Final Considerations of the Development of the Mediatrix of All Graces Doctrine and the Development of Christian Doctrine and Dogma Generally
As with the Theokotos doctrine, and as with the common fundamental doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity themselves, various devotions of consecration to Mary which imply her mediation of all graces from Jesus pop up in the life of the Church quite early on, long before the doctrine is developed and clarified, indicating that this was part of the implicit though not yet explicit understanding of the Living Body of Christ the Church since the beginning. In the East Saint Gregory Palamar eventually notes that “no divine gift can reach either angels or men, except through her mediation.” (Miravalle, CMA I, 136). Similarly in the West, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “God has willed that we should have nothing which would not pass through the hands of Mary” (Miravalle, CMA I, 284), and in the East Theophanes of Nicea explicitly calls Mary “the neck” of the mystical Body of Christ (Miravalle, CMA I, 139-40), as do other authors in the West. Although believing the “mediatrix of all graces” doctrine is not required of Catholic Christians as an article of Catholic faith, in the modern age the ordinary magisterium1 of the Catholic Church has continued, with increasing frequency, to refer to Mary as the Mediatrix of all graces, evidencing that this implicit insight which goes back to the earliest centuries of the Church is becoming increasingly explicit as Christians continue to reflect upon Jesus their Incarnate Savior, given to us by God the Father through the human instrument of Mary His mother. In 1921 and 1971 the word “all” was included in magisterially approved Masses for Marian feast days (Miravalle, CMA I, 289). All the popes of the 20th Century have referred to or contributed to this increased understanding, and papal support has been given to it by the canonization of Saints Louis de Montfort and Maximilian Kolbe, who in addition to their lives of exemplary holiness, in their writings are known primarily for their theological development of the doctrine of Mary Mediatrix of all graces. The devotional practice de Montfort promoted of Christians consecrating themselves “to Jesus through Mary” was adopted and promoted by Pope John Paul II. This is surely the most extreme of all Catholic Marian devotions, but it too ultimately is about Christians taking seriously their own participation in the Mystery of the Body of Christ and as members of Christ’s Body offering whatever they have to Christ the Head through Mary the neck and first member of that Body of Christ the Church to which they belong. This practice is also consistent with the Biblical Queen Mother tradition, a form of serving the King through serving the Queen who serves Him. For my personal development of this form of Christian devotion, which incorporates the deep and ecumenically sensitive insights of this book, making plain the Marian connections to the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, see Volume II Appendix III.
The Development of the Later Catholic Doctrines and Dogmas Are a Continuation of the Same Living Process of the Living Body of Christ the Church Growing Deeper in its Understanding of Divine Revelation by Which the Fundamental Doctrines or Dogmas of Christianity Were Developed
The fact that this doctrine of “Mary Mediatrix of all Graces” was not explicit from the earliest days of the Church but developed over time is no legitimate cause to reject it, because neither were the fundamental doctrines (or dogmas) of Christianity explicit right from the beginning. Liberal Protestant Christians reject Christian fundamental doctrines on this same basis that conservative Protestant Christians reject Catholic Marian doctrines! We must understand that God revealed the Infinite Mystery of Himself in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God (testified to also in the Written Word of God, the Bible). Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word is a Person we can know and love personally, but we cannot expect to be able to immediately express in precise words everything we experience personally and implicitly about this wonderful Person. So we should expect that only over time will Christians gradually come to greater and greater, deeper and deeper, intellectual understanding of this Infinite Mystery of God revealed in Christ Jesus – without ever exhausting it. There will always be more about God and His ways we do not yet understand even as we gradually increase our explicit intellectual understanding of what He has revealed to us, through loving reflection over time.
This is in fact the process of the Ecumenical Councils throughout history. Just as I understand my wife much better after 11 years of marriage, over the 2000 years since God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the Bride of Christ the Church has been lovingly reflecting upon her Beloved Lord and coming to gradually unpack more and more of the full meaning of what was revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ whom we love and what He did 2000 years ago (testified to also in the inspired Bible). The process of intellectually articulating in clear and precise terms what the Bride and Body of Christ the Church has always known at least implicitly about Jesus takes time. It took four and a half centuries and four major disputes among Christians settled by four major Ecumenical Councils of the entire Body of Christ the Church to articulate that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Though the Divinity of the Holy Spirit alongside the Father and Son was articulated as a non-negotiable dogmatic article of Christian faith in the 381 AD 2nd Ecumenical Council, the 17th Ecumenical Council of 1439 AD would describe the Holy Trinity in much deeper and more precise terms which pooled the further ongoing Trinitarian insights of the Eastern and Western Sister Churches.3together worked out a much longer and deeper dogmatic definition of the Trinity which pooled the Eastern and Western Christian insights. It is a testament to Satan’s victory in sowing confusion to keep the Churches divided that Eastern Orthodox Christians today (who are often ignorant of their own involvement in many Ecumenical Councils after the first seven) will sometimes still claim the Western, Roman Catholic Church’s addition of “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed is somehow a difference in faith which somehow justifies their separation from the Catholic (Universal) Communion of East and West. The explicit knowledge of the Bride of Christ the Church about just who God is and what He has done and why has always continued gradually to grow, since the Bride’s implicit knowledge of God, grasped as a whole only through loving the Trinitarian God of Love as a whole, is as infinite as God is. Thus we must expect newer Christian doctrines to come gradually to the fore and develop with time and reflection on what God has revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ the Living Word of God and what He has done in history, as experienced personally and as testified to in His Written Word the Bible. We should expect certain of these newer doctrines to eventually be dogmatized as dogmas or fundamental doctrines, articles of faith, because they are eventually recognized by the Living Body of Christ the Church as expressing in a now more clear and concise way something that is absolutely vital to the saving Christian faith passed on more implicitly from the beginning. This is all the Catholic Marian dogmas are – ever deeper and more precise Christian reflections upon the ever-deepening series of Early Church dogmatic reflections upon the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ.
