Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (v) - Canon Robin Ward

The third or ‘great’ prayer of S. Anselm to the Blessed Virgin is intended to ask for her love and for that of Christ: it begins by hailing her as greatest among women, and then sets out a consecration of heart, lips and understanding in her service and praise, culminating in a commitment wholly to your protection. Anselm describes himself as needing Mary’s defence daily, and the prayer sets out to evoke compunction, not so much as consciousness of sin on this occasion but as overawed by the holiness and power of the Virgin: Heart of my soul … wonder at her loftiness, and beseech her kindness [Anselm, Prayers, p. 115, ll. 3, 9, 14-15]. The third prayer is more overtly Christological than the second, in that although Mary is praised as Queen of angels, Lady of the world … most mighty helper [Anselm, Prayers, p. 115, l. 19], redemptive power is explicitly allotted to her divine Son: in my heart I know and worship you, love you and ask for your affection … because it belongs to you Son to make and to save, to redeem and to bring back to life [Anselm, Prayers, p. 116, ll. 39-43]. Indeed Mary’s agency in effecting salvation is rather more tightly circumscribed at this point than in the apparent dyarchy of the second prayer: How can I speak worthily of the mother of the Creator and Saviour, by whose sanctity my sins are purged, by whose integrity incorruptibility is given me, by whose virginity my soul falls in love with its Lord and is married to its God [Anselm, Prayers, p. 116, ll. 52-7].

However, having established this cardinal principle, Anselm goes on to make Marian advocacy a core component of post-baptismal Christian living. He laments that he has lost the grace of regeneration through sin, and asks Mary to help him regain it: for I am sure that since through the Son I could receive grace, I can receive it again through the merits of the Mother [Anselm, Prayers, p. 117, ll. 80-82]. This confidence gives rise to a catena of Marian titles as Mediatrix: gateway of life, door of salvation, way of reconciliation, approach to recovery … palace of universal propitiation, cause of general reconciliation, vase and temple of life and universal salvation [Anselm, Prayers, p. 117, ll. 84-5; p. 118, ll. 91-4]. Once again, Anselm is immediately anxious to place this mediation in a Christological context: O Lady, to be wondered at for your unparalleled virginity; to be venerated for a holiness beyond all reckoning – you showed the world its Lord and its God whom it had not known [Anselm, Prayers, p. 118, ll. 99-102]. The Marian scope of the redemption is extended to include the whole natural order (Heaven, stars, earth, waters, day and night … they rejoice now, Lady … for a new and ineffable grace has been given them through you) [Anselm, Prayers, p. 118, ll. 118-122] and also all those subject to the Fall in both heaven and hell: those in hell rejoice that they are delivered … and the angels wish each other joy in rebuilding of their half-ruined city [Anselm, Prayers, p. 119, ll. 144-6, 150-]. Having established this universal debt of all things to Mary, Anselm goes on to praise her in an extended paragraph which evokes both the Magnificat and The Song of Songs, the Marian potential of which was to be realized most fully in the ecstatic commentary of S. Bernard and his fellow Cistercians : not only is the creature blessed by the Creator, but the Creator is blessed by the creature too … O beautiful to gaze upon, lovely to contemplate, delightful to love … whither do you go to evade the breadth of my heart … Lady, wait for the weakness of him who follows you; do not hide yourself seeing the littleness of the soul that seeks you! Have mercy, Lady, upon the soul that pants after you with longing [Anselm, Prayers, p. 120, ll. 162-174].

Anselm then returns to the antithetical mode familiar from the previous prayers: God is the Father of all created things, and Mary is the Mother of all re-created things. God is the Father of all that is established, and Mary is the mother of all that is re-established [Anselm, Prayers, p. 121, ll. 191-4]. She is the microcosm of all Creation, to whom the Lord gave himself, that all nature in you might be in him. Thus the Virgin is mother of justifier and the justified, bearer of reconciliation and the reconciled, parent of salvation and the saved and so Blessed assurance and safe refuge [Anselm, Prayers, p. 122, ll. 236-40]. Anselm then interestingly inverts the usual logic of adoptive sonship in Christ by claiming that we are brethren of the divine Son by virtue of our filial relationship to Mary: For if you, Lady are his mother, surely then your sons are his brothers? … Our God through Mary is our brother Anselm, Prayers, p. 123, ll. 252-4, 265]. This gives a firm basis to her intercessory power: she pleads with the son on behalf of the sons, the only-begotten for the adopted [Anselm, Prayers, p. 123, ll. 278-80]. In thanksgiving for this gift of divine brotherhood Anselm returns once more to the swooning rhetoric of the beloved: Desiring to be always with you, my heart is sick of love … If only the spirit within me might come close to the sweetness of you love, so that the marrow of my body might be dried up [Anselm, Prayers, p. 124, ll. 297-304]. Here there is a return to the striking practice of the second prayer in addressing Jesus and Mary together as complementary and co-operating in their salvific work for sinners: Perhaps I am presumptuous to speak, but the goodness of you both makes me bold. So I speak thus to my Lord and my Lady … Lord and Lady, surely it is much better for you to give grace to those who do not deserve it than for you to exact what is owing to you in justice? [Anselm, Prayers, p. 125, ll. 319-25]. This theme persists to the end of the prayer and indeed provides it with its eloquent conclusion: So I venerate you both, as far as my mind is worthy to do so; I love you both, as far as my heart is equal to it; I prefer you both, so much as my soul can; and I serve you both, as far as my flesh may. And in this let my life be consummated that for all eternity all my being may sing’ blessed be the Lord for ever. Amen. [Anselm, Prayers, p. 126, ll. 363-73].

This third Prayer to Mary represents Anselm’s mature reflection on the rôle of the Blessed Virgin in the divine economy of salvation, and her place in the piety and devotion of Christian people. The most prominent theme is that of Marian advocacy for the Christian whose sorrow for sin is shown in its true light by the contrasting purity of the Mother of God. Anselm is clear that priority in the work of redemption as completed belongs to Christ, and that the end of the Christian life is the contemplation and praise of God in heaven. However, as a pilgrim sinner in via, Anselm is prepared to ascribe to Mary a rôle which actively complements that of her divine Son in the dispensation of grace, a privilege which derives from her status as co-operative cause of the incarnation and therefore mother of all redeemed creation. This theme of Marian mediation in the order of redemption is one which Anselm’s disciple and biographer Eadmer develops for himself in a way which sets less store by Anselm’s anxiety to keep within the bounds of an overtly christological soteriology, and which is significant in the contemporary controversy which arose over the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.