Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mary, Benedict, and Lilliputians

Life as a Catholic can be so interesting. Last week I posted Benedict's enlightened musings on original sin. This week, in celebrating the Immaculate Conception, Benedict seems to be back sliding. I guess that's what happens when Tradition sticks you with something that's based on a literal interpretation of Genesis.

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception affirms that Mary was preserved from "original sin."

"The existence of what the Church calls 'original sin'," Benedict XVI explained, "is, unfortunately, overwhelmingly obvious, if we only look around ourselves, and above all within ourselves. The experience of evil is, in fact, so consistent that it raises within us the question: where does this come from? Especially for a believer, the question is even deeper: if God, who is absolute Goodness, has created everything, where does evil come from?

The first pages of the Bible (Gn. 1-3) respond precisely to this fundamental question, which tests every human generation, with the story of creation and of the fall of the progenitors: God created everything for existence, and in particular he created the human being in his own image; he did not create death, but this entered the world through the envy of the devil (cf. Wis. 1:13-14; 2:23-24), who, rebelling against God, also drew men into deceit, inducing them to rebel. This is the drama of freedom, which God accepts completely for the sake of love, while promising that there will be a son of woman who will crush the head of the ancient serpent (Gn. 3:15)." (Benedict seems to want it both ways. Last week he said of Genesis: "How this happened, the Bishop of Rome contended, "remains obscure."Images have offered explanation, like those of Chapter 3 of Genesis, but "it cannot explain how much in itself is illogical. We can guess, not explain." Unfortunately, this week Benedict says the devil made us do it, because the theology of the Immaculate Conception is based on Genesis.)

"From the beginning," the pope continued, "'the eternal counsel', as Dante would say, has a 'final aim' (Paradiso XXXIII, 3): the Woman predestined to become the mother of the Redeemer, the mother of Him who humbled himself to the utmost, in order to restore in us our original dignity.

This Woman, in the eyes of God, has always had a face and a name: 'full of grace' (Lk. 1:28), as the angel called her when visiting her in Nazareth. She is the new Eve, wife of the new Adam, destined to be mother of all the redeemed. As Andrew of Crete wrote: 'The Theotókos Mary, the common refuge of all Christians, was the first to be liberated from the primitive fall of our progenitors' (Homily IV on the Nativity, PG 97, 880 A). And today's liturgy affirms that God has "prepared a worthy dwelling for his Son, and in anticipation of his death, has preserved her from all stain of sin' (Collect Prayer)."

(I'm not sure what Benedict is referring to here when he calls Mary wife of the New Adam. She wasn't Jesus's wife, she was his mother. He must be speaking symbolically or something.

Worthy dwelling for His son? Is Mary mostly just a perfect uterus with perfect ovum? In anticipation of his death? Why not in anticipation of His resurrection? This is a very confusing illogical paragraph.)


I don't know that there's a better example of how convoluted one's thinking has to be as a Catholic than when it comes to Mary. Even Benedict seems incapable of explaining the various doctrines concerning Mary without recourse to literal interpretations of Old Testament biblical passages.

The genesis story of Eve somehow compels God to envision the perfect woman in order to be the perfect vessel for His perfect son to be perfectly vesseled in so that Mary can then be the New Adam's perfect New Eve. Why can't Mary just be Jesus's plain old fashioned mother?

Could it be because that really does turn genesis on it's head? Instead of woman coming from man, as Eve supposedly does from Adam, our Savior comes from a woman, without any male contribution. This is more than just genesis in reverse. At least Adam contributed a rib in the creation of Eve. A male contributes zilch in the creation of Jesus. Do you suppose failure to emphasise this singular act of the lack of male contribution is just an over site?

Here's some of my interesting speculation based on genesis and Mary. Could it be that original sin came with the rib of Adam, and that's why a male was not involved in the creation of Jesus? Could it be that Mary was conceived without original sin because she was female and the fecund earth comes before the seed? (Wouldn't that notion set our sexual morality on it's head.)

Don't forget, those interfering angels were involved in the story of her conception as well. Who knows what else God's messengers were carrying other than messages. Maybe they had XX and XY chromosomal material free of original sin.

All speculating aside, I don't think we do Mary any justice with some of these doctrinal and dogmatic pronouncements which take her way beyond human, making her a caricature of some guy's romantic fantasies about his perfect sexless mother.

The reality of her life as recorded in the New Testament is that of a mother whose son had to have given her lots of premature grey hair. Jesus may have died to redeem us, but his death for Mary had to have been nothing more than a personal hell. Ask any Gold Star mother what it's like to lose a son on behalf of others.

This link is to a brilliant essay on Mary written by Dr. Clarissa Pincola Estes. I love Dr. Estes' writings because she understands, in spades, Native Indigenous spiritual understanding. She knows just how real it all can be, but so can Catholicism be real, when it's unleashed, unencumbered, not corralled.

Here's just a part of her essay, but it spoke volumes to me on what the Church has tried to do with not must Mary, but with all it's gifts of the Spirit:

"I often think of Guadalupe, Blessed Mother, with regard to an illustrated novel by Jonathan Swift that carried a picture of Gulliver, the traveler, pinioned to the ground. Gulliver had become a quasi-prisoner of the Lilliputians, a tiny people only 6 inches high. They critiqued Gulliver, among other things, for being in several ways “too big.” So, they tied him crisscross over all his limbs, and took him down with ropes then wrapped around brass nails and driven into pallet and ground.

The tiny Lilliputians stood on Gulliver’s chest and felt they had tied down the leviathan, the behemoth. But Gulliver just simply sat up ... and all his bonds burst, and all the tiny Lilliputians fell off, tumbling into the grass.

