Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
One of the most interesting lectures I ever heard—that changed my understanding of Catholicism and the concept of dogma—was by John Totten, S.M.—a professor and a wonderful and deeply spiritual man at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. When I was a Marianist scholastic, back in the early 1960s, Bro. Totten gave a talk to the Marianist students in which he explained the Marian doctrines in historic context.
This popular philosophy and theology professor explained to us the “real” meaning behind the modern doctrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption (the only two dogmas that have actually been declared under the rubric of papal infallibility), it seems, contained historico-political subtexts. They are really about the Church, and not so much about the woman who was the mother of Jesus.
The Immaculate Conception was declared by Pope Pius IX a doctrine of faith on December 8, 1854 in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.
The Immaculate Conception is the doctrine—so often confused by Catholic and non-Catholic alike with the Virgin Birth of Jesus—that, in anticipation of the sacred role she would play in the incarnation of Christ, Mary was exempted by God from the human heritage of original sin. From her conception, Mary was free of the stain of sin on her soul. Immaculate means pure, containing no flaw or error.
Pope Pius IX had come into office in 1846 a great supporter of the liberal cause in Italy. He was pious, progressive, intellectual, decent, friendly, and open to everybody. He supported the populist leader Garibaldi and populist movements to redefine the relations of power in society. But his liberal leanings did not resolve strife in Italy, especially between secular Italian Nationalists and the Church as ruler of the Papal States. In an act of terrorism, the Papal Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi, was assassinated on the steps of Saint Peter’s on November 15, 1848 and the Pope became a virtual prisoner in the Quirnal Palace.
Betrayed by the very forces he’d supported, Pius, in disguise as a regular priest, fled to Sicily on November 24, 1848, where, with the Encyclical Ubi Primum (February 2, 1849), he polled Catholic Bishops about the wisdom of declaring the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. (as she is referred to in the shorthand of the Missal) and thereby, incidentally, exercising the power of papal infallibility.
To those in the know, according to this historical analysis, Pius IX’s declaration of the Immaculate Conception meant the Pope was saying that even though he’d made a strategic political mistake in siding with the populist liberals, the Church, symbolized by the B.V.M., had always been in soul free of flaw or error and remained so.
A major event of Pius IX's papacy was the First Vatican Council in Rome which set out to redefine the power in the Church itself, including this idea of papal infallibility. The Council was convened on December 8, 1869. (December 8th is the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, for it was, in part, the declaration of the Marian dogma, under papal infallibility, fifteen years before, that occasioned the Council). It had only completed the first part of the task, defining the role of the papacy, and had failed to define the authority of the bishops in relation to the papacy (and to the exercise of infallibility), when it was abruptly forced to disband because of the invasion of the Papal States. The Kingdom of Italy, under Victor Emmanuel II, captured and annexed Rome on September 20, 1870. The Council was adjourned October 20th and never reconvened.
Pius IX died on February 7, 1878, aged 85, concluding the longest pontificate in papal history (32 years).
The Assumption of the Blessed Mother was declared by Pope Pius XII a doctrine of faith on November 1, 1950 in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus.
The Assumption is the doctrine that at the end of her life (the Pope avoided the question of whether she had died), the mother of Jesus was taken body and soul into heaven so that she did not suffer the rending of soul and body and the corruption of the flesh that ordinarily accompany the end of life.
The doctrine has meaning beyond the historical, of course. C. G. Jung thought the Assumption celebrated the sanctity of the flesh and finally acknowledged the feminine principle in the Catholic God. But, at least according to my theology professor, its real significance is only understandable in its political context.
Pius XII came into office in 1939. He had to carefully balance the priorities and teachings of the Church with the political realities of his day which were, of course, the rise of German Nazism and Italian Fascism. Following World War II, with the defeat of the powers that had threatened him and to which he had made major concessions, Pius was forced to admit he’d made serious errors. At least some of the guilt for the Holocaust was saddled on him because of his silence and willingness to acquiesce to Fascism.
In 1950, specifically in commemoration of the defining of the Immaculate Conception (to make sure the connection with his predecessor was established), Pius XII declared the doctrine of the Assumption of the B.V.M.. To those in the know, the Pope was saying that even though he’d made a strategic political mistake in signing Concordats with Hitler and Mussolini, the Church, again symbolized by the B.V.M. remained uncorrupted in its physical, institutionalized form--its "body"--from flaw or error and remained so.
Pius XII became seriously ill in late 1953 (which included a bout with uncontrollable hiccups that lasted some five weeks). He was a near invalid most of the last five years of his life. He died at the Papal Summer Residence, Castel Gondolfo, on 9 October 1958 of a heart attack brought on by exhaustion. Ironically the embalming of his own body was botched through an experimental process devised by an Italian doctor, Oreste Nuzzi, that was supposed to preserve the body indefinitely using the same oils and resins that had been used on the body of Jesus. In fact, perhaps because of heat in the hall where the Pope's body was laid in state, chemical reactions occurred in the embalming fluids; the Pope's body decomposed rapidly; the body had to be re-embalmed twice; the Swiss Guard stationed around the body became ill during the vigil; and viewing by the public had to be terminated because of the stench.
His funeral was said to be largest congregations of Romans to that date. Angelo Cardinal Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) wrote in his diary on 11 October that probably no Roman emperor had enjoyed such a triumph, which he viewed as a reflection of the spiritual majesty and religious dignity of Pius XII.
Let me predict that the next Marian doctrine that will be declared will be Mary Mediatrix of All Graces; it will be declared by the current pope or his successor once the priest-pedophilia scandal has faded away. And the meaning will be that even though the Church had made mistakes about handling the molesters in the priesthood, the source of grace is the Church herself, not the individual priests or bishops, and therefore even pedophile priests could validly and licitly administer the sacraments. The doctrine will appear to be about the B.V.M., but it will really be about transferring problem priests from one assignment to another. And the Church will be exempting herself in metaphor from any flaw or error.
Curiously, the laity are seldom let in on these historico-political subtexts. They seem expected to just take everything on face value. When I was growing up it was routinely said that Catholics were required to believe in both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, though, as I observed above, many Catholics didn’t understand what these notions were. They just "believed" them.
The B.V.M. continues to be the most meaningful remnant of my Catholicism for me—though she is more the Magna Mater of Western European paganism—the Great Mother, source of all life—than the Palestinian housewife and mother. Certainly medieval Catholicism had Christianized the Magna Mater by merging her with that housewife and mother. The Mother of God to whom Chartres and Mont Saint-Michel were dedicated was not the historical woman.
Imagine! the Catholic doctrine is actually that Mary is the Mother of God. We know that means that Jesus was God and she was Jesus’s mother and so by syllogism "mother of God" ("Theotokos," according to the Council of Ephesus, 431) and that's really about the divinity of Jesus.
But the words themselves reveal the deeper meaning: the Magna Mater, Great Mother, precedes even God the Creator/Ruler of the Universe. She—the eternal Feminine—is the source of the whole cosmos (of which God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are parts).
Kip and I visited Ephesus years ago on an RSVP cruise of the Greek Islands. I remembering being struck by the contiguity of St John and the Blessed Mother’s home and the restored bazaar in historic Ephesus with the ridiculous but whimsical and slightly reverent insight, that perhaps John and Mary had a booth down there in the bazaar (near where the footprints are that the tour guides say are the first advertising billboards in history that lead to the main brothel).
I think Mary may have been selling crocheted potholders in the shape of ovals with the words "I am the Immaculate Conception" embroidered around the edge. What an archeological discovery one of those would be!
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
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