30 dic 19
The Revolution of Francis Doesn’t Even Spare Our Lady. Here’s What He Would Make of Her
On the eighth day after Christmas, when Jesus was circumcised and given the name received from the angel, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Mary, Most Holy Mother of God.
But who is Mary in the devotion and in the preaching of Pope Francis? A recent homily of his has caused astonishment, for how he has redrawn the profile of the mother of Jesus.
Pietro De Marco has sent us this analysis of the papal homily. The author, a former professor of the sociology of religion at the University of Florence and at the Theological Faculty of Central Italy, a philosopher and historian by training, has for years been known to and appreciated by the readers of Settimo Cielo.
“NO NOS PERDAMOS EN TONTERAS.” MARIAN DOGMAS ACCORDING TO POPE FRANCIS
by Pietro De Marco
Over the span of a few days we have received news both of the entrusting of the commentary for the feast of the Immaculate Conception to two Baptist pastors, husband and wife, for the parishioners of the archdiocese of Milan, and above all of Pope Francis’s astonishing homily on Mary, during the Mass at Saint Peter’s for the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
If Francis did not emulate the Protestant style in Mariological matters, he nevertheless wanted, in his fervor, to make public his restrictive personal judgment on Marian dogmas and in the negative on the title of coredemptrix, object of centuries of theological reflection. “No nos perdamos en tonteras,” let’s not get lost in absurdity, in nonsense, he said about the age-old explorations of Marian theology and spirituality.
What did the pope intend to uphold in his homily? First of all, that Mary is woman. And as woman she is the bearer of a message, she is lady, she is disciple. “It is so simple. She does not demand anything else.” The other titles, for example those of the hymn “Akathistos,” or the Loreto litanies, in any case the millenary titles of praise to Mary, for Francis “do not add anything.” Now already this much is wrong. Mary has never been “the woman,” a dangerous homology in the variety of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern female cults. Nor has she ever been the feminine as such, in one of the romantic or decadent versions, as striking as may be the devotion that generations of artists had for the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. Nor is Mary the woman of the contemporary female revolutions, whose Catholic fringes abhor the icons of Mary’s motherhood. She is not Lady, “domina,” in that she is woman, “mujer,” and not even in being mother. She is “domina” inasmuch as that motherhood, the divine motherhood, gives her royalty. The humble handmaid of Luke 1:38 is the virgin mother of God, so defined above all by the Christian traditions over the centuries, and is not interchangeable with sacred figures of Mother Earth or of the female principle.
The reader notes that the title of virgin never appears in the homily of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, while the “Nican mopohua” (“Here is recounted,” circa 1556) that he quotes, the narrative in the Nahuatl language of the apparition of Mary to Juan Diego, explicitly states this in the testimony of Juan Bernardino, uncle of Juanito: the miraculous image must be designated as “la perfecta Virgen Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” And it obviously appears in other passages of that text, for example in the invocation: “Noble queen of heaven, ever virgin, mother of God.”
The appellation of “lady,” then, is not a generic formula, as the pope seems to believe, but is a lofty title, of sovereignty, like the Byzantine “déspoina.” The absolute use of “our lady” (the old Italian “nostra donna” comes from “nostra domina”) shows that “domina” is a royal title, equivalent to queen: “Salve regina.” Thus, and on the model of Esther, Mary is “domina,” “patrona,” “advocata nostra.” When Ignatius of Loyola, quoted in the homily, also calls Mary “nuestra señora,” he is using an ancient and constant expression among Christians, beginning, it seems, with the “emè kyría,” my sovereign, of Origen, analogous to “Despoina.”
A simple reflection on “domina,” “señora” etc. thus nullifies the minimalist thesis of the homily. It is evident, in fact, that this kind of papal statement is aimed at the downgrading of the great Western and Eastern Mariology, in favor of a horizontal image of Mary, suited instead for dignifying the daily life of contemporary woman.
So is Mary a mom who became a “disciple” following Jesus, her son? In order that the title “disciple,” rare in tradition, may not deteriorate into pastoralistic obviousness, it must be at least taken in the sense of Maximus the Confessor: “The holy Mother became a disciple of her sweet Son, true Mother of wisdom and daughter of Wisdom, because she no longer looked at Him in a human manner or as a mere man, but served Him with respect as God and accepted His words as words of God.”
