Jordan Peterson: Why be a mother?

I have never encountered a more perfect explanation of Virgin Mary’s role in Christ’s Passion. She truly offers a sacrifice. From the moment she freely accepted the conception of Jesus in her womb, she must have been aware of the price. Everything that’s good will be crushed by the world. To bring into the world a human being, this being of infinite value, is to bring him into the world of suffering. But a true mother says: It’s worth it. Life is of greater value than the whole suffering that it may be inflicted with. And with Mary this heroism is only magnified. This is not a mere human being that is crucified – it is God in the flesh, come to save the world. She cooperates in His mission, for she gives Him the flesh indispensable to save the world. But she’s not a neutral, disinterested bystander – she is truly His mother. The moment she was asked to become His mother, she was implicated into the mission, she was inevitably destined to join Christ in suffering. Every of Jesus’ disciples, who could stand to watch His crucifixion, could turn away, hide, decide that it’s not his or her business to stay with him. They could say that it’s not what they wished for him, that this terrible event has been forced on them and they would be right. But she was as responsible for this horrific Passion, as was Christ Himself. Of all the people only they could really allow this to happen and they courageously accepted their shared lot.

On today’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows we contemplate precisely that heroic decision of Mary to suffer with her Son. She was not a passive, fearful albeit compassionate mother thrown into the unknown. She chose the Son of God to be born of her, and thereby she condemned both of them to suffering. But the fruit of this suffering was the salvation of the world, our salvation, our redemption. She paid the price with Him.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last.
Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Full text of the hymn can be found here.

The Cross is everything

At some point I was struck by realization that in the Gospel of John the Crucifixion is everything. It is the place of the life-giving Passion of Christ, that’s obvious. But apart from that, it is unquestionably His ascension or exaltation, on the Cross He is being lifted up (J 3:14, 12:32), He ascends on high (J 6:62). On the Cross, Jesus goes to His Father (J 13:1, 16:28). On the Cross, He is glorified (J 12:23.27-28, 17:1). On the Cross, He becomes the King (J 18:36-37, 19:19). On the Cross, He accomplishes the regeneration of Adam, the new creation (J 16:21). On the Cross, He sends down the Spirit (J 19:30). On the Cross, He gives us the Baptism and the Eucharist (J 19:34-35). On the Cross, He gives life to the Church, He grants the divine adoption to His disciples and the motherhood according to grace to His Mother (J 19:25-27).

For St. John, the Cross is the all-encompassing sign of the entire economy of salvation, of the work of Christ, of His glory. It is the sign of victory, of exaltation. It may be said that Christ endured the Cross to enter the joy of Resurrection. But in the Gospel of John it seems like the very Cross is His joy and His glory, and His ultimate revelation of the Father. Christ is the King reigning from the Cross, that’s the throne of His kingdom. Contemplate this long enough and you will realize that this is the kingdom you desire, this is the kingdom you always wanted, and this is the kingdom that you were made for.

Ave Crux, Spes unica!

The Name of Mary

Today, on the 12th of September, the Roman Church celebrates the Feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was instituted in 1684 by Pope Innocent XI to commemorate the victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The collect for this feast goes as follows:

Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that through the protection of the most holy Virgin Mary, Your faithful people who delight in her name may, by her loving intercession, be delivered from all evils on earth and be found worthy to attain everlasting happiness in heaven. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

What is the meaning of the name “Mary”? Historically, it most probably comes from Hebrew Maryam, which in Hebrew itself has undergone change to Miryam (short a in a closed syllable has been reduced to i) and the Biblical character best known to us under this name is, of course, Miriam, the sister of Moses. In Aramaic, however, the name remained in its original form: Maryam. And it is in this form that it made it into the Greek text of the Gospels, where we find it transcribed as Μαριάμ, although only in the Nominative case, because in other cases the final -μ is dropped to make room for inflectional endings (e.g. Genitive Μαρίας). And here the etymological Odyssey really takes off the ground.

To be fair, there is no certain etymology of the name of Mary. It has been suggested that it has very ancient Egyptian origins in the word mr signifying ‘love’, but it’s still difficult to determine what would be the meaning of the other –m (or –ym for that matter) attached to the root. As with many things whose origins are clouded by their antiquity, Maryam has become open for various interpretations. Already the Jewish tradition ascribes to the name of Miriam various meanings correlated to her role in the story of Exodus. Her name is connected to the root mar which means ‘bitterness’, since the Hebrews were enslaved to a bitter toil in the service of the Egyptians; or to mar meaning ‘a drop of water’ due to her relationship to Moses’ being placed in a basket on the Nile, or due to her singing praises of the Lord in consequence of His deliverance of Israel through the Red Sea; or to Hebrew meri ‘rebellion’, since she rebelled against Moses in the desert. So we can see that there exists already a long tradition of symbolic interpretation of the name.

