UNSCRIPTURAL MARIAN DOCTRINE?
Besides the fact that Protestants, in violation of Mt. 7:1, charge
Catholics with worshipping Mary, they add the claim that our
advanced doctrines are unscriptural. (Mt. 7.1 does not forbid
stating the objective rating of an action - it forbids only claiming
to know the interior of the person who does it. So the fact that we
sing songs and light candles in her honor is no more worship
than the eternal flame at the grave of JFK. We tell them our
interior: it is not meant as worship. But they say: "Yes but it is".
This is not only rash judgment, but dogged perversity. We wish
they would honor Mt. 7:1).
But at present we are interested in the further claim that the
teaching of her cooperation in the redemption is unscriptural.
First, we want to notice that in the very earliest Fathers of the
Church, such as St. Justin Martyr (c. 145-150), we find the New Eve
doctrine, i.e., that just as the first Eve really contributed to the
damage of original sin, so Mary, the New Eve, really contributed
to removing it. They had in mind her obedient acceptance, in
faith, to be the Mother of the Messiah.
But today the Church has gone beyond that early teaching. We
quote a very official text, the "Constitution on the Church" of
Vatican II, P61: "...in suffering with Him as He died on the cross,
she cooperated in the work of the Savior, in an altogether
singular way, by obedience, faith, hope and burning love, to
restore supernatural life to souls." Basically this same doctrine is
found in every Pope from Leo XIII up to and including John Paul
II. By the time of Vatican II, nearly all the die-hard Catholic
theologians who disliked this teaching had admitted they had to
So Vatican II was merely restating a repeated teaching. But the
way it expressed it is very helpful. It said her role on Calvary was
one of obedience. Earlier, in P56 it had pointed out that
obedience twice, in citing St. Irenaeus: "By obeying, she became a
cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race."
Then, after recalling the comparison St. Irenaeus made of all sin
to a complex knot, in which the Saint said that to untie a knot,
one must take the end of the rope backwards through every turn
taken in tying it. And it added, from St. Irenaeus again: "Thus
then, the knot of the disobedience of Eve was untied through the
obedience of Mary."
At first sight this teaching seems to have no basis in Scripture.
But if we look more closely, we will see something quite obvious.
First, at the Annunciation, she was asked to consent, in faith, to
be the Mother of the Messiah. She knew this perfectly clearly, for
as soon as the Archangel said, "He will reign over the house of
Jacob forever," she knew that only the Messiah could reign
forever. So she knew it was the Messiah. Then there would begin
to crowd into her thoughts all the ancient prophecies of the
Messiah, especially Isaiah 53, of His dreadful sufferings and
death. She was asked to consent to be the Mother of such a
She did consent, as St. Luke tells us, saying: "Be it done to me
according to your word. "She gave her fiat, her obedience to the
will of God, as the angel told her of His will.
Did she later retract this acceptance of God's will? Of course not.
Any soul either falls back or goes ahead in holiness. Holiness
really consists in the alignment of our wills with the will of God -
for the free will is the only thing free we have.
So she faithfully stood by Him, keeping in the background when
the crowds gave Him praise, but moving out into the dark
blackness that hung over Calvary. There she stood.
What was her reaction? Of course, she grieved, as any Mother
would, seeing her Son suffering so horribly. And she saw that
suffering as our crucifixes do not generally let us see it - they
contain no trace at all of the horrid scourging, leaving Him
bloody all over.
But now we can begin to realize something tremendous. As we
said, spiritual perfection consists in the alignment of our will
with the will of the Father. Further, when we know what He
positively wills, it is not enough for us to say, as it were: "Let it
go". No, we are called on to positively will what He wills.
But what did He will in that dread hour? She knew from Isaiah
53:10: "It was the will of the Lord to crush Him with pain." So the
Father willed that His Son should die, die then, die so horribly. So
did the Son will it. So she was then called upon to will what the
Father willed, what her Son willed, in other words, she was called
on to will positively that He die, die then, die horribly.
