Mariology for the Masses
Popular professor and apologist Scott Hahn wrote this book so that his fellow Catholics would never be ashamed of their supernatural mother, as he once was of his natural mother.
He recounts the incident in his introduction.
When he was 15, he got sick in school. His mother came to pick him up, and he asked her to walk well in front of him so his friends wouldn't laugh and label him a “mama's boy.”
That night, his father called him on his “cool,” reprimanding him in no uncertain terms: “Don't ever be ashamed to be seen with your mother.” The younger Hahn took the talking-to to heart—and it's clear from Hail, Holy Queen that he has allowed it to guide his relationship with his supernatural mother as well as his natural one.
Hahn offers a spirited, colorful defense of the Blessed Mother, of whom the former anti-Catholic, Presbyterian pastor is an unabashed champion. “Too many Catholics and Orthodox Christians have abandoned their rich heritage of Marian devotion,” he writes. “They've been cowed by the polemics of fundamentalists, shamed by the snickering of dissenting theologians, or made sheepish by well-meaning but misguided ecumenical sensitivities.”
Hahn believes that all Marian study and devotion must begin with solid theology and firm credal faith. Using the exegetical skills he honed in evangelical Protestantism, the author grounds the Church's Marian doctrine in Scripture. Far from finding her a biblical aberration, Hahn portrays Mary as prefigured in the Old and revealed in the New Testament. He depicts her as a key image, or “type,” representing the New Eve, the “Ark” of the New Covenant and the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Christ.
Of particular interest to this reviewer was a discussion of the ancient Near Eastern practice of honoring the “mother of the king” as the embodied continuity of the dynasty. The king bows to his mother and honors her requests not out of obligation, but out of filial love. The queen mother would intercede before the king on behalf of his subjects. It is not hard to understand why this monarchical imagery was transferred to Mary and her Son even though the idea may seem quaint to moderns who are unfamiliar with the ways of ancient royalty.
Hahn is only slightly less compelling when he writes of the Church Fathers' teachings on Mary. Here he covers a wide spectrum of teachings spanning the centuries, from St. Justin Martyr in the second century through to Cardinal John Henry Newman in the 19th. His patristics are solid and well-catalogued; it's just that his biblical exegesis—in which even the most esoteric minutiae is often cause for breathless enthusiasm—is a tough act to follow.
Speaking of which, if you're among the growing legions who've enjoyed Hahn's high-energy presentations in person or on tape, you'll be glad to know that his joy of discovery comes through loud and clear on the printed page. Indeed, probably the book's best gift is its joyful spirit. It has often been said that the conviction of the convert puts to shame the conformity of the cradle believer. Hahn obviously revels in his discovery of Mary and her gifts to the Church.
At the same time, he writes humbly and avoids being the aggressive evangelizer. Children of Mary have no enemies; Marian doctrines are not proven by a rude defense. “We must never come to believe that we have all the answers,” he writes. “Though the answers are all available to us, no one is ever in full possession of them.”
That advice helps to make the book palatable, even inviting, to non-Catholic readers, who, like this reviewer, may approach its subject with a certain guardedness. Every Christian who approaches this work with an open heart and mind will find here, at the very least, an enlightening, exhortative and downright entertaining reading experience.
Wayne A. Holst is an instructor in religion and culture at the University of Calgary.
- June 24-30, 2001