Below is an email I wrote to a friend after relocating to San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico, in 2011. I witnessed the Virgin Mary artwork on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Regina del Cielo.
I hope that this email finds you and your family doing well. As I write these words, there are fireworks flaring and bombs blasting. The beat of the Mariachi can be heard bouncing cleanly through the dark, cold sky. We are far enough from the Jardin for the jubilation to be no more than a persistent murmur, the cadence of a people who know well how to masquerade the sorrows of life in and through an unending series of fiestas and religious observances. There is an altar at the end of the calle on which we are living now – a religious shrine put up by the people in the neighborhood, which centers on an oversized, open tabernacle. Inside the tabernacle, in full regalia, is the Regina del Cielo, the Queen of Heaven, standing atop the head of the baby Jesus, a common icon here in Mexico.
That she reigns inside the tabernacle is telling. The tabernacle is not just the point of nexus between men and heaven. Rather, it is the nexus point of men with God, though any such interrelationship is of the nature of heaven. If the Regina del Cielo resides inside the tabernacle, then she is a goddess, the “fourth person” of what really amounts to a Holy Quadernity. From a classical, Christian perspective, this cannot but be problematic, though perhaps there is a deeper truth, one even more penetrating than what appears in the Nicene Creed, in this deification of the Virgin Mary. Does not Christ Jesus Himself state the men born into His body and blood, the communion of the faithful, share through and with Him the same relationship with the Father that He has in eternity? This is explicit in John 17 – the prayer that He proclaims publicly shortly before being handed over to the Sanhedrin – and implicit in many other passages. If so, then perhaps the Virgin Mary is an icon of the faithful, or more precisely of the hope that the faithful have in Christ Jesus.
Having said as such, there is a fine – and most important – line between having the same relationship with the Father as the Son enjoys in eternity and actually becoming Gods. The key word here is “becoming.” Anything that “becomes” divine by definition is not divine; it is a facsimile, perhaps, or a dangerous perversion, more likely; but it is not God. God is in Himself in eternity; God does not “become,” as if at one time He was not. We settled this matter in the resolution of the Arian controversy – the very conflict within the Church which set into motion the Nicene Council. Today, the “Arians” who postulate a “becomingness” to God are the process theologians. For them, the Son is not co-eternal with the Father; He is a created being, albeit the “first fruits of all creation,” even higher than the highest of all of the angels. He “becomes” God, in virtue of the will of the Father; we “become” God, in and through Christ Jesus, the person in whom God vested His will.
Historically, the Arians are separated from the Gnostics; and yet, when we delve into the essence of their teachings, we see a common predilection. If, as the Arians postulate, the God of revelation is characterized by “becomingness,” then by definition this “God” cannot be the eternal God, since “becomingness” and eternality are incompatible. The eternal God therefore must not be the God of revelation. He – or more precisely It – must be unrevealed, which is to say unknowable. We now have the unknowable “One” separated from its lesser aeons; and we have one of those lesser aeons, the Demiurge, actually being the “God” of revelation, the “God” who creates the cosmos. The Arian postulate fits too well into this heretical Gnostic cosmology.
The epistemological implications are clear. If the foundation of creation is a lesser aeon, a Demiurge that manifests its predilection for malevolence in the very fact of masquerading as the God which it is surely not, then chance (which is how we would see the changeable will of a perverse Demiurge) prevails over truth (which is “truth” in that it is reflective of the unchanging will of the eternal God Himself). In this view, philosophical realism necessarily gives way to deconstructionism. Indeed, the entire cosmos is deconstruction of itself; it is all imagination, a fairy tale to be negated (Buddhism) or a “vision” to be molded by the few with the gnosis to do so (Gnosticism). I am reminded here of the legalistic answer provided by President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky controversy: In the end, it depends upon what the meaning of “is” is. In this deconstructionist cosmos, there is no “is.” There is no point from which even to postulate that there is no “is.” Absurdity prevails, the last, loony laughs of the Demiurge ringing the edges of a cosmos falling in upon itself.
In this view, the view of a “becoming” God, of a Demiurge that reigns tyrannically over a cosmos that is not real, there is no recourse but superstition. True religion cannot prevail, because men cannot have a relationship with God. Instead, in a world of chance, we may only hope to be on the right side of chance more often than otherwise. We may only hope to remember our ancestors, who succumbed to the same terror which prevails in our own lives, thus seeing at least some lasting continuity in this world of chance that offers hope that it will last for some time in the future. Ours may be a world of chance, but it has been a world of chance for a long time; and, in that fact alone, we may find some solace.
