The ARCIC 2 report
on Mary was released in mid 2005.
This page is taken
from an article
in Cross†Way summer 2005.
See also Church Society's letter
to the Vatican and Press Release.
General Synod debate February 2011 - background - news report
Things vainly invented
I read the new ARCIC report with
an increasing sense of incredulity. I had expected the claims made by the press,
that Anglicans and Roman-Catholics have come to agreement on the doctrines
of Mary, to be somewhat exaggerated, yet this is clearly what the members
of ARCIC believe. The report covers four areas; Scripture, Christian Tradition,
theological and practical.
The following are some of the conclusions reached:
- ‘The Scriptures lead us together to praise and bless Mary as the
handmaid of the
- ‘Our two communions are both heirs to a rich
tradition which recognizes Mary as ever
virgin, and sees her as the new Eve and as a type of the Church.’ (Para.
- 'We .. are agreed that Mary and the saints pray for
the whole Church.’ (Para. 50)
- ‘the teaching about Mary in the two definitions
of 1854 and 1950 … understood
biblical pattern of the economy of grace and hope outlined here, can
be said to be
consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common
(Para. 60) (1854=immaculate conception & sinlessness of Mary, 1950=bodily
- Asking our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us is acceptable
- ‘Authentic popular devotion to Mary, which by its nature displays
a wide individual,
regional and cultural diversity, is to be respected.’ (Para. 73).
Given the teaching of the Church of England and the rest of the Communion
on these matters, how
on earth could a body, which includes supposedly Anglican Bishops and scholars,
come to make
One word that crops up regularly in the report is re-reception. It would
have been possible to talk
about error, doctrinal decay and the need for reform, from whatever perspective
the authors took,
but instead they have chosen to use this term. Most frequently this is intended
to convey a need of
Anglicans and Roman Catholics to get back to an understanding of Mary as held
by the Church
from the 5th and 6th Centuries.
The authors say they are ‘seeking to consider
each passage about Mary in the context of the New
Testament as a whole, against the background of the old, and in the light
of Tradition.’ (Para. 7) It
is the last phrase that is the key, they are seeking to interpret Scripture
in the light of Tradition (with
a capital T), but there is no attempt to critique this supposed Tradition in
the light of Scripture.
The report acknowledges that the
Gospel of Matthew has little to say on Mary but much is made of Luke’s
record. Here we begin to see how the authors impose a meaning on Scripture,
when Mary says ‘all
generations will call me blessed’ (Lk 1.48) they assume that this means ‘all
generations will bless
me’ and assert blindly that this ‘provides
the scriptural basis for an appropriate devotion to Mary’
(Para. 15), without any attempt to ask whether the text bears such a meaning.
Then they assert that ‘favoured one’ (Lk 1.48) should be understood
to mean ‘one who has been
and remains endowed with grace’, which is a typically Roman treatment
of grace; as if it is some
stuff that is dolloped out by God. This is then assumed to imply ‘a
prior sanctification by divine
grace with a view to her calling’ (Para. 16).
Because of their exaggerated understanding of Mary the authors express ‘surprise’ (Para.
encountering passages such as Mark 3.31 when Jesus seems to rebuff His mother.
What we see here
as elsewhere is Mary as an ordinary disciple, misunderstanding and having to
grow in faith.
The report also makes sweeping claims with no justification in interpreting
when Mary said to Gabriel - Let it be to me according
to your word (Lk 1.38)
this is interpreted as
meaning that she was ‘ready to let everything
in her life happen according to God’s word’ (Para.
Likewise when at Cana Mary tells
the servants at the feast ‘do whatever
he tells you’ (Jn 2.5),
apparently ‘from this moment on she commits herself
totally to the Messiah and his word’ (Para 25).
The authors then attempt to justify Roman dogma by some unbelievably tenuous
John’s prologue (Jn 1.1-14) they say that ‘Mary
is not mentioned explicitly’ but then try to discern
something of the significance of her role in salvation history (Para. 22).
When dealing with the the Wedding at Cana they assert that the text ‘leaves
room for a deeper
symbolic reading of the event’ (Para. 24).
When Mary is at the foot of the cross (Jn 19.25-37) we are told that this ‘surface
invites ‘a symbolic and ecclesial reading’ (Para. 26). Likewise, ‘implicit
here perhaps is a Mary-Eve typology…’ (Para. 27).
The report also talks of ‘symbolic and corporate
readings’ in which ‘images
for the Church, Mary
and discipleship interact with one another’.
