Bible does not offer much information regarding Mary the mother of Jesus. Perhaps this is because Scripture centres around the person, of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Yet if we look closer to the Scriptures, they unravel a connection between the Old Covenant from the Old Testament and the New Covenant from the New Testament.
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Mary is the passage between both Testaments as she represents Israel and Jesus’ Church. Mary is historical as Christianity looks back to her presence as “the daughter of Sion” (Zephaniah 3:12) where Zephaniah declared the freedom of Israel would commence, from a remnant of Israel, a humble and low-born daughter of Sion. Sion referred to a daughter in the Hebrew Scriptures and Virgin and Mother in the New Testament. Therefore a Scriptural text that links both Testaments and likewise Mary to God is found in Zechariah, “Sing, rejoice, daughter of Sion, for now I am coming to live among you- Yahweh declares” (Haffner. P. 2004. p. 28). St. Luke links this text in his version of the Annunciation; “Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour! The Lord is with you. Mary do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you must name Him Jesus” (Luke 1: 28, 30, 31). Therefore in the here and now, Mary was historical but in the era of the Old Testament, Mary was prophetical where a Redeemer would come from a woman (Genesis 3:15). Yet according to Byzantine Liturgy within the Kontakion, Mary is eschatological because she is “our steady hope and protection” (Haffner. P. 2004. p. 19). This is to say that the “yesterday of Israel and of the Church becomes present through liturgical memorial; today is marked by constant and active presence of Our Lady in the pilgrimage of the Church, towards its goal; tomorrow is a reality which is already imperfectly anticipated, and this offers confidence and hope” (Haffner. P. p. 19).
“You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (NRSV. Genesis 2: 16-17)
Although God had commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge we also hear Eve explain to the serpent ” God said they were not to eat any of the fruit from the tree that stood in the middle of the Garden of Eden” (NRSV. Genesis 3: 3). Eve was tempted by the serpent and the thought of gaining knowledge and in turn, Eve tempted Adam who also ate the forbidden fruit. From this fall of Adam and the moment of consumption, sin entered into the world. Although their sin was against God, ever since all humanity has been conceived and born with a sinful nature, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through son, and thus death spread to all men, because they sinned” ( NRSV. Romans 5:12). Adam’s sin of disobedience and unbelief is owned by every human from the moment they are born regardless of one’s righteous living, “”Behold said the inspired writer in the Psalm Miserere, Behold, I was conceived in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.”(Newman. H. J.). As Adam and Eve are our ancestors, humanity is also the heir to Adam’s penalty from his sin. Yet, as such humanity has lost the spiritual covering of God’s grace and holiness that was man’s make-up at the time of creation by its Creator. There are thought to be only two ways that humanity can be released from this sin; through the Sacrament of Baptism and through the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Justin Martyr one of the second century Church Fathers in A.D. 155 compared the “Virgin Mary with the Virgin Eve.” (https://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/docs/ecf_mary.htm). “The serpent’s word brought the fruit to birth through the Virgin Eve who though undefiled believed the word of the fallen and evil angel which led to death being introduced in creation” (http//www.catholic.com/thisrock/2003/0309frs.com). However, the Virgin Mary was given faith and joy when the angel Gabriel brought her the good news that, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35). Therefore Mary was to bring the Word of God, the Logos into the world and because she had faith in the words of the good angel, Life as Christ Himself came into the world.
Irenaeus from the second century contrasts Eve with Mary in his “Against Heresies” A.D. 190 through Eve’s disobedience even though she was a virgin and Mary’s obedience, “I am the servant of the Lord, may it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). Whereas Eve became known as the reason for death for all humanity including Eve, Mary became the reason for salvation for both herself and humanity. Therefore Eve’s disobedience was freed by Mary’s obedience, “What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (https://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/docs/ecf_mary.htm).
Tertullian from the third century A.D. 210 recorded in his treatise, ” it was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Though a Virgin, the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. What had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex re-established in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight.” (https://www.cin.org/users/james/files/key2mary.htm).
John Henry Newman the former Anglican believed that the similarities between Eve and Mary actually improved the opinion on Mary’s role in redemption. Like Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary was put in the position to choose between obeying and disobeying the will of God. Whilst Eve was disobedient and lost her sense of wonder Mary returned it to humanity through her faith and obedience. Although Eve was a “sine-qua-non” the reason which enabled man’s sin to happen, those three parties of man, woman and the serpent who had originally been present, would meet again. Yet this time it would be “a second Adam and a second Eve, and the new Eve was to be, the mother of the new Adam” (Newman. J. 1982. p.2). God had said “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Genesis 3: 15). Therefore “the Seed of the woman is the Word Incarnate, and the Woman, whose seed or son He is, is His mother Mary” (Newman. J. 1982. p.2).
Even the Reform Fathers Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli firmly accepted the dogma of Mary being the Mother of God as well as Mary’s perpetual virginity. Zwingli and Luther even supported Mary’s role as the “new Eve” whilst at the same time accepting Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Many Reformers continued to believe and accept this doctrinal definition of Mary as the second Eve during the Protestant Reformation but some Protestants today, refute this idea by stating that there is no term for a second Eve. In contrast they agree that there is a last Adam supported by Scripture in 1 Corinthians where Jesus is called the last Adam as both He and Adam were born supernaturally. Therefore instead of Mary bringing humanity back from the fall caused by Eve, surely it is Jesus and not Mary, who brings humanity back from the fall which then restores humanity to God?
Rather than saying that Mary was the “second Eve” can we say instead that Mary the “new Eve”? Jesus had spoken rather roughly to Mary at the wedding at Cana, “O Woman what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” ( John 2: 4). Do we see at this point that “woman” is actually a reference to Eve who was the first woman to invite Adam to disobey God’s will? Then Mary could be seen to be “asking Jesus to leave his divine timetable, to act in a messianic power before his hour has come” (Wright. D. 1989. p. 220). Nevertheless Mary has been given salvation and so out of faith, Mary was able to say to the waiting staff, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2: 5). St. John indicates “Mary as a new Eve being united to John, a new Adam, a figure of the new humanity, upon whom Jesus will breather his Spirit” (John 20:22). In this way Jesus is conferring the redemption from Adam’s sin on his disciples. Therefore it is hardly surprising that Mary is present at Pentecost alongside the disciples and waiting for the Spirit to come upon them (Acts 2:3).
