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What the “Marian principle” of the Church means

20/06/2010: General House

Taking as his basis the development of the experience of the primitive Church, von Balthasar speaks of five principles which make up the fundamental structure of the Church: the Petrine principle, the Pauline principle, the Johannine principle, the Jacobine principle and the Marian principle which embraces them.

The Petrine principle is the best known: it calls to mind the figure of Peter. From his reading of the Gospel, of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Peter, von Balthasar points out the figure of Peter, relating it to the proclamation of the kerygma and to its concrete realization in the life of the Christian. The continuation of Peter’s mission has to do with the Creed being preached in an ordered manner throughout the world through the pastoral ministry.

The Pauline principle is linked with the missionary character of Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, the one who was converted by pure grace, without merits or works, breaking irremediably with the past. We can see the continuation of Paul’s mission in the irruption, unforeseen and ever new, of new charisms in the history of the Church. It is a prophetic and heavenly principle, which involves the great missionary charisms, the great conversions, the great visions poured out upon the Church through words inspired by the Spirit. It places the accent on the vertical extension and structure of the Church. The great charisms derive from the heavenly Jerusalem and are testified to in word and life. On this basis, they manifest freedom in the Holy Spirit, although submission to Peter is a sign of the authenticity of the missions. The Pauline tradition infuses vision and certainty of salvation into the Church through its charismatic dimension.

The Johannine principle is the one in which von Balthasar sees reflected the great part of his own work. John is the beloved disciple, the evangelist of the new commandment. Von Balthasar considers the continuing mission of John as one of unity. It synthesizes the Petrine and Pauline elements, combining them with a contemplative vision. This dimension of the Church becomes incarnate in all those who live the evangelical counsels and have contemplative love as their mission: they communicate the message that with love everything is possible.

The Jacobine principle is based on James, brother of the Lord, who appears to have taken Peter’s place when he left Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). At the Council of the Apostles, he put forward the decisive motion of reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile Christians (Acts 15:13-21). But he represents, above all, the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New, Tradition, the legitimacy of the letter of the law against pure spiritualism. It is the dimension of the Church which affirms the historical sense of things, continuity, Tradition, canon law. This principle is personified in those who have the mission of reminding us that it is necessary to be anchored in the primary experience and that it is important to return to the origins of our Christian story to discover new lights which allow us to continue moving forward.

The Marian principle affirms that Mary is the model of faith for all the members of the Church.
The basis of this  principle is found in the Trinitarian logic which shows us the ineffable mystery of God which has been revealed to us in Christ. “He has let us know the mystery of his purpose, the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ” (Eph. 1: 9), which he decided “to act upon when the times had run their course to the end”, nothing other than that “he would bring everything together under Christ, as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth” (Eph. 1:10). In von Balthasar’s writings, Mary is an explanation of this mystery of love and a model of our encounter with the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in his life, surrounded himself with a human “constellation” composed of Mary. Peter, the apostles, the sisters of Bethany, etc. All represent different missions of the Church, which are perpetuated in the course of its history.

“In the Paschal and Pentecost community, Peter would recognize, like the other apostles, Mary as mother of the Lord through her docility to grace and her response to the will of God. While Mary, accompanying the nascent Church, would see in Peter the disciple to whom her son gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. For Mary, Peter is a point of reference in whom “to have unity” until the end. For Peter, on the other hand, the reference is Mary, because, apart from being Mother, she is what the whole Church “ought to be”. And neither of the two is mistaken”1.

The characteristic which Mary brings is that she is the “prototype” of the Church, its “model”, from the beginning of her mission, that is, from the event of the Annunciation. “Mary comes before everyone else and, obviously, Peter himself and the apostles”2. “The Marian profile is anterior to the Petrine one … and it is more lofty and pre-eminent, richer in implications for the person and the community”3. The Marian principle is, in various aspects, more fundamental than the Petrine principle. In fact, the Marian principle antecedes the Petrine. This means that being a believer is more important than performing a ministry in the Church.

This new slant on Mariology is fundamental in the teaching of the II Vatican Council and is one of the most significant contributions to the renewal of the Church. In the conciliar document Lumen Gentium, the Church , through the voice of the council fathers, “wishes to set forth more precisely to the faithful and to the entire world (its) nature and encompassing mission”. The same document describes the Church as “The People of God” (9) or “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (4). Chapter VIII, dedicated entirely to Mary, proclaims her a “pre-eminent and altogether singular member”(53), “the model and excellent exemplar in faith and charity” (53) of this multitude of believers who make up the Church.

When this chapter of Lumen Gentium affirms that Mary is “prototype” and “model” of the Church, it means that she is the model of each of the members that compose the   “multitude of believers”. Mary’s “yes” to God is the perfect act of love that humanity has made to God. The life of the Church continues and makes present Mary’s "yes", and  “is manifested especially in the sanctity of love and in the evangelical life of the believer”4. For Christianity, the encounter with the Mystery of love implies the conversion to love.

The explanation of the organizational structure of the Church is described in terms of the Petrine principle which is the basis of institutional unity. Peter’s relationship with Jesus at the origin of the ecclesial community, in the foundation of the Church, shows the desire of Jesus that Peter be the one who presides in charity and is the centre of union for all.

“The Petrine profile is lived today by the Pope and the whole college of bishops, with the help of the priests and deacons, docile to the action of the Spirit, which through them steers the ship of the Church” 5.

The explanation of the essence of the Church highlights the Marian principle which describes the foundation on which the holiness of the Church is based.

The Marian profile is lived by all the faithful, all the charisms, all the prophets, all the love poured out on the world when the Word is lived without reserve or compromise, and when it is left to the Spirit to move the hearts of the faithful. They are not two poles in tension, two aspects to balance, or two dialectical realities. No, they are two concrete faces which seek each other, serve each other, need each other, and contemplate each other in the sole contemplation of the Lord, who gave his life for them, and for whom they are also ready to give their lives. The world intends to detach itself from the Church, because it may be rather a power structure, without Mary; or because it may be a current of enthusiasm off course, without Peter. But neither of the two will ever be found wanting”6.

Mary’s relationship with Jesus at the beginning of the community shows that Mary makes the most perfect act of communion with the plans of Jesus in accepting to do his will. Mary’s “yes” constitutes an Alliance. This is the reason why we can speak of a “Marian face” in referring to the charisms and the holiness of the Church.

The resonances Mary’s function, thus understood, has in the life of the Church are numerous: she is the model for the life of the Christian; she is the prototype that woman can contemplate to find their place in the Church; she is the “style” of the ecclesial movements. Mary is, as well, the road that leads to ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, that makes it possible for Christianity to avoid the risk of becoming inhuman and for the Church to avoid the risk of becoming functionalistic and without soul.

AMEstaún


1 Manuel María Bru Alonso http://www.archimadrid.es/princi/menu/hilo/textos/2004/07julio/11072004.htm

2 Alocución dirigida por el Papa, en 1987, a los cardenales y a los prelados de la Curia Romana.

3 Alocución dirigida por el Papa, en 1987, a los cardenales y a los prelados de la Curia Romana.

4 Brendan Leahy. El principio mariano en la eclesiología de Hans Urs von Baltasar
ISBN: 978-84-9715-025-5
Páginas: 192
Medidas: 22 x 15 cm
Colección: Teología y catequesis / Formación teológica y catequística / Sección II
Editorial Ciudad Nueva
Con este volumen se pretende, mediante una acertada síntesis orgánica, facilitar el viaje del lector a través de los numerosos textos que von Balthasar dedicó a la reflexión sobre la figura de María y sobre el principio mariano, en los que encontramos originales intuiciones eclesiales.

5 Manuel María Bru Alonso http://www.archimadrid.es/princi/menu/hilo/textos/2004/07julio/11072004.htm

6 Manuel María Bru Alonso http://www.archimadrid.es/princi/menu/hilo/textos/2004/07julio/11072004.htm

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