Seven Related Aspects of Mary’s Sanctity

Note: See related article from last week. – The Editors

"Madonna and Child" by Sassoferrato

“Madonna and Child” by Sassoferrato

Now, except on the one issue of “praying to” saints, most of the differences between us [Catholics and Fundamentalists] are matters of emphasis or sensibility rather than doctrine. But when it comes to Mary, the greatest saint, doctrine sharply divides. Fundamentalists call Mariology “Mariolatry.” Passions run higher on this than on any other issue.

Yet here too there’s a difference in sensibility behind the dispute. Fundamentalists would be much more open to the Marian doctrines (the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption) if they understood the motives behind devotion to Mary.

What motivates Catholic Marian devotion is something even more than her physical privilege of being the Mother of God, incredible dignity though that was. It was her spiritual excellence, her perfect modeling of sainthood. We can distinguish seven related aspects of Mary’s sanctity and contrast them with fundamentalism’s opposite emphasis.

First, Mary is hidden, almost invisible. She “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Like John the Baptist, Mary disappears before Christ. (That’s why Christ called John the Baptist the greatest of all the prophets (Matt. 11:11) because his whole program was that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Mary is greatest because she is smallest. Fundamentalists object that Mary gets in the way of Christ. In fact, it is the exact opposite. She is like the morning air to the rising sun (the Rising Son!).

Second, Mary is humble, modest, withdrawn, almost Oriental compared to the typically American brashness and aggressiveness of most fundamentalists.

Third, Mary is silent. Fundamentalists talk a lot. Their religion centers on words in a book, not sacramental mysteries in a church. Ecclesiastes advises, “God is in heaven and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few.”(Eccl. 5:3) This is Jesus’ attitude too; have you ever noticed how short His prayers and speeches are? Fundamentalists preach hour-long sermons. Mary knows more about love than that. Love seeks silence. Mary must have read Ecclesiastes; for example her prayer to Christ at Cana was simply, “They have no wine.” And her directions to the servers (and to us) were simply “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:3,5).

Fourth, Mary is womanly, a model woman “Blessed art thou among women” — Mary is the alternative to both chauvinism and feminism, counterpointing the heat and hate of both. Like Christ, she is new wine; she transcends our categories and expectations.

Fifth, Mary is willing. Her “fiat” (“Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) is the blindingly simple secret of all sanctity: the eagerness to say “yes” to her divine lover’s will. Fundamentalists are no better and no worse at that than any other Christians. Saints, by definition, are better at that, for “that” is precisely sanctity.

Sixth, Mary is simple. There is nothing more, nothing added to this one simple thing, this purity (oneness) of heart. More would be less. Fundamentalists rarely show this simplicity. (For that matter, neither do most Catholics.)

Seventh, Mary is heroic. She is worthy of “hyperdulia,” the highest human respect. Fundamentalists think we give her latria, the adoration proper to God alone. They do not usually even give her dulia, the respect due to rare human excellence in sanctity. (For as noted above, they tend to be suspicious of superiority as un-American.)

The effect of Mary and the saints on our character and devotion is even more important than their effect on our belief. Without the saints, our devotion would be much more humdrum and unheroic (like fundamentalism). Without Mary, our sanctity would be one-sidedly masculine, spiritually male. Mary actualizes our anima, the feminine function of the soul. Fundamentalists tend to be spiritually over-masculine; verbal, aggressive, obvious, non-mystical.

Another effect Mary has on our devotion is that through Mary, matter is made sacred. God entered matter through a mother! Fundamentalists believe this but do not feel it. Their spirituality emphasizes the inward, the subjective. They tend to ignore matter and concentrate on spirit.

Fundamentalism must come to terms with the fullness of the Incarnation and the sacramentalization of matter and of Mary if they hope to understand Catholicism — and that’s a very large step for them to take.