It is clear from the doctrine of the early Church Fathers as well as Henry Newman that there is an undeniable parallelism between Mary as the second Eve and Jesus as the second Adam. If we suppose like Irenaeus and other Church Fathers, that Mary was the second Eve then we are enabled “by the position and office of Eve in our fall, to determine the position and office of Mary in our restoration” (Newman. J. 1982. p. 2) Does it make a difference to us as Christians by accepting that Mary as the New Eve parallels Jesus the New Adam?
Or, should we accept Mary as the new Eve from Evangelical perspective? Whichever Eve Mary was; what is clear is Mary’s trust and obedience to God which is embodied in Mary’s trust and obedience to her son Jesus. Therefore this must surely be the focus and example that all Christians are called to follow as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
The theological debate over the Immaculate Conception where Mary was born without original sin has been one of the significant points that have divided Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was unstated in earlier times but never denied. However in the Middle Ages this doctrine was denied by St. Thomas and St. Bernard where they placed the phrase within a different meaning to what the Church takes it today. Thomas and Bernard understood it “with reference to Our Lady’s mother whereas we do not speak of the Immaculate Conception except as relating to Mary” (Newman. J. p.14).
You and I are the children of Adam and as such have inherited the outcome of Adam’s sin (Psalm 51: 5). Because of this we have forfeited in Adam the spiritual covering of grace and holiness which the Creator God had given Adam at his moment of creation. As a result of this humanity has been conceived and born in this state of disinheritance, but Mary was “never in this state; she was by the eternal decree of God exempted from it” (Newman. J. p. 14).
Mary, known from early Christianity as the “second Eve” was able to overcome the sin that the first Eve committed by having remained a virgin and in turn “producing a virgin Son.” (Jantzen. G. 1995. p. 235). It is evident that the “virginal conception of Jesus” (McManus. J. 2007. p. 86) was beheld by the Gospels according to Luke, Matthew and even John.
Matthew’s Gospel highlights the fact that Joseph is Jesus’ father by way of bringing in Jesus’ genealogy where the ancestry of Joseph stems from the Royal ancestry of the house of David. (St. Matthew 1:1-16). Through Mary the Virgin, the prophet Isaiah’s prophecy finds fulfilment, “Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The Christ child is the personification of Isaiah’s prophecy who will come to redeem his people from sin and lead them to salvation.
When the angel Gabriel hailed Mary with the words, “Greetings, you are highly favoured” (Luke 1: 28) Catholics literally took this as Biblical evidence that implies the sinlessness of Mary. In contrast, Protestants in general are against the idea of Mary being freed by God from her original sin at the moment of her conception. This is because Protestants believe that the Immaculate Conception creates Mary as a kind of goddess and is set apart in an improper way from the rest of humanity. However is it not rather odd for Protestants to minimize grace in the example of the Virgin Mary, when their whole theology for salvation is dependant upon grace alone?
Mary herself must have pondered over these words. What does it mean to be “highly favoured?” One theory is that these words, “kecharitomene”
are linked to God’s grace having been derived from the Greek word, charis which means grace. Therefore according Greek scholars, Mary being “full of grace” was actually endued with grace. Even the Protestant linguist W. E. Vine has clarified this as being “endued with Divine grace” comparable to Romans 5: 2.
The Annunciation would have been an awesome and inspiring experience for Mary but not a crushing experience. Mary knew that the Lord was indeed with her and felt strengthened by Him to accept the challenge. But why was, Mary chosen and not another Jewish woman? Could, it be as the “Protevangelium of James from the 2nd century,” would have us believe, that Mary was chosen by God because her mother Anne was thought barren and out of desperation, called upon God for the gift of a child. A child and pattern that echoes Hannah and her son Samuel from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 1: 11- 28 ) who also dedicated her God -given child to the service of God. Alike Samuel, Mary, the daughter of Anne and Joachim had been taken by her parents to live in the Temple where Mary danced on the Temple steps and “was beside the Lord, like a little child rejoicing before him always” (Proverbs 8: 30). Does this lead us to see Mary’s role as “the one who will both shelter and reveal the Lord who is about to dwell in her?” (Boss. Sarah. Jane. 2007. p. 48). Can we really believe that a council of priests remembered Mary as the pure little child who was from the tribe of David and took her to the Temple where “the pure purple and scarlet fell to Mary?” (Boss. S. p. 49 ). After hearing the angel speak to her, Mary is said to have returned to the Temple and was then blessed by the priest who said to her, “Mary, the Lord God has magnified your name, and you shall be blessed among all generations of the earth” (Boss. S. p.49). Yet the Bible tells us that it was Mary who said this in her song “From now all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1: 48). Therefore the prophecy of the Protevangelium of James and Mary’s own prophecy are in contrast because the Lutherans and Calvanists agreed that Mary’s self-prophecy was continually being realized in the church.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception indicates that Mary is believed to have been born without any primary sin. This idea has been argued over for centuries in the Christian Church. While the Franciscans encouraged this doctrine in the Middle Ages the Dominicans opposed it and carried their opposition through to the 17th century. Early Christianity believed that Mary had not actually committed any sins during her life which became incorporated into the Church’s worldwide teaching. The Western Church during the 5th century agreed that the doctrine of original sin to be orthodox teaching and in 1854, a definition of the Immaculate C
Conception was made an “article of faith in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus.” ((Boss. J. S. p. 208).
However the Dominican Thomas Aquinas objected to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and disputed that while Christ had no need to be redeemed, the children of Adam needed salvation. So as Mary was a child of Adam, Mary also had been saved by Christ. Yet the main argument for Aquinas was that if a person was redeemed then they had to be snatched from the devil’s grip so at some moment Mary must have been in the devil’s grip and therefore in a state of sin. Or if Mary was sinless, then the sins that she needed to be redeemed from must have been committed by her forebears. But surely Anne and Joachim were righteous Jews? Yet even if Mary was not smeared with any past sins from her forebears then Mary did not need salvation from Christ. If this is true then how can Christ be the world-wide Redeemer we believe in? Therefore in the eyes of Thomas Aquinas, Mary cannot have been born without original sin.
Aquinas’ argument spilled over to the next century where it was contested by an English Franciscan called William of Ware in 1305. Ware believed that there were two kinds of debt, “that which is contracted and must be paid and that which is not contracted when it could have been” (Boss. J. S. p. 212). Although most of humanity would find themselves in the first group, Mary who was sinless is placed into the second group because Mary debt of sin was remitted before any incurred by the Passion of Christ.
