Clodovis Boff O.S.M. – Social Mariology and Theological Method (2014)

[The following text was translated by @SCongariana.]

[Translator’s Note]

[This is a partial translation of Clodovis Boff’s masterpiece “Social Mariology, the Meaning of The Virgin to Society” (PAULUS, 2014) [Mariologia social: O significado da Virgem para a Sociedade]. It addresses the second chapter of the work, in which the question of theological method is the main subject. The importance of this excerpt is evident; it was Clodovis Boff, in some way, who marked the internal discussion about the method of Liberation Theology — a critique that is not pure condemnation, albeit tenacious against the errors it diagnoses. Such critique in Boff’s though has marked directly the sector of Liberation Theology in Latin America; to the extent that one can argue most academic works dedicated to the theological method, produced by liberation theologians today, were unequivocally made to project a response against Clodovis Boff’s multiple papers regarding the matter (see for example Francisco Aquino Junior’s “Theology as Intellection of The Reign of God – The Method of Liberation Theology According to Ignacio Ellacuría”).

In “Social Mariology”, Clodovis completes his critique of certain liberation theologies less by a systematic demolition, and more by a type of theological labor that makes such opinion explicit. It is by applying his critical method in the field of Mariology that he teaches a social reality that is preceded by the Word of God, by the Absolute and First bestowal of the First Principle.

We hope that, through the contact with this critique, readers will be eager to look further upon certain issues often dismissed and shunned by a theology that tends to reference mainly the praxis of theological commitment. It is also important to note that in no significant manner Boff left the center of the proposal established by the first liberation theologians. Although he does in fact deny a part of its development, he commits to its nuclear structure: the preferential option for the poor. This scathing criticism, whether the reader denies it or not, must be studied to propose synthesizing ways, which can then clarify as much as possible the method of such theology – because method, especially when it comes to changing and fallible reflections, is the foundation that allows expansion.

We also desire that, through attentive reflection, the words written by Cardinal Congar in his “Un Peuple Messianique” can be heard lively again in the mouth of the faithful Catholics, engaged with Liberation Theology, of today: “I don’t want to be a ‘conservative’, but I want to be, and I am a man of tradition, which is very different from immobility. Tradition is the presence of a principle in History. I am firmly located in the Church, but I want this Church to be an effective sign of God’s liberating love on the often-dramatic path of men”.

Social Mariology, Chapter II- Epistemological Principles of Social Mariology, Clodovis Boff O.S.M. [Translation].

We will speak here of “epistemology” as an exposition of the method and its critical foundation through the rational justification of its principles, as well as through the conceptual determination of both the scope and limits of these same principles.

1. EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEM: HOW TO IMPOSE THE METHOD OF SOCIAL MARIOLOGY.

We cannot enter the issue by proposing, if not imposing, a method. Firstly, because this does not explain where one starts from, it also does not explain why these principles were chosen and not others. Secondly, because we do not see where the proposed or imposed method is placed in continuity, even if critical, with the great theological tradition, since it is always exercised in the area of theology.

No, the entrance must be distinct. The starting point and basis of the method of social Mariology is the method of theology itself, as such. Nor could it be other, since Mariology, social or not, being a theological treatise, follows the basic rules of theology. Now, theology takes its method, not from this or that theologian, no matter how great, but from its formal object and specific theme, which is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. This is true for all knowledge: it only accesses an object through the way it gives itself and enters intelligence. Speaking in more formal terms: the method depends fundamentally on the nature of the object. This axiom should be firmly fixated in the entrance of any theological investigation, which includes social Mariology.

The great epistemology of theology, the one that became “classical”, incarnated in the personalities of Saint Thomas, Melchior Cano and others, did not invent anything. It has only tried to theoretically and precisely shape the way its Object comes to us in its Revelation and selfgiving. Evidently, the understanding and formulation of the method can vary and evolve, but always under the inspiring and critical rule of the object itself in its mode of manifestation.

There are principles in the theological method that prove themselves to be perennial, such as the primacy of the Word of God or of the Positive Faith, Sacred Scripture as canonical register of the Word, the subordinated role of human reason, fidelity to Tradition, the analogical character of theological language, etc. There is, then, a constant nucleus in the theological method, one which we can call its “methodological invariant”. Let’s say this is the first level of theology.

