Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mary Forgive Me? Grant Me Heaven?

St. Germanus of Constantinople, famous for not submitting to Emperor Leo III's iconoclastic rule, recorded in his prayer to Mary, "Do not despise petitions which have been uttered by an unworthy mouth. On the contrary O Lady glorified by God, considering the love with which we say these things to you, grant us forgiveness of sins, the joy of eternal life and freedom from all faults. (Homilia in Sancta Mariae zonam, as translated in Glimpses of the Church Fathers by Claire Russell)"

This fits with the overall tenor of his homily, but for the whole thing you'll have to acquire Russell's work.

I wonder, within Catholicism (and Orthodoxy!), what petition to Mary would "cross the line"? Germanus' expressions of Marian devotion attribute merciful, salvific and sanctifying acts to her. Even granting that God chose Mary to be the Ark-womb of Jesus and the New Eve (countering Eve's introduction of death into the world by introducing Life into the world), I am caught unprepared to imagine a defense of St. Germanus' exuberance. An expression of gratitude to Mary for 'causing' the possibility of New Life differs in kind from a petition to her to grant forgiveness, which of course only Christ Jesus can grant.

I suppose the apologist could contend that Germanus was asking her to "grant" the forgiveness indirectly through her petitioning to her son to do the real effectual granting. But this is not remotely the clear meaning of the expression "grant me forgiveness" or "grant me eternal life." At some point, shouldn't prudent concern for confusing and improperly catechizing the masses outweigh what is hoped to be achieved by this type of request to Mary? After all, this is no small expression, having no small implication on Christology (the purported end of all Mariology).

Nagging feeling, anyone?

12 comments:

Gil Garza said...

I am reminded of the wedding feast at Cana. Mary responds to the need by interceeding on behalf of the bridegroom. She acts, prompts Jesus to act and directs the action of the servants. Her action is completely Christological. In the same way a pious petition to the Blessed Virgin for forgiveness and eternal life entirely depends upon and centers around her son as the source of forgiveness and eternal life.

Thos said...

Gil,

Thank you; that is helpful. To the extent I am able to accept that the Canaan wedding account is representative of Mary's continuing role in creation (something I will have to give some time to think over), I seem to be left with a more pragmatic than theological problem.

But along those pragmatic lines, does asking Mary to forgive sins strike you as building up Christology, or confusing it? Does it not give you a nagging feeling? What petition, if any, is left that is for the Godhead exclusively? Thy Kingdom come? Thy will be done?

It seems much wiser (if not theologically correct) to say "pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death" than to say "forgive us our sins" to Mary. That seems to avoid giving the confusing impression (from the plain meaning of the words used) that the person praying thinks Mary is able to forgive sins. God the son prayed to the Father, "forgive us our sins."

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

It seems that St. Germanus emphasizes Mary’s intersession in his homily. “We are separated from God by the multitude of our sins; but we have sought him only through you. And finding him, we have been saved.” Or, “you have received countless and stunning marvels from your divine son.”

In context, Germanus does place Mary’s orbit firmly around her son and in so doing, lavishes praise upon her.

On the contrary, O Lady glorified by God, considering the Love with which we say these things to you, grants us forgiveness of sins, the joy of eternal life and freedom from all faults.

Considering the Love grants us forgiveness. Mary does not grant us anything. However, our consideration of love for her grants us forgiveness from God.

An S makes all the difference.

Thos said...

Gil,

That "S" is not in Ms. Russell's translation. The sentence still doesn't entirely make sense to me with it.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

My edition published in 1994 by Scepter in London on page 514 top of the page reads, "grants."

Thos said...

Gil,

Well that's fascinating. I have the 1996 edition from Scepter, and apparently it's the exact same pagination, but mine decidedly says grant...

1) I wonder what to make of that, and 2) I wonder what this does to our discussion... Are you less comfortable with the notion of asking Mary to grant you forgiveness of sins?

Either way, a father is not infallible, of course. I understand that Germanus' writing was strong evidence in favor of the Assumption doctrine though, so there may be a Catholic inclination to back him up more generally.

I was thinking about this matter this morning, and it occurred to me that the influence of more eastern notions of free will would affect how comfortable one was in asking Mary to participate in our salvation. One who is more influenced by notions of predestination might feel differently (as I do) about asking Mary to "save us" or "forgive us". We might see that God's election brings us to the church, and the merit of the righteous in praying for us supports our journey once there. (?).