With Mary, the mother of Jesus, the search for meaning reaches a new level. E.g. there are some attempts at seeking the Hebrew etymology of the name by analyzing it as mar-yam, i.e. ‘a drop of the sea’. It was rendered in Latin as stilla maris and by copyist’s error turned into the well-known Marian title Stella Maris – ‘The Star of the Sea’, which fitted nicely with Mary’s role as a guide to God, helping the faithful to orient themselves to God among the storms of life. However, as I mentioned, in Greek and subsequently in Latin the name was rendered in the form of Maria, without the final –m, and as it was ‘read’ back into Aramaic, it has been related to the root mry ‘to lord over, to dominate’ from which the Aramaic-Syriac title of Jesus – Marya’ ‘the Lord’ – is derived. So, accordingly, Mary became understood as meaning Lady or Mistress, which already had entered Christian imagination as she was the mother of the Lord (Luke 1:43), a preeminently royal figure. By the way, it is possible that the name Maryam was already thought of as meaning Lady in the times of Jesus, since we encounter a similar one, namely Marta’ (known best to us in the English form of Martha), signifying exactly that: Lady or Mistress. The two names could have been considered as similar in sound and meaning, and both seem to be popular in the 1st century Palestine (this popularity even has been epitomized in the evangelical sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany).

When the name of Mary enters the Latin Church tradition, it also receives a new theological interpretation. As some of you may know, mare means in Latin ‘sea’ and maria is the word’s plural form – ‘seas’. And so, St. Louis de Montfort writes (True Devotion to Mary, 23):

God the Father made an assemblage of all the waters, and He named it the sea (mare). He has made an assemblage of all His graces, and He has called it Mary (Maria).

There are still many more interpretations of Mary’s name more or less reflecting theological insights of the authors contemplating the person of the Virgin. But why do these authors even bother to elaborate on this topic, especially that often they suggest several meanings of the name at once?

This is really simple. There is an ancient notion that a name somehow encapsulates the significance of the person bearing it, it summarizes the person’s character, role, fame, achievement, calling etc. So when various authors try to explain the name of Mary, they really try to say something theologically true about her. Therefore we shouldn’t dismiss their explanations despite their lack of etymological accuracy, because it’s not the point. The point is to meditate upon the mission that the Mother of God has been entrusted with, to reflect on who she is before God and before us. To be aware of these various interpretations of her name can be a great aid to a focused and fruitful prayer, such as Ave Maria. Whenever you call upon her name, you realize that you are invoking a person, whose significance is all that the spiritual masters have said about her name.

She is the handmaid of the Lord, who became a servant, but who through His humility earned for the human nature the share in His own divine glory (Philippians 2:5-11). As Jesus Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father, so Mary is the first to share in His glory – she is confessed as the Lady to the glory of Jesus Christ, because she is His masterpiece. Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother!

The glory of God and the beauty of Man

The great Irenaeus of Lyons teaches us that the glory of God is a human being fully alive (Adversus haereses 4.20.7). It’s worth meditating on. Consider this: a truly living human being is the glory of God, God’s magnificence, God’s doxa, from Greek, which bears a sense of splendor. As the great Apostolic Tradition of both East and West testifies, this human being fully alive is Christ Incarnate – and all that are in Him (see Ephesians 1-2). It is Christ, but Christ that is Incarnate, Christ the God-Man, Christ who possesses the created, human Sacred Heart that fully lives in and through God.

On the other hand, we might say that the beauty of the human being is the Logos Incarnate. As the Word of God becomes Man, He vivifies and beautifies the very being of ours. He makes us truly alive and puts our being into an order of beauty and harmony, He orders us towards God. Not only He transforms God’s earthly handiwork into God’s glory, but also by His own presence in our human being becomes a gift of beauty. Why do I speak of beauty? You see, for the ancients the Logos was the principle of order and harmony, of the rationality of nature. The Logos made the cosmos – the world – what is was: a beautiful order (that’s the meaning of kosmos in Greek). So in the Gospel that Logos, this divine principle of beauty and harmony which can be perceived throughout nature, is revealed to be a divine person, but even more – that personal Logos becomes a human being. The whole beauty of the cosmos is now densely embodied in Jesus Christ, the Logos Incarnate. He is the glory of God, He is the beauty of Man.

By the way, if you’re looking for a good introduction into the thought of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, I can recommend no better work than Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity by John Behr. It is a rigorous scholarly study and a spiritual treasure at the same time – something that we badly need in our days.

Tolkienian intersubjective realism

Not long ago I was listening to a lecture devoted to Tolkien’s artistic languages such as Quenya or Sindarin that he created for his Legendarium of the Middle Earth. I have long been an avid reader of everything that came from Tolkien’s imagination and it has formed to a significant degree my own thinking and deepest intuitions. So as I was listening to this lecture it suddenly dawned on me that there is a very firm philosophical foundation underlying Tolkien’s philological creativity and as you dive deeper into Tolkien’s understanding of language, this philosophy takes over your own sensibilities. But first a bit of philosophical introduction.

Since the late Middle Ages we inhabit an increasingly nominalist worldview, i.e. we very often think that the names we attach to things are a consequence of arbitrary categorization by our minds and therefore this categorization is not inherent to the things themselves. E.g. we call things green not because the things we consider green have an inherent “greenness” that can be discerned within them, but because we arbitrarily lump together things that could be categorized differently and equally legitimately. Long story short, the resulting worldview is strongly subjective and relativistic. The “name” of a thing is a question of convention.

