Much of the titles and supposed behavior attributed to Mary can be explained by way of Marian hegemony.
What is Marian hegemony? Think about the titles we Catholics give to Mary. Among them, she is proclaimed to be the best possible mother. But I wonder: Why is she never presented as the best possible police detective or captain? Or best general, or best executive, or the best career-driven person? Why is she not called the best athlete? Or the best priest, or best bishop?
I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve also been reading. I think I agree with Dr. Bruce Malina: the reason is because of hegemony. It’s all Marian hegemony.
And if you retort, well, Jesus isn’t called police officer or military person, businessman, or athlete, best or otherwise, let me stop you there. In fact, historically, we have. We have a big-time Docetic hangover in the Church. And historically, theologians have constantly manufactured congenial false Jesuses who buy their culture’s values hook, line, and sinker. And in doing that, they have indeed turned Jesus into a police officer or military commander, businessman, athlete, and definitely priest.
To understand what I mean about Marian hegemony, let’s go back through time to the fourth century. Here we find the actual birth of Christianity, Emperor Constantine’s Roman religion. We aren’t talking “Jesus groups” anymore, folks! The proper term now is “Church” (by way of kyriakon doma, or “place of the male who dominates everyone and everything”). Mind you, I am not saying there isn’t continuity between Church and ante-Nicene Jesus groups! I am just making careful distinctions that both catechists and popular Catholic speakers often fail miserably at.
In the fourth century, Christianity is the legal and political religion of Constantine. At that time, Christian leaders of a philosophical bent were pressed to make everything about Christ crystal clear. This was ironic, given the Markan Jesus’ sentiments about clarity (Mark 4:10-12). Jesus wasn’t imperial elite, but he was eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern.
Getting Things Correct
In any case, now more than ever was the time to correct shady ideas about Jesus, despite his own personal preferences. And who did this philosophizing and theologizing and Christologizing? Mediterranean male elites, exclusively. And since the strongest emotional bond in the circum-Mediterranean world, then and now, is that between mothers and firstborn sons, how could these Mediterranean elite male theologians, themselves sons, miss the importance of Jesus’ mother?
Here we arrive at the origin of Mariology—the theological study of Mary’s role. This is also the beginning of Marian hegemony. What drove this Mediterranean elite male enterprise? The principle of “fittingness” or the rational, deductive argument of convenience. Goes like this—
Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit.
God (or Christ) could do something;
it was fitting that God (or Christ) should;
therefore, God (or Christ) did it.
This principle of fittingness drove Mariology through the centuries.
Marian Hegemony & Solving Two Problems
Originally theologians (Mediterranean males all) had to address two problems.
First, how could they speak of or behave toward Mary “fittingly” (read: according to elite Mediterranean male expectations) since they never before honored Messiahs with mothers? In other words, there was no proper model for this behavior.
Second, what did messiah mean anyway? That was very confusing! Even within Israelite circles back in Jesus’ day, people had many contradictory ideas about what “messiah” meant. To some, the messiah wasn’t even human!
Fitting Marian Hegemony
So the principle of fittingness came to the rescue. Is it proper or fitting? If so, it must be, and therefore it is. It was appropriate to call the man Jesus “God,” yes? If so, it must also be fitting to call Mary “the (Mediterranean) mother of God.” So she must be that, and therefore, she was.
But any (Mediterranean) mother of the living God who is dead, buried, and reduced to dust is pretty worthless, right? Sure. That’s not a proper or fitting (Mediterranean) Mother of God—isn’t God the source of all life? Absolutely. So what would make Mary properly fit for this role? Only if God raised her after death. Therefore, God must have raised Mary after dying. In fact, she was raised. Ultimately, it was an assumption based on fittingness. Simple fix!
But hold up. You can’t really be a good (Mediterranean) mother of the God of sky-vault if you aren’t also reigning with God beyond the upper level of the highest sky-vault. No way! That’s not proper or fitting. What would fix that? Well, after raising Mary, it was proper for God to take her up above the sky-vaults. Therefore, God must have brought Mary up to the highest sky-vault after her death. Thus God did this, and Mary is on the uppermost sky-vault with God right now. That’s a fact, Jack!
See how many “facts” you can create by swallowing this argument of convenience? Where do you think Marian litanies came from? Any devotee of Mary with just a drop of creativity can become a veritable Mariological cornucopia of information about “Our Lady.”
