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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

BVM: Mary, The Mother of the Lord---Part I

Chosen by God among all women to bear Jesus, whom she conceived miraculously as a virgin, Mary is honored, alone of all her sex, as one of only two persons (Jesus being the other) born untouched by Satan. She herself is the daughter of Joachim and Anna, and by at least one tradition, grew up in the Temple under the care of Zechariah. Gabriel announced to her that she would bear Jesus, a sign to all the world. Mary questioned the angel about the possibility of a virgin conceiving, and the astonished young maid was reassured that for God nothing is impossible. Because of these things she is remembered forever as an exemplar of faith, worship, and purity, of submission to the will of God, as singularly chosen, exalted mother of Jesus and Queen of all saints.


Such is the record, in the Quran, of Mary in the Islamic Tradition; she is the only woman in the Quran mentioned by name. Interestingly, she is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire New Testament. Of course, the Quran does not know of the divinity of Jesus, which would have detracted from the indivisible divinity of God. A divine Jesus is quite impossible in Islam; yet a maximalist Mariology is alive and well in Islam and its system of belief.


Recently in comments to this blog, the Marian dogmas in Catholicism have been cast as the "best" reason against the validity of Catholicism. Really, the "best?" One would think that the standard argument for atheism---theodicy---would have preemptively invalidated Catholicism (or any theistic system) without any further need of invalidation. But one needn't be an atheist to locate difficulties in the received dogmatic theology of Mary in Catholicism.


Putting aside the dogmas of the perpetual virginity and theotokos, the latest dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are pronounced from a thoroughly modern church and papacy. Since the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the bugaboo in the lengthy discussion in the 'comments' of "Haunted by the Holy Ghost," I would limit the content of this blogpost to that dogma and the gist of the conversation on "Haunted."


First I would point out that the modern Marian dogmas are each punctuated with a warning: any denial of them incurs upon the denier anathematization, and would be tantamount to a denial of the Catholic faith entire and a declaration that one is no longer a member of  the Catholic Church. Putting aside the ridiculous notion that a Catholic could put aside her unconditional preferential option for the Catholic faith by putting her conscience in relation to the dogmas, then the heart of the papal threats of excommunication is laid bare: it is not the content of the Marian dogmas that separates the Catholic from Catholicism, but the denial of papal infallibility. It is very likely that one could present her conscience to the Marian dogmas without fear of excommunication (the angelic doctor did the same regarding the Immaculate Conception (IM) and there is no posthumous excommunication of the author of the Summa), but papal infallibility is another matter entirely.


Interestingly, both the modern Marian declarations and the pronouncement on papal infallibility share the theological arguments that their authority and effectiveness is the Holy Spirit, and therefore their content is free of error in their matter of faith and morals. Since papal infallibility limits itself to faith and morals, so should we, in presenting the IM to our consciences, limit ourselves to the tenets of faith and morals. For, in fact, that is precisely what Pius IX and Pius XII did in promulgating the dogmas.


Quite simply, Pio Nono polled the Catholic world and found unanimity about the doctrine of the IM, which is one of the oldest beliefs about Mary. The early Franciscans citied the terse logic of the Scholastics in validating the celebration of the feast of the IM: potuit, decuit, ergo fecit (He[God] could do it, it was fitting that he do it, therefore he did do it.) The pope merely promulgated as de fide what was already entrenched in  the sensus fidei and sensus fidelium. For all that unanimity, why punctuate with a solemn threat? Was it fear that the polls were inaccurate or fickle? Probably not, since the very ideas of the sensus fidei and s. fidelium precluded such a possibility. Was it that the doctrinal expression of the transhistorical operations of grace was incoherent? Probably not, especially if the essentially devotional logic of pdf were still operational (they must have been). Was it that papal infallibility had entered the magisterium in its hottest configuration (and to be officially promulgated within Pius IX's reign, at Vatican I, 15 years after the IM) and was doing its own presenting to the consciences of the Catholic world? While the other explanations cannot be excluded with absolute certainty, this last reason seems the best explanation, especially in light of the signs of the times, informed by the loss of the papal states and a general state of siege inaugurated by what was perceived as the creep of modernity.