We must add: the redemption was, under one aspect, the making
of the New Covenant, foretold by Jeremiah 31:31 ff: "I will make a
New covenant. It will not be like the covenant I made with your
Fathers, for they broke my covenant, and I had to show myself
their master. But this is the Covenant. I will write my law on their
heart. I will be their God, and they will be my people."
In the Covenant of Sinai, the essential condition had been the
obedience of the people (Ex 19:5): "If you really hearken to my
voice, and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." So
the New Covenant would have again as its essential condition
obedience, which Jeremiah expressed by speaking of a law
written on hearts. Perhaps Jeremiah did not see it fully, but that
obedience was to be the obedience of Christ.
What did that law of the Father, written on her heart call for? It
called for what we have just said: That she positively will that her
Son die, die then, die horribly. In that, she was joining in the
fulfillment of the Covenant condition. He, in Gethsemani, had
said: "If it be possible, let this chalice pass... but nonetheless, not
what I will, but what you will."In other words, He obeyed. St. Paul
stressed that too in Rom 5:19: "Just as by the disobedience of the
one man [the first Adam] the many were made sinners [original
sin] so by the obedience of the one man [the New Adam] the many
will be constituted just."
In fact, had His death taken place without obedience, it would not
have been a redemption, it would have been merely a tragedy. So
it was obedience that was the covenant condition, it was that
which gave the value to His death.
To look at the same reality from a different perspective, His
death was a sacrifice. God had once complained through Isaiah
29:13: "This people honors me with their lips...their hearts are far
from me." The ancient Jews were very adept at what is
sometimes, simplistically, called "participation." They loved to
make the responses, to sing, to join in processions. But it was all
empty, for their hearts were far from Him: their hearts did not act
But Jesus did offer His sacrifice in obedience. So just as
obedience is the covenant condition, so too, it is that without
which His sacrifice would be as worthless as those of which God
complained through Isaiah.
But we return to Our Lady. At the annunciation, she obeyed, she
said her fiat. She knew too much for comfort even then, of what
that entailed, as we explained above. But now in the blackness of
Calvary, she was called on to continue to obey the will of the
Father. That she did. As we said, we know this since any soul is
required to conform its will to that of the Father. But then, she
knew that will of the Father, knew it all too well. It was that He
should die then, die horribly.
So what she had to do, unless she would break with the Father,
was to will what He willed, to will the terrible death of her Son.
All this is, of course, entirely Scriptural. It merely points out that
at the start, she obeyed in saying her fiat, as St. Luke tells us. At
the Cross, as any soul that loves the will of the Father must do,
she had to continue her fiat, to continue to obey. Isaiah 53 had
said that, "by His stripes we are healed", that, "it was the will of
the Lord to crush Him in pain." Even the Targum knew Isaiah
spoke of the Messiah, although in the stiff-necks of many, the
message was even inverted. But she was not such, she
understood, and yet she did not take back her fiat, she obeyed
the will of the Lord. That obedience of hers was a joining in the
essential condition of the New Covenant, it was a joining in the
necessary interior of His sacrifice.
Her love of Him would multiply the difficulty. It was the love of
the best of Mothers for the best of Sons, a Son whom she
understood as no other person could. We cannot really calculate
the terrible difficulty of her obedience, going counter to such
Would the Father accept her obedience as part of the covenant
obedience? In the old covenant, He accepted the obedience of
even very ordinary, sinful people - how much more hers! Would
He put her in such straits, call on her to obey when it was so
incredibly hard, and then not accept her obedience as part of the
covenant condition even as He had accepted the obedience of
very ordinary, sinful people, as we said, in the old covenant.
He could have redeemed us with something immeasurably less
painful - the mere fact of the incarnation, even without so much
as a short prayer added, would have been superabundant. Yet in
His love of all goodness, in His love of us, He would not stop
short when there was any way to make it all richer. It was in that
attitude that He called for the death of His Son, that He called for
her immeasurably difficult obedience.
So, Vatican II in its teaching, merely unfolded, by pondering in
hearts, what the Scripture contains: "In suffering with Him as He
died on the cross, she cooperated in the work of the Savior" - in
the essential requirement of the New Covenant, in the essential
interior of the Great Sacrifice - "by obedience, faith, hope and