The papal pairing of woman-disciple, however, if declined between the spirituality of the everyday and sociological exegesis, remains eccentric to the order of divine revelation and gives us a glimpse in the pope’s imagination of that itinerant Jesus with his followers, including women, so dear to exegetes and writers extraneous to Christology; a Jesus separated from the whole theological and sacramental history of the Church. The mom-disciple of the homily recalls too much the mother of a recent film featuring Mary Magdalene, one of the products on which the theo-sociological proponents of the “movement of Jesus” can boast they worked for free as screenwriters.
A Mary stripped of dogma to be “type” of the feminine, then, projects this same captivating simplification onto the feminized Church. Everything little bit helps against dogma. And this is exactly what has been going on for centuries, but never coming from the see of Rome, until today.
The combative tone of the homily (“no pretenden,” “no tocaba,” “tocaban para nada,” “jamas quiso” etc.) therefore appears ill-founded and poorly directed. There appears in it a sort of showy theological indifference, with contempt for the perennial Church, in order to have the hands free in practical arenas, even if this means alliances with progressive global public opinion.
To this attitude, good for mesmerizing the simple, also belongs the curious papal argument that Our Lady never wanted to take anything away from her Son (“tomar algo de su Hijo,” or again: “no robó para sí nada de su Hijo”). No coredemption, therefore, which would be theft; but also almost nothing of all Marian theology. Any Mariological treatise, in fact, presents in addition to the motherhood and by virtue of this the immaculate conception of Mary, her “immunitas” from sin and the other “privilegia” up to the glorious assumption into heaven. Classical theology continues by affirming that the Virgin is objectively, ontologically, mediatrix of all graces, partaker of the merits of Christ “in quantum universo mundo dedit Redemptorem,” since she gave the Redeemer to the world.
The “sui generis” union with the redemptive flesh of the Son necessarily places Mary within the order of redemptive action and grace: “omnium gratiarum mediatrix.” From redemptive mediation to coredemption there is a step that many Marian theologians have taken. Being mother of God raises Mary to this height “de congruo,” as theological language would have it, meaning not by her nature nor because she is “immediate co-operans”: only Christ works “immediate,” only the Son is redeemer “de condigno,” that is as a due, just consequence of his sacrifice. In the magnificent passage of Saint Anselm attributed today to Eadmer of Canterbury (“De excellentia Virginis,” 11), often quoted by dogmatists and in the encyclical “Ad caeli Reginam” of Pius XII, we read: “Just as God, who made all thing in his power, is Father and Lord of every creature, so also the Blessed Virgin Mother of God who has repaired everything with her merits is Mother and sovereign of all things.” Elsewhere, for Eadmer, Mary is “nutrix Reparatoris totius substantiae meae,” she who nourished, took upon herself, the Regenerator of my whole being.
The “servant of the Lord par excellence,” the “disciple,” is either all that her “privilegia” as mother of God declare, or would be of little account, as she already is in the Protestant traditions and as she is becoming in Catholic preaching. An enormous part of Christian spirituality is lived and lives from the unfolding of theological riches that Mary merited and drew to herself. It will not be a populistic Mariology that will preserve these riches, much less replace them. That the “privilegia” of the mother of God, which descend theologically from her status as an eminent and unique creature, can then be downgraded, transmitting to the faithful the ridiculous suspicion that in Mary these would have been thefts, or unworthy ambitions of a mother-disciple, is equivalent to arguing for “boutade.” This and other excesses of the homily really mean, at their core, that the pope denies the entire meaning and value of Christian theological work from its origins. And he despises the wonderful food given by theology to worship, to the traditions, to the living spiritualities. And he ignores the sanctity of its deposit in the tradition of the Church. For what? To propose a Christian revelation without mystery, without transcendence, without glory, without divine-humanity, as in the reformed churches?
