As stated in my previous post several of the psalms from out of a collection of Marian psalms called the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary have played a significant role in my religious life during the last few years. What I want to do before posting them on this blog is to discuss the psalms of the Psalter as a whole and then discuss my use of a certain number of them in my own practice of the worship of Thea.
It is probable that the vast majority of Americans certainly those out side of Roman Catholic Marian tradition have never heard of the Marian Psalter. It is even probable that most persons within the Catholic faith who are not Marian traditionalists have not heard of it. In spite of this however there are several sites on the web in which the English version of the Latin work translated in 1841 by J. H. Wallishauser is available.
The Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary was written in the 13th century by the Franciscan friar and saint Bonaventure. The work consists of a collection of 150 short psalms, each normally about 6 to 7 lines long. As in the case of the Biblical psalms these writings are prayers in which all aspects of devotion to Mary / the Lady are present. Thus within these psalms Mary / the Lady is praised, glorified, and emotions of love, thanksgiving, etc are expressed. She is also petitioned for help in the overcoming many forces hostile to life and its salvation. While the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary has never been used liturgically by the church, it is clear that the psalms were valued and recited by many individuals within monastic communities, clergy and within Marian circles through the Church.
In this post I want to begin the process of summarizing some of the aspects of the English version of the Psalter. I will start by introducing Psalm 4 of the 1841 version.
When I called upon thee, thou didst hear me, O Lady: and from thy throne on
high thou hast deigned to be mindful of me.
From the roaring of the wild beasts prepared to devour me: and from the
hands of them that sought me, thy grace will deliver me.
For thy mercy is kind and thy heart loving: towards all who invoke thy holy
Blessed art thou, O Lady, forever: and thy majesty for evermore.
Glorify her, all ye nations in your strength: and all ye peoples of the
earth, extol her magnificence.
Glory be to the Father, etc.
One of the first aspects that one will immediately notice when reading Psalm 4 and the other psalms of the Psalter is its use of an archaic form of English which has obvious similarities to the language of the King James version of the Bible. Since the Psalter was translated into English in 1841 this use of language is understandable. For some people this use of language gives the text connotations of sacredness of a holy familiarity. To me it does not. In fact it seems stilted. The Bible which I have used regularly over the years of my life has been an English translation of the Roman Catholic, New Jerusalem Bible. Its use of modern forms of English to my mind brings out the beauty of the Biblical text much better than all of the arts, hasts, and didsts, etc of pseudo King James English. Thus when I edited my own version of this text this is the version which I produced.
When I called – Psalm 4
When I called upon thee, you did hear me, O Lady:
And from thy throne on high you have deigned to be mindful of me.
From the roaring of the wild beasts prepared to devour me: and from the hands of them that sought me,
thy grace will deliver me.
For your mercy is kind and your heart loving: towards all who invoke your Holy Name.
Blessed are you, O Lady, forever: and your majesty for evermore.
Glorify her, all you nations in your strength: and all you peoples of the earth, extol her greatness’
The other obvious issues regarding the above text and of the other psalms of the Psalter are theological. The words of the above text and many other of the psalms of the collection certainly seem to suggest the full divinity of Mary. Of course this literal reading is complicated by the subordination of Mary to God and Jesus in a minority of the psalms of the text. It is also undermined by the official theology of the Roman Catholic Church which officially states that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is on the human side of the human divine continuum. Her official status as human in spite of her divine titles is thus opposed to that of Jesus who as the Son of God and a member of the Christian Trinity is on the divine side of the human divine continuum. The question must be asked then why does the language of Marian devotionalism as used by Saint Bonaventure who was an orthodox Catholic and so many others slip so often into the devotional language which is so suggestive of Mary’s divinity and which utilizes titles and language almost identical to much of the language applied to many of the most powerful goddesses of the classical religions of the ancient world. It makes one wonder.
Thus Protestant Christians have always been scandalized by the Catholic churches of Divine / Goddess language to apply to Mary and commonly have argued that Roman Catholics worship a pagan Goddess. Persons within the modern Pagan community often refer to Mary as the Christian Goddess. Roman Catholics refute these claims by arguing that the theology of high Marianism is based on the fact that the elevated Mary as the Queen of Heaven has her status only because God and Jesus have given both her status and her powers to her. She is thus fully subordinate and dependent on their Divinity. Thus the God language which is applied to her is not hers based on her own divine nature but because of her perfect obedience to Jesus.
I do not dismiss these arguments. These are the kinds of arguments which Christian theologians used when the Marian cultus started to develop within Eastern Christianity during the 4th and 5th centuries CE and is still used by traditional Catholics. However I do not believe that the official Marian theology of the Roman Catholic Church can be explained by the logic of the Church fathers. After all why within the religion as reflected by the writings of the New Testament in which Mary had little role beyond that of being Jesus’ earthly mother did she achieve such a high status that she was described is such God-like terms as Queen of Heaven? Why did the church adopt or allow language to be applied to Mary which is so suggestive of the divinity of God? Why are so many of Mary’s titles modeled after those of powerful pagan goddesses? The fact is that Roman Catholic Marian theology seems to me to be more of a rationalization of Marian devotionalism versus being a logical explanation of the reasons for its existence.
My own belief is that the development of Marian theology within the Church is to be seen as a mutation of its basic theological DNA. What this mutation accomplished was to change the patriarchal Christianity which developed within first century Judaism into a religion which on a devotional level if not at a full theological level allowed a place for the Divine Feminine. This mutation came about because a very powerful goddess template dominated the religions within the ancient world in which Christianity developed. The fact is that it was natural for people to worship goddesses though out the ancient world and therefore during the 4th century, the century in which Christianity achieved its dominance and the suppression of paganism was officially accomplished. During this time powerful forces including the Imperial government within an increasingly Christian society begin to interpret the status of the Virgin Mary in terms of the powerful ancient goddesses. Similarly the Church fathers were very able to interpret Mary in terms of the Biblical Sophia who is also a goddess-like figure. The template kicked in and while Mary never became an official goddess she picked up many if not most of the attributes of the goddesses. One very good historical summery of a major aspect of this process is contained within the Divine Heiress by Vasliki Limberis. That work is scholarly, interesting and well worth reading.
Now back to the Psalm 4 of the Marian Psalter. What is clear to me is that the Lady of the psalm is divine. Her saving works are those that are normally associated with God and Jesus. The fact is that Bonaventure in spite of his sincere Christianity and Orthodox Christian theology composed this psalm and many more like it in which Mary is praised as if she were divine. His passion toward her is as to a beloved goddess. And in fact the passion of the whole phenomena of Roman Catholic Marian devotionalism seems to be in direction of the elevation of Mary toward divine status. Of course with the Protestants on their tail, Roman Catholic theologians will deny vehemently what I am suggesting. I simply do not accept their arguments, and thus I do believe that many of the psalms of the Psalter are providentially to be seen as being songs of praise, glorification and devotion to Thea.