[For many] Mariology de facto could only be seen as the infiltration of a nonbiblical model. Consistent with this view is the contention that at the Council of Ephesus (431), which confirmed and defended Mary’s title as ‘Mother of God,’ the previously rejected ‘Great Mother’ of pagan piety had, in reality, secured a place for herself in the Church. This view’s presuppositions about the Old Testament, however, are false.
Near the end of the Old Testament Canon, in the late writings, a new and, again, entirely original type of theology of woman is developed. The great salvific figures of Esther and Judith appear, taking up again the most ancient tradition . . . .
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF “THE PLACE OF MARIOLOGY IN THE BIBLE”
The Essential Pope Benedict XVI: His Central Writings and Speeches by authors John F. Thornton and Susan B. Varenne provides a selection of writings and talks of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Chapter 30 of the book contains Benedict’s thought on the “Place of Mariology in the Bible.” In it Benedict tells us that a proper understanding of the Blessed Virgin in the Bible is that of the humble woman who nevertheless is lifted up by God to victory and who especially personifies the virtue of Wisdom.
Benedict defends the Catholic understanding of the Blessed Virgin as having a special place amongst the Saints. She is the culmination of the virtues exhibited by various heroines of Israel described in the Old Testament. Benedict rejects the view that Catholic Mariology is just a rehashing of older pagan goddess beliefs:
The salvific service of the Blessed Virgin is actually the culmination of the service provided by the great women of Israel described in the Old Testament.
The first woman who shared characteristics with Mary was also the very first woman, Eve. Despite facilitating the introduction of sin into the world, Eve ultimately is a woman that is symbolic of victory. According to Benedict, Eve is:
Aspects of the Blessed Virgin can also be seen in Hannah. Hannah was the mother of the famous prophet Samuel. She was a woman who was ridiculed for being barren until she gave birth to her accomplished son. Mary’s Magnificat recounted in the gospel of Luke bears a resemblance to the song of Hanna in the first Book of Samuel. According to Benedict, both songs include the same core theme: the “Lord raises the humble from the dust; he lifts the poor from the ashes . . .”
The Old Testament figures of Esther and Judith also displayed virtues, especially fortitude, later exemplified in the Blessed Virgin. Esther was the Jewish Queen of the Persian King Assuerus. She helped to thwart an attempted genocide of the Jews in the Kingdom of Persia. Judith is the Jewish Heroin who managed to ingratiate herself to Holofernes, the King of the Assyrians, who was also an enemy of the Jews. Through stratagem she managed to kill Holofernes and so achieve a victory for her people. According to Benedict:
Both of these women personify “the unconquered spiritual strength of Israel, which cannot boast as do the worldly powers and for that very reason knows how to scorn and overcome the mighty . . . .” They share characteristics with the Blessed Virgin because of the salvific contributions that they made for Israel.
But perhaps the Old Testament texts that best personify the Blessed Virgin are those that describe the virtue of Wisdom as a person:
Thus according to Benedict: “[t]he eradication of the Marian interpretation of Sophiology ultimately leaves out an entire dimension of the biblical and Christian mystery.”
Catholic teaching assigns Mary an appropriately august station for the salvific service she provided in bringing the long-hoped for Messiah into world. According to Benedict:
Mary gave birth to God amongst us, the Word made flesh and the long-hoped for messiah. She has therefore become an excellent means through which we access him who is Wisdom itself.
[t]he abstract outlines for the hope that God will turn toward his people receive, in the New Testament, a concrete, personal name in the figure of Jesus Christ. At that same moment, the figure of the woman, until then seen only typologically in Israel although provisionally personified by the great women of Israel, also emerges with a name: Mary.
We must now add that the church’s liturgy expands this Old Testament theology of woman insofar as it . . . refers the Wisdom texts to Mary. This has been sharply criticized by this century’s liturgical movement in view of its Christocentric theology; it has been argued that these texts can and should allow only a Christological interpretation. After years of wholehearted agreement with this latter view, it is ever clearer to me that it actually misjudges what is most characteristic in those Wisdom texts. While it is correct to observe that Christology assimilated essential elements of the wisdom idea, so that one must speak of a Christological strand in the New Testament’s continuation of the notion of wisdom, a remainder nevertheless resists total integration into Christology. In both Hebrew and Greek, wisdom is a feminine noun, and this is no empty grammatical phenomenon in antiquity’s vivid awareness of language. Sophia, a feminine noun, stands on that side of reality, which is represented by the woman, by what is purely and simply feminine.
the mother of all life, when she receives her name. In my opinion it is significant that her name is bestowed in Genesis 3:20 after the Fall, after God’s words of judgment. In this way the undestroyed dignity and majesty of woman are expressed. She preserved the mystery of life, the power opposed to death; for death is like the power of nothingness, the antithesis of Yahweh, who is the creator of life and the God of the living. She who offers the fruit that leads to death, whose task manifests a mysterious kinship with death, is nonetheless from now on the keeper of the seal of life and the antithesis of death.