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Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

Fr Thomas Seville CR reports on the long awaited Synod debate on the ARCIC statement, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ


he February sessions of Synod saw the debate – long awaited, long delayed – on the fiſth

report to emerge from the second phase of Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC II), Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (2005). Te statement is the response to the position on Mary noted in

Authority in the Church II (1981), para. 30, where the teachings on Mary

common to both Roman Catholics and Anglicans in relation to the incarnation are noted and also the preparation of that mystery and its consequences for Mary and for us, but where reservations are noted on the precise definition of the later teachings and the issue of the authority by which they came to be defined in the RC church. Tis could have resulted in a report

which ran ‘Immaculate Conception and Assumption + Authority’, very focused and very narrow, but probably not that much shorter than Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. ARCIC chose rather to treat of the controverted dogmas in the context of Mary and salvation in Christ. Tis allowed a more balanced

picture to emerge and the affirmation of a firm subordination of the later dogmas to the basic Christological statement, that Mary is bearer, theotokos, Mother

the God- of God.

However, because the two RC dogmas are the focus of the difference between the churches, a casual reading of the report takes a view of Mary which looks as if it is variations on a Roman Catholic bass.

Varied reactions Te report – the longest report to

emerge from the ARCIC stable – has provoked reacions which have been varied in their temperature: warm welcomes from those to whom the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary is familiar and cooler from those to whom the Mother of Jesus has less significance now than once she had and

14 ■ newdirections ■ April 2011

for whom ‘more’ in maters Marian is always ‘less’. More disturbing have been the reacions from intelligent people which have shown a lack of openness and understanding that has shown to this writer that the forces which make religious bigotry are alive in the churches still. Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was not a factor that occasioned division in the sixteenth century, she has come to function as a dividing factor. So the debate was awaited with

some trepidation, some even thinking that it might go down. Te report was

it is now up to the churches to take it forward, to

deepen our understanding of the Mother of God

discussed through the lens offered by the Faith and Order Advisory Group briefing paper GS 1818, which offers a welcome but with two cheers rather than three.

The motion Te following motion was for

debate: ‘Tat this Synod, affirming the aim of

Anglican–Roman Catholic theological dialogue ‘to discover each other’s faith as it is today and to appeal to history only for enlightenment, not as a way of perpetuating past controversy’ (Preface to Te Final Report, 1982), and in the light of recent steps towards seting up ARCIC III: 1. note the theological assessment of the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in the FOAG briefing paper GS 1818 as a contribution to further dialogue;

2. welcome exploration of how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a common faith and spirituality, based on the Scriptures and the early Ecumenical Councils, with regard to the Blessed Virgin


3. request that, in the context of the quest for closer unity between our two communions, further joint study of the issues identified in GS 1818 be undertaken – in particular, the question of the authority and status of the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Anglicans; and

4. encourage Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical coleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours.’

Overwhelmingly carried Tis motion, which was carried

overwhelmingly, has raised the two cheers to two and a half. An atempt to raise this in the direction of three was made, not by one of your ‘Mary mad’ Anglo-Catholics, but by Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester, who sought an amendment to turn the motion into a welcome of the report. Unexpectedly, this almost passed. Aſter a brief

introduction in the

morning, discussion followed in the aſternoon. Te time allowed was not much; the chair, the Bishop of Gloucester, apologized that he would not be able to call all those who had something important to contribute and the shortness of the debate was a scandal. It is a tribute to him that most of the contributions were worth hearing, not always the case at Synod. Not all – there was an amendment

which wanted us to stop calling the Blessed Virgin Mary the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’

and adopt ‘Mother

of Jesus’, because ‘some people were offended’; this was seen off when it was pointed out that ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’ was the Anglican way, was in the Prayer Book, and the reason for this? Maybe ‘that, er, well, that this was

Well, done, Bishop of Guildford. Contributions were, with few exceptions, of high quality, most

in scripture – Blessed Virgin’.

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