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.
The members of the drafting commission were obsessed by this rigid, legalistic interpretation of the Pauline text. This obsession led them to errors which discredit them. They stated in the document distributed to the Council Fathers by way of information that Pius XII never used the word Mediatrix about Our Lady; he did so many times. I quote his plenary affirmation: “The maternal office in ‘Mediatrix’ really began at the very moment of her consent to the Incarnation. It was manifested for the first time by the first sign of Christ’s grace, at Cana in Galilee; from that moment it spread rapidly down through the ages with the growth of the Church.” (4) He also said: “For she (Mary) has been appointed Mediatrix of all the graces which look toward sanctification and is properly called Mother and Queen of the Catholic priesthood and apostolate.” (5) I refrain from comment.
In view of the overall aim of the Council, which was Christian unity, it gets worse. The drafting commission had been alerted by a great Orientalist, Fr. Antoine Wenger, A.A., that the East used the word “Mediatrix.” The commission, in their informative statement for the benefit of the Council Fathers who depended on them for briefing, asserted that though the East used the word, they did not elaborate a theological system thereon. The greatest theological system on our Lady’s universal mediation (and here I follow Fr. Martin Jugie, A.A., another prestigious Orientalist) is from an Orthodox theologian, Theophanes of Nicaea (d.1381). (6) Theophanes is one of the Palamite theologians, named from the greatest of them, St. Gregory Palamas (d.1359). Gregory was himself quite explicit: “No divine gifts can reach either angels or men, save through her mediation.” (7) Theophanes set forth a closely argued exposition of Mary’s universal mediation. For example: “It cannot happen that anyone of angels or of men, can come otherwise, in any way whatsoever, to participation in the divine gifts flowing from what has been divinely assumed, from the Son of God, save through his Mother … Mary is the dispenser and distributor of al the wondrous gifts of the divine Spirit.” (8)
Fr. Wenger was called to moderation (rappelé a la modération) by the secretary of the commission, Fr. Charles Moeller. How can one qualify such a reaction? Is this how one should judge the immense treasury of Eastern witness on the subject? Catholics have been reproached for ignorance and indifference in regard to the Orthodox. One would expect knowledge and appreciation from theologians picked as experts at a General Council of the Church, and yet, what was fed to the bishops was the result of downright ignorance. At that time the influence of the Protestant observers was at its peak, and Christian unity was thought to relate only to them. On the last day of the conciliar debate on the Marian text Cardinal Alfrink speaking for 150 Fathers (and claiming to have had more had he the time), asked that the word “Mediatrix” be deleted from the text. It had been reduced to its most tenuous significance, thereby repudiating not only an immense Eastern tradition, but great Catholic writers and the repeated teaching of the modern popes as well. The word “Mediatrix” is applied to Mary by each of the six popes from Pius IX to Pius XII, and more than once from each of the last five. Several popes quote the dictum of St. Bernard that willed that we should have all things through Mary.
Let us return to Sacred Scripture, and note, significantly, that the East has never been inhibited in their treatment of Mary as Mediatrix by the text in 1 Tim. 2:5. Why, one may ask? The answer, I have to admit, is that they have a better understanding of St. Paul’s Christology than we in the West. They have the basic concept of divinization, as John Paul II has amply declared in his Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen. We priests of the Latin rite assume this truth when in the liturgy of the Eucharist we pray: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we become sharers in the divinity of Christ, who shared in our humanity.” In our polemics we seem to forget it. We could learn well from the East. First, we need to understand St. Paul correctly. His words on the “One Mediator” are intended for those who have not yet come to the Saviour, this the One who will save them. For those who have come to Christ, Paul has a different language, a wholly new perspective. This we have, in our Catholic-Protestant polemics, entirely neglected and forgotten. “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); “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11).
St. Paul does not, in the slightest way, state or insinuate that when we attain this identity with Christ, which is an ideal put before priests by Vatican II, referring to Gal. 2:20, that the Christ with whom we identify is not the Mediator.
There is more in Paul’s Christology which is relevant to our theme: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God … When we cry ‘Abba! Father!,’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness that we are children of God, and if children then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:14-17; cp. Jn 1:12; 1 Jn 3:1). Participation in Christ’s eternal relationship with the Father surpasses immeasurably any share in his temporal function as Mediator. This function is closely linked with his sense of mission, so much emphasized in St. John’s gospel. This mission he formally and explicitly shared with his disciple (cf. Jn 20:21).
Let us then apply these findings to our Lady. If any one could say: “I live no longer, but it is Christ who lives in me,” surely it was his Mother more than any. This is now clearer to us since we have fully explored the theology of the two Hearts, following the lead given by John Paul II who first used the meaningful phrase, “Alliance of the two hearts.” Our Lady was identified with Christ more fully than any other creature, with his divine sonship and with his mediatorial role. No one was more fully a child of God through participation in the Word’s eternal sonship that Mary; no one could enter more profoundly into this lifework.
