Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mary as Mother, Daughter and Spouse of the Holy Trinity

Describing the relationship between the Blessed Virgin Mary and the three persons of the Holy Trinity is a theme that seems to run through all four of the reading selections.

I would like use a section of the Rosary as prayed in some traditions (I have translated into English myself, please excuse any minor errors) as a guide for thinking about the types of relationships these authors describe in their writing.

“Dios te salve, María Santísima, Hija de Dios Padre ,
Virgen purísima antes del parto, en tus manos encomiendo
nuestra fe para que la ilumines, llena eres de gracia ....etc.

Dios te salve, María Santísima, Madre de Dios Hijo,
Virgen purísima en el parto. en tus manos encomiendo nuestra
esperanza para que la alientes , llena eres de gracia .....etc.

Dios te salve, María Santísima, Esposa de Dios Espíritu Santo,
Templo y Sagrario de la Beatísima Trinidad, Virgen concebida sin
mancha del pecado original, Virgen purísima después del parto,
 en tus manos encomiendo nuestra caridad para que la inflames,
llena eres de gracia ... etc.”

“Hail Mary most Holy, Daughter of God the Father,
Virgin most pure before the birth, in your hands I trust our faith
so that you may enlighten it, full of grace…. etc

Hail Mary, most Holy, Mother of God the Son,
Virgin most pure during the birth, in your hands I trust our hope
So that you may (breathe life into it?), full of grace….etc

Hail Mary, most Holy, Spouse of God the Holy Spirit,
Temple and Tabernacle of the most Holy Trinity,
Virgin conceived without stain of original sin,
Virgin most pure after the birth, in your hands I trust our charity
So that you may inflame it, full of grace….etc”

I do not know if these prayers or portions of the rosary were around [when] Elizabeth of Schönau, Saint Gertrude, Mechtild of Magdeburg or Saint Bridget were writing or if they would’ve have thought about them while writing. It did however provide a useful guide to me for thinking about the questions that might arise in these readings. The language of this prayer seems to reflect some of the themes that these women writers include.

On page 132 of the selection of Saint Gertrude’s writing, she says “ whoever suffers may say confidently with all truth : “My Lord Jesus Christ has espoused me to Him with his ring”… “He has adorned me with a crown as His spouse”.  If we think about Mary’s suffering as described in the Revelations of Saint Bridget and of other writers, we can see the suffering that St. Gertrude may be referencing here. The lance that pierced Christ’s side also pierced Mary’s heart (St.Bridget, 51). Sharing in Christ’s suffering and His death allows “whoever suffers” to share in his resurrection and everlasting life. St Gertrude seems to aim that “espousal” more toward herself, at least in chapter II of this selection, however the language she uses may allow us to include that “espousal” or sharing of pain and life to Mary.

St. Bridget compares Mary to the Temple of Solomon. She hints at the idea that God dwelled among His, as in the temple of Jerusalem. Likewise, Mary being the “Temple and Tabernacle of the most Holy Trinity” and whose “body was made the temple of the Deity” (St. Bridget,pg 70) secured the presence of God among His people. Mary thus not only becomes a human with a human-like relationship (such as daughter, wife or mother) but also a vessel that contains God or a gate through which God enters.  Mary in relation to Christ, is seen as the container or bearer of God.  In St Bridget’s writing, Mary’s role as mother of Christ and Mother of God is emphasized in the characteristic description of Mary’s suffering and sacrifice for her son. Mary “was like a woman in childbirth” after being so aggravated and torn in watching her Son’s passion,  yet she also “rejoices” in knowing that He will not return to the misery to which He came from (59, 60). Here, St. Bridget shows Mary as the earthly Mother of Christ, but at the same time presents her as an enlightened soul in the way that her earthly suffering and motherly pain of seeing her son so brutally tortured and killed are not able to quench her rejoicing in knowing that Christ will regain life. Likewise, in Mechtild’s writing, God speaks at the heavenly mass where the poor little girl is present, God Himself addresses Mary present at the mass and calls her Mother as did Christ throughout His life (pg. 75).

The Holy Spirit “espouses” Mary in St. Bridget’s writing (pg 23) as does the Holy Trinity in Mechtild’s writing (pg. 50).  In Elizabeth’s writing Mary is like Christ, a parallel of Christ in a sense. Christ’s role as supreme priest is imitated by Mary (p 47, Elizabeth) when she wears the priestly chasuble. Elizabeth, thus presents Mary not only as Mother but also as imitator of Christ. Mary reveals to Elizabeth specific details about her life among these that she was raised by Christ after her death (page, 211), furthering the parallel between Mary and Christ. 



  1. In answer to your (implied) question, no, such rosary prayers would not have been around in Elisabeth's, Mechthild's, or Gertrude's day, although by Birgitta's, the rosary itself was starting to take shape (it is a complicated history), but certainly the imagery that they invoke in their visions is clearly still present in the rosary prayer that you cite. But, as we have seen, most of these images were likewise very old: Mary is hailed as "bride" in the Akathistos hymn as well as tabernacle and ark (among many other images!). The startling thing is not that these images are present in the women's visions, but what they do with them. How do each of our authors use these traditional images differently? Does it really help us to group them together in this way?


  2. E.A.T.: With your rosary translation and question about whether it was practiced at the time of Elisabeth, Mechthild, Gertrude and Bridget, your post addresses a recurrent theme in the course, which is the historical “directionality” of tradition, religious practice, doctrine, etc. In any case, practice and belief, or verbal description are intertwined and recursively influential.

    In another vein, recalling previous discussions that we have had, you seem comfortable with Mary as both container and gate. I like your connection of Mary as mother and imitator of Christ. This certainly seems a major vein in the development of Mariology. You mention Mary imitating Christ in his “role as supreme priest” “when she wears the priestly chasuble” in Elisabeth’s writings. I think that this offers a connection between two elements of your post, and one that reconciles the “container/gate” spatial metaphors for Mary. The priestly function is that of “intercessor,” or intermediary between God and humans. Both Christ and Mary are explained in these priestly terms (in Elisabeth and elsewhere), and I think it is for the same reason.