Friday, June 1, 2012

Sifting for truth

The past couple of blog posts have commented on the far from perfect scholarship of our post-modern readings. While I agree that it is unacceptable for writers like Daly, Kristeva and Warner to make generalizing assumptions about Marian devotion and get their facts blatantly wrong, I still think that each and every one of them have something very valuable to offer.

Let’s start with Warner. Her personal experience with the Virgin is her truth. She explicitly tells us about her life-long relationship with the Virgin, from making her own Marian grotto as a child to feeling shame for her ‘impurity’ as a teenager. Without the anecdote in the prologue, how would we know the context of her argument? And even though several of us in class questioned Warner’s conclusion that Mary is an impossible model, I have to say that there is truth in that claim for her. And if it is true for her, than how many other Christian women without a voice is this true for? 

Kristeva starts her Tales of Love talking about how hard it is to write, but how important the process is if you love your subject:

“Words that are always too distant, too abstract for this underground swarming of seconds, folding in unimaginable spaces. Writing them down is an ordeal of discourse, like love. What is loving, for a woman, the same thing as writing” (235).

When I read Kristeva’s work the first time, I read it without reading the bolded words until the end. Poor choice on my part. Kristeva’s creative writing is chalk full of anguish, shame, and burning love to the point where really anything that I say about it would be inadequate. For Kristeva, writing this book was a soul baring experience. And even though she comes to some interesting conclusions (“The Virgin obstructs the desire for murder or devouring by means of a strong oral cathexis (the breast), valorization of pain (the sob), and incitement to replace the sexed body with the ear of understanding” 257), it would be disrespectful of us to discount all of Kristeva’s work. After all, according to the quote on page 235, this work is a work of devotion. Like many of the authors that we have read in this course, Kristeva uses her talent as a writer as a way to show her complicated love for Mary, to add just one drop to the vast sea. Without Kristeva’s personal anecdotes, how would we know that Tales of Love is also a devotional work?

Finding truth in Daly’s work is a little harder to do than Warner and Kristeva’s, because Daly’s book is full of incredibly biased language. She draws broad conclusions without providing us with evidence. Example:

“On a functional level, Protestant obliteration of the Virgin ideal has to some extent served the purpose of reducing “women’s role” exclusively to that of wife and mother…Concretely, instead of having ‘the nun’ as religious ideal, Protestant women have been offered the picture of ‘the minister’s wife’.” (85).

I had quite a bit of difficulty with this passage for a couple of reasons, mainly because Daly is NOT Protestant. She grew up in a ‘Catholic ghetto,’ so she calls it. This claim is not even based on personal experience, like Warner’s and Kristeva’s works, so how does it have any backing? Secondly, unlike Catholic women, many Protestant women can become ministers! How can Daly say that because Protestant women do not have Mary as a model in the same capacity as in Catholicism, that these women have a diminished role in the Protestant faith?

Still, does Daly have any truth for us? Perhaps the truth lies in the vehemence of her writing. She is a radical feminist for a reason. Daly must have met with some sort of sexism in the patriarchal structure of the Church in her life, and then reacted against it. Her personal experience of having Mary as an inadequate model is a truth for her, even if it does not make sense to us (well, me).

Now what about Ratzinger? As the almost-Pope, his motivations for writing his bit on Mary are pretty clear. He does a good job of reconciling ecclesiocentric and Christocentric Mariologies. It is obvious that Ratzinger spent a good deal of time thinking and learning about Mariology before writing the article. There may have been a little self-revelatory section in his work:

“If the misery of contemporary man is his increasing disintegration into mere bios and mere rationality, Marian piety could work against this ‘decomposition’ and help man to rediscover unity in the center, from the heart.” (36)

I can’t say that Ratzinger may have, as a ‘contemporary man’, fallen like many of us into the seductive ‘rationality,’ but it seems like if he had, he now realizes that Mariology allows us to find a middle ground between pure logic and pure affectivity.

