Common Sense Mariology
BY MARK ALESSIO
"When we admire the Mother's eminent gifts and rightly praise them, we are admiring and praising the divinity, the goodness, the love and the power of Her Son." (Pope Pius XII)
It's a strange situation in which we find ourselves when mankind is classed as just another species of animal, no better or worse than dolphins or wolves, but just different in a way that really doesn't matter much substantially. Man has become the rational "animal". Eugenics and euthanasia are promoted to improve and thin out the human "herd". The human soul has become yet another ingredient in a spiritual stew that combines human essence with that of trees, rivers, whales and anything else that can't speak for itself to contradict such fancies.
Yet human beings can do one thing, one critical thing that no animal, not even the smartest can ever do: REFLECT. Mankind can reflect on it's origins and on its final destination, on its achievements and failures. Mankind can even reflect on the act of reflection. This unique human ability has given us encyclopedias, cathedrals, concertos, history books, CITIZEN KANE, Dante's INFERNO and THE IMITATION OF CHRIST, not to mention a few millennia worth of philosophers. We study for the simple reason. We want to KNOW. Ancient man knew fire, and understood its practical uses. Technological man scrutinizes this same element, measuring it's temperature, discovering at what temperature different liquids boil, investigating the properties of steam and superheat. The element is still FIRE, but Mankind, endowed with reason by it's Creator, still wants to know more, to place every element in it's proper context, relating to the "whole".
The propensity for
relentlessly seeking out and accumulating knowledge surely underlies our Lord's
words to the Apostles:
But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.
(St. John's Gospel Chap. 14, vs. 26)
Our Lord knew the Church would grow slowly, a true organism, taking infant steps, falling and rising. He knew that doctrines would be challenged, confusion would arise and heresies would be born, and He knew that great Fathers, Doctors and Saints would arise to reflect on revelation and labor to make the Faith resound in the hearts and minds of the faithful. Our Lord is living proof of the old adage that "the supernatural is built on the natural". The Savior of Mankind didn't appear fully grown in a cloud of dazzling sunlight one day, as the pagan goddess Athena was believed to have sprung fully grown from the head of Zeus. Our Lord spend nine months in the womb of a human woman and, when He was finally born, He could not even run away from His first persecutors, but had to be carried by Mary and Joseph into Egypt.
Note that Our Lord promised not only that the Holy Ghost would remind His followers of his words but would also teach them "ALL THINGS". By "all things", Our Lord was referring to those that are essential to our salvation. There is no teacher without a student. Jesus offers us the role of student: "The disciple is not above the Master." And what is the prerequisite for this study: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole should, and with thy whole mind" (St. Matthew's Gospel Chap.. 22, vs. 37)
It is as natural to Mankind
to examine topics such as the intercession of Saints or the efficacy of the
Sacraments as it is to study the origins of tornadoes or the science of
Interest in the Blessed Virgin Mary was not a creation of ancient Christianity, but a component of it, something that grew with the Faith itself. It was not injected in it, like a foreign substance that need to be assimilated by the early Church. In Volume I of his classic "Mariology", Rev. M.J. Shebeen makes this observation:
As for the development of Mariology in tradition [i.e., historical "traditions", not doctrinal Traditions], the person of Mary quite naturally remains more in the background during the first four centuries in both the doctrines and worship of the Church. Yet significant allusions to her position, in particular to Her share in the work of redemption, are by no means wanting. In the controversies of that period about the natures of Christ, the person of Mary came to be more particularly considered.
It's as though the Holy Ghost, wishing the early Christians to feast abundantly on the awesome doctrines of the Incarnation and Resurrection, brought our Lady to the fore in a discreet way, always associating Her with the mystery of the Incarnation, using her Diving Maternity to crush those early heresies which wreaked havoc with the belief that Christ was both True GOD and True MAN, Little by little, the early Christians began to recognize in the Mother of God a champion and defender, until things finally exploded in the 4th Century when Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, promoted the heresy that the Second Person of the Trinity and Jesus of Nazareth were two distinct persons, united in the figure of Christ. St. Cyril of Alexandria and the Council of Ephesus defended the Truth that two natures existed in the one PERSON of Christ by declaring that our Lady was the "Theotokos", the Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin's role as "destroyer of all heresies" was now in the spotlight for all to see.
