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from issue no. 12 - 2005

«It is impossible to be faithful to Scripture and not take Mary seriously»

A comment on the joint declaration of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (ARCIC) on
Mary: grace and hope in Christ

by René Laurentin

The Virgin Mary occupied a truly triumphal place in the Church, under the impetus of the Marian Movement (1600-1958) – even if with exaggerations and sometimes deviations – up to the end of the pontificate of Pius XII; whereas she has gone back to occupying a less elevated rank in the Church because of the legitimate concern not to throw shadow on ecumenism, but also in reaction to the exaggerations and extremism of the above-mentioned Marian Movement, and even more because of the post-Council triumph of the critical spirit in theology and catechesis.
The efforts of John Paul II to give a more elevated place to Mary, to oblige the universities to re-institute institutional teaching of Mariology (something that does not happen either often or well, in general), and even highlighting the secret of Fatima, had only limited force against the demotion.
That is the background to the request 30Days made me for an article on the joint declaration of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (ARCIC), of 16 May 2005, on Mary: grace and hope in Christ. This declaration not only confirms agreement on the Virgin Mary and Mother of God, but also the validity of the two pontifical dogmas on the Immaculate Conception (Pius IX, 8 December 1854) and on the Assumption (Pius XII, 1 November 1950).
René Laurentin

René Laurentin

This agreement must be set within the dramatically animated dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics.

The origin of the schism
In the 14th century because of the actions of Wyclif and the Lollard heretics the English Parliament changed England relations with the Roman papacy. But it was for personal reasons connected with the problem of his divorce that King Henry VIII proclaimed his supremacy over the Church of England (1534), a supremacy set out by Thomas Cromwell, the Privy Seal, in the “Ten Articles” (1536), a confession of faith inspired by the Lutheran reform. Under Edward VI (1547-1553) the Book of Common Prayer was published in 1552 and the Church of England took its definitive form. It had to do therefore with an insular and personal initiative of the sovereigns, concerned to control the Church, that gave rise to a state religion, on the model of the Protestants.
It was a schism therefore and not a heresy, despite the fact that the schism leaned on the spreading Lutheran and then on Calvinistic Protestantism, and even though it became progressively radicalized. It was an artificial schism, because the structure and the essential prayer of the Church (the Lex orandi ) in England survived in the formality of a Catholic faith.

A project for union
That was the assessment lucidly made by Cardinal Mercier before and after the 1914-1918 War. Since ecumenism was in the air among the Protestants, with the progressive creation of the Ecumenic Council of the Churches, he attempted to reintegrate the Church of England into the Catholic Church, through assiduous, cordial and intense contacts with Lord Halifax.
Rome was not then interested in ecumenism; compromises were feared, and the Holy See officially published the declaration that ordinations in the Church of England were invalid, nullified by one of the first ordinations of bishops, made independently of Rome.
It was a shock not only for the Church of England, but also for the whole English nation and the Crown. An obstacle that thwarted the dialogue underway.
Lord Halifax and other Anglican representatives were then in Malines, at the bedside of the dying Cardinal Mercier. They were there present when the cardinal celebrated a private mass, “the mass of Mary Mediatrix” which he was allowed as a privilege from Rome. Because in his mind the priority of ecumenism was not separate from the spiritual priority he gave to the Virgin Mary. This profound tie between ecumenism and Mary, Mother of unity, had to be mentioned as a sign of the great intentions and the great efforts for unity between the Church of Rome and the Church of England which, unfortunately, have not been successful.
If Rome’s declaration on the invalidity of orders has been an enduring obstacle to union, it has at least brought this benefit: that the Anglican bishops, preoccupied by the statement of the Holy See based on historical documents, progressively organized themselves to insure valid, though schismatic, bishops for their ordinations. Not the Orthodox, who would have refused such a “compromise”, but the “old Catholics” of Holland. Many Anglican bishops today point out, at least in their contacts with Catholics and Orthodox that, strictly speaking, their orders are validated by the massive number of recent ordinations with the participation of bishops valid according to Catholic tradition.
Madonna with Child , painting on parchment, ca.1270, Lambeth Palace, London

Madonna with Child , painting on parchment, ca.1270, Lambeth Palace, London

Despite this interruption in Mercier’s project, dialogue was resumed within the ambit of the ecumenism re-launched by John XXIII from the very beginning of his pontificate.
The Anglicans, however, though faithful to tradition, allowed themselves to be pressured by feminist movements into promoting the ordination of women as priests and bishops.
This decision of the Anglican Communion created a more serious obstacle, and one more difficult to overcome, for the hope of union, after the most definitively clear-cut exclusion ever of the ordination of women formulated by John Paul II. Something excluded also by the apostolic tradition of the Orthodox Church.
The situation worsened even more in 2003 following the approval by part of the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church of the United States of the consecration of a homosexual bishop. The Holy See was obliged to “put a halt” to the publication of a «joint declaration of faith» between the two Churches though «committing itself to continuing the dialogue».
The publication of the report on the Virgin Mary confirms then that the bridges, gravely damaged, are not completely cut, even if the spread of ostentatious homosexuality among Episcopalian priests and bishops, and the ordination of women constitute a permanent problem (especially in America).