But many have taken it. Many Catholic converts came from fundamentalism. For fundamentalists often feel a sacramental vacuum in their religion. Recently, there have been many conversions from Catholicism to fundamentalism for the same reason: Many Catholics feel a spiritual vacuum because many Catholic priests and teachers are robbing the laity of clear, strong doctrine and morality in the name of the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.”

In both cases, the needs of the heart demand to be filled. Only the fullness of the Catholic faith can do that. Modernism, Catholic or non-Catholic, cannot do that; neither can fundamentalism.

Excerpted from Dr. Kreeft’s, Fundamentalists — as appeared in National Catholic Register (1988). Please post your comments and questions below.

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About the Author

Peter Kreeft

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and also at the King's College (Empire State Building), in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 55 books including: Back to Virtue; The God Who Loves You; Heaven, The Heart's Deepest Longing; Everything You wanted to Know About Heaven; Your Questions - God's Answers; How To Win The Culture War; The Journey; Before I Go - Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters; and Jesus Shock.

Dr. Kreeft is a convert to the Catholic Church from reformed Protestantism. He earned an A.B. degree from Calvin College, an M.A. and Ph.D. from Fordham University, followed by post-doctoral work at Yale University. He has received several honors for achievements in the field of philosophy, including the Woodrow Wilson Award, Yale-Sterling Fellowship, Newman Alumni Scholarship, Danforth Asian Religions Fellowship, and a Weathersfield Homeland Foundation Fellowship.

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  1. Without Mary, our sanctity would be one-sidedly masculine, spiritually male. Mary actualizes our anima, the feminine function of the soul.

    Many Catholics feel a spiritual vacuum because many Catholic priests and teachers are robbing the laity of clear, strong doctrine and morality in the name of the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.”

    What do we lack that makes our sanctity one-sidedly feminine, as it is today?

  2. I realize these are excerpts from a book on fundamentalism but think: how can we possibly share these excellent points about Mary with any fundamentalist??? As many digs, personal and unsubstantiated, as there are in just this one snippet, I can’t bring myself to share this with a cousin who would thoughtfully consider the Marian comments but would rightfully be hurt at being labelled “over aggressive”, etc. this is not charitable and it does not enable evangelization.

    1. I agree completely. It’s abhorrent to use the label ‘fundamentalists’ for anyone who does not share your own beliefs, making you one yourself.

  3. One thing to keep in mind: Many fringe sectarians just barely within the pale of Christianity–or well outside of it–get labelled as “fundamentalists.” Classical fundamenetalism, as outlined in Manchen’s books THE FUNDAMENTALS, is totally consistent with the Catholic faith–and that of the pre-reformation churches, as well.

  4. I meant to add that when talking to the falsely called “fundamenetalists”, I’ve frequently said, “It’s totally fruitless to discuss Marian theology and devotion with people who don’t even believe the Virgin’s Son is God Incarnate [and many of them do not], and I’m not even going to try. Mariology can be understood only in the light and as part of sound Christology.”

  5. Some scriptural justification for Marian prayers:
    Luke 2:35: “And you yourself shall be pierced with a sword so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Spoken to Mary when baby Jesus is presented at the Temple.)
    John 19:25: “Near the cross there stood his mother . . .” (She was present at His crucifixion. How do you think she felt?”
    John 2:1-10. Jesus has been known to work a miracle at His mother’s request.
    The thought is that so-called Fundamentalists pay attention mostly to concepts that are found in Scripture.

  6. While I agree that Mary is the the first and greatest Apostle and as the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God and that she above all other human Saints most certainly deserves the highest praise. I am however after reading this post disappointed that the proper motivations for Catholic devotion to Mary were never clearly stated and defined as motives. I also am disheartened by the insensitive stereotyping of Christian Fundamentalists that perhaps; if any of them should ever read this post for enlightenment on the subject of Catholic Marian beliefs, will be quite correctly offended, perhaps setting meaningful dialog back several decades or more. In the case of this post I am quite certain that humble silence; following the example of Mother Mary, would have been the wiser course of action.

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