Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mary, The Church at the Source

This fine book, published by Ignatius Press, is a collection of a series of addresses and writings by both then-Cardinal Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar on the subject of Mary, particularly in reference to her as an image and icon of the Church. As we are reminded by Cdl. Ratzinger, proper mariology is also ecclesiology and both mariology and ecclesiology are inseparable from christology. It is in an attempt to extrapolate the close interconnection between these studies that this book is given us.

Overall I was very impressed by this book - the level of its authors should make that no surprise. There were a few times where the selected work strayed for some time from the central topic but they all eventually returned there and it was only then that the heretofore tenuous connections were made clear. Having read enough of Cdl. Ratzinger/Pope Benedict and von Balthasar to know, this wasn't altogether surprising - they both share a proclivity for, as someone put it, "speaking in paragraphs". It is when you are feeling yourself lost in their writings that you must buckle down and hold on for this is where some of their more interesting points work themselves out. Incidentally, there is one note by von Balthasar where he pauses to contradict something Cdl. Ratzinger had written in Introduction to Christianitywhich I found rather amusing given that I had just recently finished the section of this book containing his contributions. It is obvious to the gentle reader who may not know otherwise these two men knew each other fairly well.

I'd like to take a couple of extended quotes from each author's contributions to illustrate what one may find inside. First, from Cdl. Ratzinger:

In my opinion, the connection between the mystery of Christ and the mystery of Mary suggested to us by today's readings is very important in our age of activism, in which th eWestern mentality has evolved to the extreme. For in today's intellectual climate, only the masculine principle counts. And that means doing, achieving results, actively planning and producing the world oneself, refusing to wait for anything upon which one would thereby become dependent, relying rather, solely on one's own abilities. It is, I believe, no coincidence, given our Wester, masculine mentality, that we have increasingly separated Christ from his Mother, without grasping that Mary's motherhood might have some significance for theology and faith. This attitude characterizes our whole approach to the Church. We treat the Church almost like some technological device that we plan and make with enormous cleverness and expenditure of energy. Then we are surprised when we experience the truth of what Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort once remarked, paraphrasing the words of the prophet Haggai, when he said, "You do much, but nothing comes of it" (Hag 1:6)! When making becomes autonomous, the things we cannot make but that are alive and need time to mature can no longer survive.

Then, from von Balthasar:
The Virgin, harboring a mystery under her heart, remains in profound solitude. In a silence that almost causes the perplexed Joseph to despair. Incarnation of God means condescension, abasement, and, because we are sinners, humiliation. And he already draws his Mother into these humiliations. Where did she get this child? People must have talked at the time, and they probably never stopped. It must have been a sorry state of affairs if Joseph could find no better way out than to divorce his bride quietly. God's humanism at once begins drastically. Those whose lives God enters, those who enter into his, are not protected. They have to go along into a suspicion and ambiguity they cannot talk their way out of. And the ambiguity will only get worse, until, at the Cross, the Mother will get to see what her Yes has caused and will have to hear the vitriolic ridicule to which the Son is forced to listen.

*phew* That's a lot to chew on. Then again, when you're dealing with God's plan for the salvation of mankind and the interaction of core parts of that plan it's going to be rather heady work. If you've ever considered the connection between Mary and the Church, and particularly if you've never considered that connection, this book will give plenty to contemplate and a host of new insights. It may not be a definitive collection in this area, but then we will never have the definitive answers to these questions until we ask the One who put this plan together in the beginning. I'd highly recommend this book.