The Daughter of Eve Unfallen: Mary in the Theology and Spirituality of John Henry Newman
By Nicholas L. Gregoris
Publisher: Newman House Press (21 Fairview Ave., Mt. Pocono PA 18344; phone: 570-839-2185)
Review Author: Richard Geraghty
A revised doctoral dissertation is usually not very interesting to the general reader. But this book is an exception for those interested in learning something very important about John Henry Newman: the centrality of Mary in his life and thought. This is not the specific point that Fr. Gregoris is making, though. Rather, he aims to show how Newman contributes to today’s discussions about Mary as the Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix of grace. His treatment of this topic is broad enough to tell us a great deal about Newman himself and the place of the Blessed Virgin in his life.
Gregoris analyzes many sermons that Newman gave, both as an Anglican and Catholic priest, on the feasts of the Incarnation, the Annunciation, and the Presentation. We learn how to think about Mary as Newman leads us through the basics, not as theology students, but as parishioners in the pew. Without polemics, Newman shows that if the teaching about Mary is not scriptural, then neither are the accounts of Genesis, of the Gospels, and of the Book of Revelations. He brings us face to face with facts and realities.
We will not be surprised, then, to learn how the Church, in the fifth century, came to declare Mary to be the Mother of God, or, in the 19th century, to be the Immaculate Conception, and, in the 20th century, to have been assumed into Heaven. The phrase “development of doctrine” is exactly what is at issue here, as we are allowed to think with the Church as she discovers Mary in Scripture. To read Scripture rightly is to see Eve’s disobedience in the Garden and the new Eve’s obedience at the Annunciation as converging paths to tremendous facts, events, and realities. The first event puts mankind under the domination of Satan. The second event breaks this domination. A woman is a key player in both. But the second woman is the Mother of God, thus placing God Himself as the center of the whole story.
Does one have to diminish the role of the woman to safeguard the role of Christ? Not if the believer has taken to heart the reality of a creature becoming the Mother of God. Not if the believer’s faith is rooted in Scripture. Not if the believer appreciates that God, in becoming man, chose His mother. Explicit words should lead one to grasp the event behind the words. This happens when we listen to a preacher such as Newman speaking of Mary as his mother and the Mother of his God.
The key question for Newman, as an Anglican, was whether the Catholic Church had corrupted the deposit of faith or, to the contrary, had developed it. For him, the development of doctrine was critical. The place of Mary is no mere private concern but rather the point upon which whole theologies turn. Faith without development is not really faith, because it misses the reality of events, and is left complaining that more should have been said if the developments of the Catholic Church are to be accepted.
Gregoris shows that Mary is more central to Newman’s life than one might expect. For instance, he refers us to The Grammar of Assent, Newman’s masterpiece about natural belief in God. The text makes no mention of Mary. Yet its account of how belief operates bears the Marian stamp. Searching for the first principle that leads man to attain religious truth by reason alone, Newman selects the encounter between God and Man through the voice of conscience. Such an encounter means nothing if it is not entertained in the heart and mind. Once entertained, it becomes the very light in which reason evaluates what happens in the world. The light shows that, despite the seeming absence of God, He has revealed Himself to the world in the Catholic Church. What Mary does in the story of faith, conscience does in the story of reason. In both cases real events lead to development.
Gregoris’s analyses of many of Newman’s sermons invite us to read them for ourselves and thereby deepen our sense of Mary’s role in our own lives.
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