Friday, October 23, 2015

Mary is "Christ 2.0"

            In my reading of the selections for today, a line from the introduction of Marcus Bull’s “The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour” succinctly underscored a major theme in all the miracle stories we read: “[Mary] cures all people. For the Son will deny nothing that His Mother wishes to obtain” (97). Be it the lowly, careless, vow-breakers, thieves, or even those who sell their souls to the devil, the Mother of the King of Mercy is at the ready to intercede for those who have made a special devotion to her. And she is ready to advocate on behalf of the most downtrodden and unworthy members of society because that is exactly what her Son did while on earth. Over the course of this post, I will attempt to continue showing why Mary is so influential in the salvation of souls as well as how we can view Mary as the Mother of Mercy while avoiding the idea that “Mary is Christ 2.0.”

Mary, Biblical Mother of Mercy

            While reading that opening line from the collection of miracles at Rocamadour, I was reminded of a certain passage from 1 Kings about the relationship between the queen and king in the Davidic kingdom: “Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king’s mother, who sat at his right. She said, ‘There is one small favor I would ask of you. Do not refuse me.’ The king said to her, ‘Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you’” (NABRE 1 Kings 2:19-20). Like the subwoofer swells of a Hans Zimmer movie soundtrack in an IMAX theatre, this biblical passage resonates very, very deeply in the context of the miracle stories we read, particularly in those in which Mary has a conversation with Jesus about the final destination of a soul in danger of damnation. In the 17th listed story of “Johannes Herolt’s Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” a largely non-practicing monk dies while not in a state of grace and is judged to be worthy of hell by God. The Blessed Virgin attempts to appeal the decision with evidence of the monk’s devotion to her, but the sins are still too great. “Then the Blessed Virgin, seeing she was doing no good, earnestly pleaded with her son, saying: ‘Remember, beloved, that you received me from my substance visible, sensible, and tangible substance; give to me one drop of your blood shed for sinner in your passion.’ And he replied: ‘It is impossible to deny you anything. Yet know that one drop of my blood weighs heavier than all the sins of the whole world. Receive therefore your request’” (139-140). It appears that the language of the Bible passage (“will not refuse you”) puts Mary in her rightful place in the heavenly hierarchy while that of the miracle story (“impossible to deny you”) raises Mary’s influence to be on equal footing with that of her Son. This may simply be due to the fact that we don’t live in the context of a highly religious society, which may cause the Marian piety to come off as excessive and overwhelming. I’m fairly certain that the author of this story would deny Mary as being co-equal with her Son in the final judgment of a soul, but his language may not have reflected this specific sentiment. Perhaps another interpretation is to remember how Mary’s selfless and unhesitating proclamation of “may it me done unto me” (NABRE Luke 1:38) at the Annunciation, which opens her fully to the unknown joys and pains such a response would bring, is fittingly reciprocated by God who opens the gates of his mercy through her, the Mother of Mercy. In this sense it would impossible to deny Mary her requests of mercy since that would mean closing off the very gates of heavenly grace which the God willed to be created in the first place. In any case, Mary is so influential as an intercessor primarily because she is the mother of the King of Mercies.  

Mary, Follower of Christ and Queen of the Lowly

            While reading “The Songs of Holy Mary of Alfonso X, the Wise,” the first song of praise detailing the seven joys of Mary (the Annunciation, the Nativity, the arrival of the three kings, the Resurrection, the Ascension of her Son, the Assumption, and the Coronation) reminded me immediately of the seven sorrows of Mary (Simeon’s prophecy that a sword will pierce her heart, the flight to Egypt, the loss of Jesus in the Temple, the meeting on the way of the cross, the Crucifixion, Jesus being laid in the arms of his mother, the burial of Jesus). It was very interesting for me to note that as we follow the major joys and sorrows of Mary’s life, we encounter the very immediate presence of her Son. Therefore, to be a follower of Mary is to be a follower of Christ. Again, this does not mean that Mary is “Christ 2.0” because it isn’t Mary’s life around which we revolve in these joys and sorrows; it’s the life of her Son. In addition, just as we saw with Gautier de Conci’s “The Tumbler of Our Lady,” we see that following Mary and offering her devotion does not have to be intellectually rigorous or make multiple references to the scriptures, as we saw in the homilies earlier this week. In fact, it can be as simple and quiet as offering our talents or daily work in service of her as the tumbler did. Thus Mary with all of her humility is able like Jesus to reach out to the lowly faithful and remind them that they are loved in spite of what they think they cannot do.


            In these stories, we see that Mary is so important because she, the Queen, spent her whole earthly life, joys and sorrows, close to her Son, the King, and so it is fitting that she should be crowned the Queen of Mercy and continue the work of her Son. She is not “Christ 2.0” because she, like the rest of us, would be nothing without God’s grace and was granted her position in heaven by her son with whose will she cannot conflict. Given the spiritually powerful phenomenon that we can best find Jesus through Mary, I thought it fitting to end this post with a prayer that nicely sums up the lessons that we learn from these stories, the Memorare: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.”



