As we sat in class discussing the Castilian apparitions, a pattern began to come forth. In a nutshell, Mary appears to a poor layman and asks him to go to those in power and instruct them to build a structure for the betterment of the people as well as an act of devotion to her. However, when they do, there is disbelief and intense questioning. Here is where I would like to ask a very simple question: Why? Why the disbelief? Why the inquisition? Why IS there this legalistic aspect suddenly against the laymen and not against (or at least not to the same intensity) those like Elizabeth of Schonau or Gertrude of Helfta?
As was discussed in class, Elizabeth of Schonau and Gertrude of Helfta were both faithful to the liturgy and received their apparitions while deep in said liturgy. In contrast, we see these laymen at work, doing daily tasks in very humble settings, out in the countryside, not in a physical or spiritual state for the liturgy. No church, just sheep. No liturgy, just mundane conversations with friends. And yet, Mary appears and communicates with these folks. With this in mind, I propose a couple possibilities as to the reasoning for the questioning.
The first is a psychological/theological one. These are ordinary laymen with no spiritual training who suddenly receive these apparitions of Mary. I can imagine the priests asking themselves and even each other, “How do these ordinary folk know they’ve seen Mary in an apparition?” (It was explained in class that they must have known it was Mary because of the ubiquitous amount of Marian statues in and around town.) I believe that the inquisition of these laymen could have support if they were simply trying to verify that the visions seen were of Mary. The priests, who more than likely have at least heard of other priestly visions if not they have not themselves seen apparitions, will know what to look for in these visions in order to verify that the layman has seen actually Mary. They need to make sure of this because if they simply go on this untrained layman, they could very easily be falling into a theological trap (or even a physical one at that) by following a lunatic.
The second possible reasoning for the questioning has its base in the heart of the inquisitor. Could it be possible that those questioning the layman, or those who try to stand in the way of the layman getting his message across, have never themselves seen a vision? I am not claiming that any one of the inquisitors definitely has this sort of malice or jealousy in their heart but I am bringing up something that could very easily be looked over when looking at a story like this. For example, I am thinking about the servants of the Bishop from the Juan Diego story. They were made fools of themselves because they lost Juan Diego as they were attempting to follow him. As a result, “they put into his [the Bishop’s] head that he shouldn’t believe him (Juan Diego), they told him he was only telling him lies, that we was making up what he cam eto tell him, or that he was only dreaming or imagining what he was telling him, what he was asking of him” (177). Do they put this idea into the mind of the Bishop simply because they lost Juan Diego? Or is there an underlying envy towards Juan Diego for seeing a vision before them, the faithful servants of the “Reverend Bishop?”
But then this also brings up a slight tangent that I think would be interesting to bring up here. If Mary is supposed to be relatable and approachable, as we had seen going back to the readings from Mater dolorosa, why does it seem that Mary appears only in liturgical practices up until now (or at least in what we’ve read thus far for class)? It would make sense that Mary, humble servant that she is, would meet the lowly, poor, and marginalized where they are, just as the angle Gabriel did to her. She was, traditionally, doing simple household chores when she was met by Gabriel and conceived by the Holy Spirit with Christ. Why would Mary only meet those in a specific spiritual state when she herself wasn’t at the start of her glorious 9 month journey?
This is not to say that the pious should cease being pious. It is very clear that Mary rewards those who have been faithful to her and her Son through serving the Church and the needy. Obviously, Mary would not appear and call out to those who WON’T serve the Church to build her churches and memorials. But why leave out those who can’t serve the Church for various reasons? Those that CAN’T serve the Church shouldn’t be left to the side simply because they can’t make it to church or are too poor to help out the Church.
To bring it back, these questions might have a deeper reasoning than simple curiosity on the part of the inquisitor. But here we throw in another wrench into this large machine that is the inquisition of the layman. If the priests confirm that it was in fact Mary that the layman saw, why ask for more proof? Why does Juan Diego need to bring back the flowers? It is obvious that it is unbelief but why? Is it shock that a layman truly did see Mary? IS it jealousy? These are the questions I would like to see the inquisitors answer.