The Logic of Mariology

October 27, 2015

Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, lighting candels

Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona

I have finished reading an excellent article, “John Henry Newman: Mariology and the Scope of Reason in the Modern Age” (Nova et Vetera 11:4 [2013], 993-1016), by Paige E. Hochschild of Mount St. Mary’s University.

The purpose of the article is to apply the argument from “fittingness” (ex convenientia) as found in St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica III, Q1, A1 — and, I would add, in St. Anselm as well — to the doctrine of Mary in the theology of John Henry Newman. It is brilliantly executed. I am obviously a nerd.

In order to explicate the thesis of the article, I would need to replicate the article in full. That is not possible, legally and otherwise. I will, therefore, simply tempt you with excerpts:

The natural world can lead us to a sense of divine handiwork, but this is not the same thing as faith. It is not the role of reason to give rise, by a kind of necessity, to religious conviction; faith is not an effect of sound reasoning. [p. 999]

In more modern terminology, fittingness arguments would consist of inductive arguments that support, but do not compel, a certain conclusion, or, demonstrative arguments in which at least one premise is an agreed upon truth of faith. …Fittingness arguments cannot stand alone; they presuppose a framework that has a claim upon the intellect precisely because it has a compelling character with respect to the imagination, or the illative sense of the whole. [1002]

Faith seeks to understand, not as providing faith with a whole new foundation, but as grounding faith more deeply in the soil of the rational character of the believer. [1003]

…fittingness must show more effectively the internal coherence of the argument of salvation, and the nature of the Church. [1003]

And now in regard to the doctrine of Mary (“mariology”):

If the purpose of the Incarnation is to communicate God’s goodness to the creature, the obstacles to that end must be removed (sin, disobedience, and death), by divine power working through the agency of the creature. …A theological unity comes to light in the parallelism between Christ and Adam, through which Mary can stand in a similar relation to Eve because she is not only mother (of Jesus), but also spiritual spouse, as the creature, reconciled to God, through the trust in God that overturns fear. [1011]

[Mary] is not the mother of his body, or the mother of his humanity merely, but the mother of the person of the Word Incarnate. If we are to take seriously both his divinity and the unity of his person, her relationship to Christ becomes significant in a new light. She truly guarantees and safeguards Christ’s divinity: if she is the theotokos, Christ is “God-with-us” through an effective mediation. [1012]

Christ doesn’t pass through Mary’s womb like a station on his way to Calvary: “the child is like the parent…and this likeness is manifested by her relationship to Him.” [1012]

In Scripture, she is a quiet model of patient and suffering obedience: like John, she is quietly present in faithful devotion…like John, she decreases, very quickly. Likewise in the history of the Church, she is quietly present in the faithful devotion, waiting patiently for the whole Church to affirm her in her right relation to Christ. Newman’s point is that the very way in which Marian doctrine develops over time is itself an illustration of her character: no trumpets and glory, but a quiet witness in the hearts of believers. [1013]

These excerpts do not do justice to the article, but I trust that they are sufficiently stimulating for blogging purposes. The great value of this article is not to convince Protestants of the Catholic doctrine of Mary; rather, it is to convince Protestants that the Catholic doctrine of Mary is not crazy and is perhaps even logical. That is no small accomplishment.

Given that the “argument from fittingness” requires imagination, devotion, and aesthetic perception, I do not expect that most Protestants will even begin to understand.


Image: Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. August 2015. Photograph is mine.

Fra Angelico - Beato Angelico Annunciazione, San Marco Museum, Florence

The Annunciation – Fra Angelico

The church is “the description of an event,” according to Barth, the gathering of a people by “the living Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit” (IV.1, 650). The church is thereby always a miracle. She does not exist or thrive by the ingenuity of man, even though she is susceptible to all of the standard historical tools of cultural analysis at our disposal. The Christian knows what the anthropologist could never discern – that the church is always freely given by grace. The sola gratia of the Reformation applies to the church just as much as it does to our justification and sanctification. Indeed, the true splendor of the church is “the glory of the Lord justifying man and of man justified by the Lord” (657). All other collectives or societies, political or otherwise, seek to maintain and promote some human good. This “society,” the church, is where God seeks and maintains our human good. It is not our achievement, and this society publicly confesses her incapacity to discern this good, much less to maintain it amidst our pride and rebellion.

The purpose of Christ’s work of reconciliation is that a people may be sanctified and brought into a familial relationship with the Father. Thus, our salvation is not individual but communal: “the collective is the purpose” (688). There is no salvation without this entry into a community of “saints,” as Paul addressed his churches. There is no salvation that may bypass our entry into the church. The real presence of Christ is found in the church, and Barth even goes as far to say that the church is “the earthly-historical form of the existence of Jesus Christ Himself” (661). The Christian discovers Christ in his “body,” the church, and she is thereby constituted in this body for the sake of witnessing to Christ in this world. It is in this sense that the church is “essential.” But the “body” remains his body. The church does not guarantee this essence from its own authority, as if Christ “handed over” this responsibility to the church. We can trust that the church shall always prevail against the darkness at her borders (Mt 16.18), but this is not the church’s own doing – indeed, it is very much in spite of the church’s own doing! It is God’s good pleasure that alone ensures the continuing existence of the church. Christ sustains his bride, the church, from his heavenly throne, so that the freedom of his grace may be established on earth as it is in heaven.


