Thursday, April 26, 2012

Understanding Mary

Wednesday’s readings differed from Monday’s readings in almost every way. Mary was seen as personal and relatable as she discussed her experience witnessing the Crucifixion of her son. Details were given to make us relate to her sorrow and it was easy to follow along. Now Mary is elevated and sometimes is not seen as a woman. Wednesday’s readings were difficult to follow along and had to be read slowly so you can comprehend the metaphors and contemplate what the meanings were. Why were they so hard?

I think they were particularly difficult because they were portraying difficult themes and concepts. The major themes discussed in these songs were the Incarnation, Mary as the New Eve, and Mary’s virginity. All these have been focused on in class before, and are all connected to each other, but when you think about it, it’s hard to grasp. Therefore, as we listened to the slow melody of one of them, Ave Generosa (Hildegard’s Symphonia number 17), we had time to let the words sink in to us. Furthermore, the music would react to the words in the song, like the word joy, which helps direct us to the crucial parts of the song and helps us understand what is meaningful. The Incarnation made the Word into Flesh and Mary is so important because she contained the Uncontainable. The many metaphors reinforce this idea and drive it home with repetition. We are left with no doubt of Mary’s importance as she is the one who enables us to be redeemed us after Eve made us fall.

Speaking of Eve, the songs refer to Mary as being present at the moment of creation with God. This portrayal of her is that she is Wisdom. Frauenlob’s Marienleich is rich in this theme. Mary is more than a person here. She is cosmological and she transcends the natural realm as is evident from talk about the sun and moon. She is no longer someone we can relate directly with, as on Monday because she is elevated. How do we relate to her then? This question is hard to answer because before she is our mother, but now she seems to have more of a divine status. Instead of identifying with her, we honor and praise her. That’s the best answer I can think of really, but it raises the concern of worshipping Mary. She refers to herself as almost divine when she discusses her relationship with the Trinity but it had to be clear that she was not divine otherwise that is heresy.

St. Paul identified Christ as Wisdom. (1 Cor. 1:24) I was looking at pictures portraying Mary as Sedes Sapientiae and found images similar to the famous Virgin and Child Enthroned images. That’s when I realized that Jesus, or Wisdom, is seated on Mary’s lap, making her the Seat of Wisdom, or Sedes Sapientiae. Why does it seem that Mary is calling herself Wisdom though? Since Mary is the Mother of Christ, then that would make her Lady Wisdom then, which might be why she is referred to as Wisdom. This concept would have had to be understood otherwise it sounds somewhat heretical to place Mary this high up.

What I like about these sets of readings is how Mary is given all these titles. She’s a virgin, a bride, a mother, Lady Wisdom, and the New Eve. So many themes are woven into these songs. We get a sense of her whole being and her role in salvation instead of an intense focus on a part of her life. Most of the metaphors and allusions can be found in the Bible, especially the Song of Songs. We also get a sense of why she deserves praise and honor because she has a role in everything. All this takes thought and contemplation so the songs make us stop and process all this and helps us understand why she needs so much praise.

Walt Wimborne discusses in Ave Virgo Mater Christi that no amount of praise for Mary will ever be enough. The distinction must be kept in mind between praise and worship. While Mary is many things, she is still a creation. Yet she deserves praises because she plays a huge role in the salvation process. She’s a virgin, but became a mother. She is the bearer of God. That certainly deserves praise. She is our mother and can intercede and pray for us which Walt demonstrated. A phrase from class which really stuck with me was “How do you describe in words the one who gave birth to the Word?” I’ve been thinking about that and it is completely true! How does one honor the person who brought Christ into this world? Not only that, but she works with us and prays for us. How do we thank her enough?

The answer of why these songs are so difficult to comprehend is that they have so many underlying themes. If a person could guess where all the allusions and metaphors are from, that would be pretty awesome. We know they are found in Scripture and the liturgies. The Marian Psalters were broken into divisions of fifty and that how we pray the rosary-Mary’s prayer. I think about this and I wonder why many people today do not recognize Mary’s role in our salvation or how her obedience is another fulfillment of the Old Testament. I see why it is easy to confuse her human status with a more divine sense, but it seems to me that her role is central to the Christian faith.



