The Sunday TimesPlus

19th January 1997



Last week we published the first chapter of Fr. Tissa Balasuriya's controversial book Mary and Human Liberation, for the publication of which he was excommunicated. Today we carry excerpts from the Preface and chapter two of the book. Some readers have objected to the publication of a book which the Bishops have advised Catholics not to read. But we are serialising it in pursuance of the people's fundamental right to the freedom of information and expression:

Manel Abhayaratna Editor of the Catholic Messenger has published a book to counter the claims and views expressed by Fr. Balasuriya. The counter book is titled Mary and Human liberation-the other side. The Sunday Times will publish excerpts from this other side to present a balanced picture of the issue. This will appear in our issue of January 26.

Preface from the book

Mary rediscovered

Mary is very important in Catholic spirituality. Teaching concerning her and devotion to Mary are among the most difficult issues in the inter-Christian ecumenical dialogue. Many Protestants think that Catholics give her an almost divine place in the plan of salvation. Attitudes towards Mary are also important in the present theological dialogue around feminism and third world theologies. Mary has been interpreted in favour of male domination and of conformism to the prevailing social inequality. We have therefore to ask ourselves how the present theology concerning Mary arose in the Catholic tradition.

Marian theology raises critical issues of hermeneutics, as does almost any branch of theology today. Mariology has been linked to the theology of domination that has held sway over Western Europe and has been transposed, with the missionary expansion of the church, to most of the Catholic world. How and why did this theology arise? The search for a more meaningful Marian theology and spirituality has taken us to questioning of many of the assumptions or presuppositions of traditional Christian theology.

The translation of the texts of the Bible is important for Mariology also e.g. concerning the virginity of Mary, and as to whether she had other children in addition to Jesus. Marian theology is influenced by the way the scripture texts concerning Mary have been selectively utilized and emphasized in theology. Thus the socially radical significance of the Magnificat attributed to her was bypassed during many centuries.

Traditional theology has depended much on the literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis as was prevalent in the church throughout the centuries. A non-literal interpretation of these texts was officially accepted by the church only in this century through the Biblical Commission. Prior to that even though there were theologians who spoke of the allegorical nature of this narrative, the main thrust of the church teaching was to present them as actual historical events. Was not this literal interpretation a foundation of the doctrine of original sin communicated by generations to all humanity? The explanation concerning original sin was, in turn the basis for the doctoring of Immaculate Conception which is one of the principal privileges attributed to Mary.

As feminist theologians point out, the male authorship of the books of the Bible may explain the androcentric accent of the scriptures in their presentation of Jesus' story. Each of the evangelists has his own constituency and priorities in writing a gospel. Connected to this is also the silence of the scriptures concerning many aspects of Mary's life which might have been recorded if a woman wrote a gospel. We might then have known more about Mary, her personality, identity and sense of personal mission in those troubled times.

Marian theology is connected to and depends on the general core and construct of the rest of theology. Christian theology is about God, the universe, human life, redemption and our destiny after this life. The teaching on these has been evolved historically by the interpretation given to the scriptures and the message of Jesus by the church authorities. The theological controversies and the Councils of the church have been the occasions for the development and definition of some of the central doctrines of Christianity. Mariology has been intimately linked to these decisions on the identity, nature, personality, mission and role of Jesus Christ. Mary's personality, privileges and role in the divine plan are linked to the teaching concerning her son Jesus.

The definitions of the Councils of Nicene, Ephesus and Chalcedon in the 4th and 5th centuries were crucial in the evolution of Christian theology, particularly Christology. These definitions are concerning matters that are beyond human comprehension and belong to the area of humanly inscrutable mystery. The question then arises as to how the Councils came to conclusions concerning these issues. What is the role of ecclesiastical authority in determining the truth concerning these mysteries? What is the role of the civil and political powers that were also involved in resolving these theological controversies? How far are the traditional interpretations of Mariology dependent on this councillar process which involved a compromise between the church and the imperial powers of the day?

