In this article, Ong claims that the controversy over the Vatican's 1951 statement about the Assumption, the bodily ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven, might be used as a "case study" of the ways in which people confront issues of authority and submission.  Ong believes that there are two sides to the issue:  one is the position of separatists (mostly Protestants, Ong implies) who seek to uphold the authority of the father image in Puritan Christianity, and the other is that of people (particularly Catholics) who recognize the feminine authority of Mary and the material world.

The paternal authority advanced by Puritan Christianity, Ong explains, denies the presence of a maternal, material, dark presence (embodied by Mary) to the point that Puritan Christianity is "unsexed."  In fact, this tradition omits the presence of women in a variety of ways:  by referring to the Holy Father but not the Holy Mother, by turning personal relationships with God into "masculine business" with words like "congregation," by removing images of women or associated with women (such as "clothes of lawn and purple" and material objects), and by "secularizing" marriage in the religious setting (which, in Ong's view, makes women more like men because they serve as evangelists and ministers and destroys the reverence of virginity).

Ong believes the Protestant Church should recognize the feminine authority of Mary, an authority which he says is always subjugated to masculine authority but which makes masculine authority real rather than abstract.  Ong also believes that the Protestant Church should, by recognizing Mary, acknowledge the "tragedy" of women's lives, that their purpose as people connected to the material world and the body is to serve others and, through pregnancy and motherhood, to furnish the material for new lives.  Finally, Ong concludes that the Virgin Mary, because of her connection to the material world, is perhaps a better example of the Resurrection than Christ is.  Instead of being a disunifying factor in the idea of a "united Christendom," as separatists have made Mary out to be, Mary is a unifying figure and should be recognized as such.

In this article, readers will see connections to other, earlier articles by Ong.  In one respect, this article is another application of the abstract/material discussion that appears in so many other articles by Ong, including "Imitation and the Object of Art," "Spenser's View and the Tradition of the 'Wild' Irish," "The Province of Rhetoric and Poetic," "The Meaning of the 'New Criticism,'" "Literature and Cultural Initiative," "Newman's Essay on Development in Its Intellectual Milieu," "Kafka's Castle in the West," "Wit and Mystery:  A Revaluation in Medieval Latin Hymnody," and "Myth and the Cabalas:  Adventures in the Unspoken."

At the beginning of his career (particularly in "Imitation and the Object of Art"), Ong gave more weight to abstract principles over the material world, but he quickly moved toward analysis which emphasized the reliance abstract principles have on the material realm (this theory is especially well-explained in "The Province of Rhetoric and Poetic" and "The Meaning of the 'New Criticism'" and applied to specialized topics in "Spenser's View and the Tradition of the 'Wild' Irish," "Kafka's Castle in the West," and "Wit and Mystery").  In this article, however, Ong seems to go to the other extreme of privileging the material over the abstract, an unusual development that seems not to heed the warning Ong gives in "Myth and the Cabalas" that people must not be too quick to ignore the explicit (or the abstract) and be overawed by the implicit (or the material).

This article can also be linked to "Wit and Mystery," on another point:  Ong's discussion of the fact that Christ had a human mother but not a human father.  In "Wit and Mystery," Ong discusses this issue briefly and only on the terms of whether it would be appropriate for Christ to have a human father, whereas in this article, Ong discusses the issue more thoroughly and focuses more on the appropriate humanness of Christ's mother than on Christ's father.
 

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