“Our Lady” of Marian Hegemony
Speaking of “Our Lady,” where did that title of Marian hegemony originate? From the principle of fittingness, of course! Everything “discovered” about Mary came by way of establishing parallels to Jesus’ life and status. Jesus was poor, wasn’t he? Well, so was Mary then. Not because of socio-economics, folks, but because “potuit, decuit, ergo fecit!”
Jesus healed—so Mary must also have. Jesus is king, and that makes Mary queen, right? Sure. And if Jesus is Cosmic Lord, Mary must also be a Cosmic Lady. It makes perfect sense.
Ancient Mediterranean male elites were highly adept at philosophizing this way. They turned Mary into a feminine Jesus. In practice (but not official belief), both became male and female halves of the monotheistic Christian God.
Nothing Psychological About Early Marian Hegemony
However, it is essential to recognize that psychology was utterly lacking in this philosophical and theological enterprise. Ancient Mediterraneans were anti-introspective. Therefore they judged people stereotypically and never by way of individual or psychological descriptions and explanations.
So, these elite Mediterranean male philosophers stereotyped Mary—but with fitting and proper stereotypical descriptions only. So, philosophically, they transformed Mary into an ideological cipher for the Mediterranean feminine—virgin and mother. Thus, they shaped her to symbolize something significant about womanhood in their cultural context.
And they excluded from Mary anything they deemed to be a “female-negative”—I am talking female biological realities, folks. You know? Ruptured hymens, menstrual bleeding, and whatnot. This Mediterranean elite male club degraded all of that and eliminated it from Mary the Symbol. In their hands, you see, Mary became too good to be a woman.
By the way, this was not a Christian original, friends. So don’t call it that. Pre-Christian theologians were also elite Mediterranean males. They assessed the feminine in the same way. And they did the same with their goddesses like Isis, Cybele, Artemis, and Demeter. Given their biological ignorance, misogyny, and absolute dread of the feminine, how could they not do this? And just as Mediterranean polytheists had done, so too in their wake, Mediterranean Christians did the same with Mary.
Marian Hegemony & Christian Monotheism
We’ve talked before about how monotheism began permeating Western Europeans. It was not because of Jesus or his henotheistic friends. Neither Jesus nor Paul were apostles of monotheism. To think otherwise is an anachronism. Instead, monotheism blossomed because of the supreme Roman monarchy dominating the whole world. That served as a fitting analog for monotheism to set up shop.
Don’t think of Christians in the fifth century as American believers, folks. As Dr. Bruce Malina explains, religion in this time only existed embedded in either politics or kinship—these social institutions controlled all religions, including Christianity. In the fifth century, our Nicene profession of faith, proclaimed by (Constantinian) Christians, expressed a political position. Ultimately, confessing Jesus as Deus-homo was identical to proclaiming the Roman emperor as the apple of God’s eye.
Since confessing Jesus this way meant proclaiming the emperor as God’s chief interest in the universe, it also bestowed divine attributes onto the Roman ruler. Who, other than God, appointed him emperor? Here we can see the insidiousness of Marian hegemony. If Mary is the mother of God, does she not occupy the same role concerning Jesus that the emperor’s mother enjoyed with her son? This political understanding is communicated throughout icons of Mary and Jesus. In Marian hegemony serving imperial interests, we have left the peasant Galilean village far behind!
Proclaiming Mary queen means raising the emperor’s mother to supernatural heights. In this Marian hegemony, subjects owe the mother of the emperor respect. And calling Mary lady also is Marian hegemony—it raises Medieval aristocratic females into the supernatural.
Medieval Marian Hegemony
And who filled up all those new religious orders exploding in the Middle Ages? They were populated mainly by children born into aristocratic families. And in perfect Marian hegemony, they called Mary “Bride of Christ.” That initially sounds odd (incestuous?), but that goes away quickly since long before Mary had been stripped of all sexuality and most female biological qualities. These aristocratic religious accomplished another Marian hegemony by extolling the role of aristocratic virgins. Once again, “great ones” had elevated themselves and their social class into the supernatural.
Let’s put our thinking caps on, U.S. Catholics. Think. Think hard. Let’s think really hard about hegemony using Mariology and devotions and doctrine as weapons. Whose interests are being served when we adopt the Marian titles and supposed experiences?
JPII’s Contemporary Marian Hegemony
Think about recent popes who fall asleep at the wheel as children are being raped. They call Mary the ideal Mediterranean mother. And they urge all contemporary females to stay within their roles. They praise a Galadriel-figure, a Norse goddess called Mary with lofty words and give her high titles. But like Malina says, never executive, never career woman, never athlete, never doctor, never president, never stockbroker, never priest, and never a bishop. Marian hegemony explains why.