In this connection the assumption or hypothesis of original sin and its consequences is crucial for subsequent Christology and Mariology. A rethinking on the position of human nature in relation to sin and redemption would imply a change in the understanding of the life and role of Mary. What is human redemption, is a critical background issue for Mariology.

Since these theological doctrines and definitions are about matters which are beyond the competence of human understanding, we can query whether they are truths communicated to us by God, and/or whether the human imagination itself has contributed towards their elaboration. What then is the role of imagination in the evolution of theologies? How far would the accepted myths of a society contribute toward this process?

Ideology too may have had a significant role in the elaboration of Marian theology. Male domination may have contributed to the theological perceptions concerning Mary and these may in turn have helped consolidate the privileged position of the males in the religious and social set-up. Is it possible that the self- interrest of the decision makers and power holders had a role to play in the development of Marian theology?

Throughout the Catholic world, popular religiosity has enhanced Marian devotions. There is a warm and eager recourse to Mary as Mother, protectress and intercessor. She softens the presentation of God as the just judge. The apparitions of Our Lady have also contributed to popular religiosity as well as to the confirmation of theological doctrines, as the immaculate conception at Lourdes. The shrines, places of pilgrimage, prayers, hymns, litanies, novenas, and preaching in the church nourish people's devotion to Mary.

It is in this overall context that we try to reflect on the meaning of Mary specially for our times and in the circumstances of an unjust world. We have proposed a principle for the critique and evaluation of theological propositions and presuppositions. We try to evoke the life and message of Mary from a reading of the gospel story itself. We have also given some space for our imagination. But it is not for elaborating theological teachings on humanly incomprehensible issues, such as the condition of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. We have tried to understand what sort of a life Mary and her companions might have lived in the tumultuous times of repression of persons, social injustice, a burdensome religion, foreign occupation and a people's rebellion against these.

We reflect on the gospel evidence, scanty though it be, about the life of Mary. We see her as a mature adult woman who was concerned about the condition of her people. She supported the struggle of her son and the group that gathered around him in a search for integral human liberation. In this book our reflection on Mary is very much in relation to the life and mission of Jesus. It is in the perspective of an understanding of Jesus that is different from that of traditional Christology. Our presentation too may be subject to the criticism that Mary is not thought of adequately independently in her own right but in relation to Jesus. While there is some truth in this, our perception of Mary is quite different from her presentation in traditional theology. We see her as a woman of real life, involved in the day to day struggles of ordinary people at personal and community levels. Her experience would thus be close to that of today's women and men also.

In Chapter 7 the message of Jesus is expressed as a call to conversion from a state of sin to one of virtue. Some of the words used to describe this process, such as "from pride to humility and service" need some purification or clarification. As the feminist movement stresses, in a certain sense, women need more to affirm, than to efface, themselves. A sense of self-worth and a legitimate pride in oneself are also good and necessary.

Women's sense of service is often exploited by the others, especially the males. These words concerning conversion should, therefore, be understood in such a way as to be ennobling for all and not an encouragement to an undue self-abnegation of women leading to their alienation.

The perception of Mary presented in this book, we think, can be meaningful for people everywhere, and not merely for us in the poor countries. As the world is one of injustice, Mary's message of justice and liberation, is relevant for the poor and the rich, for the victims of injustice as well as those in oppressor situations. Marian spirituality can be an inspiration for the profound conversion that is required among all in our world of hunger in the midst of plenty, of war and threats of war, of the exploitation of persons and of nature, and of large scale deaths and destruction caused by human selfishness and unconcern for others. We urge a rethinking on Mary so that devotion to her may not be a means of human alienation but of overall human betterment of women and men everywhere.

We are conscious of treading on ground that is delicate, and capable of arousing strong reactions among some Catholics. Our intention is not to dilute Marian devotion but to help make it more meaningful and truly fulfilling for all. It can motivate us towards the new ministries required in our times: commitment to justice, inter religious dialogue, action for peace, the liberation of women, the care for nature. All these can deepen practices such as the novenas, family prayers and group reflections. Marian Shrines, with a renewed theology, can be centres of renewal for the Christian community and all pilgrims. This perception of Mary can also foster understanding among the Christian Churches. We hope the dialogue that may be generated by this work will add further light on the issues involved.

