Thursday, December 3, 2015

Faith Lost in Marian Translation

The solidarity among all the forces of the cosmos Boss discusses is what, in my opinion, invalidates the feminist theologians, more so than the persuasiveness of the medieval tradition. She says, “To believe that God is truly present in Christ thus depends upon our ability to believe that when Jesus was conceived by Mary, he was fundamentally united to the rest of the world, from which it then follows that God himself participated in that wider union. And by the same token, God’s unique presence in Christ cannot be neatly cut off from the mother whose flesh he made his own, unless we are to abandon our ability to discern God’s presence in the material world at all” (28). Boss brings in the necessity of faith in the unity of Mary, Christ and God, a crucial piece to Marian devotion that I try to highlight through this post. I will attempt to see how this faith disintegrated from modern discourse and how Boss convincingly brings about its restoration.

Warner and Daly seem to buy into Henry Adam’s “dollhouse” interpretation of Mary, and attack it as if it is not just the Protestant interpretation of her, but rather has existed since the inception of Christianity. In addition to Henry Adam’s symbolism of her, the Church’s“corporate takeover” of Mary by monopolizing on her motherhood, virginity, subordination and other sexist tropes, only exacerbated her newly feminized persona, and Ratziner says “the immediate outcome of the victory of ecclesiocentric Mariology was the collapse of Mariology altogether” (24). We mentioned in class that one flaw of Warner and Daly’s arguments is that they fail to recognize that Mary was not always gendered, as our studies of medieval Mary never distinguish her gender as being particularly advantageous or disadvantageous; more often she was praised by both men and women, not just the latter as Warner and Daly assume. I am not completely skeptical of their arguments, because I think that medieval Mary was gendered to some extent, and there is older grounding in this oxymoron of “Mary establishes the child as the destiny of woman, but escapes the sexual intercourse necessary for all other women to fulfil this destiny (336) that Warner highlights. There was the issue of women being unable to serve as priestesses, because Mary was, as Epiphanius of Salamis vehemently argued, definitively not a priestess. There was also the paralleling of her and Eve, as she absolved women of the original sin that Eve imposed on them. That parallel in itself genders sin, separating the sins of woman to align with those of Eve and those of man to align with Adam. But still, to see Mary’s full potential only as a feminist icon, whether pulling from medieval or modern examples, is ignoring the bigger picture of Mary as an omnipotent force in the cosmos that Boss argues.

Ultimately, these new characterizations of Mary as a gendered rag doll of sorts to be tugged at back and forth between people like Henry Adams and the Church, are what desensitized the role of faith in appreciating her. So when we brought up the question that Maria asked in a previous blog post, where does faith come into this, I see Boss’s notion of Mary come into play, as a force more overarching than the constricted vision that she is a “fa├žade of semi-identification of females with the Christ” (Daly 81) or an object of the self-interested corporate church. Faith is lost in this translation of Mary’s purpose over time, from when medieval monks saw her in the imagery of the Old Testament and viewed her as a model of piety, to when modern day scholars see Mary solely as an isolated symbol and model of sublime femininity.

Warner considers Mary a myth, a “protagonist in the drama of the Incarnation and the Redemption of Christ” (xxiii) and compares her to Aeneas. Ironically, Warner and Daly criticize people like Henry Adams for symbolizing Mary, and yet symbolize her in their own way. One does not have spiritual faith in a “Protagonist” or a mythological character. Faith, to me, means having a well-grounded understanding of Mary’s history so that one trusts ultimately embodies her power and judgment. Like Professor Brown said in class, history is a powerful tool and we should be aware of how it is used, and to pin her as a standalone symbol or a goddess detaches her from her history, as AN said in a previous blog post, “Mary the Symbol can be worshipped without tracing her role in scripture, her relationship with Christ, or her importance to Church doctrine”; this leaves her as only a shallow superstition.

Jesus can appear to a disbeliever with crucifixion marks on his hands to prove his resurrection, revealing himself as an individual among individuals. However, Mary cannot simply appear to a disbeliever by revealing herself within every piece of matter to prove her cosmic existence, for as Boss says, “It may be that the solidarity of things, one with another, and of God with creation, is a more fundamental truth about the world than is their separation from one another” (8). Thus, Mary requires us to have a faith, in her history, her existence, her as a humanist model rather than strictly feminist one, a faith stronger than any an individual or opportunistic Church can muster that will result in worship of her as Theotokos, the perfect image of God, the Temple and the Star of the Sky.



  1. This is an interesting analysis, and I think your implication that Boss’s understanding of Mary is more complete because her faith hasn’t been “lost in translation” is correct. You note that faith means “having a well-grounded understanding of Mary’s history.” I think that examining how the Boss excerpt interprets Mary’s place in history and Christian theology shows that it pretty well embodies that standard.

    For example, in examining what it means for Mary to be the Mother of God, Boss begins with a very detailed and faithful summary of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. She does so because she recognizes that “[t]he belief that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God is the corollary of the belief that her son, Jesus Christ, is the God incarnate” (Boss 9). Thus, Boss correctly interprets the tradition and ties Mary’s significance to her larger role in the theology of salvation. She refuses to abstract Mary away from that role and turn her into a symbol. If I read your post correctly, I think this shows that Boss’s faith was not lost in translation.