I am not surprised, then, that the deification of the Virgin Mary, the implicitly Arian view that God is “becoming” (in this case, “becoming” from a Holy Trinity to a Holy Quadernity), accompanies a folk religion that is essentially superstitious in nature and focused almost entirely on a cult of the ancestors. I say here a “cult of the ancestors,” as distinguished from a classical, Christian “cult of the saints.” With the former, all that we really have, at the end of the day, are our ancestors; with the latter, all that we really have is the Father Himself, the fullness of God living in and through the communion of the saints, as they in turn are living in and through Him and one another. With the former, the deification of the Virgin Mary is totally understandable: She is our Mother, an icon of our ancestors, a living memory that we have been able to overcome the adversity of living in this cruel world for many centuries and may have hope to do so for centuries to come (though, again, that is in the end a hope without basis, since the world is characterized by a capricious chance, the expression of the changeable will of a “becoming” God). With the latter, the deification of the Virgin Mary is not acceptable: She is the Mother of Christ Jesus, the symbol of the Church Faithful, and thus worthy of veneration; but she is not the “fourth person” of some sort of Holy Quadernity, because the God who reveals Himself as the Holy Trinity is also the eternal God, the unchangeable God, the God who is and is not therefore “becoming.”
In the moments after the Pentecost experience, Saint Peter delivers a moving sermon to those who had been just baptized in the Holy Spirit. He remarks that the toughest sell for Christians, as they go about preaching the Gospel, will be the fact of the Resurrection. In the past, when I had reflected upon this passage, I had assumed that he meant only that the fact of the Resurrection would be hard for most people to accept. After all, while rare, there had been miracle workers, including holy men who healed diverse illnesses, excised devils, and even walked on water. The actual teachings of Jesus Christ – that men should love God and one another and that the Kingdom of God was at hand – were not exclusive to him, though perhaps no one else had articulated them as well as He had in His several years of active ministry. The fact that He died on the Cross would not be hard to take, as many religious figures had died for their causes. No, Saint Peter seemed to be saying, the real stumbling block would be the fact of this Resurrection, that it actually happened, in a manner appropriated by our senses in the real, tangible world, rather than it being simply a metaphor for the power of His teachings.
I have no doubt that this is part of what Saint Peter is saying; but, upon further reflection, I think that he is saying more. A “becoming” God evolves in a specific direction. It may take centuries; but, in hindsight, we see that all along He has been emerging, “becoming” what He is now, and we men “becoming” aware of that “becomingness.” From this point of view, the God of the Holy Trinity is “becoming” – and, indeed, at least since the birth of the Virgin Mary, has been “becoming” – a Holy Quadernity. We men had an inkling of this “becoming” character of God, first among those few Apostles who knew the unique position that Mary the Mother of God had among them, then among a growing circle of the faithful, then much later among the vast majority of Christians, then as part of the Magisterial teachings of the Church Universal (the First and Second Infallible Statements spoken respectively by Pope Pius IX and Pope Pius XII). What is important is the natural, evolutionary progression, the circle of adherents to this Marian observance growing bigger and bigger, in similitude of the God of the Holy Trinity “becoming” in progressive stages the God of the Holy Quadernity.
The Resurrection, on the other hand, does not continue the natural, evolving order. It is the abrupt disruption and reversal of that order. It is not an emerging realization, a progression from death to more death to even more death; it is a reversal, from death to life, not just in the sense of the cycle of life, where winter gives way to spring, but in the sense of a quite specific dead thing reversing its natural course to be a quite specific living being. Only the eternal God, the God who transcends the changeable, chronological, temporal cosmos, the God who is characterized by His absolute unchangeableness, may effect as such. This is remarkable, because it means that the God of revelation – since of course the Resurrection as a sensual, factual event in history is the ultimate form of revelation – is the eternal God.
We may see then why Saint Peter sees this as the stumbling block. They will be preaching that the God of revelation is the eternal God. They will be taking on the Gnostics, not only those who spread their esoteric mumbo jumbo in the philosophical schools of their day, but those who infest the Church itself. Regardless of whatever may happen in history, because of this teaching, the Christians will not arise from the catacombs. They may become legal and even dominant politically; but they will remain in the catacombs, because many of the faithful (let alone those who remain outside the faith) will continue, if not in their words then in their hearts and in their folk religion, to reject the historicity of the Resurrection. Many of the faithful (let alone those who remain outside the faith) will continue to hedge their bets in the form of superstitious, ancestral worship, the kind that presupposes that the world is an afterthought of a cruel Demiurge, and that true, lasting redemption is not and can never be at hand. Like Saint Peter himself, who denied Christ Jesus three times, most will fail ever to grasp the historical reality and the future hope of the Resurrection, either from ignorance (which is forgivable) or from pride (as if we may be proud to envision ourselves the quaint play things of a perverse aeon, a foolhardiness which is itself a manifestation of ignorance of the worst sort). Most will prefer the superstitious, ancestral worship of a deified Regina del Cielo over the actual, real, historical Resurrection of Christ Jesus (or conversely will be inclined to see the latter as as much a fancy of the superstitious mind as the former cult).
These are my thoughts, as we celebrate here the Immaculate Conception of the Regina del Cielo. Thank you for indulging my elaborations, which may be off the mark and which may be of little relevance to your present political, philosophical, and theological considerations.