Immaculate Heart of MaryCardinal Christoph von Schoenborn, OP

Translated by Fr. Joseph Smith, S.J.
Loyola House of Studies, Ateneo de Manila University

Is the title exaggerated? Can theology have another “heart”, that is, another center than Christ, the Logos Theou? Or, if we remain with the image of the heart, is not the Holy Spirit the “heart” of the Church and  consequently of theology, as Christ is the head?  A Protestant theologian writes: “When I began to study Catholic theology, I came upon Mary every time I expected to find a treatment concerning the Holy Spirit: they attribute to Mary what we unanimously consider to be the proper work of the Holy Spirit.”1

The reproach is not simply unjustified, as Father Yves Congar has shown by means of examples2. And yet, if one takes the Church’s doctrinal tradition as norm, it misses the point. If one sees theology as the quintessence of the “God speaks” of the Logos Theou, then only Christ can be its center, the Holy Spirit its “Heart. But if theology also embraces the creaturely answer to God’s Word, then our title presents itself in a different light; then Mary has her place in the “heart” of theology, of that theology which “conserves all these words and ponders them in the heart”. (cf. Lk. 2:19). Theology, as reflection on the word of God, finds its standard in Mary since here “Fiat” represents that spirit-effected answer to God’s word, which embraces all creaturely answers.  But Mary has her place in theology not only because her “fiat” represents the permanent form that stamps its imprint on all theology as reflection on God’s word, but also because her role places her in the midst of the central contents of theology. “For”. affirms the Second Vatican Council, “Mary figures profoundly in the history of salvation and in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of faith.”3. Both shall be treated in what follows: a form of theology stamped by Marh, which can only be a theology of the heart, and a theology which considers its essential contents in their relation to Marh and therefore sees in Mary the heart of (responding) theology. But in connection with this, a further point should be noted. The privileged addressees of the word of God are “the little ones”: to whom God reveals what he has “hidden from the wide and understanding” (cf. Mt. 11:25).  Hence they are also the privileged responders to God’s word.  Therefore, as word of God and a meditative answer of man, theology has its preferred place among the “simple”.4 But once again, this means that Mary has her place in the heart of theology, as the one on whose “lowliness” God has looked with favor, and who has answered as “his handmaid”. (cf. Lk 1:48).

This sketch of Mary’s position at the center of theology will be developed in what follows. However, in order to proceed along this path, we will first take up a preliminary task which has received little thematization in theology, but which has struck deep roots in “popular piety”, the devotion to the Heart of Mary. Fr. Leonardo Boff writes: “Theology is more than a matter of sheer knowledge.  Theology is also concerned with confirming men in their piety and with deepening what they previously possessed in faith as completely self-evident.”5

The Devotion to the Heart of Mary as Question addressed to Theology

Parallel to the devotion to the Heart of Jesus, there has developed in Catholic Christianity, especially since the 11th century, the special devotion to the Heart of the Mother of Jesus. This devotion grew from meditation on the life of Mary, especially as the Mother of Sorrow. It gradually found entrance into the liturgy and was finally taken up and confirmed by the Magisterium of the Church.

The message of Fatima gave a strong impetus to the devotion of the “Immaculate Heart of Mary.” In accordance with this message Pius XII and recently John Paul II have consecrated the world to the Heart of Mary. The “sensus fidelium” has received this devotion and approved it through its witness of faith, at least in those lands in which a strong popular religiosity prevails. The Church’s Magisterium has also accepted and approved the matter. In theology alone has the theme until now found little response.  One may object that such forms of piety do not belong in theology but are the affairs of “spirituality.” This objection is too hasty, for also that which arises in the spiritual, religious life of the People of God makes a claim on theology. Is it rather a certain “temporal disjunction” (“Ungleichzeitigkeit”), that theology only takes up with some hesitation what has already sprung up in the hearts of the faithful?

Valentin Tomberg has remarked with respect to Marian dogmas that these truths o faith lived “first in the hearts of the faithful, then they influenced more and more the liturgical life of the Church, in order to finally be solemnly proclaimed as dogmas. Dogmatic theology is only the last stage of the road to dogma, which begins in the depths of the life of souls and ends in the solemn proclamation.” And Tomberg adds, alluding to Pascal: “Just as it is said that the heart has its reasons, which the mind does not know, it can also be said that the ‘heart has its dogmas’ which the theologizing reason does not know.”6

The Heart of Mary — is it a “dogma of the heart”, to which the theologizing reason-still-scarcely gives consideration? When a theme like that of the heart of Mary is pondered for a long time in the hearts of the faithful, then we may assume that it also has something to say to the “theologizing reason.” Before we venture to attempt a theological interpretation, there are first certain objections to be discussed, which are more or less expressly raised against devotion to the heart of Mary.