Tissa Balasuriya, OMI

Individualistic, asocial Mariology

The Church teaching has been evolving over the centuries with the proclamation of:

- Mary Mother of God: in 432 at the Council of Epbesus.

- Virginity of Mary: by Pope Martin I, 649. Perpetual and perfect virginity of Mary before and after the birth of Jesus lateran Council - Denz. 503.

- Immaculate Conception: in 1854 by Pope Pius IX

- Assumption into Heaven: in 1950 by Pope Pius XII

This development of Mariology in this form is related to the hypotheses of original justice and original sin. For without them there would be no need of a divine redeemer and an act of ontological redemption to be posed by such a redeemer on behalf of the whole humanity. The traditional Catholic doctrine on salvation is intimately linked to the teaching concerning the human predicament as a consequence of the fall. It is based on the fall that Jesus Christ is presented as the necessary, unique and universal saviour. Correspondingly the involvement of Mary in the salvific function of Jesus Christ is linked to the fall.

The four gospels do not speak of original justice and the fall of humanity. There are references in St. Paul's writing which were later developed into the teaching on original sin and redemption by Jesus Christ (Rom 5.6-21, and Col. 1.13-14). In succeeding centuries the church taught that humanity was in bondage to Satan due to the sin of the first parents and that an infinite reparation had to be offered to God for the redemption of humanity. Jesus Christ God-man had the function of fulfilling this redemptive task by his incarnation and death.

Since Jesus the God-man could never be under the dominion of Satan even by original sin, it was argued that he was not born of a human father. Hence the development of the view that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary due to the "overshadowing" of the Holy Spirit. Based on the story of the birth of Jesus as told by Matthew (1.18-24) and Luke (1.26-38), and on this hypothesis of salvation in the context of original sin the teaching on the Virginity of Mary was advanced from about the 3rd Century onwards.

As Vatican II states,

Mary was seen as cooperating in the work of human salvation:

"Being obedient, she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." (81 Irenaeus: Adv, haer - III. 22.4 quoted in Vatican II Lumen Gentium Art 56.)

Vatican II continues:

"Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert with him (St. Irenaeus) in their preaching: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was united by Mary's obedience, what the virgin Eve bound through her unbelief, Mary loosened by her faith. Comparing Mary with Eve, they call her "Mother of the Living", and frequently claim: - death through Eve, life through Mary - " .

Vatican II here quotes in addition to St. Irenaeous, St. Ephiphanus, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom and St. Johan Damascene. (L.G. art. 56) Vatican Ii and these fathers attribute virginity not only to Mary but also to Eve in the Garden of Eden (without of course any evidence for it, even if there was a first couple Adam and Eve).

It was not enough that Jesus should be born without a human father, it was necessary that his mother should be without original sin, otherwise she would transmit it to Jesus by generation, according to the theory that was being developed. Thus we have the gradual evolution of the teaching concerning the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother St. Anne without the stain of original sin. Thus it was taught that Mary was conceived immaculate. This was eventually defined as a dogma by Pope Plus IX in 1854.

From the teachings concerning the immaculate conception of Mary it was argued that she had no inclination to sin. She was free of concupiscence. Due to this and her faith in God she was supremely holy holier than any human being except her son Jesus.

Her divine maternity was a derivation from the divinity of Jesus, she was proclaimed "theotokos" Mother of God by the Council Ephesus in 432 against Nestorious.

Her Assumption into heaven was argued on the basis that her body could not bear corruption as it did not have to pay the "wages of sin which is death", and because the tradition of the Church believed in this doctrine for many centuries. On 15th August, 1950 Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven.

The roles assigned to Mary as co-redemptive are due to her close association with Jesus in his life, work, passion and death. She shared in this redemptive task more than any other person except Jesus. Due to her motherhood of Jesus she is regarded as the universal mother of the redeemed, and of all humanity. By the incarnation Jesus is related to the whole of humanity. Due to her sublime holiness and co- redeeming function she is Queen of the Universe and of Heaven.