Again, Mankind naturally reflects on sacred things no less than on mundane ones. The Holy Ghost, guiding His Church, slowly through those first centuries, brought everything about in its time, and no sooner. Jesus Christ told His disciples after the last supper: I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come. He will teach you all truth. (St. John's Gospel Chap.. 16, vs 12-13)
God never rushes anything. The Israelites measured their trials in centuries. Our Lord spend thirty years laboring in obscurity in Nazareth. The Dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption would warm the hearts of the faithful for almost two millennia before they would be solemnly defined. It is no surprise to find the intellects of the early Catholics slowly but surely drawn to a consideration of t he Blessed Mother. In fact, it was inevitable. The word "Mariology" can be intimidation. It sound far removed from the simple directness of, say, the Rosary or the First Saturday devotions. Protestants have ridiculed the word by coining their own parody of it, "Mariolatry". Writers in this field delve into specifics, using the language of theology and philosophy. Theology, the study of the revealed God and our relationship to Him, is comprised of component disciplines or "Treatises," such as"Christology" or "Ecclesiology". While great writers of the past have presented systematized studies of the Blessed Virgin, it wasn't until the 20th Century that Mariology was seen as a truly distinct "Treatise" with in the larger scope of Theology, one that would strive to interrelate Marian doctrines to each other as well as ground them all in the basic privilege of the Divine Maternity. This doesn't mean that such inter-relations weren't known by scholars of the past. Of course they were. But there was always the opportunity to further clarify these relationships in distinct terms and images suited to the glory of the subject. Of course, in any undertaking God sets before us, the ultimate aim is the good of our eternal souls. We don't do Our Lord or Our Lady any "favor" by studying Mariology. The benefit of such study is entirely mankind's.
And yet, given all of the above, the entire study of Mariology rests on very plain common sense. The scholars who have taken the study of the Virgin Mary seriously must of necessity use technical language, if they wish to share their ideas, dilemmas and solutions with others. But, at bottom the truths revealed in this field are ones that require no more than simple good will to accept and be grateful for. Our Lord told us to become "children" if we would enter Heaven. What better mentality with which to appreciate the study of a Mother?
There is no dogma concerning the Mother of God which does not rest on good, common sense. And how can it be otherwise, when on of the central images of the Church that has education and civilized the entire world is that of a beautiful, loving Mother holding her Child? The apostate Jews of Our Lord's time wanted armies, cavalries and the clashing of sword and spear as a signal of the Messiah's coming. What they got, and rejected was the sound of a Baby, crying in the cold of a manger and a Mother singing lullabies.
Those who would relegate the
Blessed Virgin to an incidental role in salvation history would do well to pay
special attention to God's Holy Word, the Bible. St. Luke, the Evangelist who
took the greatest pains to research the pertinent events of Our Lord's early
life, records the following words of St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist,
to the Blessed Virgin: And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me? (St. Luke Chap. 1 vs 43)
A brief footnote in the
Haydock Bible makes this simple point: "The Mother of my Lord. A proof that
Christ was truly God, and the Blessed Virgin Mary truly the Mother of God". It
is this same Divine Son, born of Mary, who will later astound His countrymen by
declaring that He came not to abolish the Law, but to FULFILL the Law. Note the
wording of the Fourth Commandment as set down in the Book of Deuteronomy:
Honor thy father and mother, as the Lord they God hath commanded thee, that
thou mayest live a long time, and it may be well with the in the land, which the Lord thy God will give thee. (Deuteronomy Chap.. 5 vs. 16).
This is the only Commandment which offers a blessing as a reward. Other Commandments offer curses as the inevitable fruits of non-compliance. The Israelites were not to serve idols, lest God visit the iniquity of the fathers upon their children. They were not to take the name of the Lord in vain, for he shall not be unpunished that taketh His name upon a vain thing. But look at the tenderness with which the Almighty respects Fatherhood and Motherhood. It is plain throughout Scripture that Jesus honored His Father as only a Perfect Son could have. Every one of His actions, every one of His sorrows and glories were directed towards the glory of His heavenly Father. But, would the God-Man leave the Fourth Commandment only half observed? If He were to fulfill the Law perfectly, would He forget that the Fourth Commandment enjoined the honor of both Father and Mother? Could the Son of God be so forgetful?
Some Protestants are fond of describing Our Lady as a glorified "incubator", a creature used by God and then shoved unceremoniously aside. In this strange view, God become the ultimate "consumer", picking humans at random for certain tasks, using them up and tossing them into the rubbish when their usefulness is over. One wonders how the proponents of this view would react if you were to inform them that their own mothers were mere "vessels", meant only to be "used" by their fathers as a means of generating offspring. Sacred Scripture tells us something different. It tells us that the unique spiritual bond between mother, father and child is so beloved and cherished by the Almighty that He went so far as to COMMAND that it be honored. This is a simple matter of Scriptural record. Anyone wishing to denigrate the place of the Blessed Virgin in the life of her Son does so in defiance of both Sacred Scripture and the Commandments of the Holy Trinity. One would be hard pressed to find in the entire Bible any occurrences where mothers are viewed as mere "incubators".
