Friday, January 30, 2015

Stump the Priest: One Mediator, Many Intercessors

The Virgin Mary beseeching Christ at the Wedding of Cana

Question: "Protestants often claim that Orthodox (and other Christians)  raise the Theotokos to the divine level of Jesus Christ by referring to her as "intercessor". In their opinion "there is only one mediator; the Man Christ Jesus". Furthermore they point out that by beseeching her to "turn away the wrath stirred up against us" we turn her into a Christian "type" of the pagan Mother & Child deities from the ancient world. These "mother goddesses" were often invoked to similarly turn away their "son-god's" wrath. They say this is a blasphemous aberration that entered the Church under the "paganization process" they claim happened under the Roman emperor St Constantine. How does one answer these accusations from both Scripture and Tradition?"

This claim is based on St. Paul's statement in 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." However, one need only look to the verses immediately prior to that statement to find: "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4). St. James also tells us that "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). So clearly the fact that Christians are called upon to make supplications, prayers, and intercessions on behalf of others is not a contradiction to Christ being the one mediator.

In what sense is Christ the one mediator? In Hebrews 9:15, St. Paul also says: "And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance." So is the unique mediator between God and Man in that He became incarnate, was crucified, died,  and rose again for our salvation. No one else can possibly provide the basis for our salvation. And yet, God desires that we have many intercessors who pray for others, and that God acts in response to these prayers.

When I was a Protestant, who was interested in Orthodoxy, but had to deal with this question myself, it so happened that one day I was talking to a neighbor who was talking about the wife of a retired professor at Southern Nazarene University (the school I attended). He said that this woman was such a woman of prayer that if you ever needed an answer to prayer, she would be the one to go to, because she “had a hotline to God.” Having known some very pious Nazarenes over the years, I didn't find his account hard to believe. But then it dawned on me, if any woman ever had a hotline to God, that would be first and foremost, the Virgin Mary, wouldn't it? And didn't Christ say that God was the God of the living and not the dead (Matthew 22:23-33), and so if I could ask this pious old Nazarene woman  from Bethany, Oklahoma to pray for me, couldn't I also ask the Virgin Mary from Nazareth of Galilee to pray for me?

As for the question of turning away God's wrath, one finds many examples in which God's wrath was turned away by the prayers of righteous men. For example, Moses himself recounts how he turned away God's wrath from the people of Israel: "Furthermore the Lord spake unto me, saying, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: let me alone, that I may destroy them, and blot out their name from under heaven: and I will make of thee a nation mightier and greater than they.... And I fell down before the Lord, as at the first, forty days and forty nights: I did neither eat bread, nor drink water, because of all your sins which ye sinned, in doing wickedly in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also (Deuteronomy 9:13-14, 18-19). And in the Psalms we are told: "Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them" (Psalm 105[106]:23). So if Moses could turn away God's wrath, I see no reason why it would be blasphemous to ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, and to turn away God's wrath from us.

See also:

Stump the Priest: Is There Anything Special About the Virgin Mary?

The Gospel of the Virgin Mary

The Icon FAQ: Answers to common questions about icons (which discusses the veneration of Saints)

Can the Virgin Mary "Save" Us? by Fr. Andrew Damick

One Mediator Between God and Men, by Tim Staples (from Catholic Answers)