Thursday, April 15, 2010

Managing Marian Misogyny

[S]he became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man's understanding. For on this there follows all honor, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child. She herself is unable to find a name for this work, it is too exceeding great; all she can do is break out in the fervent cry, are great things,” impossible to describe or define. Hence men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God. None can say of her nor announce to her greater things, even though he had as many tongues as the earth possesses flowers and blades of grass: the sky, stars; and the sea, grains of sand. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God~Martin Luther from Commentary on the Magnificat (1521).
Part I. Some Opening Remarks.

This past December, three Calvinist Antidicomarianites decided that Advent was an opportune time to attack the devotion that Catholics show the Blessed Mother of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The particular edifice of Marian devotion against which Messrs. Turretinfan in an article entitled, Mariolatry Exemplified, Hays in an article captioned, The Immaculate Love Interest, and Kurschner in a squib with the heading, Catholics Don’t Worship Mary!,sallied forth is a work attributed to the Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, entitled, The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin. At the outset, I must admit that up to the time I first read the musings of Messrs, Kurschner, Hays and Turretinfan, I had never read the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin. Moreover, to the best of my recollection I have not ever commented about it in any of my apologetic endeavors nor have I ever incorporated, even accidently, any of its psalms, canticles, litanies, or hymns into my devotional prayer life--poor, tattered thing that it is. In fact, before I read these gentlemen’s three-pronged assault, I had been under the erroneous impression that The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin was just another name for the Rosary, the quintessential Marian devotional prayer.

While I truly appreciate these gentlemen taking the time to introduce me to Saint Bonaventure’s Psalter of the Blessed Virgin, I can not say that I appreciate the defamatory manner in which they made their introduction. Saint Paul at 2 Tim. 2:24-25, exhorts us to do better than that. I offer this response in such a spirit.

This presentation will be in several parts. First, I will touch upon some errors common to all of these gentlemen’s articles. Second, I will focus on some of the errors specific to each of their postings. Finally, we will examine the Mariology of Saint Bonaventure and the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin directly to see if these gentlemen actually make the case that the work is blasphemous or idolatrous. I will indicate here and now that if any of these gentlemen care to interact on what I have written here, I will be happy to entertain their rebuttals in turn. On with the argument.

Preliminarily, the objection to Marian devotion and/or devotion to the saints seems to be one of the more frequent objections that Protestant apologists make against Catholicism. There are several variations of this objection, but the most common form is that the Catholic Church requires one to pay undue homage to the Blessed Virgin (and to the Saints) which at the very least infringes upon, if it does not engross, the honor exclusively due to God thereby producing a devotion constituting, implicit, if not formal, idolatry. After interposing the objection, the Calvinist invariably will point to some poetic or florid language in a particular prayer or passage in an opus Marianum and claim that it is proof that the work smacks of “idolatry” or “blasphemy,” without offering any explanation as to why the prayer or practice happens to be idolatrous or blasphemous. The objections raised by Messrs Kurschner, Hays and Turretinfan are no different, although to be fair to Mr. Hays, he only implies that the work is idolatrous and/or blasphemous rather than labeling the work outright as such.

The problem with such these sorts of objections is that they rest upon an improper enthymematical premise which in truth is the real matter in dispute. Assume the premise that the honor Catholics pay to the Blessed Virgin is equivalent to the divine honor paid to Our God and all would have to agree that this is idolatrous (although I would not agree that such would necessarily constitute blasphemy, at least as to how the Scriptures defines the term). However, before the Calvinist can accuse the Catholic of committing such a crime against the dignity of God, he should first determine whether there is a foundation upon which to make this assumption particularly when Catholics themselves profess as a matter of dogma that they do not show Mary (or any other saint for that matter) true adoration reserved for God alone. Thus, in order to lay such a foundation, inquiry should be made as to what the Catholic means by the language he uses in his devotion to honor the Mother of God and then inquiry should be made whether, as a matter of fact, such language has really led Catholics to engage in idol-worship or other blasphemous behavior, or whether in truth the devotional practice has deepened a devotee’s relationship with God. Sadly, Calvinist apologists would rather vilify a particular devotional practice such as the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin according to their own atrophied tradition-driven eisegesis rather than proffer any sort of meaningful exegesis which examines the devotional practice within the context, historical background, and milieu surrounding it.

