Marian Metaphysics

Marian Theology“This invocation may serve as the introduction and conclusion of this study: Mary is the Mother of Faith, and therefore the Magistra theologia par excellence, the model and guide and final support of all who study or teach about God. Without her love and active involvement in our lives, and a corresponding love and unconditional docility on our part, there can be no theology worthy of the name.

For some time now there has been a tendency abroad, in Catholic as well as non-Catholic circles, to minimize as much as possible, and even eliminate the place of Mary in theology, of which the latest, but by no means the only example, is the volume edited by R. Brown, Mary in the New Testament. It is claimed that the Scriptures provide relatively little evidence of a factual kind for the life and work of Mary, far less than is available for the person of Peter, itself little enough, and certainly woefully inadequate as a viable intellectual basis for the mariological superstructure that Catholic tradition has built up over the ages and has, in substance, passed on as dogma. While pious accommodation would like to discover a scriptural basis for subsequent developments, the minimizers go on ‘modern scientific method’ quite unable to remove all doubt. We are told in effect that if the old axiom, de Maria numquam satis, might still be valid for the devotional ends, it has no place in the scholarly theology.

It seems, however, to others (including myself) that ‘modern scientific method’ has accomplished little else theologically except to reformulate the old axiom without the final satis so as to read: de Maria numquam. Form an orthodox point of view, the results have been predictable: nothing about God either.

Whatever the immediate sources of this attitude, it is neither my direct purpose to analyze nor to refute the errors contained therein. I only mention what has far more amply been documented by others, in order to clarify the theme I am about to sketch. The old axiom, de Maria numquam satis, is perfectly sound and absolutely essential, not only to Mariology but to theology as a whole. For Mary is indeed a primary teacher of theology. This is no more than aspect of her role as Mediatrix of all grace, including the grace of faith which, on our part, corresponds to that hyperdulia, a unique and total dedication engaging all our personal powers, intellectual as well as affective, in a manner beyond compare.

Maria conservabat omnia verba hoc, conferens in corde suo. The reflection or pondering of Mary on the word of God is a positive influence on our own. And since Mary, in the terms of my thesis, is not simply a subordinate or incidental pedagogue, but a primary exponent of the Sacred Page, for the Church as well as for the Christian, it is the nature of theology to be Marian in character, with the tendency of sound theological thought to reflect her personal influence as teacher, the more it progresses. Our theology can be what it is, the knowledge of God, because of her unique place in God’s love and her delight to be with the children of men. Far from being minimally present in the pages of Revelation, her presence pervades these sources as no other except her Son’s. She is a person very much a part of the lumen quo theologie. If that presence – so transparent by nature – is not clear, then the difficulty is not with the content of Revelation, but with the reader. He does not know how to read, let alone read between the lines. Ignorance of Mary is ignorance of the nature of theology; a neglect of Mary is in effect the cultivation of theological blindness, doubt and despair. The bankruptcy of the ‘modern scientific method,’ so well described by E. Mascall, has its roots here. Theology as an intellectual activity is not scientific. It is not scientific because, in the first instance, it deals with a person, Christ, not bare facts. And in the second instance, it is not scientific, because it does not deal with Christ impersonally, but reverentially, as did and does Mary: in a word, because it is Marian.

The alternative is not anti-intellectual, pragmatic, sentimental, or pietistic. Here again I would add: precisely because sound theological method is Marian. My aim is to show that Mary is a unique teacher of theology without whom we would understand nothing of God, because she is full of grace, the Immaculate, who, in the words of Hopkins, ‘lets all God’s glory through, God’s glory which would go through her and from her flow off, and no way but so.’ And did she not, like air, ‘make this bath of blue and slake his fire, the sun would shake, a blear and blinding ball with blackness bound, and all the thick stars round him roll flashing like flecks of coal, quarts-fret, or sparks of salt, in grimy vasty vault.’ Further, my aim is to note that the implications for theological method can best be described with John Duns Scotus, whose name is so intimately linked with the doctrinal exposition of this primordial mystery. Paradoxically, the most metaphysical of theologians is also the one who insisted most strongly on the ‘unscientific’ or authoritarian-dogmatic and practical character of our theology as wisdom, in contrast to science. Sound theology is metaphysical in this way, because it is Marian. Metaphysical subtlety is the tool we possess to understand the profoundly cognitive value of an exercise different in so many ways from what we are accustomed to in the ‘academy.’ That metaphysical subtlety is difficult for us, is not the fault of sound metaphysics, but the fault of a vision unaccustomed to light. And if our knowledge of God – metaphysical in character – is the center and clarification of all striving to understand reality from within, i.e., as intelligible a parte rei, then Hopkins has caught and well expressed the link between metaphysics and Mary Immaculate when he describes Scotus as the man ‘who of all men most sways my spirits to peace; of reality that rarest-veined unraveller; a not rivaled insight, but rival Italy or Greece, who fired France for Mary without spot.’

My thesis is this: Mary is in a preeminent way our teacher of theology, directly and intimately involved in any fruitful pursuit of this activity, because she is the Immaculate Conception, therefore Mediatrix of all grace. Hence the understanding of her involvement is the key factor in determining the nature and methods of this activity. Without her engagement, this activity is sterile; and without understanding of her activity, we cannot fully grasp what it is we are doing when we practice theology.

Formulated syllogistically the theme might go like this:

Major: Who enjoys a plenitude of perfection in any order is the source in that order of the same perfection for others.

Minor: Mary enjoys a fullness of grace in the spiritual order of knowing and loving God.

Conclusion: Mary is the source of spiritual perfection in that order for others, i.e., for believers in God.

So formulated, the argument affirms that Mary, in virtue of the Immaculate Conception, enjoys a primacy in the order of theological learning. The primacy gives her a teaching role in the lives of all others who seek to know God.

– Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, Mary and Theology: Scotus Revisited –

Dr. J. Isaac Goff presents a paper on Marian Metaphysics:

 

– Lucas G. Westman


*The Fehlner essay is found in The Newman-Scotus Reader: Contexts and Commonalities

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