"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Marian theology

This image, "Immaculate Conception" by Velazquez, is a powerful one for me.

I have in recent months become much interested in questions about the Virgin Mary's place in the faith of the Church. I have no problem honoring St Mary more highly than any other saint described in Holy Scripture on account of her "fiat" in response to the archangel's message that she would bear the Savior. Likewise, I have no problem with the council of Ephesus' confirmation of her title as "Theotokos," God-bearer--it is, after all, a Christological affirmation in essence. I am even comfortable with asking the Blessed Virgin to pray for me. It seems a reasonable inference from the existence of the "communion of saints" that we can ask the saints who have already left this earthly life to pray for us, just as we can ask those who are still here with us to do so. Thus I can pray a "Hail Mary" without serious theological qualms. (Though I sometimes get the feeling that this prayer might be based upon the questionable idea that the Lord Jesus will listen to his Mother when he wouldn't listen to me if I petitioned him directly.)
But there is much in the Marian teaching of the Roman Catholic church that I am puzzled by. Both the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption make me uncomfortable, due to their very weak (or non-existent) Scriptural foundations and lack of early attestation. I am also a bit troubled by the very exalted nature of some eastern liturgical hymns to Mary, which seem to encroach upon the divine perogative at times IMHO. Still, I am eager to learn and arrive at better-informed opinions on these questions. I would very much appreciate reading recommendations from any reader of this blog for well-informed and well-reasoned treatments of Mariology, especially those from a "high church" Anglican perspective. Thanks much in advance. Posted by Hello


Blogger Brice said...

Greetings, Randall. Fr. Alexander Schmemann's book The Virgin Mary has helped me much in this regard. He doesn't just repeat the Christological titles afforded the Theotokos, but examines her within the liturgical context as well. I look forward to reading more in your blog!

2:56 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Thanks, Brice. I will track down this text. "For the Life of the World" was good. I'm sure this will be helpful.

3:25 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

Randall, can you go to your start page and under "Settings" make it so that anyone can post comments? Then more people can respond, and I can stop posting under my real name : )

Here's help: http://help.blogger.com/bin/answer.py?answer=126

11:19 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

If by "high church Anglican perspective" you mean to include me, here I am, and I'm afraid that as of today I am not ready to go quite as far as you have. (Maybe that excludes de facto from the above category?) It's not that I don't find your reasons compelling - Just that there are many things in theology that can have very reasonable explanations, but one doesn't have to accept everything that may be explainable. Many Anglo-Catholics have a commendable desire to understand and if possible appropriate elements of historical belief and practice, but IMHO there is too often a desire to make an excessive effort to accept anything that can possibly be satisfactorily explained, in order to be "Catholic." But much as I love medieval liturgy, IMHO faithfulness to a tradition is more than trying to make as much fit as we can. We always have to ask, "How faithful is this to the foundation and root of all tradition - Scripture" and "How are we defining 'Tradition'?" Sometimes Tradition/tradition shows varying degrees of consistency on a certain point, probably in proportion to an issue's ultimate importance. There may have been *a* tradition on regarding a certain Marian belief or practice, but on the whole, I tend to think that both historically and doctrinally we ought to have more wiggle room than we give ourselves on this point. The problem for people like me is, of course, that the people who care about Marian devotion tend to care so much that they often are not comfortable with the idea that people like me are neglecting it. But I don't think I should have to feel obliged to try so hard to accept things that are neither necessary to salvation, nor unanimously "traditional."

I think you are right to say that there is often far too little scriptural support for comfort. Right now, I don't feel compelled to believe any doctrine or practice any devotion that does not have significant scriptural basis on which tradition, though important, ought to be based. We have such scriptures for the doctrine of the Trinity or the idea of the Real Presense, for example. I am not convinced yet that we have a comparable backing for the greater part of Marian devotion and dogma.

I am pretty much with you on the second paragraph, but if you want my unsolicited personal opinion on the first, I will admit that I still have trouble.