An important agreement
To give an account of the recent document would take too much space. We will highlight certain aspects of it.
It testifies to a positive consideration and indeed a fervent devotion to Mary. The agreement draws «from Scripture and the common Tradition that precedes the Reformation and the Counter Reformation» (16th century). Scripture and Tradition are the constants of the document: «It is impossible to be faithful to Scripture and not take Mary seriously».
Following Luke’s Gospel, the joint declaration reads: «The Annunciation and the Visit to Elizabeth underline that Mary is in a unique manner the destination of the election and the grace of God».
The new name given to Mary (Kecharitoméne in Greek), implies «a primordial sanctification on the part of divine grace». It is a remarkable comment, open to the Immaculate Conception.
The document bases itself constantly on the virginal conception of Jesus expressed according to Matthew and Luke in much different terms, but perfectly convergent and yet more significant. «The virginal conception may appear in the first place as an absence, that is an absence of a human father. However, in reality, it is a sign of the presence and work of the Spirit… For Christian believers, it is an eloquent sign of the divine progeny of Christ and of the new life through the Spirit».
According to the document, therefore, the virginal conception of Jesus is as a whole a fundamental data of Revelation and a sign rich in consequences for our life, as it was developed by the Fathers of the Church, for whom the Mother of God had to be a virgin and only a virgin could have been the Mother of God.
Some French theologians and writers have contested with vigor and insistence the perpetual virginity of Mary, making her a mother of a family of many children, through a forcing and deformation of the Biblical texts. The agreement with the Anglicans professes that Mary «always remained a virgin. In their [Anglicans and Catholics] reflection virginity is understood not only in terms of physical integrity, but as an interior disposition of openness, obedience and single-minded fidelity to Christ, that in itself gives form to the Christian following and produces a richness of spiritual fruits». This is indeed the problematic, unfortunately not understood, of the Fathers of the Church.
The ARCIC agreement then cites «the role of Mary in the redemption of humanity… She [«the new Eve», the text specifies] is associated with her Son in the victory over the ancient enemy… The obedience of the Virgin Mary opens the way to salvation».
One can therefore go a very long way with the Anglicans, if the title, a matter of discussion also among Catholics, of “co-redemptrix” is avoided. John XXIII had asked with discretion of the doctrinal Commission of the Council, on which I sat as an expert, that it not use this word.
The agreement is also about the place of Mary in worship. There it expresses itself in this way: «Following… the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon…, a tradition of prayer with Mary and of praise to Mary was gradually established. From the 4th century, especially in the East, this was associated with the request for her protection». Something that remains in use in the Anglican Church of today.
«The feastdays in her honor» are also accepted there. The legitimacy of the feastday of the Conception of Mary created in the East in the 7th century and adopted in the British Isles from the 11th century is also admitted.
The intercession of Mary and «her presence» in the life of the Church is also recognized, although admitting the exaggerations of the Middle Ages which, in an ambiguous manner, called Mary “Mediatrix with Christ Mediator”; it is underlined with Vatican Council II that Christ is the sole mediator and that Mary is Mediatrix only «in Christ», as John Paul II wrote, re-employing the formula accepted before the Council, in 1950, by the German Lutheran Hans Asmulsen, as I had the opportunity of pointing out even before the Council, in my Court traité sur la Vierge Marie.
The Virgin Mary, illumination taken from the Book of the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, written and illustrated in France, XV century, Canterbury Cathedral

The Virgin Mary, illumination taken from the Book of the Hours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, written and illustrated in France, XV century, Canterbury Cathedral

Faith in the intercession of Mary beginning with the Council of Ephesus (431) is mentioned there and the Ave Maria is cited, whose diffusion in the 5th century is noted, recognizing that the «English reformers criticized this invocation and other similar forms of prayer, because they believed that they placed the unique mediation of Jesus Christ in question». Agreement on this point indicates a positive stage therefore. It is then underlined that Vatican Council II endorsed the uninterrupted practice of believers who ask Mary to pray for them because «the maternal function of Mary toward men does not in any way obscure or diminish the unique mediation of Christ (Lumen gentium, 60)».
This positive assessment is worthy of mention. One of the last paragraphs (p.34) is entitled: “Intercession and mediation in the communion of saints”.

