Thursday, May 11, 2006

Mary in Protestant Theology

The Place of Virgin Mary in the
UCCP Statement of Faith

That in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary, God became human and is Sovereign Lord of life and history.”
(UCCP Statement of Faith)

I. Introduction

The popular movie, “The Sound of Music,” depicts the struggle of the Von Trapp family in Austria during Hitler’s time. The Von Trapp household with seven children was without a mother. And it was ruled by a strict, disciplinarian father [Christopher Plummer]. The household was regimented like a military camp, punctuated by the sounds of whistles and marching orders. Certainly, there was order in the household; but it was a kind of monotonous life, devoid of music and joy. The zest for life and spontaneity needed for the wholesome growth of the children was absent. However, everything changed when a new governess in the person of Maria [a problematic novice from a nearby convent played by Julie Andrews] was hired. Faced with the dilemma of releasing Maria from the convent, the Mother Superior and all the nuns, chorused: “How do you solve the problem like Maria?”

For the Protestant Christians, particularly we in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, are also confronted with the problem of solving (or resolving) the issue of Maria, the Mother of our Lord. As heirs to the Reformed faith, we are like children growing up in a household without a mother. We have ignored or neglected the rightful place of Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and the benefits she brings to our life. This neglect of Mary contradicts the witness of the Scriptures and teachings of the Reformers. We could no longer pretend to close our eyes to the testimony of the Bible as well as the hallowed tradition of the universal (ecumenical) Church in which we belong. Our ecumenical witness and relationship with other churches in the Philippines such as the Philippine Independent Church (with whom we have already established a concordat), the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, the Roman Catholic Church, as well as with the world-wide confessional families which give importance to Mary will definitely be enhanced. Consequently, it has impoverished our theology, liturgy and life as disciples of her son Jesus Christ.[1]

This article has three purposes. First, it aims to discover the reasons why, as Protestants, we have downplayed the role of Mary in the life and practice of our faith, despite the clear biblical witness. I intend to do this by analyzing selected scriptural basis on Mary and the views of selected Protestant theologians from the time of the Reformation up to the present. Secondly, this paper seeks to understand the significant shift in Roman Catholic thought on Mary since the Second Vatican Council. Thirdly, it endeavors to raise the challenge to us, Protestant Christians in the Philippines, to have a second or third look at the rich Scriptural witness to Mary with the hope of enriching the dialogical nature of our theologizing, our liturgy and our witnessing in the world today.

Necessarily, we need to take into consideration the emerging views of the feminist liberation theologians that is providing a corrective to the traditional male mariological teaching in the Roman Catholic Church.

II. The Biblical Witness on the Role of Mary

This section summarizes the witness of the Scriptures on the role of Mary. If one diligently searches the Scriptures, one can find numerous references that concern about the role of Mary as the mother of Jesus. Let me enumerate these references into ten groups.

1. The Genealogy of Jesus. There are two accounts of Jesus’ family tree or genealogy. The Matthew account explicitly states that Joseph “married Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was called the Messiah” (Mt. 1:16). However, the Luke account does not mention Mary. It simply states that Jesus was the son, “so people thought, of Joseph” (Lk 3:23).

2. The Announcement of Jesus’ Birth. In Luke’s account, the angel Gabriel conveys the message to “a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph… The virgin’s name was Mary” “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God… you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Lk. 1:30-32). Mary was perplexed and pondered upon the message. She said: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:34-35). In Matthew’s account, the angel’s unexpected news was conveyed to Joseph who was also perplexed by the message. Being a righteous man and does not want to expose Mary to a public disgrace, Joseph thought of breaking the engagement privately. But the angel appeared to him in a dream and said: Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:18-21).

3. Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth and her Song of Praise. As soon as Mary arrived at the home of Elizabeth and the usual exchange of greetings done, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb… And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Lk. 1:42-45). Then Mary recites what became to be known as “Magnificat” or Song of Praise. A contemporary woman pastor writes: “The Magnificat is a canticle of revolution which expresses a hope for various types of liberation from oppressive structures… The message of the Magnificat proclaims a cultural revolution in which the proud and the haughty are put down and the humble and meek are exalted; a political revolution in which the political power passes from the mighty to the masses of the people; and an economic revolution by which the hungry are given food and all good tidings which the rich are sent empty away. This great prayer of Mary shows a powerful and pleasing combination of practical action, deep reflective prayer and personal concern.”[2]

4. The Birth of Jesus. Again, both the gospels of Matthew and Luke record the account. Luke gives a historical and political context of the event by citing the imperial decree requiring all inhabitants to register. Joseph and Mary (in full term of pregnancy) went to Bethlehem and there came “the time of her to deliver her child.” Luke also incorporates the story about the visit of the shepherds who found “Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:1-20). Matthew, on the other hand, stresses the point that the birth of Jesus was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.” Matthew enriches his story with the visit of the magi from the East following the movement of a star. When they came to Bethlehem, they “saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage (Mt. 2:1-12).