First, you are OK honoring St. Mary "more highly than any other saint," but you also say that you do this "on account of her 'fiat.'" I have thought about this myself, and my personal feeling was that this ends up being a highly incongrous position, and here's why:

First, we agree that St. Mary is to be honored for the "fiat." That is, not because she "merited" to bear the Savior, not because of the particular greatness of her role, not for her holiness per se, but when it comes down to it, because she offered herself as as servant of God to do His will. And this is a throughly scriptural position. As you will recall, there was once a person who wanted to call Mary "blessed" on account of her being Jesus' mother (or more appropriately, "birth-giver.") That person, it seems, was saying that Mary's body, and therefore Mary herself, was blessed in that role of motherhood. Jesus, however, comes extremely close to refuting this statement, "Blessed *rather*..." and the issue is, the doing of God's will. So St. Mary is blessed, yes, but because of the "fiat."

Now, here is where I would diverge. I think we now have an implicit contradiction. If Mary is to be honored for the doing of God's will (and, in my reading of Jesus' words, *not* for the dignity of the content of that will), does it still make sense to honor her "more highly than any other saint described in Holy Scripture," let alone the many others who are not in Scripture? If we are to apportion honor according to one's obedience and submission to God, I would think that there would be many others who would merit equal honor. Jesus' own wording seems to suggest the possibility of others living up to this. What of Abraham, or the boy with the loaves and fishes, or John the Baptist, of whom it was said that there was "none greater"? One might convincingly argue that perhaps Mary lived this "fiat" more fully and throughly than any other saint, but I am simply not sure that it can be proved.

Therefore, I am leaning towards the conclusion that if St. Mary is to be honored more highly, there should be other factors. For example, one might say that people whom God wills to do great things should be honored more highly than those whom He wills to do small things. (This is IMHO a highly medieval attitude.) If I accept this argument, fine, but I still am not sure about it. I might eventually come to think this way, but for now, I still have some problems with it. We do have to ask ourselves whether such an assumption makes sense given the (IMHO) advances we have made as a society about the equality of people, and if not, is there a good reason? Jesus praised the faithfulness of those in charge of little, by saying that they were people capable of being in charge of much. Also, the laborers who had done varying amounts of work (through no fault of their own, but simply because nobody had "called" them!) were given no less reward. The Kingdom of God puts many first who were last.

So I am not convinced. Personally, I usually do tend to honor Mary more highly because that seems to be the tradition and is not incompatible with Scripture. But I would not be able to say that Scripture positively supports such a view.

Finally, in response to the "Hail Mary": (Leaving aside my questions about asking saints to pray for us) Although the words are Scriptural, I don't think that should automatically exempt the prayer from scrutiny. I think there is a serious difference between the way Gabriel meant the words, and the way people pray them. Do you think Gabriel was praising and praying to the Virgin when he said that? It is possible, but I am not sure. But certainly we do not interpret other similar salutations and proclamations of God's favor (in both OT and NT) that way, and that's something to consider. How we use Scripture (and not just the fact that we quote it) matters, and we should take it into account no matter which side we fall on.

More could be said, but enough for now. If you feel comfortable with what you do, Great! Only my advice is, no matter what you decide, beware of the Anglo-Catholic "wanting to fit in" tendency.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Julian said...

P.S. For everyone's info, I was not meaning to be so involved. But Randall called me up and asked for it! :-)

12:21 AM  
Blogger texanglican said...

This comment is first rate, my friend! Just what I was looking for. I hope that some of our RC and Orthodox friends will weigh in. (I am certain the our differences will be addressed in conformity with the highest standards of Christian charity and intellectual honesty). Thanks again!

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

coolio, Its Mimi btw.
from a RC who has received a humble amount of formation. this is my stand and the RC Church stand on Marian Devotion.

1) We honor her as our Mother, as Jesus calls her MOther. Since Christ is our Brother, and Savior. Through our Baptism we are united to Christ as brothers and sisters, we begin a new life with the Father through Christ who paid the price for our Redemption.
2) We call her Blessed, b/c it is the fulfilment of a prophecy in the OT.
3)When Christ himself said 'Blessed rather those who hear the word of God and keep it'. He is literally praising his Mother Mary, who heard the word of God announced by the Archangel Gabriel. it was not said as a refute or anyway discrediting her Blessedness.