[ newly added section begins here – here I continue to share many of my insights concerning the development of Christian doctrine in the ongoing Christian Tradition guided by the ordained Christian Magisterium through history, how these relate to traditional, orthodox Christianity and how not understanding these properly concerns and affects both “liberal” and “conservative” Protestantism. Some of this will be uncomfortable for Protestant readers, but I share these insights into a weakness of Protestantism in the hopes that it will help “Protestors” to seek a Christian reunion which will make them stronger in these areas of weakness, and in which they can share with Catholic Christians their own genuine strengths]
There would be something wrong if 2000 years of loving Christian reflection on what God revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ the Living Word of God and in the Bible, the Written Word of God, did not lead the Christian Church into gradually deeper and deeper and more full intellectual understanding of what God has revealed. Clear and concise non-Biblical words and phrases like “Trinity,” “Incarnation,” “Jesus is one in being with the Father” and “Jesus is fully God and fully man,” pronounced with dogmatic force by the living Body of Christ the Church in Christian history represent earlier Christian intellectual “unpacking” of what God had first revealed centuries earlier even than that. There would be something wrong if the next millennium and a half after these fundamental dogmas of Christianity were first clearly articulated did not produce even more and deeper explicit insights into these mysteries revealed more implicitly 2000 years ago, including details about just what the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ through Mary’s Virgin Birth means for Mary, God’s human instrument in bringing about the Incarnation (enfleshment) of Jesus Christ the God-man.
The Very Same Ancient Catholic Church Authority Which Identified, Clarified and Dogmatized the Common Fundamental Doctrines of Christianity Has Identified, Clarified and Dogmatized Certain Catholic Marian and Papal Doctrines, and this Is Why Protestant Christians So Often Reject Both the Later Catholic Dogmas and the Earlier Christian Fundamentals
The Marian and papal dogmas of the Catholic Church, which are the biggest differences between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians, simply represent the continuing intellectual unpacking of the infinite richness of God and His ways (and His Body on Earth, the Church) revealed less explicitly 2000 years ago. And these dogmas have been authoritatively pronounced by the same Catholic Magisterium of overseers/bishops/eparchs and patriarchs and pope of the Living Body of Christ the Church which in the Undivided Early Catholic Church first clearly and concisely articulated and authoritatively pronounced for all Christians for all time those particular Bible interpretations which we know today as the traditional essential “fundamentals” of Christianity, like God being a Trinity and Jesus being fully Divine and fully human. Since the same Catholic Magisterium clearly defined and proclaimed the traditional Christian essential fundamental dogmas in the early history of the Living Body of Christ the Church AND proclaimed the Marian and papal dogmas in the later history of the Living Body of Christ the Church, it stands to reason that the earlier common fundamentals and the later Catholic Marian and papal dogmas stand or fall together, and the reality of Protestantism bears this out. Liberal Protestantism not only rejects the Catholic papal and Marian dogmas, it also questions, doubts or denies the Christian fundamentals like the Divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, the Incarnation because Protestantism denies the authority of the Living Body of Christ the Church speaking through its Living Magisterium of overseer/bishops and patriarchs and pope ordained in line from the Apostles to authoritatively express its gradually deeper understanding of God’s Revelation in an ongoing development of dogma (fundamental doctrine) throughout Christian history. Therefore since “Jesus is fully God and fully man” was not an explicit dogma or fundamental doctrine which all orthodox Christians were required to believe as part of their explicit intellectual understanding of their saving faith before the 451 AD 4th Ecumenical Council directed by Pope Saint Leo the Great, doctrinally liberal Protestants feel quite justified, as Protestants, in doubting or denying this Biblical interpretation of the Early Catholic Church.
Currently Conservative and Fundamentally Orthodox Protestant Churches Attempt to Hold onto the Ancient Catholic and Christian Fundamental Dogmas While Rejecting the Newer Catholic Dogmas, but Cannot Logically Justify this on the Basis of “The Bible Alone” and So They Remain Vulnerable in the Long Term to the Doctrinal Liberalism and Unorthodoxy Which Has Already Claimed Other Formerly Orthodox Protestant Churches
Conservative, fundamentally orthodox Protestantism attempts to hold onto some of the earlier developments of Catholic dogma preserved in the traditional fundamentals of Christianity still proclaimed in traditional Protestant creedal “statements of faith” while rejecting later dogmas of the Living Church in history like the 869 AD dogma of the papacy (using a 517 AD formula) and the 1870 dogma of papal infallibility (which was implied in the 517 AD formula),4 and the 1854 dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the 1950 dogma of the Assumption of Mary. However, because they, as Protestants, like liberal Protestants also reject the ongoing authority of the Living Body of Christ the Church to authoritatively express its gradually deeper intellectual understanding of Divine Revelation in an ongoing development of doctrine and dogma, currently doctrinally conservative and orthodox Protestantism is still very vulnerable to becoming doctrinally liberal and unorthodox. Conservative Protestant Christians cannot win arguments with liberal Protestant Christians, since they both still affirm the authority of the Bible Alone, and therefore they both affirm the ultimate illegitimacy of any interpretive Tradition or Church Magisterium (like that of the Early, Catholic, Church) which claims to be authoritative in discerning between different Bible interpretations which may be equally thorough Biblically and equally valid linguistically (since human language by its nature is very fluid and open to quite a range of linguistically legitimate interpretations).5 Every currently “doctrinally liberal” Protestant denomination or congregation which questions, doubts, or outright denies even elements of the traditional, essential, fundamental tenets of orthodox Christian faith and morality (including the large denomination I was raised in) USED TO BE a “doctrinally conservative” and fundamentally orthodox Protestant Christian Church. The foundational Protestant (but not foundational Christian) “Bible Alone” doctrine did not allow the older Protestant denominations to remain certain that the Early Catholic Church had correctly interpreted the Bible Alone when it defined and declared the Christian fundamentals (using non-Biblical, interpretive terms like Trinity and Incarnation). Thus, the older “mainline” Protestant churches are characterized today by uncertainty about Christian essentials if not denial of them, and the currently orthodox Protestant/Evangelical denominations affirm the traditional fundamentals without being able to justify why they do in terms of their belief in the Bible Alone. Sooner or later, members of the currently conservative Protestant churches will also ask questions like “if we believe in the authority of the Bible Alone and no Tradition or Magisterium as the Catholic Church we left centuries ago had, how can we be certain our creedal “Statement of Faith” which interprets the Bible as the Early Catholic Church did is correct?” As long as they remain committed to Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine, such questions will eventually shake the certainty of the currently conservative and orthodox Protestant churches just as it shook the certainty of the many formerly but no longer conservative and orthodox Protestant churches.
