Comments: General Synod - February 2011 - more on the agenda

"a debate will follow on the theology, how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics can share a common faith concerning Mary, and the authority and status of the two RC dogmas of the immaculate conception of Mary, promulĀ­gated in 1854, and her assumption, promulgated as recently as 1950"

Um...we CAN "share a common faith concerning Mary" UNLESS the RCC insists upon these two (non-Biblical, non-Ecumenical Council, unilateral) dogmas?

Holy Mary, Mother of God, PRAY that you not be *dehumanized* by your admirers!

Posted by JCF at Friday, 21 January 2011 at 7:10pm GMT

Interesting that only 2 out of the 21 ARCIC commission members (who produced this ARCIC report on 'Mary') were women, particularly when you consider the significance and influence that devotion to Mary has had on women's lives, for good or for bad. In fact I find it astonishing in these days that a Commission can be that slanted with such a gender disparity.

Posted by Susannah at Friday, 21 January 2011 at 10:33pm GMT

Re: Um...we CAN "share a common faith concerning Mary" UNLESS the RCC insists upon these two (non-Biblical, non-Ecumenical Council, unilateral) dogmas?

Nonsense. The Assumption of Mary was very widely held by the ancient church, was extensively written on by St. John of Damascus and others, and wasn't seriously challenged until the Calvinists started nihilistically tearing down every aspect of Christian tradition they didn't like.

as for the bible, it's alluded to in Revelation 12:14, "And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly from the serpent's wrath', as well as being prefigured in Wisdom 8:17, 'In kinship with Wisdom is immortality', as well as by Esther 15:13, 'Thou shalt not die, for this law is made not for thee, but for all others.' But even if it weren't, who cares? As Anglicans we are supposed to base our faith on tradition and reason as well as on scripture. (Some I know add 'experience' there as well, but if you add all the people through the ages who have had experiences of the glorified Mary, that's an argument that cuts in my favour, not yours).

Mary is virtually the only saint of which no one, at no time in history, has ever produced any relics, and of which no major veneration has grown up surrounding her 'tomb'. This suggests from a very early date, it was believed by the church that her body had been assumed into glory, leaving no relics behind. To paraphrase the lawyers, where is the body?

To call this 'unilateral' is hilarious. The Orthodox believe it, the Roman Catholics believe it, the Oriental churches believe it, and Anglo-Catholics believe it, and the majority of Christians throughout the ages have believed it. The only people who don't believe it are 1) low church protestants and 2) modernist-rationalist theological liberals. I'm sorry, but I'm not sure why those two factions get a veto power over Christian doctrine.

Lastly, it's false that the Assumption of Mary was promulgated in 1950. That's the date that it was made binding and de fide upon Roman Catholics, but it was generally believed and celebrated long before then, going back to the first few centuries of Christianity.

While I also believe in that Mary was conceived sinlessly, I acknowledge the arguments are less strong there, and I wouldn't have a big problem if people disagree. But the idea that the body of Our Lady was left to decay in the ground just like any other average Joe, makes me roll my eyes at the absurdity.

As for divorced bishops, I'm not a big fan of that. Divorce and remarriage is a concession to fallen human nature, as our Orthodox brothers and sisters have noted for some time, and it's a necessary concession, but it should not ever be regarded as something other than what it is, a concession and a second-best solution that falls short of the full teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. Divorced and remarried people should not be barred from communion, or excluded from the church, but neither should they be granted the highest office in the church.

Posted by Hector_St_Clare at Saturday, 22 January 2011 at 6:54pm GMT

Re: non-Ecumenical Council

Actually, the council of Chalcedon did implicitly acknowledge the Assumption/Dormition of Mary. During the council, the Emperor Marcian asked Juvenal, Patriarch of Jerusalem, for the relics of Mary, and was told that the relics didn't exist since she had been corporeally assumed into heaven. While of course the topic wasn't debated at the Council, that itself is evidence that it was uncontroversially believed by most at the council. It is inconceivable that the bishops at the meeting, given that this statement had been made, would not have debated and included it in their deliberations if it was in fact controversial.

Posted by Hector_St_Clare at Saturday, 22 January 2011 at 11:28pm GMT

Hector, while the assumption as a matter of pious opinion is not particularly controversial, that is quite a different thing than the Roman decision to make it de fide.

Further, my understanding is that the Orthodox use of "dormition" is and is intended to be a trifle less precise than "bodily assumed into heaven."

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 2:33am GMT

"But the idea that the body of Our Lady was left to decay in the ground just like any other average Joe, makes me roll my eyes at the absurdity."

Oh brother.

