- By Fr. Peter
- 5 May, 2012
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Over the past year, I have become increasingly interested in the theological writings of James Alison, whose The Joy of Being Wrong seems to be a real masterpiece of reflection on the notion of original sin. But his insights range far and wide over the spectrum of Catholic belief and practice. I find oftentimes that some parenthetical observation in a book or lecture of his keeps me occupied for several days afterward. Watching a 2006 talk he gave at the University of San Francisco, I caught this interesting assertion regarding devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“I have come to rejoice in and love Our Lady and the difference which she constitutes in the Church; for it is she who makes it impossible for the Church successfully to turn itself either into an ideology or into moralistic enterprise. She can never quite be co-opted into standing for something other than what she is.”
I suspect that this insight sheds light on the history of the devotion to Our Lady. Something that sometimes unsettles non-Catholics (and non-Orthodox) is the fact that Marian devotion seems to begin in the late fourth century or fifth century. At the very least, this is where we have some kind of written record in its regard. The Patriarch Nestorius (428-431) took exception to the common faithful using the term Theotokos, “God-bearer.” Why, we may ask, were the faithful of early 5th century Constantinople (the new Rome and residence of the newly Christian Emperor) paying attention to Mary as the God-bearer? Might it not be the sensus fidelium responding to the felt danger of the Church being co-opted by imperial ideology and moralism?
It is possible that this connection is also discernible in the rise of modern Mariology and devotion in the person of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort who lived in the France of King Louis XIV and Cardinal Richelieu, two men who, shall we say, struggled to disambuiguate the mission of the Church and la mission civilisatrice.