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Few agree with assumptions about Mary
A dozen readers responded to the “Provocateur” column in January. The question accompanying Bishop Chris Epting’s essay was “Should Anglicans be expected to accept the Roman Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Assumption as a condition of full communion?" More responses will be printed next month.


From Penny Meyer of Lafayette, Pa., a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, Pa.: The Roman Catholic Church's attitude toward Mary in particular and women in general is one of the main reasons I could never convert.  I married an RC and went to that church for nearly 20 years.  To me, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception dehumanizes Mary and makes her less worthy.  Why couldn't Mary have been a real human and still worthy of being chosen as the Mother of God?  It is the fact of her humanness that makes her so special.  Denigrating Mary is part of the Roman Catholic Church's denigration of all women.
Full communion between Anglican and Roman Catholic must not require belief in the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.  In doing so, the Anglican Communion loses part of its strength.
From the Rev. G. Harry Brant of Bordentown, N.J.:   In regards to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:  I have no problem so long as original sin is understood as the human tendency to self will. Mary's "fiat" made God's will the priority in her life. The third collect at Christmas refers to a "pure" (i.e., immaculate) Virgin. Most Anglican calendars (the American is an exception) celebrate the feast of the Conception of Mary on Dec. 8.   In regards to the Assumption  of Mary: Being assumed body and soul in  the heavenly place is something we all hope will be our experience, too.

From the Rev. Matthew S.C. Olver, deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Dallas, and ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Dallas:

I agree with Bishop Epting that these two dogmas should not be required as a condition of full communion, but for slightly different reasons.

I contend that theology done in schism is necessarily deficient.  This is not to say that the theological content of the dogmas is necessarily deficient, but that the use of the papal prerogative to speak infallibly (as defined by Vatican I) was used to define a dogma that all other portions of the Christian Church regard as not essential to the Nicene faith.  Expanding the scope of essential beliefs within the context of a divided church is inherently problematic.

Second, the extent to which the undivided church went in dogmatizing about Mary was to name her the Virgin Mary in the Nicene Creed and Theotokos, God-bearer, at the Council of Ephesus.  The Assumption was widely held from the fifth century onward, and yet the councils of the Church never saw a need to define it dogmatically.  The ARCIC document places a heavy emphasis on “re-reception,” the work of re-receiving “some element of the apostolic tradition” that may have been “forgotten, neglected, or abused.”  To take the notion of re-reception seriously would be to move away from one branch of the church requiring a post-schism dogma to be believed by the other as a condition for reunion.

Just as the church of the East celebrates the Assumption under the Feast of the Dormition, while at the same time having refrained from dogmatizing it, Anglicans have done so, though to a much lesser degree.  In the collect for Aug. 15, the principal Marian feast, the collect states that “you have taken to yourself the Blessed Virgin Mary,” most certainly a nod toward the traditional belief in her Assumption.  The third collect for the nativity speaks of Christ born “of a pure virgin.”  Given that one is either a virgin or not, the adjective “pure” hints toward something like the Immaculate Conception.

Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ provides the kind of new, theological language that is essential for the work of ecumenism, narrating the extent to which theology language about the Blessed Virgin Mary should begin and end.

From the Rev. William M. Duncan-O’Neal of Overland Park, Kan.:

To maintain our faith in the full humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, the Anglican Communion should not, nay cannot accept the Roman Catholic doctrines of Mary’s Immaculate Conception or her Assumption into heaven.  These doctrines are not founded on Scripture and are but recent attempts to buttress a well intended but flawed Christology. If there is one thing to which all the New Testament writers hold, it is the full and complete humanity of Jesus.

Augustine argued that a Savior required to do the redemptive task of overcoming Adam’s original sin had to be different from Adam.  The difficulty with that argument is that if Jesus was fully to escape the taint consequent with involvement in human nature, he would need to have entered the world without human parentage or from a mother who also was without stain of sin.

The Roman Catholic Church handled this so-called “problem” with the 19th-century doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.  As promulgated by Pope Pious IX, the virgin was miraculously delivered unstained from the corruption of Adam’s sin by the intervening power of the Holy God so that she would not pass on to the Savior the effects of original sin.  Salvation was thus assured.  Jesus, the sinless one, was qualified by his origins to make the perfect sacrifice.  Is this tortured?  You bet.  Is it necessary doctrine?  No.  Does it make theological sense?  No.

This strange heterodoxy impinges on the faithful’s simple belief in Jesus as our guide and example.  If Jesus entered into life without moral choice, he could not in a full sense be our example because he could not be tempted.

Our Christian faith does not ask men and women to walk in the steps of one who was not truly and fully a man.  It would be a cruel hoax to think the fix was in and Jesus just faked his way through this mortal life.  At the peril of a central tenant of faith in Christ’s humanity, this pious story of Mary is not acceptable.

It is probably no coincidence that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily ascension into heaven came out in 1950, at the high tide of Mariology, when Pope Pious XII also claimed Mary to be co-redemtrix with Christ, an embarrassment of enthusiasm that I’m sure is not possible for Anglicans to believe.  The Assumption doctrine, too, is an expression of earnest but fevered adulation that is neither scriptural or creedally based.

Let’s hold fast to a Jesus both divine and human but case these Roman Catholic doctrines aside, where they belong.