“Cecidere manus,” that is the arms fall in front of so much impertinence and malice, even; that reductionistic malice of the innovator theologians who previously enveloped the event of Vatican Council II, barely disguised. If there applies to the pope’s men – I dare not speak for him – the “I cannot believe it” of the liberal Anglican bishop and theologian John A. T. Robinson, they should say so. They should take refuge, if they will be accepted, in the Protestant household. But just for now I will refrain from examining the issue of the Protestantization underway. Suffice it to recall that the Protestant ambition to Christianize secularization, after having contributed to it, has failed and has overrun the reformed churches.
Here I dwell rather on the question of the Christological “mixing,” with which Francis’s homily of December 12 ends, promptly targeted by stern commentators such as Maria Guarini, Roberto de Mattei and others of the “traditional” area; but is there elsewhere in the Church such courage and care for the faith?
I recall that “mestizaje” is the Spanish equivalent of the general category of inter-racial or inter-ethnic mixture, while “mestizos” indicates those born from the mix of Hispanics and Indians. In the miraculous image on Juan Diego’s cloak, the Virgen de Guadalupe is “morenita,” as many of us have contemplated on Tepeyac. This suggests to Bergoglio a brilliant development, which however results in another blunder.
In fact, the pope says that Mary “se mestizó para ser Madre de todos. […] ¿Por que? Porque ella mestizó a Dios.” In fact, continues the homily, this is the great mystery: “Maria mixes God, true God and true man, in her Son”. What this really means, we would like to have explained to us.
I do not dare to think – as others have legitimately done – that Francis means to say that Mary mixed God, or in her womb mixed divine and human nature, mediating in herself the divine with the human flesh of which alone she would be mother, because this would be one of the errors of the 4th-5th century against which Cyril of Alexandria fought.
Let’s imagine instead that the pope means to say that in being son of Mary, or in being born of woman, the eternal Christ was mixed like she “se mestizó” – his words again – to be the mother of all men. But then this “mixing” is a rhetorical device, a theology in situation, for the great feast of the Mexican nation in the basilica of Saint Peter. It is only the evocative emphasis of God’s becoming man, metaphorically mixing himself, as man, with humanity. But can the immense Christological theme of Cyril’s “God with us” be reduced to an example of “live together and mix?”
Or this “mestizaje” truly carries something more: the idea that in Mary God himself has mixed, against the definitions of the ancient Councils necessary to save the truth and treasure of the faith; against the Creed and what we proclaim in the liturgy. I lean toward the light version, even if it is very imprudent, but nobody can trust the pope anymore, since quite unlike the “confirmare fratres suos,” he day after day “infirmat” them.
In effect, the idea of the “Theotokos” mixing God is no less foolhardy than that of the Baptist spouses of Milan, who celebrate Mary because she “accepted” an irregular pregnancy, the “most irregular” of pregnancies, and sheltered “that foreigner who came from God himself, without a residence permit!” Perhaps the fanciful theologoumenon of Christ migrating in the misery of “kenosis” (it is supposed) to hospitality in the Virgin, no less than the repudiation of dogmatic “tonteras” by Francis for a Mariology “next door,” presume to be the new frontiers of Christian proclamation.
To this it must be opposed that the very affirmation that Mary’s “esencialidad” is her being woman and mother is a betrayal of millennial Mariology. Indeed, a motherhood of Mary that does not also explicitly include, for theological awareness and spiritual life, the reality and power of the Mother’s participation in the redemptive flesh, casts relativizing shadows on the very work of the Son. The trivialization of Mary, reduced from the “omnium gratiarum mediatrix” to the virtuous subjectivity of an “ecce” and a “fiat” and of an entirely human discipleship, symmetrically wounds Christology not only in the essential dimension of redemption and grace but also in the dogmatic core of the supernatural prerogatives of Christ themselves. Are these the costs that one accepts to pay for the “new evangelization?” Good news of what?
Francis’s arguments, expressed in that sort of subjective sub-magisterium that he practices “in persona papae” but “quasi papa non esset,” as pope but as if he were not so, as if there were no such thing as petrine responsibility, are surely to the detriment of the Church. And I believe the time has come to no longer tolerate this spasticity.
- 30 dicembre 2019