Contra Scotistam I

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…

Part of the backlog involves dealing with some things that the Anglican Scotist has posted recently that I couldn’t get to due to the move(s). I’ll take the easiest first—Marian dogmas.

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.

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17 Responses to Contra Scotistam I

  1. Hmm. I’ve always said that the Immaculate Conception was the one thing Aquinas got right and my man Scotus got wrong.

  2. That’s sufficiently cryptic and allusive—do say more!

  3. All I mean is that

    (1) I’m generally a partisan of Scotus against Aquinas (I’m in print defending univocity, voluntarism, and similar doctrines on which Scotus is at odds with Aquinas), and

    (2) Scotus defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, whereas Aquinas had rejected it.

    Sorry to have been cryptic!

  4. No problem…

    I just don’t know these modern (you know—post-Conquest… ) theologians as well as you do. :-)

  5. Modern theologians? Post-conquest? Brings a tear to my eye–where’s that hanky?

    I am encouraged to hear that the Postulant believes Scotus only got opne thing wrong. But couldn’t he have picked another thing?

    OK, Derek, I’m putting something together in reply in a couple days. Bring your “A” game.

  6. I will if you will… :-)

  7. Anastasia says:

    I might add that patronage is akin to friendship in its basis–though clearly distinct from it–such that there is a persistent relationship between patron and client, in which both parties are bound to one another and have responsibilities to one another. That relational aspect makes the move from patronage to true devotion seem more intelligible. On the one hand, the patron is merely useful. On the other, the relationship supercedes use.

    In other words, I agree with you. :)

  8. John-Julian, OJN says:

    I’m sorry, I can’t resist! In strong support of your point, Derek: from Chapter 6 of Julian’s Revelations:

    “And we pray to Him by His sweet Mother’s love who bore Him, but all the help we have from her is of His goodness…

    “And in the same way, all the help that we have from special saints and all the blessed company of heaven—the dearworthy love and endless friendship that we have from them—it is from His goodness…

    “Wherefore it pleases Him that we seek Him and worship Him by intermediaries, understanding and recognizing that He is the goodness of all.”

    By the way, back in the 1950’s the Dominicans issued an edition of Aquinas which actually omitted his arguments against the Immaculate Conception! After some strong and wide hullaballoo, the next edition restored the omitted bits.

  9. By the way, Derek, though I don’t blame you for avoiding those Johnny-come-lately theologians, I hope you’ll consider making an exception for the second post-Conquest Archbishop of Canterbury. As Blessed C. Montgomery Burns might put it, “He’s new, but he’s good.”

  10. bls says:

    Wow, I really don’t know what the hell anybody’s talking about.

    Oh, well. On to the next blog then!

    ;-)

  11. Christopher says:

    I’ve offered a more systematic response. I think your dilineation of dogma and piety/devotion is central to Anglican approaches to Our Lady.

  12. Lee Lemmon says:

    FWIW, I have an understanding of Mary and of her virginity which I don’t see evidence of in most Marian discussions. Her being a married virgin at the time of the birth of Jesus meant that she was at that time not the property of any man, neither father nor husband. She belonged only to God and to herself. Jesus was the son of the only free woman in the history of God’s people. I think this strengthens the role of Joseph, given that he willingly undertook responsibility for Mary and the child despite having no property interest in them.

  13. Caelius Spinator says:

    Lee Lemmon–

    That’s the most fascinating idea I’ve heard all week.

  14. OK–the ball is in your court.

  15. Lee, interesting idea… I immediately wonder about the women in Judges and the so-called Apocrypha: Deborah, Judith, and others and wonder if it applies completely to them (while recognizing them as types of the BVM).

    Scotist–game on…

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  17. bls says:

    See, now this is why I read blogs (well, certain blogs, anyway); Lee’s idea here and Caelius’ idea in re: arguing with God, on the other thread, are things you’d never hear in your life anywhere else.

    It’s so great, really, to have access to everybody’s ideas. Sometimes you hear just the best things….

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