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Dignity of Mary, Co-Redemptrix, a God-Poured Design and Destiny: What Would John Duns Scotus Argue?

Introduction: Demoting the One Raised up by God

In December of 2018, Pope Francis remarked that neither Mary, the mother of Jesus, nor Joseph were born saintly. Immediately, the pope’s comments evoked widespread consternation in the blogosphere perhaps Francis in some cryptic way was denying or diminishing the Blessed Mother’s conception without sin affecting a denial of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

My article, Mary the Perfected Witness – Achieving Our Saintly Destiny in a World of Choices (HPR March 28, 2019), demurs that Pope Francis made his comments innocently perhaps focused in the life experience of the blessed mother as fraught with difficult challenges thereby somehow increasing her holiness over time.  

Nevertheless, over the past year, Pope Francis’ cumulative record regarding statements regarding the importance of Mary within the context of Soteriology, has come to the forefront causing me to rethink my original defense of the holy father.  

As has happened on many occasions during the pontificate of Pope Francis, his lack of clarity has resulted in rancor, distrust, and polarization among clerics and laity alike. His comment last December about Mary’s implied evolutionary holiness, the more recent well-known Pachamamma incident during the Amazon Synod, his thoughts about Mary’s appearances at Medjugorie stating, “Mary is not a chief of the post office who would send messages every day,” and now his dismissive remarks proposals for a fifth dogma of Mary as Mediatrix and Co Redemptrix, to many, demonstrates a level of tone deafness concerning Mary.  

The Magnificat – Salvation is Personal

Instead it seems the solemn prophetic considerations present in “the magnificat” concerning the Mother of God are dealt a back handed blow in an air of spontaneity and esprit décor.  Remember, Mary is, after all, the very subject of God’s “fullness of time” action considering the “humility of His handmaid,” thereby “exalts the humble,” and “behold from henceforth all generations” would call her “blessed.” The Canticle of Mary is indeed a prophecy that the “all generations” representing the future Body of Christ’s acknowledgement and memorialization of God’s elevation of Mary inclusive of the appropriate titles, crowns, honors, and venerations. This would not be a taking by her, but a giving to her. In the Byzantine tradition, the Magnificat is called the Ode of the Theotokos. (Luke 4:46-55) (Galatians 4:4-5)

It’s one thing to give an ancient proposal its due theological consideration and to then make a ruling or conclusion based upon prayerful consideration having considered a tradition of theological arguments for and against. However, to injudiciously be so dismissive of these thoughts which go to the heart of the importance of Mary in the salvation drama makes me think that Pope Francis has lowered his eyes to a humanistic and cultural agenda, or to a modernistic predisposition regarding Mary’s singular cooperative role with Jesus in the matter of my soul’s salvation. Yes. My soul. Salvation is personal.

So Quick to Slap the Hand? The “tontera” of Titles

Exacerbating it all is the Pope Francis’ use of the colloquial Spanish term “tontera” (stupidity) referring generally to Marian “titles.” Again, Pope Francis’ imprecision may result in general negative implications toward more recent Co-Redemptrix proposals but more precisely, his imprecision results in the impugning of all the already determined Marian dogmas.

Pope Francis’ penchant for bad timing comes to light as he made his remarks in front of an image of the Lady of Guadalupe on the tilma of St. Juan Diego which itself is more than a simple cultural image inspiring deep levels of authentic piety, but rather it is an enigmatic icon transcending its own physical existence limitations 500 years into the future while seemingly mirroring St. John’s description of the Woman of the Apocalypse.  

Among Hispanic culture, a “tontera” has more evocative overtones in Spanish than in English. In Spanish, a tontera is not simply “a foolish thing”, but rather it would be better translated into “a stupidity.” This is the language of the “plebe” (pronounced “ple-beh) in the alleyways, streets, and uneducated masses of the barrios of any town or city. It is also a word used in condescension toward a child.