Let us consider several conclusions issued by the commission which met during the International Mariological Congress in Czestochowa, which appeared in L’Osservatore Romano; (9) and was given much publicity elsewhere. I respect those who signed it, as I have known or worked with them. I am a member of the Pontifical Marian Academy, the French Society for Marian Studies, and have contributed to Marianum.
I must point out the positive errors and the reasons why I disagree, totally, with the general conclusions the commission expresses. Why should the “theological direction taken by the Second Vatican Council” not be abandoned, as the commission concludes? The Church moves forward, and the Church Councils and the papal magisterium respond to the voice of the People of God.
The commission stated: “The titles are ambiguous, as they can be understood in very different ways.” What those seeking the dogma require is that all such possible ambiguity be removed. It should not be exaggerated. Being a priest for sixty years and having studied mariology continuously, as well as writing more on the subject than anyone in the English language, including a book specifically on Mary’s mediation, I find that statement unacceptable. I have encountered no such objection in the Marian association in which I have been active. I fear that I have to state quite frankly that this is theory divorced from life.
Let the authors of the commission’s conclusions look back on the development of other Marian dogmas. They ought to consider her fundamental title, “Mother of God.” How could one created by God be called the Mother of God? Consider the centuries long controversy about the Immaculate Conception which was opposed by the great medieval doctors, St. Bernard, quintessentially Marian, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Anselm. The Czestochowa commission scarcely equals this galaxy of genius, who were, after centuries of debate issuing in hundreds of books, proved wrong.
The Czestochowa declaration is misleading, to use a mild word on an important point. It is stated that the Holy See, in response to a movement to which I shall refer, established three commissions: Roman, Spanish and Belgian, and as a result “the Holy See decided to set the question aside.” Let us consider several facts. We have not been informed on either the membership or the decision of the Roman commission. We have known who were the members of the other two, well-known theologians. We now know their reports. Each had concluded that Mary’s universal mediation is definable: the Spanish commission suggested this formula: “being truly and rightly the dispenser of all divine gifts and Mediatrix of all graces.” The Belgian report used this language: “acting as a Mediatrix also in dispensing all helps.”
The Czestochowa declaration says that the Second Vatican Council uses “Mediatrix” and “Advocate” in a very moderate way. The inner history of the Council which I have given explains why. I also draw attention to the fact that Paul VI “altered” the wording used by the Council (is “corrected” too strong a word?). The Conciliar text says that Mary “is invoked” as Mediatrix with other titles, a mere statement of fact, though certain sentences immediately after do have a doctrinal implication. Paul VI, using the same titles, says “she proves herself to be” (se praestat), and therefore expresses a different meaning. (10)
I accept what the Council says, and I do not feel obliged to laud it for what it did not say—anymore than I laud it for not saying a word doctrinally about St. Joseph. The omission provoked dissent from Karl Barth and searing criticism from J.J. von Allmen, both Protestants. The aim of some experts would have been appeasement of Protestants.
About the title Coredemptrix there is much to be said. I have not the time to trace the theological activity which issued in much publication prior to Vatican II. Let me begin with Pius XII. He had used the title as Secretary of State, but did not do so as Pope. Possibly he did not wish to hamper the free discussion of the subject ongoing during his pontificate. If he did not use the word “Coredemptrix,” he used phrases which approximate to it in meaning, such as Associate of the Redeemer, Associate in the work of the Redeemer, Nobel Associate of the Redeemer, the latter in an important dogmatic text, the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus on the Assumption. Moreover the Pope expressed his thought on the subject, which would certainly justify the title Coredemptrix: “By the will of God the most Blessed Virgin Mary was inseparably joined with Christ in accomplishing the work of Redemption, so that our salvation flows from the love of Jesus Christ and his sufferings intimately united with the love and sorrows of his Mother.” (11)
Thus this great Marian Pope wrote in the Encyclical Haurietis Aquas on the Sacred Heart. In Ad Coeli Reginam, on Mary’s universal queenship, he had this to say: “Now in this work of Redemption the Blessed Virgin was closely associated with Christ … Mary in the work of Redemption was by God’s will joined with Jesus Christ, the cause of salvation in much the same way as Eve was joined with Adam, the cause of death.” (12)
If this doctrine so clearly expressed is conveyed by the title “Coredemptrix,” will our faithful be misled and think that Mary is being thought to be equal to Christ, her divine Son? Once again, their intelligent grasp of the faith ought not be under-estimated. They can think and talk quite clearly about these things, and very often it is because they live them. They will have read what Vatican II says: “In subordination to him (Jesus Christ) and along with him, by the grace of Almighty God she served the mystery of the Redemption.” (13) “Led by the Holy Spirit she devoted herself to the mystery of man’s Redemption.” (14) Without her consent there would be no Redeemer; she was identified with his lifework up to Calvary, as Vatican II makes clear. (15)
The ecumenical question arises, almost inevitably, and I have more experience with this problem than any member of the Czestochowa commission. I have known the Protestant world since my childhood. I have Protestant relatives. Twenty years before Vatican II I was a member of the wonderfully successful Mercier Society, which conducted dialogue with Protestants, such as is now a universal practice. At the time our request to Rome, enjoined on us, met this incredible response: we could explain our teachings to Protestants but “they should not dare to defend the teachings of their sects.” The document was signed by Cardinal Marchetti-Selvaggiani, Secretary of the Holy Office. We were suppressed, but vindicated by Vatican II. I have also served on a joint Catholic-Protestant commission set up by the Catholic and Protestant Bishops of Ireland to report on doctrinal and devotional attitudes toward Our Lady. In recent years I have had many contacts with the Orthodox, as I was preparing an authorized study of the life and teachings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.