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

Germanus' praises of Mary seem consistent with the Akathist tradition so prominent in the Eastern tradition.

Any attempt to unhinge Mary from her Christological frame would be foreign to the tradition. Crayola Christians whose catechesis never advanced past the coloring book and Protestants who do not connect Mary to her son often attempt this.

It does feel strange asking anything of a woman, much less anything of consequence, whom you do not know.

Anonymous said...

Thos: I don't know what the result of your discernment process ought to be, but speaking as a convert to the Roman church of now four and a half years' standing, from an evangelical background, I've found that as I go along I find more and more examples of such attitudes toward Mary, in which she seems to be attributed with the salvific powers that surely belong to Christ alone. I'm afraid I find that Mary plays a much larger role in the R.C. Church than one might think from the arguments of apologists, and I haven't seen much care in correcting overstatements. On the contrary, the excuses that are made for this seem remarkably unconvincing and even perfunctory. This is a continuing problem and pain for me, which I now believe I insufficiently investigated ahead of time. I suggest a very careful look before leaping.

Clay

Thos said...

Gil,

I understand there are shortcoming in catechesis. I understand too that Mariology is to be Christological in nature. It is to point to Christ. I wonder what the confines of this definition are in practice, though.

It's hard to read of one (even an old venerable saint) who prayed for Mary to forgive sins, and see that as existing within Christological confines. Whose will is one hoping to sway with such a prayer? Unless Mary has 100% sway/pull/effect over Christ's will of salvation, then it seems one should not ask Mary to forgive sin and grant heaven (through her prayers to Christ), but to ask her to pray that Christ would do those things. Even Christ only speaks with certainty over those whom the Father has given Him. It seems then that Mary cannot speak with certainty to the Son over whom shall be saved. She is a participant, but not the sole cause, no? And even if she's a super, wonderful, and incredibly powerful participant, she does not own the Father's will to grant or deny heaven.

I really do appreciate you discussing this topic with me, Gil. I am thankful for you and your time.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Thos said...

Clay,

Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. Many of the conversion stories I've read (esp. on blogs) have been from more recent converts than you. I've wondered how people a little further down the pike have felt about the move.

As I've thought about Catholics treating Mary as if she has plenary salvific powers, I see a few possibilities. 1) You and I are dead wrong to resist the popular sentiment, as Christ would surely protect His Church from such erroneous indulgences; 2) You and I should be faithfully submitted to the Catholic Magisterium, but stand against a predominant consensus that is dangerously wrong; 3) You and I should use Marian excesses as evidence that all the other (very convincing) claims of Roman Catholic authority are mistaken.

I'm inclined toward the second, middle view, inasmuch as I can see myself buying off on the arguments for Catholic Magisterial authority. I'm inclined to analogize this to the popular Catholic treatment of predestination and free will (a not-unrelated topic). My *personal* view is that the popular Catholic consensus attributes far too much to free will, to the point of detracting from an understaning of God's ultimate sovereignty (and if I'm right, that's a serious matter). But this analogy does not make me want to believe the Catholic claims of authority are wrong per se, but rather that the members of the Church must constantly strive to work toward truth and wring out error or erroneous tendencies and erroneous treatment of Truth. Likewise, I think that I can chock up what I believe to be Marian excesses to such error (and I realize the individual in the church is supposed to walk cautiously when carrying a dissenting view). What I've been trying to get out of these last few posts, and from Gil, is how much room there is for someone within the Church to say "I think it's dangerous and wrong to say 'Mary Save Me' or 'Mary grant me Heaven' because that exceeds her role and detracts from God's." I wouldn't mind if that made people upset, or made them look at me funny. I would mind if that were seen as contrary to the *formal* Catholic teaching.

I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Gil Garza said...

I feel like I'm the guy at the wedding who has to explain Uncle German's crazy toast to his friend. Yes he said that. No, he didn't mean it. We all understood what he meant, though.

So. Crazy Uncle German shouldn't have said that. He was trying to say something else. We all understood what he meant. He means well. He gets carried away. He's got a lot of love in all the right places.

Happy?

I still love Uncle German at all the family gatherings, though.

Thos said...

Gil,

Well I hope I haven't worn you down. Your metaphor is good -thanks. I have much to learn.

Exuberance I can stomach. It's a delicate matter though. Thanks again!

Peace in Christ,
Thos.