Mary
Part 1 Introduction

Chapter m14 Introduction: Thinking About Mary

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Overview of the Course

1.  Forming the Plan
2.  Clearing the Ground
3.  Mary's Historical Context
4.  Mary in Scripture
5.  Mary in Christian Worship
6.  Mary in Christian Devotion
7.  Conclusions

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

"There is a significant formal difference between Christology and Mariology [Pannenberg] suggested.  This difference lies in the fact that Christology is the explication of the meaning of a historical event, namely, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, while Mariology, possessing no such historical basis, is the personification in symbolic fashion of the characteristics of the new humankind of faith.  In other words, because so very few historically attested events surround the figure of Mary, her persona is more open to being shaped by diverse projections regarding the virtues and values of the ideal believer."  (Elizabeth Johnson:  Truly Our Sister, p 96)

What understanding of the "virtues and values of the ideal believer" have shaped your Mariology?

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Bibliography

Pope Paul VI,  Marialis Cultus, Apostolic Exhortation for the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. (February 2, 1974)  Text available in English on the Vatican web site.

Elizabeth A. Johnson.  Truly Our Sister:  A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints.  The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc. 2003.  ISBN 0-8264-1473-7

James O'Toole (editor).  Habits of Devotion: Catholic Religious Practice in Twentieth-Century America (Cushwa Center) ISBN 0801442567.  Chapter 1 Joseph P. Chinnici, O.F.M. "The Catholic Community at Prayer, 1926-1976", pp 1-88; and Chapter 2, Paula M. Kane, "Marian Devotion Since 1940:  Continuity or Casualty?" pp 89-130.

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Overview of the Course

1.  Forming the Plan
2.  Clearing the Ground
3.  Mary's Historical Context
4.  Mary in Scripture
5.  Mary in Christian Worship
6.  Mary in Christian Devotion
7.  Conclusions

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1.  Forming the Plan

To use a construction metaphor:  before building a building, one forms a plan, a blueprint, a model of what the final building will look like.  One begins with the goal in mind.  To that end, what is the goal of this course?

The goal of this course is to develop an understanding of Mary of Nazareth which has the potential to be of positive value in our Christian life.  To this end we seek an understanding that is

1.  Theologically sound
2.  Ecumenically fruitful
3.  Spiritually empowering
4.  Ethically challenging
5.  Socially liberating
6.  Culturally contemporary

"What would be a theologically sound, ecumenically fruitful, spiritually empowering, ethically challenging, and socially liberating interpretation of Mary for the twenty-first century?" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 3)

"The goal...is drawn by the power of the Spirit to believe in the biblical promise that what exists in the present is not at all there is, that God’s deepest hope for humanity is the liberating wholeness of all people and indeed of the whole world itself." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 22)

"The wager I am making at outset is that interpreting Mary in relation to the Spirit as a graced, concrete historical person amid the company of saints in heaven and on earth crafts a theology capable of promoting action on behalf of global justice and liberation, particularly empowering to the flourishing of women, coherent with elements of biblical, classical, and Conciliar teaching, and productive of religious sense for our time." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 113)

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2.  Clearing the Ground

Before building a building,  one must often clear the ground.   Before constructing an understanding of Mary which meets the above criteria, we must clear the ground of any debris, prejudices, errors, etc. if these exist.  To this end we ask several questions: 

A.  Does the fact that much of what I know and believe about Mary was written by men (e.g. not by women) skew or prejudice the data?
B.  Is "Mary: the Ideal Woman"  an unproductive approach?
C.  Is "Mary:  the Divine Feminine" an unproductive approach?

A.  Does the fact that much of what I know and believe about Mary was written by men (e.g. not by women) skew or prejudice the data?

"Strong emphasis on Mary’s obedience, virginity, and primary importance as a mother shaped a religious symbol that satisfied the needs of monastic or ecclesiastical male psyche more adequately than it served women’s spiritual sear or social capabilities" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 7)

"Much traditional theology makes her a means to keep women in their subordinate place, for, as Rosemary Haughton argues, "with all her glory she is always obedient, she is not ‘ordained,’ she is the busy but submissive, patient and suffering auxiliary who can intercede but not decide." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 11)

"Official views of Mary have been shaped by men in a patriarchal context and have functioned powerfully to define and control female lives." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 7)

"Christ is the head of the church, his body. In parallel way the husband is the head of his wife: ‘As the church is subject to Christ so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands"’ [Eph. 5:24](Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 35)  [Story:  the M.D. (a devout Catholic  woman) who told me "the Catholic Church teaches that a woman cannot be president of the United States;  they are not to lead but to be subject to men.]