Our Lady's Divine Maternity therefore, isn't a mere "aspect" of the Gospels, and unimportant element that one can safely ignore at will, but a critical part of them. Obviously, if GOD things the bond between Mother and Child is important, then WE are bound to view it likewise.
Many Protestants seem to take a peculiar delight in snubbing the Blessed Virgin. In a twist of logic which manages in one swoop to deny both the Fourth Commandment and Our Lord's claim to be the fulfilled of the Law, they posit themselves as the exponents of a "pure" form of Christian worship, a worship which is free of the Holy Virgin, Saints, and Sacraments. They conveniently forget St. James' teaching that "the prayer of a just man availeth much", a clear Biblical endorsement for the Catholic belief in intercession. They also believe that, somehow, Jesus Christ, True God and True MAN, takes pleasure in seeing His holy Mother despised. It's no wonder that Cardinal Newman wrote these word about their misconceptions: . . . few Protestants have any real perception of the doctrine of God and man in, one Person. They speak in a dreamy, shadowy way of Christ's divinity . . .They cannot bear to have it said, except as a figure or mode of speaking, that God had a human body, or that God
Perhaps this is why one finds no "Stations of the Cross" or "Sacred Heart" devotions in Protestantism. What Catholics understand as they hear the Gospels read each Sunday is that Christ was like unto us in every way except in sin; He was and is the God-Man. If someone ignorant of the Gospels could go back in time with a camcorder and tape a series of days in the life of the Holy Family prior to Our Lord's public ministry, he would little suspect that he was watching a god, let alone the One and Only God. he would find a pious family, obviously loving and at peace. He would find the Son obedient and prayerful, but otherwise engaging in very mundane activities: working, conversing with family and acquaintances, eating, praying, enjoying festivals and days in which work was set aside. The father would be working conscientiously and steadily, while the Mother would spend the hours from sunrise to sunset working just as hard to provide for the little ones She loves. This is the life that GOD lived for thirty years on earth! There is a reason for this. GOD does not waste time. If the hierarchical structure of the human family, with it's sacred bonds and implicit obedience to authority, as reflected in the Fourth Commandment, were of no value to the Christian understanding of Faith, God would not have bequested the legacy to us. Therefore, any time the Mother of God appears in Scripture or is the subject of doctrinal teachings, it is for a very good and important reason.
Many volumes cam and have
been written about the pivotal Christian dogma of the Immaculate Conception of
the Blessed Virgin in the womb of Her mother, St. Anne. The early Church
Fathers understood it as a matter of course that Our Lady was sinless. In the
early centuries of the Church, as they battled the various heresies arising to
confuse the faithful, these pious and learned scholars didn't engage in a
detailed scrutiny of the Virgin's sinlessness. They understood that She was
free from actual sin, and they knew that she had somehow been sanctified in the
womb of Her own mother. As far back as the 4th Century, we find the following
thought expressed in a poem by St. Ephrem of Syria, addressed to Our Savior,
which echoes the Canticle of Canticles:
Thou and Thy Mother are alone in this: you are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in Thee, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in Thy Mother. Such expressions are far from rare in the early Church. In the 5th Century, Theodotus, Bishop of Ancyra in Galatia, described Mary as :"A Virgin innocent; immaculate; free from all guilt; spotless; undefiled; holy in spirit and body; a lily among thorns."
We must remember that there was no ill will in the intentions of the later writers . . . such as St. Bernard, St. Bonaventure, St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas . . . who questioned the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Since dogma hadn't as yet been formulated and defined, a "pre-natal sanctification" of Our Lady seemed to them a safer course to steer in order to safeguard the Scriptural teaching of Our Lord's unique Mediatorship. It was never a question of doubting our Lady's sanctity, but of placing Her sinlessness into the larger context of the Redemption. Of course, being a human woman, the Virgin Mary was redeemed by Jesus Christ, but how was this accomplished? St. Paul wrote these words to the Catholics in Rome: "And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as according to His purpose, are called to be saints" (Romans Chap.. 8 vs 28) This sublime teaching found abundant justification in the history of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, for it was the very opposition to this Dogma, an opposition sparked by no less an authority than St. Bernard of Clairvaux, that caused scholars from the 12th Century on to begin studying this unique privilege of the Blessed Virgin in detail. The debate would ultimately manifest itself along definite lines, with the Dominicans opposing the Dogma, and the Franciscans defending it with vigor. Two of these Franciscans scholars in particular are credited with solving the "riddle" of the Immaculate Conception, a solution which would bear fruit 600 years later when the Dogma was solemnly defined by Pope Pius IX in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus.