As Mary was closely associated with Jesus in his earthly mission, she loved all humanity with a self- sacrificing love as Jesus did. She is all powerful in heaven as she is intimately linked to the Holy Trinity, being mother of Jesus, spouse of the Holy Spirit and most beloved daughter of the father. She is therefore the one who is best placed to help weak and sinful human beings in all their needs. As a loving mother she cares for all. She is our mother of god counsel and sure refuge in all our difficulties.

Marian devotions thus venerate her for her spiritual greatness and redemptive role, invoke her as a never failing source of help and propose her for imitation as the most perfect example of faith, hope, love and obedience to God.

Mary, "In heaven is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come. Likewise she shines forth on Earth, until the day of the Lord shall come (cf. Pet. 3:10) a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God." (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium. Art. 68)

The beliefs of the Catholics of Sri Lanka depended on the theology of the Portuguese missionaries who first taught them the Christian faith. During the Dutch period when the Catholics were persecuted in the Dutch colonies their faith was sustained and nourished by Fr. Joseph Vaz and his Oratorian priests from Goa. Jacome Gonsalvez (1676-1742) was the greatest scholar among them. He was well versed in Sinhala and Tamil in addition to Portuguese, Dutch and his native Konkani.

The events of the visit of the three kings, the flight into Egypt the return to Nazareth, the visit to the temple when Jesus was 12 years old are all imaginatively described. Jacome Gonsalvez was well versed in the style and idiom of Sinhala and Tamil literature.

At the end of the work is a long dialogue between the mother and son .Mary is confused and inconsolable at the sight of her son's tortured body.

An Individualistic Asocial Mariology?

For several generations this theology has been communicated to Sri Lankan Catholics through the catechesis, the liturgy and the para liturgy such as the passion shows. Mariology and Christology were linked together in dogmatic theology and consequently in the prayers, hymns and literature of the Church. The prayers in turn communicated the doctrine. It is only in very recent years that there is a preaching in some Churches of a more Gospel-oriented explanation of the life of Jesus and Mary.

While Marian spirituality is historically deep-rooted and geographically widespread among the Catholics in Sri Lanka, its impact is of a rather individualistic and/or even other worldly nature.For several generations this theology has been communicated to Sri Lankan Catholics through the catechesis, the liturgy and the para liturgy such as the passion shows. Mariology and Christology were linked together in dogmatic theology and consequently were linked together in dogmatic theology and consequently in the prayers., hymns and literature of the church. The prayers in turn communicated the doctrine, it is only in very recently years that there is a pr preaching in some Churches of a more Gospel-oriented explanation of the life of Jesus and Mary.

While Marian spirituality is historically deep-rooted and geographically widespread among the Catholics in Sri Lanka, its impact is of a rather individualistic and /or even other worldly nature, it has not contributed adequately to the understanding and growth of new dimensions of mission and ministry required in our day as desired by the popes too as we mentioned in the next chapter.

Spiritually is influenced by the prevalent theology, and vice versa. Marian spirituality has been developed in the background of the cultural and social life of the people here, especially of the Catholic community as nurtured during the past few centuries.

Marian theology in Sri Lanka has come first from Portugal and in the British period after 1796 mainly from Southern Europe. Hence thereis great accent on external performances such as the processions and feasts. Their type of spirituality fits in readily with our national temperament, our traditions of difficulties in life such as in sickness and misfortunes. The shrines of saints such as St.Anthony ,St.Sebastian and St. Jude respond to certain felt needs of all persons, beyond boundaries of religions.

Now that a new approach to Christianity is being derived from the Gosepel witness to commitment to human life and social justice, a new Marialogy is also emerging and can be developed Correspondingly the prayers, meditations and hymns to Mary can be evolved so that the prayer life itself would bear witness to Mary's radical commitment to human fulfillment and social liberation in this life also. This generation can fulfill, specially due to our present challenges. More next week

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