5. Escape to Egypt. The story is unique in Matthew’s account who, again, stresses the fulfillment of prophecy. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to “take the child and his mother, ad flee to Egypt… for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him…” Later, when Herod died, the angel instructed Joseph (again, through a dream): “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel” (Mt. 2:19-20). Joseph settled his family in Galilee, in the town of Nazareth, so as to fulfill prophecy that Jesus “will be called a Nazorean” (Mt. 2:23).

6. Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It is only the gospel of Luke which record this two events The presentation of Jesus at the temple was part of a Jewish law (circumcision of a male child and purification of the mother after giving birth). What’s significant in this incident were the words of a righteous and devout man named Simeon who pronounced blessing to Jesus and his parents. He said to Mary: “This child is destined for the living and for the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too”(Lk. 2:34-35).

7. The Holy Family’s Visit to Jerusalem. This was an incident during the annual festival in Jerusalem when Jesus was already twelve years old. As his parents started to return home, he stayed behind in the temple, “setting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” When they found him, Mary, his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” When they went home together, his mother “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:48, 51).

8. Is He the Son of Mary?: The Public Rejection of Jesus. When Jesus started his public ministry, people began to wonder about his identity. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record how his mother and brothers began to be worried because of the people’s rejection. People question his exceptional wisdom and his miraculous deeds, asking: Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother?” (Mt. 13:55-56) Isn’t he the carpenter, the on of Mary?” (Mk. 6:3). Luke states that while he was busy with his work, his mother and brothers are standing outside looking for him. He said: My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Lk.8:21).

9. Mary and Jesus in the Gospel of John. There are two instances where Mary and Jesus were spoken of closely: the wedding feast in Cana (Jn 2:1-12) ad the crucifixion (Jn 19:25-27). The first incident concerns the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana attended by Mary, Jesus and his disciples. When the supply of wine was gone, Mary, out of her concern to end the embarrassing situation, called the attention of Jesus. She said: “They have no [more] wine.” To which Jesus replied: “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, unobtrusively told the house servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” The second was the incident at the foot of the cross where Mary and other disciples commiserate at the suffering of Jesus. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the beloved disciple: Her is your mother.” (Jn. 19:25-27).

10. Mary with the Early Disciples Praying Together (Acts 1:12-14). The last instance that Mary was explicitly mentioned in the Bible was the assumption of Jesus to heaven. It was a time when the disciples devoted themselves to reflection and prayer. They were at the Upper Room, all the men and women disciples, including Mary, the mother of Jesus.

There are other implicit allusions to the role of Mary and her relations to Jesus in the rest of the New Testament. For instance, it is safe to presuppose that Mary was among the women disciples who went to the tomb to anoint his body but were met by the resurrected Jesus. Another allusion to Mary is found in Paul’s epistle that “in the fullness of time ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman… in order to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal. 4:4). Lastly, the writer of the Apocalypse (Revelation) alludes to Mary as the “woman clothe with the sun,” pregnant and “in the agony of giving birth… to a child… who is to rule all the nations…” (Rev. 12:1-2, 5)[3]

III. Mary as Viewed by the Protestant Reformers
and in Contemporary Protestant Theology

This section seeks to review the role of Mary in the teachings of two leading Reformers (Martin Luther and John Calvin) as well as the view of Karl Barth, undoubtedly the most influential Protestant theologian of the twentieth century.

The leaders of the Protestant Reformation were not at all neglectful or indifferent to Mary, the Lord’s mother. Having been nourished in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, they have imbibed in their theology and piety the place of the Virgin Mary.

A. Martin Luther [1493-1546]. His religious revolt in the sixteenth century became the pattern for all subsequent Protestant attitudes toward Mary. He criticized and reacted to many “abuses of Marian devotion and veneration” which became central theological issues on the Reformation. Luther’s view on Mary went through a certain development, sometimes erratic and contained inconsistencies.[4]

Of course, Luther’s thought on Mary is just a tiny bit of his entire theological enterprise. The development of Luther’s view on Mary had its beginnings while he was still an Augustinian monk. Then, during his struggles with Rome, his thought went “through contradictions, uncertainties, and terminates in a new Marian viewpoint, one which Luther described as Christocentric, biblical, un-exaggerated, and edifying.”[5]

There were two sources of Luther’s shifting view on the Virgin Mary. First, was his experience of superstition and exaggeration and popular devotional abuses in the medieval veneration of Mary. For instance, it was pointed out by the Dominican theologian Thomas O’Meara that when Luther went to Rome in 1501, “he was shown some milk from the Virgin’s breasts and some of Mary’s hairs.” Therefore, Luther “rebelled against what he felt was an accretion of superstition and falsehood around Christianity.”[6] These blatant abuses within the Church contributed to the rapid success of Luther’s personal theological struggle which emphasizes sola fide led to “a new frame of reference for Mary, the exemplar of the Catholic Christian and the first among the saints.”[7]

Luther’s systematic study of the Bible led him to feel dissatisfied with his medieval heritage of Marian piety. This led him also to develop a more coherent mariological position. He looked up to Mary as “the great example of the faith, the most pure venerator of God. . ., who magnifies God above all things.”[8] His mariology is centered on his Christology. He said: “If Mary detracts us from Christ and God. . . then we must practice Christocentric moderation. Mary must be honored but Christ must be the matrix of this veneration. Mary exists for Christ alone, and this is the view of the Bible.”[9]