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    2. Joseph:

      Here you say: " I argued it is the best evidence against a free will theodicy, it is the best case why Catholicism cannot maintain that God must tolerate sin, evil and guilt out of respect for our freedom or responsibility. I argued that it means God has the power and, in one case, the desire, to create a freedom as it was meant to be without destroying the validity of that freedom and without diminishing it at all."

      But in the comment I alluded to you said: " Mary was freed from original sin, and therefore the tendency to sin, before she was conscious of her own self, before she was even able to act as a free human being to accept or reject grace. This is why, technically, she isn't God's automaton. Her free actions later are completely free, but they are free acts freed from original sin by God's own will through the atemporal effect of Christ's grace."

      And further, you said: It's really quite an ingenious dogma. It has all the elements necessary to maintain Christian belief in our sinful nature and the absolute need of salvation, but it moves the pieces in, around and beyond time and space to completely transform how Mary's salvation actually works. Totally ingenious.

      It also is the best reason why Catholicism is bullshit and no one need ever suffer from evil again if God willed it. There is no reason why God could not do this for all of us, none whatsoever."

      Which is it? These last remarks do not argue against a free-will theodicy. And even if you intended to do so, why on earth would you argue against such a theodicy from Catholic Dogma?

      But, for the sake of moving on, I do see you offering a case against a 'freedom theodicy' that is dogmatically based. Were you a Catholic, you'd be on the firm ground of conscience, although I would point out a theological error: you cannot argue (in my reading of this point of theology) from the pre-existence of Christ. A 'pre-existence christology' posits the pre-existence of the Logos; it does not posit a pre-existent Jesus Christ. Why would this distinction be essential and not a quibble? Aside from rendering the Nestorian controversy unintelligible, it distorts Trinitarian theology: Christ can only be understood and the God-man, the hypostatic union. You doubtless agree with the theological point that the hypostatic union cannot logically co-exist within the hypostasis of the Logos (God-the son). In grace-theology, the single nature of the triune God certainly imparts grace, but only Christ, as the God-man gives unmerited sanctifying grace to Mary according to the dogma. Is it not important to distinguish the ahistorical Logos from the historical Christ, especially in light of your own argument, which essentially eradicates Christ from salvation history---leaving it to the pre-existent Logos (2nd person) to make it so that, not merely Mary (whose meaning and role is also obviated), but "Adam and Eve" would be given a sanctifying grace the would have pre-empted the "fall?"

      I would be better able to understand your argument if you would explain "freedom as it was meant to be," as the meaning of the phrase seems to inform every aspect of your argument.

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    3. Thanks for the Rahner quotation. Its content is indeed rather spectacular. I am unsure how it supports your case pleading for a "freedom as it was meant to be," mainly because it states that, by her very nature, Mary, is incapable of sin, of choosing evil, of saying "no" to God. If this means that Mary is guaranteed that her freedom is always and forever ordered to responsibility, then she would not exercise her freedom in a distorted way. If it means that she shares in the divine nature of being unfree to choose evil, then she becomes the 4th person of the Godhead. I will give this idea some more thought, as I don't know if created grace can impart uncreated grace according to the dogma. It seems unlikely though.

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    4. I am trying the decipher the phrase, "freedom as it was meant to be." Perhaps it is as simple as a consideration of a subversion of God's intent as manifested in some transgression of the relationality between the Creator and created.

      You stated: "There is no reason why all of us could not have been willed this way [like Mary--my insertion], not to make us biological mothers of Jesus Christ, but to make us pure, spiritual mothers of the Spirit, created by grace as accepting grace [all grace is irresistible--my insertion] and causing creation to be as God, so Christianity says, intended all along."

