Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mary the Temple

    What stuck with me the most in our Mystical City of God reading from Tuesday, was the extent to which the way Sister Mary writes about the Virgin seems to fall in line with the belief that Mary can be interpreted into many instances of the Scripture. It reminded me quite a bit about the list of passages we read at the beginning of the quarter that fall more in line with the Biblia Mariana interpretation of Mary in the Bible, particularly with the Song of Songs and the instances in which Mary is related to Wisdom. The comparison of Mary and God to the bride and groom of the Song of Songs is seen at multiple points throughout Sister Mary’s book, in praise of Mary (786) and as part of God’s conversation with Mary (311). One point I would like to elaborate on here is this repeated occasion of Sister Mary narrating God’s conversations. This is not really something we’ve seen in the texts we have read thus far, and I think of all the ways to drive home the point that Mary functions to help us see and understand God, this is the most effective. In recording God’s spoken words with Mary and about Mary, Sister Mary sets up a relationship in which we are only able to gain deeper insight into God and His thought processes that we know the very words He spoke, yet this knowledge only comes about through Mary. 

    Beyond the conversations of God that Sister Mary pens, she also makes use of the comparison between Mary and the temple in confirming her aim of the book as a means of learning about God. This is seen most clearly in Chapter One of Book Three, The Novena Before the Incarnation, which coincidentally was the passage of the book that I found most captivating. Indeed, the end of this chapter marks the point in which God has most fully prepared Mary to be the Temple for Him: “the whole temple of most holy Mary, more so than that of Solomon, was covered with the purest gold of the Divinity inside and out,” (222). Yet leading up to this moment, Mary is walked through nine days on which God imparts His knowledge to her, so that woman who is to carry Christ will be most similar to God. It is in this event of Mary gaining knowledge that the readers also come to learn more about God and the limitless expanse of His knowledge. We get to learn so much about the powers that God has, powers so glorious that Mary cannot even find the words to accurately describe them (203), yet all the while it is through Mary and God’s need for her to be knowledgeable as the container of Christ that we as readers are able to get a glimpse into God’s power, love, and own words. Sister Mary even uses the word reflected to describe what Mary does for God: “At all these prayers the beloved Mother was present, and in her purest soul, as in the purest crystal, the light of the Onlybegotten was reflected,” (408). Over and over again, Sister Mary solidifies this role of Mary, as the one who shows us God and helps us better understand the Divine. 

    Something I found perhaps more intriguing in Sister Mary’s book is the way she relates Mary to wisdom. If we look back to the Scriptural passages on Wisdom, who is given a female personification, and interpret it in the framework that it is somehow related to Mary, then we are left with the question of whether Mary has existed since creation in the spiritual form of Wisdom. Sister Mary’s book, however, problematizes this theory slightly in that God imparts all wisdom and divine secrets to Mary during the novena before the incarnation, suggesting that Mary has not had this information all along and thus could not be the Wisdom written about in the books of the Old Testament. It is not quite so simple as this, though. Sister Mary still creates a special connection between Mary and Wisdom in the way she describes how Mary receives all of the knowledge that God gives her: “All this [knowledge] our Queen understood and penetrated with the keenest insight more clearly, distinctly and comprehensibly than Adam or Solomon,” (208).  To me, this sentence implies that Mary has a certain affinity toward Wisdom; that there is something in her composition that makes her inherently predisposed to receiving and understanding the wisdom of heaven and earth. Within this same passage, though, Sister Mary delivers a line that further complicates what exactly the Marian/wisdom relationship is: “Whatever Solomon says there in the book of Wisdom was realized in Her with incomparable and eminent perfection,” (208). At face value, this seems to suggest that the initial interpretation – that Mary and the Wisdom from the Old Testament are somehow the same – actually is true. Yet how can this be if Mary had to receive all of this knowledge from God? Wouldn’t she already have it all if she were, in fact, Wisdom from the Scriptures? Perhaps we need to return to the idea of Mary as a vessel in order to make sense of her connection to wisdom. We know that God used the novena to provide “for the greatest possible similarity between the Mother and the Father,” (22), in order to make Mary into the most perfect temple for Christ and the divine Word. This helps explains for Mary’s ease in understanding the knowledge God bequeaths to her if she is being made more like God. Then, so that she is best suited to carry God within her, Mary must have the fullest understanding of the universe. Thus, she must absorb all of Wisdom, as it is described in the Old Testament, making her into the temple not just for God, but for Wisdom, as well. 



  1. I think the final conclusion you draw here is correct, that Mary in some sense fulfills what we find in the Book of Wisdom precisely because, as the most perfect (non-Christ) human being, she's the most perfect reflection of the imago dei the most perfect reflection of her son who is himself also Wisdom. Interesting also is this idea of progressing in knowledge and wisdom as we progress in spiritual purity, there seems to be a sense in Sister Mary's book that spiritual progress is a sort of pedagogical process, Mary is trained by God, we can be trained through (or by?) Mary. Does this signal the fact that spiritual progress is seen by Sister Mary as all encompassing, touching on every part of our human existence or is there something special about our growth in wisdom, a sense that it is distinct from or higher than our growth in other areas? Perhaps this relates to the fact that medieval thinkers viewed our rationality as the highest aspect of our being. Thus, Mary cannot simply be perfect in humility, obedience, purity, etc. but must be perfect in wisdom most of all.

  2. Lovely explanation of the way in which Sor Maria uses Mary to show us God, while at the same time showing how Mary herself becomes like God. I think you raise a very good question here about the relationship between Mary-filled-with-wisdom and Wisdom, which is also something I have wondered about in Sor Maria's description of Mary's being prepared to be the temple of God in the nine days before the Incarnation. Perhaps we are dealing here with a mystery of the difference between Mary's creation in the mind of God and Mary's becoming the Mother of God? Although Sor Maria herself does not put it in quite these terms, it is a central feature of the mystery of the Incarnation as an event in time: was the Second Person of the Trinity the God-man before he took on flesh in the Virgin's womb? RLFB