Going a step further, it must be noted that the objection to Marian devotion is premised on the misapprehension of how Catholics define the terms “worship” and “prayer.” Calvinist apologists apply the Protestant understanding of worship and prayer upon Catholic devotional practices without considering the verity that the Catholic understanding of what constitutes worship or how a Catholic views prayer are not identical to the Protestant view. For one thing, Calvinists do not recognize the sacrifice of the Mass as a legitimate expression of worship as Catholics do.

Here is what the 19th century Catholic apologist and philosopher, Orestes Brownson, wrote on the subject:
In every age of the Church saint-worship has obtained – never, I believe, by virtue of any positive precept, but from the overflowing of the pious Catholic heart. It is, if I may so speak, a necessity of Catholic piety. The love with which the regenerate and faithful soul is filled, cannot be satisfied without it. That love must worship, and it must worship the universal God: God in Himself and God in His works, all of which through His creative act partake of His divine being and are, through the medium of the act, identified with Him. The worship would seem to the soul incomplete, defective, if it did not embrace the creature with the Creator, and especially if it did not include the saints, who of all His creatures are the nearest and dearest to Him. The heart that does not include them in its love to God, and honor them in its honor to Him, may break no positive command, but it may be assured that it has at best only a stingy love, and no reason to applaud itself for either its logic or the fullness of its devotion.

The Protestant sects regard the worship which we render to the saints, especially to the blessed mother of our Redeemer, as idolatry. But this is because they do not consider that to worship God in His creatures, especially His saints, redeemed by His Blood and sanctified by His grace, is still to worship God; or that the worship which we render to the saints is never that which we offer to God Himself. Supreme worship is due to God alone, and to give it to another is idolatry, is treason to the Most High, to the Majesty of heaven and earth; none know this better than Catholics.

But worship is a general term, which includes not only different degrees, but different species. The word is from the Anglo-Saxon weorthscipe, which means simply the state or condition of being worthy of honor, or respect, or dignity; and to worship is to ascribe worth, honor, dignity, or excellence to someone – literally, to honor, it may be God, the magistrate, or simply any man for his office, station, acquirements, or virtues. The word itself may with like propriety designate the religious homage one owes to God, the reverence we give to the saints, or the civil respect we pay to persons in authority, whether in Church or State. Idolatry is not in rendering worship to men, but in rendering to them the worship that is due to God alone.

Protestant [critics] overlook this fact; and when they see us unmistakably worshipping saints – and perhaps rendering the saints as high a worship as that which they [protestants] in reality render to God Himself – conclude, rashly, that we are idolaters. But they seem not to be aware that the supreme and distinctive act of worship of God is sacrifice, and that we offer sacrifice never to any saint, never but to God alone. That Protestants should regard our saint-worship as idolatrous is not strange or surprising. Having rejected the sacrifice of the Mass, they have no sacrifice to offer, and therefore really no supreme, distinctive worship of God; and their [highest] worship is of the same kind, and very little, if any, higher than that which we offer to the saints themselves. Doubtless, so-called orthodox Protestants hold that a sacrifice, an all-sufficient sacrifice, has been offered by our Lord in offering Himself on the cross; but in their view, this sacrifice was completed, finished in the past, and is not an offering continuously made, and therefore made now on our altars, as really and as truly as on Calvary. In regard to men now living, according to them, [there is] no sacrifice to offer, consequently no supreme, distinctive worship of God. Hence their churches have a table, but no altar except by a figure of speech, as it is only by a figure of speech that they commune of the body of our Lord.

Their divine service or religious worship consists chiefly of prayer and singing of hymns or psalms, and comprises in kind nothing which is not perfectly lawful to offer to men. It is lawful to love our neighbor, to honor the magistrate, to pray to those in authority, to sing the praises of the conquering hero, and to confide in our friends. What in all this is distinctively religious worship, or that which can be given only to God?

