The Blessed Virgin Mary
Tim Perry and Daniel Kendall
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The Mother of the Lord, Volume 1: The Lady in the
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TIM PERRY's and Daniel Kendall's The Blessed Virgin
Mary is an exploration of the place of Mary in Christian
tradition which has something of an ARCIC feel to it.
As teachers of theology, Perry and Kendall approach their
subject from perspectives that have been less in dialogue and more
in conflict since the Reformation. Perry comes from a Protestant
Evangelical background; Kendall is a Roman Catholic and a
The intention of these two scholars is to explore the texts on
which representatives of their respective traditions, historically
and in the present time, base their viewpoints. The book is an
invitation to be better informed about those texts.
ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) has
also undertaken a similar enterprise of better understanding in the
area of Marian studies. Mary: Grace and hope in Christ
(2005) was the fifth and final document of the second series of
ARCIC conversations. There is a degree of ground-clearing in the
ARCIC methodology that Perry and Kendall have also used creatively
in their approach.
Nevertheless, the challenge of how the contested history that
determines today's outlook might lead to mutual understanding
requires more than a mapping exercise. We also need to interrogate
the processes of codification, decision-making, and devotional
practice which have shaped attitudes towards Mary and her part in
our self-understanding and spiritual lives as Christians.
Getting beyond the texts to what actually goes on in devotional
practice and what people understand it to mean is a far larger
task. Margaret Barker makes an imaginative start on this with
The Mother of the Lord, a detailed inquiry into the place
of Mary in Christian tradition. The publication of this first
volume, The Lady in the Temple, revisits some familiar
territory in Margaret Barker's impressive explorations into the
cult of Temple worship and its significance in Judaism.
Her approach to the Old Testament is not for the faint-hearted.
There is something of the energy and spirit of Indiana Jones in the
adventuresome and restless intelligence with which Barker tackles
At the heart of her earlier work is a conviction that Temple
worship represents a strand of authenticity of revelation and
practice in Judaism which was known and influential in early
Christianity. In both the old and the new Israel, however, other
influences have obscured or deliberately suppressed the ma- terial
that would enable us to understand how the Temple and its
priesthood functioned and what it meant.
As we learn very early on in The Mother of the Lord,
the difficulty that we have to account for is what happened in the
process of reform. What were Hezekiah and Josiah up to? To what
extent should the ambiguity of Hebrew words and damaged texts be
scrutinised in the light of documents that we describe as
"apocryphal" or relegate to footnote reference? Central to this
inquiry is the question what was meant by saying that Israel had
"abandoned Wisdom". In Barker's mind, this is not an ideological
issue: it was a cultic one that belonged to the very fabric of the
relationships between God, creation, and human society.
Some scholars will dismiss Barker's approach as fanciful. She
will be caricatured as being like a historical novelist in contrast
to the scholarship of the serious expert. But the persistence of
inquiry into those dimensions of the Old Testament which touch on
the part of the Virgin Mary in Christian tradition enables Barker
to reveal a skein of themes that are pressingly contemporary,
mysterious, disputed, and unresolved.
Gendered language is an obvious example. So is the relationship
between Mary and matter (the flesh assumed by the Word), and the
uncomfortable reference to sex for describing a covenanted
relationship between eternity and time, virginity and motherhood,
Christ and the Church. Sacred vesture, music, art, and the sheer
geometry of sacred space also feature as themes that still
preoccupy us, as does the effect of a reforming religion in which
law and regulation are the apogee of holiness.
Barker is not a campaigning feminist. She does, however, shine a
light on tangled issues that connect the figure of Mary with
patterns of distortion and reform which seem to be common to the
Israel of God in both old and new dispensations.
The Mother of the Lord builds its case in chapters
following a chronology that is itself a work in progress, and
differs markedly from the sequence of books as the Old Testament
canon presents them. That, in itself, will be a surprise to those
who are unfamiliar with Old Testament study, something that the
general reader should note.
This book is not a work of systematic theology or definition.
But to the extent that it creatively disturbs the status quo in
biblical study, it deserves to win space in your timetable for
reading and reflection. Such disturbance is generally
characteristic of the part taken by Mary, as generations of
Christian women and men, including a good Methodist such as Barker,
Dr Martin Warner is the Bishop of Chichester.