As indicated earlier, I have come to understand that those current conservative or Evangelical Protestant Christians who are personally unshakeable in their belief in the traditional fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity (like I was), are Catholic at heart though they are unconscious of the fact. They, like me when I was a “born again, spirit-filled, on-fire-for-God Evangelical Protestant Christian,” are totally convinced of what is actually the Catholic Sacred Tradition of how the Bible must be interpreted which was at first handed on (tradere) implicitly within the Living Tradition (traditio)of the Living Body of Christ the Church and later clarified explicitly by the Catholic Magisterium (of bishops and pope in Apostolic Succession) of the Living Body of Christ the Church. But if an orthodox Protestant who effectively believes this unconsciously still consciously rejects Catholic Sacred Tradition and the Catholic Magisterium as authoritative because they consciously affirm Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine, then they, and their descendants in their same Protestant denomination, are vulnerable to eventually succumbing to Protestant doctrinal liberalism, which is the mature flowering of Protestantism. The inherent weakness in Protestantism is that as long as the “Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” principle that “the Bible Alone is authoritative, and not Catholic Tradition nor Magisterium” is really taken seriously, then the traditional fundamental doctrines of Christianity first articulated and required of Christian belief by the Magisterium of the Living Body of Christ the Church cannot be really taken seriously.
As a Former Evangelical Protestant Christian I was already “Catholic at Heart” and So I Lost Nothing Essential to My Vibrant Conservative Evangelicalism but My Fundamental Evangelical Faith Was Enhanced and Fulfilled by My Becoming Catholic
An old Evangelical friend from my old Evangelical university student community once told my dear bride (of me), “he was the most Evangelical of us – we were all so shocked when he became Catholic.” I imagine that it is confusing to her that as a Catholic I am still “the most Evangelical” of my old faith community, that my vibrant faith in Jesus still shines forth as it did when I was a “born-again, spirit-filled, on-fire-for-God Evangelical Christian.” But I would say that my Evangelical faith has been enhanced and fulfilled by my becoming Catholic. As a devout and vibrant Evangelical I was already “Catholic at heart;” I was already committed to the essential fundamentals of the orthodox, Catholic Christian faith; I was already firmly opposed to the doctrinal liberalism which is the mature form of Protestantism; and so my becoming Catholic was just my consciously affirming the Catholicism I already lived unconsciously, “coming home” to all the treasures my Father God had prepared for me as His adopted son and a member of His Church, which is why I lost nothing essential to my vibrant conservative Evangelicalism when I became Catholic. All I lost was the Protestantism which could have eventually led me or my descendants away from the traditional essential fundamentals of Christianity which are nothing other than the authoritative and dogmatic Biblical interpretations of the Undivided Early Catholic Church.
In the Mystery of the Incarnation the Holy Spirit-Animated Body of Christ the Church Shares in the Both Merely Human and Yet Also Divine Mystery of Jesus Christ its Head
This Catholic Church is understood to be the Living Body of Christ on Earth whose Apostles (and their successors the overseers or bishops including the patriarchs and the pope who oversee wider jurisdictions) are led into “all the truth” by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13), and thus the Catholic Church is incapable of error in its dogma though it is otherwise imperfect. As Christ the Head of the Body is both Divine and human, so the Church His Body is both Divine and human. The Church is on the one hand animated by the Divine Holy Spirit who inspires and guides its Sacred Tradition and who preserves its Magisterium from dogmatically teaching error and who pours out Christ’s Divine Love upon the world through the love the Body of Christians show to the world. And on the other hand the Church is human and also suffers from human sin and human errors in judgement. As Christ the Head was a stumbling block to people’s minds, “how can this obviously human man be also Divine?”, so the Church His Body is a stumbling block to people’s minds, “how can this Church made up of obviously human sinners who make mistakes be also Divine?” Yet the Mystery of the Divine and human intertwined together is the Mystery of the Incarnate Christ the Head AND the Mystery of His Body the Church. To not trust in this mystery revealed in the Bible that the human (yet Divine) Church is the Body of Christ Himself (Ephesians 5:23-32 et al) and therefore “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), incapable of dogmatically teaching error, is to be doomed to uncertainty as to just how the Bible must be interpreted even with respect to the most fundamental points – just like liberal Protestants (who comprise the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant denominations) are uncertain. These oldest Protestant denominations live the most mature form of Protestantism, the natural and logical result of “the Pillar of the Protestant Reformation” that “the Bible Alone is authoritative over the Christian,” and not the Living Christ in His Living Body the Church.
Jesus Christ the Head is humanized divinity; the Church His Body is divinized humanity, “partaking of the Divine Nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The “whole Christ,” both its Head and its members, is both human and divine – and its dogmatic judgements are therefore trustworthy. Inseparable from Christ the Head, the whole Body of Christ the Church’s judgements, in Ecumenical (worldwide) Councils of the Catholic (Universal) Church, which settled all the major early controversies among Christians by dogmatically defining the traditional Christian fundamentals, are completely trustworthy.
