"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mary, Monocausalism and Ecclesial Unity

"The Coronation of the Virgin"
Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velázquez 1599-1660

We sometimes forget how much Satan hates Mary. He is "enraged" [ὠργίσθη] with the woman. (Rev 12:17) We think we can be 'neutral' about Mary. But we cannot be 'neutral' about Mary. If we treat her like any other woman, we are performatively denying the deity of her Son. If her Son is divine, then she is what the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus, 431 AD) declared her to be, i.e. the Theotokos, "God-bearer", or "Mother of God":

"If anyone will not confess that the Emmanuel is very God, and that therefore the Holy Virgin is the Mother of God (Theotokos), inasmuch as in the flesh she bore the Word of God made flesh [as it is written, "The Word was made flesh"]: let him be anathema."

If we would treat a queen with great respect and honor, simply because she is the wife of a king, how much more should we treat the Mother of God with respect and honor? Satan wants us to treat Mary as any other woman, because Satan hates the incarnation. Belittling Mary is one of his ways of getting us implicitly to deny the incarnation by falling into some form of Nestorianism, as I explained in 2006 in my "What does the Catholic Church believe about Mary, and Why?"

In my conversations with Evangelicals, I find that many reject the term "Mother of God", and say that Mary was merely the mother of Jesus (which they then qualify as meaning the mother of his human nature). They do not realize that they have thereby fallen into a form of Nestorianism that denies that the One of whom she is the mother is none other than the Second Person of the Trinity, not merely a human nature.

I also frequently encounter among Evangelicals what I call a 'monocausal' way of thinking. Monocausalism, as I am using the term is the assumption that only one cause can be operative at a time in order to bring about an effect. We can see monocausalism in the assumption that if Jesus saves us, then we must contribute nothing to our salvation, and no one else can contribute to our salvation. Or if Jesus forgives us our sins, then there is no need for a priest to absolve us. And the same way of thinking views requesting the prayers of the departed saints as detracting from Christ's mediatorial role, and views honoring Mary or honoring a departed saint as detracting from Christ's honor, as though honor is a limited commodity. Persons operating within the monocausal paradigm have difficulty with Jesus' teaching that as we do it unto the least of these His brethren, we do it unto Him. They have difficulty with Jesus' question to Saul on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4) They have difficulty understanding how we are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, while obeying the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. They have difficulty understanding how the woman in Revelation 12 can refer to Mary *and* the Church *and* Israel. The antidote to monocausalism is a good education in philosophy, wherein we learn how multiple causes can act in different ways simultaneously to bring about an effect, without competition or overdetermination. One can love one's neighbor and in the very same act be loving God and oneself, for multiple ends can be pursued simultaneously in the very same act, when these ends are arranged hierarchically.

All that to say that so much of what worries Protestants about Catholic treatment of Mary is based on a philosophical monocausalism. For example, the Catholic hymn "Salve Regina" involves calling on Mary to pray for us and have mercy on us. In the Protestant mind, only God can receive prayer and show mercy. Therefore, in the Protestant mind, this hymn deifies Mary, and is thus blasphemy or idolatry. But the hymn only deifies Mary if one imports monocausalism into the picture. But monocausalism is something the Catholic Church rejects, as implying either deism or occasionalism. Similarly, in the Protestant mind, if Mary makes a promise regarding wearing the brown scapular and hell, then Mary is doing something only God can do, promise salvation. But again, this is based on a monocausal way of thinking, as though if Mary makes such a promise regarding salvation, then this is somehow in competition with salvation through Christ. But for Catholics, praying to saints is no more incompatible with Christ being "the one Mediator between God and men" than is asking your next-door neighbor to pray for you. Whatever Mary does, always is through her Son, and to her Son, just as whatever St. Paul (or any other saint) does is always for the sake of Christ.

Honoring Mary honors Christ, for it is only because of her Son that Mary is even known to history. Who is she? She is the Mother of God. That is why she is known. And so honoring her is a way of proclaiming the gospel that God became man. It is right to treat a thing according to what it is. So Mary deserves to receive the honor of a Queen Mother. But Mary is not divine, and therefore should not be treated as though she is divine. So, the notion that either we must choose between treating Mary as divine or treating her as any other woman, is a false dilemma. The middle position is the Catholic position; Mary is deserving of more honor than any other saint, but she is never to receive adoration, which is reserved exclusively for God. To read a good Catholic presentation of the Catholic understanding of Mary, see Scott Hahn's book Hail, Holy Queen.

Salve Regina!


contrarian 78 said...

I was just having a conversation about this matter before reading your post. I think an even fuller description of what saints do for us is to consider not a next door neighbor, but rather the even more intimate relationship of parents with their children. Would a child say that God taught them how to learn what is a wise choice of a friend? Maybe, but they'd be more likely to consider the direct cause of their growth in prudence as a gift from their parents.

I think that underscores the error of monocausalism, because while many Protestants have denigrated the saints due to tradition they usually have not fully applied this fallacious thinking to their most immediate love relationship of the family. May thinking along those lines bring greater unity between the Divine Family in heaven and the Church Militant.

liturgy said...


Here is another example of "the Protestant mind" that your short post refers to no less than three times:


Oso Famoso said...


Very timely discussion...