The Fifth Marian Dogma, the Commission: Theological Gaps

In this year of the Holy Spirit, as we approach Pentecost Sunday, I rejoice to discuss one most intimately united with the Spirit of all human beings. Vatican II calls Mary “the temple” (sacrarium) of the Holy Spirit, that which St. Paul says of all Christians (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Saints and four Popes have sought to express this mysterious relationship between the Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit by the word “Spouse,” and even this word scarcely expresses the amazing relationship between this unique creature and the divine Person.

We are dealing with an aspect of Our Lady’s life which concerns us beneficiaries of the Redemption achieved by her divine Son. I will note and discuss the opposition to a papal definition of Our Lady as Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate, and I ask those so opposed to pause and reflect a little. These titles relate to Our Lady’s relationship to us, sinful creatures. How far is this from the title entirely justified in the Church’s teaching, one that has her intimately related to a divine Person incarnate as his Mother, and bound also to the third divine Person?

Is human arrogance at work? Is it not arrogant that we should object to so entitling her when God himself gave her a far more meaningful title? Surely to be Mother of God means far more, infinitely more, than to be Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate, on our behalf!

Allow me to make several further general remarks before entering into discussion regarding recent statements opposing the dogma. This is the first time in history that a dogma has been requested by the laity. The reader who finds this strange, perhaps unjustified, should read Newman’s work, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. (1) Here is one of the great Catholic intellectuals of modern times, who, in the opinion of Pius XII, will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. Newman puts forth the evidence that, in the greatest doctrinal crisis in the history of the Church, Arianism, it was hierarchies who gave way and the faithful who stood firm. He was denounced to Rome as a heretic by certain bishops, but vindicated by Vatican II: “The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. Jn 2:20; 27) cannot err in matters of belief” (Constitution on the Church, 12).

I do not like to use derogatory terms, but I have to admit that in some of the criticism of the proposal of this fifth Marian dogma, which I defend, I was tempted to detect clericalism: “this is our domain, no one else dare enter!” I have not seen one of the opposing theologians rejoice, as I do, that this proposal came from the laity; moreover, from laity highly qualified. We have, fortunately, a Pope who more than once has stated his belief in the special action of the Holy Spirit in the souls of the laity.

Let us turn to a more important matter. Here, too, I find our critics very strange. I have in mind the life of the Church, and that which contributes to its existence and its growth. Two Catholic associations which have made an immense contribution to the Church throughout the world are the Militia Immaculatae and the Legion of Mary. Each exists in one hundred and sixty countries in the five continents. Each is based on an explicit belief in the universal mediation of Mary, and it is not merely belief, but living commitment to this truth. The founder of the Militia, St. Maximilian Kolbe, said:

“The activity of the Militia is based directly on this truth, that the Immaculate One is the Mediatress of all graces, without exception.” (2)

From the founder of the Legion of Mary: “For us God has constituted her a special means of grace. Operating in union with her we approach him more effectively and hence win grace more freely. Indeed we place ourselves in the very flood-tide of grace, for she is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is the channel of every grace which Jesus Christ has won. We receive nothing which we do not owe to a positive intervention on her part. She doesn’t content herself with transmitting all; she obtains all for us. Penetrated with belief in this office of Mary, the Legion enjoins it as a special devotion for all its members.” (3) The daily prayer of the Legion includes the invocation, “Mary Mediatrix of all Graces.”

Are the theologians who oppose the proposed Marian Dogma aware of this reality? Do they feel no obligation to take account of it? If they do not, can they escape the criticism that they are living in ivory towers, theorizing apart from the life of the Church? Their role as theologians depends primarily not on the academic world, but on their identification with the Church. Here again I recall the example of Newman, so attentive to ecclesial situations.

Let me raise a major question which has bedeviled all discussion on Mary’s universal mediation since the Protestant Reformation. It is this: Why has the entire Christology of St. Paul, the entire Christology of the New Testament, been overlooked in dealing with the single text from 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”? Why has attention in Catholic-Protestant controversy focused on this statement, which is generally taken out of its context? The answer,, I suggest, is that we have suffered from a defect in our civilization. There were three great civilizations around the ancient Mediterranean: Roman, based on law; Greek, based on intellect; and Jewish, the greatest, based on the heart, the heart being the person in act. The defect in our civilization is legalism. We are tempted to interpret biblical texts, to argue about them, as if they were testimonies in a court of law. This came to a head in the preliminaries to the Second Vatican Council, in the debates during the sessions, prior to the acceptance of the Marian chapter.