Seven Aspects of Mary’s Sanctity

"Madonna and Child" (detail) by Sassoferrato

“Madonna and Child” (detail) 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Second, Mary is humble, modest, withdrawn, almost Oriental compared to the typically American brashness and aggressiveness of most fundamentalists.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)—and appears here with the kind permission of the author.

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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 and is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences.

He is also 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.

Peter Kreeft

Dr. Kreeft's latest book is Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He's Ever Been Asked, Sophia Institute Press 2020.

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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