Divine providence often furnishes Catholic converts
with ironic stories about the twists and turns on their journeys home to
the Catholic Church. In my case, as a former Protestant minister, with
deep anti-Catholic convictions, it was my Saul-like crusade against Mary
that was wondrously transformed by Godís grace into a deep filial love
for the Mother of God. As they say, the bigger they come, the harder they
fall ó in love.
But if, prior to my entry into the Church at Easter,
1986, I had encountered a movement like Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici
("The Voice of the People for Mary Mediatrix"), I would have
been quite appalled, my worst suspicions confirmed. Indeed, I can almost
hear myself loading the cannon fodder. "What do you mean, Mary as ĎCoredemprix,
Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate for the people of God?í At last,
proof positive that Catholics supplant Christís prerogatives with
"OVER MY DEAD CALVINIST BODY!"
For many years, I considered Marian doctrine and
devotion to be symptomatic of a mortal infection within Catholics; indeed,
it represented what was most wrong with Catholicism. Even after I had
become a Catholic, I initially opposed the definition of the dogma, for
various reasons, but mostly because I feared that it would only add to the
confusion already out there.
Yet as a teacher, I had to ask myself, whatís the
best thing to do when you come across confusion? You dispel it. And the
best way to do that is to get in line with the Church, proclaim what the
Pope proclaims, and then explicate it ó the job of a theologian.
Paradoxically, my former anti-Marian views have
resulted in an appreciation for the common objections frequently raised
against the Churchís teachings about Mary, as well as the prospect of a
new Marian dogma being defined by the Pope. As an Evangelical, the one
overarching reason why I opposed Catholic teaching about Mary was that I
believed that it undermined the perfect work of Christ, and robbed Him of
His glory. Today, the one overarching reason why I embrace the Churchís
teaching is that I now see Mary as the perfect work of Christ, and the
greatest revelation of his glory. She no more steals the Sonís glory
than the moon steals the sunís.
In view of the potholes and detours I have encountered
along the road to Rome, perhaps it would be useful to clarify how this
Evangelical came to accept the Churchís teachings, and to explain why I
would welcome a definition of a new Marian dogma, if that is what Pope
John Paul II decides to do.
THE GOSPEL OF JESUS EMBODIED IN MARY
Jesus announced the gospel, and then proceeded to
fulfill it. But the gospel didnít change the second Person of the
Trinity. The eternal Son did not gain a single drop of glory for himself
ó after living, dying and rising as a human ó which he lacked
beforehand. God did not create and redeem the world in order to get more
glory, but rather to give it. There is no tug-of-war between the Creator
and his creatures. The Father made and redeemed us through the Son and the
Spirit, but they did it for us ó starting with Mary, in whom it was
accomplished not only the first but best.
Do we thus detract from Christís finished work by
affirming its perfect realization in Mary? On the contrary, we celebrate
his work, precisely by focusing our attention on the human person who
manifests it most perfectly.
Mary is not God, but she is the mother of God. She is
only a creature; but she is Godís greatest creation. Just as artists
long to paint one masterpiece among their many works, so Jesus made his
mother to be his greatest masterpiece. To affirm the truth about Mary
would not detract from Jesus, although not to affirm it could.
Of all creatures, Mary is directly related to God by a
natural bond of covenant kinship, as the Mother of Jesus, to whom she gave
her own flesh and blood. This bond is what enables us to share the New
Covenant grace of Christ by adoption. Furthermore, Jesus was legally bound
by his Fatherís law ("Honor your father and mother") to share
his honor, as her son, with Mary. Indeed, he fulfilled this law more
perfectly than any son has ever done, by bestowing the gift of his divine
glory upon her. And we are simply called to imitate him.
SALVATION IS A WORK-SHARING AFFAIR
Pope John Paul II has stated: "God in His deepest
mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself
fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love."
The work of salvation is the work of all three Persons of the Holy
Trinity. Our redemption thus assumed trinitarian and family proportions.
The first Person of the Trinity is now our Father (Jn
20:17), because of the saving work of the Son, who is "the firstborn
among many brethren" (Rom 8:29), and so the Holy Spirit is "the
Spirit of sonship," who causes us to cry "Abba, Father"
(Rom 8:15). This is what is unique and definitive about the Christian
religion; it is the gospel of God sharing his family life and love with
mankind. And it all began with the gift of Mary as mother: she obeyed the
Father by bearing his Son in the power of the Holy Spirit ó for us.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this mystery when he stated:
"We are Godís co-workers" (1 Cor 3:9). How is this? Canít
God get the job done himself? Of course he can. But since he is a Father,
his job is raising up mature sons and daughters, by making us co-workers.