Let me state, for the record, that I don't have a problem w/ the Assumption---I just think INSISTING upon it, w/ this paper-thin evidence (you heard me!), it... {what's the phrase}... "makes me roll my eyes at the absurdity."

...but upon further consideration, I certainly would PREFER she "decay[ed] in the ground just like any other average Joe" (the way Blessed JHN did? ;-/)

Especially in this day and age, when the Imago Dei seem so sadly set on DESTROYING every other creature Our Creator made (by way of extinction), there's something absolutely LOVELY about that thought that Our Lady went the way of human-to-humus (undoing Eve and Adam-a, and all that), fertilizing God's Earth. What in God's Name would be so awful about that, huh Hector?

The notion of the Immaculate Mary is an abomination---one I hope Our Lady eschatologically kicks some arses over! Human beings AREN'T "immaculate": we're earthy Earth-creatures. One of the Great Unwashed *Us* is whom God chose to be the mother of God's Only Begotten. Bottomline: if Mary was "immaculate", then Jesus wasn't fully human. That's not MY Savior. If you want someone else, Hector, you're welcome to him (aka "the Father of Lies").

Posted by JCF at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 7:04am GMT

As a devotee of Our Lady of Walsingham, I have also found the concept difficult of her personal *Immaculate Conception* in the womb of her mother Anna. There is no biblical record of Gabriel visiting Anna with the message of a Virgin Birth to produce Mary. On the other hand, it is quite possible, from the Scriptural account, to deduce that the person of Mary, naturally born, could have been God's chosen vessel for the 'Immaculate Conception' of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit - as decribed by Gabriel at the Visitation.

Regarding the entirely unscripted, but widely believed possible, 'Bodily Assumption into Heaven of the B.V.M'; I can well believe that if one of God's Prophets, Elijah, was 'taken up to Heaven in a whirl-wind' rather than buried in an earthy grave; why should this not be more credibly be made possible for the Mother of the Incarnate Son of God to be given the same sort of treatment?
Not all miracles are clearly scripted in the Bible.

The only problem many non-Roman Catholics have with the Roman Catholic Church dogma on this issue, is that they should no longer be regarded as merely matters of faith, but rather de jure accepted as a deposit of Faith, that must be believed on pain of missing out on the Redemption that Christ has gained for us.

As a dyed-in-the wool Anglo-Catholic priest, having an understanding of Mary as the Mother of Christ, if I agree that God is one with Christ, I am able to proclaim that Mary is the Mother of God - Theotokos - Bearer of the Divine Word, and called by God to be 'Blessed, throughout All Generations.' My only difference from my R.C. Sisters and Brothers, is that I can, by both faith and reason, believe that Mary was the vessel of the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Redeemer of the world - and, as such has shared intimately in both our common humanity and in the divinity of Jesus. Why should she not be accorded an airlift to Heaven?

Incidentally, the modern Church of England Prayer Book celebrates the most important Feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord, the very same day as the R.C. Feast of Mary's Assumption into Heaven - quite a handy confluence for me.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 10:39am GMT

Hector St Clare recites the usual Marian arguments. But it is worth noting that the passage he cites (Revelation, Wisdom, Esther) do not obviously refer to the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. To write as if they do obviously so refer is to assume :-) the answer you are looking for. Just plain daft. All this detracts from the proper honour that should be due to Mary, the handmaid or slavegirl of the Lord -- the honour of being Jesus's mother, a very simple honour, but a profound one nevertheless. We do not need to dress her up in our fanciful myths of conception and assumption.

As for 'But the idea that the body of Our Lady was left to decay in the ground just like any other average Joe, makes me roll my eyes at the absurdity.' Well I confess that this view makes me rol my own eyes at its absurdity. Mary was a human being. Like us. She died. she was buried and rotted like human beings do. It is ridiculous to claim that the relics of other saints survive. Show me the relics of Stephen or most of the Apostles. All are lost, and all the absence of early claims for the relics of Mary show is that no one thought having her relics was an important link with the gospel -- in other words that she did not go out and preach the good news and found or lead one or more Christian communities.

The argument (which I have heard several times) that God could have done, and God should have done it, therefore God must have done it turns God into the creature of our own imaginings. All this might not be very ecumenical :-) but we should be clear that very many Anglicans, probably the vast majority, would see things this way. That doesn't make it either right or wrong -- but we are deluding ourselves if we think otherwise.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 1:09pm GMT

I may be misreading him, but Fr. Smith seems to be misinterpreting "immaculate conception" to mean "virgin birth." The idea of immaculate conception does not mean that Mary was not the product of sexual congress between her parents, but rather that, while conceived in the usual way, she was not infected with the taint of original sin.

