Mary: Grace and Hope

A vespers service was held today in Seattle to formally celebrate the joint statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission on the role and special nature of Mary. Copies of the full text should be available online at the Centro Pro Unione at some point, and you should be able to order it on Amazon before the end of the month. The statement of Archbishop Alex Brunett, the co-chair of ARCIC, is available on the diocesan website. We'll now wait for more formal acceptance of the document by higher authorities within the two communions.

Now, I haven't read the document yet, but the meta-conversation in the few press reports I've seen so far is even more interesting...for example, the Associated Press story is broadly hopeful, talking about the (amazing, frankly) possibility that the two communions could agree that the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are consonant with Anglican interpretation of the Scriptures. It should be noted that the joint documents does not address the thornier issue of how these dogmas were defined by the Roman church, which raises questions of infallibility, papal authority, etc... (LOL...one Anglican reporter stated, "I can name a couple of parishes here in Seattle that have better Marian devotion than some Roman Catholic parishes." -- as if that is surprising these days...)

But if you turn the virtual page over to the Reuters story on today's press conference, you find the lovely headline "Catholics, Anglicans uphold dialogue despite gays." It's a valid observation to note that this is the first Anglican-R.C. dialogue event to happen since the ordination of Gene Robinson, which raised concerns on the Roman side of the dialogue, but these concerns were largely assuaged by the Windsor Report, at least according to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. But both the headline and the focus of the story are remarkable. First off, "the gays" referred to in the headline didn't call the dialogue into question; to be more exact, the U.S. Episcopal bishops did, as well as the Roman curial officials who saw Robinson's ordination as a stumbling block to further dialogue. So it seems slightly disturbing to now blame "the gays" for not only ruining the family, but also steering the ship of ecumenism onto the shoals. Secondly, it's fascinating that the Reuters article seems to uncritically assume that the most important part of this document is its existence, rather than its content; if both the Anglican and Roman magsiteria approve this statement of shared faith, it could only be compared in historical scope and import to the 1999 Joint Declaration on Justification between the Romans and the World Lutheran Federation. As is the case with regards to justification, the disagreements over Marian doctrine are not "side issues" in the Anglican/Roman division; Christians on both sides have lost their livelihoods, and sometimes their heads, over questions of the proper place for Mary in Christian devotion. So to turn this event into a story about the ordination of gay men seems, as is sadly so common, that even though more religion reporters on the beat are learning quickly, there's still a lot to learn.

I promise to have some non-Vaticanista postings soon for all my non-/anti-/former-Catholic friends!


Dan J-S said...

How the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption could possibly be consonant with Anglican interpretation of the Scriptures is a little beyond me. Speaking as an Episcopalian and recovering evangelical, there simply is no scriptural basis for either dogma. None. I don't care what conciliar or papal document says what, it simply is not there. Now don't get me wrong, Marian devotions are great and all, and I like the idea of viewing Mary as a sign of Christian unity, but these two dogmas are not scriptural. If the Nigerian archbishop Akinola wigs out over this, I'm with him [says the man with an Annunciation icon.]

ND said...

"I promise to have some non-Vaticanista postings soon for all my non-/anti-/former-Catholic friends!"

But those are the most interesting! I can talk about other s--t with anyone, but (maybe unlike your world) I rarely hear intelligent discussion of "the Vaticanista" among my contemporaries. There's so much going on recently, it's worth spending some time on.

The Joe said...

Yeah, um, to dan j-s ... yeah, there's definite scriptural basis for both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. It is implicit, but then again, so is the scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union. For the info, read "Introduction to Mary" by Mark Miravalle. Anyway, once all the implicit references point to the Immac. Concep., it's a short hop through St. Paul's quote "the wages of sin is death" to the fact that if Mary was sinless, Mary was also not effected by the effects/wages of sin (death). [The Eastern Catholic Church, in union with Rome, refers to the Assumption as the Dormition, that is, she fell asleep and was taken up, not that she died. Also, if Mary is the God-Bearer, methinks she beats Elijah and Enoch.]

Anonymous said...

