Sed contra

And now, a response to the Scotist’s latest writing on the proper regard for the Ever-blessed Virgin Mary

Once again, the issue at hand is whether awarding the BVM the title of “co-redemptrix” should be held dogmatically by Anglicans. He is arguing for; I am arguing against. In this latest post he starts to address my previous rebuttal in numbered sections; I shall start with him, and add section numbers as it seems appropriate.

I had suggested that the notion of Mary as “co-redemptrix” might be a novelty and asked for citations from the Church Fathers (typically defined as Westerns up through Bede or Easterners up through John of Damascus, though an alternate Anglican definition is the Fathers of the first 5 centuries [yes, Bonaventure is right out…]). In reply, the Scotist provides a handful of quotes. My overall impression of them is that they tell us that great reverence was afforded the Mother of God and that she played an indispensable role in salvation history. I do not find in them, however, the notion of “co-redemptrix”. Let’s look at a few…

His first two are perhaps his best and strongest; they’re both from Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a great champion of and a well-spoken advocate for the notion of recapitulation which was a central understanding of God’s actions in salvation from the time of St Paul.

Let me break this down as best I can: Romans 5 is a key text here. In the latter half of this chapter, Paul speaks of Adam and Jesus as type and antitype. That is, Adam was the one man who sinned through disobedience. His sin of disobedience brought death to all humanity. All humanity was therefore guilty of sin and deserving of death. Jesus the Christ, the sinless, the obedient, freely gave his own life up for death—but this went against the “rules”. He did not deserve death but the gift of his death, as it were, “broke the machine” subsequently freeing humanity from the curse and condemnation of their disobedience; this is accessed through baptism which is a joining into the death and resurrection of Christ by becoming joined into his mystical body (Rom 6).

Paul thus gives us an elegant chiastic sort of structure: one pivotal man (Adam) through his action (disobedience) produces a result for all humanity (death). By embracing that result (death) out of turn, another pivotal man–yet very God–(Jesus) through his action (obedience) produces a result for all humanity (life). It’s compelling in an intellectual kind of way. (I’m open to the notion that it’s less compelling through other forms of knowledge.)

This is also seen in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s resurrection chapter, where he gives us the wondrous passage that we use liturgically in Eastertide as the last part of the Pascha Nostrum:

Christ is risen from the dead, *
and become the first fruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, *
by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
even so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Irenaeus takes up this theme which he calls “recapitulation” and makes it explicit. Another key place where the Fathers found it was in the Temptation narrative in the Gospels. As his very first public act (in the Synoptics…) Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert–just as Adam was in the garden… John Cassian and all those after him (especially Gregory the Great who popularized it) understood the three core temptations of gluttony, pride, and avarice to be the same as before; Adam was bested by these in garden, Jesus triumphed over them in the wilderness. [I’ll have to see if they all get this from Irenaeus…] The devil’s hold suffered a fatal set-back even then—the rest of Christ’s ministry accelerated the unfolding result achieving its great climax in the crucifixion and resurrection.

So—what does all this have to do with Mary? Because as Paul sees Christ as the New Adam, Irenaeus explores the notion of Mary as the New Eve.

As Eve sinned through disobedience, refusing and ignoring the command of God, this primal disobedience in the garden was reversed by Mary in the Annunciation. In Mary’s acceptance, in her obedience to God, Eve’s initial curse was undone. As Jesus “rolls-back” Adam’s disobedience, so does Mary “roll-back” Eve’s. Thus, to the degree that both Adam and Eve were participants in humanity’s primordial sin, so both Jesus and Mary factor into its overcoming.

This notion of recapitulation, therefore, is—as I see it—the single best case for arguing the Immaculate Conception and therefore Mary as “co-redemptrix”. That having been said, I’m still not convinced that this overcoming of original sin requires an immaculate conception or necessarily makes Mary a true “co-redemptrix”. Yes, true obedience to God is an act directly contrary to original sin, but—as we believe and as the Fathers testify—God’s grace strengthens us to overcome this sin; original sin itself is cleansed in Baptism and as we cleave to the Spirit received in Baptism and open ourselves to its work in our wills and ways it nerves us to reject sin and to love, fear, and trust God as we ought.

The central question for me, then, is origin and volition: was the choice of obedience at the annunciation Mary’s free, “unaided” will, or was it her choice assisted and inspired by the Spirit already at work in her life? I can’t see it any other way than the second. To my way of thinking, even Mary’s “yes” was at God’s initiative through grace. It was surely not a coerced “yes”, but the prime mover for the action, its true origin, was in God and not Mary herself.

Moving right along…

The Jerome quote—part of a defense of virginity—is more of the same.

I believe the other two are as well, but I profess and plead my ignorance of the Later Greek Fathers.

Augustine—that one looks intriguing; I’ll have to hunt it down…

Origen—wow, this one would be a clincher—if Origen said what the Scotist said he said… He got tripped up on grammar here. The referent of the sentence is John, the beloved disciple, the one who leaned his head on the breast of Jesus and who [at the foot of the cross] received Mary as his mother from Jesus. The point that Origen is making is that this John is the one most qualified to write the deepest and most penetrating of the gospels because he was the most intimate with Jesus—not because he received the ability to understand Jesus through his mother.

So, this showing has promise particularly in the case of recapitulation but, as the Scotist admits, nothing here seals the deal.

