Mary Mother of Christians and Her Daughters

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Mary Mirror of Perfection

Now, consider that Mary loved her Divine Son with an unutterable love; and consider too she had Him all to herself for thirty years. Do we not see that, as she was full of grace before she conceived Him in her womb, she must have had a vast incomprehensible sanctity when she had lived close to God for thirty years?-a sanctity of an angelical order, reflecting back the attributes of God with a fulness and exactness of which no saint upon earth, or hermit, or holy virgin, can even remind us. Truly then she is the Speculum Justitiæ, the Mirror of Divine Perfection

Blessed John Henry Newman

Is Mary, the mother of Jesus, truly a mirror which reflects in the most perfect way possible to humans the Divine attributes or is it more true to say that she is a mirror which reflects mostly the work of the Catholic imagination? I would argue that to some degree that she is both and that moreover the two things are really one thing approaching the same object from different angles. Critics of the Church often assert that the Mary of the Gospels and Catholic Mary are two very different figures with little in common. The person whom the Church venerates under that name is based less upon the Bible than it is upon fantasies, legends, speculation and liberal borrowings from pagan cultures. Most arguments which have the power to persuade large numbers of people usually contain an element of truth and that is so here. I propose to demonstrate briefly what is false in the allegation and then to suggest that what is true in it does not contain the meaning that the critics suppose that it contains.

First then, the references to our Lady in the New Testament. No woman has more references made to her in the Gospels than Mary although that still means that the total number is quite small. As I demonstrated in my earlier series The Bible and The Virgin however the Evangelists had the ability to compress masses of information into very few words. Close consideration of the verses will enable a person to learn explicitly and deduce implicitly much that the Church holds to be true regarding the Mother of our Lord. The same applies to the appearance of Mary in the Acts of the Apostles and the figure of the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation (Apocalypse 12) whom it is not unreasonable to identify with the Theotokos. The Church also holds it to be axiomatic for Christians that they should always read the Old Testament through the lens of the New. This means that we see in the OT much which prefigures or foreshadows the new dispensation in archetypal form. Included in this are any number of figures, like the bush that burns without being consumed or the Ark of the Covenant or Rachel the mother of Israel, which refer to Mary. Perhaps above all there is the figure of Eve and the Protoevangelium in Genesis 3 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. (Gen 3:15) Taken together all the references in Scripture which can be readily understood to refer to our Lady fill up in great measure the figure of Catholic Mary and identify her with the historical Mary of Nazareth.

It remains true nonetheless that the image of Mary which Catholics hold in their hearts and minds with such devotion is in part based upon extra-biblical sources but that is hardly the devastating critique that its opponents suppose it to be. The Church has never held it to be a truth that the Bible is the only resource which gives us accurate information about the revelation of God to Man and the Bible indeed makes no such claim for itself. The Sacred Traditions passed on by the Apostles to the faithful are of at least equal value and the two things balance each other, nothing in Tradition can contradict Scripture and nothing in Scripture can contradict Tradition. We can see, then, from the very ancient liturgies and prayers of the Church and the writings of Early Church Fathers much material which is now incorporated into the Marian cult of the Church. A third pillar to the understanding of revelation which we possess is the use of reason. By applying reason to Scripture and Tradition we can that deduce certain things must be true or can be accepted as being true without contradicting either of the other two. Hence speculative theology adds another element to the picture that we can form of our Lady. Where these things, Scripture, Tradition and Reason are in harmony with each other we can have some confidence that their collective wisdom forms a truth and so what they tell us about Mary means that the figure whom the Church honours is the same as the young woman who first heard the words of the Archangel Gabriel some two thousand years ago.

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