      By the phrase in question you might mean that God intended, "meant" freedom to be forever ordered to responsibility---ordered to the relationality of Creator to created. Though you despise recourse to the biblical myth, one could simply say that the 'disobedience' in Eden is a wound to that relationship. You say, yet do not argue, that God could have ordered grace as irresistible precluding any damage to the relationship. You say this, at least for this mariological topic, because the dogma performs just this maneuver of grace.

      Does your assertion here imply something contrary to biblical and theological fact, namely that God _did_ precisely what you assert, but because of the rejection of grace, the relationship was subverted through a distorted expression of graced freedom? You seem to take far greater liberties with 'time' than even the IM does (Christ event in time, Logos outside time). If I surmise correctly, God could have simply imputed an irresistible grace unilaterally within the rupture of the relationship between Creator and created, and that is "freedom as it was meant to be." I would grant that such might be 'what' God has intended and done, but it precludes any 'how' it might be done. It seems to preclude the Incarnation. This idea of grace might have some Reformed subtones in it, but it is not ultimately Christian (not Christocentric), and certainly not part of Catholicism's understanding of grace.

      If it is so, though, then salvation history would require little more than a one-sided series of reparations regardless of the ruptures initiated on the other side of the relationship. That idea seems problematic for any relationship as I have defined it in the pages of this blog. Do relationships work that way? Unconditional love notwithstanding, relationships are always 2-way streets, and they can be damaged without rendering love any less unconditional. Forgiveness can certainly be infinite, but it must always act in a relationship. Something must be breached for forgiveness to operate; yet your scenario implies a world and relationship where forgiveness does not exist, because the created partner in the relationship would be free from a free will that could will to injure the relationship. Somewhere in there is an argument against freedom and free will, but not an argument for a "freedom that was meant to be."

      As I note above, your "freedom as it was meant to be" requires another economy of salvation. The reality of 'sin' in the world, the reality of missing the mark, of injury to the relationship with God, seems to have driven another economy of salvation---the biblical, theological one. I do not mean to say that what you suggest is not possible, but that another possibility held sway, and is in fact, the case---the human condition.

      We are then left with the unlikely scenario that God willed that humans MUST reject grace (except Mary), as opposed to his will that they be radically free and might reject grace. And the 'evidence' you offer is that the IM 'proves' that in Mary's case, God willed that grace is irresistible, without prejudice to the merits of Christ.

      There's something very tautological about all this: for you by design, for me by response. This tells me we're not on a productive path, since neither of our styles values tautology.

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  6. Lots more here since I refreshed the page---I thought you concluded with 'a grace we've not been given.'

    Let me respond simply in the sequence of your comments.

    1. Rahner's is a great answer. His language here is distinct from that in FCF or his other seminal works, and his logic is more devotional than I am used to. I remain uncertain that the Incarnation was inevitable, though I am confident in the inevitability of redemption. Rahner makes some rather glib statements about the relationship of Jesus of Nazareth and the Logos, yet these are very much, as you say, within the theological milieu of Catholicism. Because he locates Mary in the elements of redemption (from the beginning), there really can be no division between redemption and the Incarnation. That's very...concise. [There is a comical side to my own rather bold claims about the relationship between the hypostatic union and the Trinity, both doctrines taking recourse to 'mystery' and 'incomprehensibility' in the Tradition. Why couldn't the hypostatic union be rationally united to the Logos within the triune God? It is no less of an aporia than the metahistorical operations of grace.]

    Locating the 'guilty beginning of humanity' in the deed of Adam is also the traditional view. Because Adam resisted sanctifying grace itself, a grace freely given him through the primordial friendship he enjoyed with God, a rupture in that relationship constituted the beginning of history. The implication is powerful---the ordering of freedom to responsibility is corruptible through the resisting of sanctifying grace by an irresponsible exercise of freedom.