Luther’s decisive grounding of his view on Mary in Christology is in accordance not only with the Scriptures but with Christian tradition. This is why he retained the belief in Mary as theotokos. This is the doctrine about Mary as “the bearer of God” promulgated at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A. D. Most Catholic experts on Marian studies concur with Luther on this point. The doctrine on Mary as theotokos was defined to safeguard the truth about the ‘word made flesh’ [Jesus Christ] in the face of the Nestorian crisis in the fifth century. Historically and theologically interpreted, therefore, theotokos was and still is Christological, rather than mariological, affirmation.[10]

Luther also continued to defend the perpetual virginity of Mary but not at the expense of disparaging the dignity of marriage. And so in one of his sermons, he said:

Some claim since Christ was born of a virgin, that virginity is superior to marriage. He did not have to be born of a virgin so that he might be Savior without sin. But take note that he was not born of a nun or a woman outside of the married state. Christ wished marriage to retain its honor along side the virginity, splendid, but not the disparagement of marriage. Virginity, marriage, and widowhood do not earn heaven. They enter into heaven through faith in this little Child.”[11]

Luther’s final position on Mary would be summed up with these words: “Mary is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personifies. He can never honor her enough. Honor and prayer must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.” Luther interprets Mary’s name as “Stella Maris” (Latin) which means Mary as a “pure drop in the sea of fallen humanity.”[12]

Till his death Luther continued to honor Mary by keeping her feast days. He never stopped preaching sermons on Mary, most of which are among Luther’s finest. Through the proclamation of the Word, the most central act in Protestant worship and church life, Luther described “the reality of God made man and the splendor of the woman who was his mother.” The making of these sermons may have drawn inspiration from the picture of Mary which hanged in his study room. He said: “The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart. . . Honor the Mother of God, but in such a way as not to be detained by her; rather push on to God and fix your heart in Him. Thus you will be keeping Christ in the center.”[13]

Luther’s rejection of what he called “papist superstition” or excessive medieval piety regarding Mary have been rectified by the Roman Catholic Church through Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” [Lumen Gentium] and subsequent pronouncements of the magisterium about Mary. We will discuss this further in later section of this article.

B. John Calvin [1509-1564]. As far as the Reformed Faith is concerned, Calvin did not give importance to Mary in his theological works. He mentioned Mary in passing in his commentaries and sermons based on the earlier chapters of Luke’s gospel. Compared with Luther, Calvin did not have much change in his views and attitude toward Mary. Commenting on Calvin’s theology, says O’Meara:
“. . . the mother of the Lord is examined by a theology which flows from the Protestant principle of the Scriptures as the sole norm of revelation, the equality of men [and women] under God’s grace, the scandal of papal superstition, the transcendence of God, and the unique mediatorship of Christ.”[14]

While Calvin [unlike Luther] had no place for Marian feasts in Reformed piety, he [like Luther] consistently defended the perpetual virginity of Mary. A French Dominican theologian says: “When Calvin says Mary is a virgin, holy, the mother of the Lord, he is trying to retain the original meaning of this while at the same time divesting it of the fantasies of piety he believed he saw every where.”[15]

Trained in both law and theology, Calvin’s position in most issues, including mariology, is simple and precise. What is obviously biblical, he defended; what is not found in the Bible, he denied. What is excessive and papist, he negated. This led him to take exception to Mary’s title of theotokos or “Mother of God”. He insisted on calling Mary “Mother of the Lord” following the Gospel of Luke. Calvin hesitated calling Mary as “Mother of God” [theotokos] because of the excesses of Marian devotion during his time.

For Calvin, the virgin birth and perpetual virginity are articles of faith. The conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb was accomplished by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit without the work of man. To support his belief on Mary’s perpetual virginity, Calvin translated the Greek word “adelphos” [Matt. 13:55] as relatives or cousins, or brothers. His comment on Matthew’s statement that Jesus was Mary’s first born is in accord with that of St. Jerome who “earnestly and copiously de-fended Mary’s perpetual virginity.”[16]

Calvin held that Mary’s having been chosen for the work of God’s kingdom. As any believer has a role in God’s kingdom, Calvin did not see any difference between Mary and other Christians. Mary is privileged just as any person whom God justifies is privileged. Calvin does not agree with the usual Roman Catholic exegesis of the Angel’s words “full of grace” referring to Mary. In one sermon Calvin proclaimed that “Mary’s grace . . . is a pure gift of God who does not consider persons when he bestows grace. . . She needs Christ as her Redeemer as much as we do…We will profit from the Magnificat when we have understood well the teaching that Mary not only bore Jesus with regard to his human nature in her womb, but in her heart and in all her faculties and in her spirit.”[17]

Calvin disputed the excessive honor accorded to Mary by Roman Catholics of his day. “It is certain,” he said in one sermon, “the priests have made an idol of Mary.”[18] Calvin attributed this error to the Catholic’s unfamiliarity with the Scriptures. With all the force he could muster, Calvin denounced the claim that Mary has special cooperation in mediating God’s grace and redemption to humankind. Repeatedly, he insisted that there is only One Mediator between God and humankind-- only Jesus Christ. There is no place in Calvin’s theology [just as in Luther] for the Roman Catholic’s speculative development of dogma culminating in promulgation of the dogma of Immaculate Conception [1854] and the dogma of the Bodily Assumption of Mary [1950].

