Mexican Phoenix, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition Across Five Centuries.
Cambridge University Press, 2001
The phoenix is a symbol of beauty, and, as it rises from its ashes, a symbol of immortality. Our Lady of Guadalupe as the Mexican phoenix refers both to the beauty of the image and to its recrudescence at crucial moments of Mexican history. This work of social and intellectual history by David Brading, University of Cambridge, covers five centuries of Mexican and Guadalupan history. It deals with the sources and the transmission of the original account of the apparition, and, significantly, includes the scriptural, and even sacramental interpretations, which early preachers ascribe to the apparition and the image. It also deals with the consequences that Guadalupan history has on the Mexican ethos and character. There was also an account of the apparitions in Nahuatl - the Nican Mopohua (subject, in the last decade, to intense investigation).
The principal events in Guadalupan history -1746, declaration of Our Lady of Guadalupe as patroness of New Spain; 1895, the solemn coronation of the image; 1990, the beatification of Juan Diego (the process began in 1939) - have all been rallying points for the Mexican Church. Guadalupe was prominent in Miguel Hidalgo's struggle for independence from Spain in the nineteenth century and in the flags of the Cristeros in their opposition to the Mexican anticlerical governments of the twentieth century. And, although this is only suggested in Brady's work, the normalization of Church-state relations which occurred in Mexico in 1992 could in part be attributed to John Paul II's words at Guadalupe and to the beatification of Juan Diego, a representative of all of Mexico's indigenous peoples.
The last sections of the book, outlining
the controversies which have erupted
in the last century over the "historicity"
of the apparitions, the beatification of Juan Diego, and the current investigation
of the Nican Mopohua may be the most interesting. The conclusion - that Guadalupe
is a divinely-inspired work, inspired even though its "historicity"
may be wanting - may disappoint some but it also may convert skeptics. Reading
this impressive and at times ponderous work requires discipline, but the efforts
are rewarded by insights into Mexican character and by intimations on how divine
messages are communicated.
The Collected Works of Donald Charles
Mary: The Virgin Mary in the Life and Writings of John Henry Newman.
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans. 2001
Bishop Philip Boyce outlines the place the Virgin Mary occupied in Cardinal Newman's own spiritual quest. As an Anglican, Newman had, in his own words, a "true devotion" to the Virgin Mary: his first sermon to appear in print was on Mary. After he entered the Catholic Church, he was critical of devotional practices imported from Sicily which were "not necessarily to the taste of a less exuberant race like the English." His efforts to accept the Catholic understanding of Mary involved a struggle towards a broader view of doctrinal development and a more profound grasp of Mary's role as intercessor and advocate. This second part of the book contains a selection of Newman's writings on Mary. This valuable compendium makes clear that his growing understanding of Mary was rooted in a life which, as he said, was "ever under her shadow."
Other essays deal with the relation of Marian studies to theology, the changed context for the expression of Marian doctrines, suggestions for Marian preaching, and the symbolism related to the ordination of woman.
The many offerings will appeal to diverse palates. Among this reviewer's favorites were John Macquarrie's essay on early Scottish religious poetry; David Blanchard's account of the scapular of Carmel as a symbol of solidarity with the poor; John Welch's contemporary interpretation of Carmelite mystical tradition; and Ernest Larkin's analysis of John of the Cross' The Dark Night.
Fr. Carroll's eightieth birthday occurs as Carmel's marks its eight-hundredth anniversary. Mutatis mutandis, we extend to Fr. Carroll the wish for Carmel expressed by one of the volume's contributors: "Carmel has had eight hundred years of ministry in response to the Church and God's people, and, God-willing, will have many more centuries of unselfish service."
Empress and Handmaid. On Nature and Gender in the Cult of the Virgin Mary.
Sarah Jane Boss
London and New York: Cassell, 2000.
Central to the main point of the work are the various twelfth-century Romanesque statues of Mary, sometimes known as the Virgin in Majesty. Seated on a throne, with Christ seated on her lap, the Virgin, clearly a mother, gazes confidently, even authoritatively, forward; the image "takes command of us with its tantalizing stare." These Romanesque images indicate an acceptance of maternity and of the authority it conveys. These images, including nursing Madonnas, also signify an identification with nature and the authority it imposes. In contrast, nineteenth-and-twentieth century images often depict Mary without child, hands folded, and gazing upward, not outward. References to maternity are shunned, and the image is separated from any reference to nature.