    In Mary, sanctifying grace is radically irrevocable (dogma), and of a different order than the sanctifying grace enjoyed by Adam. By extension, Mary's freedom is radically and irrevocably ordered to the responsibility inherent in her relationship with God; clearly Mary's relationship with God is different that Adam's if sanctifying grace is immutable, or if the relationships are the same, then Adam enjoyed a lesser sanctifying grace than did Mary. Is there another possibility here? If not, I find a insoluble problem of relationality, grace or both, a problem that does not dissolve in Rahner's distinction of "God as beginning" and the "beginning posited by God" whether they are inseparable in Mary or subordinated to Christ or not. The problem cuts to the manner the IC is received (or not) and the validity of the doctrine beneath it. If we are the take the dogma as a gift, in its givenness, as I think we must if it is to call to us in the event, the overwrought metaphysics associated with the dogma cannot be sustained. In other words, the 'plain' language of the dogma cannot be received as such (any longer) and must be allowed to present to our experience as a phenomenon. Further I must distance myself from the traditional expression of the dogma, Rahner's presentation of it, and therefore your interpretation of it as theodicy, which questions the justice grounding the dogma: God could have made us just like Mary, but chose not to. He could have; it was fitting that he do it; [yet] he did [not] do it.

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    2. It is my fervent hope that Catholic theology is not forever and exclusively Thomistic. I love the Summa, but its language, entrenched in classical metaphysics, does not free us to receive the Tradition the way a we must---assuming Catholicism is a living, lived religion, and faith is a living and lived faith.

      Marion just might be the St Thomas of the 3rd millenium, and if so, I don't want to miss it. He has shown that with respect to phenomenality, effects are anterior to causes, that relationship is anterior to individuation. So, if he has not distanced himself from metaphysics by declaration (like Latour), he has subverted, and certainly inverted the categories of metaphysics. So, it might be that what he has done is give us a para- or a meta- or a reverse metaphysics.

      If he has succeeded, and I think he has (if for no other reason than that his method is productive), he has located a place within theology where religious experience becomes real. He ingeniously side-steps the conceptual idolatry of the analogy of being that informs every corner of metaphysics, and allow theology to finally free itself from philosophy.

      Marion's new phenomenology is not so much a system of thought, as it is something one does, performs. The result: the release of the event, the actuation of saturated phenomena. He relegates metaphysics to philosophy, where it belongs, to consider 'being qua being.'

      In short, is he has given us a God without being.

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    3. I should clarify: when I say the religious experience becomes *real* when understood through phenomenology, I mean that a new relationship between phenomenality and materiality is emerging---that an unexpected materiality of religious experience makes an appearance. I think Levi Bryant is working some of this notion lately.

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  7. 2. Now some sticky stuff. You noted that "God willed humans with a freedom weak enough to reject grace, not necessarily that they must have." I get the message here, but I would have phrased it as a freedom strong enough, willful enough to reject grace.

    What I want to suggest here is that the sanctifying grace enjoyed by Mary and Adam is identical as is their relationship with God, and by so saying the dogma of the IC can still be received.

    Your point, and I have always understood it and assumed it in my remarks, is that God, in an unjust manner and in a manner inconsistent with God as proclaimed with profound claims for his Godhead, denied the grace he freely gave to Mary to Adam, and of course, to the rest of us.

    I am suggesting that the IC is not unique to Mary, regardless of its horizon (take your pick: being, love, consciousness, givenness), and I suggest this in a manner that does not deny the dogma, but embraces it in its givenness, and further that this manner is without prejudice to the redemption, Incarnation, Mary's freedom, her fiat, her 'yes' as all of these participate in the uniqueness of the Christ event and her own uniqueness.

    Had Rahner access to the 3rd reduction to givenness (God knows, he had recourse to the reductions to consciousness and being), he would be free of the tautologies in his Mariology, and free of the metaphysics that confound rather than illuminate. I hold him blameless in this regard.

