Theology of the Body and Marian Dogmas, Part II

Mariology is the study of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As a field of study it seeks to understand her role in salvation history through examining her privileges and titles. Yet, that is not all it is. From the very beginning of reflections on the Virgin Mary, especially in the Fathers of the Church, there has been an understanding, a theological tool, called the Mary-Church analogy. What this theological tool seeks to emphasize is the notion that whatever statements we make concerning the Virgin Mary have some bearing and significance for the Church, the Church understood as both a collective whole and the individual Christian. In short, as Adrienne von Speyr noted: “Whatever the Lord did to his Mother he did with his Church in mind.” (28) Thus, the study of Mariology has always taught something about man and his relationship with God through faith, as Lumen Gentium states: “Having entered deeply into the history of salvation, Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith.” (29)

In a rather lengthy quote, Fr. Donald Keefe gets to the core of why Mariology needs to be an essential dimension in all theological fields of study:

The Marian doctrines are . . . not only not negotiable, not dispensable to the Christian faith: their exploration is an essential task of theology, and any systematic theology which would ignore these doctrines, or fail to integrate them . . . is doomed to lapse into that kind of “identity system” which von Balthasar properly condemned in Barth’s dogmatics, which is latent in Tillich’s systematic theology, and which is all too easy to extrapolate from any theology which would prefer, for its principle of exploration, some immanent dynamism, human or cosmic, whose relation to the grace of the New Creation is at best and finally uninteresting. The Marian doctrines enter theology at the level of method, for the conversion process which the Christian faith demands of any prior anthropology, cosmology, sociology, politics or other human discipline in order that it become a theology is that by which such a discipline loses its immanent necessity, to become Christocentric. (30)

What this profound statement basically posits is that in order to fully understand the world from God’s perspective, the masterpiece of God, the Virgin Mary, must be incorporated into the study. Even more specifically, since we are here dealing with the field of theological anthropology (especially human embodiedness), the late Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann was absolutely correct when he laconically noted: “Mariology is . . . the “locus theologicus” par excellence of Christian anthropology.” (31) In other words, the study of man must not have abnormality as its starting point—a common error among many of the modern methods used in the social and psychological sciences—but, rather, start with normality, the blueprint for what it means to be an embodied human person. This is why in order to move beyond what modern ideological thinkers state about the human body, John Paul II began his study of man from a protological perspective, that is, “in the beginning.” The implications for what this means for a relationship between Mariology and the study of anthropology is that we have to look to what divine revelation (God’s knowledge) tells us about Mary, the model and prototype of all human embodiedness. (32)

To further illustrate the necessary place of Marian studies in Christianity, one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, Hans Urs von Balthasar, noted:

“Without Mariology Christianity threatens imperceptibly to become inhuman.” (33)

Without Mariology the age-old tendency to construct a dualistic cosmology and anthropology is never far away. However, as the late John Cardinal Wright aptly noted: “By the teachings of the faith on the Madonna, the flesh is made the twin of the spirit—no longer its rival.” (34) In Mary all the glories of Christ’s saving work are made clear and perfectly evident, they are made real and concrete. Even Karl Barth, though somewhat erroneous in his classification of terminology, noted the importance of Marian dogmas for allCatholic theology when he stated: “Marian dogma is neither more nor less than the critical, central dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, the dogma from the standpoint of which all their important positions are to be regarded and by which they stand or fall.” (35) Regardless of the fact that he is mistaken in stating that Marian dogma(s) are the central dogma of Catholicism, he is absolutely right to note that the Church’s teaching on Mary makes all Catholic teaching stand or fall!