Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ – Fulcrum response to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission agreed statement

Fulcrum Response
to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission
Agreed Statement

Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

by Graham Kings
vicar of St Mary Islington and theological secretary of Fulcrum

Originally published by Fulcrum in May 2005

We welcome the irenic, ecumenical theological tradition of the discussions and some constructive clarifications which may point to ways forward in dialogue, but await to be convinced that the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and of the Assumption of Mary, or prayer addressed to Mary, are indeed consonant with Scripture.

We appreciate:

  • The emphasis on the unique mediation of Christ, and the implication that words such as 'co-redeemer' are inappropriate concerning Mary.
  • That the sensitive spiritual context of this discussion means that we are 'treading on holy ground' and therefore, in our dialogue, the first thing we need to do is to 'take off our shoes' and not trample on people's sensitivities.
  • God's commandment to 'honour your father and mother' applies to Mary, in that she was chosen by God to be the mother of Christ.
  • God's choosing is not just for an hour or a day, but for eternity.
  • In Mary's song, she says she will be called blessed, as indeed she is, and has been, called for many centuries.
  • The apologia for the virginal conception in the Lucan narrative, para 18, fn 2.
  • The admission that there was a mistranslation in the Vulgate of Gen 3:15 ('she will strike your head' instead of 'he...'), which has led the 'Latin Church' to see this as referring to Mary. The statement shows that the Neo-Vulgate translates it correctly.
  • The note that Mary was not considered to be without sin in the thought of Irenaenus, Origen, Tertullian, Ambrose and John Chrysostom, para 38 fn 8.

  • The Roman Catholic criteria on private revelations of Mary, para 73.
  • The stress on issues of justice in the Magnificat, para 74.
  • The 'ecumenical' traditions within our own Anglicanism, in that the invocation of Mary and the saints is not a communion-dividing issue, para 75, because many Anglican Catholics believe in the propriety of these prayers and we are in communion with them.

We question:

  • The Methodology of the Statement. We remain unconvinced about the emphasis on an Eve-Mary typology, paras 27, 35, and 51, especially in the light of the mistranslation in the Vulgate of Gen 3:15 mentioned above. Although this mistranslation is admitted, it is not followed through in recognizing that this undermines a foundation stone of Marian devotion. Para 72 mentions Mary as the 'mother of a new humanity' from Gen 3:20; para 42 refers to her as a type of the Church and as a New Eve; para 51 claims that both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion are 'heirs to a rich tradition which recognizes Mary as ever virgin, and sees her as the new Eve and as type of the Church.' There is ambiguity in the meaning of the word 'heirs': does it mean 'We inherit this tradition and therefore have to accept it' or 'we inherit this tradition, but may question it from Scripture'? The summary use of Romans 8:30, in para 77, 'we have framed our work within the pattern of grace and hope which we discover in scripture - 'predestined...called...justified...glorified' omits to add, at that point, that a key theme in Romans 8 is also resurrection.
  • Mary Detracting from the Role of Christ. The document stresses that devotion to Mary should not detract from the role of Christ but para 27 states, 'Mary is seen as the personification of Israel' while many see that as Christ's role, not Mary's. Para 65 comments: 'in recognizing Mary as the fullest human example of the life of grace...' but Christ, as the 'complete' human being, is this fullest example.
  • The Reticence in Quoting from the Apocryphal Sources of Marian devotion. The 'Protoevangelium of James' is mentioned in para 40, but no quotations or detail are given. The aim of this apocryphal writing is to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary before, in, and after the birth of Christ. It may be seen here1 (note chapter 20), and wider apocryphal sources of Marian devotion may be seen here2 on a Roman Catholic academic website.
  • The Immaculate Conception of Mary. Para 78 states: 'Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings'. The statement attempts to deal with the clash between Romans 3:23 and the 'sinlessness' of Mary, in para 59 fn 12. It is unconvincing in its methodology. Only Christ is sinless: this is not because he could not sin, but because he did not sin. This is an important part of his role as Redeemer. To imply another human being is also sinless is not consonant with Scripture, nor with the emphasis, mentioned above, that there is only one Redeemer.
  • The Perpetual Virginity of Mary. Para 37 fn 7 quotes the Tome of Leo and goes beyond 'virginal conception' (paras 13, 15, 16, 18) to 'virgin birth' and 'perpetual virginity'. This concept is against the plain sense of Scripture, which mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus. The attempt to explain that these may be open to being understood as 'cousins,' in para 19 fn 3, is unconvincing, in the light of the use of the word for 'cousin' in Colossians 4:10 and Luke 1:36, and of Galatians 1:19, which is not mentioned in the statement, where James is named at the Lord's brother.
  • The Assumption of Mary. In para 78, the document states: 'We affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with scripture, and only to be understood in the light of Scripture'. The word 'taken,' in that sentence, is misleading if it implies, as it seems, to deny that Mary died and is raised with Christ. Para 58 fn 10, is unconvincing in its condensed attempt at an explanation of how the dogma of the Assumption relates to how Mary's life ended. It needs further elucidation.
  • Prayer to Mary. Para 70 states: 'we affirm that asking the saints to pray for us is not to be excluded as unscriptural, though it is not taught by the scriptures to be a required element of life in Christ.' In reaching this conclusion, there is a methodological leap, in para 68, that takes too much for granted, in the use of the word 'hence': 'Hence asking our brothers and sisters, on earth and in heaven, to pray for us, does not contest the unique mediatory work of Christ...'
  • The Accuracy of the Wording concerning Festivals of Mary. Para 49 states: '[In Anglican worship,] August 15th has come to be widely celebrated as a principal feast in honour of Mary.' However, in the Church of England calendar ('Common Worship' pp. 1 and 12) it is clear that it is not a 'principal feast,' for it is not in bold type. The phrase 'widely celebrated' is open to differing interpretations. If it refers to 'geographical range,' then this is true; but if it refers to 'the majority of churches in the world-wide Anglican Communion', then this is unlikely to be the case.
  • The Wording concerning Anglicans Accepting Marian Dogmas. In para 63 fn 13, there is an ambiguity over whether Anglicans would have to accept Marian dogmas: 'Anglicans would have to accept that the definitions are a legitimate expression of Catholic faith.' If 'Catholic' there refers to 'Roman Catholic faith', as seems unlikely, then there is no problem; if it refers to 'the Universal faith', then there is considerable difficulty.

Much has been achieved in ARCIC's journey of theological education and elucidation. We hope and pray for unity and that this statement will lead to further discussion of the methodological principles underlying the dogmas of Mary, which indeed reflect those of Roman Catholicism generally, for they relate to the questions of authority.

May 2005


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