What is striking in Tolkien’s approach to language creation is that he insists that there is a certain fittingness of the sounds he settles for to name a thing. In the course of his designing of Quenya and Sindarin he repeatedly changed and adjusted forms of the words he had come up with so that they expressed better the meanings they were supposed to convey. The idea was that e.g. the Quenya word alda expresses in the most beautiful manner the “treeness” of the thing it designates, i.e. a tree. Tolkien constantly looked for sounds that would serve the meaning best and this quest of his was grounded in what he termed as “euphony” or “phonoaesthetics”. According to this idea the sounds of human language have a potential for beauty and for an appropriate expression of meanings.

In other words in Tolkien’s language creation we encounter a different worldview in which rational creatures are capable of naming things in accordance with their nature. The world is filled not with disparate entities, but by beings that have something real in common – certain natures – and language really attempts at reflecting these natures in a fitting way. This vision gains an especially attractive embodiment in Tolkien’s description of the elves, for the elves excel at naming things euphonically, that is with a beautiful and appropriate sounds. A language, however, is not a private enterprise but a common good, shared and used by all. Here emerges the idea of intersubjective realism. It’s true that an elf can consider a certain string of sounds as appropriate for a thing, but for a word to enter the common vocabulary it has to be approved by the community. So the sense of the beauty of particular sounds experienced by one rational creature is confronted by the sense of beauty of other creatures. This way the whole community discerns the proper names for things and comes at a phnoaesthetic consensus (usually by acclamation, in Tolkien’s world).

The things therefore have natures, these natures are accessible by reason and especially by an aesthetic “taste” of a person, and they can be expressed in a concerted intersubjective effort of rational creatures to name them. This is a beautiful literary embodiment of philosophical realism. When I first stumbled upon Tolkien’s works in my early teenage years I didn’t know a thing about realisms and nominalisms, but this Tolkienian vision of reality and its relationship to rational creatures so artfully turned into a narrative in his Legendarium made great impression on me back then. Only today I am able to recognize its influence on my thinking and reasoning, and especially on the first principles of my thinking as well, as on my philosophical “taste”. This proves how truly great literature is essential to laying down unconscious foundations of personality that will sustain it through the course of a person’s life. Many a time these unconscious foundations saved me from an existential crisis and I don’t doubt they will do this again in the future.

As we commemorated Tolkien’s death almost a week ago (2nd of September), it is appropriate at this point to say with thanksgiving this short prayer for him:

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Or perhaps in Quenya:

Oia sérë á anta sen, Héru, ar oia cala nai sen caluva tennoio. Nai seruva sívessë. Násië.

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin


O come, all ye faithful, let us run to the Virgin,
for behold she is born, who before womb has been predestined to be our God’s Mother,
the treasury of virginity, the flowering rod of Aaron,
from the root of Jesse, the message of the Prophets
and the offspring of the righteous Joachim and Anna.
She is born, therefore, and the cosmos with her is renewed,
she is brought forth, and the Church with her beauty is clad,
the holy temple, the receptacle of Divinity, the virginal musical instrument,
the royal chamber, in whom the incredible mystery of the ineffable union
has been accomplished of the natures coming together in Christ,
before whom prostrating ourselves, we hymn the Virgin’s immaculate birth.
From the stichera of the Vespers for 8th of September

Δεῦτε ἅπαντες πιστοί, πρὸς τὴν Παρθένον δράμωμεν·
ἰδοὺ γὰρ γεννᾶται, ἡ πρὸ γαστρὸς προορισθεῖσα τοῦ Θεοῦ ἡμῶν Μήτηρ,
τὸ τῆς παρθενίας κειμήλιον, ἡ τοῦ Ἀαρὼν βλαστήσασα ῥάβδος,
ἐκ τῆς ῥίζης τοῦ Ἰεσσαί, τῶν Προφητῶν τὸ κήρυγμα,
καὶ τῶν δικαίων, Ἰωακεὶμ καὶ Ἄννης τὸ βλάστημα.
Γεννᾶται τοίνυν, καὶ ὁ κόσμος σύν αὐτῇ ἀνακαινίζεται,
Τίκτεται, καὶ ἡ Ἐκκλησία τὴν ἑαυτῆς εὐπρέπειαν καταστολίζεται,
ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἅγιος, τὸ τῆς θεότητος δοχεῖον, τὸ παρθενικὸν ὄργανον,
ὁ βασιλικός θάλαμος, ἐν ᾧ τὸ παράδοξον τῆς ἀπορρήτου ἑνώσεως,
τῶν συνελθουσῶν ἐπὶ Χριστοῦ φύσεων, ἐτελεσιουργήθη μυστήριον·
ὃν προσκυνοῦντες ἀνυμνοῦμεν, τὴν τῆς Παρθένου πανάμωμον γέννησιν.
From the stichera of the Vespers for 8th of September

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