Tag Archives: the Virgin Mary

The roots of heart religion – Anselm of Canterbury

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the third part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine, and the second part here, on Gregory the Great:

Anselm (1033-1109)

There is no better example of the holism of love and logic, theology and devotion, in the medieval period than Anselm of Canterbury. When not chasing dialectical rabbits in his attempt to understand, but not explain away, the mysteries of God’s existence and Incarnation, Anselm wrote a series of highly evocative, meditative, imaginative prayers focused on the lives and personalities of Christ, Mary, and the saints, designed for people to use in their private devotions. His stated purpose in publishing these was “to inspire the reader’s mind to the love and fear of God” and inflame the desire to pray.[1]

This was the beginning of a shift in “canons within the canon,” from the early medieval spiritual focus on the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to the high and late medieval fascination with the Gospels.[2]

Medievalist R W Southern finds Anselm’s in prayers an “unusual combination of intensity of feeling and clarity of thought and expression.” He attributes to them “a new note of personal passion, of elaboration and emotional extravagance” that would change devotional practice henceforth, opening the way to the “masterpieces of late medieval piety.”[3] Continue reading

Controversies about Christ in the early church, part III: The werewolf Jesus and the third council

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most ven...

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary

This post follows from “Who do you say that I am: Controversies about Christ in the early church and .

I acknowledge with gratitude the teaching of Susan Keefe of the Duke Divinity School. Much of what appears in this series comes from Dr. Keefe’s lectures on this topic.

At the Council of Ephesus (431), Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, was accused of dividing the two natures of Jesus in a way that made the Virgin Mary the mother of Christ, but not of God. His leading opponent, the patriarch Cyril of Alexandria, taught the full unity of Christ’s natures. Cyril’s views triumphed, with the support of the Roman pope, and the Nestorian party was condemned. It remains open to debate whether Nestorius did in fact hold the views attributed to him. In a sense, the view attributed to Nestorius made Jesus into a sort of werewolf, doing things as a man at one point, and as divinity at another time, turning on and off like a light-switch. We’ll see how that worked in a moment. Continue reading

Saints and Mary: What Lutherans and Roman Catholics agree on about them

If you’re wondering what Lutherans AND Roman Catholics can affirm about saints, here’s what the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dia­logue’s joint document, The One Medi­a­tor, the Saints, and Mary, has to say about it. Again, h/t to the folks at “Here I Walk.”

The document states some “church-uniting con­ver­gences” :

“1. We reit­er­ate the basic affir­ma­tion that ‘our entire hope of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and sal­va­tion rests on Christ Jesus and the gospel whereby the good news of God’s mer­ci­ful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our trust in any­thing other than God’s promise and sav­ing work in Christ.’ (§103)

“2. We now fur­ther assert together that Jesus Christ is the sole Medi­a­tor in God’s plan of sal­va­tion (I Tim. 2:5). Christ’s sav­ing work and role in God’s design thus deter­mine not only the con­tent of the gospel and its com­mu­ni­ca­tion but also all Chris­t­ian life, includ­ing our own and that of Mary and the saints who are now in heaven… Continue reading

Jaroslav Pelikan: Glimpses into medieval theology

These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300), Vol. 3. in his series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978).

As with the David Bell “glimpses” posted yesterday, I thank my t.a., Shane Moe, who transcribed these and inserted  brief contextual tags where helpful. Page numbers are at the beginning of each excerpt. The designation “Q” means I wanted to save the text as a quotation, for use in teaching and writing. “D” means a definition of a term. “Use” means I want to use an idea or statement in my teaching:

Q, 3: “The Middle Ages may be seen as the period when the primary focus of Christian thought about Christ shifted from what he was to what he did, from the person of Christ to the work of Christ.” Continue reading

C S Lewis’s spiritual formation: confession, purgatory, Mary, and other Catholic dimensions

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

I’ve long thought Protestantism has been hasty (as Luther himself was not) to eliminate the practice of confession to a priest–among other Roman Catholic (or the larger category: “catholic”) practices and beliefs. Once one clears away the typical Protestant misunderstandings (that the priest is a mediator who somehow offers absolution by his own authority, that he imposes penances as a way to “earn salvation,” etc.), this seems to me a healthy Christian discipline. Particularly it seems it would be helpful if the person to which one confessed were also one’s spiritual director, in the old tradition.

What follows are some notes taken at the Marion Wade Center, from a couple of sources by Lyle Dorsett. The first is an article peering into C S Lewis’s own practice of confession. The second is a group of excerpts from Dorsett’s book on Lewis’s spiritual development, and talks again about Lewis’s practice of confession, then also about his views on purgatory, Mary, and the Protestant-Roman Catholic divide.

Summarizing: Lewis shared some broadly “catholic” beliefs and practices with both the Roman Catholics and the Anglo-Catholics within his own Church. But he was far from teetering on the edge of conversion to Roman Catholicism, as Joseph Pearce has incorrectly (in my opinion) argued. Nonetheless, Lewis makes a good study in appropriating long-standing catholic practices while remaining Protestant in conviction and worship:

[Note: as you’ll see, my inclusion of Mary in the title of this blog post is a bit of a red herring: Lewis was averse to Marian devotion.]

Dorsett, Lyle W. “C.S. Lewis and the Cowley Fathers.” Cowley 32 n.1 (Winter 2006): cover, 11-12.

In this article Dorsett writes especially about CSL’s Anglo-Catholic confessor and “director,” Father Walter Adams. Lewis began to see Adams in late October 1940, saying after his first confession to Father Adams “that the experience was like a tonic to his soul.” (11) Continue reading

Mary: Exploring the church’s thought on the mother of Jesus

As Christian History & Biography was preparing to put out issue #83 on “Mary in the Imagination of the Church,” I spent some quality time poring over sources on the mother of our Lord. As usual, a few of those were culled out for the issue’s “Recommended Resources” section. Here they are:

[On why evangelical Protestants should even care about Mary in the first place, see here.]

Mary: Recommended Resources
A few good places for Protestants to explore the church’s thought on the mother of our Lord.
Steven Gertz and Chris Armstrong

Those looking for a starting place for a thoughtful modern Protestant reclamation of Mary may wish to browse Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary, a compact set of scholarly essays on the subject edited by Beverley Roberts Gaventa & Cynthia L. Rigby, eds. (Westminster John Knox, 2002). For those wishing to cut straight to the most highly contested points of Marian doctrine, a stimulating read is Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate (Brazos Press, 2003), by an articulate and sometimes passionately opposed pair, Dwight Longenecker & David Gustafson. Continue reading

Summary of chapter 8: The Incarnation and the embodiedness of the Christian life

In the second half of the medieval era, an age infatuated with the details of the Gospel accounts, no scene was painted more than the Annunciation: the angels’ announcement to Mary that the Son of God would be incarnated in her womb. What we miss today about the devotion to Mary that rose to new heights in that period is that it was first and foremost a devotion to the Incarnation as the key fact of salvation history. We tend today to skip over the Incarnation, seeing it as merely a necessary step to the cross and the substitutionary atonement. Late medievals, too, paid devotional attention to the crucifixion, but as with their devotion to the Incarnation, the focus here was squarely on the miracle that God, in his love, has become flesh for us, suffering all that we suffer, in solidarity with us. Continue reading