Saturday, January 10, 2009

On the contrary - In Defense of the Holy Father

TF has a post up in which he proposes to address some things said by Pope Benedict. Let's review, shall we?
No head of state (to my knowledge) has visited this blog.
Heh. On the other hand, we do not know who TF is. It is possible that he is a head of state. But he has visited my blog...therefore it is possible that a head of state has visited The Supplement! RdP FTW!
Nevertheless, on December 31, 2008, Benedict XVI provided some comments that are (perhaps) worth addressing
TF then goes on to offer us four sentences, culled from a blog which posted a few paragraphs from the Holy Father's homily for Vespers on Dec. 31. About a minute's worth of searching (kickstarted by the blog TF sourced for the quote, which included a link to the Italian original) led to the full homily in English here.

Before I go too far: this is a very long post, but I didn't see any way to avoid it. I haven't tried to remark on every word that he said, and in particular I've skipped some parts where it seems that TF has done nothing more than state his disagreement with Catholic teaching.

Now the first thing that should be pointed out about the Pope's message is its occasion. It is unsurprising that TF should be (apparently) unaware of it (for, if he was aware of it, he would almost certainly have grumped about that, too), but the occasion was not New Year's Eve, but the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It occurs on January 1, and (as is typical for holy days) celebration of it begins the evening prior. So the focus of the day is the Blessed Virgin, and consequently one would expect the Holy Father's message to have something or other to say about her. And of course having something or other to say about Mary that isn't Protestant is exactly what seems to have made TF cross.

Having set the stage, we are perhaps in a better position for considering what TF has to say. Here's the first snippet he pulled (well, technically it's not exactly the first snippet. He used the English translation from his source; what I will present here is the official translation from the Vatican's website):
Christ's Nativity, which we are commemorating in these days, is entirely suffused with the light of Mary and, while we pause at the manger to contemplate the Child, our gaze cannot fail to turn in gratitude also to his Mother, who with her "yes" made possible the gift of Redemption. This is why the Christmas Season brings with it a profoundly Marian connotation; the birth of Jesus as God and man and Mary's divine motherhood are inseparable realities; the mystery of Mary and the mystery of the Only-Begotten Son of God who was made man form a single mystery, in which the one helps to better understand the other.
TF says:
To say that the birthday of Christ is "suffused with light of Mary" is to miss the significance of the Incarnation. The significance of the Incarnation is about Christ, not about Mary.
"No, it certainly doesn't" to the first, and "Yes, that's certainly true, as far as it goes" to the second. In the first place, as we've already seen, the particular occasion is one reserved for consideration not of the Incarnation per se, but rather for contemplation of the Blessed Virgin's role in the event of the Incarnation. So the Pope hasn't "missed" anything. He's sticking to the subject that's appropriate to the occasion. Surely we can all agree that by carrying the Child in her womb, Mary had a role in the Incarnation? And if she did, surely we can all agree that there is nothing inappropriate in discussing that role in a homily given on a day set aside for contemplation of it?

It's one thing if TF wants to object to the fact of Catholic veneration of Mary. That objection is standard for the Protestant, and I suppose only the grace of God will change his mind about that. But to object that the Pope's remarks have somehow "missed" the significance of the Incarnation because he happened to focus upon the role of Mary in the Incarnation on a day set aside for that very thing seems a bit out of place - like a woman complaining that her husband didn't give her a birthday present on their anniversary.

Let's present a more relevant comparison and examine the Holy Father's message from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve - the holy day dedicated to celebration of the Incarnation (whether or not TF chooses to participate). The Christmas homily is entirely dedicated to Christ. In fact, if he even mentioned or alluded to Mary, I missed it. Why? Because the focus of that day is, of course, the Incarnation. In the same way, on a day devoted to Mary's role in the Incarnation, it's entirely appropriate to focus on that. You can't talk about every possible aspect of the Incarnation in one message. You have to focus. That's what the Pope did. To object to that, as though he were slighting the doctrine of the Incarnation, is absurd, it seems to me.

But there's still more to be said. Because in his homily from Dec. 31, the Pope didn't just talk about Mary. In fact, he talks about Christ quite a bit - thereby unambiguously anchoring the homily in the Incarnation, which TF would have us think the Pope had dissed.
"O admirabile commercium! O marvelous exchange!". Thus begins the Antiphon of the first Psalm, to then continue: "man's Creator has become man, born of a virgin". "By your miraculous birth of the Virgin you have fulfilled the Scriptures", proclaims the Antiphon of the Second Psalm...And again, in the traditional Te Deum that we will raise at the end of our celebration before the Most Holy Sacrament solemnly exposed for our adoration singing, "Tu, ad liberandum suscepturus hominem, non horruisti Virginis uterum", in English: "when you, O Christ, became man to set us free you did not spurn the Virgin's womb".