In the Orthodox tradition Mary is continually referred to as, “panagia, all-holy, panamomitos, without blemish and achrantos, without spot or immaculate” (Stacpoole. A. 1982. p. 176). Some Greek theologians such as Elias Miniati, the Bishop of Kernitsa and Kalavryta in 1669-1709 accepted the Roman dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception whilst contemporary traditional and orthodox school of thought believe that Mary was “subject to the consequences of original sin, even though she was free from actual sin” (Stacpoole. A. 1982. p. 176). Although Orthodox Christians have freedom to believe the Latin doctrine privately in doing so they may be swimming against the current of the clear consensus of modern Orthodox theology. But why would the Orthodox Church be so aloof towards this doctrine? It is thought that there are two reasons; the role of Mary and her connection between the Old and New Covenant which actually detaches Mary from the other heirs of Adam and places Mary in another class from the previous religious men and women from the Old Testament. Therefore this would obliterate the continuity of sanctified history. The second reason is that the Orthodox considers that the 1854 explanation of the Immaculate Conception entails “an understanding of original sin” (Stacpoole. A. p. 177) that, they can not share. During the era of St. Augustine the concept of the Immaculate Conception and original sin was more appropriate to that era and Western theologians. Ever since Augustine the West, has been inclined to see original sin more as a fault that is perpetrated by all humanity “in Adam”. This involves all new-born babies who inherit guilt and therefore are deserving of the wrath and punishment of God. Yet Christianity in the East during Patristic and contemporary times had placed far less importance on this idea of inherited guilt and in some views the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is thought to be pointless.
Yet there are many who have claimed to have been spiritually enlightened from the Immaculate Conception. For example, Hildegard of Bingen experienced visions where the Church is known as the Bride of Christ who is a virgin and its key figures are the “virgin clergy, monks nuns” (Jantzen. G. 1995. p. 235). Therefore it is understandable that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was inspirational to Hildegard and others who believed that the way to spiritual perfection compelled virginity. This was further highlighted by Hildegard’s vision, the “Ordo Virtutum” where the jubilant ranks in heaven, “the virgins find their place with the apostles, prophets and martyrs” (Jantzen. G. p.235).
Roman Catholicism and their dealings with Mary are a current significant issue for Protestants because of a wide range of theological issues. The primal reason being of the authority of Scripture, the authenticity of interpretation and the authority of tradition and the teaching office within the Church on grace and incarnation. Yet, it was comparatively slight during the Protestant Reformation where Reformers such as Luther and Calvin preached on Mary. Henry Newman a former Anglican believed that the Immaculate Conception has uncovered the great truth that Mary “was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne without original sin” (Newman. H. J. 1849 – Discourses to Mixed Congregations). In the Reformation, the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestants were in agreement that Mary was indeed a virgin at both Jesus’ birth and throughout her entire life. Whereas Calvin believed that “Jesus’ brothers were really His cousins” (www.kencollings.com) Zwingli highlighted Mary’s perpetual virginity and Luther taught that Mary was born without sin.
There has always been debate between Catholics and Protestants on what the Bible is really teaching. We only have to look to the theological difference in the sacrificial nature in the Eucharist. However, since the official description of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, even some Roman Catholic theologians queried a weakness in the biblical justification that was presented in support of the Dogma. They “began to claim that the doctrine, though unwitnessed in the Bible, had been handed down from apostolic times by unwritten, oral tradition” (Stacpoole. A. 1982. p. 51).
While Mary is honoured as the Virgin and the chosen one to give birth to the Christ-child, was virginity in Mary’s era highly prized or could have been a sign of sterility and therefore a weakness? Even the Bible is known to express despair and misery of people by comparing the people to a virgin. We only have to look in the “Lament for Israel’s sin – Hear this word, O House of Israel, this lament I take up concerning you: Fallen is Virgin Israel, never to rise again, deserted in her own land, with no one to lift her up ( NIV. Amos 5: 1-2). If Mary had been chosen by God because of her barrenness, was it because God chooses the vulnerable, the poor, the rejected and the outcast? Mary responded to God by saying, “Be it unto me according to thy word” ( NIV.Luke 1:38) because she had been inspired by God’s favour which prompted Mary to accept the challenge. Although Mary was certainly “one of the Lord’s poor whom the Psalmist celebrated, she was in no way pauperised” (Stacpoole. A. 1982. p. 30) as is shown in the exultation of the Magnificat. Contrastingly, Luther implies that because Mary may have been an orphan, the “Despised stump” from Isaiah 11:12, the divinity of God bonded with Mary’s poor status. Luther’s belief was that rather than the Magnificat exulting Mary, it emphasizes her “low degree” (Wright. D. 1989. p. 165).
For many Evangelicals today, the idea of the Immaculate Conception is questionable as there is no mention of the Immaculate Conception in the Bible so tradition does not come into the argument. This theological debate on attitudes towards Mary and the diversity in our respective “doctrines of original sin” has been debated for centuries and is still a topic for debate among Roman Catholicism, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. So who has got it right? Surely the focus needs to be on our core understanding of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the person and divinity of Jesus Christ?
Was there any expectation by the Jewish people that their expected Messiah would be born of a virgin? Was it even necessary for the virgin birth to take place? Why, has the Church always been so quick to defend Mary’s virginity? I suggest that in defending Mary’s virginity, the divinity of Mary’s son is defended, because the virgin birth is a symbol of this divinity, the new beginning and the new Adam. The Virgin birth was deemed important enough to be included in the Creeds because it occurred, is Scriptural and an indicator to Christ and his saving works. Within the various thoughts on original sin there does seem to be a difference in the way Protestants and Catholics view “grace”. Grace for Protestants is where an exterior approbation is bestowed by God upon a soul that is still internally fraudulent. In contrast Catholics view grace as a feature of changing and explanatory beauty, “a real inward condition or superadded quality of the soul” (Newman. J. 1999. p. 64). This then explains how Mary achieved the constructive quality of supernatural grace that Eve is known to have had before the fall from grace (Genesis 3: 6). Therefore this is the reason for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception being significant for Catholics.
On the other hand the significance of the Immaculate Conception for Christianity could be that while Mary’s virginity is confirmed “as the human origin of Jesus the Son of God” (McManus. J. 2007. p. 91) the Church is also affirming the sinlessness of Jesus’ humanity and Jesus Christ’s divine origin which is a sign of God’s grace and plan in humanity’s salvation.
