Assume I had not taken this class, nor had I done any of the previous weeks' readings, but had done the readings for Wednesday. [Comments from the “post-Mariology-course me” are in bold.]
As a non-Christian, I like to think that I passively participate in Christianity-specific theological conversations [like the one created in class between the five authors we read for Wednesday] from an unbiased point of view; while I might take a stance on a more broad religious debate – I do love a good argument – such a specific topic like “Postmodern Mary” would be one that I would watch from the sidelines, not knowing much about Mary, postmodern or not. I have no experience with the Virgin Mary and admittedly little exposure to several facets of Christianity in general. I think that my disinterest in the issue allows me to see both sides of the argument and draw my own conclusion. [In fact, this approach would probably work if the five authors had actually been put in conversation with one another.] It's easy in a debate to point out the flaws in your opponent's arguments, and this process illuminates a whole lot for a bystander who would otherwise have no idea what the perceptions of Mary are and have been over the hundreds of years gone by.
Scholars like Kristeva know and have read all that they need to, and are authoritative on the evolution of Marian devotion in all its aspects. After all, it's their job and duty as scholars to have a strong command over what they write and profess expertise in. I read the works by Daly, Warner, Kristeva, Ratzinger and Boss and end up confused because of the large difference in the postmodern conceptions of the Virgin. All of the authors make good points about feminism, power, divinity, and many other concepts relating to problems concerning the Virgin. But who is right? Is anyone right? If what all of them say is true, then why is there such a disparity between what Warner and Boss say?
Back to reality. After having read all that we read over the past quarter it was very hard for me not to side with Boss and Ratzinger (particularly Boss) about the perception of Mary in postmodernity. In short, their perceptions were beautiful and meaningful, using the history of Marian devotion to support their arguments in a way that highlights Mary's importance to her devotees.
After having been in a couple of history classes, I've come to realise that scholarship is often shoddy. Facts are treated as malleable, and even a simple word choice can dramatically alter the effect of a sentence. The problem that I would have faced when reading the excerpt Stabat Mater, for instance, is that I would have believed Kristeva when she wrote that Bernard of Clairvaux did indeed transpose the Song of Songs and, in doing so, glorified Mary in her role of beloved and wife (Kristeva 243). I would have, as an innocent bystander, expected that the scholars knew what they were talking about.
I'd like to talk a little about my problems with Marina Warner and Mary Daly in relation to some discussions we've had in class. Both Warner and Daly seem to be grasping for a female role model in Mary. Christianity seems (to them) to look at women as inherently and innately sinister, and that Mary achieves “serene” womanhood (Daly referencing Nikolai Berdyaev on page 91) in fulfilling to contradictory ideals – remaining chaste while still bearing a child.
Warner makes the following incredibly bold statement in the epilogue to her book, “(T)he Virgin will recede into legend (...) the Virgin's legend will endure in its splendour and lyricism, but it will be emptied of moral significance, and thus lose its present real powers to heal and to harm” (Warner 339). She and Daly seem convinced that the role of Mary as an “instrument of a dynamic argument (...) about the structure of society” (Warner 338) will be the undoing of devotion to her. Mary, to Warner, is only revered because of Jesus. This is hard to refute.
But isn't that the whole point, or am I missing something huge here? Would Mary be special without Jesus? There is clearly a distinction to be drawn between a pious, devout person and someone who is touched in such a personal and meaningful way as Mary was touched by God. I would not be sitting here writing this post about Mary in this context had she not miraculously borne Jesus Christ. There is a difference between Mary and other saints too, and this difference in holiness comes from her maternal connection to Jesus.
I thought the way that Boss explained her view of Mary was beautiful, and casts Mary as the person who was chosen to be able to contain the uncontainable – and then led her life in such a way that other people were able to find divine meaning in Christ. She is the fabric of the universe. As such, she permeates every single person, every single atom in existence. She is within us and without us. In Boss' interpretation, miracles that Mary performed can stand alone, while being supported by her divine connection to heaven and her all-pervading nature. I particularly liked this interpretation because, while maintaining the supreme importance of the Creator and of Jesus Christ, it gives Mary the standing she truly merits and deserves as the complex, mysterious and pious figure that we have come to know her as throughout the quarter.