The church as the bride of Christ and the body of Christ are fascinating images, seemingly in contrast. As bride, the church is distinct from Christ; as body, the church is identified with Christ (indeed, “as” Christ in some sense, though Protestants are rightly wary at this point). Yet, if we follow the nuptial union (à la Ephesians 5) then the bride and the bridegroom are united in “one flesh,” and this allows us to bring both the “bride” and “body” images together. The church is the body of Christ because she has been joined with Christ as his bride, forming “one flesh” out of two.


Image: “Beato Angelico Annunciazione” by Fra Angelico (1395-1455), San Marco Museum, Florence

ECT on Mary

October 30, 2009


If you have not already read the latest statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together, you should. The topic is Mary. Most ecumenical statements are pretty bland and predictable. We’re all familiar with the conciliatory nuances involved with statements on soteriology or ecclesiology. But when it comes to mariology, it’s pretty hard to nuance “conceived without sin” or “bodily assumed into heaven.” So, we have the Evangelicals saying, more or less, “Nope, not gonna go there. What Bible are you reading?” Actually, they did a very admirable job of accommodating, albeit minimally, certain intentions enshrined in the Catholic position. For example:

Evangelicals find unnecessary and unbiblical the notion that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception. Still, we affirm much of what this teaching is intended to convey—that Mary was the object of God’s gracious election in Christ; that she was uniquely prepared to become the mother of our Lord; that she is an extraordinary model of the call to discipleship and the life of holiness; that her assent to the purpose of the Lord was itself the result of God’s unmerited favor toward her—an example of sola gratia; and that she should be honored and called “blessed one” in all places and by all generations.

The entirety of the Evangelical response is marked by a deep understanding of both the history and the theology behind the Catholic position. Thus, they rightly note the apocryphal sources as varying tradents, as well as the pious intentions in the trajectories which yielded the dogmatic formulas. I was very impressed. I would really like to know who was the principal writer for the Evangelical response — perhaps Professor John Woodbridge (TEDS) and/or Professor Kevin Vanhoozer (Wheaton), signers of the statement.

The Catholic portion of the statement was also well done. Of particular interest, the Catholic position makes it clear from the beginning that they are working with a “progressive revelation” of sorts (of course, they would never say “progressive revelation”). Thus, we read:

The Bible is the foundation of all Catholic teaching. Catholics also believe, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church all things (John 14:16), that, under the influence of the Spirit, the gospel of grace is more fully and completely understood. Thus the Catholic Church believes that in its listening to, praying with, and reflecting on the truth of Holy Scripture, the Spirit is active as a divine guide, leading to a rich and comprehensive consideration of God’s Word. The Spirit leads the Church to see the full implications of the gospel through the teaching of the early Fathers, through ecumenical councils, through prayer and liturgy, through the lives of the saints, and through the study of theologians. All of these help the Church to see more clearly the profound meaning of Christ’s message and the extraordinary role of his mother, Mary, in the history of salvation.

The key word here is “implications.” St. Thomas and others would say, “fittingness.” The bridge between fittingness and knowledge is the Roman Catholic magisterium. That’s the divide between Evangelicals and Catholics.

Mary’s Memory

November 19, 2008

Virgin Mary,

I just read a highly interesting article by José Granados, “Through Mary’s Memory to Jesus’ Mystery” (Communio 33:1, Spring 2006). Granados basically argues that the post-Resurrection apostolic memory of Christ must necessarily include that of Mary, the only witness to Christ’s divine origin in a virginal conception, a “memory” of necessity immaculate if the Church is to have a true comprehension of the Son’s full deity in the Father and full humanity from his mother — building off her faithful “pondering in her heart.” Okay, that little synopsis does little justice to Granados’ arguments, so you’ll have to read it.

It was interesting to read this after reading some of Matthias Scheeben’s Mariology (volume 1 and volume 2). While Scheeben’s work contains some fine moments, he is still working with traditional proof text arguments, so, e.g., Luke 1:34 “proves” that Mary took a vow of virginity. A lot is built off of this. Similarly, in volume 2, chapter 4 (“Proof of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception from Sacred Scripture”), Genesis 3:15 requires that Mary be immaculate from her conception (otherwise, there would have been enmity between her and Satan). I don’t think too many Catholic theologians today are quite as confident to utilize scripture in this way. Certainly such texts can be used more along the lines of corroborative evidence, but more fundamental and more systematic reasons must be given — and this is the sort of work that Granados is doing well, and similar to the marian work, little that I’ve read, of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar. Granados’ presentation, while necessarily limited in scope, is far more plausible to a Protestant than that of Scheeben. It is rooted in history and the Church (and the Church’s gospel), as with von B’s ecclesially-centered marian arguments, and as such gives the Protestant reader a plausible path to the high mariology in the Church’s history.