Solvuntar Objecta (Objections)

(1) A first, so to speak, surface difficulty concerns the forms of expression of their piety. Language-and-image world often have an aesthetically poor effect, are rejected as too mawkish, too sentimental or simply as tasteless. Hardly anything is to be opposed to this objection on its own level. But the counter question is, whether with the aesthetic verdict, something either unconsciously or consciously is being rejected, which has more to say than the awkward forms of expression in which it more often encounters us. The theme “Heart of Mary” is certainly not disposed of with the reference to the popular non-aesthetic images.

(2) The embarrassment before such images and their popularity point to a more profound difficulty, which today affects not only wide segments of theology, but equally, enlightened western society: the deficient integration of the affective. Dietrich von Hildebrand treated this deficiency in his subtle work “Uber das Herz”, (“About the Heart”)7. He shows the heavy consequences caused by the devaluation of affectivity by Greek philosophy, especially in its modern reception. The “heart” is denied objectivity, the affective is as a whole devaluated as sentimental and subjective in contrast to distanced, coolly neutral “objectivity.” Von Hildebrand’s sensitive phenomenological analysis shows that here we are dealing with a deep-seated and dangerous misunderstanding. Precisely, “the voice of the heart”, as it manifests itself in joy, happiness and similar experiences is not simply a subjective expression of feeling, but a full and entirely human, personal response to an objectively valid situation which is the reason for joy and happiness. “What is not decisive is not whether we feel happiness, but whether in view of the objective situation, we have reason to be happy. The truly affective person, the man with an attentive heart is precisely he who understands that it depends upon the objective situation, upon whether there is cause to rejoice, to be happy. The great, overflowing affective experiences are born from taking the situation seriously, from being filled with the question, whether this hour demands an answer of joy, or happiness or of sorrow.”8

Von Hildebrand calls this attitude “tender affectivity”9 and defines it in contract to sentimentality (which remains subjective) as the truly “objective” (because corresponding to objective reality answer to a situation which addresses the person in his depths, in his heart.

In the light of this briefly sketched explanation of Dietrich von Hildebrand, we can, in relation to our theme, distinguish in the devotion to the heart of Mary between that which is only subjective preoccupation with one’s own feelings and reactions, and that which is expression of the response to the objective, valid impact of the figure of Mary (even if these two aspects can never be neatly separated). The justified criticism of the excessively individualistic or temporally conditions expression of emotion in the Marian devotion may not lead one to question the validity of feelings, which are awakened by the living contact with the mystery of Mary. Theology should listen to this voice of the heart, when it reflects theologically on the devotion to the heart of Mary, and in the process should distinguish the time-conditioned secondary tones from the real heart-tones.

Precisely this capacity to understand with the heart and thereby to penetrate into the heart of that which is to be understood, has always characterized the creative thinker and scholar, who is, so to speak, “the man with the brain of a lion and the heart of a child”10. The same is true of the great theologian. Many examples present themselves. Let us mention one briefly. Matthias Josef Scheeben’s first work (1860) was an anthology of Marian texts from all centuries11, concerning which Martin Grabmann said that it was “a fruit of his pious heart and his tender Marin devotion.” With Scheeben, as with other great theologians, how greatly such tenderness is grounded in the objectivity of the venerated figure is show by the following text (very time-conditioned, certainly, in its linguistic expression): “Oh what rapture ought not fill our souls at this thought and how must our heart not tremble for joy in the sublime consciousness that we are so closely related to the Mother of God and with full right may call the Queen of Heaven and Earth our mother. — How tenderly ought we not love and honor her.”13

Not subjective sentimentality but rather being touched and moved by the woman who is Jesus” Mother is the objective foundation for the fact that in her presence the affectus cordis awaken and seek expression. “Popular piety” has no other source than this theological cordis: the consciousness” that we are so closely related to the Mother of God.” This nearness to the “Queen of Heaven and Earth” is the reason why, since earliest times, men have confidently come to her, why her figure, from the beginning, has touched hearts. It is likewise this nearness which, through all centuries, has turned great theological thinkers into poets; which enabled them to express their theological reflections in the “language of the heart”, in hymns and prayers. This nearness therefore always united the theologians with the “faith of the simple” and helped both find a common language without which theology and “popular piety” would have drifted apart to the detriment of both.