When applied to Mariology — and here we are going a step down — the theological method must naturally undergo alterations, not evidently substantial, but secondary. The method needs to “adapt” to the contours of the specificity of its object (which is, in fact, also a Subject, a Person). The mariologist needs to apprehend the way in which this new object/subject gives itself to the intelligence of the faithful. Variants of the theological method, then, appear.

Those variants consubstantiate in the precise Mariological principles: those that are open (the
personal excellence of Mary, Her singularity, the convenience of Her attributes, the Analogy with
Christ); and those that are limitative (Mary as creature, believer, pilgrim of hope, redeemed,
member of the Church, etc.). Nonetheless, all of the “secondary principles” can reconduct
themselves to the “first principles”: the primacy of the Word, the subordinate illumination of
reason, and such. Even further: Mary must be understood as “Crossroad” of all Mysteries, in a
way that She can appear in connection with other Truths of Faith, but also as their synthesis.
Let’s say this is the second level of theology.

Now, when we meditate about a “social Mariology” — and here we go another step down –, there are more complex methodological adjustments to be acknowledged. Such adjustments are postulated by the specific object of the new discipline, which now involves the “social”. They would be “sub-variants” or “third principles” of the Mariological method. Because, just as it is absurd to propose an autonomous method of Mariology, independent from theology itself, it is also preposterous to propose a method of social Mariology, independent of Mariology as such.

It is precisely these “third principles” that we must make explicit, found, justified and evaluated
here — tasks that any “specific epistemology” must fulfill. What, then, are these third principles,
suited to the particular object of social Mariology?

Since the object of our study is to discuss the appropriately social meaning of the figure of Mary, we must place the confrontation between Mary and Society as the axial principle of our method. More precisely, it is a question of confronting society based on Mary and, on the contrary, interpreting Mariology in terms of society. In fact, as we said in the previous chapter, the underlying problem here is the “divorce” between Mary and Society. Therefore, to say that it is necessary to confront the figure of Mary with social reality in order to see what truths She can offer is the same as saying that it is necessary to do social Mariology. This might be called a third-level theology.

But how does one articulate, with precision, such axial confrontment? Since, rigorously, we are not […] offering a modus operandi, meaning, the practical rules of how a method is to be applied. We are only defining a general approximation to the object analyzed. Therefore, more than a method, the question involves an approach. The concrete method starts when it is asked: how does one operate in the practical field the approach of the confrontation between Mary and Society? It is then that it becomes fitting to demonstrate the operative principles or the methodological rules of social Mariology, as we will see soon.

And, as we usually speak of the “method of confrontation”, we will condescend and use this term, understanding it, however, always as an approximation, approach or perspective.

2. JUSTIFICATION OF THE AXIAL PRINCIPLE OF SOCIAL MARIOLOGY: THE METHOD OF CONFRONTATION BETWEEN MARY AND SOCIETY.

Before determining the concrete rules in which this method operates, we will here ground it, that is, justify it epistemologically. We will give three fundamental reasons that give it legitimacy:

  1. The example of the Virgin of Nazareth herself, who used to confront what she lived with the Word of God.
  2. The conciliar authority that recommends it, in addition to practicing it.
  3. The theological content of the figure of Mary, which has an intrinsic social dimension, and even more than a social one.

2.1. Method lived existentially by Mary of Nazareth.

In favor of this approach there is an argument that has strength. It is the fact that it deals with the approach lived by the Virgin herself, to the point of being able to be defined as the “Marian approach” par excellence. In fact, Luke presents the Virgin as the one who rereads the events (remata), “confronting” them faithfully and creatively with the Word of God, through a sapiential meditation.

Indeed, Luke says: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2,19; cf. 1,29; 2,51b). The Greek word symbalousa, which St. Jerome translates with the expressive comferens, may well be justly translated with the term confronting. It means, in the case of Mary, that she “confronts” or “compares” everything that happens to her with the Word.

And the fruit of this confrontation is precisely the Magnificat. It brings the person of Mary face to face, with all that the Almighty has accomplished in her, and the course of history, with all its contradictions and promises. For this reason, the Virgin’s song of liberation is the paradigm or prototype not only of all authentic liberation theology -as suggests Libertatis Conscientiae (n. 98), but also of any true “social mariology”, as we will see better in time (Part IV, chapter 1).

