A previous post discussed the Pauline and Augustinian notion that we on this side of the eschaton can only, in the words of the First Letter to the Corinthians, “know in part”. Only in the gaze of Christ, face to face, can we come to knowledge as the Moderns would wish to have it: clear and absolute. It was also discussed how the Liturgy of the Eucharist embodies this kind of Augustinian epistemology, and in doing so reminding us of our finitude in knowledge, even of ourselves.
As a corollary to these observations it may be informative to consider a paragraph in the Seattle Statement by the Anglican & Roman Catholic International Commission entitled Mary: Grace & Hope in Christ. With reference to a passage in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus declares those who “do the will of God” are his family (3:35), paragraph 19 of the statement reads:
For Mark, Jesus natural family, including His own Mother, seems at this stage to lack understanding …Mark indicates that growth in understanding is inevitably slow and painful, and…not reached until the encounter with the Cross and the empty tomb.
This paragraph is indicative of the kind of epistemology that is demonstrated by Mary several times in the biblical narrative. Apart from the aforementioned passage in Mark, Mary exhibits a lack of complete knowledge at the Annunciation by Gabriel (“But how can this come about…”), and again with her husband Joseph when they found the Boy Jesus in the Temple (“But they did not know what he meant…”). But her lack of knowledge does not end in bewilderment. Rather, her response is also indicative of the kind of epistemology that is called for in the Eucharist, something indicated by a fourfold action in the biblical narrative.
First, as the Gospel of Luke reminds us, she commits herself wholly to God (“I am the handmaid of the Lord”), who is the font and destination of all knowledge. Secondly, she redirects questions pertaining to knowledge (“How is this…”) to the praise of God (“My Soul Proclaims the Greatness of the Lord”), as was done in her visitation to her cousin Elizabeth . Thirdly, though she did not know what the Boy Jesus was saying at the Temple, and even though she did not know the reasons for her son’s death, her silence nonetheless suggests a pattern of committing her encounters to the process of discernment, treasuring “all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). Finally, she joins the community of believers in prayer, as she did with the Apostles just prior to Pentecost.
If Mary is indeed the icon of the Church, as Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans claim, then her epistemological practice should be a template for Christians in their approach to epistemology, rather than the Modern pretensions to absolute, universal knowledge claims which are often tied to a number of evangelical programs, a kind of epistemology that makes evangelisation reduce itself solely to apologetics.