Friday, 15 March 2013

Misogynistic Mariology?

If you are rich in the spirituality of Benedict of Nursia,  Ignatius Loyola, Julian of Norwich or Yoda, you will regarded as a devout, prayerful soul with a rich heritage of deep engagement with God though the work and examples of these fine human folk (unless it is Yoda, in which case you are a Jedi which is reputedly different).  

If you are enriched by the spirituality of Mary of Nazareth, you will fast discover a plethora, nay a panoply, of suspicion and confusion about your spiritual motives and the place of the human at the heart of it. 

The fact is that your basic Mariology is to many a near-hideous thing that is to be shunned, ridiculed or else cast away as wrong. I have never understood this. 

This emerged in a discussion that I was party to recently. Someone wanted to say some prayers in the context of a genuine and sincere Mariology, which is to say, to pray with Mary to the God who loves them both and to the God who chose the Virgin as the noblest vehicle for His grace. Sharp intakes of breath greeted this initiative  and not for the firs time. I just don't understand why. 

A further discussion in this issue revealed that perhaps the Mariology wasn't the target of the tooth-filtered inhalation  but the perceived misogyny that to many it represents. In the minds of many it seems to be - think Mary, think black-clad priests who say "no" to the ladies. It seems that the teenage refugee single-mother from Palestine has become the unwitting poster-girl for the anti-women lobby, but only in the minds of those who have a distaste for said lobby. Indeed, for some Anglicans, it seems that a reverential reference to Mary is tantamount to a claim of that vilest of offenses - membership of the Roman (ugh) Catholic (arrggh) Church. 

And it is all ridiculous, Poppy-cock.

Those of us who cherish the place of Saint Mary in our spiritual lives do so for many reasons. For me it is about the absolute trust that she displayed in God though her simple but universe-changing "yes". For me, Mary's example of paramount selflessness when, as Simeon said, "a sword shall pierce your own soul too". For me Mary was the one single human chosen by God for the Incarnation. That surely makes her special, as God had so judged. She was flawed, and she was human - but she was an example to many of how to try and live as Christians. She is a conspicuous example of motherhood and affirmative female ministry, a woman who gave without counting the cost, a woman who watched the agony and death of her own son without looking away, a woman who devoted her entire life to one end - God's plan for our salvation.

That is my Mariology. 

There is no voodoo. I haven't turned Mary, in my heart, into a quasi-deity. I pray with Mary and take her example to mould me. I do not pray to Mary as many might think, but simply ask her, presumptuously, to pray for me as, I believe, someone with a unique and special relationship with the Father. When I seek Mary's company in my prayers, it doesn't suddenly morph my theology or my politics. I don't suddenly become a different sort of Christian, or indeed make me want to change my ecclesiology. Indeed, when others seek openly to say some prayers in a Marian spirituality, I simply say 'thank you' that they want to pray at all. 


  1. Hear, hear, David. I too have never understood the way so many people react to any mention of Mary in the context of prayer. I draw inspiration from her as I do from Julian and many others, but she is special because of her relationship with Jesus. I'm glad you stressed that she was flawed and human. to me that makes her more, not less special.

  2. I love Mary's admonition at the Wedding Feast of Cana: "Do what He tells you ....". If it was good enough for them; it is good enough for me!

    Thank God for role models such as Mary. Our "ladies" today would do well to follow her example.

  3. It's a strange thing, Mariology. I was brought up in the Roman Church and one of the things that I rejected when I left was the Marian devotions which seemed to me, pure idolatry. The idea of praying to Mary (not through) Mary also seemed to place her on a pedestal akin to God, not subordinate. So, when I became an Anglican, I was a little precious about Marian devotion.

    It took a good year or more for me to come to recognise that Saint Mary in the Anglican traditon, was a completely different one from the one that I had despised. Slowly, but surely, I've been able to put this into perspective which has placed me firmly in the Vernacular Mariology camp. I use the Hail Mary as part of daily prayer and believe that the Memorare is another prayer which should be used as an intercession.

    And there are some lovely Marian Catholic Hymns which could be more widely used. Our Benefice does use one or two now and again, but not often enough in my view.

    We need to demystify the role of Mary so that it stops being a despised part of Catholic devotion, but one that could enhance and widen the Anglican Catholic experience of worship and liturgy.

  4. I have come across Mariology that does seem misogynistic. I believe this comes about when Mary portrayed as the idealised "Queen of heaven". This then presents a role model which can be very unhelpful to women, placing this idealised womanhood on a pedestal and comparing it unfavourably with the actual examples we encounter here on earth. It can also mean that criticism is directed towards those who do not conform to this idealisation. I got rather tired on my visit to Spain and Rome a while back with the idealised images portrayed in many baroque Catholic churches. The images I found most helpful were those that portrayed the human Mary.

  5. There are several phrases in this post I would question.
    You speak about 'Marian spirituality' and compare it to the spirituality of Benedict, Ignatius and Julian (we'll leave aside Yoda!). We know about the spirituality of those people from their own writings, but we know nothing of the spirituality of Mary. What we 'know' about her is from the writings of others, especially Luke and John, who create in her the picture of the perfect disciple. Mark, however gives a very different picture of her, as one opposed to the ministry of Jesus, along with his brothers and sisters. That doesn't sound like someone who devoted her whole life to God's plan of salvation.

    You call Mary "the one single human chosen by God for the Incarnation." What about Jesus of Nazareth?

    You call Mary " a conspicuous example of motherhood". But in orthodox Christian teaching she is BOTH virgin and mother, which is something impossible for any other woman to imitate. What does that teaching say to young women and to normal mothers about their sexuality?

    You talk about a 'unique and special relationship with the Father'. That seems to me to be a creation of Christian theology. She had a special relationship with Jesus, surely.

    I agree with Ernie that there is a need to demystify the role of Mary, so she can be honoured for what she actually was, and what we do know about her. We know that (together with Joseph) she brought up a child who was illegitimate, and could have caused her death, and certainly caused her to be gossiped about and despised; in spite of this they produced an adult who was so full of love for his fellow human beings, male and female, and so open to the Spirit of God and the guidance of the Father, that he was recognised as Son of God and God with us by his contemporaries.

    It is because of that, which I regard as the real Mary, that I honour her and regard her as an outstanding example of motherhood.



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