Sunday, 20 August 2017

Marian Maximalism, by Jonathan Fleischmann



Jonathan Fleischmann, Marian Maximalism, 2016 Academy of the Immaculate

This book, by a Catholic layman, defends Marian Maximalism, which takes as its starting principle, the saying of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, that of Mary, we can never say enough. We can never be too devoted to Mary, or trust too much in her intercession. A foreword is provided by Cardinal Raymond Burke, who speaks about the importance of the book, particularly in relation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Our Lady of Guadalupe's role as patroness of the American continent. Fleischmann begins by demonstrating the traditional validity of the Marian Maximalist principle through the writings of the saints. In particular he makes use of Saint Maximillian Kolbe, the ultimate Marian Maximalist. He defends Kolbe from the charge that he was excessive in his statements on Mary's exalted position. He counters the claim that Vatican II opposed Marian Maximalism by arguing that the documents of Vatican II affirm Mary's mediatorial role and are in harmony with Maximalism. He makes the interesting claim that the 'exaggerations' warned about at Vatican II were particularly directed at a cultish group called the 'Army of Mary,' who ended up worshiping their founder.

Fleishmann contends that there is no such thing as a Marian heretic; that is one who has fallen into heresy through exaggerated ideas about the Blessed Virgin. He argues that feminists who want to feminize the divine have little interest in Mariology and that if some feminists were to start worshiping Mary as a goddess, she would not be the Mary of Nazareth, the mother of our Lord, but simply the application of the name Mary to a pagan goddess. He does concede, late in the book that some Catholic theologians have made errors in their Mariology, but these are not heresies as such.

Fleischmann takes the Scotist view that the incarnation would have occurred even if the Fall had not taken place. This view has important implications in making the Mother of God part of God's original design for the universe. Our author provides an excellent quotation of Venerable Futon Sheen, demonstrating how Mary is the ultimate realization of womanhood:

"Every man who pursues a maid, every maid who yearns to be courted, every bond of friendship in the universe, seeks a love that is not just her love or his love but something that overflows both her and him that is called "our love." Everyone is in love with an ideal love, a love that is so far beyond sex that sex is forgotten. We all love something more than we love. When that overflow ceases, love stops. As the poet puts it: "I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more." That ideal love we see beyond all creature-love, to which we instinctively turn when flesh-love fails, is the same ideal that God had in His Heart from all eternity—the Lady whom He calls "Mother." She is the one whom every man loves when he loves a woman—whether he knows it or not. She is what every woman wants to be when she looks at herself. She is the woman whom every man marries in ideal when he takes a spouse; she is hidden as an ideal in the discontent of every woman with the carnal aggressiveness of man; she is the secret desire every woman has to be honored and fostered; she is the way every woman wants to command respect and love because of the beauty of her goodness of body and soul. And this blueprint love, whom God loved before the world was made, this Dream Woman before women were, is the one of whom every heart can say in its depth of depths: "She is the woman I love!" "

However, he does not look solely at the western tradition, but also shows how the Byzantine tradition, particularly in the Hesychastic movement acknowledged the greatness of Mary. He singles out St. Gregory Palamas for particular praise in his Mariological thought. He also brings up Our Lady's title of Daughter of Zion, showing how Mary is the archetype and fulfillment of Israel. He writes:

"This feminine dimension of the theology of the Old Testament- from the "virgin Earth" out of which God created the first man Adam, to his helpmate Eve, to the Woman of Genesis, at enmity with the serpent, to the "woman saviour" stories of Esther and Judith, to the personification of Israel entering into a covenant of love with God, to the feminine Sophia of the Book of Wisdom- becomes embodied concretely in the Immaculate, the Jewish Virgin-Mother, Spouse of the Holy Spirit and Coredemptrix with Christ: Mary."

Fleischmann acknowledges that some may feel that Catholic theologians speak of Mary as though she was a goddess, but he counters that this is balanced by their recognition o the absolute transcendence of God. He discusses the way in which Our Lady of Guadalupe bore the visual trappings of an Aztec goddess. He writes:

Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in the clothing of a goddess, but not because she wanted to deceive St. Juan Diego and the native people of the New World.... Why would this woman appear like a goddess? It can only because in Mary's perfect humility she appeared to St. Juan Diego exactly as God saw her and wished her to be seen: exalted above all other women on Earth, the one "highest after Christ and also closest to us," who "shines with purity greater than which none can be imagined, except for God's," and who possesses "that fullness of holy innocence than which, under God, one cannot imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully."

Given that Marian Maximalism is directly opposed by it's opposite, Marian Minimalism, I think it would have been helpful if Fleischmann had included a chapter on Marian Minimalism. Defining it's opposite would have shed a lot of light on what Maximalism is. While he quotes Blessed John Henry Newman and Saint Bonaventure favourably, both men made statements that sound like minimalism, that is warning against Marian excess. While I love Blessed John Henry Newman and am devoted to him, some of his criticisms of Marian 'excess' make me feel uncomfortable. Fleischmann would have done well to have engaged more directly with those voicing such concerns.

I thought this was a really beautiful exposition of the glories of Mary and an encouragement to greater devotion.

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