on the immaculate origin
and the assumption
of Mary
The new and notable thing is the agreement, limited but substantial and positive, on the two pontifical definitions about the Virgin Mary (1854 and 1950), so much contested not only by the Reformation but also by the Orthodox.
On the 150th anniversary of the definition of Pius IX on the immaculate origin of Mary, the document points out that Mary had «need of Jesus Christ». A point that was essential and fundamental for Pius IX, because he didn’t just define the original purity of Mary. He also declared that Mary was properly redeemed through preservation (against those who think that this privilege was due to the new Eve, in as much as she belonged to the first creation and therefore removed from descent from Adam).
The document also recognizes the validity of the laconic definition of Pius XII, because he concerned himself with the essential. He didn’t want to define the death of Mary, but only that «she was assumed into heavenly glory in soul and body».
The Anglicans recognize that this is a harmonious formula of the common faith, because, all Christians being called to the Resurrection, nothing impedes this promise being already realized for her who bodily generated the risen Christ (whereas for example Karl Rahner, in opposition to Schillebeeckx, wanted to extend this privilege to all Christians).
The faith formulated in the agreement is then fully shared by us, with the following difference: the problem that these two definitions pose for Anglicans is that they are a dogma of faith for Catholics. They willingly believe the same thing as a correct interpretation of the faith, but not as an obligation imposed by Revelation, because these two doctrines are not explicit in Scripture. Some Catholics, on the other hand, declare they have difficulty in justifying them biblically, without receiving any reprimand for this. For myself, I have shown, in a penetrating but rigorous reading of Scripture, that these two doctrines are not only implicitly but formally present in Scripture. «Nevertheless», the Declaration continues, «in Catholic understanding, as it is expressed in these two definitions, the proclamation of a given teaching as dogma entails that the teaching in question come to be considered “divinely revealed” and therefore to be believed “firmly and inviolably” by all the faithful». This poses a problem for Anglicans, as for other Christian Confessions. They ask whether these expressions are necessary de rigueur. They adhere without difficulty to the two doctrines as they are expressed in the dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, according to a less juridical formula, and according to the doctrine of the dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum on Scripture defined as testimony. One further reads in the Declaration: «Anglicans have asked if among the conditions of a future re-establishment of full communion they will be asked to accept the definitions of 1854 and 1950. Catholics judge it difficult to imagine a re-establishment of communion in which the acceptance of determined doctrines would be required of one and not the other. In confronting these problems, we were mindful of the fact that “a consequence of our separation was the tendency both of the Anglicans and the Catholics to exaggerate the importance of the Marian dogmas in themselves, at the expense of other truths more strictly related to the foundations of the Catholic faith” (Authority in the Church II, no.30). Anglicans and Catholics agree on the fact that the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception of Mary must be understood in the light of a more central truth, that of her identity as Theotokos, which in its turn depends on faith in the Incarnation».
According to the Catholic-Anglican agreement we have integrally the same faith regarding the Virgin Mary, but it would be necessary that those truths defined after the separation be presented in a less juridical context, conforming to the clarifications of Vatican II, more attentive to the unity of faith and the hierarchy of dogmas.
The Annunciation, Heures de Beaufort, beginning XV century, 
Ms Royal 2 A. XVIII, f. 23, British Library

The Annunciation, Heures de Beaufort, beginning XV century, Ms Royal 2 A. XVIII, f. 23, British Library

«On the other hand the Anglicans should accept that those definitions are a legitimate expression of Catholic faith, and must be respected as such, even if formulations of this kind are not used among them. There are, in the ecumenical agreements, examples in which what one partner has defined de fide can be expressed in a different manner by the other partner, as for example in the Common Christological Declaration between the Roman Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East (1994) or in the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of Justification between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (1999)». In conclusion, the signatories of the agreement consider that not only have they negotiated a reconciliation or a rapprochement, but have «illumined in a new way the place of Mary in the economy of hope and of grace».
These are the final words: «Our hope is that, while we share that sole Spirit through whom Mary was prepared and sanctified for her singular vocation, we can participate along with her and all the saints in the unceasing praise of God».
The Anglican-Catholic spiritual and doctrinal agreement goes farther than could have been imagined, even with the rigidities and aside from the ups and downs and the ecumenic hindrances mentioned and their consequences for that full communion that Cardinal Mercier was right to want achieved, according to our common wish which is also the will of Jesus Christ: «That they may be one as I and the Father are one» (John 17.21).

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