(3) Against the objectivity of the “tender affectivity” (von Hildebrand) affirmed here, there stands, of course, as a weighty objection the suspicion that the strong affective relation to Mary is determined by I projections, by transferences of one’s own wishes and longings upon the simple woman form Galilee, elevated for this purpose. Moreover the suspicion is nourished by the early, popular, close union of mother and child as it encounters us in representation art.

It could not fail that this image of most intimate mother-son-bond be exposed to the suspicion of wish-conditioned projection. Sigmund Freud has already tried to expose the Christian presentation of the relation of Jesus to God-Father as an oedipal conflict, in which the Son, by means of his self-sacrifice, simultaneously tries to appease and to set aside the Father. Freud sees Christianity as “religion of the son”, as rebellious elimination of the father-god. Freud’s disciple, Ernst Jones, undertook to shed light on the “family novel” of the holy family with the psychoanalytic lantern and to stretch the representation of the virginal conception on the framework of the Oedipus conflict.15 In the popular Freudian perspective, the following thesis is advocated to some degree even today: The virgin-mother is the phantasm of an exclusive mother-son relationship, in which the mother means everything to the son, and the son to the mother and in which both enter into a symbiosis — of a neurotic kind — whereby both mother and son renounce relationships with other persons in order to belong entirely to one another. The virgin-mother corresponds, therefore, to the virginal son, whereby of course, this symbiotic relationship is purchased at the price of the renunciation of other relationships. Interested in this mother-son-unity is above all a celibate and power-oriented priesthood which, in the image of the virgin-mother and her son, has created for itself a phantasm of legitimization. This is clung to all the more emotionally, as the unconscious wishes, which betray themselves in this image, have to be repressed.16

In this undifferentiated form the thesis can hardly be taken seriously. Nevertheless it contains a question which should not be ignored. The neurotic form of exclusive mother-son-bond described here undoubtedly exist, with all the frequently tragic biographical constriction which characterizes it. One will not be able to dispute that such symbiotic mother relationships also occur occasionally with priest living a celibate life. Of course it would be a short-circuited conclusion to simply trace the devotion to the Madonna with the child back to projections which are fed from such turbid sources.

(4) A further objection closely related to the preceding one, obtrudes itself. The spareness of New Testament statements about Mary stands in sharp contrast to the apparently boundless expansion of Marian devotion in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions; the timid discretion of the gospels is opposed to the “de Maria nunquam satis” of this tradition. This contrast becomes accentuated even more when, on the one hand, it is observed: “all the statements of Jesus concerning his Mother are, at first hearing, marked by a strikingly austere reserve”17; and on the other hand are found expressions of an unsurpassable intimacy between the Mother of God and her Son. Scripture and tradition appear to come into conflict here.

(5) A final objection is immediately dogmatic in nature. It radicalizes all the preceding devotions. In its parallel development to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the devotion to the heart of Mary appears to place Mary on the same level as Christ. Now, against the background of the other objections, the question posed at the beginning presents itself anew: can there be any other heart and center of theology than Jesus Christ? In the question concerning the correct determination of the relation between the Heart of Jesus and heart of Mary there is involved the question embracing all the areas of theology: what role does the creature have in the economy of salvation?

The last two objections demands a rather detailed response. We will therefore first address the contrast between biblical spareness and later exuberance, and then finally establish that which is expressed in the title of this essay.

continued tomorrow

Text translated from German. The original in German appeared in the Melanges offered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the occasion of his 60th anniversary [(“Weisheit Gottes-Weisheit der Welt”), EOS, Verlag, St. Ottilien, 1987].The footnotes which follow were translated by Ms. Mathilde Beckers of Notre Dame de Vie, Mother of Life Catechetical Institute, Novaliches, Quezon City, Philippines.FOOTNOTES

1     Elsie Gibson, “Mary and the Protestant Mind”, in Review for Religious, 24 May 1965, quoted in L.J. CARDINAL SUENENS, Une nouvelle Pentecote, Paris 1976, p. 230f.