And his work is our redemption, which he shared in an unparalleled way
with Mary ó to whom God entrusted such tasks as feeding his Son with her
own milk, singing him to sleep, and accompanying him all the way to the
cross where she gave her sorrowful yes to his self-offering. In short, the
Father willed that his Sonís entire existence as a man would hinge, so
to speak, upon the ongoing fiat of Mary. Can there be a more
Being a disciple, a co-worker, with Jesus takes effort.
At times, it takes suffering. One passage that seemed to have escaped my
attention as a Protestant was St. Paulís rather curious line, "I
rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is
lacking in Christís afflictions for the sake of his body, the
Church" (Col 1:24). Cradle Catholics may remember with some fondness
being told (in the event of an unsuccessful team try-out, a skinned knee,
or a broken heart) to "offer it up." This simple phrase holds
the key that unlocks the mystery of our coredemption. By consciously
uniting our sufferings to our Lordís redemptive sufferings, we become
co-workers. By uniting her heart to his, especially at Calvary, the
Blessed Mother became the co-worker par excellence.
This understanding is echoed in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church: "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace
continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the
Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross,
until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect." However, Maryís
divine maternity did not end with her Sonís resurrection and Ascension,
nor even after her Assumption; as the Catechism states: "Taken
up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office, but by her manifold
intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvationÖ.
Therefore the Blessed Virgin Mary is invoked in the Church under the
titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix" (CCC
969, citing Lumen Gentium 62). It is significant that the Catechism
describes Maryís divine motherhood as a "saving office," which
it then uses to explain her rather remarkable titles. But what is meant by
the phrase "saving office"?
MARYíS "SAVING OFFICE": MATERNAL MEDIATION
Pope John Paul II has used these titles repeatedly
(along with "co-redemptrix") throughout his pontificate. He has
also found just the right formula to make it possible for the Catholic
world not only to believe them, which it already does, but to grasp them
with both head and heartó and to celebrate them. As a well-trained
theologian in his own right, the Pope has introduced the compact phrase
"maternal mediation" into the common currency of the Churchís
theological vocabulary. And it seems to capture the very heart of Marian
doctrine and devotion.
As an Evangelical, I rushed to the one verse that
seemed to snuff out this seemingly heretical spark: St. Paulís
categorical assertion that Christ is the only "mediator between God
and man" (1 Tim 2:5). How dare we refer to Maryís maternal
mediation, or call her "Mediatrix"?
First of all, the Greek word used here for
"one" is eis, which means "first" or
"primary," not monos, which means "only" or
"sole." Just as there is one mediator, there is also one divine
sonship, which we all shareó by way of participationó with Christ (filii
in Filio, sons in the Son). Christís mediation does not exclude Maryís,
but rather establishes it, by way of her participation.
Furthermore, the Epistle to the Hebrews explains Christís
high priesthood in terms of his being the firstborn Son of God (Heb
1:6-2:17), which serves as the basis for our divine sonship (Heb 2:10-17),
as well as our priestly sanctity and service (Heb 13:10-16; 1Pet 2:5).
Once again, there is no tug-of-war between us.
As firstborn Son in Godís family, Jesus mediates as
the High Priest between the Father and his children; whereas Mary mediates
as queen-mother (see 1 Kg 2:19 and Rev. 12:1-17). This is what her
maternal mediation is all about. For the Father, Mary mothers the Son. For
us sinners, she mothers our Savior. And for her Son, she mothers his
siblings. When it comes to Maryís role in Godís saving plan,
"mother" is not only a noun but a verb, and hence an office.
As the Mother of God and his children, Mary shows us
how to glorify the Father, not by groveling, but by receiving the gift of
his Son in the fullness of the Spirit. That is how Godís sovereign grace
enables us to share in his glory, and so become "partakers of the
divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). So if you want to judge how well a person
grasps the gospel in its essence, find out how much they make of having
God as their Fatheró and Mary as their Mother.
Judging by this standard, I would say that Pope John
Paul II appreciates the gospel as much as any other man of our time. And
his magisterial insight into maternal mediation may well prove decisive.
