Thursday, March 30, 2006

Re-assessing "Missing Mary"

In response to my previous blog “Mary: A person, not a "goddess" or a "metaphor"”, Charlene Spretnak, author of “Missing Mary” replied:

Dear David,

Alas, I am somewhat dismayed by what you posted on your blog re my book, which I feel will mislead your readers and, no doubt, send them running from the book, should they ever encounter it.  Let me try to clarify what I was trying to convey about the "goddess issue" re Mary before you posted that:

I.  Scholars of comparative religion and the history of religion are well aware that many elements in Mary's biblical story -- let alone her syncretic blendings in the various cultures of Europe and elsewhere -- link her historically with attributes and symbols that were earlier associated with various goddesses.  This is simply historical fact, whether one likes it or not.  My point in the book is simply to say that the Church should celebrate this ancient flowing into Catholicism, rather than refusing to discuss it or denying it.

II.  In Missing Mary I do not say that Mary is or should be a goddess, which she obviously is not.  Rather, I note all the cosmological, goddess-like symbols and attributes that she accrued through the centuries.  Again, this is simply a matter of the history of religion.  Then I engage with the Protestant and the post-Vatican II view of such mystical symbols and attributes.  Those who insist that Mary is solely a regular human, just like us, feel that all that spiritual honoring of her from the Council of Ephesus right up to Vatican II was simply a mistake, an embarrassing theological error which should be thoroughly eradicated.  I do not feel that Catholics of those centuries were benighted and were sliding down an errant slope, for there is an obvious theological logic to their glorification of Mary.  First, since she was born without Original Sin, she was from the start in a category different from the rest of humanity.  Second, for centuries it made sense to all those Catholics that since the Incarnation was a mystical event the woman who assented to it and allowed it to occur in her very flesh was part of the Mystery in ways that other humans are not.  Her mystical role in this cosmological event was eventually expressed with mystical, cosmological symbols.  She was perceived to me more-then-human but less-than-divine (that is, not a goddess).  I do not think the millions of Catholics who shared this theological reasoning for centuries were fools or "uninformed."  I think that the post-Vatican II Church's denying of this entire dimension of Mary's spiritual presence constitute a profound loss for Catholicism.

Hope that helps.  Guess we'll just have to disagree on these two points.

Regards, Charlene

I replied:

I think, in two short paragraphs, you have done away with just about every concern I had in your approach. I was feeling very confused up till now because I found myself agreeing with so much I couldn't understand how you seemed to be coming from this other direction. In fact, I agree entirely with what you have said in these paragraphs--there is no need to agree to disagree. (I would still want to be careful about saying she was "more than human" but "less than God", I prefer "truly human" and "fully imaging the divine" sort of thing, but that is probably more a matter of linguistics).

Last night I came to a page in the book where you said as simply as could be said in one sentence: "She is not God". And that made me stop and think that perhaps I had completely misunderstood where you were coming from. Yes, I think we can celebrate the fact that the "stream-of-goddess-consciousness" has flowed into Mary. In fact, Mary makes the goddess-stream true in a way in which it was not true before it flowed into her. If you get what I mean.

I still want to explore further what ramifications this has for our understanding of God as "Father", however. More of that later.

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