So in my ceasing to be Protestant and becoming a Catholic (remaining in all essential ways “Evangelical,” actively living out the (Greek) Evangelion or Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed since ancient times by His Body the Church), I now need not fear that my family in the future (as long as they remain Catholic), will ever question the life-changing and supernaturally empowering truths of orthodox Christianity, as Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine, strictly followed, would eventually, naturally and logically lead them to do.
Understanding the Tradition and Magisterium of the Living Bride and Body of Jesus Christ, the Church, Which Together Guarantee the Orthodox Interpretation of the Bible
It is important to understand the nature of the Sacred Tradition through which the Bible’s proper interpretation among different linguistically valid interpretational possibilities becomes certain. Though the Living Tradition itself is unwritten, it is not random, and cannot be used to justify just any new theological idea, as Protestants typically fear (the fear which makes all Protestants reject later Catholic dogmas like those pertaining to Mary and which makes liberal Protestants doubt or reject earlier Catholic dogmas like the Trinity and the Incarnation which are also made certain only through Tradition). This Sacred Tradition is just how the Bride of Christ the Church has danced with Christ her Lord and passed on her faith in its entirety from generation to generation since Apostolic times, at least implicitly where the Church had not yet explicitly and clearly articulated precise details of its living faith, and of its relationship with its Living Lord. Tradition is testified to in the Monuments of Tradition, the many writings (and other artifacts) of Christians since Apostolic times, whereby the Living Bride and Body of Jesus Christ dancing with Him throughout history has left a trace, from which the weight of what the Church as a whole believed implicitly at any time (without having yet expressed it clearly and precisely and universally) can be discerned. Usually in response to heretical Christians trying to more clearly articulate the implicit faith of the Living Church and doing it wrong, that previously implicit faith can then be explicitly articulated by the current Living Magisterium of that very same still-Living Body of Christ the Church which left the earlier traces, guided and led into “all the truth” by the very same Holy Spirit which had inspired the less explicit faith life of the Body of Christ at that earlier time. The Living Sacred Tradition or handing-on of the faith in its entirety then continues through history, but now is passed on in a more precise and explicit form by the same “living subject” of the one ongoing Body of Christ, the Living Church.
The Living Catholic Magisterium is important in the explication of the previously more implicit Christian faith handed on since apostolic times – it is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit through which the implicit contents of the Living Sacred Tradition of the Living Body of Christ the Church are gradually made more explicit. The Holy Spirit has acted through the Magisterium over many centuries of Christian reflection upon God’s Revelation and especially through conflicts with Christian heretics who attempted to clearly articulate the Church’s implicit faith but did it wrongly, making it necessary that the Living Church officially define and clarify the elements of the previously more implicit faith which the heretical theological formulas violated. The Magisterium is the official teaching office (magister means teacher) of the Catholic Church. The Magisterium is made up of the overseers (bishops or eparchs) ordained in line of succession from the Apostles, including the patriarchs who oversee whole Sister Churches in the Catholic Communion and the pope as chief overseer of the entire Universal/Catholic Church. The “ordinary Magisterium” refers to the authority of this body of overseers to lead and teach the Church on a daily basis. The “Extraordinary Magisterium” of the Catholic Church refers to the rare dogmatic pronouncements (understood as infallible, kept from error by the Holy Spirit according to Jesus’ promise) of the Ecumenical Councils of bishops and pope, usually in settlement of a major dispute among Christians, and the even rarer pronouncements of popes defining and clarifying a solemn Christian dogma without a Council.
Understanding the Catholic Dogma of Papal Infallibility, Which Helps Guarantee the Maintenance of Traditional Christian Orthodoxy Through All Eras of History
The Magisterium has a pinnacle in the pope, the successor of Peter the Chief Apostle, who is the chief overseer/bishop and Head Pastor of the entire Church.6 As Head Pastor of the Body of Christ and holder of “the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” Jesus gave to Peter, the pope is capable, in a very limited set of circumstances, of being the mouthpiece for the Living Body of Christ the Church even without an Ecumenical Council of all the Church’s overseer/bishops together, which is the more common way for the Living Body of Christ to express Christ’s truth at the highest level of authority. Like the common fundamentals of Christianity, this papal infallibility itself can be traced back to the early centuries of Christianity in less explicit form – and it is particularly associated with the early dogmatization of the common fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is fully God and fully man, which Pope Saint Leo the Great in 451 AD used the “keys” to “bind” the whole Church to accept through his direction of the 4th Ecumenical Council. Likely in reference to this, a later 517 AD statement of Christian faith signed by the Eastern Christian Patriarchs and Emperors which acknowledged the Pope in Rome as the Head Pastor of the Church even implies papal infallibility without stating it clearly, this “Monument of Tradition” indicating papal infallibility was part of the Early Church’s Living (implicit though not yet explicit) Faith (it would at last be made explicit in the 20th Ecumenical Council’s 1870 dogma of papal infallibility).
Non-Catholic Christians today usually grossly misunderstand the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Papal infallibility absolutely does NOT mean that “whatever the pope says, goes” for Catholic Christians, which is what non-Catholic Christians fear it means (so they need not fear). Papal infallibility only means that under a very rigid and limited set of circumstances (which has very rarely occurred in history), the otherwise entirely normal and humanly fallible pope is capable of making explicit “binding and loosing” (Matthew 16:18-19) pronouncements relating to Christian faith and morals for the purpose of preserving the ancient (often initially implicit) Christian faith as passed on in the Living Church, in new eras with new challenges to traditional Christian faith, pronouncements which are preserved from error (therefore infallible) by the Holy Spirit (independent of an Ecumenical Council, which together with the pope also makes such Holy Spirit-guided infallible pronouncements). Thus the living pope can only define more clearly and precisely things which go back to the Early Church at least in more primitive and implicit form, generating no entirely new doctrines, and he has no authority to contradict the previous infallible pronouncements of popes and Ecumenical Councils (which are part of the Deposit of Christian faith it is his responsibility as Head Pastor of the Church to preserve) – which means that the Catholic Church can never doubt or deny the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, pronounced by the early popes and Ecumenical Councils, as so many Protestant denominations (including the one I was raised in) have.