CHRIST MERITED MARYíS CAPACITY TO MERIT
If merit is understood as a purely economic term, itís
untrue and offensive; but if it is used in a familial sense, it is as
natural as an inheritance, or an allowance. In other words, as children in
Godís family, we merit grace like a child earns dessertó by eating
everything on his plate. What father begrudges his kids the gifts he gives
them? Or resents those whom he rewards? As St. Augustine wrote: "When
God rewards us for our labors he is only crowning his work in us" (CCC
According to the Catechism, it is "Godís
fatherly action" that enables us to merit: "Filial adoption, in
making us partakers by grace in the divine nature, can bestow true merit
on us as a result of Godís gratuitous justice. This is our right by
grace, the full right of love, making us Ďco-heirsí with Christ"
Christ has merited our capacity to merit ó which he
confers on us with the grace of his divine sonship and the life of his
Spirit. Indeed, Jesus did not merit a single thing for himself, since
there was nothing he needed. Thus, he only merits according to our need.
Where does God the Father show the world just how much
his Son really merited? In each one of us, to be sure, but most of all in
Mary. Unlike the rest of us ó in whom there is often a yawning gap
between what we want and what God wants ó with Mary, there is no gap. By
the gift of an infinite grace, Mary attained the goal of the covenant: a
perfect interpersonal union of divine and human wills. With Mary, the
ideal and the real are one and the same.
MATER ET MAGISTRA
What role does the magisterium play in all this? I
think many Catholics tend to view the magisterium like an overweight
umpire who stands behind the plate, calling strikes and fouls and outs.
But the magisterium is actually the team itself, made up of the episcopal
players who trace their spot on the roster back to the original team of
Apostles. And as team captain, the Pope leads his fellow bishops, along
with the rest of us, who share the "sense of the faithful."
Thus, it is misleading to reduce the role of the
magisterium to an adversarial courtroom, where theologians are on trial
before bishops, who must hand down the verdicts ó unless the Pope is
needed to render a final decision, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
While the magisterium certainly has a judicial role in the Church, its
nature and purpose is more properly evangelistic and prophetic. Indeed,
Jesus Christ formed and empowered the magisterium to serve as his
apostolic body for preaching and teaching the Good News to a world that
has grown tragically accustomed to bad news.
The magisterium is the most consistent prophetic voice
of the Church in the world. It speaks with the authoritative voice of our
Lord, who faithfully keeps his pledge to Peter and his key-holding
successors (Mt 16:17-19). Jesus also guides the papal magisterium to
penetrate further into the vast depths and riches of the sacred deposit of
faith, so that the plentitude of truth will always be proclaimed with
purity and power. Jesus guarantees this charism of infallibility with his
own omnipotent love. It is not human oppression, but divine light.
This understanding of the magisterium is reflected in
the way the two previous Marian dogmas were proclaimed, since around the
time of the definition of the dogma of papal infallibility itself. Neither
the Immaculate Conception in 1854 nor the Bodily Assumption in 1950 were
defined to counter heresy or resolve a long-standing doctrinal debate.
Rather they were defined for the evangelistic purpose of proclaiming the
gospel, as it is perfectly embodied in Godís mother and ours. In a world
torn apart by unbelief and sin, Mary thus stands as a living sign of how
God restores his family.
Shortly after the Assumption was defined, Archbishop
Fulton Sheen wrote that this dogma actually pointed to yet another:
"There is one more truth left to be defined, and that is that she is
the Mediatrix, under her Son, of all graces. As St. Paul speaks of the
Ascension of Our Lord as the prelude to His intercession for us, so we,
fittingly, should speak of the Assumption of Our Lady as a prelude to her
intercession for us. First, the place, heaven; then, the function,
intercession." The previous Marian dogmas, then, set up a trajectory
which seems to lead (not by logical necessity, of course, but by
fittingness) from the personal identity of the Blessed Virgin to Maryís
maternal role in the Church, the family of God.
Providence arranged that Vatican II was not to be
primarily a dogmatic, but a pastoral, council. The Council Fathers decided
not to define a new Marian dogma. Instead their treatment of Mary was set
in an ecclesial context, as the crowning chapter of Lumen Gentium,
the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church." While Maryís
co-redemptive role as Mediatrix and Advocate was reaffirmed, it was not
defined as such (LG 62). Perhaps the definitive truth of Mary was
not to be laid hold of until the elevation of Pope John Paul II, a
shepherd for whom the proposed dogma is anything but alien.
BAD FOR ECUMENISM?
Theology itself is a true science; its subject matter
consists of divinely revealed mysteries. Down through the centuries, many
of the doctrinal seeds that were planted by Christ and the apostles have
blossomed into dogmas, as defined by the magisterium. In this manner,
theology has developed over time, as other sciences do, but each in its
own distinctive way.
