Monday, 14 November 2011

John and Mary

In the next few posts, I want to reflect on some elements in the book All Things Made New. I have already situated it in the context of mystagogy, or the attempt to penetrate more deeply into the richness of Christian teachings for the sake of truer conversion. The blurb explains that "The shattering impact of the Incarnation was felt first by the Mother of Jesus and by his closest disciples. Its meaning was best understood by Mary as she pondered these things in her heart, and the beloved disciple, John, who took her into his home. Mary and John at the foot of the Cross are witnesses and teachers of the mystery of God’s love." Thus
the book revolves around the interpretation of some characteristically "Johannine" and "Marian" texts, namely the Book of Revelation and the prayers of the Rosary. I take these as opening up the "esoteric" dimension of Christianity.

The link between Mary and John is emphasized particularly by Hans Urs von Balthasar, who in his book The Office of Peter and elsewhere speaks of the fundamental "constellation" of relationships around Jesus, represented by Mary, John, Peter, and Paul, each having a distinctive and essential role or office in the Church that is the extension through time of the Incarnation – Paul being the bridge to the Gentiles, Peter the rock of "Office" on which the Institution is built, John the contemplative heart of the Church, and Mary (closest of all) the innermost core of the immaculate Church in person, the "Church of Love". John forms the central link between Mary and the office of Peter which guarantees the Church's unity (see also Balthasar, Our Task, 66). In the Mother-Son relationship established supernaturally upon the Cross by the last words of Jesus to Mary and John is preserved and, as it were, replicates within the Church the filial relationship, the childlikeness, of the eternal Son himself, and it becomes the model of true Christian discipleship.

Balthasar writes in Mary – The Church at the Source (p. 140):
The Church is primarily feminine because her primary, all-encompassing truth is her ontological gratitude, which both receives the gift and passes it on. And the masculine office, which has to represent the true giver, the Lord of the Church (albeit within the Church's feminine receptivity), is instituted in her only to prevent her from forgetting this primary reality, to ensure that she will always remain a receiver and never become self-assertive possessor and user.
The institution of masculine office in the Church, and therefore hierarchy, via the "apostolic foursome" of Peter, John, James, and Paul, takes place within this (ultimately more important) feminine, Marian act of consent to which John is the bridge.

It was with this pattern of relationships in mind that I chose to focus on Revelation and the Rosary and illustrate the book with Daniel Mitsui's fine drawing of Mary and John at the foot of the Cross. The "Johannine writings" of the New Testament are quite diverse, comprising the Fourth Gospel, several Letters, and the Apocalypse. Most scholars these days would deny they were all written by the same person (though some assert this on questionable grounds), but all I really take for granted in the book is that they came from the community or tradition we associate with the Evangelist, and bear his "mark" and spirit. John was the one who lay on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper and spoke with him most intimately. His Gospel is seemingly the most theologically sophisticated (and for that reason often set apart from the synoptics). The visions of Revelation, whether they were granted to the Evangelist in his old age or not, bespeak the same theology – the same high, Trinitarian christology – and the same intimacy. This is an "eagle's eye" view of the salvation wrought by God in history, and a mystical commentary on the Divine Liturgy, which reveals itself to be the wedding feast of the Lamb.

For image see "The Story of the Cross".

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