In dealing with the ecumenical movement we must certainly take account of the factors which divide us. But we must especially adhere to the divine intention, so strongly expressed by Jesus Christ our Saviour: “So there shall be one flock, one shepherd” (Jn 10:16); “That they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17:21).
When Martin Gillett launched the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary he seemed to fly in the face of entrenched prejudice. Is not this the one thing which alienates Protestants? His belief that Our Lady is more interested in unity than we are has been justified in the notable success of the society.
In the ecumenical context I recall what my readers may vaguely know. Between the Reformation and Vatican II there were two Catholic prelates identified with Christian Unity. One is very well known, Belgian Desiré Joseph Cardinal Mercier, a great educationalist, a key figure in the Thomistic revival, embodiment of patriotism during World War I, a spiritual writer. His part in the Malines Conversations is well known and was epoch making. It is thought that he could, with papal approval, have ushered in a new age. This great ecumenist was the advocate of Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces. He obtained from Benedict XV approval for the Mass and office. Four hundred fifty bishops and several religious orders and congregations benefited by his initiative. Frank Duff, who recited the full Divine Office in Latin every day, adopted it. Pius XI set up the three commissions to which I have referred.
Bishop Marius Besson of Fribourg, twenty years later espoused the cause of unity. His outlook is expressed in two books, La Rout Aplanie, and Apres quatre cents ans. He forbade his clergy to use the word “Protestant”—they must speak of Nos freres séparés. He also showed his devotion to Our Lady in a beautiful book and he was especially devoted to her local shrine, Notre Dame De Bourgouillon.
So let us avoid any a priori conclusions such as “Ecumenist, therefore minimalist on Our Lady.” The record shows rather the opposite: “Ecumenist, therefore needing the special help of Our Lady.” Here is another fact to ponder: In 1921, Mercier organized a congress in Brussels, with important theologians as participants, on Mary’s universal mediation. It was in that year that the Legion of Mary came into existence.
The Commission calls for still further study on the titles and the doctrines inherent in them. Already, before the request for a dogma, Mary’s mediation and co-redemption were abundantly studied, as they have been so in support of the request. Already in 1950, the subject of mediation was raised at the first International Mariological Congress, held in Rome. This votum was approved and submitted to Pius XII: “Since the principal, personal attributes of the Blessed Virgin Mary have been already defined, it is the wish of the faithful that it should also be dogmatically defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary was intimately associated with Christ the Saviour in effecting human salvation, and, accordingly she is true collaborator in the work of redemption, spiritual Mother of all men, intercessor and dispenser of graces, in a word universal Mediatrix of God and men.” (16)
Vatican II taught that priests share in the mediation of Christ: “Partakers of the function of Christ the sole Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) on the level of their ministry they announced the divine word to all.” (17)
I suggest that with a view to Christian unity there should be a new approach from our theologians. They should think of the East and be prepared to learn from them. One lesson which they need to learn, as I have said, is that in writing of Christ as the “one Mediator” St. Paul was thinking of those not yet converted to Christ, certainly not of those who had come to him. Those united with him share, to the measure of their sacramental and spiritual capacity, all his sublime privileges, and first and foremost in his very divine sonship, superior to all else. It is time to free ourselves from sterile debating on the One Mediator text, as if St. Paul had written nothing else. This debate led to five references, direct or indirect, in two articles of the Constitution on the Church from Vatican II.
Let us return to another statement issued by the Commission: “Even if the titles were assigned a content which could be accepted as belonging to the deposit of faith, the definition of these titles, however, in the present situation, would be lacking in theological clarity, as such titles and the doctrines inherent in them still require further study in a renewed trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective.”
It would be lacking in respect to the commission members to say that this was a delaying tactic. But I fear that in the history of Marian theology it may be so interpreted. Why should a definition of the proposed titles be “lacking in theological clarity” because of the present or any situation? Is the theological resource of the Church so feeble that this problem cannot be faced and solved? Never perhaps, in the history of the Church, has there been so much organized research into questions of Marian theology, so many Marian publications of high quality. Why should there not be sufficient ability in these quarters to produce a test which would take account of a “renewed trinitarian, ecclesiological and anthropological perspective.”