Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I've been randomly turning some thoughts about Mary over in my head - I don't mean the Biblical Mary, but the Mary of Roman Catholic tradition. I think the view we take of Mary relates very closely to our view of Jesus, the Church and humanity. Indeed, with the Roman view of these three things, it is hard to see how they could fail to exalt Mary and enthrone her as queen of heaven. The flipside is that if Protestants find themselves moving in a Mariolatrous direction, we need to re-examine our more fundamental beliefs.

In RC thinking, there are two movements in the gospel. There is the movement of God downward in Jesus Christ - the incarnation and the cross - and there is the movement of humanity upward. These are two separate things, although the former is to be considered prior. (Whether its priority can be maintained in practice must be doubted). In terms of salvation, this is Roman thought precisely - God makes a move, we make a move. Grace, then free will. In the thinking about Mary, this shows very clearly. God makes a move towards the incarnation; Mary agrees with this move, and thus makes its completion possible. Human co-operation is vital in the Roman system, and the Roman Mary shows it.

Of course, if you believe this there must be some sort of merit that accrues to the human who co-operates. In RC thinking, this merit is found within the church as the institution which co-operates with God. The church is to be thought of as God's kingdom on earth - literally. Here is humanity exalted. No surprise, then, that Mary - the symbol of the church - is enthroned in heaven.

The problem at the most fundamental level seems to be that God simply does too little in the RC system. God comes down in Jesus, but he does not in himself raise humanity up. That corresponding movement must be represented by another figure, Mary, who stands for the institution of the church. In that case, isn't the church simply humanity raising itself - albeit in response to God's summons and in some way through his enabling?

We must instead see the cross and the resurrection together. In Jesus, God is humbled and humanity is raised. He does it all. If we hold to that, Mary can have her proper place of honour - as one who said 'yes' to God. And isn't that a better understanding of the church overall?


  1. I think the former makes far more sense, even though I wouldn't share a Roman Catholic view of Mary. I would say she was the greatest Christian who ever lived. It makes far more sense in relation to Arminian, Catholic and Orthodox theology. I'd never really realised how out of 'kilter' reformed teaching was with historic orthodox Christian tradition! :-)

  2. Thanks for your comment Edward.

    Your right, in many ways the Reformed tradition is distinctive within orthodox Christianity. I'm okay with that! In terms of Mary, I think this just represents a thorough application of sola scriptura - you'd be hard-pressed to justify calling her 'the greatest Christian who ever lived' on the basis of the Bible alone. In fact, I wonder whether anyone could take that title! If that puts the Reformed tradition (with which I would align myself, in this instance) at odds with certain other strands of Christian theology, I would suggest this is because of differences fairly near the root/foundation - questions about authority, about salvation, about the source and nature of faith...