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  2. I think the author of this post did a nice job addressing some of the questions that were raised at the end of class about whether or not Mary is subverting justice or the power of God by interceding in such miraculous ways. By showing that Mary, and thus Marian devotion, is always linked to her son, we can start to feel a little less nervous about the answer to this question. The passage from Kings that the author shared along with Jesus’s words in the Herolt story that He cannot deny Mary anything made me wonder if Marian devotion grew so much because the faithful were aware of these promises of Christ to his mother. It is important to realize that in these cases though, Mary is seen interacting with Jesus Christ, God the Son, and so Mary is not being made equal to God, but rather Christ is continuing to be an obedient son. This question can also be put to rest with the knowledge that to have devotion to Mary is ultimately to have devotion to Christ. Her life follows Christ’s closely and she wants to bring her children to be with Him. We noted in class that the people she interceded for and gave a second chance to often dedicated themselves to Christ or if they were dead and saved from Hell, they would still pass through Purgatory. Both of these experiences allow the saved to go beyond their devotion to Mary and go deeper to get to know her Son. As the author noted Mary is the gate of mercy that when opened leads people to her Son.

  3. You are absolutely right that medieval Christians like Johannes Herolt did not see Mary's intercessory powers as anything other than a recognition of God's mercy, rather than, as we mentioned in class, somehow derogating from her Son's authority as judge. Your two pieces of evidence are absolutely critical here: the Scriptural story (and, I would argue following Barker, ultimately the ground for the development of the image of the Lady in the first place) of Bathsheba's intercession with her son and king Solomon, and the ways in which Mary's life exactly mirrored or paralleled or responded to her Son's. I would have liked to hear more about how you saw each of these themes reflected in the stories that we read, whether you saw any differences in the representation of Mary as "mother of Mercy" across the different collections that we read, particularly as compared between the miracles recorded at her shrine and the more literary or exemplary collections of Gautier, Alfonso, and Johannes Herolt. RLFB

  4. I think you're correct that the way we tend to react to Marian devotion says a lot more about our own background beliefs than what's actually going on for our medieval authors. It's a very limited understanding of authority that sees Solomon's mother as somehow on equal or superior footing as her son, simply because he found it impossible to refuse her requests. Perhaps it's our desire to read into the stories something more subversive than a relationship between mother and son into the story. As this was a very interesting point, and a window into both our own conceptions and those of the 16th century, it would have been nice to see a little more analysis on this question. What does this connection between the story from Kings and Johannes tells us about motherhood? About how discourse and thought was shaped by Scriptural types? And how does this relate back to other things that we've read about Mary?

  5. Your point about Mary and Marian stories revolving around Jesus seems particularly apt given the numerous times we've encountered language describing Mary not only as the mother of God but as bride and daughter as well. As you point out in your post, Mary’s relationship to Jesus is that of both servant and mother; she follows him, and yet as an earlier comment pointed out, he is also her obedient son. What I found particularly striking was this mother-son dichotomy as it played out in today’s readings and discussions. In class today we struggled to reconcile the balance in prayers between Mary and Christ; at what point does devotion to Mary supersede devotion to God? I think part of the answer may lie in the Texts of the Passion we read for today, in which Mary is quoted thusly: “O dear son, o kind child, have mercy on your mother; hear her prayers. Be no longer harsh to your mother with you on the cross, so I might live with you always after death” (173). While this may at first seem like Mary begging Jesus to acquiesce to her pleas, I think it can also be read as Mary praying for us as sinners and our entrance into heaven “so [we] might live with you always after death.” If that’s what this passage is getting at, then I think we can see Mary as an intercessor because she seems to understand the pain of being separated from God.

  6. JB, I agree with your assessment of reading Bull that as modern reader’s we need to be careful not to superimpose our own assumptions or desires onto the text. As Prof. Fulton Brown has stated, this would indeed lead to a misguided interpretation, especially in this case. Something interesting I’d like to point out that I think will support your claim is in Songs of Holy Mary of Alonso X. In writing about Mary’s place eschatologically, I couldn’t help but notice that Mary is the passive subject in each sentence. She is never actively doing anything on her own volition; rather, either a blessing was done upon her or some action was done to her by God. She was crowned (Alfonso X, 3). In each case, it is made clear that in some way the actions she performed were very closely (and exclusively) related to that of theological relevance with regard to her place in the myth. So, in adding to your comment that it would be unwise for modern readers to read over these texts and see a “Christ 2.0”, not only is she not another Christ, I would argue that at least in her depiction in Alfonso X, she doesn’t seem to have much of her own free will, much less salvific abilities.