4)Roman Catholics have devotions to Our Lady, our Mother, whether they truely understand it or not, the purpose is to ask her for help, to teach us her Son's ways, as she taught him to walk, talk etc., We ask for her intercession just like we would ask our earthly mother for help on a matter. or ask a friend to pray for us.

Mary fulfilled God's plan in all its perfection for her here on earth and in Heaven.

Mary is the new Eve, she is also the perfect fulfillment of prophecies in the OT.
the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is complex but its also quiet easy using our limited knowledge and logic.
Since Christ is Perfectus Homus, Perfectus Deus ~ free for all sin, how can he be born of a women who has sin, and is stained by sin. if Mary wasn't concieved spotless then wouldn't Christ's birth as Perfectus Deus, all pure be contradictory!
This also comes to the conclusion, the doctrine on the Assumption, Since OUr Lady, who cared our Lord, both spotless in their humanity, Would our Lord, who loved his mother so much, let her see the evil of Death!. Since Death is the result of the first sin of Adam and Eve. it is not that complex but yet to some it is complex.

As for praying the Hail Mary, being a convert to CAtholicism, i find great comfort that i have a mother in heaven intercessing on my behave as a mother on earth would, to the King of Kings who is her Son! But we also have to learn from her example of humility and devotion which she had for her Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, Eternal priest, prophet and King!

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Mimi, for the info. I appreciate it very much. Now if we can get some of our Orthodox friends to chime in we can really get somewhere!

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well you can... and i sorta can get u hooked up with some if u tell me where u are in the States... :D hehehehehe. though i am down under i have a good and strong network that i can refer ppl to but then it depends on the persons initiative to check these ppl out themselves. But yes i wish that the church wasn't divded by 'conservatist, liberal' thirst for 'power' but sadly it is so we all have to do our best to keep the balance and defend the true faith.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

In reply to Mimi's point 3 above (don't have time for the rest):

I was not saying that Jesus' comment denied Mary's holiness. I am aruguing, however, that it implies that other people can emulate and attain that holiness - and that's probably a good reason why it's included in Scripture in the first place.

1:10 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

That's a very helpful point of clarification, MB. Thanks for the contributions, both of you.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Randall, We can have this discussion until the Dogs go home and probably establish another Ecumenical council.:D its been fun!

7:27 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

Another small comment re Mimi on the Assumption:

The comment you made, about "the evil of death" seemed to imply that Mary did not die. But to my knowledge, that is not exactly correct. I believe the idea is that she did die, but instead of remaining in her grave, she was taken up "body and soul."

It is a very important distinction, especially if we want to honor Mary, because death is more honorable.

11:19 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

And re: the Immaculate Conception:

There is one important objection:
If we are to believe that Mary was conceived spotless...then why couldn't Christ, so much more perfect in His divinity, be born pure from a sinful woman? If the Immaculate Conception was possible for Mary, then is it logical that Christ needed Mary to be immaculate in the first place? And whether or not there is a logical need, but especially if there is not, is there *clear* Scriptural support and patristic attestation that has scriptural authority, as opposed to what is called pious opinion?

11:34 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Indeed, MB, you have hit the nail on the head in your last comment as to why I have serious hesitation about accepting the Immaculate Conception. I wonder if any RC reader, if any are still reading this thread, has any helpful response? For the moment, and for me personally, your objections carry the greater weight of the argument.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mimi again.
MB, the Assumption. CAthjolics believe that she was taken up body and soul in her sleep. She didn't see death!

6:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At times its faith! MB. thats whats different with RC and others. we don't have to understand everything to believe.... :D anyways as i said we could go on this forever. but to my knowledge there is scriptural proof, but i just don't remember where. But the book i am reading now, addresses the issue beautifully. Scott Hahn does a brillant job. the book is entitled, "Hail, Holy Queen" great book, so far i have read half.... so don't know what the other half is like. worth a read.