    Permit me the mythos of Genesis; I think it will help the clarity of what's coming. Adam and Eve are from the moment of their conception free of original sin and enjoy sanctifying grace in complete friendship with God. They are incapable of saying 'no' to God. Until they say no to God by saying 'yes' to knowledge. By saying 'yes' to knowing good and evil, they chose to 'know' in a way injurious to and outside their relationship with God. They short-circuited their perfection (their moral course through life) by going around sanctifying grace by seeking the good (concupiscence).

    You anticipate well when you invite me to say that "Mary does not have this radical freedom." I would not make the point in that way. I would say that Adam and Mary share in that selfsame radical freedom enjoyed alongside the selfsame sanctifying grace because they share an immaculate conception, just not an IC dogmatically defined. "If anyone says that Adam was immaculately conceived and therefore enjoyed the sanctifying grace enjoyed by Mary, anathema sit." I am suggesting that such a hypothetical anathema anathematizes the whole Church, because it is de fide that Adam enjoyed the same unbranded sanctifying grace.

    Obviously I have not worked all this out, but the effort might open the event of the IC in a way that obviates the theodical problem. That seems like a worthwhile effort.

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  8. 3. I do not think Rahner refers to a 'guilty creation,' nor do I think you are misreading Rahner when you say that. We agree that Rahner locates the guilt in the birth of human history as Adam's deed. You further summarize his point: "the Logos was eternally willed to unite with a human nature, that human nature had to come from a pure, sinless and guiltless source. Had sin not occurred, we wouldn't have noticed the IC, but in the context of a guilty creation, this pure source necessary to unite the Logos with a physical, biological and historical human nature stands out among the rest AS pure and sinless."

    I disagree with Rahner here that the Incarnation was eternally ordered to a human nature. Not only would we not 'notice the IC' if sin had not occurred, we would not have noticed the Incarnation---which is not to say we would not have noticed some other form of redemption. Certainly Aquinas (S.T., III iii), siding with Augustine, notes that, had there been no sin, there would be no Incarnation. I share this fundamental view with these two theologians.

    4. In response to your statement: "This is the nonsense from you I am talking about: When did I say Mary was divine? Where? When? I never implied such a thing....Mary is guaranteed her freedom was forever ordered to responsibility, and this was a grace, a gift from God. Why couldn't God given this grace to all of us in the first place? THAT is the point.

    I answer: Despite the harshness of your tone, I accept that you were not explicitly uniting Mary to the Godhead. Yet, the phrase you used, "freedom as it was meant to be" has a theodical thrust---God should have ordered all human freedom to Mary's if he were a just God. I now know that you meant the phrase as referring to God's original intent for humanity.

    Against your objection, here is the logic of interpreting Mary's incapability of choosing evil, or sinning: Uncreated grace is the grace that informs the relationality within the triune God. The impossibility of the Godhead to choose or enact evil is characteristic of the divine nature only---a de fide belief that applies only to the uncreated order. If 'grace' is the reason for the impossibility of Mary to choose evil or sin, that grace is not merely created, sanctifying grace; it can only be the uncreated grace that belongs to divine nature alone. If Mary is the recipient of uncreated grace that makes it impossible by her nature to choose or enact evil, then she must be within the Godhead. To the extent that this idea might have been informed by "freedom as it was meant to be," I mentioned it as a possible dimension to that phrase.

    5. In response to 'Why couldn't God given this grace to all of us in the first place? THAT is the point,' I think you know where I'm headed: he *did* in creation by virtue of an immaculately created Adam and Eve living in the sanctifying grace of total friendship with God. And even after the fall, he repeated it through the obverse Adam and Eve---Christ and Mary, imparting sanctifying grace sacramentally (again, a little tolerance for mythos---it keeps things clearer).

    6. A better problem is not why did God not impart the same privilege to us as he did Mary, but why were there 2 outcomes to the same grace?