2.2. Method recommended and practiced by Vatican II.

The Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes prescribes the “method of confrontation” when it speaks of the “permanent duty of the Church to scrutinize the signs of the times and to interpret them in the light of the Gospel” (GS 4,1; cf. 44.2). It is the same method that the pastoral constitution applied in its second part, when it effectively puts the great “signs of the modern times” (family, culture, etc.) in confrontation with the message of faith.

Paul VI, in the exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi (1976), emphasizes the importance of this approach when speaking of the “reciprocal interpellation between the Gospel and Life” (n. 29). The exhortation Marialis cultus (1974), by the same pope, also proposes a confrontation between Mariology and modern culture (n. 34-35), to overcome the divorce between Mary and history. This Marian document carries out a first and significant exercise in this confrontation, which resulted in the major locus magisterialis to produce a Mariology of Liberation: the, since then, famous n. 37, concerning the Magnificat (§ 2), as we will show later (Part II, chapter 1). It is necessary here to ask: would the “confrontation with reality” or even “with life”, logically leading to “acting”, not be a particular epistemological requirement of social mariology and even of other disciplines that take the social as a subject? No, it is rather a general requirement of all true and living theology. Indeed, the truths of faith, by their salutary nature, are not ultimately to be known, but rather to be lived and practiced. In this way, all theology should contain within itself that we could call a “practical device”, which guarantees theology its vital or existential orientation or, more simply, its practical completion. This methodological device, in fact, corresponds to the third moment of the well-known “see, judge and act” method.

The methodological principle of “confrontation with reality” is less novel than it seems. It operated in history, if not implicitly, in every great theological production, the patristic period being an exemplary model. The Church’s own Social Doctrine presupposes a confrontation between the demands of faith and social reality. Unfortunately, in the course of history, this principle has been lost (for reasons that are not worth discussing), and it was only made explicit as such in the mid-twentieth century, having received the seal of Vatican II, as we have just seen. We can say that the method of confrontation is only new because of the awareness we have of it and the generalization it has reached in the field of theology.

Be that as it may, the confrontation, now with the social sphere, is situated in the principal line of the classical tradition, which defined the theological task as fides quaerens intellectum. Translating and applying we seek (quaerens) the meaning (intellectum) that the figure of Mary (fides) can give to society. The new formulation of the theological method in terms of confrontation only adds the pole “social reality” as a new scope of theological enlightenment and, consequently, of practical operation. In this way, to say that faith is confronted with society is equivalent to expressing, submitting social reality to the judgment of faith, or else reading society “in the light of faith”.

Thus, understanding the “practical device” as integrating the organon theologicum represents an explanation and a maturing of the epistemological consciousness of theology. This advance is definitive, in such a way that from now on all authentic theology needs to fulfill its moment of “confrontation with reality” or “with life” and place, therefore, as the “term” of its process, “acting”; under the danger of being incomplete and falling under the censorship of the abstract.

It must be clarified, however, that “reality” or “life”, with which the demand for “confrontation” takes place, is not univocal, but analogical. What is special about social mariology (and all related theology, such as that of liberation) is that its confrontation takes place with life or with properly “social” reality. If all this is true, the “confrontation with reality” (not necessarily social) should be placed among the general or first principles of theology as such, that is, of all theology, together with the primacy of faith, the subaltern role of reason, the analogical character of theological language, etc. It would, therefore, be situated on the epistemological level of “first level theology”.

2.3. The figure of Mary as a “collective personality”.

Let us now explain an argument, no longer magisterial, nor biblical, but dogmatic, which recommends the method of confrontation between Mary and society. The fact is that the figure of the Virgin does not have only an individual value, but also a collective one, therefore, a value of social significance.

Typological relationship between Mary-Church.

There is, firstly, a simple and direct mysterious identification between Mary and the Church. This was a truth taken up by Vatican II (cf. LG 53, 63 and 65). It is, in fact, a very rich patristic theme, which was highlighted from the 1950s onwards by a vast Mariological literature, where the names of O. Semmelroth, H. de Lubac, Y. Congar, H. Rahner, A. Müller, J. Ratzinger, HU von Balthasar etc. are well known. The testimony of two great patrons of the 20th century is sufficient here: the first, by Henri de Lubac, and the second, by Hugo Rahner:

These two mysteries of our faith (one speaks of Mary and the Church) are more than mutual, in such a way that it could be said that they constitute one and the same mystery. […] The intelligence of one is indispensable to the contemplation of the other. We must again learn to see Mary in the Church and the Church in Mary… This is something that has perhaps been forgotten since the days of the early Church or is no longer clearly seen.

