This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The weakness of the Western theological approach in the face of the mysteries

The Marian Mystery provides an illuminating example of the impotence of an overly rationalized theology when it comes into contact with a supra-rational reality. It is not that Catholic theology does not know what and who Mary really was—it is that Catholic theology, in its present Thomistic form, cannot say what and who Mary really was. In other words, the Aristotelian vocabulary is not well-suited to this kind of exposition, which seems to elude it for the most part.

This is the explanation for the ambiguous way Catholicism deals with the status of Mary. She is the ‘Mother of God,’ but is at the same time human and nothing more than human, and in its dogmatic declarations the Church further acknowledges aspects of her reality such as her Immaculate Conception, but by and large this is all left to work itself out in the world of prayer, a world in which the Aristotelian approach is not at home.

In other words, if in the West we see that the mystical and the theological have become two separate categories (as opposed to the Mystical Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius), we can see the results of this separation first and foremost in the inability of Catholic theology to develop in clear terms the full depth of the Marian Mystery.

Again, we should stress that this theological failure does not translate to a total failure, since we have already said that the Catholic Church has carried Marian devotion, through instruments as beautiful as the Rosary, to a high degree of refinement. All we are pointing out at this time is that if one limits oneself the theological and even dogmatic statements about Mary, it will be very difficult to plumb the depths of the mysterion she represents.

The intrinsic limits of the Thomistic method will, of themselves, force the Thomist to ‘hesitate’ in the face of this sacred reality, as in the face of others, sensing as it must that it has exhausted its reach. The problem is of course in assuming that just because Thomism thus exhausts itself that all theologizing must stop at the same point, which is not true.

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