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That sanctity is the source of intercession’s effectiveness

5 min • Digitized on May 8, 2023

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 76
By St. John Henry Newman

Intercession thus being a first principle of the Church’s life, next it is certain again, that the vital principle of that intercession, as an availing power, is, according to the will of God, sanctity.

This seems to be suggested by a passage of St. Paul, in which the Supreme Intercessor is said to be “the Spirit;”—“the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us; He maketh intercession for the saints according to God.”

However, the truth thus implied, is expressly brought out in other parts of Scripture, in the form both of doctrine and of example.

The words of the man born blind speak the common-sense of nature:—“if any man be a worshipper of God, him He heareth.” And Apostles confirm them:—“the prayer of a just man availeth much,” and “whatever we ask, we receive, because we keep his commandments.”

Then, as for examples, we read of Abraham and Moses, as having the divine purpose of judgment revealed to them beforehand, in order that they might deprecate its execution. To the friends of Job it was said, “My servant Job shall pray for you; his face I will accept.” Elias by his prayer shut and opened the heavens. Elsewhere we read of “Jeremias, Moses, and Samuel;” and of “Noe, Daniel, and Job,” as being great mediators between God and His people.

One instance is given us, which testifies the continuance of so high an office beyond this life. Lazarus, in the parable, is seen in Abraham’s bosom. It is usual to pass over this striking passage with the remark that it is a Jewish expression; whereas, Jewish belief or not, it is recognized and sanctioned by our Lord Himself.

What do we teach about the Blessed Virgin more wonderful than this? Let us suppose, that, at the hour of death, the faithful are committed to her arms; but if Abraham, not yet ascended on high, had charge of Lazarus, what offence is it to affirm the like of her, who was not merely “the friend,” but the very “Mother of God?”

It may be added, that, though it availed nothing for influence with our Lord, to be one of His company, if sanctity was wanting, still, as the Gospel shows, He on various occasions allowed those who were near Him, to be the means by which supplicants were brought to Him or miracles gained from Him, as in the instance of the miracle of the loaves; and if on one occasion, He seems to repel His Mother, when she told Him that wine was wanting for the guests at the marriage feast, it is obvious to remark on it, that, by saying that she was then separated from Him, because His hour was not yet come, He implied, that when that hour was come, such separation would be at an end. Moreover, in fact He did, at her intercession, work the miracle which she desired.

I consider it impossible then, for those who believe the Church to be one vast body in heaven and on earth, in which every holy creature of God has his place, and of which prayer is the life, when once they recognize the sanctity and greatness of the Blessed Virgin, not to perceive immediately, that her office above is one of perpetual intercession for the faithful militant, and that our very relation to her must be that of clients to a patron, and that, in the eternal enmity which exists between the woman and the serpent, while the serpent’s strength is that of being the Tempter, the weapon of the Second Eve and Mother of God is prayer.

As then these ideas of her sanctity and greatness gradually penetrated the mind of Christendom, so did that of her intercessory power follow close upon them and with them. From the earliest times that mediation is symbolized in those representations of her with up-lifted hands, which, whether in plaster or in glass, are still extant in Rome,—that Church, as St. Irenæus says, with which “every Church, that is, the faithful from every side, must agree, because of its more powerful principality;” 1 “into which,” as Tertullian adds, “the Apostles poured out, together with their blood, their whole doctrines.” 2 As far indeed as existing documents are concerned, I know of no instance to my purpose earlier than A.D. 234, but it is a very remarkable one; and, though it has been often quoted in the controversy, an argument is not the weaker for frequent use.

1 [Ed] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book 3, Ch. 3, v. 2

2 [Ed] Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, Ch. 36

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