[As a sidenote, you keep referring to the “fifth Marian dogma”. I’m assuming you are using this to refer to the “co-redemptix” notion. Where does this numbering come from—and what are the other four?]

I brought up earlier the conjunction of topics found in Vatcian II’s Lumen Gentium, where it produced a statement on both the Church/ecclesial bodies and the BVM and I suggested that elevating Marian doctrines to the point of dogma without understanding the wider implications was a dangerous business. This point the Scotist concedes. I do want to say a little more about it, though…

Theologically, I’m fairly conservative. One of the reasons that I am conservative is because I fear the consequences of hasty change to any part of the Church’s central proclamation because none of it is truly independent. It’s an interconnected web, a seamless garment. This always proved to be one of the eye-opening moments for the students in my Church Year class—and we generally hit it when we got to what I affectionately refer to as the Goth Triduum—Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls. These days—and the problem of the Protestant co-opting of All Saints as All Souls—can’t be understood without understanding the Church’s theology of death, of the communion of the saints, of Baptism. For many of them, that discussion was their first glimpse of the web of theological connections that is orthodox Christian thought; playing with one part affects everything around it and linked to it by thousands of years of speculation, meditation, and life experience of the reality of the Living God.

Moving along, the Scotist addresses my distinction between doctrine and dogma. This, as far as I’m concerned, is why this is worth fighting over. Doctrine is what may be held; dogma is what must be held. To put it another way, it’s possible to have a doctrinally minimalist Christianity and to still have it recognizable as orthodox Christianity. For example, it’s possible to lop off many of the doctrines and practices relating to the saints and the sacraments and still be “Christian” as described by the Scriptures and the Creeds.
I think it’s a lot more fulfilling and a lot more fun to have these, but I’ll recognize Reformed and Baptist folk as fellow members of the mystical Body even if they don’t sing the right antiphons on the Benedictus for the feast of St Ethelreda. But “dogma” means that it must be held in order for it to be a valid Christianity. A “dogma” is the kind of thing that if you went, in the Spirit, to an orthodox mother and father who died before its establishment and asked, “Hey, do you believe X”, they’d respond, “Well, of course—but that’s so obvious we’ve never had to say it…”

Would the great Baptist, would the great Reformed, forebearers respond this way in regard to the BVM as “co-redemptrix”—and are you prepared to cut them off from the Body of Christ if they answer in the negative on that account?

While the Scotist says: “There is no reason, as an Anglican and an Episcopalian, I have to convert him and others to belief in the fifth dogma as dogmatic, however desirable conversion would be” he is, in fact, mistaken: that’s exactly what dogma means. If he wants to talk about “co-redemptrix” as a doctrine, then he’d be absolutely correct and I’d have no problem with his decision.

Dogma is the fighting word here.

He closes by borrowing a notion from Rahner, the anonymous Christian, and suggests that there may be anonymous Marians. I hate to say it, but this completely rubs me the wrong way. If a roshi told me that I was an anonymous Buddhist, or if I were told by an imam that I was an anonymous Muslim, I’d thank them nicely for their complement of my character but feel a bit annoyed at their condescension. To be told that I am acceptable to the degree to which I participate in their system of belief while not knowing it strikes me as a bit patronizing.

In conclusion, then, I thank the Scotist for his latest effort. I receive with gladness his nice package of patristic quotes and commend the doctrine of recapitulation to you for your consideration. However, I find nothing here that persuades me that the BVM as “co-redemptrix” belongs at the level of dogma. Rather I am persuaded by his use of the term, that the Scotist is improperly using the term, equating doctrine with dogma, when historically and theologically dogma is not equivalent but refers to a mandatory rather than optional doctrine.

4 thoughts on “Sed contra

  1. Christopher

    To my way of thinking, even Mary’s “yes” was at God’s initiative through grace. It was surely not a coerced “yes”, but the prime mover for the action, its true origin, was in God and not Mary herself.

    And hence, the central theological reason why the Orthodox do not have a notion of the Immaculate Conception. As they argue, and I think we find Divines in our own tradition who do as well, Mary is the culmination of the Spirit’s working among God’s people from the start. Her obedience is the pinnacle of Abraham’s and Sarah’s, Isaac’s and Rebecca’s, Israel’s and so forth. A healthy doctrine of Original Sin need not say that God’s Spirit and Word were not at work all along. Indeed, to my mind, to say otherwise, is to suggest a form of Marcionism, that sort of complete break between the Old and New, and it could be argued that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception comes close to that possibility.

    I might add it’s not just Baptists or Reformed. Anglicans have among us a variety, and an insistence on more than what is sufficient even among us cuts off fellow Anglicans.

    I hope you can say more about the Goth Triduum at some point.

  2. Christopher

    BTW, at the library yesterday, Talley’s festschrift has an interesting essay by Stevenson on Candlemas and the relation of Marian feasts to the Incarnation. I’ll offer some bits from that later this week.

  3. Derek the Ænglican

    Thanks, Christopher. Yes, I think the Nicene Creed nails that one down pretty firmly when it affirms that the Holy Spirit is that which spake by the prophets. A few obscure Johannine allusions not-withstanding, we maintain that the Spirit has always been part of the total redemptive work of the Triune Godhead.

    Exactly–I deliberately left Reformed vague encompassing quite a span of Reformation views.

    I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about Marian feasts myself and was considering a post on that point—I’ll be interested to see what you have to say…

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