Scientists formulate and test various theories, some of
which are proven with enough certitude to be renamed laws (Newton and
gravity); others are discarded as unworkable hypotheses. Thus, laws become
the markers of scientific progress. Similarly, the definition of dogma
serves as the mark of theological progress.
Dogma is the perfection of doctrine, and doctrine is
nothing other than the Churchís teaching and preaching the gospel truth,
as Jesus commissioned and empowered her to do. If the Pope chooses to
define this Marian dogma, he will be doing much more than teaching the
world a valuable lesson in theology ó he would be using his God-given
charism to fulfill his apostolic mission to preach the gospel to all
nations (Mt 28:18-20).
Throughout the history of the Church, the definition of
dogmas have stimulated the apostolic and theological energies of some of
her best minds, especially when a definition became the occasion of
controversy. More recently, many Protestants, including the late Max
Thurian of Taize, France, objected strenuously after hearing rumors that
Pope Pius XII was about to define the dogma of Maryís Assumption. Where
is that in the Bible? (Incidentally, Max Thurian died a Catholic Priest on
the feast of the Assumption, 1996).
Authentic ecumenical progress is not simply the result
of our own human energies. Even more, it is not caused by compromise, on
either side. "Here it is not a question of altering the deposit of
faith," writes Pope John Paul II, "changing the meaning of the
dogmas, eliminating essential words from them, accommodating truth to the
preferences of a particular ageÖ. The unity willed by God can be
attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in
its entirety" (Ut Unum Sint, 18).
Ecumenical unity thus requires a special grace and the
work of God, who acts for the sake of his family. Accordingly, we should
not expect him to work apart from but through the Mother he gave us to
serve as the symbol and source of family unity.
It may be significant, in this connection, that experts
often trace the rise of Catholic ecumenism back to the early 1950s. This
immediately followed the definition of the Assumption and the celebration
of a Marian Year in 1954 as the centenary of the definition of the
Immaculate Conception. If ever there was a time when Catholic ecumenism
could have been expected to go into a deep freeze, it would have been that
decade. But instead of a chill, Catholics and Protestants experienced the
start of a great thaw.
As we approach the third millennium, I believe that God
wants to use Mary to bring a deep grace of conversion to all Christendom,
not only Protestant and Orthodox, but Catholic as well. This fits with the
Holy Fatherís call for authentic ecumenism to be based on a
"dialogue of conversion." More than committees, this requires
saints; instead of mere compromises, the courage of our convictions.
Perhaps our best model is Mother Teresa, who was
universally beloved as a saint ó now mourned and missed ó by all
More than any other woman of our century, she
exemplified the grace of Marian devotion and service.
Not inconsistently, she was also an indefatigable
supporter of the proposed Marian dogma. "Mary is our Co-redemptrix
with Jesus," she wrote. "She gave Jesus his body and suffered
with him at the cross. Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. She gave Jesus
to us, and as our Mother she obtains for us all his graces. The papal
definition of Mary as Coredemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate will bring
great graces to the Church."
Detractors of the dogma tend to fall into two groups:
those who believe it, but simply donít think the time is right to define
another dogma, at least this one; and those who donít believe it, and
may even feel embarrassed by it. Having found myself in both groups at
different times, I understand their concerns, and still feel a real
sympathy with them.
At the same time, however, I see another kind of
opposition surfacing, especially in certain sectors of the media, that
almost borders on deceit. For example, a false report was circulated that
a Marian lobby is pressuring the Pope to make Mary the fourth person of
the Godhead. Or more recently, it was falsely reported that the Popeís
official spokesman had announced the Popeís opposition to the new Marian
It reminds me of the old saying, "The only way to
beat a dogma is with a stigma."
Whatever our disagreements, these are "family
matters" more than political issues. Indeed, we all should resist the
temptation to reduce such matters to ecclesiastical politics, or to
respond to our honest differences by impugning motives. How wrong-headed
it is to strive after Maryís honor in a way that would dishonor her.
While I am not naÔve, I am hopeful, but only because
of the Fatherís desire to pour out his supernatural power to unite all
of his children around his Son and "our common mother" (Redemptoris
Mater 25). That is why I would welcome a new Marian dogma, if the
vicar of my Lord should choose to define one. As we approach the Jubilee
celebration of the Incarnation, how fitting indeed would a dogma
celebrating the role and full identity of the Woman who made the
(Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology at Franciscan
University in Steubenville, Ohio, USA)
Reprinted from Inside the Vatican, October 1997 issue with
permission from its editor. For information on subscription to Inside
the Vatican, call 1-800-789-9494.
(from Mary's Touch, November 1999 newsletter)