"persons of dominant groups tend to project their own way of being in the world onto everyone else," (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 106)

B.  Is "Mary: the Ideal Woman"  an unproductive approach?  The question presupposes that we know what a "woman" is.  This is a difficult (and often diviseive) question. 

1.  "Karl Rahner noted that the image of Mary in the church has always been closely tied to the image of women at any given time. Since the culturally conditioned image of women in our day is undergoing radical change, this raises serious questions about the image of Mary that have not yet been adequately recognized. Consequently, he suggested, perhaps it is time for men to stop writing books about Mary and let women have a go at it." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 17)

2.  A report in the February 16 2007 edition of Zenit (ZE07021622) stated that the 2007 UNICEF  "Women and Children: The Double Dividend of Gender Equality," argues that the when women are given more opportunities to succeed, children will prosper.  UNICEF's goal is to promot equality and empower women in the family.  The report makes a distinction between sex and gender.  The UNICEF report makes this distinction by acknowledging that men and women are physically different, but states that the behavior patterns of men and women, what they refer to as gender roles, are merely cultural constructions.  Biologically, says the report, it is undeniable that "females have two X chromosomes and males have one X and one Y chromosome."  "Gender roles," however, "are not inborn, but rather learned."   [The report drew criticism [from Bernadette Corteses, who works at the Cardinal Van Thuan International Observatory in Rome] that when a distinction is made between sex and gender, dangerous ambiguities enter into society and an understanding of marriage.  Separating gender from sex opens the door "for a purely historical, relative, artificial vision of being male and female, which has a negative impact on children themselves."  To respect the sexual humanity of man means to respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed.  This cannot happen when sex and gender are viewed as distinct realities.] 

3.  The danger is that when Mary becomes "the ideal" ...

"‘What was once a testimony to the presence of God in Christ had become an affirmation of absence, an emblem of exclusion and closure; what was once a sign of the salvation extended to all, became a symbol of holiness possessed by the few."’(Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 29)

C.  Is "Mary:  the Divine Feminine" an unproductive approach?

Review the Phalanx Theory of theological progress toward the Pleroma of truth.  When our understanding of the trinity, or Christ, or the Spirit are deficient, other "theologies" will fill in the gaps.

"Since standard images of God as lord and king along with the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit inevitably set up in the human imagination the notion of a male person or persons, the human psyche seeks intuitively to balance this one-sided relationship with other images that mediate the divine in female form." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 71)

"Relieved of bearing this burden, the figure of Mary is freed to return to her own history as a woman of faith and to rejoin us in the graced community of struggle in history." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 73)

"Starting in the fourth century, devotion was transferred to Mary in innumerable ways. Places in nature where female deities had been honored with pilgrimage and prayers, such as grottoes, springs, promontories, mountains, lakes, and woods, became associated with Mary." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 74)

"The still-venerated statues of the black Madonna at Le Puy, Montserrat, Chartres, and elsewhere derived from ancient black stones connected with the fertility power of earth goddesses, black being the beneficent color of subterranean and uterine fecundity." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 75)

"The earliest written trace of this devotion is the prayers Sub tuum praesidium, a papyrus fragment of which is variously dated to the late third of fourth century. Used for centuries as a liturgical antiphon in the churches of East and West, the prayer casts Mary in the role of divine protector: ‘We fly to your patronage (or protection, shelter), O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin’" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 75)

"Theologically, scholasticism drew on the Hellenistic idea that feminine/maternal qualities were and perforce had to be totally absent from God, for it was intrinsic to the feminine to be passive and receptive; technically, to be potency rather than act." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 76)

"In effect, however, this kind of devotion to the Mother of God was actually devotion to God the mother, to the ultimate mystery of the creative and recreative God glimpsed in female form." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 77)

"Medieval parallels between Mary and Christ in nature, grace, and glory, in virtue and dignity, resulted in the figure of Mary assuming divine prerogatives. As co-redemptrix, she merited salvation; as mediatrix, she obtained grace for sinners; as queen and mother of mercy, she dispensed it herself." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 78)

"Mary has substituted in particular way for the action and experience of God the Holy Spirit. Catholics have said that Mary forms Christ in them, that she is spiritually present to guide and inspire, that she is the link between themselves and Christ, and that the spiritual seeker goes to Jesus through Mary. But are these not precisely the roles of the Spirit of Christ? Furthermore, Mary is called intercessor, mediatrix, helper, advocate, defender, consoler, counselor. But are these not titles that belonged originally to the Paraclete? Catholics have thought and preached that all grace comes from God through Christ by way of Mary. But is this not dislocation of the Holy Spirit, who is essential to the trinitarian gift of grace in this world? The observation of Protestant student Elsie Gibson is frequently quoted as Catholic thinkers attempt to come to grips with this issue: ‘When I began the study of Catholic theology, every place I expected to find an exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I found Mary. What Protestants universally attribute to the action of the Holy Spirit was attributed to Mary. (Elsie Gibson, "Mary and the Protestant Mind," Review for Religious 24 [1965]: 397) ’" (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 80)