These men, to whom the Church owes a solid debt of gratitude, were William of Ware ( died c.1308), lecturer at Oxford and Paris, and his student, John Duns Scotus (died 1308). These great scholars exemplified the common sense approach to the study of the Mother of God. William of Ware, one of the first university instructors to teach the Immaculate Conception, offered this observation on Our Blessed Mother: There is another opinion, that She did not contract original sin, which I wish to hold, because, if I am to be mistaken, since I am not certain of either side, I prefer to mistaken by excess, giving Mary some prerogative, than by defect, lessening or taking from Her some prerogative which She had.
To Duns Scotus is given the honor of clarifying the Dogma in terms which defend Our Lady's sanctity, while also raising the Redemptive work of Our Lord to a new degree. He pointed out that there was restorative Redemption, whereby tainted Mankind was cleansed from the stain of Original Sin, and a preservative Redemption, by which Our Lady, through the merits of Christ, was preserved from the stain of Original Sin.
A simple analogy could be presented from this teaching. To prevent someone from falling into a mud puddle would be better than to lift that person out of the puddle once they have already falling in and are smeared with filth. Scotus offered this rational argument in defense of the Immaculate Conception: Either God was able to do this, and did not will to do it, or, He willed to preserve Her and was unable to do so. If able to and yet unwilling to perform this for Her, God was miserly towards Her.
And if He willed to do it but was unable to accomplish it, He was weak, for no one who is able to honor his mother would fail to do so. Again we are reminded of the Fourth Commandment and the perfect manner in which the God-Man fulfills it, with a generosity and elegance that seem to have no place in non-Catholic "theology". This would be a good time to speak of intent. Mankind, endowed by its Creator with the gift of Reason, desired to know, to explore, to investigate matters in detail. If the study of Mariology is NOT ultimately undertaken for the greater glory of the Holy Trinity, then it becomes little more than an academic exercise. The anti-Catholic "scholars" who claim to study the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception do so with a degree of contempt for it, with suspicion, seeing in it a threat to the majesty of Christ. The traditional Catholic view, in contrast sees in this Dogma the depths which Our Lord's salvific power will plumb in the work of restoring a fallen world. Notice the antithesis. The anti Catholic position sees the Immaculate Conception a threat to the unique Mediatorship of Jesus Christ. The Catholic view sees in it an exaltation of and thanksgiving for Divine mercy, a reason not to scorn Our Lord's Mediatorship, but to rejoice in it even further. Which view, according to everyday common sense would be more pleasing to God?
Mary's Perpetual Virginity
The Protestant objection to Our Lady's perpetual virginity provides any observer of history with a perfect test case on the nature of "contrariness". While rejection of this perpetual virginity isn't a Protestant "tenet," many sects teach as a matter of course that Mary gave birth to other children after our Lord was born. when the common sense arguments are laid out and examined, it becomes clear that Protestant objection to this doctrine is based not on Scriptural or philosophical ground, but on "contrariness . . . i.e., these sects teach that Our Lady bore other children simply because this idea is the direct opposite of what the Catholic Church teaches. Are there examples in the Bible of places or objects that are considered "holy", that are set apart, intended to be treated with a measure of respect and deference beyond that accorded to other places or objects? In the Second Book of Kings (Chap. 6) it is related how, after the defeat of the Philistines, King David retrieves the Ark of God and carries it away in procession, in the accompaniment of rejoicing and music. one of David's men, Oza, seeing the Ark leaning in it's cart, put up a hand to steady it, so that it wouldn't fall. The moment Oza grabbed the Ark, he was struck dead by God "for his rashness".
Again, in the Book of Genesis (Chap.. 3) Moses, going to the spot where he spied the burning bush, is warned by God: "Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from they feet, for the place hereon thou standest is holy ground". Is it possible that a construction made of earthly metals and wood or a clump of rocky earth could be more holy that the womb wherein the Second Person of the Holy Trinity dwelt for nine months? If the womb that housed God Himself were not a sacred and sanctified object, than what would fit that definition? The mentality that imagines "business as usual " for Joseph and Mary after the Incarnation of the Savior fails to recognize that God often calls people to consecrate themselves to His service in unique ways. We see Him set certain people apart, whether it be the Prophet Elias, St. John the Baptist or St. Paul. Surely if the Incarnation of the Word was in the Divine Plan from the "beginning", so was the Mother to whom this Son would be born.
The Scriptural arguments in favor of Our Lady's perpetual virginity have been well documented. Any reliable book on the Blessed Virgin will spell them out clearly, in the very same arguments used from the first centuries of our Faith. Writing in the 4th Century, St. Jerome pointed out, in practical fashion, that:"We believe that God was born of a Virgin because we read it; because we do not read it we do don't believe that Mary wedded again after the birth of Her Child". In a letter to a certain Helvidius, who denied Mary's perpetual virginity, St. Jerome didn't mince words in Our Lady's defense: You have set on fire the temple of the Lord's body, you have defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit from which you are determined to make a team of four brethren and a heap of sisters come forth.
