Canisius and Petau on restraining devotion to Mary to what is reasonable and sober

May 12, 2023 • 4 min

From A Defense of the Teachings of Mary, page 114
By St. John Henry Newman

(1.) Canisius:—

“We confess that in the cultus of Mary it has been, and is possible for corruptions to creep in; and we have a more than ordinary desire that the Pastors of the Church should be carefully vigilant here, and give no place to Satan, whose characteristic office it has ever been, while men sleep, to sow the cockle amid the Lord’s wheat. …

“For this purpose it is his wont gladly to avail himself of the aid of heretics, fanatics, and false Catholics, as may be seen in the instance of this Marianus cultus. This cultus, heretics, suborned by Satan, attack with hostility. …

“Thus too, certain mad heads are so demented by Satan, as to embrace superstitions and idolatries instead of the true cultus, and neglect altogether the due measures whether in respect to God or to Mary. Such indeed were the Collyridians of old. …

“Such that German herdsman a hundred years ago, who gave out publicly that he was a new prophet, and had had a vision of the Deipara, and told the people in her name to pay no more tributes and taxes to princes. …

“Moreover, how many Catholics does one see who, by great and shocking negligence, have neither care nor regard for her cultus, but, given to profane and secular objects, scarce once a year raise their earthly minds to sing her praises or to venerate her?”— De Mariá Deipará, p. 518.

(2.) Father Petau says, when discussing the teaching of the Fathers about the Blessed Virgin (de Incarn. xiv. 8.)—

“I will venture to give this advice to all who would be devout and panegyrical towards the Holy Virgin, viz. not to exceed in their piety and devotion to her, but to be content with true and solid praises, and to cast aside what is otherwise.

“The latter kind of 1dolatry, lurking, as St. Augustine says, nay implanted in human hearts, is greatly abhorrent from Theology, that is, from the gravity of heavenly wisdom, which never thinks or asserts any thing, but what is measured by certain and accurate rules.

“What that rule should be, and what caution is to be used in our present subject, I will not determine of myself; but according to the mind of a most weighty and most learned theologian, John Gerson, who in one of his Epistles proposes certain canons, which he calls truths, by means of which are to be measured the assertions of theologians concerning the Incarnation …

“By these truly golden precepts Gerson brings within bounds the immoderate licence of praising the Blessed Virgin, and restrains it within the measure of sober and healthy piety. And from these it is evident that that sort of reasoning is frivolous and nugatory, in which so many indulge, in order to assign any sort of grace they please, however unusual, to the Blessed Virgin.

“For they argue thus; ‘Whatever the Son of God could bestow for the glory of His Mother, that it became Him in fact to furnish;’ or again, ‘Whatever honours or ornaments He has poured out on other saints, those all together hath He heaped upon His Mother;’ whence they draw their chain of reasoning to their desired conclusion; a mode of argumentation which Gerson treats with contempt as captious and sophistical.”

He adds, what of course we all should say, that, in thus speaking, he has no intention to curtail the liberty of pious persons in such meditations and conjectures, on the mysteries of faith, sacred histories and the Scripture text, as are of the nature of comments, supplements, and the like.

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