This last criticism is particularly pertinent to modern times, dominated by the supremacy of the individual, and even more so in our so-called “postmodern” time, marked by a hyper-individualism. Indeed, between Mary and the Church there is more than a simple comparison. or “analogical identification”, as if to say: “Mary is like (if she were) the Church”. What exists is rather an intimate and profound relationship, a “mysterical identification”, which allows us to say: “Mary is the Church”. She is the Church in person, the Ecclesia contracta.

Here we are on the ontological and not simply literary level. If one can still speak of analogy, it is in the strong sense of analogia entis.

This mysteric-ontological identity underlies the collective meaning of texts that personally refer to the Mother of Jesus. What is said individually of her can also be said collectively of the Church, in such a way that mariology becomes “a key” to understanding ecclesiology, as Redemptoris mater says (47,2).

The logic of this kind of identification has its roots in biblical thought, which sees an ontological solidarity and a communion of destiny between person and community, between the one and the many, between personal vocation and social mission. We find a classic form of this identification in the idea of “collective personality”, according to which a person becomes a “representative” of a collectivity. Thus: Adam = humanity in general, Eve = living humanity, Israel–Jacob = Israel–People elected, Ephraim = Northern Kingdom etc.

As for the Virgin Mary in particular, the idea that she is the representative or personification of the People of God is found in germ in the New Testament. Luke, for example, at the Annunciation, sees Israel behind Mary, the new “Daughter of Zion” (cf. 1:28-32; Zep 3:14-17; Zec 9:9). Likewise, the fourth Gospel seems to see in Mary the figure of Eve as the New Humanity (cf. Jn 19:26-27; Gn 3:15; Is 66:7-8; cf. Rev 12:1-2). Such identification leads to the affirmation: like Church, like Mary.

There is, therefore, a “dynamic correlation” between the figure of Mary and the model of the Church. Thus, an image of Mary as poor, servant and liberator will ask for a Church that is equally poor, servant and liberating. But the correlation also works in the opposite direction: a committed Church calls for a mariology that is also committed, as appears, for example, in the Puebla Documents (n. 282-303). The Virgin appears, then, clearly as the “intimate secret” of the Church, a precious key to understand her social mission.

Other articulations of Mary-Church typological relationship.

In the interest of our theme, it is necessary to overcome, in the Mary-Church binomial, an understanding of the Church as a merely institutional or hierarchical reality. Articulating the Mary-Church relationship, we must take “Church” in different senses, either broadening its meaning or specifying it, as did Lumen Gentium.

Nevertheless, the Church must always be maintained as the necessary mediation of all the articulations that one wants to establish later. It is effectively impossible to adequately articulate, for example, the Mary-Poor or Mary-Woman relationship, without going through the reality of the Church. Here, then, are the new articulations of the basic Mary-Church relationship that will allow us to develop our basic theme satisfactorily:

  • Mary (= Church) = humanity: maximally amplifying articulation.
  • Mary (= Church) = new society: more restricted amplifying articulation.
  • Mary (= Church) = people of the poor: specific articulation.

Mary (= Church) = humanity. The concept of the Church here is manifestly extended. The basis of this enlargement is that the Church is effectively the World insofar as it is saved, either in a current or potential sense. It is the sacramentum mundi, the sacrament of the new world, set free by Christ. In this sense, Mary would be the figure of the new humanity, the personification of the new world, willed by God. She would be the humanity of the new Paradise (cf. Rev 22,1- 2). This understanding reaches out to the classic theme of Mary the New Eve (cf. LG 56). Thus, the Marian dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption take on anthropological importance. In brief: Mary, in these two dogmas, represents humanity respectively “graceful” and “glorious”, as we will say when we thematize the social meaning of dogmas (Part V, chapters 3 and 4).

