Human salvation is unquestionably of divine origin (cf. Gal. 4:4-5). It is ultimately founded on God’s unconditional love and mercy. Paradoxically, God whose will is omnipotence itself tied his redemptive power to the unenforceable “yes” of a human being called Mary (Ratzinger, 2012:36). The mission to be the ‘bearer of Christ’ had to be accepted. It was never an imposition. Hence, this paper sets out to examine critically the consequences of Mary’s humble acceptance of this mission and the implications it has for human salvation.
THE LIFE OF MARY
Mary is the first century Jewish woman who was the mother of Jesus (Richard, 1995:832). The account that Anna and Joachim were her parents draws heavily upon the ‘Protoevangelium of James’. The New Testament depicts Mary in various ways. She is first mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew at the end of Jesus’ genealogy as the betrothed wife of Joseph, and Mother of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:16). Luke tells us that she is from a city of Galilee named Nazareth (cf. Lk. 1:26-27). Matthew who calls her a virgin presents her as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah (cf. Matt. 1:23, Is. 7:14), and also states that “before Mary and Joseph lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matt. 1:18). And this child shall be called Jesus – a name with the implication that he was to be the Messiah (Saviour). It was her willing response to angel Gabriel’s message that made it possible for the Word to take flesh in her (cf. Lk. 1:38, Jn. 1:14). Consequently, she is honoured in the Church as the ‘Mother of God’ – Theotokos (CCC, 495), ‘Ever-Virgin’ – Aeiparthenos (CCC, 499), and member of the earliest Christian community.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
The Meaning of Soteriology
‘Soteriology’ is derived from the two Greek words ‘soteria’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘salvation’ and ‘study/discourse,’ respectively. It simply means the branch of theology that studies the doctrine of salvation based on the merits of Christ’s death and resurrection, from a faith perspective.
A Contextual Interpretation of the Term “Fiat”
The term ‘fiat’ is of Latin origin. In a wider perspective it bears the following connotations: ‘authoritative sanction,’ ‘proclamation or command,’ ‘to make a decree or order,’ ‘let it be done,’ and so on. In this discussion the term will be used in a narrow sense, to refer to the very word that marked Mary’s acceptance of the message of the angel at the Annunciation, which is, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (cf. Lk. 1:38).
THE SOTERIOLOGICAL IMPLICATION OF MARY’S FIAT
The Church teaches that Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her fiat, and human salvation are inextricably linked. Thus it is sturdily stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace” (CCC, 490). This, according to Ludwig, means that Mary was free from Original Sin as an unmerited gift of God (gratia), and an exception from the law (privilegium) which was vouchsafed to her only (singulare) (1974:199). For the primary and singular purpose of human salvation, Mary alone was granted that special privilege. Upon its promulgation in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, by Pope Pius IX, on 8th December, 1854, the Immaculate Conception became a dogma in the Church.
St. Augustine maintains that Original Sin is the condition for being held hostage by actual sin. So, if Mary was preserved from Original Sin, it follows logically then that she never committed any actual sin (which includes doubt and disobedience). On the other hand, St. Anselm posits that Original Sin was the absence of the original justice with which the world was created: it is a lack of justice brought about by Adam’s disobedience. As a consequence, Original Sin primarily constitutes an impediment to human free will, giving the will a propensity towards evil (Sarah, 2007:209). To address the question about the necessity of Mary’s assent in the light of human salvation, one has to understand that free will is not about making choices against God. “God himself created man free” (Ratzinger, 2012:36). In a sense, disobedience to God is a sign of a will that is not free. Free will unaffected by sin is the ability to always see the good and to say yes to the good. Sin distorts the ability to always make such a choice and thus make a choice against the good. How then can one explain the choice of Adam and Eve, who were also in the state of sanctifying grace, before the fall? How come they were able to yield to disobedience? The answer is very simple. These ideas must be seen in the full plan of salvation. God’s knows eternally. The initiative lies wholly with God, and this initiative is seen in the mission of Mary. Far above all the angels and saints, God endowed her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts, that ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, she would possess of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully (Sarah, 2007:280). In consonance, Ludwig expresses that the blessing of God which rests upon Mary is made parallel to the blessing of God which rests upon Christ in His humanity. If this is so, Mary could not have been found in disobedience or objection to God’s will. The humanity in both of them was principally marked by humble submission to the will of God (cf. Matt. 26:39, Lk. 1:38).
The angel stated clearly what was to happen in the life of Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus…” (cf. Lk. 1:31). As soon as Mary said “yes” to this, the Incarnation happened. And she brought forth to the world the Divine Saviour. For this very reason she is being addressed as the Mother of God. In this connection, she is legitimately called the Mediatrix of God’s grace to unworthy sinners since she has a maternal influence over God. The belief that Mary could obtain mercy for sinners is dogmatically accepted in the Catholic Church. O’ Carroll stresses that Mary took the place of all mankind in the moment of the Incarnation. He goes further to assert that St. Anselm used the word “reconciler of the world,” but he was clear that it was “through” Mary that “the elements are renewed, the lower world healed, the demons trodden under foot, men saved and angels restored” (1982:241).
The ‘fiat,’ in a definitive manner, marked the beginning of Mary’s collaborative role in the salvific mission of Christ. The Church teaches that She is Mother wherever the Son is Saviour and head of the Mystical Body. Over and above all, She was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven where She continues to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ” (CCC, 973 – 975). In this statement, Mary’s title and role as “Mother of the Church” is made explicit. This point seems to give the discussion an ecclesiological outlook but the idea of the church as a sacramental sign of God’s Kingdom places it also in the domain of soteriology. Salvation cannot be discussed without reference to eternal life in God’s Kingdom. And it is the will of God that we obtain everything that is good through Mary (O’Carroll, 1982:241).
Following the arguments above, proponents of the philosophy of predetermination could liken Mary’s ‘fiat’ to the functioning of a computer, which had been programmed by the manufacturer, to execute a particular task. This means that if she is ‘wholly borne of God’ then her actions are divinely predetermined. In response to such position, it is proper to recall the perplexity in Mary’s first response – “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (cf. Lk. 1:34). In her perplexity, faith prevailed even in the presence of something unprecedented. And faith cannot be predicated of a being without free will and reason. Mary’s ‘fiat’ was an expression of faith. Citing Bernard of Clairvaux, Ratzinger notes that the moment of the ‘fiat’ is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made (Ratzinger, 2012:36). Mary stands as the quintessence of coming to faith through hearing the Word of God. Just as Mary became the Mother of God, we also are made children of God by the same merits of the Word (cf. Jn. 1:12).
Some could explain away Mary’s role as the Mediatrix of all graces as an unwarranted exaltation of a mere human being and a denial of Christ’s unparalleled role as Mediator. They often base their argument on this Pauline verse: “As there is one God, there is one Mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human” (cf. I Tim. 2:5). Nevertheless, concrete life exigencies prove that people play the role of mediators between others in certain situations. When we pray for the needs of others we are interceding on their behalf. Our mediatory roles do not negate Christ’s role as the one Mediator for all God’s children. In other words, it is not theologically incorrect to call Mary the Mediatrix of all graces. The degree of her mediatory role however differs from ours by the virtue of her being the ‘bearer of God’ who has been lifted up to heaven where she already shares in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection, anticipating the resurrection of all members of his Body (CCC, 974).
What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (CCC, 487). Mary’s ‘fiat’ and her role in salvation do not diminish God’s omnipotence or the unique mediation of Christ. It must be understood in the light of faith as a mysterious choice through which God’s power is shown. She remains for us a perfect example of obedience to God’s word in our efforts towards eternal life.
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