The Catholic Church (in all its varied Rites or Sister Churches) believes in all the traditional, orthodox fundamentals of Christianity because it believes in these Apostolic Church offices of popes, patriarchs and overseers/bishops/eparchs as rooted in the Mystery of “Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32) revealed in the Bible. Protestant/Evangelical Christians have numerous concerns about the papacy and about the Apostolic Succession of overseer/bishop/eparchs, which should be discussed with Catholic and Orthodox Christians in brotherly Christian love, recognizing that whatever their concerns, however they think Church offices might be handled better (however they have indeed at times been abused in the past), at least these offices in Apostolic Succession to this day have kept the Catholic and Orthodox Churches fundamentally orthodox, whereas liberal Protestant churches doubt or deny the traditional fundamentals of Christianity precisely because they do not believe the popes and patriarchs and other overseer/bishop/eparchs of the Early Ecumenical Councils had genuine Apostolic authority to settle the major disputes among early Christians as to the Bible’s only proper interpretation with respect to the fundamental tenets of Christian faith (and the Bible’s Canon). Unlike Protestant Christianity, Eastern Orthodox Christianity is unshakeably orthodox, unshakeably committed to the traditional fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity, without formally recognizing the distinct papal infallibility within the Magisterium of the Early Church. But this is only because Eastern Orthodox Christians consider the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Early Catholic Church to have infallibly clarified and defined the essential fundamental doctrines or dogmas of Christianity. A close look at the eras and the full text of the actual documents of these first seven Ecumenical Councils shows that the papacy played an integral role in directing and ratifying these Councils (See Volume III, Chapter 5), meaning that Eastern Orthodox Christians are unconsciously acting as if they recognize the pope’s distinct authority as the pinnacle of the Church’s Magisterium even while they consciously deny it. Like conservative or fundamentally orthodox Protestant/Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox Christians are also essentially “Catholic at heart” because of their firm belief in the traditional fundamentals of Christianity which are the official Bible interpretations of the Undivided Early Catholic Church with its popes.
[The rest of the newly added section is more rough but still in complete sentences and paragraphs and very readable, if not the best organized]
The Development of Doctrine and Dogma
As the Church as the Living Body of Christ, God’s Son, grows up into its heritage, there is a process of progression in the Church’s explicit intellectual understanding of its faith. The initially implicit understanding of the Church passed on entire in the Church’s Living Sacred Tradition as one generation of Christians introduces the next to Jesus gets gradually more explicit the longer Christians reflect on the Revelation of Jesus Christ, and especially the more they have to defend this faith against heretics, which usually requires a dogmatic explication of the previously more implicit faith in a Council. The more precise dogma which is then passed on in the living faith life of the Church is further reflected upon, and may also be misinterpreted by heretical Christians, requiring that an even more precise dogma be formulated by the Church’s living Magisterium, in order to preserve the true sense of the Church’s initial more implicit understanding and that of any earlier dogmas which were true but still not specific enough to preclude newer heretical misunderstanding.
The Early Christian Church’s Basic Christology and the Papacy Developed at the Same Time and Are Closely Linked
There are many aspects of Christian faith which have been subject to this gradually deeper Christian understanding, and it is very significant to note that the Church’s deeper understanding of basic Christology and the papacy developed about the same time and are closely linked. Both doctrines are evidenced very early in the Living Sacred Tradition of the Church in history – the Church instinctively acted as if both doctrines were true long before they had been clearly expressed and universally required as explicit Christian belief.7 And by the time the Church had clearly articulated and dogmatically defined8 its previously more implicit faith in Jesus as “fully God and fully man” at the 451 AD 4th Ecumenical Council, the Church had also clearly expressed and practiced its belief in the papacy – and in fact it was this more clearly understood and universally accepted office of the papacy which, in Pope Saint Leo the Great, clearly articulated and thoroughly explained the “fully God and fully man” doctrine. Pope Saint Leo used his newly explicitly understood papal authority to “bind and loose” (which he humbly described as “a responsibility to be shuddered at”) to declare the 449 AD Monophysite council invalid and to insist that the 451 AD Council (which replaced it) adopt his clear definition and explanation of the Early Church’s “final word” on Christology: Jesus is fully God and fully man, against the Monophysite Christian interpretation of the Scriptures (these heretical Christians still exist today as a tiny sect). The gathered orthodox Eastern and Western bishops/eparchs at the 4th Ecumenical Council accepted Leo’s papal authority as Peter’s successor to do all this, declaring together thunderously upon hearing Leo’s Tome read that “this is the faith of the Church! Peter has spoken through Leo!” Leo had at last clearly articulated and thoroughly explained what they knew instinctively from their implicit loving knowledge of Jesus, and they recognized that Leo had expressed clearly just what it was that the Monophysite doctrine had violated. The papacy again and again before and after this in Church history is closely bound up with the formal definition and defense of the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity against heretical attacks.
It might be said that Peter’s “Petrine” office passed down in the papacy was solidly and universally accepted as part of the Church’s faith earlier than was the understanding of Jesus as fully God and fully man – since it was clearly proclaimed in the Acts of the 431 AD 3rd Ecumenical Council and it was obeyed and proclaimed by the assembled Eastern and Western Christian overseers of the 451 4th Ecumenical Council just cited, in settlement of the dispute over Jesus’ exact nature. Typically a Christian belief is not dogmatically defined as essential to Christian faith unless it becomes subject of a major dispute among Christians. There was no such dispute over the papacy as there was over Christ’s nature! It was universally accepted up until the late 5th Century. When a smaller dispute about the papacy finally arose, in the East (the Acacian Schism), it was settled in a statement of Christian faith signed by all parties which explicitly acknowledged the papacy (and implied papal infallibility) in 517 AD. When a major dispute over the papacy finally arose in 867 AD, it was settled at the 8th Ecumenical Council of 869 AD, which used the Christian creed of 517 AD, and it was part of the dogma of the Undivided Early Church ever since (today’s non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Christians call themselves “the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils” only because they had to repudiate the 8th Ecumenical Council which dogmatically defined the papacy they are no longer in communion with, even though the Eastern patriarchs, bishops, and theologians participated in most of the later Ecumenical Councils up to the 1439 AD 17th Ecumenical Council – see Volume III for more details).