Posted by Malcolm French+ at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 3:06pm GMT

It is interesting to note that the immaculate conception (and I agree with Malcolm that Fr Ron seems to have confused two doctrines) was not particularly controversial in the early years of the post-Reformation Church of England.

The objections to the Marian doctrines are largely the product of the nineteenth century, and in particular to the prevalent Victorian views of the right role for a woman to be as a wife and mother. Thus, ideas such as the immaculate conception, or the perpetual virginity of Mary became deeply unpopular.

Posted by Wilf at Sunday, 23 January 2011 at 5:48pm GMT

"The objections to the Marian doctrines are largely the product of the nineteenth century, and in particular to the prevalent Victorian views of the right role for a woman to be as a wife and mother."

As long as you don't think that's the source of MY objection, Wilf! :-0

In the 21st century, it seems rather more consonant that *proponents* of the Immaculate Conception who believe/propagandize that the *sole* role of a woman (excepting religious celibates) is as "wife and mother"!


Hector makes the rather telling point (re the Assumption) that it "wasn't seriously challenged until the Calvinists started nihilistically tearing down every aspect of Christian tradition they didn't like."

It does seem to me that the RCC promulgates "infallible" dogmas *precisely when* there is either a general or specific posture of restiveness w/ Papal hegemony. The oikoumene *progresses* and in reaction, the Vatican *regresses*. Is it any wonder then, that the late 20th century advances for women, brought feverish (reactionary) talk of proclaiming Mary "Co-Redemptorix"? O_o

Posted by JCF at Monday, 24 January 2011 at 12:27am GMT

There are a number of assumptions here surely ? I could nt resist saying that !

I can't 'bear the thought' that my Aunty Maisie 'was laid in the earth like any common Jo'. But my sensitivities cannot alter that reality. Just as well really. Dr Freud called this having-to-get-on- with-life-as-it-is - 'the reality principle'.

Could we do with a good dose of it here !

Also a bit more respect for common Jos and Joes wouldnt go amiss either.

Surely, this is about our hunger for archetypes and archetypal experiences - but for that the Mary stories and indeed the Bible stories do not need to be literally true. Dr Jung and his *successors have written some terrif good stuff on all this. (*InnerCity Books press).

Many religions have these kind of imagery you know, and it is very beautiful for those predisposed to it. (I am - ). But what works as devotio, as poetry, as soul stuff, or art shrinks from being exposed to the cold glare of historical considerations, and that is a sad fate for any poetic image / aid to prayer / meditatio or the warm reaches of (actif) imagination ....


Posted by Laurence Roberts at Monday, 24 January 2011 at 4:43pm GMT

I think they are approaching this the wrong way...establish the Petrine how infallibility is even demonstrated in the New Testament and then you see that the Marian doctrins are the infallible teaching of the Church. So simple really.

Posted by Robert ian Williams at Monday, 24 January 2011 at 8:41pm GMT

Will (Wilf) suggests that "objections to the Marian doctrines are largely the product of the nineteenth century" and "the right role for a woman to be as a wife and mother".

I'm not sure that it's true that they are the product of the 19th century. But undoubtedly we are made much more aware of them by the advances in scientific understanding of sexual reproduction that occurred at that time and subsequently. The idea, for example, that the father implanted a homunculus into the mother, and the mother's role was to feed the foetus until it could live on its own -- this idea was prevalent until modern times. But it is no longer feasible to hold that view and it must make a difference to, say, our views on the Virgin birth (not a Marian dogma, obviously) and the idea that Mary remained virgo intacta not just through the conception of Jesus, but also through his birth, and on into her marriage and subsequent life.

Could God have done this? Well if we believe in an omnipotent God, then yes, we must concede that he could have done so. But why bother?! These ideas are the ideas of popular theology, not of a concentration on the Gospel news and ethic of love and the immanence of God's kingdom here among us. Jesus is not recorded as going around proclaiming the virgin birth, let alone a special conception for his mother; nor did Paul; nor did the Gospel writers consider it important enough, except in the birth narratives themselves.

If Jesus and his immediate followers did not think this was important or relevant, then it does seem to me that we are (at the very least) free not to have to believe it too, and even, perhaps, to argue that it is a distraction from the gospel imperative.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Monday, 24 January 2011 at 9:56pm GMT

Simon Kershaw,

Perhaps they didn't mention it because it was simply so bleeding obvious? It seems highly unlikely to me (and that's an understatement) that Mary and Joseph would have had sexual relations after she had conceived the Incarnate Word. As it's said of the temple, so too must it be said of Mary: "The gate by which the LORD has entered shall remain ever shut." If Mary had had other children, then why would our Lord asked John to care for her? It's equally inconceivable to me that Our Lord had biological brothers and sisters: it was fitting that as he was the only son of his Father, so too he was the only son of his Mother.

