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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Karl Rahner on Mary

Tomorrow's the feast of Mary's assumption, and I've just read a past paper by Philip Endean SJ on Mary -How to Think about Mary's Privileges - which can be downloaded at his website, under the heading 'Publications'. The article begins with excerpts from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 37. The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe, mentions the changes in Marian devotion after Vatican II, and discusses Karl Rahner's view of the immaculate conception. One of the things that's never made sense to me about the immaculate conception is that it seems to say that Mary's choice of whether to be Jesus' mother or not was predestined, that her choice wasn't really free since God had been planning since at least her conception for her to say yes. Here's a bit of what Fr. Endean writes of Rahner's take on this ....

Rahner, good Thomist that he is, can simply assume that divine grace and human freedom are compatible: to say that God wills Algernon to perform an action is not to deny that Algernon freely performs that action. Thus Mary's free response to God's call, expressed in Luke's Annunciation story, is nevertheless -- for Rahner -- something which is predestined in the designs of God, just as is Jesus' free acceptance of his mission even unto death. It is in this context, of freedom and predestination, that Rahner makes what he sees as the necessary distinction. God's predetermining will to become incarnate in Christ entails that 'an earthly Mother of the Son was likewise predestined' -- an earthly Mother who gives free consent; and for her, 'the divine purpose of salvation' is 'the predestination of Christ himself' .... Had Mary said 'no' to the invitation represented by Luke's angelic message to her, had God's saving will not included Mary's consent, Jesus Christ quite literally would not have existed .... What makes Jesus distinctive is not that God is somehow more 'present' in him than in the rest of creation, but rather that he alone reveals that presence definitively. He assures us that sin will be overcome. Rahner's rather abstract argument about Mary's predestination in connection with Christ's then amounts to the claim that Mary is not simply a recipient of this message: her saying 'yes' is, rather, a constitutive -- if duly subordinate -- element within the message.

Best to read the whole article, of course, which ends as it begins, with lines from this Hopkins poem ....

37. The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.
If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.


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