In a word, joining in the chorus
of the Jews you say, "Is
not this the carpenter's son? is not His Mother called Mary ? and His brethren James and Simon and Judas? and His sisters, are they not all with us? The word 'all' would not be used if there were not a crowd of them". Pray tell me who, before you appeared was acquainted with this blasphemy?
Writing to the Bishop of Thessalonica and the end of the 4th Century, Pope Siricius called the denial of Mary's perpetual virginity "that Jewish falsehood which holds that He (Jesus Christ) could not have been born of a virgin".
Recall Cardinal Newman writing of the Protestants' lack of insight into the two natures (Divine and human) found in one Person of Christ. Just look at the manner in which the body of a normal mother is honored by her son. It is made sacred by motherhood, set apart and meant to be protected. Imagine then the womb of the Mother of GOD, the first Tabernacle upon which all other tabernacles are modeled, espoused to the Holy Ghost, chosen by God the Father and inhabited by God the Son. It is an amazing fact that the sanctity of Our Lady's body should even have to be defended. Cannot even the densest intellect understand, via simple intuition, that Mary'sperpetual virginity is the only rational condition for the Mother of GOD, after She gives birth to the Incarnate GOD-MAN? Is the denial of Our Lady's perpetual virginity the conclusion of careful Biblical study, or a mere projection, an attempt by sinful men to justify their own inability to observe Chastity?
After the seventy-two disciples returned to Jesus, flushed with excitement of their first missionary forays, Our Lord offered this prayer to his Father: I confess to Thee O Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones, (St. Luke Chap., 10 vs.21)
There are "scholars" who spend their days and nights try to disparage the Marian dogmas taught by the One True Church Armed with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries, alternate translations and volumes of dubious commentaries, they spend valuable hours trying to drag the Holy Mother of God down to their own level. This is sin at work. What else could drive someone to devote himself not to the honor of the Blessed Virgin, but to the task of placing Her in carnal scenarios?
The Catholic Church has never
even toyed with the idea that Our Lady bore other children. The Lateran Council
of 649 A.D. anathematized anyone who refused to confess that the virginity of
Mary remained "inviolate also after parturition". The Sixth Ecumenical Council
of Constantinople (680 A.D.) decreed that "The virginity of Mary . . . remained
before, during and after parturition." Ultimately, the Catholic understanding
of Mary as "Ever-Virgin" rests on a combination of revealed Truth and common
sense on man's ability to observe relationships in the natural sphere and
translate his findings into the supernatural one, an ability described by St.
Paul as a coming to a knowledge of God through His works. When all the
treatises and essays are put aside, it's the power of old fashioned Reason,
illumined by Faith and a sincere good will, that touches the heart with
certainty and conviction. The best defense for any Catholic doctrines is
ultimately the most simple and straightforward one. This is clearly seen in the
following works of St. Ambrose (339-397) in defense of the Blessed Virgin's
And Joseph, the just man, assuredly did not so completely loose his mind as to seek carnal intercourse with the Mother of God.
The renowned Bishop of Milan obviously understood that, sometimes, a good one two punch hits the mark better than a dozen learned commentaries could. Our Lord Himself, when He evicted the money-changers from the Temple, taught us that Truth isn't always best served by being "nice" in the face of sacrilege. Following this divine example, St. Hilary of Poitiers angrily called those who rejected Mary's perpetual virginity "irreligious, perverted, knowing absolutely nothing of spiritual truth."
Try to imagine for a moment the
mind-set that resents Our Lady's bodily Assumption into Heaven. Imagine the
Catholic world rejoicing at this wonderful vision of an eternity with God,
joining their gratitude to that of the Heavenly Court and the Mother of God
Herself. Imagine the smiles of joy on the faces of both clergy and laity as
they set aside the tribulations of earthly life for a day to celebrate the
definition of this Dogma.
Now imagine if you will, the grim, angry visages of the anti-Catholic "Christians" to whom this glorious privilege is a source of nagging resentment. Imagine the outrage and muttering of ministers and "scholars" as they flip through their incomplete, butchered Bibles in the hopes of halting the Mother of God at the gates of Heaven and dispatching Her back to the grave. If the mark of a Christian is "joy". which of the above scenes will please the Holy Trinity?