From this survey of the Protestant Reformers’ view on Mary, one thing becomes clear: both Martin Luther and John Calvin retained a wholesome and positive regard for Mary, the Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. The important place of Mary in the life of the Church was part of the total theological and homiletical discourses of the Reformers. Unfortunately, due to the tragic historical developments when the chasm between Catholics and Protestants became wider and wider, and ended up into an all-out religious wars, many precious practices [among them the high regard for Mary] had been thrown away by the later descendants of the Reformers.

IV. The Role of Mary in Contemporary Protestant Theology

This section deals with contemporary Protestant theology. I have chosen Karl Barth [1886-1968], the most significant voice in Protestant theology for the twentieth century. Expectedly, as a worthy heir of the sixteenth century Reformation, Barth minces no words in his critique of Roman Catholic mariology. Barth’s writings constitute the “epitome in Protestant theological evaluation of Marian theology.”[19]

Among the catch phrases that describes Barth’s thought is “dialectical theology”. Thus, even his view on Mary is dialectical: on the one hand, Mary as the Virgin Mother is seen as “the guarantee of orthodoxy”; and yet, the subject of mariology is seen as “the cancer of theology.” Here’s a typical Barthian polemic: “Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excrescences must be excised.”[20] He considers Catholic mariology as “a supreme exemplification of the exaltation of the creature.” He insists that mariology is the “center of Catholic theology, the sum and criterion of the confusion of the human with the divine, a heresy which explains all others.”[21]

Despite Barth’s strong critique of Catholic mariology, he is unequivocal in affirming that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, which is consistent with the witness of the gospels and the teachings of Luther and Calvin. Since the time he wrote about the subject, the dogma on Mary “suddenly lost its terror for the younger theologians and was once again accepted.” For Barth, the virgin birth has an “essential rightness and importance”; it is “a safeguard for the person of Jesus Christ.” In other words: “The necessity of the dogma of the virgin birth, according to Barth, provides a twofold function. First, it functions not so much to repeat the reality of the true divinity and humanity of Jesus as to underline the mysterious character of the event of the Incarnation. Second, it describes the mystery of the Incarnation. Summarizing Barth, O’Meara writes: “The virgin birth is the sign, the Incarnation the thing signified. To reject the virgin birth, God’s sign, is to expose oneself to a grave danger of misunderstanding the thing signified.”[22]

In brief, the virgin birth is a sign. And as such, it has no meaning unless seen in relation to the Incarnation. Barth’s concluding statement is: “All ‘Mary the Virgin’ actually signifies is that man is really the other upon whom and with whom God acts in His revelation.” However, Barth rejects mariology as a dogma for two reasons. First, when it becomes an “arbitrary innovation in the face of the Scripture and the early Church. Second, when such innovation “consists essentially in a falsification of Christian truth.”[23] Two years before Barth died [in 1968], the theological patriarch from Basel had a one-week trip to Rome. The trip was on September 22-29, 1968. Aside from the audience with Pope Paul VI, Barth had engaged in ‘private conversation’ with three important Catholic theologians [Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, and Otto Semmelroth]. He inquired of them about their somewhat divergent views on mariology.[24]

During the trip Barth had the singular privilege of having a one-hour dialogue with Pope Paul VI. He considered this experience as the highest point of his pilgrimage. “I count the full hour which Pope Paul VI gave me as among the most pleasant memories of our week.”[25] Barth boldly raised theological questions with the Pope, even the difficult issue on mariology. Barth writes that as a result of his trip he “gained a close acquaintance with a church and a theology which have begun a movement. . . In looking at it we can only wish that we have something comparable. . . I would be happy to see the words ‘Protestants’ and ‘Protestantism’ disappear from our vocabulary.”[26]

Certainly, Barth’s Vatican sojourn has made him irenic and more conciliatory in tone. But did it change his basic position on mariology which he held before the Second Vatican Council? Had he lived longer, would he be revising his very sharp criticism against mariology as developed in Catholic theology?

I am inclined to believe that if Barth would have lived longer, he would be rewriting his views on Mary, especially concerning its solid biblical and Christological grounding provided by Vatican II. However, I also believe that Barth would continue to insist his prophetic No to the Catholic mariological dogma. As a matter of fact, shortly after he arrived from Rome, he received from a Catholic theologian a lecture on mariology. In response, he writes: “I plunged into reading it almost immediately with some attentiveness with which I read detective stories”[27]

After three paragraphs where Barth was very cordial and appreciative of his colleague’s treatise on mariology, the typical bombastic Barth comes out. Let Barth speak for himself:

“You know as well as I do. . . that the ‘theotokos’ of the Council of Ephesus. . . was a formula to aid in expressing Christology, and not to mariological statement, nor the enunciation of an independent dogma besides the one which the council stated as the doctrine of the ‘two natures’ of Christ. When this ‘theotokos’ is used to build a mariology. . . it becomes the starting point of a development which I can only regard as grotesque.

