instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Mary Timeline

The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute's Mary Page -- actually an extensive set of pages, hosted by the University of Dayton -- includes a list of New Testament references to Mary, adapted from Mary, of Galilee: Mary in the New Testament by Fr. Bertrand Buby, S.M.

What's interesting about the list of references is that it's ordered chronologically, beginning with the letters of St. Paul. This presents a different picture than the usual book ordering, which would start with the Gospel According to St. Matthew, which of course talks about Mary in the very first chapter.

In his letters, St. Paul is not at all interested in the person of Mary, except insofar as she signifies the fact that "God sent his Son, born of a woman," "descended from David according to the flesh." In other words, his point is that Jesus is both human and divine, which means He did have a human mother, but he draws no implications, he doesn't even imply that there are any implications, about the Christian's relationship with Jesus' mother.

Then we have the Gospels (and Acts):
  • Mark, with "a clear silhouette of a devout Jewish mother who is concerned about the activity of her son, Jesus."
  • Matthew, who show us "the Mother of the Messiah who is also a virgin," who "brings to a conclusion the long expectation for a Davidic Messiah," who "represents a promise to the Gentiles or the Nations because she, too, like Abraham is among those who believe in God's promise of salvation."
  • Luke/Acts, which "give us the essential framework for the beginnings of an authentic study of Mary... Mary, the mother of the Lord, is primarily a believer who has been with Jesus from his conception, to his birth, his infancy, childhood, and manhood. She continues as a believer after his death and is present when Jesus' promise of his Spirit is given at Pentecost... It is within this Lucan perspective that any study of Mary should begin for he is the only evangelist who has through his own theological purpose developed this portrait of Mary as a woman of faith who speaks, prays, and listens in the name of her son Jesus."
  • John, which gives us "remembrances of traditions about Jesus and his followers and family which were not recorded elsewhere," chiefly Mary's presence at the foot of the cross.
And finally, the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation.

Scripture itself, then, presents a gradual unfolding in understanding Mary's role in the salvation worked for us through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Little surprise, then, that this unfolding has continued since the death of the last Apostle, and that a sola Scriptura approach to the Christian faith has such trouble achieving the level of understanding the Church has achieved.

Objections to Marian doctrines, even those raised by Catholics, will not be overcome by reasserting the doctrines, but by going all the way back to points of agreement and carefully recapitulating the threads of insight that led to the statements of the doctrines the Church has made. This, of course, presupposes a relationship, a friendship even, capable of such patient dialog.


Monday, June 09, 2008

You can't get there from here

To Matthew, Jesus said, "Follow." To the Pharisees, He said, "Go."

The Pharisees may well have been closer to God than Matthew was, but he recognized the way when he saw it. They had to go away from where they were if they too wanted to come into the Father's house.


Fathers know best

So, have you learned the meaning of the words, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice," yet?

Checking with the Catena Aurea, I find St. John Chrysostom wrote this by way of explaining Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees:
As much as to say; How do you accuse me for reforming sinners? Therefore in this you accuse God the Father also. For as He wills the amendment of sinners, even so also do I. And He shews that this that they blamed [i.e., eating with tax collectors and sinners] was not only not forbidden, but was even by the Law set above sacrifice; for He said not, I will have mercy as well as sacrifice, but chooses the one and rejects the other.
A gloss attributed to St. Anselm suggests:
Yet does not God contemn sacrifice, but sacrifice without mercy. But the Pharisees often offered sacrifices in the temple that they might seem to men to be righteous, but did not practise the deeds of mercy by which true righteousness is proved.
And from Rabanus:
He therefore warns them, that by deeds of mercy they should seek for themselves the rewards of the mercy that is above, and not, overlooking the necessities of the poor, trust to please God by offering sacrifice. Wherefore, He says, "Go;" that is, from the rashness of foolish fault-finding to a more careful meditation of Holy Scripture, which highly commends mercy, and proposes to them as a guide His own example of mercy, saying, "I came not to call the righteous but sinners."
I like Rabanus's final point, that Jesus' own example of mercy should guide our careful meditation on Hosea's prophecy. He himself has provided the one necessary and sufficient sacrifice. It now remains for us to carry the mercy manifested on the cross to the world.


