Saturday, April 25, 2020

Book Review: Cardinal Newman's "Meditations on Mary, Our Mother"

I jumped at the chance to review this book. Two decades ago, I read TAN Book’s Mary: The Second Eve, a compendium of Newman’s apologetic writings on the Blessed Mother and was mesmerized by the way he showed that the earliest post-apostolic writings simply made explicit what was already present in the text of Scripture. His knowledge of the Fathers was voluminous. This new work assembled by TAN’s editorial team casts its net wider to bring together key points from Newman’s apologetics with his devotional thought.

As with all of his works, Meditations on Mary, Our Mother reminds us that Newman was a master of the English language. When we turn from him to modern works, we are reminded of how far we've fallen:
"[The saints'] acts, callings, and relations below, are types and anticipations of their present mission above...The only question is whether the Blessed Virgin had a part, a real part, in the economy of grace, whether, when she was on earth, she secured by her deeds any claim on our memories? If she did, it is impossible we should put her away from us, merely because she has gone hence, and should not look at her still according to the nature of her earthly history, with gratitude and expectation." (p.41)
Yes, Newman would have been a thorn in the side of many a modern editor. "But John, you have to remember that most books are written at a fifth grade level!"

Like TAN's previous compilation, Meditations on Mary, Our Mother displays Newman's brilliance as an apologist. It does not, however, contain the lengthy quotations from the Fathers present in the earlier work. Instead, as the title of this new collection indicates, we are treated to Newman's devotional thoughts, his effusions of love in honor of Our Lady:
"We must not only pray with our lips, and fast, and do outward penance, and be chaste in our bodies; but we must be obedient, and pure in our minds. And so, as regards the Blessed Virgin, it was God's will that she should undertake willingly and with full understanding to be the Mother of Our Lord, and not to be a mere passive instrument whose maternity would have no merit and no reward. The higher our gifts, the higher our duties. It was no light lot to be so intimately near to the Redeemer of men, as she experienced afterwards when she suffered with Him." (p.23)
Newman's apologetic thought circles around Mary's identity as the New Eve. He finds it in both Scripture (Genesis 3, John 19, Revelation 12) and the Church Fathers:
"...the parallelism is the doctrine of the Fathers, from the earliest times; and, this being established, we are able, by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our restoration." (p.17)
Newman notes this identification in the works of Justin Martyr (150 A.D.), Irenaeus (180) and Tertullian (200), men from different geographic regions. From this, he carefully reasons that this understanding had to form part of the original apostolic deposit. And from it he deduces a host of important points:
"Eve made room for Adam's fall, so Mary made room for our Lord's reparation of it. Thus, whereas the free gift was not as the offence, but much greater, it follows that, as Eve co-operated in effecting a great evil, Mary co-operated in effecting a much greater good." (p.19) 
"I do not see how anyone who holds the Catholic doctrine of the supernatural endowments of our first parents has fair reason for doubting our doctrine about the [immaculate conception of the] Blessed Virgin Mary...I ask: Have you any intention to deny that Mary was as fully endowed as Eve? Is it any violent inference, that she, who was to co-operate in the redemption of the world, at least was not less endowed with power from on high, than she who, given as a help-mate to her husband, did in the event but cooperate with him for our ruin?....There was war between the woman and the Serpent. This is most emphatically fulfilled if she had nothing ot do with sin - for, so far as anyone sins, he has an alliance with the Evil One." (p.67, 65, 72)
I could go on and on, but it's far better to read this gem of a book for yourselves. Reading Meditations on Mary, Our Mother is akin to ascending a height via an upward, circular path. Themes are revisited and built upon as you progress through the meditations. It is spiritual reading appropriate to any time in the liturgical year.

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