Tuesday, June 30, 2015

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

In our discussion on "Haunted," our interlocutor generously provided the key text of the promulgation of the Immaculate Conception (IM):

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of Original Sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

—Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus

As I noted in the discussion that ensued,  we must bear in mind that the Marian dogmas are about Mary, not about us. They take nothing from us, and the de fide claims for Mary are not at our expense, our experience of grace or our relationship with Christ and the Catholic Church. We receive the dogmas as gifts, and we accept them as such or at our own theological peril. The IM in particular has far-reaching ramifications for the theology of grace and nature, and it underscores a difference in the economy of grace for Mary and the rest of us. But it is still the same grace, and we, too, in Baptism, become free from Original Sin (OS). Like Mary, we still answer to the effects of OS (i.e., suffering, death) regardless of the sanctifying grace sacramentally given to us, or the unmediated grace given to her.

Mariology is thoroughly christological: none of the Marian dogmas are intelligible or even remotely coherent apart from the Christ-event. All her uniqueness, singularity and privilege derive from her maternal relationship to Jesus. The IM in particular has always been understood in terms of her being the god-bearer, the mother of God,  the mother of the Lord. Only after a strong rooting in the fact of her motherhood of Jesus, can anything about Mary enter theology.

The Church views Mary as singularly different, privileged because she alone carried the Word made flesh inside her very body, her very person. Because the Christ-event itself is unique, so too, is Mary. Jesus could only have one historical mother. Her singularity anchors into that singular historical foundation for her attributes in dogmatic theology. She is full of grace because she bore within in her the very source of grace. Her singular experience of grace is visited upon her own conception in the divine proclamation of the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15. Her conception in the divine imagination is in direct nexus with graced image and likeness enjoyed by the biblical characters, Adam and Eve: theologically speaking.


In is on this basis that most Catholics accept the Marian dogmas. Mary captures the Catholic imagination because she is experienced as a human phenomenon, certainly not the saturated phenomenon of the icon that bedazzles the intuition ducking the aim of intentionality, but perhaps as an idol, saturated by the reflection of the gaze of her fellow humans. This characterization likely explains the ease by which she so easily enters the s. fidei and s. fidelium. She is not divine, and like nature itself, is open to free inquiry and the freedom of the imagination. At every juncture, though, she opens the door to that saturated phenomenon par excellence, Christ; and that is the raison d'etre for her place in Catholic theology. She allows Christ to 'make sense' in the very world, the very history, which all Catholics inhabit. Mary's ''yes'' to God does not merit for her any special grace, for all grace is totally gratuitous and freely given by God alone (not to mention the inherent Pelagianism in such a thought). Rather, Mary's "yes" to God opens for Catholics access to the possibility of the impossible, a "yes" opens upon the horizon of sanctifying grace.

And yet, lest we fall into an unnecessary triumphalism, for those who struggle with the dogmas as Catholics, or for that matter, as atheists buttressing their arguments against the existence of God and the validity of Catholicism in particular and religion in general, we cannot dismiss the problems presented by the gymnastics of the theology of grace at work in the IM, or in the devotional logics of pdf. The trans-, or meta-historical workings of grace require a nuanced approach not always available to Catholics of conscience. The theodical elements of potuit, decuit, ergo fecit, will forever delight or torture thoughtful atheists, because each element challenges every claim made about the theistic God. 

The IM unifies the concept of grace as the totality of God's actus purus. Taken in its pure givenness, the IM enables the ''gifted'' with all humility to participate in the grace of God in a very complete way. Whether through the thorough-going Christology of the Angelus, or the Hallelujah of the Magnificat, Mary the idol, through the porosity of grace, always opens us up to icon of the Logos.

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