“Not even all the diligent reminders that it was really praise of her Son could alter the fact that the handmaid of the Lord of Luke 1 become the wearer of her crown, to which new pearls were always being added with justification and by necessity, down to those added by Pius XII in 1950. . . It appears to me that the Church. . . deprived this handmaid of her best pos-session by making her a queen, the ‘queen of heaven’, in unavoidable competition with ’our Father who art in heaven’. And it seems . . . that the more this strangely contrived and decorated figure became the object of ‘dulia’ or ‘hyperdulia’ in the order of higher and lower piety, and the more the teaching office of the Church, as in 1854 and 1950, could appeal to ‘consensus of the Church’ as a form of divine revelation, the more complicated, unnatural, and difficult it became for the theologians to make the best of it. . . It was no accident that while Vatican II often acknowledged mariology out of sense of duty, it deliberately avoided it in all the important statements, or use it only for decorative purposes. I had a similar impression when I listen to my colleagues. . . discuss their mariological views in Rome. The Catholic Church does not stand or fall [thank God], on its mariology.”[28]

One significant outcome of Barth’s pilgrimage to the Holy City, aside from the realistic but critical assessment of Roman Catholicism, is his critical self-questioning of Protestant Christianity in the light of the ‘movement of renewal within the Roman Catholic Church.” Barth identifies three “biggest roadblocks” namely, the mariological dogma with its so disagreeable development, the persistence of papal infallibility, and the ‘invisible principalities and powers’ around the Pope, (curia) “which have not yet been noticeably touched by the movement that manifested itself in the Council. Closely related to his consistent mariology critique, Barth commended Pope John XXIII for the reception of St. Joseph into the Canon of the Mass.[29] In the last analysis, the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches
“are not static power groups . . . devoted to the preservation of their possessions or the multiplication of their prestige and influence. Both are directed to the unification of all Christianity as their final end. Both live the dynamics of the evangelical Word and Spirit which are totally constitutive of both. Both live to the extent that they are living communities of the living Jesus Christ. The question that confronts them . . . is not the cooperation of their different doc-trines and institutions but this dynamic movement. They are summoned to give mutual attention to this movement.”[30]

But Barth reserves the sharpest, most self-critical series of questions to the Protestant Christians:

“For a change we. . .are in special way the ones who are questioned. Certainly, we are asked whether, in view of the spiritual motion that is taking place there, something has been set in motion . . . on our side, in the rooms of our church. And do we [as Protestant Christians] exist as ecclesiae semper reformandae? Do not we . . . lack too much that interesting and progressive flexibility which characterizes many of our Roman Catholic colleagues? . . . Are there not also [Protestant] ‘Ottavianis’. . . who everywhere to some extent determine the appearance of the churches? How would things look like if Rome . . . were one day simply to overtake us and place us in the shadows, so far as the renewing of the Church through the Word and Spirit of the gospel is concerned? What if we should discover that the last are the first and the first last, that the voice of the Good Shepherd should find a clearer echo over there than among us?”[31]

These are honest, profound theological questions from a person whose whole life is committed to the proclamation and interpretation of the Word of God in the context of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Barth is such a modern ‘Church Father’ whose clear voice may be ignored with great peril!

V. Mary in Catholic Theology Since Vatican II.

In this section, we will deal with Vatican II’s discussion on mariology [Lumen Gentium, 52-69] and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Pastoral Letter, Ang Mahal Na Birhen.

Pope John XXIII’s announcement on 25 January 1959 to convoke an ecumenical council was a pleasant surprise. The Pope’s symbolic suggestion to open the windows of the Church to let the fresh air inside so that the dust accumulated for four centuries will be blown away.[32] From one Protestant way of seeing, the Catholic mariological dogmas have indeed accumulated some ‘disagreeable dusts’ of superstition which must be blown away by the new wind of critical self-study and ecumenical dialogue.

The mariological issue is one of the hotly contested, most controversial doctrines tackled by the bishops and theological experts of the Second Vatican Council. Many of the Protestant ‘delegated observers’ were as eager as the council protagonists on how the “Maria problem” have been resolved. The bone of contention was whether or not to have a separate schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Council Fathers finally decided to incorporate the schema on Mary into the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” [Lumen Gentium].[33] Robert M. Brown notes that before the crucial vote was taken “there has been furious politicking” obviously on the side of the “Marianists”. He notes that those “desiring a separate schema have indeed been working at a furious rate. These have been some of the arguments and tactics:
· To deny Mary a separate schema is to downgrade her;
· Alternate proposals... deny the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Virgin into heaven;
· The ecumenical situation will be harmed unless there is a separate schema....;
· The true mind of the Church favors a separate schema....[34]

The observers, like Brown, received copies of pamphlets that argue as follows: ‘The two most important facts of the past half century have been the rise in Marian devotion and the rise of the ecumenical movement. Clearly the latter is the result of the former and therefore ecumenical advance is dependent upon heightened Marian devotion.’ Thus, the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium is entitled “The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church.” The Marian chapter has five headings: I. Preface; II. The Role of the Blessed Virgin in the Economy of Salvation; III. The Blessed Virgin and the Church; IV. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin in the Church; and V. Mary, the Sign of Sure Hope and Solace for God’s People in Pilgrimage.[35]

