Thursday, November 19, 2015

Likeness of the Marian Image and Prayer to the Image and Prayer of God

The Mystical City of God and The Secret of the Rosary have differing intents for the readership of their works, but they parallel and support each other in the ultimate equating of Mary as a mirror image of God. We arrived at the conclusion in class that Mary of Agreda uses The Mystical City of God to assimilate the Virgin Mary and God into a singular identity. The vivid details describing Mary, such as her newfound knowledge of human anatomy and animal taxonomy for example, vividly affirm the message that Mary is as wise as God, because God manifests to her all he knows. She is the likeness of God in many other ways, as described when Mary of Agreda says “It was eminently befitting that [Mary] should be all mercy, kindness, piety and clemency, who was herself to conceive and give birth to the Word made man, since He in His mercy, clemency and love desired to humiliate himself to the lowliness of our nature, and wished to be born of her in order to suffer for men. It is said: like begets like… (154). Just as Jesus humbles himself to the Earth, so too does young Mary humble herself to the Angel Gabriel and to God’s plan for her. Mary is remarkable because of her ability to be simultaneously humble and powerful, and this confounds Mary of Agreda who says “But what has caused the greatest wonder in me, when I considered these things in the light given to me, is the humility of this heavenly woman and the mutual contest between her humility and the divine power” (163). The notions of humility and divine power are so incongruous, that only God has the ability to possess them in coexistence. Thus because Mary successfully finds harmony within the dichotomy, she too has the strength, in addition to the wisdom and humility, of God, enhancing her likeness of him.

There are passages, some were mentioned in class, where Mary of Agreda directly conflates Mary and God. She writes “The Lord extended His powerful arm and expressly renewed the spirit and the faculties of the great Lady… It was the finishing act and the final retouching of the living image of God, in order to form, in it and of it, the very shape, into which the eternal Word, the essential image of the eternal Father and the figure of His substance was to be cast” (163). Especially with the Novena before the Incarnation, God assists Mary in every stage of her physical and spiritual growth not just to prepare her conceiving of the Word Incarnate, but to sculpt her as his image on Earth. Mary of Agreda continues; “Thus the whole temple of the most holy Mary…was covered with the purest gold of the Divinity inside and outHe provided for the greatest possible similarity between the Mother and the Father” (163). At this point historically, the symbolism of the temple as Mary is well-known, but Mary of Agreda presents a novel interpretation of it by describing the temple as God rather than containing God; in the same vein, her understanding of Mary as a mirror image of God conquers the conventional understanding that Mary contains God.

The Secret of the Rosary by St. Louis de Montefort is more didactic, and as a result has a more widespread audience given the introduction includes addresses to Priests, Sinners, Devout Souls and Little Children. The verbose and somewhat convoluted writing of Mary of Agreda contrasts with St. Louis De Montefort, who writes with simplicity often meant to be understood by commoners and youth. He retells the story of Saint Dominic who “began preaching the Holy Rosary and explained the Hail Mary word by word as he would to a group of children, and used the very simple illustrations which were in the book Our Lady had given him” (21), and she speaks directly to youth, ordering “So, dear children imitate these little girls and say your Rosary every day as they always did. If you do this you will earn the right to go to Heaven to see Jesus and Mary” (15). Thus, whereas Mary of Agreda equates Mary and God by using logic and extrapolating from the theology, de Montefort uses more accessible emotional persuasion to equate the two, with the ultimate purpose of converting readers or increasing their piety. Multiple passages throughout The Secret of the Rosary show how Mary also possesses traits that make her God’s likeness, making these writings unassumingly supportive of Mary of Agreda’s argument in The Mystical City of God. In the Fourth Rose story about Blessed Alan de la Roche, Jesus tells him “you crucified Me once before by your sins… You are crucifying Me again now because you have all the learning and understanding that you need to preach My Mother’s Rosary, and you are not doing so…” (25) and makes de la Roche feel guilty about his negligence to Mary and thus God. Jesus’ intercession here reflects his intercession of Saul in the desert, and just as Saul repents and becomes a Saint and devout follower, so too does Blessed Alan de la Roche revitalize himself and then restores the Holy Rosary. The likeness of these two stories make Jesus and Mary mirror reflections of each other, and Jesus feels crucified when people forsake either him or Mary. In addition, though Our Lady’s Psalter/The Rosary consists of prayers of the Hail Mary, de Montefort says that the three parts of it serve the purpose of honoring the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, and the Church, with no mention of its service to Mary. De Montefort is saying here that The Rosary’s verbal praise of Mary is a spiritual praise of God, and “it greatly glorifies the Most Blessed Trinity because any homage that we pay Our Lady returns inevitably to God Who is the cause of all her virtues and perfections” (49). So although The Secret of the Rosary has a main instructive purpose (especially with the imagery throughout of followers needing to water the Garden of Marian devotion), de Montefort uses more emotional and spiritual techniques such as Biblical allusions and analysis of The Rosary to highlight an understanding of Mary as a near-perfect reflection of God, emphasizing the concept that devotion to Mary is essentially devotion to God. While the Secret of the Rosary and The Mystical City of God perpetuate the notion of Mary as God by visually describing the likeness of her image, St. Louis de Montefort’s work goes a step further in also emphasizing the likeness of Marian prayer and devotion as ultimately worship to God himself.