To respond to the question why "modern images of Mary have neither authority, nor any visible sign of motherhood," Sarah Jane Boss draws upon the theories of the Frankfurt School and others. Max Weber's theory of domination explains the individual's alienation from nature and from maternity. Once separated from the natural, societal forces then reduce the individual to a commodity and finally reify it. A similar sociological analysis is applied to other themes within Marian devotion - the Pieta, virginity, the Immaculate Conception. Save for some questionable generalizations, Empress and Handmaid is a balanced work highly recommended for those who wish to analyze the psychological, sociological, and cultural factors present within some expressions of Marian devotion. It also provides a good bibliography on religious practice as seen in the social sciences.
Return to Book Review Index
Dr. Remigius Bäumer
Dr. Leo Scheffczyk
EOS Verlag Erzabtei St. Ottilien, 1987-1994.
The most complete and comprehensive reference work on the Virgin Mary is the Marienlexikon from the Institutum Marianum in Regensburg, Germany. The first volume appeared in 1987 and the sixth and final volume was presented at a festive ceremony in Regensburg on December 9, 1994.
The project was initiated and sponsored by the Bishop of Regensburg and the Institutum Marianum of Regensburg. The directors of this encylopedia were Leo Scheffczyk (Munich) and Remigius Baumerwork (Freiburg im Breisgau). They were assisted by twenty-nine individuals, each in charge of an area of research. Over one thousand scholars contributed articles; Dr. Florian Trenner (St. Ottilien) was the general editor. Its completion within a period of seven years is a tribute to the directors and editor and also a sign of a rising interest in Marian studies in German-speaking countries.
The Marienlexikon presents an up-to-date account of biblical and theological scholarship, but it is much more than a theological dictionary. It is a record of the influence which Marian devotion has exerted on cultural, artistic, and literary history. It deals with Marian traditions of cities, organizations, religious congregations, and places of Marian pilgrimage. It is particularly helpful on topics related to spirituality and asceticism. The articles frequently indicate how the events at Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Cana and the Marian doctrines the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption have been portrayed in art. A feature, not found sufficiently in religious works, is the attention given to artists (Chagall, El Greco, the Buddhist Georg Wang Suta) and musicians (Palestrina, Bach, Schubert, R. Vaughan Williams). Each volume has an attractive Marian image imprinted on the cover, and the text has many illustrations; especially charming are the medieval woodcuts.
In his congratulatory letter, Cardinal Ratzinger hailed the work as one which "does honor to German-speaking theology." He wrote, "As the volumes continued to appear, the Marienlexikon became for me an important guide. It is not only a truly theological work but also an instrument for evangelization and spiritual renewal. It includes the history of devotion and doctrine, as well as articles on iconography and symbolism which otherwise could only be found in widely scattered journals and references. The work extends beyond Mariological questions in the narrow sense of the word, because Mariology must always be seen within the framework of the whole of theology. From an ecumenical viewpoint, it is a most valuable instrument especially as it presents the spiritual heritage of the Eastern Church. The Marienlexikon occupies an honorable place among reference works and is a great credit to German-speaking theology."
--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.Return to Book Review Index
Jesus Living In Mary: Handbook of
the Spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort.
In the last few years, Catholic book publishers have produced many "handbooks" or "dictionaries" of religious information. There are dictionaries of theology, of the early church, of sacramental theology, of the social teachings of the Church, of spirituality. These summaries make accessible at a popular level information which is found only in specialized journals and works. Their appearance may stem from an awareness that we are on the threshold of a new era, and summaries of the past are needed as we enter the new period.
In 1988, the complete writings of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort appeared in the publication God Alone. Previous to this sourcebook, English readers based their opinions about Grignion de Montfort solely on his best-known work True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which represents only a small part of his writings. To understand de Montfort one must know his other works and the themes which permeated them: Divine Wisdom, the cross, the Holy Spirit and the times in which he lived.
Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis Marie de Montfort provides the context for better understanding the writings of the saint. With Stefano De Fiores as general editor of the original, sixty-five scholars have contributed eighty-eight articles spanning the gamut from "Angels" to "Zeal," and including "Beauty," "Creation," "Friendship," "Hope," "Hymns," "Iconography," "Poverty," and "Tenderness."