It is further ironic that the "technical" approach to Our Lady's privileges actually confirms the teachings of Catholicism rather than those of the anti-Catholics. One example of this confirmation is found in the Gospel of St. Luke, in the Angel Gabriel's salutation to the Blessed Virgin. The phrase familiar to us as "full of grace" was rendered in the Latin Vulgate as gratia plena. However, in the original Greek, the Angel addresses Mary as Kecharitomene. Although "full of grace" is an acceptable translation for the word, the term itself expresses much more and is untranslatable into English. The root of this word is charis ("grace") and, as this term expresses the perfect tense in Greek, the meaning is not only "full of grace", but an abiding state of grace. The term implies that the one addressed thusly has always existed in a state of grace and that this plenitude is permanent and stable. Thus, Kecharitomene, the name given to Mary by God( and passed on to the messenger Gabriel), is not only a designation, but a word that reveals something essential about the one who bears it, just as "Isaac" meant "laughter" or "Peter" meant "rock". So, in the end, the "technical" or scientific" approach to the study of Our Lady confirms the Traditional, common sense Catholic teachings, such as the sinlessness of Mary or Her Immaculate Conception. This is something to keep in mind when dealing with non-Catholic "scholars".
Few men have written as
exquisitely of the Virgin Mary as Bishop Jacques Benigne Bossuet of Meaux
(1627-1704). Writing of the Assumption I his classic "Substance of All the
Sermons for Mary's Feasts Throughout the Year," Bossuet says:
Mary's sacred body ---the throne of Chastity, the temple of Incarnate Wisdom, the Instrument of the Holy Ghost, the seat of the Power of the Most High---could not remain in the tomb. Her triumph would be incomplete if it took place apart from Her holy flesh; for this, expressly sanctified to form the body of Christ, had been as it were the source of all Her glory.
Simple logic tells us that the respect plaid to the immaculate body of Mary will be a measure of our respect for the Body and Person of Her Son. What does the image of the Mother of God suffering the corruption of the grave say about those who hold it? How does this bodily corruption, this idea of decomposition, reflect the message of the Angel Gabriel to the Woman who is "full of grace"?
Any normal man will consider a slight or insult to his mother as being done also to himself. Likewise, he will consider any act of kindness shown to his mother as a favor to himself, even considering himself in "debt" to the one who extended this kindness to the mother. Ask the common sense question: How can Jesus Christ be pleased when His Mother is despised? How can he possibly be pleased when centuries upon centuries upon centuries of pious beliefs concerning Our Lady are discarded with contempt? It is staggering to suppose that the Incarnate Truth could ever act with such ill-will. Yet, "churches" have been built on this bizarre supposition.
We can also carry this understanding over into the larger picture. Is it logical for God to view a "church" founded by men as equal to the one founded by His own Son? One morning in the 16th Century, a man wakes up and decides that the Church which preserved the Apostolic Deposit of Faith for over a millennium and , in the process, educated the world, is no longer acceptable. He decides then that he and his cohorts will simply take over the authority of that Church, or barring such a coup, merely cast it aside and begin their own. How would the God Who said "I am the Truth" view this series of events, if one of the enduring hallmarks of Truth is consistency.
Listen to St. John Damascene
on Our Lady's Assumption:
Of old the Lord God banished from the garden our first parents after their disobedience, when they had dulled the eye of their heart through their sin, and weakened their mind's discernment, and had fallen into death-like apathy. But, now, shall not paradise receiver Her, who broke the bondage of all passion, sowed the seeds of obedience to God the Father, and was the beginning of life to the whole human race? Will not Heaven open it's gates to Her with rejoicing? Yes, Indeed.
He also addressed the Virgin
in these words:
O what a blessed departure this going to God of Thine. If God vouchsafes it to all His servants---and we know that He does---what an immense difference there is between His servants and His Mother.
It is not only un-Christian to reject the Dogma of the Assumption, by implying that Christ would follow the 4th Commandment improperly or in a miserly fashion, it is unreasonable to do so. Obviously, Our Lord considers this Dogma so important that, with the proclamation of the Bull Munificentissimus Deus in 1950, the members of His True Church are COMMANDED to believe it. In the text of this Bull, Pope Pius XII quotes this memorable passage from St. Robert Bellarmine: Oh, who should bring himself to believe it is fallen in ruins, this ark of Holiness, this home of the Word Incarnate, this temple of the Holy Ghost? Does not the mind recoil from the very thought of it, this virgin flesh to be breeding ground of dust, the prey of worms, that had gendered and born, had suckled and nursed a God? Once again, solid Catholic Doctrine doesn't mince words with a scowling face, but comes out swinging in the defense of Our Savior and His Mother.
The doctrine of "Mary Co-Redemptrix" seems to present the greatest anguish to those who reject God's True Church, when, in reality, it is probably the easiest to comprehend of all Marian doctrines. For the entire history of Salvation is filled with example after example of God choosing human instruments to cooperate with Him in carrying out His divine plan.