Before leaving the papacy as it pertains to the development of doctrine, it is worth noting that ironically, even the extremely rare cases in history where a pope has been associated with heresy still testify that through the Holy Spirit’s aid the pope is incapable of officially teaching error (or infallible). Pope Zosimus temporarily declared that the heretic Pelagius (who was opposed by Saint Augustine) was not a heretic – but this was only because Pelagius was a better liar than Zosimus was a judge of liars (papal infallibility only means the pope cannot dogmatically teach error, not that he cannot make mistakes when judging character). With emotional insistence Pelagius had falsely claimed, when his case was heard before the pope, that his teaching had been misrepresented and that he actually believed and taught the orthodox position. Pope Zosimus never condoned Pelagius’ errors, and he temporarily approved Pelagius only because Pelagius had deceived the Pope into believing Pelagius did not actually teach the errors he had been accused of (Pelagius soon after was condemned again by the papacy once it was clear he did in fact teach “the Pelagian heresy” he was accused of). Vigilius was a heretic and the thrall of a heretic Empress who installed him as an anti-pope (not legitimately ordained) after she exiled the true pope for his orthodoxy. Once the true pope died and Vigilius’s heretic Empress used political power to force the Christian overseer/bishops to legitimately ordain him pope, he inexplicably after his ordination stopped teaching heresy, and he betrayed his Empress by starting to teach the true Christian faith even though he suffered a slow martyrdom at her hands for it. The one pope in all of history later accused of personally being a heretic, Honorius, on the basis of a private letter of his, inexplicably never used his office as pope to teach or promote in the Church the Monothelite heresy he apparently personally believed. Even in the cases of those several personally immoral popes of history who acquired the position through various political machinations during dark times when the Church was bullied into largely being the pawn of the State, and/or had sought the spiritual position dishonestly because it came with civil governorship of the Papal States which had been donated to the Church,9 these grossly unworthy popes also inexplicably never used their authority to promote heresy or seek to change the orthodox Christian faith (in not a few cases, such popes died suddenly and/or mysteriously). All of this is evidence of the divine graces of infallibility given specially to the pope as Head Pastor of the entire Church, the “rock” and holder of “the keys” (Matthew 16:18-9). A number of Eastern Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch in history were not only heretics but even heresiarchs (founders of a heresy, like Nestorius of Constantinople), whose heresies were condemned by the popes and the Ecumenical Councils. Even their very high Church office was not as specially graced as the papacy.10 Though as overseers they were part of the Magisterium, the Magisterium only speaks “extrarordinarily,”that is, dogmatically and infallibly in a way binding on the whole Church, in an Ecumenical Council of the overseers together with their chief the pope, or (even more rarely) through their chief the pope on his own.
In Christian History Many Theological Ideas Take Centuries of Christian Reflection and Practice to Develop into Their Mature Form Where Their Full Logical Implications Are Clearly Seen, So as to Be Recognized as Leading Closer to the Core of Christian Faith (And Possibly Worthy of Dogmatization as an Essential Part of Christian Faith) or Recognized as Leading Farther Away from the Core of Christian Faith (And Possibly Worthy of Condemnation as a Heresy)
The Catholic Marian Doctrines Lead Closer to the Core of Christian Faith Because They Are the Development of the Original Idea of the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ Through Mary’s Virgin Birth, and They Lead Christians Deeper into the Mystery of Jesus the God-Man
So doctrine develops. Theological ideas which interpret the Bible a certain way take time to reveal their full meaning, their full implications. The official and dogmatic Christian doctrinal understanding of who Christ is, clarified (from initial more instinctive insights) at the first four Ecumenical Councils (325-451 AD), developed from “Jesus is Divine (one in being with the Father)” to “Jesus is Divine and human” to “Jesus is one Person with two natures, Divine and human” to “Jesus is fully Divine and fully human” (with the doctrine of the papacy following a parallel development from instinctive to explicit during the same time period). This constantly deepening understanding of the original idea of the True Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, Son of God and son of Mary, developed further into logically necessary secondary doctrines concerning Mary’s position as Theokotos or God-bearer, and concerning her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, and concerning her position as first member of the Body of Christ and mediatrix of all graces within the Body. The first of these four Marian doctrines was made into irreformable Christian dogma at the 431 AD 3rd Ecumenical Council, as a supporting dogma for the dogma that Jesus is one Person with both a Divine and human nature – before the Early Church had defined that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The next two were common Christian belief since before that time but were not dogmatized until 1854 and 1950, and the last has not yet been dogmatized as an article of Catholic Christian faith. All of these Marian doctrines, properly understood (as Protestants usually do not), powerfully reinforce the earlier basic Christological doctrines they were developed from (as I have demonstrated in this book).
