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The Father William Most Collection

Jean Guitton and the Mediatrix of All Graces

WE WHO LIVE in this, the age of Mary,1 are privileged to see a most remarkable development of the dogmatic truths about Mary. This is in accord with the promise of Christ that He would send the Holy Spirit to "teach you all truth."2 For the Holy Spirit brings to the Church an ever clearer perception of the treasures contained in the original deposit of revelation.

In spite of this beneficial trend to ever greater comprehension of the privileges of Mary, some few writers still lag behind. It is good to be cautious, but the failure to keep pace with the official teaching of the Church is not caution; it is retrogression. From time to time one encounters a statement, written or oral, which expresses doubt on the doctrine that Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. As an example, a widely publicized recent book, Jean Guitton's The Virgin Mary,3 makes this statement:

Can it be said that the Blessed Virgin, like Christ also distributes all graces? There is no text in Scripture to support it, no authority of the Fathers, and no pronouncement of the Church.

Many reviewers have given Guitton's book considerable credit for certain of its features. It does show much original thought. Reviewers, however are sometimes very busy men, who must attempt to survey large masses of new works monthly or even weekly. It is not, therefore, humanly possible that they should be able to note every slip. Hence, the above statement of Guitton seems, for the most part, to have escaped the reviewers. They commonly notice his minimistic attitude; they say, for example, that Guitton cuts through the accretion of mere sentiment. Sometimes, though, his scissors slip and go a bit farther. But, lest we make any unsupported statements, let us review briefly the evidence for the thesis that Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces.4

St. Paul often refers to Christ as the New Adam.5 We do not know if the early Fathers took a hint from those words of Paul, or whether, perhaps, they may have been guided by even more open oral statements of the Apostles. Whatever the case may be, from the earliest times the Fathers have insisted on speaking of Mary as the New Eve. It would be easy to fill several pages with Patristic texts of such a nature.6 The question which we must ask ourselves, then, is this: what did the Fathers mean by calling Mary the New Eve? They surely meant to compare and contrast her with the original Eve. But how far may we press this comparison? What may we see in it? We might speculate merely with the aid of our own reason, and thus conclude that, since the first Eve was immaculate before the fall, the New Eve, too, ought to be conceived Immaculate.7 In the document defining the Immaculate Conception, Pius IX does draw out just such an argument. May we also argue, since the first Eve was intended to be the "mother of all the living,"8 that Mary, too, was to be the mother of all the living. For the first Eve was intended to be, with Adam, the means of the transmission, by inheritance, of sanctifying grace to all future generations Tempting though it is to assent to this argument, the proper method of approach is to look to the official guidance of the Church.

Role of Mary from papal texts

There has been a great deal of misunderstanding in recent years, even among educated Catholics on the teaching authority of the Church. There have been, of course, no denials of solemn infallible definitions. Many, nevertheless, have thought themselves free to brush aside and call into doubt doctrines which are not solemnly defined, but which are taught clearly in lesser Papal texts, such as Encyclicals. Encyclicals, it should be noted, may also contain definitions. The Holy See has been much concerned over this recent attitude, with the result that the Holy Office, in an Instruction of Dec. 20, 1949,9 condemned this careless regard. The Holy Father, himself, also thought the matter serious enough to make this statement:10

Nor must one think that the things which are taught in Encyclical letters do not, of themselves, demand assent, on the pretext that in them the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their teaching authority. For these things are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, in regard to which it is correct to say: 'He who heareth you, heareth Me.'

Therefore, in order to be sure whether or not we are justified in deducing the doctrine of the Mediatrix of all graces from the New Eve concept, we must go to the Papal texts. These texts, fortunately, are abundant and clear.

Pope Leo XIII11 holds in one of his many encyclicals on the Rosary:

... after invoking with excellent prayers, our voice of supplication turns from the throne of His majesty to Mary, precisely in accord with this rule of conciliation and deprecation which has been expressed thus by St. Bernardine of Siena: 'Every grace which is communicated to this world has a threefold progress. For, in accord with excellent order, it is dispensed from God to Christ, from Christ to the Virgin, from the Virgin to us.'12

Still another statement of the same Pope is even more emphatic:13

And therefore no less correctly can one affirm that absolutely nothing of that great treasury of grace which the Lord brought us (for 'grace and truth came by Jesus Christ'), nothing of it is given to us except through Mary, for such is the will of God; so that just as no one can go to the Most High Father except through the Son, in much the same way, no one can come to Christ except through His Mother.

We would be indeed surprised if Blessed Pius X did not give us at least a few words on this subject.14 In his classic Encyclical celebrating the 50th anniversary of the definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, he writes:15

Now from this community of will and suffering between Christ and Mary, she 'merited to become most worthily the Reparatrix of the lost world' (Eadmer), and, therefore, Dispensatrix of all the gifts which Jesus gained for us by His death and by His Blood. . . But Mary, as St. Bernard fittingly remarks, is the 'channel' or even the neck, through which the body is joined to the head, and likewise through which the head exerts its power and strength on the body. 'For she is the neck of our Head by which all spiritual gifts are communicated to His Mystical Body." (St. Bernardine of Siena).

Toward the end of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV heart-broken at the continuing struggle, wrote to Cardinal Gasparri concerning prayers for peace to be offered through Mary. In this letter he said:16

... all the graces which the Author of all good desires to grant to the poor children of Adam are dispensed by the hands of the most holy Virgin, for such is the loving decree of Divine Providence.