Mary (= Church) = new society. Here the articulation narrows: it passes from humanity in general to society in particular, thus bringing us closer to our central perspective. In fact, Church tradition has applied to Mary biblical texts that were referred to the people of Israel, such as those relating to the “Daughter of Zion”, as we have just seen. The liturgy applies to the Virgin the so-called “Psalms of Zion”, especially Psalm 86. The Fathers of the Church did the same. It is interesting to emphasize that, in this perspective, Mary appears under a political figure. It symbolizes the “City of God”, that is, the polis par excellence, the just society, which corresponds to God’s designs. Moreover, due to its universalizing consequences, this ideal city is the symbol of the new “cosmopolis”, – world. One might ask whether such an understanding could not theologically establish the relationship that the sensus fidelium posits between Mary and the nation itself, as appears in the invocations of the national Patrona, for example, Nossa Senhora Aparecida in Brazil. Thus, Mary, in addition to appearing as the type of the Church, would also appear as the type of a particular Christianity, for example, from Poland to Czestochowa, or from Mexico to Guadalupana. In these cases, Mary is the living image of a politically organized people, in others, she would be the figure of the nation as such. We will see this better later (Part III). If the person of Mary is the “cypher” of a Christian nation, would it still be possible to understand a concrete people without understanding at the same time this self-representative symbol of their religious identity? Mary is, in fact, a precious “anthropological key” to understand the heart of a group. And vice versa: starting from a specific people, it would be possible to reveal hidden dimensions of the identity of the inexhaustible mystery of the Theotokos, as manifested in the different inculturations of Her figure.

Mary (= Church) = people of the poor. Here we are faced with an articulation that specifies, by contraction, the content of the Church in terms of the “Church of the poor”, of which John XXIII had spoken. It has already become commonplace to say that the poor enjoy in the Church a preferential place and primacy in the service of charity and evangelization. They constitute, within the Church of Christ, the ecclesia praedilectorum. More, as pars pro toto, they are representatively the same Church of Christ. At the root of the identification Church = poor, we find another, more original, which is: Christ = poor. These are, in fact, a particular “sacrament” of Jesus, as taught in Lumen gentium (n. 8,3). The basis of this identification is the communion of the sufferers with the cross of the Lord. If it is true that ubi Christus, ibi Ecclesia and if Christ is there where the poor are (cf. Mt 25), then one can also say: ubi pauperes, ibi ecclesia. And Maria, how does she get in here? She is, after and under Christ, the representative of the poor and of the Church of the poor. In what specific sense – this remains to be specified. It seems to us that the principle of solution is found, understanding, on the one hand, Christ as the “archetype” of the Church (of the poor), as the sacrament of salvation (of grace offered), and understanding, on the other hand, Mary as the “prototype” of the Church (of the poor) as a community of faith (of received grace). There are other declensions of the basic Mary–Church relationship, such as the one, of maximum expansion, Mary (= Church) = Cosmos, which has particular relevance today. Another, now much more restricted, relates to Mary (= Church) = Woman, a problem that is currently important, but which it is not possible to develop here. In any case, what matters is to realize that the Mary-Church relationship is not just a moral one, serving as an inspiration for Christian conduct, but a deeper and more intimate relationship, that is, a relationship ontological type, more specifically, mysterious type. Furthermore, the Mother of Christ only emerges as the guiding image of the People of God insofar as she is its synthetic realization, that is, the concentrated form of its essence and its vocation. As a “corporate personality”, the Virgin Mother is the “concrete universal” of the Church. What do the above considerations about the Mary-Church identity show, whether expanded or restricted? That the theological content of the figure of Mary has an intrinsic social and more than a social nature. It can be seen, therefore, that the social is not something forced, which comes to be added to Mariology from the outside; but is inherent to it. Now, it is precisely up to social mariology to develop this content and manifest its spiritual and practical meaning for society today.

2. THE OPERATING PRINCIPLES OF THE “METHOD OF CONFRONTATION” BETWEEN MARY AND SOCIETY.

The axial, central or basic principle of the method, or rather of the approach to social mariology, as we said above, can be defined as the “confrontation Mary-society”.

This is a first, general and elementary formulation of the method of social mariology, a formulation that calls for greater epistemological determination, so that the said method is well clarified and can operate effectively. Let us see below how the fundamental or first principle, stated above, is made explicit in epistemological theory and operates in methodological practice. These operative principles or concrete rules are as follows:

  • maintain the epistemological primacy of the Word in the face of social reality.
  • questioning the Word of faith from the point of view of social reality.
  • knowing the social reality in its relative autonomy.
  • adopt the perspective of the poor as a preferred perspective.
  • finalize the reflection on the socio-liberating commitment.
  • practice theology in the Church as socially committed.
  • realize the spiritual experience of the poor and their social world.