Mary, Forever Virgin?
When the Son of God came into the world born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, the early Church Fathers believed that the birth was without any pain and incurred “no loss of Mary’s virginal integrity during the birth” (https://www.davidmacd.com/catholic/mary_perpetual_virgin.htm). Augustine describes this as “Jesus passing through the womb of Mary as a ray of sun passes through glass” and therefore as Mary’s Hymen did not break and she had no other children, therefore remained a virgin. Joseph was also to play a part in being Mary’s husband and the earthly father of Jesus. We are not told in Holy Scripture of the exact details of the marriage between Mary and Joseph but the early Church believed that “they lived their marriage without a normal sexual relationship” (McManus. J. 2007. p. 92). Although Joseph evidently loved Mary he acknowledged that Mary was consecrated to God and so rather than take the role of a marital husband, Joseph took the role as provider and nurturer for Jesus to grow up in a stable Holy family. According to Catholic tradition Mary bore no children to Joseph which has only been disputed by Tertullian.
Yet we hear of Jesus having brothers and sisters ( Mark 3:31) which is acceptable to Protestants as it supports that Mary and Joseph made children together and therefore had a sexual relationship. In contrast these “brothers” are explained as cousins in the Greek language, as there is no Greek word for cousins. Yet Catholic teaching is that these brothers and sisters are in fact Jesus’ first cousins and the children of Joseph by his previous marriage. There seems to ne no specific Scriptural explanation of this and it may simply reflect the Patriarchal idolising of female virginity.
Yet so strong is Catholic belief in Mary’ perpetual virginity that it became incorporated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ” The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it. And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as the Ever-virgin” (McManus. J. p. 93). The Greek Orthodox Church also supports Mary as a perpetual virgin and gave Mary the title, “Aeiparthenos” Ever-Virgin in 553 at Constantinople during the 5th Ecumenical Council.
Martin Luther the Augustinian monk was instrumental in the rise of the European Reformation but was completely devoted to Mary. Although Luther challenged the Catholic Church in the abuse of Indulgences in his 95 thesis, Luther strongly believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Also other founders of Protestantism such as Calvin, Cranmer and Zwingli were known to have taught the Perpetual Virginity of Mary using the phrase, “Ever Virgin” in their confessional writings. The most surprising fact was that Luther’s belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception was not even declared as dogma by the Catholic Church until 1854. Calvin is also known to have encouraged his congregations to venerate Mary. Zwingli defended the perpetual virginity of Mary by saying, “to deny that Mary remained inviolate before, during and after the birth of her Son, was to doubt the omnipotence of God” (Potter. R. G. Zwingli. 1976. pp. 88-9, 395)
Since the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, the place of Mary has changed due to the confusion on Marian Devotion which we will look at in later chapters. Yet although the first generation of Protestant Reformers kept their devotion to Mary it is in contrast to the Protestant worship of the twentieth century where Mary was formally divorced from worship and prayer and was lucky if she was even mentioned in the Nativity story at Christmas.
There are strong voices among Protestants which also include some Anglicans who believe in the clarity of Scripture and in its “sole sufficiency in matters immediately related to salvation” (Boss. J. S. p. 342). However these Protestants do not accept that Christians should be bound to accept through faith and conscience any doctrine that has no written evidence in Scripture. So in the dogma of the virgin birth of Mary, Evangelicals and Protestants have no trouble as it is taught in Scripture. In contrast though, the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is another matter altogether. This is because traditional and evangelical Protestants claim that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a “literal reading which is directly contradicted by Scripture and with those of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption” (Boss. S. p. 342). In fact some would argue that the former is in conflict with the teaching of Paul in that “all have sinned” (Romans 3: 12; 5:12) and the latter because there is no evidence in Scripture that relays the life of Mary after she had been in the upper room at Pentecost awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Therefore for Anglicans there is the problem following demise of Biblical Literalism, on which all can agree. Whereas Roman Catholicism teaches that Scripture is to be ” read in the light of the tradition of the Church” (Boss. S. J. p. 342) and adopt the same Magisterial pattern that they have had for centuries and of which was firmed up in the 19th Century.
So which tradition is theologically correct and does it really matter? After all Mary’s perpetual virginity is not historical but is outside history as eternal. Mary’s defining characteristic as the Virgin Mary is so unique and special that even if she had gone on to have children with Joseph, it would not have been lost because Mary’s virginity does not mean using the technical sense but more in the spiritual and historic sense.
Mary Mother of God
The broader Christian traditions today, are united in their acceptance and belief in that the Blessed Virgin Mary was in fact the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 2:7) Yet when it comes to the question of accepting Mary as the Mother of God, there is a diversity of opinion that dates back to the Reformers. Yet before we look at this great theological debate, let us determine how exactly did Mary become known as Theotokos – the Mother of God?
In the second century Christianity had already begun to revere Mary. By 451 and the Council of Chalcedon, Marian doctrine and devotion was already well and truly thriving. It is believed that central to Mariology school of thought, is for Mary to be rightly called the Godbearer of her son Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. Central to Christianity is the doctrine of the Incarnation where the “Word of God who is God himself, through all things created, became a part of his own creation when he was conceived, gestated and born of the Virgin Mary” (Boss. S. 2007. p. 50). Therefore the Word of God is concurrently the human male Jesus of Nazareth as he has a mother who is fully human.
Pope John Paul II writes in his book that the early Church Fathers and the earlier ecumenical councils focused more on the identity of Jesus Christ whilst leaving the other features of dogma aside. Yet the truth about Mary from a Catholic perspective has unravelled down through the centuries as “Mariology would always take its direction from Christology.” (Pope J.P II. 2000. p. 25) When Mary’s maternal function became more universally known, Mary became venerated “in the teaching and worship of the first centuries as the virginal Mother of Jesus Christ.” ( Pope J.P II. 2000. p. 25) At the close of the second century, St. Irenaeus pointed out all that Mary had added to the labour of salvation; recognising in Mary, the worth of her consent in the annunciation and her obedience and faith in the angel Gabriel’s message, “the perfect antithesesis of Eve’s disobedience and belief, with a beneficial effect on human destiny.” (Paul. J. II. 2000. p. 26)
Whereas Eve was the instrument of death, in contrast Mary’s ‘yes’ to God was the means of salvation for herself and humanity. However although Irenaeus’ doctrine was not enlarged upon by other Church Fathers, it became worked out in the tenth century by John the Geometer, a Byzantine monk. John wanted to show that Mary is unified with Christ in the entire labour of redemption according to the will of God and through the sharing in the cross and suffering for humanity’s salvation. Therefore in this way Mary stayed united to her Son, Jesus Christ “in every deed, attitude & wish” (J.P.II. p.26).