Boss’s work, based on the class consensus, was what we wanted post-modern scholarship on Mariology to look like. No historical inaccuracies (that I could find, at least) and little biased language. I think that Boss provides many of us with an adequate account of Mariology, but in my opinion, that does not mean that that should be the only style of scholarship available to us. Part of the beauty of Mariology, as we have seen throughout the quarter, is that Marian devotion comes in so many forms. Poetry, art, academic writing, music, and so much more! There is truth in every act of devotion to Mary, even if it is not the truth we may be expecting. 



  1. CB,

    You make some very interesting comments and raise some great questions. I am particularly interested in the point you raise about Mary being an impossible model for at least for her. Then consequently, this means it's true for others as well. This is a good point but coming from a male perspective, this luxury of having both an achievable and unachievable model is something we don't have. We have Christ to live up to as a male. And Mary is just unrelateable for us. We can achieve the same level of grace and whatnot but the pain aspect from the earlier readings, for example, is something we could never understand exactly.

    Another interesting point you make is that Protestants in fact promote female participation as clergy. I find this point particularly interesting as a Protestant myself. Being raised in Protestant Churches, I'm actually quite sad that this never occurred to me as an argument the way you use it. What would be very interesting would be to see if becoming clergy for women would be a new and different form Marian devotion. What would the Catholic church think of that?

    Just some thoughts,

  2. I was interested in your critique of Mary Daly, as well. I actually looked up when ordination of women began, and I would say for the most part it took place in the mid to late 1900's, although there are exceptions. Some of the larger denominations, like Episcopalian and Lutheran started ordaining women in the 1970's, contemporary to Daly's book (it was published in 1973). So obviously the discussion of female clergy must have been a part of the national consciousness, which makes it even more baffling to me that she seems to think that women are severely diminished in Protestant churches. I would say that having a female minister would be as good a religious ideal as a nun in the Catholic Church.

    On an entirely different note, I really love the idea that "Mariology allows us to find a middle ground between pure logic and pure affectivity." I am currently immersed in my devotional final project and I have to say that I have found it to require both my intellectual and emotional faculties. The Virgin requires you to put in everything you have in works of devotion! She is, after all, the seat of all wisdom. I also think this is a lovely insight to combat the notion that Marian devotion is "populist" or for the uneducated masses. Clearly, being devoted to Mary requires quite an intellect, as Bernard of Clairvaux (and basically every other author we've read this quarter has proven.)

    - GENF

  3. I enjoyed this post and I think you did a good job going through the authors. As far as the comments of women as clergy in the Catholic Church, the reason why they don’t allow it is because the Church believes it does not have the authority to do so. Catholics believe that Jesus instituted the priesthood, the clergy, during the Last Supper and there were no women present. Therefore, the Church cannot ordain women.

    I thought your discussion on Warner was interesting because of your statement on what is truth for her. It is true that we are shaped by our experiences. I’m not sure what you mean by “Christian women without a voice”. Women are important to the church just like men are. It should not be women look to Mary while men look to Jesus; we all look to God.

    I really enjoyed your last statements on Marian devotion. You’re absolutely right when you say it comes in many forms. You give different examples of this, such as art and poetry, and it really resonated with me. There is so much to Mariology and Marian devotion than I realized before taking this course.


  4. I also find the point that Protestantism in fact allows women to be clergy an interesting one, especially if we think about the way Mary and the priesthood have been related before. Some of the earliest works we read, such as Epiphanius's "Against Collyridians," explicitly stated that women could not be priests and that Marian worship was bad because it elevated women and made them believe they could perform priestly duties. But, Epiphanius pointed out, Mary was never a priest, and thus women shouldn't think they can aspire to clergical roles simply in imitation of the Virgin. If he was right and there is some connection between women in the clergy and higher esteem for Mary, wouldn't this, in fact, mean that Protestants were honoring Mary through their inclusion of women in the clergy? Then again, Mary was never a priest, so is this even relevant? I guess the real question is: even though Protestants have female priests to look up to instead of nuns, is this a comparable role model for females in Christianity, considering that Mary was often portrayed as a nun but explicitly not given a priestly function? And how different is the role of a nun from the role of a minister's wife, anyway? Nuns were often said to be "wedded to Christ," after all...I don't recall of any such phrasing ever being used to describe monks.