..."It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewing adoration to the newborn Prince of Peace..."

The first sentiment which spontaneously rises in our hearts this evening is precisely that of praise and thanksgiving to the One who gave us time, a precious opportunity to do good; let us combine with it our request for forgiveness for perhaps not always having spent it usefully.


And this evening the Virgin herself reminds us of what a great gift Jesus gave us with his Birth, of what a precious "treasure" his Incarnation constitutes for us. In his Nativity Jesus comes to offer us his Word as a lamp to guide our steps; he comes to offer us himself and we must always affirm him as our unfailing hope in our daily life, aware that "it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear" (Gaudium et spes, n. 22).

Christ's presence is a gift that we must be able to share with everyone. It is for this purpose that the diocesan community is making an effort to form pastoral workers, so as to equip them to respond to the challenges modern culture poses to the Christian faith. The presence of numerous highly qualified academic institutions in Rome and the many initiatives promoted by the parishes enable us to look confidently to the future of Christianity in this city. As you well know, encountering Christ renews our personal life and helps us to contribute to building a just and fraternal society. This is why we as believers can also make a great contribution to overcoming the current educational emergency. Thus, for a profound evangelization and a courageous human promotion that can communicate the riches that derive from the encounter with Christ to as many people as possible, an increase in synergy among families, school and parishes is more important than ever. For this I encourage each member of our diocese to continue on the journey they have undertaken, together carrying out the programme for the current pastoral year which aims precisely to "educate to hope through prayer, action and suffering".

In our times, marked by uncertainty and concern for the future, it is necessary to experience the living presence of Christ. It is Mary, Star of Hope who leads us to him. It is she, with her maternal love, who can guide young people especially who bear in their hearts an irrepressible question about the meaning of human existence to Jesus. I know that various groups of parents, meeting in order to deepen their vocation, are seeking new ways to help their children respond to the big existential questions. I cordially urge them, together with the whole Christian community, to bear witness to the new generations of the joy that stems from encountering Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem and did not come to take something from us but rather to give us everything [italics in original].
So let's see. On the day devoted to the Incarnation, the Pope doesn't even mention Mary; On the day devoted to her role in the Incarnation, he spends a decent amount of time talking about Christ.

I submit that the Holy Father hasn't "missed the significance" of anything here.

TF isn't done, though. He also says:
Surely, Mary was blessed to be the mother of Christ, but when He was born and laid in a manger, the shepherds came to see Him, not Mary and Joseph. Mary bore witness to the events that happened, but she was not what the shepherds came to see. When the Angel announced, it was "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

Unto whom was born Jesus? Did the angel say "unto Mary"? No! The angel declared "unto you" (pluaral, i.e. the shepherds) this child was born. What was the sign? A child bathed in Marian suffuse light? No! A child lade in the manger. Mary did wrap up Jesus and lay him in the manger, to be sure - but they shepherds were not directed to Mary but to Jesus. The angel mentioned Jesus, but not his mother.


When the shepherds arrived, their eyes had an opposite path: they found Mary, and Joseph, and at last they found the babe in the manger. And when they had seen it, what did they talk about? They talked, says Luke, about the child - "glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." Did they mention Mary and Joseph? Probably so - they mentioned the manger too no doubt - but the focus was on Jesus - not on Jesus and his mother.
The alert reader of the Pope's two homilies linked above will see that he did discuss the passage from Luke ... in the Christmas homily. That's where that discussion belongs, of course - or, at any rate, one can hardly object to his having addressed it then.
To say "our gaze cannot but turn with recognitions toward his Mother" provides some important insight. It is possible to turn one's eyes from Jesus to other things. When Mary is the one to whom we turn our eyes from Jesus, this should be to our shame.
To the contrary: given the context (a contemplation of Mary's role in the Incarnation), turning our eyes towards her is to give her role the attention appropriate for the day. There is nothing untoward here at all. TF seems to have the idea that to turn our eyes toward something is to say that we worship it - but that's totally meritless and eisegetical in the present context.
To say "who with her 'yes' made the gift of Redemption possible," is to perpetuate a legend. Scripture does not tell us Mary said "yes" to anything. To be the mother of our Lord was not offered to Mary as a queen, but announced to her as servant, a handmaiden. She was certainly a willing servant, but she was not offered a choice.
Heh. As though the word "Yes" must be said for assent to be given. As though the words "be it done to me according to thy word" aren't functionally "yes." But Adam and Eve weren't "offered a choice" either. They were told: do not eat the fruit of that tree. A command. But they rebelled. For her part, though - and this is the real point of the "Yes" in Catholic theology - Mary didn't rebel. She accepted what the angel said. She submitted, in stark contrast to what Eve did. She said "Yes" where Eve said "No."