Protestant “Bible Alone” Doctrine Leads Farther Away from the Core of Christian Faith Because it Is an Idea First Proposed in the Early Church by the Arian Heretics and as with Them it Logically Leads Protestants to “Liberal” Uncertainty about the Traditional Fundamental Tenets of Christianity Which Are Not from the Bible Alone but from the Bible as Interpreted by the Living Sacred Tradition of the Living Church and as Clarified by the Magisterium of Overseer/Bishops, Patriarchs and Popes at the Early Ecumenical Councils of the Living Body of Christ the Church
Not only good theological ideas and concepts held at least implicitly in the hearts of the earliest Christians take many centuries to develop and flower such that their full implications are widely and clearly known. Later bad theological ideas can also take many centuries to show their mature fruit, their true colors. Origen was an extremely prolific and extremely well-respected Alexandrian Christian theologian of the 3rd Century. Many of his theological insights were excellent. But some of his theological speculations were not – and it took time to tell. Though never declared a Saint, Origen was never declared a heretic, and he remains to this day a highly respected early Christian theologian. But a few of his theological ideas were embraced by some Christians and developed over the next several centuries, and it eventually became clear that, taken to their full logical conclusions which were not always apparent at the start, these ideas were ultimately heretical – and these ideas (though not Origen himself) were condemned as heretical at the 5th Ecumenical Council of 553 AD.11
I would say that another such development of theological ideas towards their logical conclusions is evidenced in Protestant Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) doctrine. As it took centuries for the basic idea the earliest Christians had about who Jesus was to mature and flower into a clear and precise, faith- life-enriching doctrine of Jesus as “fully God and fully man,” so it took centuries for Luther’s “Bible Alone” idea to reach its mature flowering, so that its fruit could easily be seen, for the doctrine to show its true colors. Protestant doctrinal liberalism – that uncertainty about Christian fundamentals or even total loss of Christian orthodoxy which has claimed the bulk of the oldest and largest Protestant denominations – is the natural and logical result of Luther’s original idea. An idea which Luther did not get from the Early Church, but one very similar to the idea of the Arian heretics, who claimed an Ecumenical Council of the Church citing Sacred Tradition had no authority to overrule their sophisticated and thorough interpretation of the Bible (Alone!), which is why so many Protestants who follow Luther’s “reform” of the Catholic Church are also modern-day Arian heretics who doubt or deny Jesus’ Divinity.
I know that the major Protestant concerns about Catholic Church authority, and the papal authority in particular, have to do with the Catholic Church and its popes dogmatically defining doctrines about Mary which Protestants mistakenly believe compromise some of the Christian essentials. I have in this book attempted to answer what I know to be the major Protestant concerns and challenges to Catholics about the Catholic Church’s Marian beliefs (and practices – see Volume II Appendix I) and I present a Catholic explanation of how these beliefs, properly understood, do not compromise or take people away from the common core of essential Christianity, but in fact are the historical fruit of a long and sophisticated, mature Christian reflection upon the essential Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, such that Protestant Christians need not be concerned that the Catholic Church authority has in the past promoted heresies which compromise the essential common core of Christian faith in its various Marian dogmas.
But while addressing the major Protestant concerns about Catholic beliefs (without taking offense at them), in the spirit of also sharing my concerns about Protestant beliefs with my beloved Protestant Christian brothers and sisters, I must testify that in my own journey and research I (first of all) found that all the serious objections to secondary Catholic beliefs concerning Mary and other things which I had as an Evangelical Protestant proved groundless, these beliefs did not take people away from the Christian essentials as I feared, but often led to a much richer and deeper appreciation of the Christian fundamentals (such as I have explained in this book), while (second of all) I found that the serious objections Catholics have to uniquely Protestant doctrines, especially the definitively Protestant doctrine of “the Bible Alone,” were well-grounded and this doctrine did in fact quite literally take hundreds of millions of Protestant Christians away from traditional, orthodox Christianity in the huge “doctrinally liberal” streams of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations, including the large mainline Protestant denomination I was raised in which lost its grip on fundamental Christian orthodoxy in my own lifetime.
While this present volume is largely focused on my taking seriously the Protestant objections to Catholic (and Orthodox) Marian beliefs and explaining how they are consistent with and even support the common Christian essentials, I have another book which much more specifically and thoroughly and Biblically (than this book) deals with explaining from many angles the “Church Authority” issues that Protestant and Catholic Christians disagree about, expressing the Catholic objections to “Bible Alone” doctrine as part of the mutual Catholic and Protestant Christian dialogue towards our eventual resolution of our differences. I believe that Protestant/Evangelical readers (among whom I count many friends and beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, including my own precious parents who first ministered Jesus’ love to me and who baptized me into the saving Christian faith) will appreciate the Biblical focus of this other book, which, in the spirit of loving Christian dialogue, demonstrates from the Bible the Catholic understanding of Church authority and just why Catholic Christians believe the Protestant “Bible Alone” doctrine is not Biblical, but a mistake born of the Protestant Reformers’ impatience with the genuinely needed but very slow 16th Century Western, Roman Catholic Reformation (which started before the Protestant Reformation) – a mistake with many unforseen and unintended consequences in Protestantism, particularly today’s widespread Protestant doctrinal liberalism and unorthodoxy. It is entitled Sola Scriptura? What Scripture Alone Testifies Concerning the Church as the Body of Christ Expressing Himself in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium: The Biblical Basis for the Early Church’s Formal Repudiation of Heretics, Which Is the Biblical Basis for Refuting Modern Doctrinally Liberal Christianity Which Likewise Rejects or Doubts Traditional Christian Faith and Morality.
With what I have above shared (more historically than Biblically) on this topic in mind, I would like to end with a consideration of the possible future dogmatization of that Catholic doctrine of Mary Mediatrix of All Graces which I have explained in this book in terms of the common Christian fundamentals. Having now a basic understanding of Tradition and Magisterium and of the development over time of Christian doctrine and dogma, including the common fundamentals, I hope all Christian readers will now realize that if it happens in our lifetime that the Catholic Church dogmatically clarifies and defines this Marian doctrine as an article of faith required of all Catholic Christians, it will not be any cause for further divisions between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians.