The Pope’s use of “tontera” speaks directly to the people of Mexico and the Americas many who venerate Mary as a blistering rebuff to their filial piety. The question is why would he so casually reference Mary’s transfiguration from mere human to her rightful “assumed” place in heaven as Mother of God, Ever-Virgin, and Immaculate Conception as a “stupidity?” Why would Pope Francis use the “tontera” word as if he were talking directly to St. Juan Diego himself who was a model of filial piety toward her “littlest one?”

The undercurrent that is present in Pope Francis’ diminishment or “demotion” of Mary’s participation in soteriology seems to be a part and parcel of the pontiff’s modernistic tendency quickly slap the hand of those who he deems spiritually “rigid” and cannot let go of spiritual, liturgical, and even cultural truths. This mirage of “rigidity” appears to cloud how Pope Francis sees the world in the grey shades of geopolitical gestalt. 

This is a view in which “dialogue, acceptance and accompaniment” replace teaching, conversion and correction. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) World peace in Pope Francis’ view is a world order in which borders are decimated and social justice “raises the lowly and sends the rich empty away.” (Luke 4)

In the name of imminentization, the Pope Francis, the iconoclast, slaps Mary’s hand and then pushes her off the traditional pedestals as quickly as he slapped the hand of a Chinese woman who entreated him to protect the underground Catholic Church in China.  

These pedestals, composed of a history of devotions, practices and sacramentals, have allowed believers to reach upward to touch and converse with heavenly realms connecting their common ordinary work places, and living conditions to the heavenly.  It is as though Pope Francis’ goal is to dismember the cross by separating the vertical beam from the horizontal beam in order to “imminent-ize” prayer, worship, morals and now dogma. What is left is a new humanism of the streets; a purely human Jesus for the poor to look upon and thereby identify with as a, “conocido.”  Pope Francis seems to continue to iconoclastically break apart the mysterious in favor of the imminent, the humanistic and the cultural -- as if trying hard with the colloquial weight of his words and actions to pull down the veil of God’s own “unsearchability, inscrutability, hiddenness and transcendency.”  (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 40:28)

The Serpent of Imprecision

The pontiff’s buckshot language, while referring indirectly to the Co-Redemptrix proposal, scatters and wounds the other truths about Mary, formal and informal. The comments insidiously wrap themselves like a serpent around all of the four proclaimed Marian dogmas with the implication that the use of the four declared titles themselves as if they too might just be “stupidities” that Mary would never have grabbed from her son what was not hers.

Pope Francis’ rhetoric lodges like a thorn in the crevice of Mary’s humility. Pope Francis seems to misuse the truth of Mary’s humility as a way to twist away from a declaration that would in his mind bring about additional piety and thus, rigidity – the rigidity of the viejitas praying their novenas and lighting their candles.  Pope Francis’ comments had the imprecision of a meat cleaver prying away a crown from Mary’s head placed there by God Himself as confirmed in scripture in the Scripture, and in the Tradition of the Church’s previous Marian dogmas.  Thus, the modern epithet that “elections have consequences” has become relevant in ecclesiastical elections as it is in secular politics. Pope Francis’ unfortunate remarks concerning Mary are now recorded in history as setting a sad and unfortunate precedent.

Successive Popes will have to consider Pope Francis’ attempted roadblock to a fifth Marian dogma if it ever comes up in the future. It seems Pope Francis’ penchant for verbal imprecision (albeit intentionally selective) has moved beyond the defensible as he used the occasion of the apparition at Tepeyac to basically “sucker punch” ancient thought and future petitions for the declaration of the Co-Redemptrix/ Mediatrix statement of truth (i.e. dogma).

So What About the Grand Procession of Proclaimed Marian Dogmas?

So what about the grand procession of Marian dogmas ranging from as far back as the early church fathers? After Pope Francis’ comments, all of that seems to have suddenly burst into thin air, effervescing like a Dr. Pepper losing its fizz into the nothingness on a cold Winter day. To the man from Buenos Aires, Pope Francis, the humanist, Mary was no more than just a humble woman who “would not take anything that belonged to her son”.  God forbid that the mestiza, the morenita (little dark one), could ever raise her eyes and look upward. Instead, in place of an ever prayerful heart, the stark image of a Pachamamma-like figure looks horizontally down the streets only to see the downcast soul looking down.  But you see, there is some truth to this (emphasis on “some.”) Unfortunately, it is only half the truth.

