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Letters to the editor >

Indigestible opinions about Mary - but not just from ARCIC

From the Revd Richard Chown
Sir, - I was truly amazed as I sought to digest last week's thoughts from your correspondents regarding the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Anglican thought.

One piece of special pleading suggested more assumptions from the New Testament record than ever our Roman Catholic friends have used. Another introduces a doctrine of original righteousness. Yet another suggests that Mary was not the "favoured one" (Greek pluperfect?) nor "blessed among women"; indeed, that she was sinful like the rest of us.

Added to these bits of special pleading is the neglect of the fact that God the Holy Spirit becomes one flesh with her to enable the incarnation to occur; and that the child to be born "will be called Son of God".

It seems obvious that, as before in scripture, God would seek the consent of his servants to work in them and through them. That Mary was given the grace of baptism, in order to be ready for her astounding work, seems reasonable. That she did not sin is a grace that is available to all as the result of baptism; that we fail and she did not entitles her to be called "full of grace"; it was not the Holy Spirit who was crucified for our sins, although he would have been, had she been sinful. Is it not possible that other women received a like grace, but fell; had a like vocation, but had already turned away from it?

As for the assumption, is not this our destiny, too, "sin excepted"? After all, her genes are his genes. Why this lack of catholicity in our faith? I use the word in its most literary and liberal form: as Archbishop Akinola has pointed out, we belong to a Communion that seems to be betraying its biblical and historic roots. I trust your readers will not do the same.
26 Lovell Close, Henley-on-Thames
Oxon RG9 1PX

From Rosemary King
Sir, - "What I do not understand is why we bother," writes Robert Leach ( Letters, 27 May) - bother, that is, with ARCIC, and with what Mr Leach describes as "years of wrangling . . . [leading to] complete capitulation over the Roman Catholic position on Mary".

Surely, we bother because Jesus prayed: "May they all be one . . . and so perfected in unity that the world will recognise that it was you who sent me" (John 17.21-23). Unity among those of us who follow Jesus is essential for what the Church is there for: to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28. 19).
18 Elsee Road, Rugby CV21 3BA

From Canon John Goodchild
Sir, - The ARCIC members have hardly begun to wrestle with scripture.

First, they have failed to take seriously the paucity of reference to Mary in the New Testament. She probably had little or no part in the faith of the first Christians. Once you look at passages that do not mention her, you find many people called blessed, and Barnabas, for instance, described as "full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 11.24). Mary is not given a unique status.

Second, there is careless reading of the text. On page 14, reference Matthew 2, it is not to Mary that the magi kneel and pay homage. On page 15, there is no reference to Mary growing in understanding in Luke 2.49-52. On page 19, the brothers in Mark have been reduced to one.

Third, a significant text is avoided. Matthew 1.25 contradicts the quaint idea of Mary as "ever Virgin", and makes it more likely that the siblings in Mark 6 are Mary's children.

Fourth, the issue whether references to Mary are recording history or written to express beliefs about Christ and discipleship is avoided. The first three Gospels mention neither the wedding at Cana nor Mary's presence at the cross. Is John using "Mary" as he used the term "the beloved disciple"? Is the Magnificat what Mary actually said, or a Lukan composition designed, like other parts of the nativity stories, to help us appreciate and follow Jesus?

We may say Mary was the mother of Jesus and probably had other children, and that she tried to restrain Jesus during his ministry. Anything more may be conjecture. If people find Mary stories help their honouring and following Christ, that is fine, so long as they do not expect others to relate to the figure they have constructed as if she was a real person with a key part to play at the present time.
42 Heigham Road
Norwich NR2 3AU

From Kathleen Kinder
Sir, - Most Anglicans would say that the ordination of women to the priesthood is "consonant with" scripture, since there are clear indications in the New Testament of the way women's headship roles could develop. There are no such indications regarding the development of cults concerning Mary.

Anglicans differ from Roman Catholics in that scripture is for us the primary authority. We do not believe that scripture and tradition are of equal value; nor that the two always flow in harmony, side by side, towards the goal of ultimate truth.

If a miracle should occur, and Roman Catholics come to accept that the ordination of women to the priesthood is "consonant with" scripture, then perhaps Anglicans might be prepared to study more sympathetically the long history of Marian devotion which led to the promulgation by two pre-Vatican II popes of the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption.

It is not possible at this stage to see how the two Churches can come into full communion unless a diversity of opinion is allowed on doctrines that at present appear to Anglicans to fail the ultimate Reformation test.
KATHLEEN KINDER (Reader, Methodist local preacher)
Valley View, Station Road Giggleswick, Settle
North Yorkshire BD24 0AB

From the Revd G. D. Mills
Sir, - In your report about the ARCIC statement ( News, 20 May), David Hilborn is quoted as saying that the Commission's treatment of Mary's part in Christ's redeeming work was "unconvincing as a singular apologetic for the Roman Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception". As a Catholic priest of the Church of England, I would heartily agree with him.

The doctrines of the immaculate conception and the assumption are, however, only on the periphery of the debate between Rome and the Church of England. The claim to universal jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, which can be justified neither by scripture nor from the tradition of the Early Church, is at the centre of the problem, and is such a complete block to close relationships between our Churches that there seems to be little point in discussing other matters before it is resolved.
Holmelands House, Raby Lane
East Cowton, Northallerton
North Yorkshire DL7 0BW

From the Revd J. D. Wright
Sir, - On the feast of Corpus Christi, I attended a certain Brighton church, where the traditional order of Benediction was used. I was reminded that Anglo-Catholics have been saying for a long time, "Blessed be her holy and immaculate conception," and "Blessed be her glorious assumption."
St Cuthman's Vicarage
Brighton BN2 5HW

From Mr John Ewington
Sir, - The recent news concerning the Anglican and Roman interpretation of the BVM's place in our faith reminds me of a sermon once preached by that splendid and very amusing priest Colin Stephenson, who once had charge of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham.

He said: "Imagine that you get to heaven, and there is our Lord with a group of mutual friends standing around and chatting. How embarrassing it would be when Jesus turned to you, and, gesturing towards a lady, said, 'I don't think you know my Mother?'"

Surely, that is a position in which none of us should care to find ourselves.
Hillbrow, Godstone Road
Bletchingley, Surrey RH1 4PJ

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