We must avoid relegating Mary’s maternity to the sphere of mere biology. But we can do so only if our reading of Scripture can legitimately presuppose a hermeneutics that rules out just this kind of division and allows us instead to recognize the correlation of Christ and his Mother as a theological reality.
Mary, the Church at the Source, 29
Reflection – Well, August 15 is coming up, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, and it seems timely to do another series of reflections on Mary, her meaning and role in our lives.
Ratzinger is, in this slightly dry technical passage, making a very basic point about all that. Namely, that there is a tendency to reduce Mary to a simply biological role in Christ’s coming-to-be. This would be the general approach in Protestantism, for example. Mary is Jesus’ mother simply in the physical sense, or at best in the sociological, relational reality of motherhood.
No deeper significance to this fact, then. It’s just the case that God chose to come into this world as a man, and so some woman somewhere had to be his mother. Now I’m not quite sure what Ratzinger means about hermeneutics and reading of Scripture—I don’t have the book at hand where this quote is from, and it’s been awhile since I read it. The underlying point is clear, though—we see Mary’s maternity as a theological reality, not simply as a biological one.
This means that Mary’s mothering of God in the Incarnation reveals something very profound about God and his ways with us. God could have come into the world in any number of ways—an adult Christ could have sprung from the earth fully formed, for example. God could have saved the world in any number of ways—it is a good exercise in theological imagination to think of a few.
He chose to be born of a woman. This means something. Mary means something. He is showing us something, revealing something to us in this choice of His. The relationship of the unborn child to his or her mother is unique, intimate. Literally, the child takes flesh from the flesh of the mother, grows within the womb of the mother. That which is the mother’s own being, her body, her physical self is given to become the physical self of the child.
Mary gave Jesus his flesh, and his flesh is what hung on the Cross for our salvation. Mary gave Jesus his flesh, and his flesh is the life of the world, our true bread and true drink. Jesus is the savior, not Mary, but she is intimately involved in his saving work. This is a simple fact tied up in the reality of maternity, the reality God freely chose in his saving plan for us.
There is something being communicated about the role of the creature, the human being, in the drama of salvation. Mary’s own unique once-and-for-all role, for sure, but she is revealing to us (or rather, God is revealing to us through Mary) something of the inner meaning, purpose, action, and dignity of the creature and of the human person.
God is the savior, the creator, the redeemer, the great love of mankind… but Mary has a role to play, and this role is vital, real, necessary. And in this we see that we are not just passive recipients of salvation. We receive salvation, but in that are called into an active, vital role, a necessary task, a giving over of our flesh to Him, a conscious choice to enter into his work and his love for the world.