2     Je Crois en l’Espirit Saint, Bd., I. L’experience de l’Esprit, Paris, 1979, p. 224f.

3     Dogmatic Constitution LUMEN GENTIUM, Art. 65.

4     Cf. The book of H.U. VON BALTHASAR, Christen sind einfaltig. Einsiedeln, 1984, and our study: Einheit im Gluaben, Eisiendeln 1984.

5     Ave Maria, Das Weibliche und der Heilige Geist, Dusseldorf, 1982, p. 27. In this interesting book, BOFF even seems to go as far as affirming — as a personal hypothesis — a quasi-hypostatic union between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother (cf. p. 51, 62f., 69, 74, 94, 120). Through such a “divination” of Mary he runs the risk of failing to recognize the difference between her and Christ, God and man. Strange “maximalisme”: “What is due to a Mother whose Son is God? It is only just and right that she be placed at the  same divine standing as He.” (p. 97)

6     In this anonymous work (Anonymous d’Outre-Tombe) Die Grossen Arkana des Tarot, Basel, 1983, p. 603. This work is a mine that is as yet, hardly exploited.

7     UBER DAS HERZ.  Zur menschlichen un gottmenschlichen Affektivitat, Regensburg 1967.

8     Ibid., p. 90.

9     Ibid., p. 81ff.

10     Thus H.U. VON BALTHAZAR described the philosopher Gustav  Siewerth (Rechenschaft 1965, Eisiedeln 1965, p. 36).

11     Marienbluthen aus dem Garten der heiligen Vater und christlichen Dichter zur besonderen Verherrlichung der ohne Makel empfangene Gottesmutter, Schaffhausen, 1860: in the new edition under the title: Marienlob in den schonsten Gebeten, Hymnen und Liedern aus zwei Jahrtausenden, Olten, 1946.

12     In the Introduction (p. XXVII) to the Complete Works of SCHEEBEN, vo. 1.

13     Die Herrlichkeiten der gottlichen Gnade, Gesammelte Werke, vo. 1, 53.

14     FREUD has developed this concept in his critical writings on religion: Totem und Tabu, Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion: cf. vol. IX of the study edition, Frankfurt, 1974, p. 435-437; p. 532-537; p. 580; cf. on the other hand the texts of Ch. PEGUY, A. 29 and 31.

15     Zur Psychoanalyse der christlichen Religion, Frankfurt, 1970, esp. 44 ff.

16     Brief resume of the dissertation of J. POHIER, La conception virginale de Jesus. De qoui s’agit-il? In: G. BESSIERE and J.P. JOSSUA, Dossier Jesus. Recherches nouvelles, Paris, 1977, pp. 24-27; cf. on the other hand, the remarks of H.U. VON BALTHASAR in his Theodramatik II, 2, Einseideln, 1978, p. 298, A.19.

17     H. SPAEMANN, Drei Marien. Die gestalt des Glaubens, Freiburg 1985,  p. 15

Paper Presented at the International Theological Symposium,
Fatima, September 14-19, 1986

Posted on Ave Maria
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Ave Maria Online Magazine

We will continue our wonderful goal of a million voices in prayer reaching the high heavens.

Spread the word by sharing this pledge

Tell your friends and family about A Million Hearts Consecrated to Jesus thru Mary as our Fatima Centennial offering.

Ave Maria Online Magazine
Extravagant displays of devotion to Mary gets curtailed as world culture emphasizes the rational, scientific and technological aspects of life. There seems to be no more time for the more affective expressions of religion.

  Then, after a while, people get fed up with the absolutely rational and logical culture, and rediscover religion and the affective part of the human soul and its needs.

  And Mary is one of those.

Love and support for Pope Francis
The Church is certainly a human and historical institution with all that entails, yet her nature is not essentially political but spiritual: the Church is the People of God, Holy People of God making its way to encounter Jesus Christ. Only from this perspective can a satisfactory account be given of the Church's life and activity.

  Christ is the Church's Pastor, but his presence in history passes through the freedom of human beings; from their midst one is chosen to serve as his Vicar, the successor of the Apostle Peter.

  Yet Christ remains the center, not the Sucessor of Peter: Christ, Christ is the centre.

Browse our archives

A Million Roses for the World
A gift of love, faith and goodwill from the people of the Philippines. Pope Pius IX once said: “Give me an army praying a million rosaries a day and we will conquer the world.” We are not out to conquer the world…but to save it for God to whom it rightly belongs.

%d bloggers like this: