Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Woman Made High

The occasion of Pusey's book was this. Pusey had been for some time disputing with Dr. Manning [later, Cardinal Manning] regarding the latter's view that the Anglican Church, even in its Puseyite section, was not truly Catholic; and hence there could not be that unity between the two Churches of which Pusey dreamed. Manning had recently sent an open letter to Pusey in which he dwelt on such differences as recognition of the Pope and veneration of the Blessed Virgin and the saints. Pusey's Eirenicon was a reply to Manning, in which he so grossly misinterpreted the Catholic teaching regarding the Mother of God that Newman, who had a high regard for Pusey and deeply respected his lifelong sincerity, felt impelled to write him an open letter refuting his charges and explaining the true teaching of the Church.

Basing his charges on some extravagant Italian forms of devotion and a few emotional writers, Pusey had asserted that the Catholic Church teaches that "the Blessed Virgin is superior to God; that Our Lord is subject to her command"; that she "takes His place as an Advocate with Father and Son;...that Mary alone can obtain a Protestant's conversion;...that as He is Priest, in a like sense is she Priestess; that His Body and Blood in the Eucharist are truly hers and appertain to her; that as He is present and received therein, so is she present and received therein" - and so on and so on.

That the famous Dr. Pusey, eminent as a scholar and a student of Catholic theology, seriously believed that the Catholic Church taught all this, utterly astonished Newman. He wrote to him: "Sentiments such as these I freely surrender to your animadversion; I never knew of them till I read your book...I could not have conceived them to be said...There is nothing of them in the Missal, in the Roman Catechism, in the Roman Racolta, in the 'Imitation of Christ,' in Gother, Challoner, Milner, or Wiseman, as far as I am aware."

"...Now let me apply what I have been saying to the teaching of the Church on the subject of the Blessed Virgin. I have to recur to a subject of so sacred a nature, that, writing as I am for publication, I need the apology of my purpose for venturing to pursue it. I say then, when once we have mastered the idea, that Mary bore, suckled, and handled the Eternal in the form of a child, what limit is conceivable to the rush and flood of thoughts which such a doctrine involves? What awe and surprise must attend upon the knowledge, that a creature has been brought so close to the Divine Essence? It was the creation of a new idea and of a new sympathy, of a new faith and worship, when the holy Apostles announced that God had become incarnate; then a supreme love and devotion to Him became possible, which seemed hopeless before that revelation. This was the first consequence of their preaching. But, besides this, a second range of thoughts was opened on mankind, unknown before, and unlike any other, as soon as it was understood that that Incarnate God had a mother. The second idea is perfectly distinct from the former, and does not interfere with it. He is God made low, she is a woman made high. I scarcely like to use a familiar illustration on the subject of the Blessed Virgin's dignity among created beings, but it will serve to explain what I mean, when I ask you to consider the difference of feeling, with which we read the respective histories of Maria Theresa and the Maid of Orleans; or with which the middle and lower classes of a nation regard a first minister of the day who has come of an aristocratic house, and one who has risen from the ranks. May God's mercy keep me from the shadow of a thought, dimming the purity or blunting the keenness of that love of Him, which is our sole happiness and our sole salvation! But surely when He became man, He brought home to us His incommunicable attributes with a distinctiveness, which precludes the possibility of our lowering Him merely by our exalting a creature. He alone has an entrance into our soul, reads our secret thoughts, speaks to our heart, applies to us spiritual pardon and strength. On Him we solely depend. He alone is our inward life; He not only regenerates us, but (to use the words appropriated to a higher mystery) semper gignit; He is ever renewing our new birth and our heavenly sonship. In this sense He may be called, as in nature, so in grace, our real Father. Mary is only our mother by divine appointment, given us from the Cross; her presence is above, not on earth; her office is external, not within us. Her name is not heard in the administration of the Sacraments. Her work is not one of ministration towards us; her power is indirect. It is her prayers that avail, and her prayers are effectual by the fiat of Him who is our all in all. Nor need she hear us by any innate power, or any personal gift; but by His manifestation to her of the prayers which we make to her. When Moses was on the Mount, the Almighty told him of the idolatry of his people at the foot of it, in order that he might intercede for them; and thus it is the Divine Presence which is the intermediating Power by which we reach her and she reaches us.

"...To her belongs, as being a creature, a natural claim on our sympathy and familiarity, in that she is nothing else than our fellow. She is our pride, — in the poet's words, 'Our tainted nature's solitary boast'. We look to her without any fear, any remorse, any consciousness that she is able to read us, judge us, punish us. Our heart yearns towards that pure Virgin, that gentle Mother, and our congratulations follow her, as she rises from Nazareth and Ephesus, through the choirs of angels, to her throne on high, so weak, yet so strong; so delicate, yet so glorious; so modest and yet so mighty. She has sketched for us her own portrait in the Magnificat. 'He hath regarded the low estate of His hand-maid; for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. He hath put down the mighty from their seat; and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away.' I recollect the strange emotion which took by surprise men and women, young and old, when, at the Coronation of our present Queen, they gazed on the figure of one so like a child, so small, so tender, so shrinking, who had been exalted to so great an inheritance and so vast a rule, who was such a contrast in her own person to the solemn pageant which centred in her. Could it be otherwise with the spectators, if they had human affection? And did not the All-wise know the human heart when He took to Himself a Mother? did He not anticipate our emotion at the sight of such an exaltation in one so simple and so lowly? If He had not meant her to exert that wonderful influence in His Church, which she has in the event exerted, I will use a bold word, He it is who has perverted us. If she is not to attract our homage, why did He make her solitary in her greatness amid His vast creation? If it be idolatry in us to let our affections respond to our faith, He would not have made her what she is, or He would not have told us that He had so made her; but, far from this, He has sent His Prophet to announce to us, 'A Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel,' and we have the same warrant for hailing her as God's Mother, as we have for adoring Him as God."

He explains at great length the recognized position of the Church from the earliest times regarding the Blessed Mother, supplying a multitude of historical references; and then, after reminding Pusey of his (Pusey's) professed belief in her as the Virgin Mother, says to him:

"What fullness of sanctity, what fullness and redundance of Grace, what exuberance of merits must have been hers, when once we admit the supposition, which the Fathers justify, that her Maker really did regard her merits and take them into account, when He condescended 'not to abhor the Virgin's womb.' Is it surprising then, that on the one hand she should be immaculate in her conception? Or that on the other she should be honored with an Assumption, and exalted as a queen with a crown of seven stars, with the rulers of day and night to do her service? Men sometimes wonder that we call her Mother of life, of mercy, of salvation; what are these titles compared to that one name, the Mother of God?...

"So far concerning the Blessed Virgin; the chief, but not the only subject of your volume. And now, when I could wish to proceed, she seems to stop all controversy, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is upon us; and close upon its Octave, which is kept with special solemnities in the Churches in this town, come the great Antiphons, the heralds of Christmas. That joyful season, - joyful for all of us, - while it centres in Him Who then came on earth, also brings before us in peculiar prominence that Virgin Mother who bore and nursed Him. Here she is not in the background, as at Eastertide, but she brings Him to us in her arms. Two great Festivals, dedicated to her honor, - tomorrow's and the Purification, - mark out and keep the ground, and, like the towers of David, open the way to and fro, for the high holiday season of the Prince of Peace. And all along it her image is upon it, such as we see it in the typical representation of the Catacombs. May the sacred influences of this tide bring us all together in unity. May it destroy all bitterness on your side and ours! May it quench all jealous, sour, proud, fierce antagonism on our side; and dissipate all captious, carping, fastidious, refinements of reasoning on yours! May that bright and gentle Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, overcome you with her sweetness, and revenge herself on her foes by interceding effectually for their conversion."

Taken from John Henry Newman, by John Moody. Sheed and Ward, ©1945

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