Evangelical Mary


February 1st, 2011 Posted in Theology |

By Michael Nazir-Ali

The Rt Revd Michael Nazir-Ali commends the recent ARCIC report and urges us all to read the Scriptures more carefully as we seek to discover the unique role of Mary in the incarnation of the Son

There is a difference in culture in the two Churches in how we approach the Blessed Virgin Mary. And this difference in culture may also be a difference in theological culture. From the earliest days of the Christian Church there had been two ‘tempers’, one associated with Alexandria which is speculative and dogmatic, and one associated with Antioch which is historical and biblical, and inductive rather than deductive. If you wanted a crude guess about where I think the Roman Catholic Church’s approach is, I would say that it is much more Alexandrian, particularly in its relation to Mary, and the dogmas and beliefs about Mary which have been developed over the years. Whereas the Anglican approach, even that of the Caroline divines and the Non-Jurors, has been more inductive; biblical, historical and patristic. We are discovering more and more that each approach can enrich the other. But it is worth recognizing the difference.

Since the second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church has shown a welcome tendency in all of its pronouncements to examine first the biblical background to any particular doctrine. And so we found it easy in ARCIC to consider, first of all, ‘Mary and the Bible’. Pretty straightforward? Actually it raises all sorts of questions about how we read the Bible. Many of the reformers were critical of ways of reading it that had developed in the middle ages: the allegory and even the typography had got so florid you could make any part of the Bible mean anything at all. The Reformers were calling the Church back to a historical and literary seriousness, and the Anglican side were well aware of this. So we were delighted that the Roman Catholics also wanted to begin with the Bible and with some discussion about how typology, for example, could validly be used.

Of course, with the Older Testament, we must use typology with regard to Mary, as with Jesus. Anglicans sometimes sing Bishop Thomas Ken’s hymn ‘Her virgin eyes saw God incarnate born’, which compares Mary to Eve. What was said about Eve in Genesis 3.15, about her offspring crushing the serpent’s head, must apply in any kind of typological approach to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So not all allegory and typology is wrong and having got rid of the excesses we can now see where, from the Older Testament, we can validly talk of Mary.

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