Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Christian mysticism virtually vanished from the Roman Church following the Council of Trent

(The following is from the late John A. Mackay who headed theology at Princeton from the 1930s to the 1950s--he wrote it as a side comment to a book review in 1959.)

What can only be described as a supreme aberration from Biblical and classical Christianity has resulted in two post-Tridentine manifestations. First, that glorious Christ-centered evangelical mysticism which marked the lives of so many of the medieval saints, Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, became condemned, was discouraged, and is no more.

The great tradition of direct, uninhibited communion with the Risen Christ, which goes back to St. Paul, disappeared progressively in the Roman communion. It was replaced by a devotional life that in a mediated way became centered in the Eucharist, or that found its supreme popular expression in an unmediated devotion to Mary. In the meantime, that profoundly evangelical Christo-centric mysticism, which marked pre-Tridcntine Catholicism passed into and enriched the devotional life of Protestant Christianity.

Second, visions of the Virgin began to replace visions of Christ, who became increasingly remote and unrelated to the events of history. The Virgin of Guadalupe appeared as an ethnic reality; the Virgin of Lourdes as a therapeutic reality; the Virgin of Fatima as a cosmic, history making reality.

Once again the Hispanic Catholic tradition, which has been under criticism in certain Roman Catholic circles in France and the United States, has provided the needed symbol for the new Mario-centric development of Roman Catholic theology and devotion in our time. For the Virgin of Fatima, in accordance with the symbolism which adorns her shrine on a Portuguese plateau, has been crowned by the Holy Trinity.

Our Lady has been constituted The Executive Director of Deity in everything that relates to humanity. She controls all life and history. Moreover, according to a distinguished Roman Catholic thinker, writing in a book which appeared a few years ago under the title Mary and Modern Man, it is the humanity of Mary and not the humanity of Christ that must be taken as the inspiration and pattern of true human selfhood.

In the new Mariology the "riddle" of Roman Catholicism reaches its highest degree of complexity. It is the potent growth of the Fatima cult, together with the progressive deposition of Jesus Christ from direct relationship to human life, that constitutes the supreme spiritual issue between Roman and non-Roman Christianity today.

By knowledge and by temperament, the distinguished author of The Riddle of Roman Catholicism is unusually fitted to lead the way in shedding light upon the particular phases of the "riddle" which, to the reviewer of his outstanding book, appear to have basic relevance.

John A. Mackay
Chevy Chase, Maryland