All we need to do to see past the falsity of this paradigm is to look at the example of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s reliance on the transcendency of God in the Eucharist as the necessary prelude to her venturing off into the streets. The same is true for all the Saints most especially for the Queen of Saints, Mary. The truth of holiness is both immanency and transcendency; the vertical beam and the horizontal beam; and most importantly the Body of the Man who was physically transfixed upon that “cross that bars the way” of the unbeliever; that “sign of contradiction” as Venerable Fulton Sheen effectively would preach. (Luke 2:34)

Consider that Mary has, already been pronounced Mother of God, (Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D.), already been pronounced the Immaculate Conception (Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1954), already been pronounced perpetual virgin, (Tertullian, 3rd Century A.D.) and already been pronounced Assumed into heaven (Munificentissimus Deus, Pius XII 1950).  Based upon Pope Francis’ reasoning, however, Mary could not reasonably be argued, and considered (much less, recognized) by her own maternal counterpart, (holy mother church), to be the highest of cooperators with her son Jesus, in the salvation drama of mankind.

The mysterious women of both Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 was “outed” by Pope Francis as only a cualquier (whatever) mujercita (little woman), worthy of a pat on the head, a simple diminutive, and thus an insignificant, in the course of earthly, anthropological, cultural and of course, modern things. Pope Francis’ language assures us that Mary certainly would not have it so applying a non sequitur that titles and the venerations that follow would be those things that Mary would never aspire to or grasp because they are the sole domain of her son.

According to this way of thinking, the Mother of God was too humble for God to deem her worthy to be crowned -- even as immeasurable unrelenting grace flows forth from an immaculate heart. Grace without limits. In the mind of the humanist, that would be “stupid” since grace comes from God and, "God forbid" that undeserving and eternally humble Mary would allow the internal intrusion of his grace, and much less, a crown's adornment. God forbid that Mary herself would say, “I’m not worthy Lord, go away from me,” as Simon Peter did on a boat. (Luke 5:8) Mary would never have allowed God to give her what He chose to give her in Pope Francis’ mind.

Pope Francis’ argument that "Mary never stole for herself anything that was of her son,” was the basis of a denunciation of more than just the prayerful petition for a new dogma. The co-Redemptrix petition has been around for years prompted by requests by the Blessed Mother in approved apparitions in Amsterdam and Japan in the 1950’s. (Lady of All Nations and Lady of Akita) that the Church consider formally recognizing on earth what is already established in heaven -- the reality of Mary's supreme participation in Jesus' salvific act on the cross.

That her "stabat Mater" (Mother stands by) while "earning" her nothing, was her noble voluntary love-act of self-donation alongside the son with whom she shared the intricate DNA patterns of His body and blood. No one on earth could have shared as much with the Savior. The thought that she could be reduced to, as we say in Spanish, "cualquier persona" (whoever), is itself sloppy theological thinking and an abysmal misinterpretation of the virtue of true humility.

Of course Mary never stole anything. To suggest that venerative considerations are theft is a great condescension. A person sponsoring that possibility would have to think his audience really stupid to mention such a thing. Mary accepted all from her son, everything, including praise, including grace, including her roles as prophesied in the Old Covenant, and as took place in time. To equate Mary’s acceptance of honor due her by the Church is never to state that she steals anything. That indeed would be a tontera…. a stupidity.  

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, was much more respectful and cautious about a possible pronouncement of Mary as Co-Redemptrix. Being steeped in the history of the Church and the early Church Fathers, at least he held to the discipline of simply explaining his difficulty with the co-Redemptrix concept as a problem of language in the sense that “it departs to too great an extent from the language of Scripture and the Fathers and therefore gives rise to misunderstandings.”(emphasis added) (Declaration of the Theological Commission of the Pontifical International Marian Academy, Twelfth Mariological Congress held in Czestochowa, Poland, 1996) My retort however, would be that all the Marian titles based on dogmatic proclamations present a problem “for” language, rather than a problem “of” language. I will have to explore the fine differences between the implications of both prepositions “of” and “for” in another paper.