An examination of papal texts thus far reveals three of the Popes declaring unequivocally that all graces are dispensed through Mary. They are so clear that no commentary is required to bring out the sense. It was not, therefore, necessary that Popes Pius XI and Pius XII should restate this truth. Yet their love for the Mother of God constrained them to reiterate the teaching of their predecessors. Of the several statements of Pius XI, let us read merely one from an Encyclical on the Sacred Heart, in which, in the midst of the great depression,17 the Holy Father called for prayers through Mary:18

Let them pray to Him, interposing likewise the powerful patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces, for themselves and their families, for their country, for the Church...

It is interesting to see that Pius XI not only teaches the doctrine, but even uses the expression, "Mediatrix of All Graces."

Our present Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, has sometimes been called "The Pope of Mary." In the Apostolic Constitution, in which the present Pontiff defined the dogma of the Assumption, he argued from the New Eve concept to the Assumption, itself.19 Hence it is not surprising that he also teaches plainly that Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces. In a broadcast to Fatima, he explained:20

He, the Son of God, reflects on His heavenly Mother the glory, the majesty and the dominion of His kingship; for, having been associated to the King of Martyrs in the ineffable work of human Redemption, as Mother and co-operatrix, she remains forever associated to Him, with an almost unlimited power, in the distribution of the graces which flow from the Redemption.... her kingdom is as vast as that of her Son and God, since nothing is excluded from her dominion.

Unanimity among theologians

As a result of pronouncements so numerous and so clear from so many Popes, it is not surprising that all professional theologians today teach the doctrine that Mary is Mediatrix of all graces. In fact, the Holy See, itself, found occasion to point out this unanimity. The Sacred Congregation of Rites, in approving two miracles for the canonization of St. Louis de Montfort, said (speaking now of St. Bernard):21

The mellifluous Doctor, that outstanding splendor of Burgundy and of the whole Church, gathering up the tradition of the Holy Fathers, taught: 'God wished us to have all through Mary.' All theologians now unanimously hold this tender and salutary doctrine.

While it is interesting to note this mention of the unanimity of professional theologians, the teachings of the Popes are, themselves, amply sufficient. Guitton, strangely, apes not seem to acknowledge the existence of so many Papal texts regarding Mary.

A corollary now follows: since Mary is the Mediatrix of all graces, devotion to Mary may not be optional. To attempt to gain any grace, while deliberately ignoring the channel of all graces, is folly. Guitton, however, not recognizing Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces, is able to say of devotion to Mary:22

It is an official cult ... yet, on reflection, when the reason gives it precision, it assumes a subordinate and even optional role.

To which we reply by quoting again Pope Leo XIII:23

Such is the greatness of Mary, such the favor she has with God, that he, who, when in need of help, would not run to her. would wish to fly without the help of wings.


END NOTES

1Pope Pius XII privately expressed this opinion in a conversation with the Director of the General Secretariate of all Sodalities in Rome. Our Lady's Digest (Aug.-Sept., 1951) p. 119.
2John xvi: 13.
3The Virgin Mary. By Jean Guitton. Translated by A. Gordon Smith (P.J. Kenedy & Sons, N.Y., 1952), p. 138.
4The term "Mediatrix of all graces" is sometimes used to refer only to the fact that all graces are distributed through Mary though some writers would make it include the fact of Mary's cooperation in earning all graces. In this article we use the term in the narrower sense without meaning to deny the other. We must also note that the question of precisely how Mary distributes all graces is at yet unsolved. It is clear that she does so at least by way of intercession, i.e., asking for all graces. There is no agreement among theologians however on whether or not all graces are transmitted in a physical way through her.
51 Cor. xv: 45.
6Mary in the Documents of the Church. By P. F. Palmer S. J. (Newman Press Westminster, Md., 1952), pp. 12 ff., 83, 99. The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries. By T. Livius. (London 1893) pp. 47-59.
7There would be this difference: Eve when first created did not need redemption for the fall had not taken place; Mary was Immaculate in virtue of the anticipated application to her of the merits of her Son.
8Gen. iii: 20.
9Acta Apost. Sed., XLII, p. 144.
10"Humani generis." Acta Apost. Sed., XLII, p. 568.
11Acta Sanct. Sed., XXVII, p. 179.
12Notice that this text seems to favor the physical causality theory mentioned above in note 4. It is not conclusive, however.
13Acta Sanct. Sed., XXIV, pp. 195-196.
14The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, LII (Jan., 1952) pp. 311-14.
15Acta Sanct. Sed., XXXVI, pp. 453-54.
16Acta Apost. Sed., IX, p. 266.
17Acta Apost. Sed., May 3, 1932.
18NCWC edition (Vatican Press translation), pp. 21, 22.
19Acta Apost. Sed., XLII. p. 768.
20Acta Apost. Sed., XXXVIII, p. 266. Note that the Holy Father makes Mary associated with Christ in the work of the Redemption and forever remaining in that association. Thus, God has freely chosen to use Mary's services at every point, from the Annunciation to the distribution of the very last grace. Guitton must be questioned then, when he says (p. 2): "This discrepancy, between the place held by the Virgin in sentiment, practically so vast, and the very limited place she occupies in dogma ... constitutes a serious difficulty for many minds."
21Acta Apost. Sed., XXXIV, p. 44.
22Guitton, p. 2, op. cit.
23Acta Sanct. Sed., XXX, p. 133.

END

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