Friday, August 18, 2006

Intercession and Mediation

Over at Phatmass, someone asked a two-part question about how we are to reconcile 1 Tim 2:5 ("there is one mediator between God and men") and the intercession of the saints. His words will be in silver.
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Can someone explain what Jesus meant when He said, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus?" This is always the verse that Protestants use when arguing against the practice of praying to Mary and the saints. I understand why we can pray to the saints in heaven, I'm just having trouble explaining what this particular verse means and when considering this verse, we can call Mary the Mediatrix of all graces.
The very fact that they use this argument shows that they misunderstand what mediation is. Ask yourself, "What is the 'mediation' of Christ? In what sense is Jesus the 'mediator' between God and man?" A mediator is one who speaks or acts on behalf of another, or one who brings estranged parties to agreement. That is essentially what Jesus does. He reconciled man to the Lord "once for all" because we could not, and he continues to mediate by communicating the Lord's graces to man. No Christian (as far as I know) would disagree with this.

Now, if this is indeed how we understand the mediatorship of Jesus, why do Protestants use this verse to refute praying to the saints? The saints do not perform the function of Christ. They are not mediators. They do not atone for our sin.

When we pray to the saints, we are soliciting their prayers. We hope to capitalize on their wisdom and virtue, which creates perfect prayers to the Lord. "The prayer of the righteous availeth much" (Jas 5:16, KJV). Likewise, "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer" (1 Pet 3:12). Even when we say things like "St. Joseph, help me to be a good father" or "St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle" we know that they answer our prayers not by their own power, but either by the power that the Lord gives them, or by the Lord himself answering the prayers of the saints. Essentially, the saints are more like intercessors than mediators.

What is an intercessor? a few definitions:

Intercession: A form of the prayer of petition made to God on behalf of others, whether living or departed. --Catholic Dictionary

INTERCESSION. Entreaty in favor of another person; hence mediation. In biblical language, "there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all" (I Timothy 2:5-6). The Blessed Virgin, Mediatrix of all graces, the angels, saints in heaven, souls in purgatory, and the faithful on earth intercede for mankind by their merits and prayers. --Pocket Catholic Dictionary

intercession: The going between two parties in order to plead before one on behalf of the other. In ecclesiastical usage the office of Mediator belongs primarily to Jesus Christ (Timothy 1; Hebrews 7). The Blessed Mother, Mediatrix of all Graces, the angels, the blessed in Heaven, the souls in Purgatory and the faithful on earth can intercede for us sinners by their prayers and merits. --1910 New Catholic Dictionary

See the difference? It is an important one. Also, read New Advent's article on Intercession. It does an excellent job of explaining the difference between "mediation" and "intercession"

I had one Catholic tell me that Mary and the saints mediate between us and Jesus and that Jesus mediates between us and God. Is that true?
This is true, but I don't find it helpful in apologetics. They will simply respond by saying that since the curtain of the temple has been torn down by Jesus' death on the cross, we have direct access to the Lord. Of course, there is a response to that argument too, but don't get into it unless you have to.

The saints in heaven and on earth participate in what is called "subordinate mediation." Thankfully, this is nowhere nearly as heretical as it sounds. Ask yourself this: What is going on in these verses?

Rom 11:13-14
13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry
14 in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

1 Cor 7:16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

1 Cor 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1 Tim 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Jas 5:20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Jude 1:22-23
22 And convince some, who doubt;
23 save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.what we have here are men saving other men.

Your opponent must reconcile these verses with his constant cry that "Jesus is our only Savior! He is the one mediator between God and man!" We clearly see here that men can save, so this can only mean that there must be some legitimate way in which the saints participate in our salvation without usurping the role of Christ. This legitimate way is "subordinate mediation."

By "subordinate" we mean that it is secondary and instrumental, vs. the work of Christ, which is primary and efficient. In other words, it is ultimately Christ who saves all, but he also chooses to use men as instruments to bring about the salvation of others. So, for instance, when you compel someone to be baptized, Jesus saves that man, but, in a sense, you have saved him too.

It's all about the Lord working for good with those who love him (Rom 8:28).

I hope that helps.

Pax Christi,

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