So, You’re a Slave…

When you identify yourself as a “Slave,” you can get some strange looks. But of all the adverse reactions to our name I have ever known, perhaps the most memorable came from a highly educated man who understood the background and purpose of “holy slavery.” Yet, he delicately pointed out that — here in the United States — the word “slave” has a “particularly acerbic connotation.” Hearing this, I wondered out loud if calling someone a slave ever had a particularly unacerbic meaning in any culture anywhere at any time in the history of the world. I think it was just that acerbic meaning, just that sense of abjection, dependence, servitude, etc., that made Saint Louis de Montfort (and others before him) choose the word.

I just came across a double defense of our name — or at least the “slave” part — a defense both ancient and new as it is a recent Roman Pontiff citing a Father of the Church. The Pontiff was Pope John Paul II and the Father was Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo.

It happened while I was reading the book, Mariology, a Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons, published by Queenship Publishing and bearing a forward by Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke. Three of the articles in this weighty collection are by Monsignor Arthur B. Calkins, a priest to whom I owe a personal debt of gratitude as it was he who regenerated me in Christ when I was just a lad. (Besides being an internationally renowned Mariologist, Monsignor Calkins is also an official in the Holy See’s Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.)

Now, I owe the good Monsignor another debt, since it was he who supplied me with the “double defense” of which I speak.

The following is from Monsignor Calkins’ article “Marian Consecration and Entrustment,” and comes from pages 730 and 731 of the above mentioned volume. It deserves to be read attentively.

St. Ildephonsus of Toledo (+667)… is usually considered the first major representative of the spirituality of “Marian slavery” which eventually develops into what is now known as Marian consecration.

Pope John Paul II himself, in his homily in Saragossa on November 6, 1982, immediately prior to the Entrustment of Spain to Our Lady, reviewed what is for us the most relevant information about this Benedictine Abbot who became the archbishop of Toledo:

“St. Ildephonsus of Toledo, the most ancient witness of that form of devotion which we call slavery to Mary, justifies our attitude of being slaves of Mary because of the singular relation she has with respect to Christ. ‘For this reason I am your slave, because your Son is my Lord. Therefore you are my Lady because you are the slave of my Lord. Therefore, I am the slave of the slave of my Lord, because you have been made the Mother of my Lord. Therefore I have been made a slave because you have been made the Mother of my Maker’ [De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae, 12: PL 96, 108].

“As is obvious, because of these real and existing relationships between Christ and Mary, Marian devotion has Christ as its ultimate object. The same St. Ildephonsus saw it with full clarity: ‘So in this way one refers to the Lord that which serves his slave. So, what is delivered up to the Mother redounds to the Son; thus passes to the King the honor that is rendered in the service of the Queen” [c. 12: PL 96, 108]. Then one understands the double employment of the desire expressed in the same blessed formula, speaking with the most Holy Virgin: ‘Grant that I may surrender myself to God and to you, to be the slave of your Son and of you, to serve your Lord and you’ [c. 12: PL 96, 105].”

Saint Ildephonsus, as portrayed by El Greco.

Saint Ildephonsus, as portrayed by El Greco.