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Thomas International Center
January 2006


Ralph McInerny


Transvaluation of Values



The English poet William Wordsworth referred to Mary as "our tainted nature's solitary boast." Could he possibly have understood the truth of what he said?  To ask the question seems smug, and so no doubt it is, suggesting that we think of Our Lady as narrowly "ours," an object of devotion by Catholics, a devotion we may, alas, regard -- though never say -- is a pardonable Mediterranean excess, that little inner Italian in us all asserting himself. Of course, many Protestants have said churlish things of Her, as if to honor the Mother were somehow to deflect attention from the Son. Converts have told me that devotion to Mary was for them a harder saying than the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Smugness is best overcome by turning the question I put to Wordsworth on ourselves. How deep is our own devotion to the Mother of God? How well have we really understood her privileges?

I am engaged in translating Charles DeKoninck's La Pieté du Fils, a study on the dogma of the Assumption, written at the time of Ineffabilis Deus. Any claim I have to be a Thomist, I owe to the influence of DeKoninck, who was my professor. His range was wide, his thoughts were deep, but the things he wrote on Mary and on the Eucharist are especially remarkable. Reading him again, with the attention translation requires, I am overwhelmed by the light he throws on the faith we all profess. Phrases dulled by repetition regain their wonderful pristine significance. Mary's role in the economy of salvation is unique. Gratia plena. How often we murmur the words in saying our rosary without truly attending to their profound significance. The Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, objects of faith from time immemorial, were defined as dogmas in these latter times, and this has providential import. Mary's role was part of the divine plan from all eternity, which is why the liturgy applies to Her so many verses from the sapiential books. No other mere creature - man or angel, the universe itself - approaches the perfection that God lavished on her in order that she might play her unique role. Grace builds on nature, but here it seems to have stood nature on its head. To take but one of her titles, Queen of Angels, invites reflection on the way this human person was elevated above angelic persons, the least of whom is unimaginably more naturally perfect than the wisest of men. Mad Nietzsche spoke of the transvaluation of values as a task. It has already happened. In Christianity, the naturally less has become supernaturally greatest. It is another mark of the divine mercy that God has given us His Mother as the surest way to Him because She was His way to us. We can never praise Mary enough, and always when we do, She magnifies the Lord.


Ralph McInerny