That tightly contested vote has significant ecumenical implications even for our time. A vote for a separate schema on Mary could mean “further excesses of mariological devotion, further doctrinal developments proceeding independently of the rest of Catholic theology.” It could also mean further widening of the chasm between Catholics and Protestants. On the other hand, inclusion of the Mary schema into Lumen Gentium, as it is now, signifies that the Council Fathers understand Mary in relation to the Church. They see Mary as very important part, not independent, of the Church. Seeing Mary in the context of the Church provides safeguards against excesses of Marian devotion and piety. But to see the Church in the context of Mary, the position advocated by the Filipino Cardinal [Rufino Santos], will probably encourage independent development of Marian dogma following the impetus of Pope Pius IX. If so, there will probably be an onward march of Marian dogma which may culminate in the definition of Mary being a “Co-redemtrix”.[36]

Robert M. Brown enumerates three reasons for incorporating the Mary schema into Lumen Gentium. First, it was a matter of providing a context of bringing Marian excesses into some kind of control. Second, it was the only proper theology to discuss Mary in a treatment of the Church of which her Son is the head. Third, it was a matter of ecumenical emphasis, to demonstrate to the ‘separated brethren’ that the Church is basic for Catholic theology, rather than Mary, and that while Mary is important, she is not at the center.[37] A noted Jesuit theologian, Avery Dulles, agrees that the Council Fathers saw the danger of treating mariology separately.[38] Albert Outler, another Protestant theologian, states that placing Mary in the Dogmatic Constitution will have “the effect of reaching Protestants to an important aspect of Christian faith that they have tended to underestimate in their reaction to what was deemed the excesses of conventional mariology.”[39]

There are peculiar conciliar dynamics in the sessions of Vatican II characterized by the mastery of compromise and the skill of ecumenical diplomacy. This is so especially with how the Council Fathers were able to orchestrate and piece together Lumen Gentium’s eighth chapter. As the footnote states:
“This present chapter, while it treats Mary’s relationship to the Church, speaks also of her relation with Christ.... The entire text represents a skillful and prudent compromise between the two tendencies in modern Catholic theology with Christ, the Redeemer; the other, her close connection with the Church and all the redeemed.”[40]

It is this theological tension that is felt throughout the chapter. At one point, the Council Fathers were hesitant and cautious: they do not intend “to give a complete doctrine on Mary” nor to “ decide those questions which have not yet been fully illuminated by the works of theologians” (L.G., 54). Another point, they proclaim with confidence the exalted position of Mary as:
“preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as the Queen of all.... Therefore, the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, and Mediatrix” (L.G., 59, 62).[41]

Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium seeks to fulfill a dual function in relation to Mary: a) to describe the role of the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Incarnate Word and the Mystical Body; b) to describe the duties of the redeemed humankind toward Mary, the mother of Christ and the mother of all faithful disciples (L.G., 54).

The treatment of Mary’s role in the economy of salvation (L.G., 55-60) and her place in the Church exemplifies sound biblical scholarship. Mary’s ties with Christ is stressed with abundant Scriptural citations. Also, the motherly solidarity of Mary with the Church is carefully explained in such a way “to remove any impression that it could detract from the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ’s position as Mediator.”[42]

Since this paper raises the issue of whether Protestant Christians have a place for Mary in their church life, piety and devotion, it is important to know what Vatican II says. Devotion to Mary has always been part of Roman Catholic piety “within the limits of sound and orthodox doc-trine.” The criterion of orthodoxy, even in Marian devotion, is Jesus Christ. The Council Fathers declare: “While honoring Christ’s mother, these devotions caused her Son to be rightly known, loved, and glorified, and all his commands observed” (L.G., 66). The Council Fathers also insist that devotion to Mary must be “Christ-centered and free from all exaggeration” so as “to avoid any thing which might unnecessarily offend the sensibilities of the separated brethren.” All are exhorted (theologians, pastors, and teachers that their promotion of Marian devotion) to “carefully and equally avoid the falsity of exaggeration.... and the excess of narrowmindedness... and rightly explain the offices and privileges of the Blessed Virgin which are always related to Christ, the Source of all truth, sanctity and piety.” In order not to mislead the separated brethren, all Catholics are reminded that true Marian devotion “consists neither in fruitless and passing emotion, nor in a certain vain credulity.” Rather, it proceeds from true faith, by which we are led to know the excellence of the Mother of God, and are moved to a filial love toward our mother and to the imitation of her virtues” (L.G., 66-67).

Finally, the Council Fathers point to Mary as a “sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God.” As such, Mary continues to intercede with her Son “until all the people of the human family.... are happily gathered in peace and harmony into one people of God, for the glory of the Most and Undivided Trinity” (L.G., 69).