3.1. Maintain the epistemological primacy of the Word in the face of social reality.

This is an epistemological determination and a decisive methodological rule. Effectively, in the Mary-society confrontation, the dominant pole belongs to the term that corresponds to that of faith, namely Mary. In fact, it is positive faith that judges all social reality and determines it. It is the sovereign instance, and therefore cannot be functionalized for the direct and exclusive benefit of reality or praxis. It would be instrumentalizing it for smaller goals and consequently degrading it. But since it is a matter of confrontation, there is also, as a return effect, an epistemological reflection of the second pole (the secular: society) on the first (the faith: Mary), as we will see more clearly later.

What does that mean? That confronting Mary with society does not mean placing the two poles face to face and relating them “dialectically” as if they were two homogeneous magnitudes. It is the epistemological misunderstanding to which the generic formulation “reciprocal interpellation” can lead, in less alert minds. Confronting Mary with society means precisely seeing what the former has to say to the latter. It means concretely to unfold the meaning of the figure of Mary in terms of the social sphere. It is, for example, to show how the “Liberator” is an internal dimension that stems from Theotokos.

Therefore, the confrontation resolves itself in development. This implies saying that the social meaning of the figure of Mary does not come from the outside in, outside of society, but comes from the inside out. It flows, it gushes organically from within itself. This meaning can indeed be provoked by the confrontation with society, but not produced by it, as we will say. To state that the epistemological core of the method of social mariology consists of the confrontation between Mary and society, as we have done, was just a first formulation of the question at hand, a formulation that is still generic, certainly didactic, but not exempt from ambiguities. But if we want to rigorously define the statute of this methodology, we must define it more precisely in terms of unfolding, explication, extension or even the development of mariology, in the form of socio-liberating mariology. Summarizing everything in a metaphor: social commitment is not a companion of faith, but a child to be nurtured.

From this it follows that the socio-mariological approach is in no way an alternative or substitute for the general theological approach, as it appears formulated by the classical tradition. Rather, it is added to it while developing the content of the latter and explaining its potentialities of meaning, now in the specifically social area. That is to say that social mariology absolutely presupposes mariology tout court, as the species presupposes the genus.

We say “maintain” the primacy of the Word, because there is always the temptation to the spirit of the theologian to subvert the correct epistemological order of his knowledge, submitting the Word to reality and to projects that are “human, too human”. It is a simply human temptation, but one that today is accentuated by the modern anthropocentric mentality, being further aggravated by the provocation that the dramatic conditions of life of the people place on the conscience of those who encounter them.

However, historical experience, in addition to the Word, teaches that it is necessary to resist this temptation, even for the benefit of the liberation of the people themselves. Indeed, a liberation that does not take place under the domain of the Word ends up turning against the people themselves. In this the public witness of Christians must be clear, pure, unambiguous. For this, the figure of the Virgin has a unique virtue, she who is, in the words of the Roman Magisterium, “next to her Son, the most perfect image of freedom and liberation”, as we can see in the Magnificat.

3.2. Interpellate the Word of Faith from the point of Social Reality.

Of course, the Word holds the methodological primacy, so that its content is projected onto Reality, without a break in continuity, except for the discursive form. However, Reality, for its part, also challenges the Word and demands answers from it. We are here before the epistemological contribution of this relatively new locus theologicus: the “Signs of the Times”.

What is certain is that Reality has repercussions on the Word and shows its character not only as a proposal, but also as a response. We see, therefore, that there is a certain dialectic between Word and Reality. In fact, if, as we have seen, on the one hand the main dialectical vector goes from the Word to Reality, on the other, there is the opposite movement: from Reality to the Word. And so, due to a feedback effect, feedback comes into operation, which makes up what we could call a “methodological circle”.

Resonating within Reality, the Word of faith, in this case, the mystery of Mary, emits certain sounds instead of others. And this is all the truer the more mariology is confronted with the dramatic reality of the poor. This means that the “dialectical turn” obliges the Mariologist to privilege, without exclusivities, certain Marian themes over others and to emphasize certain aspects of the figure of the Virgin.

Thus, the biblical-Marian texts that are most significant and mobilizing for social commitment stand out, such as the “Magnificat” or the “Woman of the Apocalypse” in the fight against the Dragon. In the same intention, expressive aspects of the Marian mystery are underlined, such as Mary’s conscience and freedom at the Annunciation, her spirit of initiative at Cana or her courage at the cross of her Son. Or, still, themes that meet the social problem are highlighted, such as Mary’s social condition of poverty, her way of being a woman (feminism), her relationship with the question of life (ecology) etc. The same is done with Marian dogmas, the history of Marian piety, etc., as will be seen in the development of this essay.

