"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Politicization of Marian Devotion

I have for some time deplored the tendency of certain fundamentally unserious Catholics to treat Marian devotions and "doctrines" as magical playthings the doubling down on which, or the forced dogmatizing of which, will somehow "solve" the problems of Church and world alike. (In criticizing these jejune and insolent demands, one cedes nothing of one's own devotion to the Mother of God.) That is all great silliness of course, though it is sometimes the silliness of otherwise seemingly intelligent and apparently devoted people, whose impertinent demands for new dogmas are nothing other than a species of abuse of their fellow Christians (Catholics included!) in a manner reminiscent of what Newman felt at the time of Vatican I. In a famous letter to his bishop, which I read with my students this semester, Newman plaintively decries the advent of:
thunder in the clear sky, and we are told to prepare for something, we know not what, to try our faith, we know not how. No impending danger is to be averted, but a great difficulty is to be created. ... What have we done to be treated as the faithful never were treated before? When has the definition of doctrine de fide been a luxury of devotion, and not a stern painful necessity?
It is, then, with great interest that I learn of a new collection which analyzes modern Marian "apparitions" in light of the politics of their respective nation-states in the last two centuries: Marian Devotions, Political Mobilization, and Nationalism in Europe and America, eds. Roberto Di Stefano, Francisco Javier Ramón Solans (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 341pp.

About this book we are told:
This volume examines the changing role of Marian devotion in politics, public life, and popular culture in Western Europe and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The book brings together, for the first time, studies on Marian devotions across the Atlantic, tracing their role as a rallying point to fight secularization, adversarial ideologies, and rival religions.
This transnational approach illuminates the deep transformations of devotional cultures across the world. Catholics adopted modern means and new types of religious expression to foster mass devotions that epitomized the Catholic essence of the “nation.” In many ways, the development of Marian devotions across the world is also a response to the questioning of Papal Sovereignty. These devotional transformations followed an Ultramontane pattern inspired not only by Rome but also by other successful models approved by the Vatican such as Lourdes. Collectively, they shed new light on the process of globalization and centralization of Catholicism.

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