But, because Protestants have, and believe in, no higher worship, it does not follow that there is none higher, or that we have it not. It is not good logic to argue that because they in their worship anthropomorphize God, we in ours divinize the saints. The sacrifice of Calvary, perpetuated in the sacrifice of the Mass, really and truly is the supreme, distinctive worship of God. As we have the true spiritual worship and offer it only to God, we can accept and encourage the over-flowings of the pious heart towards the saints without any danger of idolatry.

The holy sacrifice is never offered to a saint, not even to the mother of God; our churches and altars are all dedicated to God alone. Those that bear the name of some saint are, like all the others, dedicated to God, and simply placed under the patronage or intercession of the saint. The saints honored by offices in the church service are not the direct object of the worship. The sacrifice is offered to God in thanksgiving for them: the prayers are all addressed directly to God and only the saints’ intercession is invoked. [So, too], in the authorized litanies of the saints and of the Blessed Virgin, the saints are indeed invoked, but nothing is asked of them but their prayers for us; which is no more than we all ask daily of our pastors, of our friends, and of one another. And why may we not ask as much of a saint in heaven as of a sinful mortal on earth? Is the saint less living, or less dear to God? From Saint Worship-Part I
Applying the same sort misguided logic that used by Calvinist apologists when fulminating their Marian misogyny, we would have to wonder whether Protestants actually worship God at all given their vehement rejection of the sacrifice of the Mass, the highest, truest form of worship that man may direct to God. Catholics could argue that Protestants blaspheme God as they choose to show the Triune Deity only such honors that are shown creatures. Fortunately, most Catholics, at least the ones I know, are not infected with pretensions of the Calvinist kind and do admit that Calvinists do worship God, niggardly though their worship may be. Unfortunately, Messrs. Hays, Kurschner and Turretinfan do suffer from such pretensions as they dishonestly continue to perpetrate the falsehood that Catholics worship mere creatures in the same manner as they do God Himself for Catholics offer Him worship in the form of the sacrifice of the Mass which is never offered to Mary or any other person.

So there is no doubt as to what the Catholic understanding is in regards to how we are to honor God and how we are to honor Mary and the saints: divine worship is the act which acknowledges the uncreated and infinite excellence of God. In contrast, the honor shown Mary and the saints by Catholics recognizes the created and finite excellence conferred upon them by God. In other words, whatever honor is shown Mary and the saints is the acknowledgment that they are mere creatures who have been wonderfully blessed by God through their cooperation with God’s graces. The excellence we honor in Mary is nothing less than the unparalleled excellence God deigned to give her choosing her as the vessel for Our Lord’s incarnation and by her grace-filled exemplar as the first Christian witness and Mother of the Church. In honoring Mary, we merely follow the example of Our Maker who chose to honor her in a most special manner as well as His creation by making it a part of His salvific plan

The misapprehension over how Catholics understand the term “worship” is made worse by the Calvinist conflation of “devotion” with “faith”. To a Catholic, there is a radical distinction between the objects of faith, that is the truths essential to salvation as contained in the Holy Scriptures, and in the Apostolic Tradition of the Church which the Church teaches that all Christians must believe, and the practice of popular devotions, colored by living filter of pious traditions, custom, ethnicity and usage. The former constitute beliefs that are mandatory upon all believers and the latter constitute optional practices that an individual may choose to use in making their conversation with God more fulfilling and to deepen their relationship with Him.

The former is a product of faith, the latter is how the adherent chooses to apply that faith in his/her life in an expression of love for God and His holy ones. The former produces light, the latter warmth. While a deeper faith comes from learning, the deepest learning comes from ardent devotion.

In the case of Mary, Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort states in his great inspirational work Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, that sound devotion to our Blessed Lady is that which establishes devotion to our Lord more perfectly. It may be fairly asked then why do Catholics use language that seems so exaggerated, that seems to focus on Mary alone. Fairly answered then is that words addressed to God or to the Blessed Virgin Mary or any His saints can have no more meaning on the part of him who utters them, beyond that which the person uttering them attaches to them. In other words, it is not for the Calvinist to attach their own meaning of language used in prayer or in this case, The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin by Catholics, but rather the meaning of the language employed must be derived from the sense which it is given by the person actually using it.

