whom the merits of his passion have been applied. When Jesus addressed his Consummatum est to heaven and earth, his passion was indeed completed, but not his work. This had to be continued through the ages. When he died, a principle had been established, according to which the Father owed it to himself and to Jesus to reconcile individual human beings to the Godhead: to forgive their personal sins, to remit their punishment and to bless them. There was one condition: that these individual human beings should be submitted to the action of this causality so that it might be applied to each of them in the necessary way, agreed upon and defined by the Father and Jesus.

As we have already examined Mary’s share in the universal salvific causality, there only remains for us to look more closely at her part in the application of this universal causality to individual human beings.

But just as the one reality of the universal causality has many aspects, so that we are obliged to treat separately of merit, satisfaction, redemption and atonement, so too the one reality of the application, which is the distribution of graces, presents different aspects, and we are therefore obliged to speak separately of mediation of graces, intercession and royalty.

* * * * *

The notion mediator may be studied in its general character which must be present wherever and whenever mediation is mentioned; and consequently according to the special character of this or that special case. Therefore the Mediator between God and men, our Lord Jesus Christ, has attributes which belong to him in common with all other mediators, and other attributes which are to be found only in this particular case of mediation.

Speaking generally, a mediator must be a go-between accepted by two parties to effect their union by offering each of them something in the name of the other, to the satisfaction of both. But it is absolutely unnecessary for him to hand over personally what he has to offer. If a man for instance intervenes successfully in a strike, he will have made definite offers and concessions to the employees in the name of the employer, and to the employer in the name of the employees, but it is utterly unnecessary for him to pay out personally, for instance, the increase in wages agreed upon. Yet this would have to be done if it were a universal character of a mediator to hand out in person the fruits of his mediation. Nevertheless, what does not belong to the universal character of a mediator, might conceivably be required in a given concrete case of mediation.

This is so in the case of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this concrete case, he is obliged to act as Mediator between two parties not merely in order to bring them into agreement, but he must reunite them. For here we have a mediation between two parties who have to be reconciled.

Here we must emphasize a very important point: in the earthly Paradise God bestowed original justice on human nature as such in the persons of Adam and Eve, so that we rightly speak of the state of original justice; and since Adam and Eve deprived human nature of that grace by their sin, we also speak correctly of the stateof fallen nature; but Jesus’ reparation does not affect human nature, but only individual human beings. Human nature is not rehabilitated. And this explains why married people, baptized and living in a state of grace, produce, nevertheless, children who are tainted with original sin, a thing which would not occur if human nature had been rehabilitated. So that Jesus’ mediation is not between God and fallen humanity, but between God and fallen men. There has to be reunion between God and individual men, but this takes place imperfectly in this life on earth. The sanctifying grace we receive in this life is an imperfect grace, not only because even those in the state of grace are constantly in need of graces of assistance in order to do good and avoid evil, but especially because sanctifying grace can be lost. It will not be perfect in us until we reach heaven where it will join each of us to God personally in an indissoluble union.

The mediation of the God-man, consisting essentially in the reconciliation of individual men with God, will not be ended until these individual men have attained the perfect grace of heaven. Benedict XV says therefore: “The work of the Redemption is completed actually and forever in each human being by this gift (of a holy death) above all” (Inter Sodalicia).

Jesus’ mediation between an offended God and the men guilty of the offence involves from the nature of things that it has not yet attained its end, and it is therefore no true mediation until it has reached every individual man and effected in him the perfect grace of heaven which cannot be lost. Not until then are God and man reconciled.

It follows from this, or better it is implied in this, that the Mediator between God and men appears as universal cause of salvation not only by his life, passion and death, but he is himself the first distributor of graces. To be successful, his mediation must consist of two essential parts: the universal causality and its application to individual men. This is true for all who are saved: Jesus’ distribution of grace is in the nature of things universal as far as the human beings are concerned who receive the grace, but it is also true for all the graces received by men. That is why Jesus’ work will not be really finished until the last man qualified for salvation has entered heaven with body and soul.

