Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (iv) - Canon Robin Ward

The second Prayer of S. Anselm to the Virgin is somewhat longer, and is designated for use when the mind is anxious [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110]. Here the emphasis on sin as defiling disease is replaced with a more resolutely forensic analysis of the human condition: Mary is hailed as virgin and mother (By your blessed virginity you have made all integrity sacred/ and by your glorious child-bearing / you have brought salvation to all fruitfulness) [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 5-6], and the sinner comes to her fleeing as one of the fearful crowd of the accused as Lady of might and mercy [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 10-11]. In contrast to the preceding prayer Christ is introduced at the beginning of the second paragraph, but as an object of fear: it seems to me as if I were already / before the all-powerful justice of the stern judge/ facing the intolerable vehemence of his wrath [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 13-15]. In the face of this inexorable judgement Anselm petitions the Virgin as the one whose womb embraced the reconciliation of the world, the one whence I know came the world’s propitiation [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 21-1, 24]; expressions which flow naturally from the patristic definition of Ephesus that Mary is fittingly called Mother of God. What follows is rather different and demonstrates for the first time in Anselm’s Marian prayers a definite change in sensibility: who can more easily gain pardon for the accused by her intercession/ than she who gave milk to him who justly punishes or mercifully pardons all and each one? [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 25-8].

This appeal to a tender humanity as the refuge for the sinner with both Mother and Son is then developed by Anselm with some ingenuity as the prayer continues to unfold: O human virgin,/ of you was born a human God, to save human sinners,/ and see, before both son and mother/ is a human sinner/ penitent and confessing,/ groaning and praying [Anselm, Prayers, p. 111, ll. 56-60]. Paradoxical contrasts abound: the accused flees from the just God/ to the good mother of the merciful God; and Dear Lord, spare the servant of your mother;/ dear Lady, spare the servant of your son [Anselm, Prayers, p. 112, ll. 83-6]. Most startling here is the couplet which begins the seventh paragraph of the prayer and which contains an expression unique in Anselm’s devotional works: Christ is called Judge of the world; Mary, with great daring, its reconciler [Anselm, Prayers, p. 113, 102-3]. Even the just sentence to hell which the sinner deserves is delivered not only by the Lord’s command but also with Mary’s consent. It would be Anselm’s faithful disciple Eadmer who would develop this theme more fully. The conclusion of the prayer continues this remarkable equation of Christ and Mary as a complementary pair in the work of redemption: God, who was made the son of a woman out of mercy;/ woman, who was made mother of God out of mercy;/ have mercy upon this wretch,/ you forgiving, you interceding [Anselm, Prayers, p. 113, ll. 117-8]. Only at the very end does Mary recede and, the fear of damnation past, the forgiven sinner anticipates entering with her into the joy of the blessed/ to praise you, God/ who are worthy to be praised and exalted for ever. Amen [Anselm, Prayers, p. 114, ll. 137-8]. This prayer, like the first, failed to satisfy Anselm and it was not until he embarked on a third, much longer prayer which he continued to revise for some twenty years, that he came to settle on an apt devotional idiom which did justice to his own theological preoccupations and his desire to express in fervent and affective prose the poignant human dignity and powerful mediation of the Mother of God.