The giant lumbered off with the trivial rope-strings trailing behind. The Lilliputians shook their heads -- as usual -- trying to make sense of the Gulliver figure that was, in form, similar to themselves in body ... but in an entirely other way, so very unlike themselves.

I think many can understand this push to pare down the numinous, the unfamiliar, the unknown. What is truly divine mystery can be overwhelming at first. Yet it would seem in a culture that likes to minimize true magnitude of talents, for instance ... and to magnify the minimus, “the little man,” that is, the flimsiness or meanness or not well- formed qualities of matters ... that it is not only our calling, but our troth, our sacred promise given from the very first moment we ever saw the soul be assaulted in anyone, by anyone ... to untie the Strong Woman now. And forever."

Way too often, the only relationship we’ve been taught/told/offered to have with Blessed Mother ... is either none, through silence about her rich bloodline with us ... or else one in which we must agree to bind her down into a small and handle-able form ... diminishing her, by making her be the quiescent “good girl” ... in phony opposition to having another woman, The Magdalene, be the less quiescent “bad girl.” These are distortions of both women’s origins and gifts. Untie them both, then.

I have listened to some few theologians talking about Our Lady as though she is an appendage to a group of historical facts. Neither is she, as some charge, a superstition. She is not an obedient building made of cement, marble or bricks. She is not to be used as a length of holy wire to bind us all into docility, severing the other hundreds of traits given by God for being beautifully and reasonably human. She is not meant as a fence, but as a gate."

I wish Benedict would not let his best thinking get tied down by the Lilliputians, because the truth is, the best thinking can't be tied down.


  1. Lately I've been so bogged down with sterile stereotypes of Mary, but in this great blog of yours and in Clarissa's writing of Mary, it is refreshing to once again have Mary rise out of the ashes of graven images into the tangible and really truly human and nurturing mother that she was.

    Benedict is backsliding because he's not really got it yet in his heart how significant Mary was as mother of Jesus and as a woman with a human heart. I always had difficulty with a theology of Mary as the New Eve, since she is the mother of Jesus.

    "Could it be because that really does turn genesis on it's head? Instead of woman coming from man, as Eve supposedly does from Adam, our Savior comes from a woman, without any male contribution." I think that this is making a lot of sense Colleen.

  2. I've about reached the point where I've decided that life as a disaffected catholic will be more interesting and will be much more peaceful and satisfying.

    I contacted one of the women priests regarding where they hold services, and had a pleasant email exchange with her. No surprise, they have regular services in St. Louis. She said they occasionally travel to this area for services and will let me know the next time a trip is scheduled. Hopefully, in the near future, there will be one who lives in this area who is ordained.

    I'm thinking that this may be the path that will restore a portion of catholicism back to the "true church" status.

    Re: the one true church issue.

    While working on my "Sins of the Fathers" I googled "one true church" and was surprised at how many congregations are claiming that distinction. All of them trace their origins back through the catholic church and back to Peter.

    Wouldnt it be the ultimate irony if all of them are correct and all of them are wrong? Something to ponder. Is there "one true church"? Was there ever "one true church"? Or, is it that there are a lot of churches that all were spawned from the same mother?

    You know, someone should keep a record of the word verifications. Some of them are pretty good.

    Todays is "cousion". Is that what you call a relative who refuses to leave?

  3. Really good questions Carl.

    "Wouldnt it be the ultimate irony if all of them are correct and all of them are wrong?

    I think that there are groups of disaffected people in all of the churches. I guess I use the microcosm/macrocosm sociological perspective. There are fundamentalist in all of the them and there are conservatives, liberals, simple folks needing nurturing light and sustenance in a dark world that they may or may not be getting in any one particular church. There are positives and negatives in all of the churches, right and wrong as well.

    "Something to ponder. Is there "one true church"? Was there ever "one true church"? Or, is it that there are a lot of churches that all were spawned from the same mother?"

    They can trace their Church's history back to Peter just as fundamentally, liberally, conservatively, or as persecuted as much as the Catholic Church.

    Revelations might be a good read again where it speaks about the seven churches and what were the problems in the churches that are spoken about within it. The Church of Philadelphia I believe is the Church we should strive to become. It's been a while since I've read it though.

  4. This one is too good to pass up. The word this time is:


    a hemorroid in the throat - a common ailment among those who have their HUTA.

  5. If you want a really good commentary on revelations, look up 'worldwide church of god', 'philadelphia church of god', and 'restored church of god' on the internet.

    Most of their publications are available on the internet for download and are worth the time to download and read.

    I dont agree with their doctrinal philosophy, but their commentary on the prophesies of revelation and daniel, as far as I can discern, are very accurate and very astute.

    By the way, the word this time is:


  6. Colleen, excellent sleuthing! You caught something in Benedict's theology of Mary that I have missed--that convoluted (to use your great term) attempt to make the new Eve the wife of the new Adam--when, traditionally, the son of the new Eve is the new Adam!

    This is a sharp illustration of how right-wing Christian thinkers today are revising the tradition to make it fit into contemporary culture--rather than defending tradition.

    It's also an illustration of how crazy people can make things when they apply that JPII idea of complementarity of the body methodically to all symbolism in the tradition. Now, it's all got to be male-female paired, even when we're pairing a mother with her son as husband and wife!

  7. Actually BIll I thought it was quite eodipal in construct. Maybe Benedict is just bringing in a little Greek mythology to spice things up.

    On the other hand, Mary as the spouse of the New Adam would also be incestuous. Not exactly traditional unless now we've gotten to the point where the relationship between the one man and one woman doesn't matter either.

    Carl, mine was gless. That would be a glass half empty.