  5. “And even though several of us in class questioned Warner’s conclusion that Mary is an impossible model, I have to say that there is truth in that claim for her. And if it is true for her, than how many other Christian women without a voice is this true for?”

    CB, I’m not sure I understand your question here, though that may be mainly stemming from my frustration with Warner. To model yourself after someone, you have to actively change yourself. In this way, Mary modeled herself off Christ, doing everything in her power to be like Him in everything she was able. Of course, it was impossible for her to be exactly like Christ, since only He could bring salvation to the world. Similarly, it is impossible for us to be exactly like Mary, since we are predisposed to sin. What “counts” is the effort to conform our wills to the Heart of Christ. Mary did this as perfectly as any human being could, so to conform our will to hers is really synonymous with conforming our will to Christ’s. All Christians, men and women, are called to emulate Christ in this way, and the fullest example is in the life of Mary. As we have said repeatedly, Mary does not exclusively represent women, but all of humanity.

    Alice, actually, there are many accounts of men being passionate for God (Augustine in Confessions is a great example of the intimacy such a relationship would offer). The idea is not so much that there is a difference between women and men that makes it possible for women to be the spouse of Christ. Rather, it is clear that men and women have different physical compositions and thereby distinct, unique functions more suited for particular gifts. There is a similar interaction between God and humanity; God is so “masculine” in relation to humanity, that we can all be considered “feminine.” (I’d just like to note that, of course, God is not predicated by human gender—gender is part of God’s creation and He encompasses the entirety what it means to be both male and female.) In conclusion, I find Warner’s discomfort more indicative of a hesitance/doubt of ability/ignorance that could be mediated by time and effort, as well as a more full recognition of what it means to be human and created by a Being more powerful than we could imagine.


  6. "There is truth in every act of devotion to Mary, even if it is not the truth we may be expecting." Nicely put! I agree: it is important to read even Daly and Warner as acts of devotion. Anger can be a very powerful expression of devotion, particularly insofar as it is a response to perceived injustice. Perhaps Mary herself inspired Warner to write because she (Mary) was so tired of the way in which she was being portrayed in mid-twentieth century Catholic devotion! It certainly worked to get me on her side, which I might not have otherwise, having grown up Protestant and, therefore, without any devotion to Mary at all. Reading Warner made me angry: how dare she take Mary away from me when I had never had the chance to know her? Which is only to say: indeed, every one of our authors is writing from a deep personal conviction that, for good or for ill, Mary matters. And thus Mary (as GENF puts it) "requires [us] to put in everything [we] have in works of devotion!" After all, that is what she gave God.


  7. CB: I appreciate your approach. I think there are rewards in being a “charitable” (in the metaphoric, not moral sense, and NOT to say uncritical!) reader. You have drawn out some cases here where it pays off to read sympathetically. Interestingly, though I was NOT particularly predisposed to reading any of these authors “charitably,” many of my takes differ from those you present here, and I ended up with more sympathetic readings than I may have originally suspected. Kristeva’s conclusions are oriented by an almost canonical (but passing) set of Freudian/Lacanian criteria. They may not be my cup of tea, but her psychoanalytically functioning Virgin is far from the most outlandish of results from this era’s theoretical orientation. Also, I have absolutely no problem with Daly’s assessment of the Protestant female role model vis-à-vis Mary, despite Daly not being Protestant.

    At any rate, I’m glad for your post and for the comments that have followed. Like the image that Professor Fulton Brown has shown a couple of times in class, people (especially devotees, maybe) foster any range of emotional relationship with the object of their religious devotion and any given time. Mother Theresa’s recent biography showed how she struggled with years of feeling no direct communication or connection with God. One of my favorite images from Scripture is that of Jacob wrestling all night with the angel of the Lord before receiving his blessing. In a counterintuitive way, then, your sympathetic readings remind us that critical engagement, even stark opposition are crucial exercise for the soul.