  1. I like your outline of the ways Mary is elevated to the image and likeness of God to an extent even greater than that of ordinary humans. As you rightly point out, this is an element of Marian devotion we’ve seen before, but it’s remarkable just how far Mary of Agreda takes it, especially when she depicts Mary of having complete knowledge of anatomy and taxonomy. And this is such a profound assertion not only about Mary, but about Jesus as well. As we’ve seen, Mariology by necessity directly related to Christology; to understand the nature of God made man, we have to understand his parents both human and divine. And since this is such a difficult concept to understand, that God could become wholly human while remaining wholly divine, that we need the Mary of Sister Mary’s account to provide us with a counterexample. Mary is certainly only human – as often as Sister Mary calls her god-like she certainly never claims Mary is God – but she is elevated by God to such majesty and power that she hardly even resembles the rest of us sinful, pitiful people. Since this human being is capable of such deification while remaining fully human, surely it is capable for the God-person of Jesus to be human while also being sinless, perfect, and holy. Surely this idea was present to every devotee we’ve read this quarter, but Mary of Agreda takes it to such extremes, and in such ornate language, that its hard not to find her account especially moving in its depiction of the divine potential of mere humans.

  2. Interesting that despite their differences we see that Louis and Sister Mary are ultimately engaged in very similar projects. Something that might be interesting to consider is to what degree we can see those tendencies of Sister Mary you identify, such as her inclination towards theology and dialectical exploration of the relationship between Mary and God, manifesting in Louis' work and vice versa.

    I also liked your highlighting of Mary in The Mystical City as showing the harmony of humility and divine power. I think this sense of harmony is an underrated aspect of medieval devotion, perhaps unsurprisingly given the incredibly importance of song to the monastic life. I wonder if a closer read of the text would offer us even more occasions of harmony, between Mary and God, within Mary, and perhaps between Mary and the cosmos.

  3. To say, as Sor Maria does, that Mary resembles God perfectly is very much *not* the same thing as to say that Mary *is* God, which Sor Maria would most definitely not do! This is why talking about Mary is so difficult, much as understanding what it means to say that man is made in the image and likeness of God: to say that we, as human beings, mirror the Creator is *not* the same thing as saying we are gods. This, after all, was the temptation of the serpent! I think if you go back through the passages that you cite from Sor Maria and reread them carefully, you will see that she is always very careful not to suggest that Mary and God are identical; this, for Sor Maria, would be nonsensical, for how can a mirror be the same as the image it is reflecting? Identity is not the same as likeness, even when the reflection is perfect. RLFB

  4. I think you raise some good points about how Mary reflects God in the Mystical City of God, but I agree with Professor Brown in that we should be careful when speaking of Mary in these terms, as it’s only too easy to inadvertently bite the bullet that many critics of Marian devotion espouse, e.g. that equating Mary with God is idolatrous and detracts from our reverence for Christ. Rather, my reading of Sor Maria’s book was focused on how her descriptions of Mary’s creation, life, and actions reflect not just God Himself, but the ways in which mortal beings can approach Godly worship.

    In Chapter 2 of Book 1, Sor Maria quotes St. Dionysius the Areopagite in saying “If faith would not instruct me, and if the understanding of what I see would not teach me, that it is God, who has conceived her in his mind, and who alone could and can in his Omnipotence form such an image of his Divinity…I might begin to doubt, whether the Virgin Mother contain not in Herself Divinity” (I apologize for lack of a page number; I worked with an online version of the text). So I think it’s clear that Sor Maria never really thought of Mary as anything but a human, albeit a human deserving of our attention and meditation beyond all others.

    Mary goes beyond mere humanity, however, in her actions, such as in Book 6, Chapter 4, during the prayer of Gethesmane, when Mary secludes herself and prays that she be permitted to “feel and participate all the pains of the wounds and tortures about to be undergone by Jesus…these sufferings, inflicted by God himself were like a pledge and a new lease of life.” Sharing in the Passion of Christ is still a popular form of meditation and praise for contemporary Christians, and in mirroring the suffering of Christ, not just feeling agony for her Son but literally feeling the pain of the thorns and nails and the jeers of the crowd, Mary reflects the Passion in a way that sets the standard for all who claim to praise the Lord – as Jesus endured for our sins, so did blameless Mary endure His suffering, and so should we emulate and admire her service to her Son.

    Sor Maria goes on to refer to Mary as the “New Phoenix” of the Church, resonating with the “Mary as a type of the Church” argument we’ve been seeing recently, and describes the rest of Mary’s life following the Crucifixion. For me, the standard of praise that Mary lays out is key – after all, when Conrad described Mary as a mirror, wasn’t it all to give praise and due recognition to her? Isn’t the point of being a Godly reflection that we might access the inaccessible, and isn’t praise and worthy service the road to God?



  5. I definitely agree that there is a difference between Mary reflecting and being God; however the idea of God as the Temple, and the ramifications that would have for thinking about Mary really struck a cord with me. What if the Temple contains God because it is God. It is not a shell within which he resides but his body, into which he is imbued. This way of thinking may be able to help make sense of Mary containing the uncontainable. If she is the Temple, then she can hold God within her body without it being an act of restraint. He is there because that is where he should be, somehow an integral part of her being, rather than an external intrusion. Mary is the place where God is made present. The difference between saying that God is the Temple and the Temple is Mary, and that God is Mary, may be admittedly difficult to delineate but I do think that it provides a useful perspective on a tough problem.