Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 30, 2001
A Call to return to Mary
American theologian Scott Hahn made a significant splash about 10 years ago with his story of his conversion to Catholicism from a strongly anti-Catholic, evangelical Protestant background. His conversion and that of his wife Kimberly are recorded in the book Rome Sweet Home. Scott Hahn's conversion was a thoroughly intellectual one - he logically argued himself into the Catholic Church as he found that his anti-Catholic assumptions were based on a myopic understanding of Scripture.
One of the more difficult issues for the Hahns was the high traditional Catholic esteem for Mary. There was nothing in their background that prepared them for the Church's veneration of Mary, let alone for accepting doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
Now, Hahn, a man of apparent intellectual courage, has published a book defending the Church's Marian teaching, even heightening our appreciation of it. Hail, Holy Queen (Doubleday, New York, 2001, 191 pp.) is likely the best introduction to the Catholic approach to Mary available today. It is thoroughly rooted in Scripture and relies heavily on Hahn's sometimes novel understanding of how Old Testament stories and incidents find their fulfillment in Mary, the New Eve and queen mother of the Church.
Hahn begins by telling the story of how as an adolescent he felt humiliated when his mother came to take him home when he fell suddenly ill at school. He whispered to her: "Mom, do you suppose you could walk out ahead of me? I don't want my friends to see you taking me home."
Hahn says the same attitude can be found in most Protestants' and many Catholics' approach to Mary. Catholics and Orthodox have abandoned too much of their traditional devotion to Mary. "They're happy to have a mom who prays for them, prepares their meals, and keeps their home; they just wish she'd stay safely out of sight when others are around who wouldn't understand."
He's just as hard on the Protestants: "The breakaway Christian churches that diminish Mary's role inevitably end up feeling like a bachelor's apartment: masculine to a fault; orderly but not homey; functional and productive - but with little sense of beauty and poetry.
Hanh helped me understand one aspect of Catholic Mariology that has seemed excessive - the queenship of Mary. I've tended to see this as an archaic image with no roots in Scripture and no clear connection to the mission of Jesus.
But Hahn shows its roots in Scripture. For ancient Near Eastern cultures where polygamy was the norm, the queen was not the wife of the king (which wife would it be?) but rather the king's mother. He tells of the incident in 1 Kings 2 where Solomon was visited by his mother Bathsheba, bowed down to her, and when he sat on his throne had a seat brought for his mother to sit on his right.
This passage, Hahn notes, helps us to understand the relationship between Mary and Jesus at Cana. The queen mother was an advocate for the people, an adviser and strategist, and a person who had genuine influence with the king. Even though she is not the ruler, she has more genuine authority than all the office-holders in the court.
We have perhaps tended to see Marian doctrines as an optional add-on to the Church's teaching that does not affect the central core of teaching about Jesus. Hahn is adamant that this is not the case. "Mary is the test of how well a Christian has accepted the Gospel," he writes. "Our understanding of Mary reveals everything about how we understand Jesus and his saving work."
For anyone who wants to develop a full Christian understanding of the Mother of God, Hahn's book is an excellent place to begin. And with May, the month of Mary, about to begin, this is a good time to begin such a project.
- Glen Argan
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