"The need to compensate for an overly masculinized idea of God, seen especially in a deficient Christology and a woefully undeveloped theology of the Holy Spirit, is never far from the surface." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 81)

 Leonardo Boff   "Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff proposed a daring hypothesis: just as the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, so too Mary is the embodiment of the third person of the Holy Trinity." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 81) -- "She is to be regarded as hypostatically united to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 81)

 

 

Our Lady of Guadalupe   "But in the experience of the people then and now, references to the Mary of the gospels is notably absent in connections with devotion to Guadalupe. What is mediated instead is profoundly engaging experience of God present in their midst with love and compassion." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 84)

"To my mind, however, it makes not lasting theological sense to use Mary as cover-up for defective notions of God, Christ, or the Spirit. Rather, this female imagery should be allowed to travel back to its source and begin to fertilize the church’s imagination and piety in relation to the mystery of God, who is beyond gender but Creator of both omen and men in the divine image. Without claiming to be comprehensive, as least five Marian elements present themselves as viable candidates for this return: maternity with its nurturing warmth and fierce protection; compassionate love; power that empowers, heals, and liberates; all-pervading presence; and energy that recreates the earth." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 86-87)

"Mary becomes free to rejoin the community of saints." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 91)

"For the renewal of the doctrine of God liberated form the restrictions of patriarchy, for empowering women to claim their own dignity made in her image and likeness, and for the transformation of the church into a community of the discipleship of equals, this female imagery needs to disperse beyond Mary back to its source. Let God have her own maternal face. Let Miriam the Galilean woman rejoin the community of disciples." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 92)

"One of the most promising approaches of recent years for both ecumenism and spirituality has been the move to symbolize Mary as the ideal or perfect disciple." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 96)

"because so very few historically attested events surround the figure of Mary, her persona is more open to being shaped by diverse projections regarding the virtues and values of the ideal believer." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 96)

"One cannot historicize all these diverse and even contradictory pictures of Mary; but in having her assume these symbolic roles, the Church has been contemporizing the ideal of Christian discipleship . The Church has been diagnosing a way in which Christians of various times needed to hear the word of God and keep it." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 96)

"The Second Vatican Council took the idea of Mary as the ideal disciple and cast it into an explicitly ecclesial framework." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 97)

"Despite the benefits of interpreting Mary as a symbol of discipleship, I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with this position taken as first, only, or predominant step. (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 99)

 

"Community then comes about not as the result of suppressing differences and homogenizing everyone into sameness, but by respecting and celebrating persons in all their differences within multiple larger narratives and actions for the common good." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 107)

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3.  Mary's Historical Context

See this website on Mary and History, chapters m20 - m29.

"But my view now is that to be true to this woman who actually lived a life some two thousand years ago, and to honor her in a liberating way, whatever we say should be tightly moored to her historical reality at every point. (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 100)

"the history of Marian thought has been ruled by images that correspond to the society in which they function." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 42)

"I am going to explore the option to consider Mary as genuine human being who acted according to the call of the Spirit in the particular circumstances of her own history." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 43)

"In light of what was to come later in Marian theology, the relative silence of the first three Christian centuries is remarkable. Most theologians do not even mention her. Even more striking, there was in those centuries no public, official veneration of Mary. (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 116)

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4.  Mary in Scripture

See this website on Mary and Scripture, chapters m31 - m39.

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5.  Mary in Christian Worship

See this website on  Mary and Liturgy, chapters m41 - m49.

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6.  Mary in Christian Devotion

See this website on Mary and Piety, chapters m61 - m69.

"Aware of the distinction between popular devotion, reflective theology, and official doctrine, I am focusing here on theology, or the systematic ideas about Mary and her role that shaped prayer and preaching." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 114)

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7.  Conclusions

See this website on Mary: Conclusions, chapters m71 - m79.

"Rahner points out the ramification that whatever Mary has ultimately reveals something of God’s way with all human beings." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 108)

"At the same time, in both literary and theological terms, her story is woven into the gracious work of the redeeming God along with the others present at the birth of the Church. IN the biblical view Mary is found within the great cloud of witnesses, a basic precedent for our proposal." (Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, p 115)

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/11/10 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at tomrichs@psci.net.