Now it is a revealed truth that Mary has been appointed by God to be companion of the Mediator and united indissolubly with him by the closest of bonds (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus) in his complete victory over Satan. This being so, it is utterly unreasonable to exclude from this partnership precisely the application of the universal causality, unless, of course, this restriction were explicitly mentioned in the revelation. But the Church is far from being able to point to such a restriction. On the contrary she has been convinced from the earliest times that, as St Ephraim puts it:

Through Mary all glory, honor and holiness, from the first Adam himself down to the fullness of the ages . . . has come and will come. (Off. of Maria Mediatrix—4th lesson)

We add here the witness of St Germanus, whose perfect definition of a mediatrix we have already appreciated:

No one is ever set free from evil, but by thee, O immaculate above all; no one is ever granted any gift, except through thee, O most chaste; no grace of mercy is ever shown to anyone, but through thee, O most worthy of all veneration. (Migne PG 98: 379)

And now listen to St Cyril of Alexandria:

We salute thee, O Mary Mother of God . . . through whom all creation after its captivity in the madness of idolatry, comes at last to the knowledge of truth; through whom holy baptism and oil of gladness are accorded to believers; through whom churches are founded all over the face of the earth; through whom the nations are brought to repentance. (Migne PG 77: 991)

St Albert the Great sums up everything when he says:

The Blessed Virgin is very properly called “gate of heaven,” for every created or uncreated grace that ever came or will ever come into this world came through her…. Likewise all good that ever came from heaven to earth and vice versa passed through her. (Mariale, 147)

Inasmuch as Jesus’ activity as Mediator requires not only universal causality but also its application, because it is otherwise incomplete, Mary’s activity as the Mediator’s assistant must also be completed by the application of the general causality of salvation to each individual human being. For this reason the application—called distribution of graces—includes not only all the graces to be considered, but also all the human beings qualifying for them, and may therefore be called universal in this sense.

Hence we need not be surprised if the Popes not only do not yield in any way to the ancient witnesses of tradition in praising Mary as distributor of God’s benefits, but also apprehend quite well the connection of the work of salvation here on earth and her collaboration with Jesus now in heaven.


… so that she, who was handmaid in bringing about the mystery of salvation, might also be the handmaid of the grace that was to flow from it until the end of time…. (Adiutricem populi)

Pius X:

By this union of suffering and volition between Mary and Christ she merited to become in the worthiest way the restorer of the lost world, and to that end, the distributor of all gifts. (Ad diem illum)

Benedict XV:

… so that it may correctly be said of her that she redeemed with Christ the human race. As now, precisely for this reason, all kinds of grace that we receive from the treasury of the Redemption, are distributed as it were by the hands of the Mother of Sorrows herself…. (Inter Sodalicia)

Pius XI:

O good and merciful Virgin, who didst stand compassionately by thy Son as co-redemptress when he was consummating the Redemption of the human race on the altar of the Cross . . . preserve in us, we beg thee, and daily increase the precious fruits of the Redemption, and of thy compassion. (Osservat. Rom., 29.IV.35)

The incontrovertible connection shown by expressions such as: “even so,” “therefore,” “for these reasons,” teaches us that because Mary was permitted to do the one thing, i.e. co-operate in the universal causality of salvation, she also collaborates in the other, i.e. the distribution of graces. They are two essential parts of the one mediation: on which account they cannot be separated: both parts are necessary to the mediation. We are really dealing here with the consummation of the reconciliation between God and man. The companion of the Mediator between God and man cannot leave off her work half-way. Therefore it is really very striking that it is precisely in connection with the distribution of graces that we are wont to greet Mary as Mediatrix of all graces: for therein we really see the crowning point of the work.

The Distribution of Graces

We can contemplate the Passion and death of our Lord and Savior from different points of view and speak according to the angle from which we see them of merits, satisfaction, salvation, reconciliation.

But there is another aspect which we have not yet mentioned because we have to return to it here in considering the distribution of graces: we can also say that Jesus effected our salvation. It is the same thing again, but with a different stress. For in this case we are looking at the Passion in the light of Jesus’ divine will: we are contemplating the instrument of our salvation. So much so that St Thomas attributes salvific causality not only to Jesus’ Passion and death, but also to Jesus’ burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension. We must understand this as meaning that Jesus’ human nature, in which he became our Savior, is the instrument of his Godhead, and in virtue of this has a specific influence on the accomplishment of our salvation.