IV. Mary in Philippine Life Today

Vatican II’s restatement of mariology, backed up by sound biblical and theological teachings, are offered to all Roman Catholics as the fruit of the aggiornamento initiated by Pope John XXIII when he convoked the Vatican II. In the Philippines, these new teachings have been reinforced, re-echoed, and enriched by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in their Pastoral letter Ang Mahal Na Birhin issued on February 2, 1975.[43] Together with the CBCP’s Pastoral Letter, I would like also to mention the emerging mariological articulations coming from feminist liberation theologians.[44]

This Pastoral Letter offers guidelines on the renewal of devotion to Mary especially “at a time when there are excesses in both directions, credulity and unbelief” (AMNB, 4). It begins with a descriptive survey of Mary’s veneration in the Philippines. The Philippines has a very extensive practice of Marian devotion. The Bishops pointed out that, aside from the “many and rich, positive and potential values of this devotion,” there are attitudes or practices which “are less commendable, cannot be unreservedly approved, and in this respect there is need of instruction and correction” (AMNB, 77). With stern but pastoral warning, the Bishops state:
“We cannot approve, for instance, of the presence of several images of Mary in the same house, chapel or church... as if they are rivals. Medals, scapulars and votive candles are ... religious symbols and manifestations of spiritual trust and candid devotion. However we see a danger connected at times with their use, when people consider them as magic, talismans, a kind of anting-anting for mere or bodily protection. We are seriously concerned about the abuses in some places, where so-called faith-healers use the popularity of the devotion to Mary under one or other of her titles to persuade the simple that their faith-healing power comes from her.... Above all we wish to emphasize that all veneration of Mary is to be subordinated to the adoration of the triune God and of Christ who is the Mediator” (AMNB, 79).

Most interesting in the Pastoral Letter is its relevance to the issue of women’s liberation and social justice. True devotion to Mary determines a man’s way of relating to women. “The dignity, self-awareness and spiritual realization to which Mary is summoning the Filipina is for the Filipino man a challenge to under-stand her correctly and a reminder to respect, love and protect her. A woman is degraded when treated like an object, the conquest of which is taken as a proof of one’s masculinity in the spirit of childish machismo. A woman is a companion and a partner, an equal and not a plaything or slave” (AMNB, 93).

Devotion to Mary has also a clear implication to the work of social justice. The Pastoral letter reminds us that “Mary should also be seen in the Biblical context.” The God of Mary is a “God whose action on behalf of the lowly and the poor endures through the ages” (AMNB, 94). As a model of a perfect disciple, Mary is committed to the work for justice “which sets free the oppressed.” Devotion to Mary in the Philippines today must lead to the work of justice and freedom from oppression” (AMNB, 98).

Let me now consider the emerging (and necessary corrective) views on Mary from feminist liberation theologians. Feminist theologians like Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza (and a few others) assert that Mary had been “mythologized far beyond any historical resemblance.” Fiorenza, the more prolific articulator of feminist theology provides a corrective and necessary alternative to what she calls “malestream image of Mary and of patriarchal mariology.”[45] This traditional and dominant construction of mariology, she continues, is not only a “projection of a celibate male priestly hierarchy” but also legitimizes “male domination in church and society.”[46] This male domination continues today as exemplified by John Paul II’s proclamation: “The fact that the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination … is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the Universe.”[47]

Consequently, this model of femininity is not an appropriate example for ordinary women because it serves to inculcate a sense of “dependency, subordination and inferiority” among normal women. An American writer asserts: “For women like me, it was necessary to reject that image of Mary in order to hold onto the fragile hope of intellectual achievement, independence of identity, sexual fulfillment. Yet we were offered no alternative to this Marian image; hence we were denied a potent female image whose application was universal.”[48]

Furthermore, Fiorenza insists that the dominant male mariology constructs devalue women in three ways: first, by emphasizing virginity to the detriment of sexuality; second, by unilaterally associating the ideal of “true womanhood” with motherhood; and, third, by religiously valorizing obedience, humility, passivity and submission as the cardinal virtues of women.”[49] She continues to stress that “the image of the servile, obedient, self-sacrificing, and sexually inexperienced ‘handmaiden of the Lord,’ projected into heaven as the eternal feminine, cannot but serve kyriarchal interests. In short, malestream Mariology continues to inscribe the socio-cultural image of the feminine that sanctifies the marginalization and exploitation of women. Such a Mary cannot be an inspiring and liberatory model for women either as the feminine yet subordinate human being.”[50]

During the 1990s, there was a resurgence of a “new cult of femininity” as documented by Time Magazine. It became a force to “relegate women to low paying jobs or to push them back into the home altogether, a reactionary politics in the church has gone hand in hand with many apparitions of Mary, the increase of capitalist right-wing religious groups, and the exclusion of women from ordination and church leadership.”[51]

Fiorenza has reacted to this tendency when she writes: “Feminist attempts to revise malestream mariology and to rearticulate mariology as liberating for women must not only scrutinize doctrinal language and cultic imagery. They must also confront their socio-historical context and its politically conservative dominant mariology if they do not want to contribute to the further marginalization and exploitation of women.”[52]

It is clear from the foregoing feminist articulations that any coherent and theologically sound teachings on the role of Mary in the life and ministry of the church must listen to the women’s voice. After all, the church as the household of God would not be complete without the complementation of mothers and the daughters in God’s family.

