Sunday, July 10, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mary of Nazareth or the Holy Spirit?

Below is an excerpt from the book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by Sr. Elizabeth A. Johnson, PhD.  Reflections to follow in the future.... For anyone who like me  has been confused by the Hispanic devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the passage below may be quite enlightening (at least it has been for me).

One group of theologians questing for understanding goes further and queries the knot tied so tightly between Hispanic images of the Virgin and the actual first-century Jewish woman Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus. Orlando Espín, for one, argues for a different interpretation. “When I am confronted by the depth of trust and affection that Latinos have for the Virgen, and when I see the beautiful, reverential relationship they nurture with her, and also how deeply touched and empowered they are by her, then as a theologian I have to wonder.” His wonder leads him to suggest that instead of an encounter with Mary, what is taking place is a superbly inculturated experience of the Holy Spirit.

Espín is not implying that Mary is the Holy Spirit, or that in some way she mediates the feminine face of God. He is arguing that the historical Mary has nothing much to do with this phenomenon at all. It is not the Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth whom Latino and Latinas venerate in their devotion to La Virgen de Guadalupe. It is rather the Holy Spirit of God, expressed not in the categories of Greek myth or European culture and philosophy but now in categories fused from conquering Spanish and conquered Mesoamerican peoples. Ecclesiastical authorities in colonial times insisted on a Marian interpretation in an understandably defensive move to protect doctrinal purity, since the only female imagery for the divine that they knew was associated with the religion they were trying to stamp out. Besides, too much talk of the Holy Spirit could bring on the unwanted attention of the Inquisition. But in the experience of the people then and now, references to the Mary of the gospels are notably absent in connection with devotion to Guadalupe. What is mediated instead is a profoundly engaging experience of sacred love and compassion that gives heart, wisdom, and fortitude to adherents. Therefore, might it not be the case, reflects Espín, that “what we have here is not Mariology but pneumatology [study of the Holy Spirit] in an unexpected and brilliantly achieved cultural mediation?” The Marian practices of Hispanic Catholicism may thus come to signify an orthodox pneumatology, superbly inculturated (p.142).


  1. Carnival,

    There's an interesting write-up here about Our Lady of Guadalupe.

    Having read about it, including the findings of scientists, I do believe the the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on St Juan Diego's tilma is an ongoing miracle. There's a lot of symbolism in the image which also has eschatological meaning.

    I do believe in Marian apparitions that are approved by the Church, but there are others which are highly dubious. What's going in Medgujorge, for example, is a scandal; yet many millions of Catholic pilgrims continue to visit this place every year.

    It is right that alleged Marian apparitions are treated with skepticism - considered false - until proven worthy of belief.


  2. Thank you for the article. I do indeed believe in Marian apparitions but had always wondered why it seemed as if Mexicans worshiped Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mary always points to the Son.