So much to do, so little time… I’m slowly working through a large backlog of things that have to get done, things I want to do now, things I may want to do in the future, and things that ought to be commented on. And yes, I’m delinquent on correspondence too—for those of you waiting on emails from me: they’re coming…
I treat this first because, to my mind, it’s the easiest to dispense with, and long-time readers probably already know where I’m going to go with it…
To my mind, the Scotist has once again confused devotion with doctrine. That is, yes, classically the English and Anglicans have held a high opinion of the Ever-blessed Virgin Mary and I see that as a good thing. However, why that would make us beholden to post-Scholastic doctrines with questionable roots in the Scriptures and in the tradition of the Undivided Church is beyond me. In contrast to his Scholastic/Post-Scholastic approach, I propose something much simpler and, well, a bit more early medieval…(big surprise there…)
As I’ve discussed before, Christian devotion to the saints is fundamentally about relationships and was originally modeled on social structures of Late Antiquity. (For those interested, I’m drawing on Peter Brown’s The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. [Anastasia—what’s your take on this one?]) That is, patronage was what made the system work—getting things done, receiving justice, etc. was intimately related to who you knew in the hierarchy. Following the standard cross-cultural notion that things are above as below, “patron” saints were literally just that: folks you knew or had a special “in” with who would put in a good word to the King on your behalf. And, as we move more through Late Antiquity and enter the Early Medieval period, kings’ courts because notoriously dangerous places due to factional politics. A powerful man at court was constantly in danger of becoming too powerful; kings had to watch their backs against potential usurpers. As a result, even knowing somebody well placed was not always enough to guarantee your safety. However—there was one person at court who was safe, who would always be on the king’s side and have his ear (yes, we’re talking Latin not Byzantine here…): the king’s mother! Again, as below, so above… The Blessed Virgin Mary, as the Mother of the King, is always a good choice for an intercessor.
Thus, early devotion to the BVM as I see it was not fundamentally about doctrine. Yes, there certainly was doctrine about the BVM, but as Christopher notes, it was in relation to Christology.
The other important thing to note is something that the Scotist touches on briefly and, I think, without a full understanding of the inner workings of Marian devotion. Exegetically and then theologically, patristic and medieval sources understand Mary as the pre-eminent figure of the Church in Scripture. Mary represents the Church/Mary is the Church. I’ll give you a quick medieval exegetical for instance—look at medieval commentaries on the Song of Songs: One speaker is Christ, the other is, at turns, Mary , the Church, and the soul. There’s a fusion here that the SoS commentary tradition helped make insoluble. This fundamental connection has to understood to make full sense of Mary in the contemporary Roman Church. Without this connection, the logic seems less clear and more mysterious.
The bottom line for me is this: Yes, Anglicans should honor Mary, giving her the veneration she is due. And, as is proper with veneration distinct from worship, all veneration of the created objects in the history of our redemption (the cross, the saints, etc.) ultimately point to the Uncreated, the classical Marian text being her words to the servants (read: us) at the wedding of Cana: “Do whatever he tell you” (John 2:2). She is the God-bearer. She is the perfect exemplar of those who wish God to grow within them—we hope spiritually for what she experienced physically. She is the exemplar of the contemplative spirit in the active life who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19) and whose soul was pierced by the sword (Luke 2:35), and yet lived in the world as a wife and mother. Too, she who was the bride of God is a symbol of the Church and participates in that mystery that we live under and fumble towards.
But does this mean we must embrace modern Roman dogmas in her regard, especially the contentious issue of “co-redemptrix”? I think not. Yes, our salvation comes through her as she bore the Christ and shared with him her humanity, but redemption proper is a function of the Uncreated Godhead. If she were to be “co-redemptrix” for her role, by extension the patriarchs must also become “co-redeemers” for their role in the unfolding of salvation according to both the flesh and the spirit. (And you won’t see the Roman church pushing for that anytime soon…) So, devotion to Mary? By all means. Scholastic dogmas of Mary? Unnecessary, I think. Illicit? No, I don’t think that either—but not required.