Madonna and Child
Missionary-Ethnological Museum, Inv. AF 7912
This sculpture is representative of the Masai people in Kenya. It is
made of terracotta; the artist is unknown, but as indicated on the base,
the statue was made in 1978 and given to John Paul II. The shaved and
polished heads of mother and child, the rich decorations on necklaces,
neckplate, appendage, cincture, and purse – they all point to Masai
origins. The overall impression of successful inculturation is
reinforced by the delicately chiseled facial traits. The only concession
made to Western tradition is the long tunic worn by the Madonna. Inspite
of its ethnic definition, this sculpture conveys a message of universal
motherhood and maternal tenderness.
Mary’s Cultural Charism
The cultural impact of Mary’s figure is clearly visible. She is one
of the most powerful cultural figures of Christianity. Here are three
reasons to corroborate Mary’s cultural importance for Christianity of
past and present.
1) Person Made Culture:
Incarnational theology naturally forms a pact with culture. Where the
divine claims to become visible and present, as it did in Jesus Christ,
culture will have to be the name of its cradle and home. Mary’s person
stands tall and highly visible at the incarnational threshold of the
Christ-event. There is no way to avoid her; she must be reckoned with.
She is culture made individual person and mother
into which the Trinity incarnates itself as Jesus Christ. She is the
cultural figure to reckon with whenever the mystery of Christ is object
of cultural transfer, reassessment, and inculturation. The understanding
of the Christ-event as ongoing incarnation invariably makes of Mary a
witness, a guardian and sometimes a victim of its cultural challenge.
2) Horror Vacui: Eminently
cultural thanks to her role in the incarnation, there is, in fact,
little information to describe and evaluate Mary’s cultural profile. But
since nature (here theological imagination) abhors void, she
compensates, meaning she creates her own marian contraption, more or
less in sync with Mary’s original persona. In other words, there is a
need for cultural representations of Mary. Cultural representations of
Mary are not necessarily detrimental to the original essential message
as long as they are not absolutized at the expense of
Mary’s historical singularity and the doctrinal unity of theological
reflection about her.
3) Universal Legitimacy:
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Mary’s
cultural significance is of a non-theological and non-religious order.
There exists a close connection between Mary, the mother of God
incarnate and redeemer of humankind, and the universal archetype of
mother and of motherliness. Life, human life, is our first and ultimate
concern. Life is received, and becomes a matter of survival at all
costs. Values such as care, protection, acceptance, growth and affection
are paramount to the struggle for survival,
psychologically as well as biologically and morally. The archetype of
the mother is a universal archetype of the human psyche. Its
significance and importance are transcultural, meaning common to all
human beings. This puts Mary in a uniquely privileged position to
promote and sustain Christian evangelization and inculturation.
For more information:
Consult the exhibit catalog:
The Mother of
God: Art Celebrates Mary,