Language – God’s Own Consciousness

The problem with today’s humanistic hermeneutic is that it is too base; too “utterly gutterly,” and too ignoble. In contrast, the Church has one foot in the mud and the other in heaven. Nevertheless, the singular humanistic approach is to say that human endeavors are simply that, of human origin, “stuck in the mud,” so to say. This approach forgets that human endeavors often times have their inspiration from outside of the "humus" of man.... like the "breathe" of God (present tense action verb vis-a-vis the noun, breath of God) into the lungs of Adam. Not everything pronounced by man is anthropological just because man pronounces it, including dogmatic pronouncements by an institution established by the Son of God Himself.

The very kernel of language, the shape of phrases on the page, the pattern of letters and numbers, the juxtaposition of verbs and their conjugations, with nouns and their declensions, cases and modifiers, all seems to have a divine force to it all.  And that doesn't even consider the sound of language in all the complex intonations, vibrations, and musicality of it all. I would go so far as to say language (which we take for granted), is itself a manifestation of a divine consciousness within which we participate, play, work, pray – a divine milieu of sorts within which we move, live, breathe and have our being. (Acts 17:28) (Epimenides, Ode to Zeus) (The Divine Milieu, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

But for Pope Francis to minimize the discussion of ancient thought patterns and discussions regarding the reality of Mary's difference in the world is indeed stupefying. Silence would have been the better alternative. Even atheistic Ludwig Wittgenstein opined, “Whereof man cannot speak, he must pass over in silence.”  (Wowon mann nicht sprechen kann, err müss darüber sweigen.) (Tractatus Logico Philosophicus). 

While our ways are not God’s ways, God gave us a sliver of His perspective with the Word (Logos) who became flesh, not in the airy vicissitudes of intellectual or feigned theological thought words, but Master Word of Words from which all is derived --- instead of the "theory of everything,” Jesus was the "Word of Everything." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Jesus, is at once language-made-flesh, thought-made-flesh, and truth-made-flesh, -- not in a vacuum, but within the confines of the complex biology of a flesh and blood woman existing in a material universe which she already transcends. Thus the very rules of existence can be likened unto the rules of grammar out of which words are born as beings, then forming families of sentences, then communities of paragraphs, nations of stories, and a world of histories.  ---- but the origin is still God’s own consciousness.

True Progress and Growth Requires a Conservation of Purpose

Should God wish to declare, by the preponderance of His own logic that a descendent of Adam, Mary of Nazareth (the woman of Genesis 3:15) who, perfected by Him, grew as well in life, progressed while conserving her purpose, and by doing so, accrued the just rewards given her by God. Considering her purposeful self-donation and the intricacies of her biological, psychological, and spiritual concomitance with her son, it is fitting that the anthropos (ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ecce homo) the man, recognizes these noble purposes and proclaim them as God would in calling Mary to be crowned and to sit at His right. As it was fitting that Bathsheba would sit at the right hand of Solomon, so it is fitting for Mary to have such honor from God be recognized by her subjects. (1 Kings 2: 13-22)

Man does not give Mary these titles. Man only recognizes them in the context of her relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because we have been stultified by the paradigm of imminentization, so we then reduce the nobility of language and thus obscure the majesty we are given through Mary and is hidden in plain sight.

Scotian Precision – Heavenly Inspiration – the Sorbonne Dispute

And so I revert to the one argument that makes sense for all the Marian recognitions albeit that it has only been applied formally to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.  Applied in 1305, the simple subtle reasoning of Franciscan subtle doctor (doctor subtilis) Blessed John Duns Scotus states in Latin: “Potuit, decuit, ergo, fecit." (“God had the power; it was fitting; therefore, He did it.")

Acclaimed winner in Paris and Berlin at the shout of "Victor Escotus," Scotus prepared the theological basis for the proclamation of dogma more than five centuries later in 1854. Until then, religious orders, universities and the people would keep the controversy alive, but always pointing to "pious opinion." Finally, on December 8, 1854, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as "a divinely revealed truth," settling a controversy of nearly 19 centuries. (Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX, 1954) That a Franciscan so close to St. Francis of Assisi’s own time made such an argument is itself an irony in view of Pope Francis’ pronouncements concerning Marian titles.