And if the Reality we face is the world of the poor, then the very language of faith is charged with a particular prophetic pathos, made of denouncing injustices and announcing a different world.

3.3. Knowing the social reality in its relative autonomy.

The confrontation between Mary and society presupposes the correct knowledge of the latter. Only in this way can it launch relevant requests to Marian faith and piety. In fact, the need for the Church to know “earthly realities” was clearly expressed by Vatican II, especially in Gaudium et spes (n. 36,2). This is especially true for theology and in particular for social mariology.

But today the social reality is extremely complex. In order to understand it properly, it is essential, although insufficient, to resort to the social sciences, such as sociology, history, anthropology, economics and others. It is what the epistemology of Liberation Theology called “socio-analytic mediation”.

This mediation, however, can apply not only to today’s society, but also to the social context of mariological texts, be they biblical, dogmatic, magisterial, popular piety or simply theological.

However, knowledge of social reality does not dispense with direct experience, with the common sense and wisdom of life that it confers – something that mere scientific knowledge does not grant.

Furthermore, it is always necessary to submit the results of science to the judgment of faith, to guard against the tendency of “autonomism” and any other flaw with which it may be infected. Hence, we speak here of “relative autonomy” to imply that the sciences must respect the creaturely character and, therefore, open to God, of all reality, as taught in Gaudium et spes (n. 36,3).

3.4. Adopting the perspective of the poor as a “preferential” perspective.

The already well-known “preferential option for the poor” must accompany the entire life of the Christian and must even operate in the field of Mariological methodology. This was one of the great merits of Liberation Theology, which, precisely for this reason, can be defined as the theology of and for the poor, without, however, exclusivism or exclusions.

It should be noted that we speak here in terms of “preferred” and “privileged”, which presupposes a non-dogmatic and non-excluding position, but an open, respectful and inclusive position in relation to other positions. In theology, the perspective of the poor is neither the only nor the main one. Only the point of view of faith is the main one, because it is the point of view of God.

Having said that, the principle remains that to adopt the point of view of the poor is to place oneself in a privileged angle to understand the reality, both of society and of faith, including the mystery of Mary. That is why one can speak here of the “epistemological privilege of the poor”.

This privilege is based on the biblical Word itself, as it shows that God reveals his Word primarily to “the little ones” (cf. Mt 11:25). The Virgin herself, who “stands out among the poor of the Lord” (LG 55), is the best illustration of this, as she was the one who most deeply and intimately understood the mysteries of God, as the Fathers affirmed, calling her for this “prophesy”.

Furthermore, between Mary and the poor there is a profound connaturality, which is a fundamental condition for any work of knowledge. Let us also add that the option for the poor, also in epistemology, takes the poor above all as subjects, in this case, as “epistemic subjects”. They are not only the main addressees of mariological discourse, but also its primary subjects. This implies that the mariologist must listen to the poor and their sensus marialis, especially as manifested in popular piety, which, as we will see (Part VI), is an eminently Marian phenomenon. This is confirmed by the fact that it was precisely the humble people of God who in history contributed most to the progress of dogmas concerning the Virgin Mary.

3.5. Finalize the reflection on the socio-liberating commitment.

This principle is already given in the fundamental methodological proposal of social mariology: if there is a confrontation with society, it is in function of intervening in it, of changing it, of freeing it. The methodology of confrontation is finally dynamic and mobilizing. It leads to the search for the practical-moral meaning of Marian doctrine. Medieval exegesis spoke in the “tropological” sense. Lex credendi has as its horizon the lex agendi, passing through the lex orandi. Such a compromising or liberating methodology has the effect of presenting Mary as an exemplary figure of commitment in all the events of her life: as a woman of the incarnation of the Word, as the one who hears and fulfills the will of God, as the servant Virgin of the Visitation, as the solicitous guest at Cana, as the active companion of the Son in the messianic work, as the faithful disciple to the cross, as the mother of the believing and witnessing Community to the point of martyrdom and, finally, as the Church-Woman who conquers the Dragon and all the forces of destruction and death.

