Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top Ten Works On the Blessed Virgin Mary

C.S. Lewis once wrote that when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, "there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this"1.  In many respects, it's true - and it's sad to me.  For me, the evangelical Protestant position of today seems to denigrate the Blessed Virgin to the role of merely giving birth to Christ and very little else, a far cry from the original praises lavished on her by the Reformers.

Regardless, before I go on a tangent on the subject, I wanted to honor Our Lady by presenting ten works that I feel are the best when it comes to the subject.  May all Christians find them edifying and useful in developing their spiritual life.  If you click on the name of the book, it will take you to where you can purchase it if you so desire.

A little music for the read, from a traditional medieval folk song about the Blessed Virgin:

1. The Admirable Heart of Mary - St. John Eudes

A friend of mine as well as my confessor tipped me off to the reading of St. John Eudes in a desperate effort to make me fall in love with Christ not just in the head, but in the heart.  I am glad I listened to them, though it did take me a little bit of time to get into him.  As God would have it, a friend of mine had a copy of this work on hold at her bookstore for me before I even knew a thing about it. 

The work itself is probably enough to send a fundamentalist street preacher into a tirade of foaming frenzy, given their views of Catholics and the Blessed Virgin.  In the work, St. John Eudes speaks of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in all of its possible aspects - truly, there must be few works in existence that are brimming with such pious love of the Mother of God. It is not only worthwhile to read as a devotional work that points to Christ, but as a great resource on the thoughts of the Fathers and saints on the subject of Mary herself. 

2. The Life of the Virgin - St. Maximus the Confessor

This work was just released in English translation this year, translated over from the only surviving manuscript in Old Georgian - and if you've seen that language on paper before, I think you can easily develop an appreciation of the hard work that the translator probably had to do in order to put it into English.

Written by one of the greatest Eastern theologians of all time, St. Maximus the Confessor, his work is the earliest complete biography of our Lady that is known.  My friend who purchased the work said it is quite fascinating, if even only for its historical value.

3. The Glories of Mary - St. Alphonsus de Liguori

One of the illustrious Doctors of the Church, St. Alphonsus de Liguori's The Glories of Mary is a complete exposition of the Catholic Church's teachings on the Blessed Virgin.  In some ways, it is akin to a summa on our beliefs and doctrines concerning our Lady, and is also a compendium for devotion to her.  Few books out there on Blessed Virgin equal this one.

4. True Devotion to Mary - St. Louis de Montfort

I see this work everywhere.  True Devotion to Mary was actually an instrumental work in my conversion process.  As a former Seventh-Day Adventist, I was still struggling a little bit with that movement's views of the Catholic veneration of Mary, and this book solved those fears in about two seconds.  "What a strange thing," thought I, "that such a work that praises Mary throughout its pages as the most exalted of all humanity and extols her virtues on every page also says that next to God she is virtually nothing."

A key work on our Lady, and worth the read.

5. Hail, Holy Queen - Scott Hahn

Scott Hahn, arguably the most famous recent convert to the Church from Calvinism, seems to have gotten the short end of the stick - in my posts on theology and fine ale, Scott Hahn was often compared to light beers, if not generic swill.  Yet I know many educated Catholics who hold this man very, very highly, and view him as a towering scholar and theologian of our age; I knew this for sure to be true when a Ukrainian Catholic priest told me that his favorite theologians were St. Symeon the New Theologian and Scott Hahn (I never expected to hear those two names in the same sentence ever!). 

Unlike the other works on this list, Scott Hahn is approaching the subject of the Blessed Virgin Mary from a distinct point of view, that of a former hardline Protestant and member of the Calvinist Reformed tradition.  It is my opinion that this work will do much to promote more understanding about the Virgin Mary not only amongst Protestants, but amongst Catholics as well. 

6. The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary - St. Jerome

I have a special place in my sinful heart reserved for the writings of St. Jerome - though a holy man, a Doctor of the Church, a saint, and one of the greatest Latin Fathers, when he was ticked off or had the wrong button pushed, look out.  Such is this wonderful early work in defense of the Virgin Mary's perpetual virginity against the heresy of Helvidius.  When C.S. Lewis referred to our view of our Lady as somewhat chivalrous in Mere Christianity, I don't think he knew how far that chivalrous defense of her would go.  St. Jerome performs a colossal takedown of Helvidius that makes Cicero's polemics against Mark Antony look docile.  And a beautiful testament to a key Catholic doctrine as well!  What's there not to like?

7. The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

An Augustinian nun, stigmatist, and mystic who wrote The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich's visions also touched on and encompassed the life of the Blessed Virgin in a way unseen since the next entry in the list.  Worthwhile for filling in the gaps and coming to a greater understanding of our Lady's life.

8. John Paul II's Book of Mary - Bl. Pope John Paul II

Even when I was vehemently anti-Christian, I had a certain level of respect for Bl. Pope John Paul II - everything about his life was impacting.  In this work, his thoughts and writings on the Blessed Virgin Mary are compiled and presented - what better way to learn of our Lady than to study the writings of the Pope whose motto was "Totus Tuus" ("totally thine" - in consecration to Mary, influenced by the writings of St. Louis de Montfort)? 

9. Mirror of the Blessed Virgin Mary - St. Bonaventure

In my opinion, St. Bonaventure can almost do no wrong - to me, it is inexplicable why St. Thomas Aquinas got all the attention (God bless him), and St. Bonaventure languished in the background as the "silver medal".  But to be fair, it was St. Bonaventure who willingly threw one of his works into the fire after having read that of Aquinas', and both were steadfast friends to the end despite a few theological quibbles.  And frankly, I have always been a Franciscan at heart I think, so my bias might be showing. 

Nonetheless, this little work is the Seraphic Doctor's treatise on the Blessed Virgin - a worthy and immaculate one, if I do say so.  In true fashion, St. Bonaventure claims he is utterly unfit and unlearned enough to even take on the task of speaking of the Blessed Virgin Mary - I beg to differ. 

10.  The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales on Our Lady - St. Francis de Sales

Few writers even come close to the penmanship of St. Francis de Sales, the Gentleman Saint who almost singlehandedly converted 72,000 Calvinists back to the faith.  One of the greatest figures of the Counter-Reformation, St. Francis de Sales touches on all aspects of the Blessed Virgin's life and virtues. 

1 - Mere Christianity, preface

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