4. Mary Tells Us About The Generosity Of God
The Marian dogmas are all about the generosity of God–as the Canticle of Mary shows so powerfully. A friend of mine who’s also an amateur theologian once said to me about the Marian dogmas, which he dislikes, in essence: “If it’s not about the kerygma, then we shouldn’t really talk about it too much or make pronouncements.”
This points to a broader issue, which is one of my hobbyhorses, which is the tendency we have to talk about Christ and about theology generally in terms of necessity. Why did Christ have to die? He had to die because otherwise X, Y, and Z.
The first answer is that Christ didn’t have to do anything. This is not an incidental point. If God is a God of love, He is necessarily (ha ha) a God of generosity. Another article of classic Christianity is that God is perfectly free and created the world out of a perfectly free choice. I prefer to say (and there is no contradiction, to the contrary), that God created the world out of generosity. The God of the Bible is not a God of necessity–He completely transcends even the category of “having to”–, He is a God of generosity. Everything He does is out of perfect generosity and goodness and love.
(Note, I’m not indicting all uses of “had to” in theology. We describe things about God, and the way they logically fall together, and in that context “had to” can make sense. (So for example, in a previous post I say that Jesus “had to” be a man in order to be a Mediator.) But even as we use it, we should always relativize it or bring it in the context of God’s generosity. Jesus Himself does this: He occasionally talks about his “having to” die, but this is always within the context of fulfilling the Scriptures, and of course the Scriptures are themselves ordained by God, so that this “having to” is within the context of God’s generous saving grace.)
The very existence of the Marian dogmas is a consequence of God’s generosity. To take up my friend’s objection, no, the Marian dogmas are not (directly) related to the kerygma, but God’s Revelation is not about God giving us what we need. God’s Revelation is born out of His boundless love for us, which leads to His desire to be known by us. In His perfect wisdom, God reveals as much as He wants, but He doesn’t just reveal what we “need to know.” That’s not the way love works. (I will surely be vilified for this, but if Revelation is about what we need to know, there’s a whole bunch of the Bible you can get rid of.) The kerygma, God becoming man and dying on the Cross for us, and rising and saving us from sin and death, that’s what we need to know, and it is absolutely the center, and the most important thing, and the most fundamental thing. No argument there what-so-ever.
But God is generous, and He tells us more than we need. What He tells us about Mary through the Marian dogmas is not stuff that we need to know (at least in the strictest sense), but so what? Precisely because God is boundless generosity, who cares?
So the very existence of the Marian dogmas tells us something about God’s generosity, but of course so does the content of the Marian dogmas. Because all of the Marian dogmas are essentially about God bestowing special favors to Mary. She gets perpetual virginity. She gets to be glorified before anyone else. She gets protected from sin. She gets appointed Mother of the Church and Queen of Heaven. Why? Just because He loves her, and that is reason enough.
Jesus loves His mother so much, and, being one of total generosity, wants us to share His love for her, just like He wants us to share His love for all, including the saints. God is indeed a jealous God, but He is jealous of idolatry, that is to say, of what points us away from Him, but the saints, as should be clear, point us towards Him.
The Marian dogmas don’t fit the “had to” mentality, but the “had to” mentality doesn’t fit the mentality of God. Jesus didn’t have to do anything He did for His mother. He didn’t need to do any of this to save humanity. Assuming His mother into Heaven, enthroning Her as Mother of the Church and Queen of Heaven, preserving Her from sin, none of these things fall into the rubric “Things I Need To Do To Save Humanity.” But they do fall into the rubric “Things I Want To Do Because I Burn With Love.” Jesus is fully divine so He can and does do all these things; but–and I think this is key, and a deep mystery we can’t contemplate enough–he is fully human, and perhaps nowhere else is the fullness of humanity more thoroughly reflected than in the way He loves His mother in a special, unique way. Honoring His mother past the point of “reasonableness” may be, along with Gethsemane and the cry of agony on the Cross, the most human thing Jesus ever did. And yet it is so utterly divine, manifesting His total power over sin and death. O, how deep the mystery of Christ we contemplate through Mary, the Moon that reflects the Sun.
The Marian dogmas allow us to contemplate “the promise of life” and tell us about God’s utter generosity and love. He glorified Mary, for no other reason than wanting to, for no other reason than love; and, because He is the God of generosity, He invites us into this love, so that we may love her like He did, and that she may love us like He does.
My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
Let me close with one of my favorite Marian hymns (fair warning, it’s über-Catholic to the max):
We hail you, O our Lady
Mary, Holy Virgin, draped in the Sun,
Crowned with stars, the Moon below your feet;
In you we receive the Dawn of Salvation
Mary, new Eve and joy of your Lord
You birthed Jesus the Savior
Through you the doors of the garden are opened
Guide us on our way, Morningstar
You remained faithful, Mother at the foot of the Cross
Sustain our hope and keep our faith
From your Son’s side you drew for us,
The shed water and blood that save from sin
How joyful Eve was when you rose,
Higher than the clouds, higher than all the angels,
And how great is our joy, sweet Virgin Mary,
To behold in you the promise of Life
O Immaculate Virgin, preserved from sin,
In your soul and your body, you entered Heaven
Carried up in glory, Holy Queen of Heaven
One day you will welcome us at God’s side.