From the moment God assigned to Adam the task of naming the animals, to Noah building the Ark, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua storming the walls of Jericho, Jonah preaching repentance to the people of Nineveh, St. John the Baptist calling Our Lord's contemporaries to penance or St. Paul preaching to the Gentiles, the principle of "cooperation" has been a consistent method of operation for the Holy Trinity. Time after time, God chooses His human collaborator, endows him or her with the graces and strength needed for their task, and allows events to run their course. It's truly an amazing thing to see the Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and earth, putting such trust in mere human creatures, inspiring His Prophets to stand firm against entire civilizations, and His Apostles to spread the Gospel and establish His Church throughout the world.
In light of these Scriptural precedents, how much more so would the Mother of the Incarnate God-Man participate in the history of our Redemption? Is it possible that the Old Testament would team with "collaborators" of the Holy Trinity, while the Mother of the Savior, the one unique human being who would bridge the Old and New Covenants, should disappear into the background like a hired hand who had outlived her usefulness? Such inconsistency, simply cannot be attributed to the God Who so carefully revealed Himself in His inspired Scriptures.
And Scripture certainly does tell us that the Blessed Virgin was a unique "partner" in the divine plan. It is one of the unique gifts given by Christ to His Bride, the One True Church, to understand Scripture as a whole. Unlike the Protestants, Catholics do not see the Bible as a book of Divine "familiar quotations", wherein phrases can be torn out of context to prove, first one position, then another/ Inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Catholic Church finds in the Scriptures a homogenous entity. She understands the prophecies and foreshadowings of the Old Testament, and their relations to the New. Unlike Luther, who merely removed those portions of the Bible with which he didn't agree, the Catholic Fathers and Doctors accepted every word of God's holy book, and understood these words as a whole. After all, this charism of discernment was promised to the Apostles by Our Lord when He told them that the Holy Ghost would not "remind" them of what He taught, but would also "teach" them.
Fr. Emil Neubert, in his
study, "Mary in Doctrine", wrote these incisive words: We must not divide the
life of Christ into a series of separate acts: His existence constitutes only
one long act of redemption of which the culminating point was His
passion and death. Even thought the price of that act, our ransom, was paid only after this last moment, still it had begun to be merited from the very first moment. Thus, from the instant that She pronounced Her fiat, Mary was already in truth the co-operatrix of Christ in the work of our Redemption, and She would have merited His title even if She had died at the birth of Her Son.
Viewing Sacred Scripture as a whole, can the Virgin Mary be though of as an "incidental" character? Is it a coincidence that She was the only human being to be present at all of the major events of Our Lord's earthly life: His Incarnation and Birth, His Escape into Egypt, his first public miracle, His Death on the Cross and the Birth of His Church during Pentecost? Is any coincidence that She played an active role in these events . . . giving Her fiat to the Incarnation, carrying Our Lord to safety in her arms when His life was threatened by Herod, causing Him to inaugurate His public ministry at Cana (after which His disciples "believed" in Him), receiving the command to view all men as Her "sons "beneath the Cross on Calvary and praying with the Apostles when the Holy Ghost came upon them at the birth of the Church.
The Gospel of Luke relates an awesome fact that is too easily overlooked amidst all the other Scriptural narratives. After Mary and Joseph find the young Jesus teaching in the Temple, after searching for him for three days, St. Luke tells us that, "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subjected to them". Now here we have the inspired word of God telling us that God Himself, the One who destroyed the earth with flood waters, vanquished Pharaoh's army with a mere thought and caused the sun and moon to stand still for one day at the request of Joshua . . . this God subjected Himself to the authority of a human man and woman.
This divine revelation is echoed
in The Imitation of Mary by Alexander De Rouville (published in Valencia, Spain
It was fitting that She to whom Jesus had given authority even over Himself should have the right to command the Angels and Saints. How eagerly they vie in giving You the obedience and honor that is Your due!
The Catholic understanding of
the "Woman Clothed with the Sun" form the Apocalypse (chapter 12) is incomplete
if taken out of the Marian context. As we have already noted, The Catholic
Church looks at the Scripture as a whole, making connections and references
which illuminate the story of our salvation. Andre Feuillet, in his book Jesus
and His Mother, writes: There is no question that chapter 12 of the Apocalypse
does make reference to Chapter 3 of Genesis, and more specifically to Gn.
3:15. The great dragon who makes his appearance in the Apocalypse is the old
serpent (12:9), to wit, the tempter of Genesis . . . Just like this prophecy,
the Apocalypse describes violent opposition between the Woman and the
serpent-dragon. In the Apocalypse the dragon appears standing in front of the
Woman who is about to give birth in order to devour her child; this trait
corresponds to what is said of the serpent in Gn. 3:15: he watches . . . for the
seed of the Woman, ready to attack. [Emphasis
Of course, the Woman represents the persecuted Church, struggling throughout the ages. But without the Marian element which ties the Apocalypse to the prophecy of Genesis, we are left with a vision, albeit a potent one, which is somewhat detached from the concrete history of our salvation as recorded throughout Sacred Scripture.
