Denuo…

The Anglican Scotist put forward some thoughts on how Anglicans can share the wealth of Marian reflection with our protestant brethren. It has occasioned some thoughtful reflections from Christopher as well as a few dribbles from me. In his latest round, the Scotist takes issue with my comments, arranging them under three headings. I shall deal with these in turn.

I.
The Scotist takes issue with my deployment of the early history of devotion to the BVM. He argues that the origins of devotional practice need not have a major bearing on the shape of doctrines concerning the same person, especially as they develop over time. I would agree with the Scotist in principle. I do think, though, that had a doctrine this major been held by the universal church, it would have left its mark in the history of devotion—and that’s where I’m lacking the evidence.

I prefer to take what I consider a Vincentian view of the development of doctrine that is, there is a fundamental body of truth handed over at the time of the apostles. As time as progressed, as errors have emerged, as problems have arisen, we have elaborated on truths already contained within that fundamental body. To use the metaphor, we have added detail and flesh to the body—not an extra arm or leg.

The reason I point to the early devotion to the BVM is that I see “co-redemptrix” as a fairly major step. Is it indeed contained within the original body of truth in nascent form? Since I do not find it in the fist-millennium forms with which I am familiar, I do regard it with suspicion. Show me the evidence, Scotist, that this was held by the undivided Church, and I’ll be happy to consider it more deeply.

I’ll happily hold to the high view of Mary contained in, say, Bede’s Homily I.3 on the Annunciation. He indeed affirms that the BVM dwelt in a special state with regard to sin when he writes:

“The power of the Most High overshadowed the blessed mother of God because when the Holy Spirit filled her heart, he tempered for her every surge of fleshly concupiscence, he thoroughly cleansed her from temporal desires, and with heavenly gifts he sanctified her mind along with her body.”

However, I just as surely agree with him when a few lines later he states:

“Indeed, we human beings are all conceived in iniquity and born in moral faults; however by God’s granting it, as many of us are preordained to eternal life as are reborn out of water and the Holy Spirit. In truth, our Redeemer alone, who deigned to become incarnate for us, was thereupon born holy because he was conceived without iniquity. He was born the Son of God since he was conceived of a virgin through the working of the Holy Spirit.”

While holding the BVM in special esteem and regarding her as cleansed by sin—as we all are in Baptism when the Holy Spirit is bestowed on us, and it taking root in her perhaps more firmly and fully than in me—he denies the doctrine (currently held by the Romans as dogma) of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM that holds her guiltless of any taint of original sin.

II.
The Scotist takes notice of something that I pointed to in my comments—the exegetical and theological connection between Mary and the Church. He sees nothing wrong with this connection and thinks that it bolsters his point. I don’t see anything wrong with the connection either—but it behooves him to tread quite a bit more careful when and where he does not see implications that he does not intend. The Roman Catholic Church takes this connection quite seriously. Indeed, the current edition of the catechism contains a subtitle: “Mary—Eschatological Icon of the Church” (preceding Para. 972). To what degree do the characteristics of the icon pertain to its object? What is resemblance and what reality? To put a finer point on it, the Second Vatican Council initially planned to produce a statement on the BVM. Indeed–it did so, but not as a separate statement. Rather, it was rolled into Lumen Gentium, the statement on the nature of the Church and its relationship with other “ecclesial bodies”. Do you think, then, that dogmas concerning Mary can be considered atomistically apart from their wider implications? What light, for instance, does the dogma of the Immaculate Conception throw upon the dogma of an infallible Church? I don’t know myself—I’m still working through it—but this is another reason for my calls for caution.

III.
The Scotist then attempts to answer my main issue. And does not. He does describe well the differences between Abraham and Mary—and I don’t disagree. He produces a nice reflection on seeing with the heart of Mary–again, I don’t disagree. But what he has produced here is a fine show of devotion—and does not support thereby why Anglicans should embrace Marian dogma. Because that’s the real sticking point.

Therefore, I’ll try to be more clear in this response than in the pat and lay out specifically my objection to his initial post, an objection still unanswered.