Therein lies the problem. Calvinists insist that we limit ourselves to consider the Scriptures within the framework of their limited style of exegesis, yet they do not hesitate to abandon it when examining the writings of Catholic writers such as Saint Bonaventure to make their crude points. Why is it that Calvinists choose to ascribe meanings to words that Catholics do not ascribe to give themselves? Why impute to Catholics the one thing that we, one and all, utterly disclaim, and ever have disclaimed since the time of the apostles, namely, that we mean to give divine honor to Mary when we pray for her intercession? In the case of Saint Bonaventure’s Mariology, why is that we never see a Calvinist apologist take on the fact that the Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation and His Redemptive action is the heart of his Marian devotion or that underlying principle of the Franciscan way of life in general is Mary’s counsel, “Do whatever He tells you?” (Jn.2:5). It is telling that Protestant apologists, particularly those in the Reformed camp, focus on external outward and ambiguous appearances of Marian devotional practices for excoriation rather than take on the doctrinal truths that lie at the heart of such devotional practices. Personally, I doubt that Messrs. Hays, Kurschner or Turretinfan have ever bothered to actually study Mariology beyond their focus on external appearances.

Now I will admit that one may find an extreme case of devotional excess that crosses the line between true worship and veneration. After all, there are approximately a billion folks today who are Catholic. However, fair inquiry would show that the Catholic Church historically has denounced such excessive devotions as heretical and has suppressed them. But just as one should not object to the doctrine of sola fide on the grounds that it causes some of the co-religionists of Messrs. Fan, Hayes, and Kurschner to fall into antinomianism; so too, the devotion shown the Blessed Virgin should not be objected to on the grounds that some may have rendered to her a homage which is unlawful. Yet, it is exactly this sort of defective logic that Calvinist apologists such as Kurschner, Hays and Turretinfan employ in attacking Marian devotional practices.

In truth, unlawful devotion to the Mother of Our Lord is really a very unlikely error for any Catholic to fall into, including small children. In my 50 years of being a member of the Catholic Church, I have never heard of a single instance where such excessive devotion could be fairly substantiated. Even in the Italian-American parish I belonged to long ago, if one were to ask any of the little old ladies fingering their rosary beads in the pews before Mass, they would all be very able to clearly and definitely discriminate in their prayers between the Creator and the creature. Catholics, even little children, clearly understand that when they pray to the Blessed Virgin they pray to one who is but a powerful intercessor with God and that when they pray to God they pray to one Who by His own almighty power can do all things. We do not pretend to believe that Mary has any power of her own to dispense graces; rather we acknowledge the verity that God uses Mary as a vehicle to dispense His graces. It is by God’s will, not Mary’s, that our prayers are answered. Mary and the saints are merely the means by which God chooses to do so.

In other words, I would suggest that Messrs, Turretinfan, Hays, and Kurschner are more likely to substantiate a sighting of a Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster than they are at finding an instance of an orthodox Catholic worshiping Mary as if she were another pagan goddess like Isis, Cybele Artemis, or Athena.

Now that I have addressed the general sort of errors I perceived in the articles of Messrs. Kurschner, Hays and Turretinfan in regards to Saint Bonaventure’s Psalter of the Blessed Virgin, my next posting will take issue with some of the problems I found in each of their postings.

God Bless!

Maria regnans in Patria
Ora pro nobis in via!


Martin said...

Wow! In your kindness you are more fierce than a tiger. God Bless

Applying the same sort misguided logic that used by Calvinist apologists when fulminating their Marian misogyny, we would have to wonder whether Protestants actually worship God at all given their vehement rejection of the sacrifice of the Mass, the highest, truest form of worship that man may direct to God. Catholics could argue that Protestants blaspheme God as they choose to show the Triune Deity only such honors that are shown creatures.

Paul Hoffer said...

Martin, Thank you for your kind words. I hope you enjoy the next installment that I have posted as well.

God Bless!