Arnold of Chartres offers us insight to Mary’s spiritual offering of her soul in unity with the Christ who sacrificed His flesh at Calvary. Mary’s sacrifice is different to that of Christ’s self-emptying sacrifice because although she was sinless, was not divine. Mary shares in the divine mystery in modelling both complete at-one-ness with God’s will in her acceptance of becoming Theokotos and in her anguish as she stood at the base of the cross, as Christ’s mother. Therefore Mary saw all the glory of Gabriel’ initial promise coming to nothing, in anything like the usual, humanly expected terms of parenting – and yet still trusting that, grief-stricken though she is, it is how it should be as God’s will.
The compassion and humanness of Mary sharing in Christ’s passion and the drama of the cross has enabled Christians to enter the mystery. For Mary’s love for her Son is thought to make known the passion of the Son. Therefore Mary’s spiritual and worldwide motherhood has become widely recognised. Whereas John the Geometer in the East calls Mary, “You are our Mother” which develops into a thanksgiving for all the pain and suffering Mary bore for humanity, St. Anselm from the West developed Mary’s spiritual motherhood by declaring, “You are the mother of reconciliation and the reconciled, the mother of salvation and the saved” (cf. Oration 52, 8: PL 158, 957 A). In this way by seeing Mary within her motherhood, has opened a new path for Christians to become close to Mary.
In the previous paragraphs I have tried to show how Mary the Mother of Jesus made the transition to become the Mother of God. The “Mother of God” comes from the Greek translation Theotokos which more clearly is portrayed as “God-bearing, the God-bearer” (Wright. D. 1989. p. 121). Theos translates into God while tokos translates to “give birth to”. This title for Mary as Theotokos is both very old and revered and expresses a very close and physical relationship between the Mother of God and the infant Jesus. The Theotokos title was affirmed by the council of Chalcedon in its predication of Mary being Theotokos and was included in church doctrine regarding the person of Christ. Therefore Theotokos became incorporated into ecclesiastical language “in a context that was through and through Christological” (Wright. D. p.122).
The term Theotokos arose from a need to counter the heresy of Nestorianism. Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople overstated the difference between the human and divine nature of Christ by proposing that “Christ was not one but two, Son of God and son of Mary” (Wright. D. p. 122). Nestorius was apprehensive of the term Theotokos as he thought it indicated that the Son’s divinity started with Mary who was without question the mother of Christ’s humanity but not Christ’s divinity. Nestorius believed that if this title was used then it would suggest, that “God had a beginning – as if he were a pagan god, or some other created being” (Boss. S. 2007. p. 54). Nestorius was adamant that the Word of God was in fact everlasting and therefore did not have a beginning. However Nestorius was quite content to accept the term “Theodochos” which translated into God-receiving or Christotokos, “Christ-bearing”. However the bishops of Ephesus who were led by Cyril of Alexandria were determined to settle for nothing less than Mary as Theotokos. In this way, the significance of the incarnation was preserved and Theotokos was authorized as a title for Mary. St. Gregory of Nazianz was adamant, “that if anyone does not agree that Holy Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos), he is at odds with the Godhead. If anyone asserts that Christ passed through the Virgin as through a channel, and was not shaped in her both divinely and humanly, divinely because without a man and humanly because in accord with the law of gestation, he is likewise godless” (https://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/num28.htm).
It is interesting that it was only from the end of the sixth century that the Greek Christians writers began to use the term Mother of God with any regularity. The last of the Greek Fathers who was known as John of Damascus was probably the first Greek writer to routinely use the this term, Mother of God and “can be seen in his homilies on Mary’s nativity and dormition” (Wright. D. 1989. p. 124).
Although the Reformers within the 16th century agreed to the four ecumenical council’s doctrine which made up part of the Christian faith within the true Catholic Church, they were not however ready to accept the decorum in the designation of Mary as Mother of God. It is thought that generally speaking, the Reformers preferred the Nestorian stance which denied Mary the term Theotokos. Even Calvin was not in favour of calling Mary the Mother of God as it was not “a biblical expression, any more than blood of God or death of God were” (Wright. D. 1989. p. 130). Although the term Theotokos has a singularity about it, it has not been widely used in the English language of prayer and worship. Whereas the term “God-bearer” has been successful in keeping ” close to its original Christological context” (Wright. D. p. 131) the title ” Mother of God” has not been able to accomplish it. Karl Barth was keen to keep the designation of Theotokos towards a more concrete Christological focus. This is evident in Barth’s quote, “To a certain extent it amounts to a test of the proper understanding of the incarnation of the Word, because as Christians and theologians we do not reject the description of Mary as the “mother of God”, but in spite of its being overloaded by the so-called Mariology of the Roman Catholic Church, we affirm and approve of it as a legitimate description of Mary as the “mother of God” was and is sensible, permissible and necessary as an auxiliary Christological proposition” ( Barth’s views on Mary in Wright. D. p. 132). On the other hand John Henry Newman was so caught up in the exultation of a meagre creature that he questioned what mystery was more beyond belief – that God could become man without ending being God or Mary in becoming the Mother of God. Newman felt that “no honour, compatible with the nature of a creature, is too exalted for her, no praise too great” (Newman in Boyce P. 2001.p. 68).
Evangelicals, and some Anglicans as well as Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterian hardly ever refer to Mary as “the Mother of God”. Some fundamentalists are aghast if the Virgin Mary is called Mother of God. Yet does their reaction come from a misunderstanding of what the term Mother of God indicates as well as who Jesus was? After all it was through Mary rather than Joseph who came from the line of David (Romans 1:3). Karl Barth explains his theory of the Virgin Birth in that God rejected Joseph to be the father of Christ as God preferred to set aside the strength and maleness of men. Karl Barth believed that God desired a new creation and as Jewish identity is well known to be passed through the mother, it was logical for God to work with Mary rather than Joseph. So while Matthew hints at Joseph’s ancestry coming from the House of David ( Matthew 1: 1- 20) Barth suggests that it was more a case of Mary’s Jewishness that God required and used for the birth of the Messiah. So in this way, if Joseph had been implicated in the conception of Jesus then Jesus would have been made by man. Additionally the Creeds would not be able to state, ” who was incarnate with the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary and was made man.” It is worth noting that while the use of Mary Mother of God is a loyal paraphrase that is acknowledged worldwide from the solid dogmatic authority of the Ecumenical Council, it raises the question of whether it should be used as the standard part of Protestant terminology as used in the Roman and Orthodox language?
