03 August 2001

mary, mother of our lord

Hmm. I read - or perhaps I should say, attentively skimmed - Scott Hahn's new book on Mary last night, Hail Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God (Doubleday 2001).

There's not a whole lot new in the book for those familiar with Catholic teaching regarding the Virgin, patristic and medieval interpretation of Scripture, and so on. The funny thing is that, exegetically speaking, I can accept almost everything Hahn says. I have no problem with seeing Mary typologically described as the "ark of the covenant," "woman clothed with the sun," "new Eve," "virgin daughter Zion," "queen mother," and so on. The tricky bit comes with the leap from these premises to conclusions like the immaculate conception or bodily assumption.

At one point Hahn makes the following parallel: "Adam was a type of Jesus Christ; Eve was a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary." This is, I think, an important example of where his reasoning (and, admittedly, that of much of the church catholic) goes awry. Here's how:

In the case of Adam we have a figure who typologically points forward to Christ. This type, however, is thematically repeated and varied throughout the Old Covenant in many, many "Adam-figures" - Noah, Abraham, Israel, Solomon, Ezekiel, Daniel's "Son of Man," and so on. Eventually, all of these figures and all that they add to the typological pattern find a definitive end-point and anti-type in the person and work of Jesus as the Last Adam.

Now, consider the parallel with Mary. We begin with Eve, a typological figure. This type also is thematically repeated and varied throughout the Old Covenant in many, many "Eve-figures" - Sarah, Deborah, Jael, Zion, Jerusalem, Esther, and so on. Eventually, all of these figures and all that they add to the typological pattern find a definitive end-point and anti-type in...in what? Or whom? Mary? Or is Mary simply the next to last and greatest link the chain? Does she stand alone as the fulfillment, as Jesus does? Or is it not the case that Mary is gathered up with all of the other types in order to point to and focus our attention upon the true anti-type: the Church of Jesus Christ, the virgin Bride adorned for her Husband, the Mother of all believers.

Of course, Mary does stand in a unique relationship to our Lord as his earthly mother. And, accordingly, all generations must proclaim her blessed, honor her, and look to her example of faith as a type of the faith of the church.

But do we truly honor this greatest of women when we go beyond the Word of God, perpetuating extra-biblical traditions and doctrines about her? After all, Mary herself was brought into being by the divine Word, treasured the written Word in her heart, and bore the Word made flesh into the world. If we follow her example, we will do the same.