Virgin Mary – Ecumenical Perspectives

Mary the New Woman in the Light of Ecumenical Dialogue

Two different  ecumenical views of the Virgin Mary that arise from  ecumenical dialogue and how they relate to her being so special in the history and future of humanity

Given the importance of the Virgin Mary in Franciscan theology and that she came to be viewed in the context for some controversial Catholic dogmas , the following shows at least two perspectives of how she may be viewed today.

-The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) statement: Mary in Hope and Grace. 2006

The Holy Scriptures, as the written Word of God, bear witness to God’s plan of salvation, Both churches recognise her special role as the handmaid of the Lord and that God specially blessed her with her unqualified assent to the angelic message. Furthermore her destiny is a glimpse of our final destiny. 

The statement reviewed the ancient traditions of Mary as Thetokos (God bearer), with the unity of God and Man carried in her womb. It also acknowledged the way that she has been regarded as the Second Eve, one who was obedient where the first Eve had been disobedient. 

Ancient tradition had affirmed her “falling asleep” based on legends of her later life. In the Catholic Church this had included teaching on her being bodily assumed into heaven. This can be taken as sign of our destiny as well as hers. The gospel hope is participation in the glory of God, by mediation of the Son and in the power of the Spirit, becoming in Christ as the New Adam. It becomes a participation in purity and love and we should see Mary in that light as she embodies the justified and glorified people of God. What is seen in Mary will be further fulfilled in the New Creation in Christ. Mary is already made a New Creation. 

In respect of the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception we can affirm Christ’s merits reaching back in time to Mary at her beginning of her life and this is not contrary to scripture. It was also suggested that adoption of an eschatological perspective that may deepen our shared understanding of Mary and a shared understanding of authentic expressions of faith about her. 

– Evangelical statement. Evangelicals and the Mother of God. Timothy George. 2007

Timothy George, an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention wrote about Mary in First Things 2007. (www.firstthings.com/article/2007/02/evangelicals-and-the-mother-of-god)

He writes that even Evangelicals (and Protestants generally) should celebrate things related to Mary as she is related to biblical things. We should reclaim biblical things related to her. She is not just mother of the Redeemer and that there should be retrieval of a proper biblical theology of Mary. 

Mary is the first recipient of the new revelation of Christ as her Son and the first to relate it to others. She is a unique link between OT promise and the event of Christ, the one who has been looked for was cradled in her arms, given into her care. She is the culmination of other pious women in history and she is representative of the eschatological and redeemed people of God.

It is noted that in early tradition (Justin Martyr and Irenaeus) Mary is depicted as the New Eve, reversing the disobedience of the first Eve. In this she is also Israel, she is both the virgin daughter but also unfaithful bride (that Israel was). Yes Unfaithful because we must note Mary sometimes gets things wrong.  Hilary of Poiters and Tertullian Mark 3:31-34 (and its parallel in Matthew 12) point her not understanding Jesus and Jesus replying those close to him are His brothers and sisters, more than his physical family. She therefore prefigures the Church, justified as spotless by unmerited grace. She is in company with pilgrims asking for forgiveness. 

Evangelicals have been concerned to defend the miraculous character of the virgin birth because they saw it undergirding the deity of Jesus Christ. It is also a fair criticism to note that, in their strong defense of the virgin birth, evangelicals have been more concerned with Mary’s virginity than with her maternity. Mary was not merely the point of Christ’s entrance into the world—the channel through which he passed as water flows through a pipe. 

Evangelicals can rightly still use the title Theotokos, the “God-Bearer”.  Karl Barth, however, was faithful to the deepest intention of Reformed Christology when he acknowledged that the title Mother of God is “sensible, permissible, and necessary as an auxiliary Christological proposition”. Mary is the embodiment of God’s unmerited grace. She is magnified above all creatures, and yet has humility, lowliness, and indeed nothingness. 

Yet another title of Mary is “Mother of the Church”. The New Testament portrays Mary as among the last at the cross and the first in the upper room. She is thus a bridging figure between the close of his earthly ministry and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal birth of the Church. It is particularly Mary at the foot of the cross that speaks to the reality of the Church. When all the disciples had fled in fear, Mary remained true to Christ and his word. Her fidelity showed that the true faith could be preserved in one sole individual, and thus Mary became the mother of the true remnant Church. Evangelicals do not pray to Mary, but we can learn to pray like Mary. 

Conclusions – A Personal Response

Mary should only to be truly thought of in relation to Christ her Son and the destiny of all of us and it is in this way we must see her. In the first place Mary may be regarded as exemplifying the “Church” and as a pre-eminent example of Christian life, in what God does for her and her own free willed response that is likewise affected by grace in the power of the Word and Spirit. 

Secondly, there are traditions of her as being “ever virgin” and married to an elder Joseph as her guardian that cannot be fully maintained by canonical scripture, or full authenticated by other sources. However they may be regarded as mark of  a specific self –dedication to God that some but not all may follow, and also as sign for our own  individual self- dedications in response to God that people may choose in our own circumstances of life. 

Thirdly Catholic and Orthodox beliefs about her death and being taken and glorified in heaven, given an exulted place beside her Son and heavenly intercession are things that may be presumed on the basis of what God would surely give her because of her  being the one chosen for bear the Word. These traditions are not confirmed in canonical scripture but do point to the everlasting inheritance of those joined to Christ, therefor they are signs about our future destiny and well as hers.

When are come to consider Mary in relation to evolution and the history of humanity Mary can be seen as first recipient of New Being and New Humanity brought by Christ into earth history. Through her Christ comes and with that coming starts something new for the world. She has sometimes been titled the Second (or New) Eve whose response to God and birthing of Jesus begins to undo the wrongs of humanity as we had been and are. In her there are signs that something new has come into the world. She is in that way he New Woman in history who symbolises a New Humanity anticipating our New Humanity and our common future and glory. She is the focal point in history of this new step of change in humanity that leads to the possibilities of new human nature, a renewal that has already taken place in her as a foretaste of what is possible for the rest of us. This is why she is so blessed and should still have an honoured place among all people in history and into the future of the world.