Scotus’ argument is both simple and elegant at the same time. Such elegance could only be so at the behest of the heavenly in order for God Himself to enlighten the earthly, that we might recognize (cognocere) the truth. Scotus’ was a fiercely simple, non-verbose, logical argument surgically dismantling the intricate counter arguments of the Angelic Doctor himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, and his supporters, the Dominicans at the University of Paris.

I propose that Scotus’ inspired argument forms the basis and conserved purpose of all Marian dogmas. Such basis and conserved purpose includes the proposed and inspired arguments that Mary is indeed crowned by nothing less than the Trinity -- not with gold or silver, but rather with the gravitas of her son’s own recognition of her necessary action for the salvation of all beginning with her necessary fiat and evolving through her stabat mater and place in the upper room at Pentecost.

That she is crowned as described in the Book of Revelation is in fact the Church navigating using the 12 stars of the completion of all prophecy concerning salvation, the new Ark of the Covenant, receiving a crown with the necessary title of Co Redemptrix and Mediatrix. (Revelation 11, 12) Not mere words, but rather the very vibrations of the music of the spheres in the primum mobile (principal motion) connecting the movement of the heavens with the movement of the earth -- the movement of the Divine with the movement of the Human. In the end, it was possible; it was fitting; therefore, the Crown was given her -- she who grasps nothing of her own power or authority but receives the holy spirit by her fiat. “Potuit” (Matt 19:26); “Decuit” (Hebrews 2:10); “Ergo Fecit” (Hebrews 2:17).  

Navigating the Design and Destiny of Earthen Vessels To Receive Even God Himself

The ancient principle of navigation by reference to a constant remains sound. We rely on the north star (vertical) in order to arrive at the destination (horizontal). Though slow in moving, I believe the church will never forget how to use the sextant of unchanging tradition. (2 Thess 2:15)

Pope Francis’ error is that he tries to preserve only the horizontal perspective. What eventuates is a myopia. Pope Francis remains downwardly focused kind, viejito (little old man) speaking to the viejitas (little old ladies) in the callejones (alley ways) in the barrios of Buenos Aires. Somehow when called to be pontiff, Jorge Bergoglio developed the idea that growing out of the post-Peron barrios of Buenos Aires was a bad thing.

In so doing Pope Francis fails as a true pilgrim to move upward, not just outward -- navigating by a north star.  His sentimental approach to life would have us live and believe from a parochial barrio mind set. He has not grown out of the role of making the little old ladies feel good, thus peppering all of his pronouncements with the externally pious but sentimental idea of "accompaniment."

The problem with accompaniment is that it becomes more dubious the closer to hell we are led. Pope Francis’ ability to understand the full power of language and its effect on humanity is stunted by this barrio paradigm; and this has attenuated his ability to see truth as anything more than an underestimation of the poor’s ability to become more. How can they possibly follow if he does not lead them?

Contrary to the criticism of those who agree with Pope Francis, the final dogma would not be a deification of Mary.  Leave that to Satan to attempt to grab what is not his - to steal.  Mary, the devil’s arch rival never grabbed at anything. (Genesis 3:15) She simply would say, “let it be done according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Those are not the words of a thief.

The ultimate purpose of humility is that it is the stuff out of which the spirit within us arises even in a plethora of leper sores. That is the nature of resurrection from the tomb, and the chain of events from which this happened. The risen Lord arose first from the womb of Mary so that He might arise from the tomb of man. This is the ultimate truth. To accept God's hospitality is --- not to rise unto pride, for pride is a mirage like the tower of Babel. (Genesis 11:1-9)

Rather our spirits arise from humility (from the dust) to an unchanging destiny of consecration, brilliance, and participation with God in His Kingdom. If dirt stays dirt, what good is it? But if dirt mixes with water, it becomes by the hands of love Himself, both human and divine, an earthen vessel that can hold God Himself -- into which God Himself is poured. Mary was the ultimate earthen vessel showing "this transcendent power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4:7)


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