This is really so obvious that, as Holy Scripture and Tradition concurred, the Church decided very early (at the 3rd Ecumenical Council of Ephesus) that:

If anyone does not confess that the flesh of the Lord is life-giving… because it became the own flesh and blood of the Word, which can vivify everything, let him be anathema. (Denzinger 123)

But the manner of this causality is quite another matter, and upon this theologians are divided. We shall not go deeply into it because it does not enter into our plan. We therefore simplify it as follows:

There are two ways of using the word cause. One is called the cause of something even if one has had no direct influence on the achievement of the effect, but has worked on the will of him who did produce the effect: e.g., one did this by giving that person definite advice, or by commanding him, persuading him, begging him, threatening him, or earning it as a reward from him. The important part is the influence on the will of the doer, not the working on the effect itself. According to the axiom, the cause of the cause is also cause of the effect, this influence on the will of the doer which makes him do, is rightly called causality; but, because it has not a direct influence on the effect, but only on the will of the doer, we call it moral causality. Many theologians hold the opinion that the instrumental causality of Jesus’ human nature does not go beyond moral causality.

The other way of using the word cause consists in this, that what we call cause does exercise influence on the effect itself. Other theologians therefore think that Jesus’ human nature—notice that we do not say his body, but his whole human nature, which includes his soul—is the instrument of his Godhead, so that something must result from the use of that instrument. The first group of theologians thus considers that while no direct influence goes out to the effect through the human nature of Jesus as instrument of his divinity, God produces this effect for the sake of what was done through human nature. The other group contends that the divine Person Jesus causes this effect through his human nature, as the instrument exercising influence on the effect. In their opinion, it is not only for the sake of what Jesus did through his human nature that grace is given to anyone, but that this grace is also given by means of the working of human nature.

And therefore St Thomas says:

To give grace or to communicate the Holy Spirit is Christ’s prerogative: he does so in so far as he is God, as author; but in so far as he is man, as instrument, because his humanity is the instrument of his Godhead. And therefore in virtue of his Godhead, his actions were salvific for us, especially by causing grace in us both by merits and by a certain activity. (III 8.1 ad 1 um, Ver. 29: 4)

Merit is a moral cause, without direct action on the effect; so if we take the activity named here to be moral causality, then exactly the same thing is affirmed in both parts of the sentence. Consequently he means by this activity the other, direct influence on the effect. This is why he says of Jesus’ passion:

Christ… as man, works through merit and activity, but instrumentally. For it has been said that the Passion of Christ is cause of our justification, both by merit and by activity; not after the modality of the chief cause, but after the modality of the instrument. (III, 64.3.)

In speaking of the power possessed by Christ to work all kinds of miracles as God’s instrument, two things are always excluded, namely: creation and annihilation. But if this activity is only moral, there is no reason for excluding these two: why should God not be able to create or annihilate anything at the request of the Man Jesus? So that St Thomas must certainly mean, that Jesus-God, the divine Person, uses his own human nature as an instrument in the fullest sense of the word in order, by means of this instrument, to exert his action on the effect.

Before St Thomas’ time, it was generally thought that grace in the strict sense of the word was created. Just as God creates, i.e. makes out of nothing, the rational soul for every separate man, in the same way it was held that he creates grace anew every time. If that were true, Jesus’ human nature could exert no influence here, for neither in creation nor in annihilation can an instrument be used. At present, however, the common opinion is that grace is not created but made, i.e. not out of nothing but out of something: it is, like all other qualities, evoked from the potentiality of the subject. In this the use of an instrument is surely possible. Therefore there is also no further reason for attributing moral causality (merit, prayers, etc.) to Jesus’ human nature, while at the same time refusing it the action of the instrument with direct effect on the result.

There are theologians who answer the question as to Jesus’ application of universal redemptive causality by granting that in the distribution of graces Jesus’ human nature is used as an instrument for causing grace in men. Evidently the same question will be put at once with reference to Mary: how does she distribute grace? Is it only by her prayers, or has she also (but if so, as God’s instrument) action on the effect itself? Difficulties have been brought forward on this point on account of the sacraments, which were after all instituted in order to produce grace in us. But the fact that Jesus’ human nature is here instrumental does not frustrate the effect of the sacraments, so there can be no reason why the insertion of another instrument should do so. The only question is whether, in the series: God (chief Cause), Jesus-Man (causa instrumentalis conjuncta), sacrament (causa instrumentalis non-conjuncta), Mary can be inserted as living causa instrumentalis non-conjuncta, and consequently whether she is such in actual fact.

Some have thought that this can be at least acceptable theologically; and others add that once we accept for Jesus’ human nature and for the sacraments this causal action on the effect itself, we must, to be logical, accept it for Mary also.

Every instrument has its own kind of operation, proceeding from something in that instrument which is the principle by which the operation becomes effective. In the Man Jesus this principle by which he is the cause of grace is his own fullness of grace.