  1. KP: Regarding your statements that, as Wisdom “Mary is more than a person here. She is cosmological and she transcends the natural realm as is evident from talk about the sun and moon,” I am sympathetic (as I mentioned in a previous comment). However, recall that Mary’s being cosmological does not extract her from the natural realm (as you mention in your review of Walter of Wimborne). Still, I am in agreement with your general direction concerning how “unrelatable” Mary may seem in writings like those of Frauenlob.

    In this vein, I find your explanation of Mary as “Sedes Spaientiae” as helpful and convincing.

    Is Walter of Wimborne’s wrestling with “describing in words the one who gave birth to the Word” the same problem as wrestling with “how . . . one honor[s] the person who brought Christ into this world?” I am not sure that they are, but I am willing to be convinced.

    P.S. I like your “Walt Wimborne,” like Walt Whitman. Is this a common way to refer to him, of which I am not aware?

  2. I, too, found these concepts very interesting. First off, in our discussion in class, I enjoyed hearing others' opinions on the idea that some say Mary should be above suffering at the Crucifixion because she knew her Son was dying for mankind's sins. However, Jesus was her SON, and she his MOTHER. This fully reveals the human side of Christ and the very natural, human relationship between Christ and his mother. Mary was in agony as she witnessed her son's brutal death, as any mother would be. Behind his holiness and power, he is just her son. This, I feel, really illustrates Mary's mothering character and nature. She is the mother of us all.
    Secondly, I would agree that we owe Mary so much. Her strength and compassion are beyond comparable. How can one human woman hold so much spiritual strength and yet mantain all physical human qualities? She raised and loved a son with all her heart that she knew she was going to have to watch die, yet she did this for us. The worst feeling for a mother is to watch your child die, and Mary did just this for all of us. How can we hold her strength? How can we repay her? I think by living our lives full of love, in the way she did, that is the best tribute we can pay her.


  3. I liked your discussion of Walter of Wimborne’s work about how Mary deserves boundless praise because of the role she played in the process of salvation. You mention her position as mother, intercessor, and the bearer of salvation. Your concept of her “role” made me consider what sort of agency is attributed to Mary by her described participation. The first stanza calls her the “phoenix of virgins” (1:3), which is interesting because it calls to mind an idea of motion. She is rising from the ashes to a new life. In stanza nine she is said to “drive far away the ancient gall of death and sorrow” (9:2-3) indicating that she is an active force in the salvation. She is also called the “saw of death” (10:1), which seems fairly disturbing but also suggests that it is she who opened the way for salvation. Walter also has many references to Mary as the container of the uncontainable “box of money” (5:3), “cell of the Word, concealing the light beam of deity” (8:1-2), and “you who are the divine object of glory, its little nest and vaulted room” (55:2-3), which adds an interesting dynamic to his conception of Mary. It seems that for Walter, Mary’s role is both as the container and the one who releases salvation from said container. This notion of Mary cracking herself open to let the Word out into the world stood out to me as a fairly unique take on Mary’s position that adds a new layer to the reasons for her worship.


  4. I liked your emphasis on Mary's role as well. Yes, I think that this is a very good way of distinguishing what it is that Walter was trying to get at. We are not trying to worship Mary, we are trying to praise her--but how can you praise her enough? Very nicely spotted on the statues: in the Met images, they were labelled as "the Virgin and Child Enthroned," but their technical name is more properly "Sedes sapientiae," "Throne of Wisdom." As you rightly say, the metaphors are hard because the concept is hard. What does it mean to say that Mary gave birth to the Word by whom the whole world was created? A mystery, indeed!


  5. Just as Walter says, Mary does deserve an unrestricted amount of praise, but what I liked most about your blog was the mentioning of the various titles you have given to Mary, most especially Wisdom. The mystery surrounding Mary and the birth of Jesus will be impossible to grasp as humans on Earth. As you said in your post, "How do you describe in words the one who gave birth to the Word?" The answer is that we can't...but I can't help but wonder, did Mary understand it all while she was on Earth? Was her grace so abundant that wisdom did allow for her to clearly understand what God asked of her role? If the answer to this last question is yes then it does make sense to give Mary the title "Mother of Wisdom". If God is the truth, and wisdom is the understanding of the truth, then one who understands God has wisdom. And what is the catalyst to understanding? Grace. Thus, Mary, the container of grace beyond human comparison is the leading example of wisdom for humanity - the Mother of Wisdom. With the title "Mother of Wisdom" however, we come back to the mystery yet again: Mary executed the wisdom to understand God through her grace and gave birth to the God whom she understood. Mystery and Beauty at its finest.