7:02 AM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Thanks for your contributions, Mimi. I must say, however, that I think MB's point that Mary did die in a bodily sense is accurate. Please see this text by Pope John Paul II (whom I am sure we all agree is THE authority on RC teaching! :-)) where he takes Mary's death for granted.
"The dogma of the Assumption affirms that Mary's body was glorified after her death. In fact, while for other human beings the resurrection of the body will take place at the end of the world, for Mary the glorification of her body was anticipated by a special privilege."
The whole of the Pope's text can be found at


The importance of the Assumption theologically seems to be that it anticipates the future resurrection of all the faithful departed. Hence, Mary would need to have actually died for this to make sense, would she not? Thanks again to all who have contributed. Keep it coming!

7:13 AM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Thanks for your contributions, Mimi. I must say, however, that I think MB's point that Mary did die in a bodily sense is accurate. Please see this text by Pope John Paul II (whom I am sure we all agree is THE authority on RC teaching! :-)) where he takes Mary's death for granted.
"The dogma of the Assumption affirms that Mary's body was glorified after her death. In fact, while for other human beings the resurrection of the body will take place at the end of the world, for Mary the glorification of her body was anticipated by a special privilege."
The whole of the Pope's text can be found at


The importance of the Assumption theologically seems to be that it anticipates the future resurrection of all the faithful departed. Hence, Mary would need to have actually died for this to make sense, would she not? Thanks again to all who have contributed. Keep it coming!

7:14 AM  
Blogger Julian said...

Mimi, it's not like I am insisting that I understand in order to believe. Faith is a good thing to have whether or not we understand things, but it also matters where you apply it. For those of us who are not compelled by authority of Church or Scripture to believe certain doctrines, we are free not to use faith to override understanding.

And Randall, thanks for the reference. If you think about it, though, there is a good theological argument to be made for the idea that she *had* to die. In the NT we don't get Enochs and Elijahs anymore, but Stephens...

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Randall, U mention that JPII is THE authority on matters such as this. I agree and disagree. He is the authority on alot ofmatters but when it comes to Assumption and Immaculate conception, i rather would like to hear what the Pope who declare the dogma it self. :D
Thanks once again... i think i have had enough on this in one week. Got too much going on... especially teaching about the Eucharist the past few days has taken my toll on Doctrinal Formation. :D

6:48 AM  
Blogger Francesco said...

I would highly recommend a careful read of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange's "The Mother of Our Savior" on this issue. As our discussions last year indicated, and as many of the comments here indicate, the issue is one of Faith and ecclesiology. As Mimi indicates in one reply, our Faith is not one of complete understanding. However, I find that the arguments Pius IX uses to express the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception are very sound.

I also believe that when Our Lady appeared in Lourdes and said that she was the Immaculate Conception in the dialect of a poor, illiterate Saint Bernadette four years after the Dogma was proclaimed in itself holds a lot of weight.

I could go on for pages countering certain points made here, but I currently do not have the time to do so. I therefore recommend Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange's work, and I also recommend Scott Hahn and Tim Staples' books and tapes on the dogma.

Let me think further about some key points and then bring them to the forefront. Overall, though, it is very much an ecclesiological issue, even if it does not at first appear as such.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

Francesco, you are right to say that it is at bottom ecclesiological. If I were compelled by authority to accept these doctrines, my job would be to find the most reasonable explanations. But because I am, as Randall said, writing from a "high-church Anglican perspective," I am free to make my own decision about it, using evidence that would be irrelevant if I were RC. It is not because I am refusing faith that I take these positions, but rather, as I said earlier, I apply my faith differently because I have different boundaries and possibilities. And within my framework, which allows belief in these things but does not compell it, I am free to question the scriptural and traditional basis of certain Marian doctrines, whereas, within the RC framework, whether they were scriptural would be irrelevant because they would, by definition, be in accord with Scripture and Tradition. However, I repeat, I don't think this should be seen as a lack of faith on my part, but faith operating under different parameters.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than register, it seems just easier to post anonymously in the most active part of your blog. Hi Randall, Robert Duffield here. I could ask questions about the applicability of Polish tractor movies to Marian philosophy, but that seems a little crass, so I will simply ask whether you remember what I wrote in the group letter to Brooke Shields that caused you to think better of sending it. The trouble for me is that I write things, and forget them soon after. So - when something I write elicits a strong response, I am always curious what it might have been.

12:26 AM  

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