Catholics have always accepted and believed that Mary is the Mother of God commonly shared in Marianism between the Orthodox, Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism. Nevertheless the question is raised in whether Catholics gone too far and even flirted with the notion of Mary as “co-medatrix or co-redeemer” which flies in the face of Scripture, the unique and singular work, nature and value of Christ. One could say that it misses the point and even leads down the road of overstating to say the least. By stressing that Mary bore Christ as Theotokos has no doubt emphasized the divinity of Jesus Christ but it raises the problem with the idea of God having a mother, for by definition, God is God, and above and beyond, although stooping in wonderful grace in Christ.
Surely, all heresy is a piece of the truth taken too far or even a bit of the truth left out – some partial version of the truth of God? Here is an example; Jesus as social and moral example but not redeemer or as Man but not as God; a wise teacher, but nothing about his identity and mission to go to the cross. I could even add taking tradition over Scripture as a danger?
Mary was a wonderful and humble example of a willing but chosen vessel. John Paul II’s “Mulieris Dignitatem” jogs our memory that the Council Fathers of Ephesus were primary in according such majesty to Mary where in 431 CE Mary was first declared the mother of God. Why was such so powerful vocabulary used though? It appears that they had to use this type of influential language because they had encountered an extreme situation. The Council Fathers had to defend the “divine nature of Jesus was born as well as the human nature” (Byrne. L. 1999. p. 113). However the only way they could achieve this was by affirming Mary as both the mother of the human Jesus and of the Eternal Word within Jesus’ deity. Yet, was Mary the literal Mother of God in the sense of being more than human, herself? Has the language of Mary in being referred to as “God’s mother” from the English account of Vatican II records and Pope John Paul II Marian encyclical, “Mother of the Redeemer” orchestrated Mary as being seen as a divine mother? Surely it is more correct to say that Mary was not the literal Mother of God but she bore the Christ in humility and submission to the greater plan and will of God? For Mary, ” proclaimed and rejoiced in God her Saviour in the Magnificat.” (Luke 1: 46-55).
Whether Mary is Theotokos or the Mother of Jesus, there can be no other Christ, lovely though Mary was. On the one hand we cannot dispute the fact that because Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary must also be the Mother of God because this is a logical syllogism. In this way the celestial motherhood of Mary actually defends the doctrine of the Incarnation as well as conserves Catholic faith from a false humanitarianism.
However Mary as the Mother of God cannot be known as His mother in the way a mother is normally older than her children, nor is Mary the source of her Son’s deity. The “Old Testament prefigures the New Testament and the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament” (https://www.angelfire.com/ok3/apologia /saintbenedict/maryark.html ). So in this way the Ark from the Hebrew Scriptures is changed for the Ark of the New Testament. Mary symbolizes this Ark of the New Covenant where as the Mother of God, Mary carries the deity Jesus Christ in her womb (2 John 7; John 1:14). In contrast though the fundamentalists would insist that Mary had not carried God within her womb but the human nature of Christ which surely echoes the Nestorian heresy? From an Evangelical perspective, does the term Mother of God make Mary over-honoured? Yet in contrast surely this title refers to Jesus, more than Mary, as it declares that Jesus Christ is really God and therefore protects against any false doctrine which could play down Jesus’ divinity.
In conclusion of a theological debate that seems certain to continue, I believe that more importantly Mary herself, would be the first to agree that Christianity must be pointed to Jesus rather than herself so that we are ready to “do whatever He says”. (John 2:5).
I cannot mention the Immaculate Conception without mentioning the Assumption. Both doctrines are part of the cause that separates Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that Mary’s body and not just her soul were taken up into heaven when she died. Therefore Mary would not have spent time asleep in the grave like the other Saints who await the last day and resurrection. In one sense this sounds incredible but not when we refer back to Elijah of whom God took up into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2: 11). There are no trustworthy records of where, how or when Mary died. Whilst the early Church Fathers; Jerome, Ephram and Augustine accepted Mary’s death without question, in contrast Epiphanius ended the discussion, by saying “Nobody knows how she departed this world” (https://www.therealpresence.org/archives/Mariology/Mariology_025.ht)
Newman believed that two motives in believing in Mary’s Assumption is because ” her Divine Son loved her too much to let her body remain in the grave” and that ” she was so transcendently holy, so full, so overflowing with grace” (Newman. J. 1982. pgs, 27&28). Newman’s argument rests upon his theory in that supposing Eve had never sinned, therefore Eve would never have become dust. So Mary who was sinless must have kept hold of the gift that Eve had forfeited.
Although many Evangelicals today refute the theory of Our Lady’s Assumption, I feel that while the Incarnation demonstrates God’s longing to be with us the Assumption of Our Lady hints at God’s desire for humanity to be with Him. Although there is no Biblical evidence for Mary’s Assumption, one could argue that if God had not taken Mary
up into heaven alive then, where are the remains of Mary’s earthly body? Where is the tomb, relics or the records for her death?
Gregory I in the 5th century (540-604) chose to honour the Assumption of Mary into heaven on August 15th. This feast then replaced the theory and previous feast of January 18th of Mary’s Dormition (her falling asleep). Although the Assumption has never been proved it did however put Mary in a different place from the other saints. It also gave reassurance to the many faithful “who sought her intercession and help as she sat alongside her son there” (Rubin. M. 2010. p. 139). In this way we begin to see how Mary became the connection of hope between earth and heaven. Additionally the Assumption has been linked with her Coronation in heaven and together with other images and icons had led to the Assumption, “representing an image, gesture and song the triumph and promise of salvation through the Incarnation worked in Mary’s body that never died.” (Rubin. M. p, 143)
Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was ultimately given the principal place in Christian tradition, it was not until the second century that we can glimpse any form of devotion to Mary, “as Irenaeus of Lyons and the Protevangelium of James attest” (Boss. S. 2007. p. 130). However within the fourth century we start to see a kind of Marian cult and prayer emerge as people began to offer their prayers to the Virgin Mary. Around the same era the veneration of other saints began to emerge; becoming quickly organised and visible. There is evidence from many resources such as homiletics, hagiography and archaeology from the Roman provinces of a thriving cult of the Virgin. Marian piety emerged from intercessory prayer which has been identified by a papyrus from ancient Egypt as, “Sub tuum praesidium – We take refuge in your mercy, Theotokos. Do not disregard our prayers in troubling times, but deliver us from danger, O only pure one, only blessed one” (Boss. S. p. 130).