In point of fact, the perpetual virginity of Our Lady was held from a very, very early time. It's explicitly stated in the Infancy Gospel of James, which draws on very old traditions probably independent of the Gospels, and is considered generally reliable, though not scriptural, by Catholic and Orthodox traditions. You can, if you like, think that the liberals and modernists know better than the church fathers and the writers of the Protevangelium: needless to say, I don't agree, and I find it more reasonable to trust the tradition of the church. And let's drop this 'it's not in the bible' idiocy: tradition is equally reliable to scripture, and equally important.

You can imagine that Mary and Joseph got it on if you choose: for myself, I believe that she was a consecrated virgin, as tradition tells us, and that this set her free, just as it set Jesus free, to love humanity without distinction of persons. Her heart wasn't Joseph's, it belonged ultimately to herself and to God, and her renunciation of sexual ties allowed her to be free, just as Christ was free, to love all of humanity equally. That's the beauty of the ideal of Christian celibacy, and no one embodied it more perfectly that Christ and his Most Holy Mother.

Re: But it is no longer feasible to hold that view and it must make a difference to, say, our views on the Virgin birth (not a Marian dogma, obviously)

How does that cast doubt on the Virgin Birth of Our Lady, or on her Perpetual Virginity? If anything it renders it more important, since we now know that the mother contributes half the genetics to her child, that tells us that Christ drew not only his sustenance but also his full human nature from Mary. And that, in itself, is an argument for the Immaculate Conception: since Christ drew his full humanity from Mary, and since his nature was essentially sinless, then Mary must have been sinless as well, innocent not merely of personal but also of original sin. And that, in turn, is consonant with the idea that she was corporeally assumed into heaven, for it's inconceivable that the body from who Our Lord drew his nature was left to decay in the earth.

Denial of Christian teaching about Mary is always the first step to denying other Christian doctrines as well. We saw it with the Ebionites and the Nestorians, we saw it with the Calvinists, and today we see it with the supporters of legalized abortion rights and other evils, who are bitterly uncomfortable with the veneration of Mary, perhaps because she stands in such beautiful contradistinction to the values of the modern secular West. Scratch an anti-Marian, and more often than not you'll find a supporter of abortion on demand.

The teachings of the Assumption, the Perpetual Virginity and the Immaculate Conception are all interdependent, and together they're all beautiful, and more than that, they're all true. At the end of the day, the modernists can carp and moan all they like, but they will never be able to detract from the truth of the Marian teachings that have stood intact for over fifteen centuries.

Posted by Hector_St_Clare at Tuesday, 25 January 2011 at 6:29am GMT

Robert Ian Williams,

That's ridiculous. I don't believe in the Marian teachings because I accept papal supremacy: I believe them because they're true. They were true long before the papacy had ever begun to propound them, and they don't depend on the papacy for their authority. That the Catholic church has not fallen into error regarding Mary, as some other churches have sadly done, is an argument in favour of Roman Catholicism, but it's not a very good argument: Rome has surely fallen into errors regarding some other things.

Posted by Hector_St_Clare at Tuesday, 25 January 2011 at 6:32am GMT

I'm not sure there is really any point in continuing this discussion -- but that doesn't usually stop me!

Yes, technically you are correct: it is possible that the gospel writers did not mention the Marian dogmas because they thought they were obvious. This is a possibility. But I consider it so vanishingly unlikely as to be not worth considering. Hmm: considering that the idea of original sin was not propounded for several centuries after the birth of Christ, it is rather hard to see how a dogma that proclaims that someone was preserved from original sin could have been considered 'obvious' by the evangelists. And if someone did not die but were 'assumed' you might be forgiven for thinking that would be a sufficiently noteworthy event that any biblical writer might have made mention of the fact. But no such record exists or was considered trustworthy enough to be given canonical status.

The Marian dogmas are simply unimportant; they are irrelevant to the gospel imperative of preaching the immanence of the kingdom, and the saving power of Christ crucified and resurrected. The evangelists knew what was important: the teaching of Jesus and his death and resurrection. There is no reason to worry ourselves about the other stuff and our self-consistent theologizing / mythologizing. I'm sorry if you find such bluntness scandalous or offensive. Personally I find them ridiculous or worse; but I am prepared to acknowledge that they are sufficiently unimportant that if others want to believe them I won't protest too much. Just don't expect others to agree or believe them, and most definitely don't require others to believe them as articles of the faith.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Tuesday, 25 January 2011 at 11:19pm GMT
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