Mary Perfection of a Mission

For Balthasar, only Mary, by virtue of her freedom from original sin, has achieved the perfection of indifference, and thus only she can be said to conform perfectly with her mission (Balthasar 1992: 21). The femininity of the church, as its openness to God and its perfect response to the prevenient action of God, is most often described in terms of the "Marian principle." Mary is associated particularly closely with the contemplative tradition (Balthasar 1961: 72), with the (lived, bodily) experience of the indwelling of Christ that makes persons holy (Balthasar 1982-91: I, 421-5), and with the obedience of faith.

In all of this, Mary is not merely the exemplar of creaturely "femininity" vis-à-vis God; she is also both its condition and its archetype. She is its condition, because apart from her consent to bear Christ there is no christological "space" - the space opened up in the incarnation - wherein human persons can respond to God and be drawn into the divine life. She is its archetype, in that as "Mary-Church" she perfectly represents and draws together the several and partial responses of individuals within the church. She is, furthermore, the culmination of the apparent paradoxes of mission. What is most inwardly one's own - Mary's immaculate conception orders her whole life towards this mission - is most clearly the gift of another, the immaculate conception occurs through the merits of Christ; the church is born at the Cross.3 The point of greatest freedom - Mary's free consent - is the point of greatest obedience: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord." The mission is accepted in solitude, but it has both universal and specific social implications. To live one's mission is both to be what one is - "nuptiality" - and to become something new - "fruitfulness." In one of his longest discussions of Mariology, Balthasar discusses these and other paradoxes of Mary's dramatic "role" in the history of salvation.

It is here that we begin to see the difficulties arising from the links between femininity and mission, discussed above. Mary, as the perfect and archetypal believer, is the perfect ful-filler of her mission. She is able to be this because she is the perfection and archetype of the femininity of creation in relation to God. Her immaculate conception leaves her free to respond to God without the "death" of the old self. She possesses preeminently the qualities of the holy person in whom Christ takes form. However, when we ask what mission Mary receives through her indifference and obedience, the answer seems to be - simply to be feminine. This impression is reinforced (as David Moss and Lucy Gardner note) by the arrangement of the relevant section of the Theo-Drama, wherein "woman" and "the feminine principle" as such is discussed before Mary herself appears. Mary as a character in the theo-drama disappears under the mass of principles she is supposed to represent. Her mission is not a mission but the prerequisite for, or summary of, all missions.

But where does this leave Christology? We are told repeatedly, after all, that Christ's is the one mission; the unique missions of Christians are incorporated into the single movement of Christ that restores a redeemed and perfected creation to the Father (on the relationship between Christ's mission and the other missions see Balthasar 1988-98: III, 202-29). In relation to the Father, Christ can sometimes be described as "supra-feminine" in his obedience and receptivity - the attributes that make his "mission" possible. At the same time, the maleness of Christ in the Incarnation is for Balthasar "necessary" because the act of God vis-à-vis creation is masculine.4 Mary becomes the point at which the "supra-femininity" in the innertrinitarian relations, which is the basis of Christ's mission and thus of all human missions, appears in the created order.

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