Monday, 9 December 2013

Summer in December

It is well enough known, I believe, that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was disputed between the Dominicans and the Fransicans, St Thomas and St Bonaventure, with the "pro" Franciscans on the winning side. I saw this set in a different frame, however, in some readings for the feast whose original source I cannot place: the piece pointed out that the difference between the two sides was underpinned by a diverse theology of the Incarnation and Redemption.

For the Dominican Aquinas, the Incarnation was a response to, and remedy for, the Fall; for the Franciscans and Duns Scotus the Incarnation was part of the plan of Creation, and thus the Incarnation of the Word preceded the Fall in divine providence. The different notions of the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the feast of her conception on 8th December predates the theological dispute) flow from this parting of the ways.

For St Thomas, the Fall involves all of Creation, including the Blessed Virgin, and the redemption of Jesus then purifies and saves our Lady more or less at the moment of her conception; for the Franciscan theologians on the other hand, Mary, as the one whom God willed to be the carrier of the human nature of the Incarnate Christ, was purified and redeemed by his Incarnation before the Fall took place. Maybe the fact that we celebrate the feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception is to tip the scales slightly towards the idea that Creation is but the first step towards the Incarnation, and the final step at the end of all things, the Consummation of the Incarnation, is the divinisation of redeemed Creation in the Incarnate God.

I reproduce the following from a homily by the then Abbot Hugh of Pluscarden, now Bishop of Aberdeen, on 8th December 2010. To read the rest follow this link

Today the Church is filled with joy at Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It’s not just Mary who says, Gaudens gaudebo in Domino. It’s all of us.
We know what we’re celebrating: not, as many think, the conception of Jesus by Mary, but the conception of Mary herself. And not that conception from her parents’ side, as if there was anything out of the usual about it (which there wasn’t), but from hers. We’re celebrating simply her. We’re celebrating the gift given her from the moment she came to be. This gift can be spoken of in two ways, and the liturgy does both. Put negatively, it was the gift of redemption, by preservation, from original sin, often metaphorically described as a stain or spot, like something on a mirror or a face. Mary is free of this blemish. But original sin, says Tradition, is itself a negative. God’s intention for us has only ever been grace, relationship, but because of the mysterious first sin we are conceived without this, dis-graced, if you like. We’re like poor modern students, starting life in debt. There’s a lack in us, something missing, a deprivation, a nakedness says Genesis: a lack of grace. Mary lacked this lack. And if you negate a negative what you get is a positive. And so positively, this gift is the gift of sanctifying grace, of a share in the life of God. It’s the gift of the Holy Spirit living in the heart. The mirror is stainless to reflect the light, the face is all radiance, the nakedness is clothed. It’s the gift of holiness, of ultimate beauty. Mary, said the poet Coventry Patmore, is ‘the extreme of God’s creative energy’. She is the human being fullest of the Holy Spirit.
And this is something to be filled with joy about.
Not everyone has an unhappy childhood. Thomas Traherne, the 17th c. poet, certainly did not. In fact, it was much more than happy. It was transfigured. It was an experience of Eden. He himself, of course, had received redemption from original sin and the gift of sanctifying grace in baptism as an infant, and he described his childhood once like this:
  I felt no stain nor spot of sin.

  No darkness then did overshade,
  But all within was pure and bright;
  No guilt did crush nor fear invade,
  But all my soul was full of light.

  A joyful sense and purity
  Is all I can remember,
  The very night to me was bright
  ’Twas Summer in December.’ (Innocence). 
 ‘’Twas Summer in December.’ Topical! That is why the Church is rejoicing today. Summer in December, spring in winter. Gaudens gaudebo in Domino.

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