This commitment does not lack the political dimension of faith, understanding politics in the broad sense of sollecitudo rei socialis, as John Paul II entitled an encyclical (1987). It is a dimension that does not hide from Mariology, as it is very present in the Virgin’s song: “God deposes the powerful from the throne and exalts the humble; he satisfies the hungry with good and sends the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). Let it be said, however, that the practical-political approach of social mariology must beware of the double risk, already mentioned above, that is: either of reducing the figure of Mary to the political dimension, or of subverting the primacy of the soteriological sense in favor of the ethical-social. Let us say, finally, that the transition from Marian piety to social commitment passes through prayer and celebration. Effectively, the meaning only takes shape through the symbol. The lex orandi is the mediation of the lex credendi in terms of the lex operandi seu vivendi.

3.6. Practicing Theology in the Church as Socially Committed.

The locus of exercise of social mariology cannot be reduced to the academic circle, but it is also and above all the ecclesial community as it operates in the world. The Sitz im Leben of social mariology is the Church itself insofar as it lives Marian piety and, at the same time, commits itself to the social. In fact, it is the very theme and the specific purpose of this discipline that oblige the social mariologist to place himself in the heart of the living and engaged community.

And within the Church, it is the communities, groups, movements and pastorals most involved with social work that constitute the privileged spaces for the practice of a social mariology, since they are the ones who need and, at the same time, favor the production of this kind of mariology.

Moreover, it is a general methodological orientation that the Church is the living and collective epistemic subject of theology and is, therefore, also its normal place of development. In the case of social theologies, however, such is the discipline that concerns us, insertion in the Church is dynamic: it also implies practically getting involved with its commitment in the world. Hence, the practitioner of social mariology cannot be a simple academic, even if Catholic, but a “man of the Church” who is committed to his social mission. Evidently its specific task therein is the service of the enlightenment of the faith, which is theology, but in organic connection with the “pace” of the Church and its pastoral work. Only in this way can social mariology become a service to the community and to its Marian piety, in such a way that it can be thought of, announced and lived also on the social horizon. In this sense, the words of Libertatis conscientiae are opportune:

This is the noble ecclesial mission that is asked of the theologian: thanks to a deep meditation on the plan of salvation, as it unfolds in the eyes of the Virgin of the Magnificat, to help the faith of the people to be expressed clearly and to be translated into the life

(n. 98).

3.7. Making the spiritual experience of the poor and their social world.

The previous principles and methodological rules are rooted in a common ground, which we can call the “spiritual experience of the poor”. This is not exactly a methodological rule, but the precondition of all rules, in order to be able to function satisfactorily. It represents, in effect, a founding event. One could even call the spiritual experience of the poor the “starting point” of a socio-liberating mariology as such.

Effectively, one cannot understand the social world and, above all, the underworld of the poor from the outside, but from the inside, through concrete experience, a living contact with this painful world. It is necessary, however, to say that the experience of the poor has the double form: of compassion and of struggle. It is both pathos and praxis. Be that as it may, without engagement, that necessary epistemological affinity that calls for all fruitful knowledge does not arise in the mind.

Therefore, without socio-liberating practice, there is no socio-liberating mariology. As for the concrete way of identifying with the poor, it varies depending on people and their circumstances. There are multiple ways, from simple direct contact, albeit episodic, to living together in the same living conditions, through participation in their struggles. But in all this, what matters most is serious and profound personal identification with the poor, which is expressed through solidarity with them, whether in terms of pastoral care and politics, or in terms of culture, ethics and spirituality. The experience of the poor normally provokes a “culture shock”, which calls into question the whole existential basis of the theologian, leading to a “hermeneutic conversion” and a change of social place.

From there the whole structure of theological practice gains new configuration:

  • its themes will be chosen among those that show liberating relevance.
  • its cultural mediations will help in understanding the “people’s reality”.
  • its hermeneutics or biblical reading will preferably be done from the perspective of the poor.
  • its language will seek to be direct and communicative.
  • its recipients will preferably be social operators, etc.

But why say “spiritual” experience of the poor? Because, in addition to being an emotional, critical and ethical experience, it seeks to see the Lord present in the face of the poor. The poor are the site of a particular theophany, albeit sub cruce et contrario. But isn’t the cross the maximum place of manifestation of God and His redeeming love?

These are the basic epistemological lines that will preside, more as regulating ideas than as rigid rules, the study that will be developed in this work.

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