[Newly added section ends here]
Conclusion: Understanding Mary, the First Believer in Jesus and the First Member of the Body of Christ the Church, Is Key for Believers in Jesus to Fully Understand Their Own Role as Christians, and Their Own Great Dignity as Members of That Body of Which Christ Jesus Is the Head
Should the Extraordinary Magisterium12 of the Living Body of Christ the Church ever formally dogmatize this doctrine of Mediatrix of All Graces as the explicit theological development of the Church’s constant if implicit faith in what God has revealed (the same process by which the fundamentals of Christianity as we know them came to us), as it seems very possible will one day happen since it is so long evidenced in the living Tradition handed down within the Living Body of Christ (the Living Church, the “pillar and foundation of the truth” – 1 Timothy 3: 15), one can hope that it will help Christians to truly realize their own role as mediators with Christ for the Salvation of the World, since this doctrine is so tied to the Mystery of the Incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ and the Mystery of the Body of Christ in which we all participate. Thus understanding Mary, the first believer in Jesus and the first member of the Body of Christ the Church, is a major key for every believer in Jesus to fully understand their own role as Christians, and their own great dignity as members of that Body of which Christ Jesus is the Head.
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
Go To the Next Section, Author’s Note: On the Ecumenically Fruitful Re-Framing of the Mediatrix of All Graces Doctrine as a Special Function of the Roles Shared by All Christians as Part of the Body of Christ the Church
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1The “ordinary magisterium” is the daily teaching office of the hierarchs of the Catholic Church, while the “Extradordinary Magisterium” refers to the rare pronouncements of those hierarchs which have dogmatic force binding on Catholic Christian faith, as in the Ecumenical Councils.
3See my book-length essay Love Unbounded: Tracing Salvation History from the Eternal Trinity to the New Covenant Church – Using Family Theology to Answer the Question How and Why Does Jesus’ Death Save Us?. It is important for Christian reunification to note that the advanced Trinitarian definition of the 1439 Council, as well as that of the earlier 1274 Ecumenical Council of East and West, completely resolved the previous East-West confusion over the “filioque clause” (“and the Son”) which the Western Church had added to the Nicene Creed’s Biblical affirmation that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father.” Without actually adding clarifying words to the Nicene Creed, the Eastern Church had come to understand that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “through the Son.” When the Eastern and Western theologians, patriarchs, bishops/eparchs and pope met together at these two Ecumenical Councils and explained thoroughly exactly what they each meant by “and the Son” and “through the Son,” they determined that they were both “aiming at the same meaning in different words,” in the words of the 1439 17th Ecumenical Council. There was no divisive difference in the East and the West’s more developed understanding of the Trinity which they had each expressed in different words, and they joyfully reestablished East-West Christian Communion afterwards.
5The Arian heresy initiated a huge crisis in the Christian Church which spanned most of the 4th Century precisely because it made very thorough use of the Bible within its linguistically valid range of interpretation. The Arian heretics spoke Biblical Greek as their first language, but human language by nature is flexible and legitimately supports a large range of interpretations, which is why even legal documents which are designed to be as clear in meaning as possible still need judges and lawyers to interpret them. The Arian crisis could not possibly be resolved on the basis of the Bible Alone, but was resolved on the basis of the Sacred Tradition regarding the Bible’s proper interpretation which the Arian heretics did not use to guide their interpretation, as precisely hammered out by the Church’s Magisterium in the 1st and 2nd Ecumenical Councils of 325 and 381 AD.
6For much more detail on the papacy see Volume III: The Papacy and Christian Unity – The Pope Was the Historic Guarantor of Christian Unity and Orthodoxy in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church: The Ancient Eastern Orthodox Tradition from the Beginning Recognized the Papacy and Was Through it Part of the Undivided Early Church’s Universal (Catholic) Communion of Different Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian Sister Churches Collectively Known as the Catholic Church, Celebrating Christianity Differently while Unified in Orthodox Christian Faith Against Many Early Christian Heretics.
7See Volume III, The Papacy and Christian Unity – The Pope Was the Historic Guarantor of Christian Unity and Orthodoxy in the First Christian Millennium of the Undivided Early Church, especially its Chapter 5.
8Certain earlier theologians had articulated some of the major Christian beliefs dogmatically defined centuries later in similar terms to the later dogmatic definitions. Saint Irenaeus in the 2nd Century had actually once used the phrase “perfect God and perfect man” (in his famous book Against Heresies). His 2nd Century contemporary Tertullian had first used the term “Trinity” for God (and he described the Petrine office of the papacy!). But these theologians on their own did not speak for the entire Living Body of Christ the Church, they did not speak with universally binding authority, which is why there could still be major disputes among Christians centuries later over these doctrines, disputes which had to be settled by Ecumenical Councils which were universally recognized as authoritatively speaking as and for the Living Body of Christ the Church. But at the Ecumenical Councils the Church’s Magisterium looked to the writings of these kind of earlier theologians as “Monuments of Tradition,” as documentary evidence of the Living Sacred Tradition handed down within the Living Body of Christ the Church since Apostolic times.
9 Most Catholics today would agree that giving up the Papal States, so that the Pope was once again only a spiritual leader, not also a feudal lord or civic governor, was an excellent thing for the spiritual health of the Church. There have been no morally bad popes since then!
10The personal letter of Pope Honorius which is the only evidence he believed the Monothelite heresy was a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople who was definitely a Monothelite, in which Honorius made a statement that appears to indicate Honorius agreed with the heretical Eastern Patriarch.
11The theologian personally, and his ideas, are always separate. The 2nd Century theologian Tertullian, also never declared a saint (on account of his later embracing the Montanist heresy!), still had some very good theological ideas, including the idea of the Trinity, a term he coined, while he was still an orthodox Christian, before becoming a Montanist.
12Again, the “Ordinary Magisterium” of the Catholic Church refers to the authority of the overseers (bishops or eparchs) ordained in line of succession from the Apostles (including the patriarchs who oversee whole Sister Churches in the Catholic Communion and the pope as chief overseer of the entire Universal/Catholic Church) to lead and teach the Church on a daily basis. The “Extraordinary Magisterium” of the Catholic Church refers to the rare dogmatic pronouncements of the Ecumenical Councils of bishops and pope and the even rarer pronouncements of popes defining and clarifying a solemn dogma without a Council.