IV.
I’ll begin with a rough and ready definition: a doctrine is a belief that we hold about the faith; a dogma is a doctrine that we must hold about the faith. The Roman Catechism is more specific, defining it as “[truths], in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith,…contained in divine Revelation or when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.” (para. 88).  Therefore, dogmas are absolute and binding in a way that the more general term doctrine does not require. I am willing to identify and entertain the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the BVM; I reject them as dogma. That is, they do not have the same character as the dogmatic doctrines of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection—or the identification of the BVM as Theotokos, the God-bearer.

The Scotist, in his original post, pushes for Anglo-Catholic reception and promulgation of the Roman doctrine-which-some-push-as-dogma of the BVM as “Co-Redemptrix”. As several of the quotes he provides make clear (especially that of JPII), this doctrine itself builds on the two prior Marian  “dogmas”, most especially the Immaculate Conception. I contend that while these are interesting doctrines worthy of consideration, they are not true dogmas, they need not be held for one to hold the full faith of Christ Crucified—and neither is this newcomer. This is the bar the Scotist has set for himself with his own words. Perhaps he intends that we examine the doctrine—which I tend to regard as popular devotion gone awry—but this is not what he has said.

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8 Responses to Denuo…

  1. John-Julian, OJN says:

    This whole exchange has become so intellecually convoluted that I find myself facing a couple of logico/mystical dead-ends.

    Am I right that Scotist is proposing that Mary is not only a “model” for our relationship with Christ, but is, in fact, an essential means to Christ – i.e. only by our identification with Mary do we have access to Jesus?

    If I am accurate in that (over?) simplification, then I think we have to face Mark 3:21 (“He has gone out of his mind.” [exeste)) and John 2:4 (“Woman [gunai], what concern is that to you and to me?”).

    In other words, if I am to follow Jesus only through (within, by means of) Mary, I am then justified in believing (1) that Jesus was insane, and (2) that I know better than He what He ought to do.

    Good heavens, having said that, I feel rather like an evangelical sophomore, and readily admit to over-generalization. Where does this go wrong?

  2. Christopher says:

    Fr. John-Julian,

    It goes wrong, as Derek, notes from devotion and piety gone awry at a popular level. What needs to be made clear is that “popular” should not be understood as that only of the “hoipaloi” or as divorced from any kind of theological possibilities, for many cardinals may and do have devotions similar to laypersons, but the question to be asked is where such devotion fits in properly and theologically with first things like Jesus Christ, Trinity, Eucharist…

    After all, our first things are articulated in terms of dogma informed by experience (including devotion), indeed, Luther, for example, reinvigorates the existential nature of our basic dogma in a way that makes clear they are about relationship with Persons. Experience or popular piety should never be put down or dismissed, but it can become overworked, overwrought, and overgrown even to the point of overtaking first things–and then eventually requiring reform. And it isn’t only laity who may encourage such over-tendencies, for as I noted many priests, bishops, etc. may share such tendencies.

  3. Christopher says:

    That is to say that the popular devotions to say, Jesus as fully God, fully human in such terms as Theotokos (a fighting word) sung in songs in the street cannot be dismissed either, but the Fathers related this back to a proper theological discussion on first things, so I don’t want to dismiss the popular, and I know Derek wouldn’t either, but I want devotion to relate within our “sufficient” framework. Derek does this nicely by teasing out dogma and doctrine in a way I do similar with core doctrine and other teachings.

  4. OK–your turn. We might be running out of argument-stuff, but I’m trying to hold up my end: I think you might already have an irrevocable adherence to the fifth dogma (explained in the response).

    Anyhow, I really would rather talk about Mary than GAFCON or Rowan Williams.

  5. John-Julian,

    Not an “essential means”, but maybe the “normal means” or something weaker than “essential”.

    The Scripture you’ve quoted is not telling. E.g. from Mark, Mary rightly perceives Jesus’ distance and strangeness, as we should if we are seeing him rightly. After all, he is God. From John, Jesus rightly emphasizes both that his tie to Mary is contingent and that she is subordinated to him.

    That is, the Scripture would need to be embedded in a compelling narrative to deliver a serious problem to adherents of the fifth dogma.

  6. chrsitopher,

    It’s going to take a few days, but I’ll try to address your arguments. I’m changing jobs; things are a mess.

  7. lol! Mary discussions are always more *edifying*, anyways…

    I’ll see what you’ve got…

  8. Pingback: Sed contra « haligweorc

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