As in all rational creatures Christ influences in one way or another the effect of graces, he is, according to his manhood, in a definite sense the principle of every grace as God is the principle of all existence. Hence, as all the perfection of being is concentrated in God, in the same way all the fullness and strength of grace is found in Christ, by which he can not only accomplish by himself the work of grace, but also bring others to grace, and on account of this he has the character of Head. (Ver. 29: 5)

This plenitude of grace in Jesus includes all the grace that is thinkable, and so he possesses grace in the highest measure in which it can be possessed.

St John wrote: “We have all received something out of his abundance, grace answering to grace” (John: 1:16). Yet we did not receive out of his abundance in the sense that when he had given us of it, there remained less for him personally, as happens to a banker when he pays out of his own reserve of gold. Rather we received of Jesus’ fullness, because in that abundance proper to him, he possessed the principle by which his human nature as instrument of his divine Personality can bring about grace in us.

Thus Jesus, again as God’s instrument, could have given the apostles such a treasure of grace that they would have been able to communicate to men all the effects of the sacraments, without making use of these. They would have done it by a simple movement of their will, again in virtue of their own treasure of grace as the principle (III 64. 4) with which they effected the results of the sacraments.

We have already examined how Mary’s abundance of grace must remain far below her Son’s fullness. For Jesus had grace in the highest measure thinkable and Mary on the other hand had it in the highest measure in which she could have it. Moreover, results of grace received by others but not by Mary may be shown. Here we are thinking for example of the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders.

If therefore we accept that Mary’s mediation is universal, both as regards human beings and as regards the graces themselves, it seems difficult to admit for her a causality that would be more than simply moral. The hypothesis suggested above comparing the case of the apostles and the sacraments will not work because there is no mention in it of universal distribution of graces; but neither will the comparison with Jesus avail, for he possesses complete fullness of grace, and Mary does not. We may thus accept for Jesus and for the sacraments a causality with respect to grace with direct influence on the effect, and at the same time refuse it to Mary.

Nevertheless it seems to me that this reasoning is not correct. It may of course be that Mary’s fullness of grace does not include all the effects of grace, but we must consider that it is not necessary for a cause itself to possess formally what it operates in its effect. That is true only of the univocal causes, the effects of which are in the same order as themselves; but it is not true for analogous causes, for their effect is on a lower level. God does not see and hear as we do, but whatever perfection we have in these matters, he possesses, not formally, but in a higher manner by his intellect. We have shown that Mary did not receive grace as a private individual as we do, but as companion of the Mediator. Therefore the fact that Mary’s fullness of grace does not extend to the formal possession of definite results of grace, cannot be quoted as against an ultimate causality with action on the effect.

I find another fault in this: Jesus has in actual fact absolute plenitude of grace. But he is the instrument through whom God distributes absolutely and universally all graces. This universality, however, differs from Mary’s universal mediation of graces. The latter concerns us alone, while Jesus’ mediation of grace concerns both us and Mary. Mary is Jesus’ great masterpiece and she alone received more than all of us together.

But her fullness of grace is also sufficient for her universal mediation of grace: which concerns us only. I therefore do not venture to exclude on the given grounds a more than moral causality in Mary’s universal mediation of graces. The possibility of it seems to exist. The question is only: is this causality an actual fact? And since so many theologians still refuse this kind of causality to Jesus’ human nature, I fear we shall find no arguments with which to prove the possibility of this causality in Mary to be an actual fact.

We saw above that according to St Thomas, Jesus the man is the instrument of the divine Person. I then remarked that he was speaking of Jesus’ whole human nature and not merely of his body, as though, for instance, a material touch of his body were necessary. Therefore the Saint also recognizes that in the hypothesis proposed earlier, the apostles would have produced the effects of the sacraments by a movement of their will.

For this reason I do not understand why people are now speaking, even in this context, about the intentional causality introduced into sacramental doctrine by certain theologians. The question at issue is whether or not Mary in her universal mediation of grace is or is not a cause with direct action on the effect itself. If she is not, then she is merely a moral cause, that is to say, God in that case always and everywhere grants every grace for the sake of Mary (for she merited for us what Christ merited, and she prays for us). If, on the contrary, she is really a cause with direct action on the effect, then God always and everywhere grants every grace both for Mary’s sake and in addition by Mary as by an instrument. There is no other alternative possible.

-Fr. Cornelis Friethoff

This article was excerpted from A Complete Mariology, Blackfriars, 1958.

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