Our ancestors had a better sense of proportion on so many things than we do. Divorced, as so many of us are, from the natural rhythms of the seasons and their changing, they saw ‘Lady Day’ as an important staging post in the cycle of the year; coming soon after the spring equinox, and nine months before the traditional date for the birth of Christ, it was, for them, the start of the new year – symbolically marking the start of the new life for all Christians. Now, no doubt there are those odd souls who find in all of this pagan echoes, but if they could stop and use their brains instead of their emotions, they would see something rather wonderful – the Christianisation of paganism. The Church took time-honoured pagan customs and showed how they related to the Light of the World.
As expected, yesterday’s post on the Feast of the Annunciation prompted our resident iconoclast, Bosco, to utter his usual blasphemy to the effect that Our Lady had no choice but to become the Mother of the Saviour of the World. Let us examine St Luke’s account:
And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”m29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.31n Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.32o He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,* and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”p34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”*35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.q36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived* a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;37for nothing will be impossible for God.”r38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Let us focus in on that last verse – ‘May it be done to me according to your word’. Now, perhaps Bosco’s English is not up to summarising it, so let us help him – here Our Lady is saying ‘yes’, she is giving her assent to the Good News brought to her by the Archangel. That is the plain reading, and it is noticeable that Bosco never, ever quotes it. It undermines his odd view that Our Lady never gave her consent. The pagan world was familiar with stories of mortal women being raped by the gods, but the Christian story does not begin thus, but with a young woman responding with fidelity and obedience to the news she is given; she could clearly have responded otherwise, but God had chosen her from her mother’s womb, and she received the greatest honour of any human – she became the mother of her, and our, Saviour. This is why Christians of all kinds revere her, indeed, even Luther and Calvin did so. Why then has there developed a virulent strain of misogyny within parts of Protestant Christianity?
In the main, I fear, it is to do with a peculiar form of blindness. There has always been a puritanical strain within Christianity which has had the most violent reaction to beauty; it cannot see a stained-glass window without wishing to break it; it cannot see a fresco, a wall-painting or a painting without wishing to whitewash it; it cannot see a statue without wishing to break it. It does all these things arrogantly. It claims that its adherents alone can interpret God’s commandments. The vast majority of Christians have followed the instincts of the Church from the earliest times – which is to bring the best things we can create and to consecrate them to God. Yes, we can worship him in a plain barn, but if we love him and we honour him, and he has given some of us great creative gifts, then it is right and proper to dedicate those gifts to his service. Apart from the iconoclasts, there’s not one person in a million who sees a statue in a Church and things anyone worships it; the question as to why the iconoclast does is one which lies with a psychiatrist rather than a theologian.
There is, in it, a form of misogyny, a virulent strain of something that sits within most Churches in one form or another. Christianity has grown to maturity in patriarchal societies in which women have seldom if ever been accorded the same rights as men. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism this has always been mitigated by Marian veneration. There are, to be sure, those feminist scholars who would see Mariology as a cover for misogyny, a way of excusing it by saying, in effect ‘but look, over here, we say a woman was the most important person ever, so how can we be misogynists?’ Well, to be sure, there’s something in that, but that would also be an example of how you can’t please all of the people all of the time; would they really rather that was not there, that exception, from which so many more exceptions have grown?
So, let us conclude this reflection with some verses of St Cyril of Alexandria:
Through you, the Trinity is glorified. / Through you, the Cross is venerated throughout the world./ Through you, angels and archangels rejoice. / Through you, the demons are driven away.
Through you, the fallen creature is raised to heaven. / Through you, the churches are founded in the whole world. /Through you, people are led to conversion.