Friday, June 06, 2008

It's not a feature

Don't get me wrong: I am firmly committed to the moral soundness of the principle of double effect.

That doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

The PDE is usually defined in terms of the conditions that, when met, make an act that has negative consequences morally permissible. That's really more of a heuristic, though, a description of how to reason about something. If we want to stress the fact that the PDE is a principle, we might simply say, "Sometimes it's okay to act in a way that has bad side effects, and sometimes it's not."

The "sometimes it's okay" part answers rigorists, although I suspect most rigorists either suffer from scruples or are merely contrarian. An intellectually rigorous rigorism against the PDE leads to moral paralysis, psychosis, and death. (I speculate somewhat.)

The "sometimes it's not okay" part answers laxists, which is to say most everyone most of the time, including those of us who think of the PDE as a license to act, a principle directed only against the rigorists.

But the fact that sometimes it's okay to act in a way that has bad side effects doesn't mean that, at those times, it's great or wonderful to act that way. We don't celebrate the fact that the injury to my family is outweighed by the good I do staying up till 2 a.m. instructing the ignorant and admonishing the sinner. We accept that fact, recognizing that our world is one with very few choices that have only good consequences. But we wish it weren't so, and we look forward to the day that has no evening when it will be so.

This should be especially clear in the special case of the PDE that we call "remote material cooperation with evil." The very expression contains the term "cooperation with evil." That should clue us in to the fact that we aren't talking about something that is altogether nifty.

But don't we often think it is altogether nifty? Once we satisfy ourselves of the moral liceity of a particular instance of remote material cooperation with evil, aren't we often wholly satisfied with ourselves, with no thought of the evil we are cooperating with troubling our minds further?

The PDE may justify our remote material cooperation with evil. It doesn't justify our satisfaction.


Monday, June 02, 2008

We're all Traducianists now

Traducianism, as you know, is the false doctrine that the human soul is produced through generation by the parents rather than directly by God.

The old Catholic Encyclopedia distinguishes between "corporeal Traducianism" -- "the materialistic doctrine of the transmission of the soul by the organic process of generation" -- and Generationism -- "according to which the soul of the offspring originates from the parental soul in some mysterious way analogous to that in which the organism originates from the parent's organism."

All materialists are corporeal Traducianists -- or should be, though I guess it'd be possible to believe the human soul is a material thing that comes from something outside the organic process of generation.

There are, or at least have been, plenty of Christians who were Generationists. If you're familiar with the old saw, "100% of Church Fathers were 85% orthodox," you won't be surprised to find traces of Generationism within the Church during the Patristic Age. Even St. Augustine, God love him, thought it gave a better explanation of Original Sin than did Creationism (the Catholic doctrine that every human soul is immediately created by God).

Not, perhaps, a matter of daily concern, but note how risky Generationism is in a time when scientific materialism is the reigning philosophy. If you want to argue that human souls are generated in a way mysteriously analogous to the way human bodies are generated, then your theology is dependent upon, and will change along with, the physical sciences. Creationism may strike the scientific materialist as cheating, but a charge of invalid philosophy is better than a charge of bad philosophy. ("Are sperm- and egg-souls immortal, then? Or merely potentially so? Etc.")

The difference between Generationism and Creationism is a difference in recognition of just how intimately, immediately, and personally God relates to every human person. Generationism, and still more Traducianism in general, posits a kind of absence of God where God is indeed present.

Almost all of us, though, posit a kind of absence of God where God is indeed present. Whatever we think God is indifferent to, whenever we say, "God doesn't care," whatever we pretend He won't notice -- all that says, "God is not here. God is not involved." All that savors of Traducianism.