The Radically Redeemed

As the Mother of God, model of the church and "the radically Redeemed" (Rahner 1965: 218), Mary is a sign of contradiction to the finite mind. Being both mother and creature of the new creation, she reveals to us what we will finally be in a Kingdom and Queendom where love overwhelms the law, life triumphs over death, and the human comes into the fullness of his or her divinization in Christ. This redeeming process is decisively inaugurated with Mary's fiat, which brings God into intimate communion with creation and thus overcomes the primal experience of alienation which Christianity interprets as the fall and psychoanalysis associated with the Oedipus complex (Beattie 2002: 45-50, 115-22). However, this process will only be fulfilled with the consummation of human and divine love in the heavenly wedding feast at the end of time. The believer is therefore called to inhabit a paradoxical space expressed in the language of memory and anticipation, yearning and fulfillment, mourning and celebration, constituting a theopoetics in which the conceptually impossible world which comes into being in the incarnation is kept alive in the liturgical life of the church, until Christ comes again in glory.

But governed as we are by the laws and concepts of a world still fallen as well as redeemed, we experience Mary as "queer," as an unsettling presence with the potential to disrupt the order of our theological and social systems. As the above quotation from the Gospel of Bartholomew suggests, she is a mystery with the power of a consuming fire to those who seek to question her. This apocryphal Gospel tells that Mary asked the apostles to surround her and hold her "so that, when I begin to speak, my limbs are not loosed" (Gospel of Bartholomew 2.14; Hennecke 1963: 493). As Mary was speaking, "fire came from her mouth, and the world was on the point of being burned up. Then came Jesus quickly and said to Mary: Say no more, or today my whole creation will come to an end. And the apostles were seized with fear lest God should be angry with them" (Gospel of Bartholomew 2.22; Hennecke 1963: 494).

I quote from this third-century Coptic text because its vivid imagery suggests the fascination but also the threat which Mary represents even today for those who seek to comprehend the mystery she symbolizes in Christ. It is a mystery which, were it to be revealed, would have the power to loosen the limbs of the body and burn up the known and familiar world. Perhaps that is why Protestant and Catholic theologians have gone to such extremes to control Mary's place in the story of salvation, in a way which limits her transgressiveness and inhibits her mystical potency. This theological struggle to inscribe her within the laws of rationality finds expression in Protestantism's banishment of maternal feminine symbolism and its commitment to an unambiguously patriarchal Father God. It finds different expression in Roman Catholic theology through a process of systematization which George Shea describes as follows in his study of the history of Mariology:

Here, as in other areas, the onward march of theology acquired but slowly momentum, direction, discipline, and co-ordination . . . For those who would participate in this endeavour to consolidate and to extend the precious conquests of the centuries, almost indispensable is some familiarity with the history of Mariology. It is not otherwise than with a new commander on a field of battle; to cement his grip on the terrain already won, to plan and effect additional gains, he must first orient himself, striving to understand the position and disposition of his forces by diligent study of the campaign's history (Shea 1954: 283-4)

This is the kind of knowledge through which, according to Irigaray, "he" seeks to know "her," "with ready-made grids, with a fully elaborated code in hand." Shea's militaristic imagery suggests that Mariology is particularly vulnerable to Michel Foucault's claim that the "history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning" (Foucault 1984: 56). For women who have played no part in the history of Mariology but who find themselves bodily inscribed within its war-like discourse, the task of liberating theological symbols is complex and multidimensional. It requires going beyond the systematized domain of Mariology itself, in order to construct an alternative theological narrative which draws on different aspects of the Marian tradition. Patristic theology, with its fluid and manifold forms of expression, and Marian devotional writings, provide a language which approximates to the kind of plurivocity that Irigaray associates with a feminine subjectivity which is truly other, and not merely the other of the (masculine) same (see Irigaray 1993: 97-129).

However, although this quest for an alternative symbolics of subjectivity is of particular significance for feminism, it has relevance for all who recognize that the call to follow Christ is a call to a new way of being, in which the alienated subject of the secularized social order becomes a person made in the image and likeness of the tripersonal God, characterized by "loving, forgiving, relational and redeeming indwelling" (D'Costa 2000: xiv). This is what it means to be "radically redeemed." Hans Urs von Balthasar's insight that the Christian character is fundamentally Marian is flawed by his stereotypical representation of sexual difference, but it is nevertheless an invitation to reconsider Mary's significance as the model of Christian personhood for women and men alike (see Balthasar 1988-98: 283-360; Roten 1991). Mary makes Christ present to us when we follow her into a space of radical otherness in relation to the present order, so that we experience the queering of human values which constitutes the foretaste of our redemption. It is, therefore, when the systematic theologian surrenders "his" drive towards rationalization that he might encounter the fecundity of faith in the language of desire constituted as prayer, poetry, art, music, and carnival, but also as a "scrambling of the landmarks" (Lamy 2000) of the kinship systems which structure the patriarchal social order and inscribe its laws on the psyche. With these suggestions in mind, I turn now to consider the theological significance of Mary for the doctrine of the incarnation.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment