Friday, November 10, 2023

Misguided beauty. . .


That this altar is stunningly beautiful and reflective of the best craftsmanship and design is without question.  What is misguided is that the Blessed Virgin is at the center instead of Christ.  While Lutherans might have many reasons to complain here, we need go no further than the words of the Blessed Virgin in the Magnificat to say that this beauty is misguided and not at all reflective of her own humility and deference to the Son of God who took flesh in her womb.

Among Lutherans I am often regarded as too Marian.  I have long complained that Lutherans are far too reticent about the role and honor Luther himself gave to the Blessed Virgin -- and not simply in his early life!  Today we tend to be rather Protestant when it comes to honoring her whom the Lord most high choose to be the Theotokos.  Yet, the best honor we can give to the Blessed Virgin is to honor her Son who became her Savior and ours.  There is nothing wrong with the depiction of Blessed Mary holding the infant Redeemer.  It is a most wonderful and blessed image.  But at the altar, the image that must take predominance is Christ.  In this particular altar, Christ is the Holy Child on Blessed Mary's arm and in a very small crucifix above the tabernacle.  The image that stands out is the Blessed Virgin alone.  There is something here not quite right about those proportions.

What might be very appropriate as an image or statue on the side does not befit the purpose of the altar nor what the Lord gives from this altar.  As much as I stand in awe of the work put into this medieval style altarpiece, I am disappointed and, I believe, Blessed Mary would also be uncomfortable with it.  It does not take anything away from the Mother of our Lord to keep Christ prominent and central at the altar and it does not honor her anymore to make her image the focus of the altarpiece.  It just does not quite seem appropriate to look at this and sing with her:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior;
for He has regarded
    the lowliness of His handmaiden.
For, behold, from this day
    all generations will call me blessèd.
For the Mighty One has done great things to me,
    and Holy is His name;
and His mercy is on those who fear Him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
    He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
    and has exalted the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel
    in remembrance of His mercy,
as He spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

So now as I have oft complained about the lack of a corpus on Lutheran crosses on or above the altar, here I must also complain that this Roman altar has got it wrong and wrong according to Blessed Mary's own words.  All generations shall call her blessèd and those who fail to do so out of irrational and unbiblical fear have a hard time justifying their hesitance but her own words remind us that her blessedness is not apart from or above the blessedness of the Mighty One who has shown His mercy by sending to her womb her Savior and ours to fulfill the promise of the prophets and raise up the humble with the mercy that remains a mystery and a marvel to us.

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

This is another posting that I much appreciate. It touches again on the need for the cultivation of a Lutheran sensibility; we are not (in the way the word is used now) "Protestants."

I wish pastors would explain to the Faithful, perhaps in a study class, what I take to be the Lutheran principle about Church tradition and dogma.

"Sola Scriptura" means that the Church -- the pillar and foundation/buttress of the truth, as St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy -- looks to the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures ALONE when it expounds dogma. By dogma, I mean those things that are binding on the consciences of the Faithful: truth that belongs to, and should be confessed even in the face of death, by Christ's people. These are those things of which we may and should dare to say, "Thus saith the LORD!"

We do not look to any non-Scriptural tradition to demonstrate and defend the doctrines of the Church.

Yet, we recognize that there are traditions of long standing in the Church -- and here we differ from Protestants, who generally do not want to have to do with such things. For example, we cross ourselves when the pastor, in the stead and by the command of Christ, pronounces the absolution; or when we confess the resurrection of the body in the Creed. We may well bow from the waist when we recite the "and was made man" in the Nicene Creed. (Or, well, we would do well to do so.) We have a Church Year with many feasts and also times for preparation for them -- it would be good to invite those who will, to do these things. And so on.

And we also allow for certain traditions about the mother of Our Lord. We accept the possibility that (as Luther believed) she remained a virgin; but we also allow the possibility that she and Joseph had several children after the birth of Jesus. We might allow that (as the Orthodox say) when her time for "falling asleep" in death arrived, the apostles gathered from various distant places to bury her body in Gethsemane; or we might even allow that (as the Roman Catholics say) Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. At least so far as I know there is no doctrinal objection to that, although we would probably be rightly skeptical of the idea that she was promptly resurrected in glory such as the Faithful will be on the Last Day. (How, by the way, could anyone know about that, if it were so?!) We will not make such traditions the focus of preaching, hymnody, etc. But nor do we insist on some other view of the matter. By the sola Scriptura principle, we cannot dogmatize about these matters.

Off the subject of Mary, I wonder about the idea of the angels of the nations/peoples. We have a little evidence but not very much. Here too there is room for pious opinions, provided they do not dogmatize beyond Holy Scripture.

And so we balance the comparative (compared to Protestants) receptivity to ancient traditions with a cheerful affirmation of Deuteronomy 29:29.

Dale Nelson