During the Middle Ages Mary remained the predominant figure within devotional practise and theory. Mary became the subject of numerous sermons, songs, art work and doctrine where she became known as ” mother and virgin, bride and second Eve, type of the Church, divine intercessor and Throne of Wisdom” (Boss. S. P. 177). Although Mary is rarely mentioned in the New Testament what has come from patristic authority is the notion that Mary was descended from the House of David as she was the cousin of Joseph. This is also supported by the apocryphal tradition who state that Mary was from the kin of Joseph.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm was known to be among the first to “dedicate a series of prayers to the Virgin as grieving mother” (Boss. S. p. 182). Such piety encouraged that resonated with the passion of Christ and the grieving mother inspired many mystical authors such as Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercians during the twelfth century. It is worth noting that in the 12th century there was a spectacular augmentation of Marian devotion because of an overlap with the increase of “clergy and monastics along with an intensified campaign for clerical celibacy.” (Newman. B. 2003. p. 253) Although Marian godliness was practiced by the monks and nuns, lay people were also through the sacred art, preaching and vernacular texts. Therefore Mary “succeeded in being all things to all people” (Newman. B. p. 253) who inspired the people’s attitude and became the example they were to emulate.
During the thirteenth century, most parish priests were instructed by the Pope and church council on what to teach their congregations. Amid the foundational teaching were the Ava Maria and the Creed which conveyed the place of Mary in Christianity. This was evident by the writings of a parish priest, William of Shoreham and his poem on “the five joys of the Virgin” (Rubin. M. 2010. p. 217). Yet there were Jewish voices in Europe who did not accept Mary conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit, maintained her virginity and was a figure to be revered.
St. Francis of Assissi and the friars were enthused by the human side of Christ where Christ’s suffering is found at the core of the Christian faith. Mary is believed to be the one who felt Christ’s agony more than anyone and because of this Mary, is thought to resonate and have pity on the lowest of all the sinners. Up until the eve of the Protestant Reformation, the Marian cult had literally blossomed. If you prayed to Mary then she would be able to “offer the promise of consolation in this world… miraculous intervention during times of crisis… and of salvation in the next” (Parish. H & Naphy. W. 2002. p. 25). Yet such devotion to Mary was mocked by the Protestant Reformers. Martin Luther was convinced that the Pope and his monks had encouraged Christian people to “make a god out of Mary” (Parish & Naphy. p. 25). Furthermore, it was commonly thought that Mary had been given “all power in heaven and earth” (Parish & Naphy. P. 25). So to address Mary as Mediator when the Mediator can only be Christ alone was deemed as blasphemy. Luther was so aghast that he stated, ” to invoke the Virgin Mary and the saints may make a beautiful show of holiness; but we must stay together under the head, or we are eternally dammed. What will become of those…. Who crawl for shelter under Mary’s cloak?” (Parish & Naphy. p. 25). Any previous rites that were thought to bring Mary’s help were now condemned as superstitious and idolatrous. Even the repetition of the Hail Mary was deemed useless by Luther and the Salve Regina and Regina caeli were eliminated as they were considered to dishonour Christ. The whole Protestant stance was summed up in 1593, by the Reformer, Nicholas Gryse in his “Spegel de Antichristischen Pawestdomsvnd Lutherischen Christendoms” which refers to saying the Hail Mary, using rosary beads, candles, holy images and blessed herbs at the feast of Purification and the Assumption as, “superstitious, vain and powerless things” (Parish & Naphy. p.26).
Until the Protestant Reformation, medieval Catholic Marian devotion in the sixteenth century was very popular in England. The arrival of the Reformation in England brought with it a reaction, to the place of Mary and other saints within Anglicanism. This reaction was followed in turn by swiftly and harshly removing the Marian devotions; guilds, shrines and prayers that respected Mary, religious Orders that had encouraged Marian devotion were dispersed and calendar feasts and occasions of Marian festivity were reduced. However Mary’s place within Scripture within Anglican dogma were not in question as it made certain of Mary’s position in the Anglican comprehension of the format of salvation. Also this gave the Anglican Prayer Book the room to add variety or development after the radical and political changes during the sixteenth century such as the 1552 Prayer book and the 42 Arcticles of 1559 and their extreme limitation of Marian devotion
Although Luther and Zwingli were brought up within Marian devotion, they rejected any Marian devotion that was focused on the incantation of Mary but to the omission of Christ. Luther believed that, “in the perversion of true religion the cult of Mary had played an inescapable .role and deserved to be branded as idolatry” (Wright. D. 1989. P. 162) During the reign of Queen Mary, Calvin believed that prayers to Mary were in opposition to Scripture and to ask Mary to acquire grace for an individual was deplorable blasphemy. Mary could not be our advocate because Mary also needed Christ like all humanity. Calvin was convinced that by referring to Mary as hope, life and light was to make Mary into an idol and therefore detract from God’s respect. Yet in contrast Calvin was content for Christians to venerate Mary and imitate her for she was a true teacher.
Most 16th century English Reformers had been brought up in an atmosphere of “overblown, Marian devotion” (Boss. S. P. 318). Although Mary was no longer referred to as the Queen of Heaven, our advocate, she was viewed as the perfect model of obedience and humility. Mary was a mother and wife who knew how to keep a good house and bring up her son as well as understand grief, sorrow and loss. Additionally Mary was viewed as playing a part in the history of salvation because she was a humble and obedient woman who had been called by God to a special role in God’s redemption for humanity and therefore was worthy of honour. In contrast Hugh Latimer saw extreme devotion to Mary as a way of dishonouring her because Mary “never exalted herself above her son” (Boss. S. p. 318).