    Boss herself understands the importance of “having a well-grounded understanding of Mary’s history.” Later in the book, she uses her Mariology to make normative claims about humans’ duty to the environment. To Boss, part of the explanation of our ecological missteps is that we “had lost sight of Mary, God’s mother” (Boss 8).


  2. I like very much the way you bring Boss's idea of solidarity into conversation with Daly's and Warner's critiques, and reading your post, I started to get a sense of how one might actually answer them in a way that takes account of their concerns about Mary as an image of Woman--which I have not previously been able to do! (See my comments on the previous posts for this discussion.) You make a good point about the way in which Mary's sex was brought into the earlier descriptions of her role, and it is important to consider why women were not admitted to the priesthood, but even here, there are complications: Elisabeth of Schonau, for example, saw Mary dressed as a priest (what would Epiphanius think?!). Faith, as you point out, is absolutely critical--but faith in what? For me, the great strength of Boss's argument is that she brings faith in God as Creator back into the conversation (cf. Hildegard and Anselm). Daly focuses on God as Father (thus the title of her book), but medieval Christians focused on God as Maker, which is a rather different image. Daly would say that to think of Mary as a creature still subordinates her, but Boss would answer (I think) that to think of the creature encompassing the Creator is a greater mystery still. Still struggling with this...! RLFB

  3. While I agree with much of your analysis, I’m not sure that I would call Adams’ interpretation of Mary the “Protestant interpretation.” Based on what we read of Luther, early Protestants did seek to reduce her, yes, but they still wouldn’t have considered her as a doll in a dollhouse. Early Protestants still considered Mary a model—albeit not a better one than any other Christian. While Adams is coming from a particular theological moment in the Protestant tradition, the Protestant tradition he is coming from has almost no interpretation of Mary. This was really why he was unable to reconcile the European Mary he found in his travels with his conception of Christianity: Mary merely had almost no place in the former. If we are going to assign his interpretation to all of Protestantism, let’s at least call it the Protestant interpretation of the Marian tradition rather than the figure of Mary.
    I like where you compare Christ coming and showing the stigmata to Mary showing up and revealing to the skeptic every part of creation because it seemed to me to be exactly what happens in Maria de Agreda’s Mystical City of God. I think Maria would argue that you’re right, that this is the only way that Mary can “prove” herself to the unbeliever, but she would definitely argue that it was possible.


  4. I really liked these comments on my post, so just a few thoughts I had when reading them...

    Boss not only emphasizes God as the Creator, but also establishes a clear distinction and hierarchy with the two notions of God as Creator and Father. She says, “God the Father created the world through the eternal Word and in the power of the Holy Spirit; but this is a single action of the one God. In the created world, number is applied to bounded objects conceptualized as separate from one another-three rabbits, twelve currant buns, or two hundred carrots, for example. And if there are three, twelve, or two hundred, then these are not simultaneously one. In God the Creator, however, there is no boundedness- no limit of any kind- and thus no contradiction between the single and the triune nature of the Godhead” (11). So seeing God as a patriarchal father figure succumbs to both boundaries of individuality and religious sexism, but seeing God as the Creator is above those earthly limitations.

    Also ironically, if God is the creator, wouldn’t that make God more womanly, as Mary and women are viewed as the world’s creators? Just a thought.

    And RL, thank you for noticing that I should clarify between Henry Adams and all of Protestant interpretation of Marianism. However, though it is important to remember that Mary was a model albeit, like you say, like any other Christian, she was quite a “rag-doll” like model. Luther equated her to a beggar, so that followers could model her beggarliness in the face of God! Maybe as someone who grew up Protestant, I am just frustrated by how the tradition rejects Marian worship, that to me, it seems equally as damaging to her image as Henry Adams “dollhouse” interpretation.


  5. I think that, considering a comparison of Protestant and Catholic Marian conceptions, it might make sense to say that a rejection of Mary's worship by Protestantism is as damaging as Henry Adams' doll house Mary. Completely expunging her from the tradition makes her nothing more than (if even) an afterthought for the devout Protestant (I am basing this on my own anecdotal evidence as well). Making her a figure in the doll's house gives her no agency, no character, and no reason to appreciate her for her specific role in the Biblical story, not to mention the years of Marian tradition that follow it. It is entirely unfortunate to see that such a beautiful articulation of Mary, as Boss’s (“an omnipotent force in the cosmos”) is entirely absent from Protestant discourse. You wrote previously that “Faith to me, means having a well-grounded understanding of Mary’s history.” Yet much of Protestant tradition not only ignores Mary, but also deems the history of her worship entirely unimportant, and criticizes Catholicism heavily for even paying attention to her. But how must we reconcile these things? Could a Protestant recognize the beauty of Marian tradition in good faith? I suppose what I am concerned and interested in, is arriving at a Protestant worship that can at least recognize Mary, if not only for her contribution to a tradition that very much defines Protestantism.