The articles are not limited to repeating what St. Louis said on the topic. Rather a consistent attempt is made first to describe the situation in de Montfort's own time. For example, what was the significance of Baptism in seventeenth-century France? How was the Bible regarded? What place did hymn singing have? The references to de Montfort's writings are given, and, more significantly, the way in which de Montfort dealt with specific issues is described.
De Montfort's response to the pastoral challenges of his era is presented, as the Montfortian Superior General William Considine notes, so that it will provide hope and guidance to contemporary men and women seeking "to interpret Montfort's worldview and thought in light of the culture and theologies of the new millennium." All the articles are followed by abundant and annotated bibliographical references, and drastic revisions have been made in the English version since "its anticipated audience is so broadly based."
Until the publication of his collected works, St. Louis Grignion de Montfort was little known and frequently caricatured. Aspects of his Marian devotion, which may have appeared excessive, must be seen within the context of his whole spirituality. As the introduction states, the key to understanding de Montfort is to grasp that "this vagabond saint is unreservedly the world would say madly in love with Love Itself, who becames enfleshed through Mary's Yes."
--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.Return to Book Review Index
Commentary on the Rule of Life of the
Society of Mary
After Vatican II, all religious congregations responded to the Council's call for greater fidelity to the Gospel and to their founding charism by reviewing and rewriting the basic rule by which they were governed. The Society of Mary (Marianists) began its revision in 1961 in anticipation of the Council's request. The process took twenty-two years and was completed on June 29, 1983, with the approval of the Rule of Life by the Congregation of Religious.
In response to a request from the Marianist General Administration, Bro. Ambrogio Albano, S.M., engaged the services of forty-three Marianists to write articles dealing with various facets of the Rule of Life. The contributors come from various cultures and backgrounds; each attempts to explain and enlighten some aspect of the recently approved document. The editor notes that, because of the varied background of the contributors, "it is inevitable that a certain pluralism reflects options, directions, sensibilities which do not correspond totally, perhaps, to those long used to seeing the realities of the Society of Mary through the prism of certain traditions." Nevertheless, there is, as Marianists are wont to say, "unity in diversity."
Most articles have an historical dimension which includes references to the writings of the founder of the Society of Mary, William Joseph Chaminade (1763-1850). The essays deal first of all with topics common to all forms of the religious life "Vows," "Religious Profession." Others deal with administrative aspects of the congregation: "Administration," "Authority," "The Rule of Life," "The Three Offices," "General Chapters." Some topics are unique to the Society and its history: "Mixed Composition," "Family Spirit," "Consecration to Mary," "The Spirit of Faith," "Meditation." Still other topics indicate the new vocabulary which has entered through developments in the Church: "Dialogue," "Participation," "Peace and Justice."
This commentary on Marianist life and spirituality is the culmination of almost a century of Marianist studies dedicated to recovering the thought of the founder. But it is also a hermeneutical key for interpreting Marianist spirituality for and transmitting this spirituality to new cultures, vastly different from nineteenth-century France in which it originated.
--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.Return to Book Review Index
Praying by Hand: Rediscovering the Rosary as a Way of Prayer.
In the last few years, several books have appeared which present the Rosary not as a type of devotion, but rather as a method of praying. There is a great interest in prayer and spirituality. Two Cistercians, Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington, have made significant contributions to this movement by their writings on the Centering Prayer and other forms of contemplative prayer. Now, Basil Pennington writes a deeply personal book, describing from experience what the Rosary means in his life.
Included is a short history of how beads, stones, and shells have been used by peoples of all religions -- Christians, Muslims, Buddhists -- as a reminder of the call to daily prayer, a help to focus one's attention to prayer, a way to indicate the time spent in prayer, and a bond of solidarity with all who have prayed in this way.
The Rosary is not a fixed prayer to be recited, but rather a method, an instrument, of prayer." There are many ways of praying the Rosary, no one is a priori better than others. Three ways of praying the Rosary the literal, the meditative, and the contemplative are suggested, opening into limitless number of variations. Two sets of meditations on the mysteries are offered the one from the Scriptures, the other written during the author's visit to the Holy Land written from the site of the mystery Nazareth, En Karem, Bethlehem, Jerusalem. Also included are listings of scriptural scenes which could become mysteries of the Rosary at different periods of life: sickness, mourning, pregnancy.
In 1974, Pope Paul VI described the Rosary as a contemplative prayer in which, together with Mary, we center on the great mysteries of our redemption. Fr. Pennington's book is a fine introduction to this approach to the Rosary. (Also recommended is a book previously noted here, Robert Llewelyn's A Doorway to Silence: The Contemplative Use of the Rosary.)