Our Lady is an active player in the struggle against the Serpent. Scripture, understood properly and thoroughly, is eloquent in it's presentation of our Blessed Mother as Co-Redemptrix and, by extension Universal Mediatrix. We can return to the Fourth Commandment for one last argument in favor of Mary's Queenship. Though by no means the strongest such argument, it causes us to be careful lest we slight Christ in the slighting of His holy Mother. It was only the death of the Son of God that could adequately pay the ransom for a fallen Mankind, since only a Sacrifice of infinite merit would do where an "infinite" offense had occurred. Our lord, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, paid this ransom perfectly and fulfilled the Law perfectly. Now, how would the King of Heaven and Earth, to whom nothing is impossible, honor His Mother?
In the Third Book of Kings (Chap.. 2), we read of King Solomon's behavior to his mother Bethsabee. A man named Adonais approaches Bethsabee and asks her to intercede with her son, the King, so that Adonais may be permitted to marry Abisag the Sunamitess. This is how Scripture describes the ensuing scene: Then Bethsabee came to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonias: and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upon his throne: and a throne was set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right hand. And she said to him: I desire one small petition of thee, do not put me to confusion. And the king said to her: My mother, ask: for I must not turn away thy face. (3Kings 2:19-20)
Are we to believe that the Divine King of Heaven and Earth would be less generous in fulfilling the Fourth Commandment that the earthly Solomon? If Scripture itself presents us with this venerable image of the Queen-Mother, how are we to rationalize the Pro testant view, supposedly based on the Bible, which treats the Mother of the Divine King and Savior as not only menial, but unimportant, in contradiction to Scripture and Sacred Tradition?
Compared to the volumes upon
volumes of Marian writings that have illuminated the landscape of Faith over the
centuries, this poor article is a drop of water in an ocean. It's aim is to
inspire gratitude for this gift of Our Blessed Mother. Unfortunately, where the
Mother of Our Savior is concerned, men and women of bad will care as little for
the "common sense" arguments proposed herein as they do for the highly-developed
technical studies of the masters in the field. Still, as concerned Catholics,
it is important for each of us to know that the Marian teachings of our Church
are true. It's important for us to know this with a conviction and assurance
that will not be troubled by opposition or hostility. We may not be eloquent
speakers or gifted scholars. We may stumble in our desire to defend the Truth
with the clarity and wit that we would like to display. But Our Lord doesn't
call us to "think" our Faith is true, or "suppose" that it's true or to be
"clever" in its defense. He invites us to trust Him completely, and to know
deep in our hearts, that it is true. The doctrines concerning Our Lady are part
of this precious Deposit of Faith.
Mary reigns over men and angels in Heaven. She doesn't need our respect in order to complement Her glory. We do neither Her nor Her Son any "favors" by pronouncing Dogmas in Her honor or celebrating Her feasts and titles. These integral elements of our holy Faith are given to us for our benefit. We honor the Virgin because, not only does She deserve our honor, but we imitate Jesus Christ when we honor Her. And even such and imitation is a weak one, for can any man give the Blessed Virgin even a fraction of the honor that the Holy Trinity did by making Her the Mother of God? Our Lord said, "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart". Rather than resent or doubt the glorious Marina heritage of the True Church, we should be outdoing each other in praising God's Mother and ours.
As Catholics, it is not only
our duty, but our privilege, to know the doctrines and dogmas of our Faith,
these divine legacies given so generously to us for our sanctification,
enlightenment and ultimately, for our salvation. God doesn't lie. Scripture
tells us that there are times to be submissive, and there are times to be
angry. Even before Our Lord forcibly evicted the money-changers from His
Father's House or called the Pharisees "whitened sepulchers", we read in the
Book of Ecclesiates:
All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under Heaven . . . A time of love and a time of hatred. A time of war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1,8)
The Book of Ecclesiasticus
admonishes us to hold in our hearts a special place for our mothers: Honor thy
father, and forget not the groanings of the mother: Remember that thou hadst
been born but through them and make a return to them as they have done for thee. (Ecclesiasticus 7:29-30)
If these are the sentiments that sacred Scripture enjoins upon us to hold toward our earthly mothers, how much more so should we honor and love Our Blessed Mother, with out whom we would not be reborn as Children of God. And what better "return" can we make to her than to defend Her whenever She is attacked and, in so doing defend also the honor of Our Savior and our Church as well?
The next time you hear the Blessed Virgin demeaned, dishonored or s landered, don't be nice about it. Get angry. It's the Christian thing to do.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us!!!