Mary’s journey is one that is both historic and religious. The Marian doctrine has been instrumental in moulding the Roman and Anglican Church which in turn has determined the different place of Mary within each tradition. Yet there are issues surrounding Marian doctrine such as; to what degree does the Church, as an institution, have freedom and authority in deciding matters of faith? The traditional Church of England line that ‘all things necessary to salvation are contained in the Holy Scriptures’ seems, to me at least, to contrast with a Catholic doctrine of the magesterium which allows the teaching office to state definitively truths that must be believed. This is particularly noticeable in the case of Marian doctrines, like the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, which have more recently been defined by the Catholic Magesterium. Thus, many Catholic Anglicans might believe in the truth of these doctrines without believing that they must be held as a matter of faith. However, maybe there are good reasons why these two should be held as a matter of faith, given the importance of Mariology for Christology. So maybe even with a different view of the Church’s relationship to Scripture and freedom to teach we should regard these doctrines as matters of faith. Anglicanism has problems following the demise of Biblical Literalism, on which all can agree, while Catholics adopt the same Magisterial pattern that they have had for centuries and of which was firmed up in the 19th Century.
Although Anglicanism is correct in teaching their inherited belief of the Reformation that Mary is the perfect role model of humility & obedience, “a type of Church,” (Seattle Statement ARCIC. P. 151) is there something more to be grasped? The Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion has always held Mary in high esteem yet down through the centuries Anglican belief in some of the Marian theology has come into questioning.
Whichever tradition one is from in Christianity, we cannot deny the Blessed Virgin Mary has played a significant role in the life of Jesus Christ, Son of God because of Scriptural evidence. Yet the Marian Doctrine has created division between Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism. However the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission recognises that although there remain theological differences, they are committed to enabling Christians to encounter the person of Mary and strengthen individual faith. Their aim has never been to substitute Jesus Christ our Redeemer with Mary. Instead the ARCIC has tried to explain that in having Mary as the core of a Christian’s devotion actually leads the Christian to Christ so that we like Mary can be ready to, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Mariology has also been the focus of the Ecumenical Movement where Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox theologians are currently trying to find a way where the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception & the Assumption can be incorporated into the Christian faith although they are not explicitly made known Biblically. The Ecumenical Movement acknowledges that the doctrine and the place of venerating Mary present a huge challenge in the hope for Christian kiononia. For although “Prejudices can be dissipated in fraternal discussion, doctrine can be centered anew upon its Christological character, and worship can be modified, reformed or spiritualized – the doctrine and veneration of Mary create extreme difficulties for ecumenical thought.” ( ). Yet the Ecumenical Movement are convinced that to resolve this problem is by being dependant on the prospective bringing together of a torn apart Christianity.
Protestants within contemporary Anglicanism have inherited the Protestantism of the reformers from the 16th century. This is the inheritance of the new role for Mary that was brought about during the Reformation who had to find a new role rather than the previous Marian devotional role. Therefore Mary’s role was exchanged from being revered to the perfect model of discipleship and obedience for all Christians to aspire to. Yet is this considered a blessing or a curse, in that it is impossible to live up to? Protestant and evangelical Anglicans are still extremely wary of letting Mary become a focal point of their devotion and rebuff the custom of praying to Mary and the other saints as part of their worship to God. The superstition that surrounded Marian devotion during the English Reformation has certainly not helped matters yet there still seems to be confusion on Marian devotion today and in the person of Bloody Mary somehow connected to the Virgin Mary. If Anglicans revere Mary or have devotion to her does that take them further away from Jesus Christ?
In contrast the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Anglican Church practises Marian devotion and praying to Mary and the other saints as part of their worship of God. This developed from the Caroline Divines and an acknowledgement of the position of Mary among Anglican scholars in the 16th century. Their readiness to reflect afresh the importance of Mary within Christian practice was shown through their poetry and sermons. Indeed King James I was not only an enthused theologian but an avid admirer of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the 19th century the Oxford Movement enhanced the Marian devotion to come to fulfilment by their “emphasis on patristic studies which inevitably led to a fresh appreciation of the role of the Theotokos within the Christian tradition” (Boss. S. p. 331). In particular John Keble was instrumental in 1823 through the beginning of his hymn Ave Maria. Keble had been inspired to write this poem after the death of his mother.
Marian devotion was further represented by none other than B.F. Westcott, J.B. Lightfoot & E.W. Benson who visited the Marian Shrine at La Salette in 1865. With the aid of the Oxford Movement in the 20th century who gathered speed, there has been a gradual revived interest in Marian devotion, shrines, images, liturgy and feast days such as August 15th ( the Virgin Mary is honoured) which has re-appeared on Anglican calendars. Marian theology continues to be taught in Anglicanism today through the lens of Anglo-Catholic parishes and the Anglican Franciscans whereas the more Protestant Anglicans teach about Mary’s obedience.
I believe that since the Reformation, Anglicanism has lost something treasured in their misunderstanding and belief of turning Mary into a god through Marian devotion. This is echoed by George Herbert from the 16th century, through his poem, “Thou art holy Mine, whence came the Gold, the great restorative for all decay in young and old- Thou art the cabinet where the jewel lay; chiefly to thee I would my soul unfold” (Boss. S. p. 326). The poem goes on to express Herbert’s “apologia- of pity and longing for the mother neglected because of the strict demands of the Son” (Boss. S. P. 327).
In catholic theology Mary is inextricably linked with her son Christ. The closer we find Mary is to Jesus, the more readily Mary can point us to Him. As Mary is a portal into Christ it is logical that Mary needs to be located close to Him. Yet through our proximity to Mary, our own discipleship in Christ is actually strengthened rather than compromised as Evangelicals would have us believe. St. Francis of Assisi was unique in history in calling Mary, “Virgin made Church” (A Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary). This identifies Mary as a type for the church and enriches the other titles given to her: Mother of the Church/ Mother of us all.
Yet it is through this Motherhood that we also retain the beautiful imagery of the Church (all of us) as being the Bride of Christ. To remove Mary and these titles from our piety alters the nature of the church from an intimate relationship as bride, to being a more diffuse, even functional and organisational relationship as merely the people of God. For the unity of the Godhead to be infused with this Immaculate yet human love of Mother and Son only deepens my sense of theintimacy Our Lord shares with us. To suddenly as it were “demote” Mary from this unique role to just being “one of us” denies us this avenue of mediation which Our Lady opens up for us. We absolutely should seek to emulate Mary’s “yes” to God and her pattern of discipleship, but I think we should also retain the particular honour and devotion which is hers alone. May contemporary Anglicans recover the cherished gift in Mary and be drawn closer to Christ and in their understanding of Christ’s redemption and salvation.
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