Yeah, um, to strange sojourner ... no there is *not* a definite scriptural basis for either the IC or the Assumption. You argue it is implicit, just as the doctrine of the HU is. Problem is the christological and trinitarian doctrines articulated in the 4th and 5th centuries are answers not to whether Jesus Christ was human and divine, but rather *how* he is both. That is, the earliest witness of the gospels attest to the Christian community understanding JC as somehow also being divine as well as human. See the post-resurrection narratives in Matthew and John -- the women in the garden "worship" the risen Jesus and Thomas declares "my Lord and my God." Continuing into the sub-apostolic era, it was clear that the Church was working on articulating how this was true based on scriptural witness, not whether it was true. The problem with these two doctrines of Mary is there is no biblical discussion of Mary as being conceived without sin or being bodily assumed into heaven. Why? Because this doctrine depends on an Augustinian understanding of original sin not articulated in scripture. You cite Rom 6.23 as if this is somehow foundational for the IC. This is a gross example of isogesis. Read in context, it is clear Romans 6 is not a "short hop" to any such doctrine, but rather the foundation for the doctrine of the atonement. If Mary was central to the redemptive activity of Christ (aside from the necessity of Christ being born of a woman), then surely Paul or John or James or Peter or any author would have discussed her beyond the biographical data gleaned from the gospels and Acts 1.14. Yes, she is blessed among women and God found favor with her, but the annunciation texts in no way declare this is because she is without any form of sin. It is because she, like others before her in scripture, found favor with God. There is no need to construct doctrine when the plain meaning of the texts do not necessitate it. As for the doctrine of the Assumption, if she was bodily assumed into heaven, why is it not in scripture or in any of our second-century texts? We known Enoch and Elijah were taken to heaven *because it is in scripture.* We know the Ascension occurred *because it is in scripture.* If Mary was so important to the early church community, then this event would be attested, just as the Immaculate Conception would be. Given that both concepts only begin to find their earliest articulations centuries later simply illustrates their lack of biblical foundations. They are pious stories which might be useful for some of the faithful, but in no means are rooted in scripture. What is important about Mary? That she was faithful to God the Father and her son who came for the salvation of all including her. This fidelity accounted in scripture is how we might seek to be more like Mary.

The Joe said...

But how many people would witness the Immaculate Conception? Certainly not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, or even Paul or James. The only ones who would be there would be Anne and Joachim, though their names are not in scripture either. And of course God, but how would he manifest the Immaculate Conception without appearing directly to one of the authors? Rather by prophecying in the Old Testament, and by guiding the hand of the Scriptural authors.
You apparently believe everything true, or able to be known as true, must be explicitly illustrated in the scriptures. You refer to the IC and the Assumption as "pious stories" as opposed to researched, analysed theories before they ever became teachings of the Catholic Church. John Duns Scotus defined the IC philosophically in the early 1300s, and it was analysed theologically in 1854 by the Holy See. To suggest it is an old wive's tale, fantastical and unbased, is as ignorant as if I were to say it is explicitly defined in scripture. I am no expert theologian -- I am a mere seminarian. But I will not say that something you hold is simply fantastical if it has a significant amount of philosophical AND theological research and writing.
I cite Romans in order to indicate that if the IC has scriptural basis, then the Assumption finds its basis in the IC and that verse.
Mary is tremendously significant as she herself declares in the Magnificat -- "From this day forth, all genereations shall call me blessed", and as Elizabeth says to her just prior, "Blessed are you among women". Luke documented Mary significantly, and not just to say "oh, hey, here's a woman that liked visiting cousins" . . . Mary was the tabernacle of the most high, the true ark of the Eternal Covenant, that is, the Bearer of Christ, the fulfillment of God's covenant with David. If that is not significant, then what would make her so? I have little time to delve into this now, but I suppose this will continue. I'll try to get more information together for posting on http://strangesojourner.blogspot.com

Nicholas Jesson said...

The full text of the ARCIC Seattle Statement "Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ" is found online at http://www.ecumenism.net/archive/arcic/mary_en.htm.