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    2. Suspending for a moment the possibility that God's love is limited, any friendship with him would be based on how we experience him as absolute mystery or as the Other. Any relationship orders a self to an Other, and as I've noted before, a self ordered to an Other implies an ethical or moral dimension that informs the relationship. So the "rules" that inform the relationship between a self and an Other constitute the obligation such a relation would imply.

      I don't know how easy the Catholic answer is to the question of grace vis a vis Mary and Adam. While it's true I have juxtaposed the grace each receives, I did not invent the grace itself. For me, what unites the grace of Adam and Mary is it is purely *given*---it is not sacramentally received as we might receive grace. This observation compels me to side-step the more obvious solution that there is a difference in character between Mary's and Adam's grace. Still less obvious, is while Adam did misuse his freedom with respect to his relationship with God, I wonder how that relates to his purely given sanctifying grace.

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    5. These are good points all. The relationship between God and humanity is certainly lopsided and inescapably covenantal. The relationship's commonality is love, and love, I would think, brings with it a very special kind of moral dimension that is *like* the relationships we experience of love. If God's version of love is really as capricious as it appears in the opening to the book of Job, then God's love is like only a pathological love humans might have: abusive, dominating, conditional. But, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, the God revealed in Christ is not like that at all. And a critical view of the OT would also demonstrate that as well.

      "Sin is as obscure as grace." You said it, brother.

      And the theology of grace seems always to be a machine revving itself into burnout. I am trying to get past all that heat and smoke and look at the problem another way.

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  9. 7. You might be inclined to view these remarks as overwrought on their own: that I've overplayed Mary's incapability of saying 'no' or choosing evil to keep her out of the Godhead. Yet, a radical inability to choose or enact evil seems an awful lot like the operation of the uncreated grace in the triune relationality. I am averting a Marian maximalism here, a Mariolatry that would constitute a horrible misreading of the IC that nonetheless is rooted in the dogma itself. I admit this is all surmise and perhaps even unfortunate speculation. But it opens the door to solving the conundrum of Mary being like unto us save for sin. That is too close to what's going on in the hypostatic union for my tastes.

    Isn't it at least possibly consistent with Catholic thinking about Mary that she experienced simple concupiscence---a simple desire to seek the good? If she were cold, would she not find a blanket; if she were outside in the rain, would she not seek to be inside? No one questions her need for redemption *through the incarnation*, or the fact that she *was* redeemed by Christ her son. So, just how different is her 'yes' to God from Adam's 'no'? Is it at the level of freedom? Grace? Person? Nature? The dogma answers none of these questions so they are open to any Catholic conscience seeking to be 'gifted'. For you as an atheist and ex-Catholic, this is all an academic exercise and a review of Catholic theology for its own sake. For me it's something else. For you it's theodicy that assures you that there is no God. For me it's a theology that opens me up to the event.

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    3. I'll reply here, after Ahab, is it seems a reasonable place, though elsewhere would have worked.

      Why Mary's concupiscence? For St. Augustine, mainly. Original Sin's lasting impression is a bad version of concupiscence, sexually transmitted (pooh), that predisposes us hopelessly, it would seem, to sin. Once I get Mary on the playing field of concupiscence, I think I'm better positioned to look at her in terms of the 'difference' of grace---the difference between hers and Adam's. My task is to relocate/dislocate that difference from grace itself and find it again in her motherhood of Jesus. From your comments, I'm not succeeding. What would make this transition palatable to you? I have located sanctifying grace in Adam by de fide dogma, and we're looking at sanctifying grace in another de fide dogma. I am trying to say that grace is one and the same by pulling on what I view as an inconsistency in the dogma of sanctifying grace. In particular, I am showing that while 'we' are able to receive such grace sacramentally, and therefore in a different manner than Mary and Adam, Mary and Adam received this grace *precisely* the same way, through the Logos, in a metahistorical and atemporal manner.

      I am trying to find a logic in this crisis.

      Perhaps it rests with Ahab.

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