Understanding Mary as Mediatrix

Introduction

In this paper I will offer a theological meditation on the Marian title Mediatrix of all Graces. My interpretation and explanation of this title will be somewhat speculative, and I will make theological connections and draw out implications which others may not have noticed before. This assignment asked us to pick a Marian title from the Litany of Loreto and as it happens “Mediatrix of all Graces” does not feature in this litany. However the litany includes various titles which are intimately connected with the notion of Mediatrix of all Graces, specifically Mother of divine grace, Help of Christians, Mother of the Church. This meditation can therefore also be taken as a reflection on these three related titles.

Theosis as the Basis of Mediation

Salvation in the eastern churches is conceptualised in terms of theosis. In the western churches this concept is often referred to by the term “divinization,” but it is not a commonly known doctrine in the west, and it is eastern Christendom which has most fully developed the idea. Theosis is neatly summed up by a couplet attributed to various of the church fathers: “God became man so that man might become God.” There is a sense in which salvation consists of becoming God. However theologians are careful to emphasise that we become God by participation in the life of the Trinity; we do not become God by alteration of our nature. In an analogous way to how Christ had a totally divine nature and a totally human nature, it can be argued that we too will have both divine and human natures once we are saved.1

There are different levels of theosis, just as there are different levels of participation in the life of the Trinity. What does it mean to share in the life of the Trinity? I propose that this is simply to experience a finite share in the infinite attributes of God. A saint shares in God’s power, knowledge, presence, benevolence and so on, but to a finite degree.2 I would like to propose that this sheds some light on the phenomenon of patron saints. Different saints are mediators of different graces, and they do this by virtue of their unique (and finite) participation in the divine attributes. For example, St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost items; but another way of understanding this is that St. Anthony is a mediator of the grace of finding lost items, and he achieves this by means of his finite participation in the omniscience of God (ie, he has God’s supernatural and divine knowledge of the location of lost items). Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of – among other things – students and academics. So another way of understanding this is that St. Thomas mediates graces that are relevant to academics and students, by means of the divine knowledge and power.

So when a Catholic prays to Saint Anthony to help them find something they have lost, they are literally praying to Saint Anthony; they are not merely asking St. Anthony to intercede for them (although that is happening too) but rather requesting that St. Anthony take an active role in the fulfilment of the prayer by means of the heavenly power and knowledge which he has obtained via theosis.

Mary Has Maximum Theosis

So how does all of this apply to Mary? Well, Mary was the perfect creature; she never sinned and she experienced a complete and total theosis.3 So Mary does not merely participate in divinity in a finite and imperfect manner like the other saints; rather, she participates in divinity in a perfect and infinite mode. She does not merely have a finite share in God’s power, knowledge, presence and benevolence; she actually participates in these things so completely and perfectly that she could be said to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent, just like Christ!4 Mary’s will is so completely and perfectly aligned with the divine will and in submission to it that it is as if she does not possess a unique will of her own.

All of this can help to explain the doctrine of Mary as “Mediatrix of all graces.” Mary is a perfect mediator, because she perfectly shares in the mediation of Christ by virtue of her perfect theosis. What does this look like? It has two aspects: perfect intercession and distribution of grace. In terms of intercession, because Mary’s will is perfectly in accordance with the will of God, she also prays in perfect accordance with the will of God. This implies that every grace that we receive has a prayer from Mary attached to it. Even something as simple as the sun rising day after day is associated with a prayer from Mary. Her prayer life is profound, exhaustive and ineffable. Mary prays for literally everything.

The other aspect of Mary as Mediatrix is that she is a distributor of all grace by virtue of her participation in omnipotence. Mary shares perfectly in the power of God, and so wields his omnipotence simultaneously to God’s wielding of his own omnipotence. An analogical way of conceiving the situation is that Christ and Mary are both agents who work together to send forth grace to us. The saints also have this honour, however their participation in theosis is finite – and so they are only mediators of some graces – whereas Mary’s participation in Christ’s mediation is infinite and therefore encompasses all graces. It is therefore appropriate to refer to Mary as the Mediatrix of all Graces.

Another way of understanding this title is to think of Mary as the patron saint of everything. The church has identified certain patron saints as being mediators with respect to certain specific problems and issues. These saints share in God’s power in a real and unique way, and most perfectly with respect to the issues that they are patrons for. Whereas Mary is the patron saint of all things, because she has been so perfectly divinized and as such she perfectly shares in Christ’s knowledge and power.

Christ the Head, Mary the Neck

Pope St. Pius X referred to Mary as the “neck” which connects Christ the head to the rest of the church body.5 There is much value in this description, as it pictures all Grace flowing through both Christ and Mary. However there is a subtle danger in this image which may pose an ecumenical obstacle; it seems to imply that Mary stands as “another mediator” between the Church and Christ, and this would fall foul of a major Protestant objection. However, any Protestant worries would be misplaced; the doctrine does not put Mary in between us and Christ as a “gatekeeper” who Christians have to placate before being allowed access to Jesus; Mary is not acting as a second head of the Church. Rather, Mary stands between the church and Christ in almost exactly the same way that a neck stands between a head and its body.

Consider a neck: all it can do is faithfully serve the head; it is not a second brain – another locus of thought and decision – which has veto power over the commands emanating from the head to its body, or which has the power of censorship over the communications rising from the body to the head. Rather, a neck simply “does as it’s told” and serves as a conduit allowing communication between brain and body. So if Mary is a mediator between us and Christ this is not to be understood in a competitive way, as if we have to placate Mary first before we can get to Christ. Mary’s mediation is completely passive in the same way that a neck passively mediates between brain and body. She poses no obstacle between the Church and Christ, but rather enables healthy communication between the Church and Christ, just as a neck enables healthy communication between body and head.

Mary’s Fiat is relevant here: The Fiat reveals Mary’s total obedience to the will of God, just as a neck is totally obedient to the promptings of its’ head. Mary’s famous Fiat can therefore be understood to reveal one of her holy offices: Mary the neck of the Church.

Conclusion

The doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix is quite beautiful and it is unfortunate that the church seems to be backing away from it in recent times. Rather than sweeping it under the rug to appease Protestants, I propose that it would be better to offer more robust explanations and apologetics to present the doctrine to them in ways which they can understand. Mary can be considered to perfectly share in the omnipotence and omniscience of Christ, and this is the basis of her being the Mediatrix of all Graces. Mary does indeed mediate between the Church and Christ, but in a passive and enabling way, rather than a competitive way which would require Christians to appease Mary before being granted access to Christ. The relationship between Church, Mary and Christ is analogous to the relationship between body, neck and head. To conclude with words of wisdom affirmed by many of the saints; you cannot have Christ as brother if you will not have Mary as Mother.

1Important to note that Christ is essentially divine and only secondarily human, whereas we would be essentially human and only secondarily divine. The common ablative tossed around is that we will be divine by participation.

2This could be taken as a tentative justification for why Catholics sometimes literally “Pray to the saints,” rather than merely asking the saints to “intercede.” This is appropriate, because the saints have a direct participation in the power of God. The saints could be called “little gods” by virtue of their direct participation in the attributes of the one true God and so Catholics sometimes petition them as such.

3Her theosis was so perfect that a third category of worship – hyperdulia – had to be identified to differentiate between veneration of saints, adoration of God, and worship of Mary.

4Again, Mary would only be omnipotent and etc by participation, not by nature. I am here simply speculating that her theosis is infinite; I’m not trying to make her a fourth member of the Trinity.

5St. Pius X, Encyclical, Ad diem illum, Feb. 2, 1904, AAS 36, 1904. 453-54.

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