Finally, in Revelation 12, ‘the possibility arose of a more explicit
interpretation’, meaning, whilst
they do not say it openly, that the woman is Mary.
And these really are the basis on which the report attempts to justify its
arguments demonstrate two things. First, there
are no plain texts of scripture which support the
conclusions they reach, all of them require symbolic readings and unwarranted
Secondly, this is not exegesis, the stated purpose and clear practice is
to read Scripture in the light
of the supposed Tradition, that is to distort the plain meaning of Scripture
to prop up error.
The deafening silence.
The question has to be asked, if
all that the report claims is true, why does the Bible not mention it
clearly? The elevated claims about Mary are all read into a few verses in Luke
Furthermore, if this supposed teaching about Mary is so important why is
it not mentioned
explicitly in the New Testament? Aside from the beginning of Luke there is
little about Mary in any
of the gospels.
In Acts we see the authentic gospel
preached, but Mary is never mentioned, except
as she waits among the other disciples for Pentecost.
In the Epistles,
where the Gospel is
expounded and applied Mary is never mentioned except when Paul declares
in Galatians 1.4 that
Jesus was ‘born of a woman’.
If this teaching is so important
why do we not find it in the writings
of the early Church Fathers? In the first three to four centuries
we find nothing apart from the
reiteration of the straightforward facts that she was the mother of
the Lord and she was a virgin
when He was born.
It is apparent that if we truly re-receive
the Scriptural and ancient teaching of the Church we must
leave behind all the later conjecture and error. The supposed Tradition
is clearly a late development with no evidence in Scripture or the early Church.
The interest in Mary arose in part from the
arguments to defend the true humanity of Christ (that he took his humanity
from her), from a
growing belief that sexual intercourse was always sinful, and
from the importing into Christianity of pagan beliefs and practices.
How can the report square all this
with Anglican belief? The authors make mention of the fact that
many early reformers accepted that Mary was ever-virgin. This is probably true
passages quoted do not show it.
Bishop Hugh Latimer certainly defended
the belief in a sermon of 1522. One of
the quotations of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is actually from a work by
King Henry VIII and, as everyone knows, Henry
held to Catholic doctrine to his dying day. The other two references they
cite, from Cranmer and Jewel, are actually defending the doctrine
of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) by showing that writers such as
Augustine defended their belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary from Scripture
not Tradition (in fact from
Ezek 44.2!). Cranmer and Jewel may well have continued to believe
this but that is not the
argument they set forward.
Beyond this attachment to the belief that Mary was ever-virgin, which was
hard to shake, we see
very plainly that the reformers went through a process of re-reception (to
use the jargon) of the
Scriptural and early Church teaching regarding Mary. They removed from Anglican
worship all the
erroneous teaching and practice regarding Mary, returning to the basics in
Scripture and the early
Church. They retained the red-letter festival of the Annunciation, but changed
the focus of the
Purification to ‘The Presentation of Christ in
the Temple’. Reference
to Mary in the two collects
ARCIC asserts that the primary concern of the Reformers was to uphold the
sole mediatorial role of
Christ. This was clearly a concern, but just as importantly they wished to
bring the Church’s teaching and practice into conformity with the Word
of God and so they rejected the accretions
concerning Mary that had arisen slowly from the fourth century onwards.
The infallible decrees.
The report addresses the thorny fact that the Papacy has issued two infallible
decrees to prop up the
Marian teaching regarding the immaculate conception and later sinlessness of
Mary, and also the
that she was assumed bodily into heaven. The nature of these dogmas is that
they must be believed.
Alongside this Anglicans assert that we can be required to believe nothing
that is not contained in or
cannot be proved from Scripture (Article 6).
ARCIC attempt to square this circle
first by arguing
that the Second Vatican Council has softened to some degree
the severity of the Marian dogmas, particularly in the
way they were propagated (it will be interesting to see how the Vatican
responds to this) and then
by saying that it is possible to understand these doctrines in such a
way that they are compatible
with Scripture. We have already seen the sophistry required to reach
such a view.
There has not been space here to deal with the practical outworkings of all
this in terms of devotion
to Mary and idolatry. The particular issue of the invocation of saints, which
relates also to Mary, is
considered in a separate article and some of the observations there are relevant
to this issue.
If someone believes Roman Dogma concerning Mary to be true, they will so
distort Scripture as to
support their belief. However, to all others it is abundantly plain that Scripture
does not teach these
things, and that they were a later development. The ARCIC report fails miserably
to do justice to
what Anglican believe. It is likely that the Vatican may also balk at some
of its assertions, but it is
in the end an attempt to defend the indefensible.