--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.Return to Book Review Index
A Short Treatise on the Virgin Mary.
This English translation of a classic of Marian studies Rene Laurentin's Court Traite sur La Vierge Marie has been long awaited. The first edition of this work appeared in 1953; it was revised and updated in succeeding editions. This is a translation of the fifth edition (1967), which includes references to the Marian doctrine of Vatican II.
The work treats with precision many of the historical and theological questions in Marian studies. It is divided into two sections: the first, "Doctrinal Development," outlines the history of Marian doctrines in six historical periods, beginning with the Scriptures. Particularly interesting is the section on the post-Tridentine Marian Movement which culminated in the 1950s with the pontificate of Pius XII. Comparisons are made between the Marian Movement and other preconciliar movements liturgical, ecumenical, scriptural all of which converged in Vatican II, with some reaching the goal for which they had been created.
The second section is a study of the principal Marian doctrines, again considered historically, from their "preparations in the Old Testament up to the parousia where the Church will rejoin the Theotokos in her integral glorification." The scriptural and historical view of Marian doctrines was in sharp contrast to the more speculative approach prevalent in the preconciliar period in the search for the fundamental principle of Mariology. Vatican II saw the development of Marian doctrine within the framework of salvation history: "Mary has entered deeply into the history of salvation." (Lumen gentium 65)
It is a tribute to Fr. Laurentin that, although written twenty-five years ago, the work still offers much to the English-speaking world. While a new introduction on the currents in Marian studies since Vatican II and an updated bibliography would have been desirable, these additions could have even further delayed the work or made its appearance impossible. Fr. Charles Neumann's translation is always clear, precise, and "reader-friendly." Fr. Fred Miller and the World Apostolate of Fatima are to be commended for making this work available. An indispensable reference guide for Marian studies.
--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.Return to Book Review Index
With a Listening Heart: Biblical and Spiritual Reflections
on the Psalms.
Father Buby tries to get at the heart of the message by attuning his own heart and mind to the central ideas in each psalm: "I attempt to have a listening heart for what the poet is saying." Father credits his listening heart to his Marianist Family of sisters, brothers, and brother-priests, as well as the lay branches and the spiritual Affiliates of the Society of Mary and the Daughters of Mary. "They have shared their spirit, prayers, and friendship throughout the years."2
Bubys process is, first of all, reading a particular psalm from Hebrew texts, for which his fifty years of studying the language have prepared him well. Through his long involvement in the Dayton Christian-Jewish Dialogue, he has listened to, prayed with, studied with, and celebrated with many in the Jewish community, attuning himself to their perspectives, out of which have come insights and reflections that are both fresh and revealing.
Based on the premise that knowledge gained from study can
enhance meditation, he next turns to one or more of his twenty Christian and
Jewish commentaries to confirm his own "take" on the psalm in question before
providing some scholarly background on it. For instance, to some psalms he
assigns a title-such as, "true wisdom," "poetic justice," "a cry for the
oppressed," or "an antidote to murmuring" as an introduction. In other cases he
provides a one-sentence preview, such as, "What a magnificent description of a
storm," "A psalm of two different moods," or "An individual lifts his/her soul
up to God." Some psalms are then classified as to literary genre: lamentation,
thanksgiving, royal, hymn, instruction, supplication, etc. Some psalms are
further designated as either morning praise or night prayer. The background
material is free flowing, with no formal lock-step format; rather it appears
based on what Buby spontaneously judges would be helpful to the reader.
The final step in the process is the addition of Father Buby's own personal reflections. One example, from Psalm 64: "I relate this psalm to the power of fear which often cripples us from doing things. It often makes us immobile, anxious, and depressed. Praying this psalm can help us to be aware of fear and to overcome it along with human respect, realizing and trusting in God who overturns false fears and useless worries that we suffer from time to time."3 Another example, from Psalm 65: "I find myself summoning up my sentiments and devotion in verse 5. 'Happy the one whom Thou chosest, and bringeth near, to dwell in the courts.' "4 Or from psalm 70: "Often such direct and simple prayer to God is just what is needed. It is like a javelin thrown into the heavens to catch God's attention.
1 Bertrand A.
Buby, SM, With a Listening Heart: Biblical and Spiritual Reflections on the
Psalms (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 2005), p. xviii.
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