The Church of England’s General Synod is going to discuss this report from ARCIC at its next meeting, guided by reports from the Faith & Order Advisory Group (FOAG). About time, too, since it came out in 2005.
As you might expect, the commentary revolves the areas of divergence between the two churches, and several of the accompanying essays point out that the biblical and historical evidence is much more complex than the report suggests. All of which is true and important, but I’m still left a little disappointed that more is not made of the theological work the commission did in thinking about Mary ‘within the pattern of grace and hope’. Admittedly it’s quite a short section, and much of it is taken up with papal definitions concerning Mary’s conception and Assumption. But all the same, I thought it was the part of the report most to be welcomed, because it offered a way of thinking which could take us beyond the normal debates.
Thinking of Mary as seen from God’s future – eschatologically – could possibly release us from the historical and doctrinal issues which have hindered us, and allow Mary’s role to be officially recognised for what she really is in the life of many Christians – an indispensable part of their spirituality.
One of the FOAG essays points out that the report doesn’t really do justice to the heartfelt nature of Marian devotion in real life. If we were to focus on Mary as a pre-figuring of all our destinies, maybe there would be a way into academic discourse for that emotional content. Mary could be seen as the first and pre-eminent disciple, as the Mother of the Church, as the friend of the faithful – without having to justify each aspect from scripture. Her spiritual identity would not be founded so much in her historical life as in the trajectory of her felt presence within the Church.
That would of course have the corollary for Roman Catholics that the Marian dogmas would become unsustainable as essential teachings of the faith, if it is agreed that such teachings must have an integral relationship with Scripture. Marian teaching might have the same sort of place that confession has been given within Anglicanism: all can, none must, some should.
‘The pattern of hope and grace already foreshadowed in Mary will be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ when all the redeemed will participate in the full glory of the Lord’ (p54). Amen!