Now things get a bit bizarre. Evidently referring to Luke 1:31, TF says:
"Thou shalt!" It is an imperative. It is not a question. It is not, "Would you mind?" It is an imperative - a command.
Uhh...what? Now at first glance I thought this was just wrong, but I checked anyway. Sorry, but there are no imperatives in this verse. None. "Thou shalt" is a future, not a command. Even if TF were right about this, though, it wouldn't have any bearing upon the fact of Mary's "Yes," viewed (as Catholics view it) in contrast to Eve's "No" to God's command.

Moving on a bit, we find that TF actually does concede Mary's assent, which makes the earlier business that "Scripture does not tell us Mary said 'yes' to anything" a bit of a lapse, I suppose.
She was assenting, but her assent was not necessary for God, but for herself.
Perhaps this is so in the Calvinist's world. It's certainly not that way in the real world, where it would be outrageous to suppose that a God of love would force a woman to carry his Son against her will. Certainly I agree that in the Lord's good Providence there was never any doubt about the matter, but to deny the validity of secondary causes in such things is an error. Her assent was certainly necessary, and Calvinism is just botched to the extent that it would deny the genuineness and legitimacy of human choice in God's purposes.

TF says, a bit later:
One of the reasons for the popularity of Christmas in Catholicism is its appeal to those devoted to Mary, since it is one of the few feast days involving her in some way.
Really? Do tell. I've been Catholic for a bit longer than TF has been, and I can assure you that the focus of every Christmas Mass I've attended has been Christ - not Mary. But maybe TF has some documentation for this amazing claim? I don't know. Considering that even the Pope neglected to mention her in his Christmas homily (as we have seen), I guess I'd have to say that TF is just blowing smoke here. I'm really surprised, because that's quite unlike him. I wonder if someone hijacked his blog... :-)

TF's next objection is to the title Mother of God, or rather to the Pope's use of the term "divine maternity" in reference to her:
...To say that Mary had "divine maternity" is to confuse categories and to misunderstand the true mystery of the hypostatic union.
Well, no. The Person in her womb was God. Yes or no? If the Person who came forth from her womb was God, then she is the Mother of God. It goes without saying of course that she was not the source of his divine nature. But to be the source of a human nature is not the same as to be a mother. God made Adam from clay. Is the clay "mother"? John said that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones. Would they have been "mothers?" Of course not. I'm delighted that TF doesn't seem from what he says to be Nestorian, but there's simply no sense in objecting to the designation of Mary as the Theotokos or Mother of God. The Person in her womb was God and no one else. God and no one else came forth from her womb on Christmas day (setting aside for the moment the question of the actual day, which isn't relevant here). The woman who brings forth a person from her womb is that person's mother. Period. Full stop. And in this case, that Person was the Second Person of the Trinity: God. Hence Mary is the Mother of God.

TF goes on to say:
There is no parity between Jesus and Mary.
Really? None? At all? So, they are not both fully human? Or maybe he means "parity" in the sense of "having borne children," which would be peculiar, but possible - if Mary was his mother, of course. But then of course in that weird sense there would be "parity" between them.
What is mysterious is the fact that she is pregnant - that she gives birth to a son without knowing a man. It's a Christological mystery, not a Marian mystery.
So there's no sense in which the mystery of a woman's pregnancy could be said to be a mystery related to her, so as to be a Marian mystery? None? Really?
The star that lead the wise men to Jesus was not Mary. Our hope is not in Mary - she is not our star of hope. Our hope is in the Lord alone.
TF here supposes falsely that only one sense of the word "hope" is valid, that only a single sort of reference to a star is valid, and that that sense, and that reference, are the ones that he affirms and none other. But this is the Humpty Dumpty defense, and we don't have to mean by "Star of Hope" what he says. And we don't.
Mary was our fellow human being. She was created as we are. She was only human, not divine, though she bore the God-man in her womb.
No kidding. And no Catholic would say otherwise, but TF seems to think we would. It's quite strange that TF gets so wound up when we say that he doesn't understand what we believe, but when he says stuff like this it's really hard for us to come to any other conclusion but that his understanding of Catholic teaching has some rather glaring holes.


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi RPI~one word: Bravo!

God bless!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Paul,


-- RdP

Martin T said...

Nice post. I'm reading through your PiT posts. Very nice. I wish, again, that I had time to say something intelligent in response to them but at least your posts help me read them.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for the encouragement :-) I'm glad that this stuff has been useful to you.