My friend Vicki responded in person to my first post about Jesus’ mother, saying that she (Vicki) does feel a certain sense of wonder about small objects that were touched or used by famous people of the past, Abraham Lincoln’s top hat for instance, or George Washington’s wooden teeth. And Mary, who was the flesh from whom the flesh of Christ came (she provided the egg, after all), attains a certain kind of fame and wonderfulness from being used as Christ’s carrier.Some might say that such adoration of “relics” from old Presidents is quaint and nice, but mostly sentimental and not-rational. And that, by extension, so is affection for Mary.
Two responses to this: 1. If by “sentimental,” you mean “of or relating to the sentiment,” then I agree. If by sentimental you mean “merely sentimental,” or “to the exclusion of the rational,” then I will have to challenge you.
1. Are not some sentiments rational, and others irrational For instance (to use the most basic and obvious of examples), isn’t a sentiment of disgust at seeing a car wreck a ‘rational’ or fitting or appropriate sentiment? And isn’t a feeling of adoration, of warmth and delight at seeing a one-year old baby also a rational sentiment? I would much more quickly call a husband irrational who greets his wife with a cold greeting such as, “Hello carbon-unit spouse, to whom I am bound in a contract of marriage.” His sentiments are off, though his brain seems to be working. He is, in fact, less rational and sane than the man who greets his wife with exultant and hyperbolic affection, “Hello to the most beautiful woman in the world!” Another example: the clothes that I use do take on a sort of identity, not just as “clothes” but as “my clothes.” If someone dies, it seems rational, therefore, to keep around their favorite sweater as a powerful reminder of them. Not because of vague emotional associations, but because the identity, the smell, the habitual color schemes, the preferences and choices of that person have come to reside, partially, in their regular possession. This has some intuitive force to me, so if it does not to you, further argumentation will probably not persuade. If I am correct, however, than the sentimental attachment to the woman whose body gave Christ a body is indeed a rational sentiment, since His divinity and humanity and whole person, in a mysterious but definite way, are connected with her.
2. For those of you who are persauded that, if nothing else, Mary’s ‘association’ in time and space to our Lord makes her special and worth notice: Is there anything more to be said? The Church Fathers suggest that when the Angel described Mary as “full of grace,” that they were describing an attribute she really had, and that before the Incarnation. Surely, it was an attribute that God gave her, so no woman can boast. We know that she has a certain honor just from being the one historical person chosen to be God’s gateway onto the earth. But we ought to also ask ourself if there was any reason why God chose this woman and not any others? I am reading Julian of Norwich’s luminous book, Shewings, and she also affirms that Mary has, only through God, but still really has a deep uniqueness, a special place in God’s creation. She is not divine in any interesting sense, no more than the rest of God’s church whom he wants to make one with him. But she is one of a kind among creatures. Dante also suggests this structurally in his great poem. Maximos the Confessor in the Philokalia touches on this theme, without much fulmination, as it seemed her esteem was universally accepted at that time. All of this historical data (which readers should certainly research for themselves rather than trusting this brief references) adds up to an interesting question? Is she unique among creation? If so, why, exactly?