V. Concluding Statement

The shift in Marian devotion since Vatican II had finally focused in Jesus Christ. This is the rightful place of Mary in the Church and in the history of God’s redemptive work in the world. This is the witness of the Scriptures and the tradition of the early Church. This is what the Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin proclaimed and demanded, to honor Mary in the context of Christology. This is also the continuing challenge of the Reformers to their descendants in our time.

Does Mary have a rightful place in Protestant theology and piety? My answer is a qualified YES! Yes, because the Bible, the foundation of our faith, has a place for Mary. Yes, our early ecumenical creeds (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, etc.) and the ecumenical councils recognize the important role of Mary in the Church’s life and witness.

Therefore, as Protestant Christians in the Philippines, if we are truly evangelical and truly ecumenical, we should reclaim our Reformation heritage. Above all, we should discern the Holy Spirit’s movement in and through the voices of women as they seek to enrich our Filipino culture, our liturgy and popular piety, our theology and church praxis by purifying and renewing them for the greater glory of the triune God.

[1] My interest in this topic is traced back to my scholarly sojourn at the Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University from 1989 to 1992 in pursuit of a doctoral degree. I wrote a paper in response to the challenge of the Cebu General Assembly of 1990 mandating the Faith and Order Committee “to establish a Biblico-theological inquiry on the role and place of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the understanding of our life and work as Filipino Christians…” (GA Action: 1990:50). That initial paper on Mary was published with two other works by Dr. Valentino Sitoy and Ms. Mirzah Rodriguez. See Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Quezon City: UCCP Publications Desk, 1992.
[2] See Mary, the Mother of Jesus: Faith and Order Series 4. Quezon City: United Church of Christ in the Philippines, 1993, p. 6.
[3] However, the NRSV annotation to Revelation 12:1-17 states that the “woman clothed with the sun” symbolizes both “the Israel from whom the Messiah came (v. 5) and the church (vv. 6, 14, 17). The “male child” refers to the “Davidic Messiah who will rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Psalms 2:8-9).
[4] See Thomas O’Meara, O.P. Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966, p. 119.
[5] Ibid., p. 113.
[6] Ibid., p. 113.
[7] Ibid., p. 114.
[8] Ibid., p. 116.
[9] Ibid., p. 118.
[10] Frederick M. Jelly, O.P., “Characteristics of Contemporary Mariology,” Chicago Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1 (1988), p. 63-69.
[11] Martin Luther, Christmas Sermons. Trans. By Roland Bainton. Philadelphia: Muhlenburg Press, 1948, p. 31.
[12] O’Meara, op. cit., p. 119-120.
[13] Ibid., p. 123.
[14] Ibid., p. 125.
[15] D. B. Dupuy, O.P. “The Mariology of Calvin,” ISTINA Vol. V (1958), pp. 479-490; See also Jerome Hamer, O.P., “Protestants and Marian Doctrines,” in The Thomist, XVIII (1955), pp. 480-502.
[16] Ibid., pp. 130, 142.
[17] Ibid., p. 132.
[18] Ibid., p. 133.
[19] For Barth’s treatment n Mary and his consistent critique of the Roman mariological dogma, see his Church Dogmatics, I/2: The Doctrine of the Word of God. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956, pp. 138-146, 172-202. Hereafter to be referred to as CD I/2.
[20] O’Meara, op. cit., p. 207.
[21] Ibid., pp. 214-215
[22] Ibid., p. 215.
[23] Barth, CD I/2, p. 143.
[24] Karl Barth, AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM: An Appraisal of Vatican II. Trans. By Keith R. Crim. Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1968, p. 60.
[25] Ibid., p. 17.
[26] Ibid., pp. 59-60.
[27] Ibid., pp. 61-62.
[29] Ibid., p. 72.
[30] Ibid., p. 73.
[31] Ibid., pp. 74-75.
[32] See Appendix: Pope John Convokes the Council,” in The Documents of Vatican II. Ed. by William M. Abbott, S.J., New York: Herder & Herder, 1966, pp. 701ff. See also Robert M. Brown, The Ecumenical Revolution: An Interpretation of the Catholic-Protestant Dialogue. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1969, pp. 57-67.
[33] The Documents of Vatican II, p. 85. The vote on this issue was: 1114 favor; 1074 not favor; 5 void.
[34] Robert M. Brown, Observer in Rome: A Protestant Report on the Vatican Council. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1964.
[35] The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 85-96.
[36] Brown, Observer in Rome, p. 124.
[37] Ibid., p. 125.
[38] The Documents of Vatican II, p. 105.
[39] The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 85.
[40] The Documents of Vatican II, p. 105. As a Protestant, I find it difficult to accept the highly exalted titles of Mary such as “Queen of Heaven,” “Co-Redemptrix,” etc., as well as the dogmas promulgated by Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception of Mary (1854) and by Pope Pius XII on the Bodily Assumption of Mary to heaven in 1950.
[41] The Documents of Vatican II, p. 96.
[42] The Documents of Vatican II, p. 13.
[43] CBCP Pastoral Letter, ANG MAHAL NA BIRHEN: Mary in Philippine Life Today. Manila: Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, 1975. Hereafter referred to as AMNB.
[44] I find the works of Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza or Harvard Divinity School very helpful. See chapter 6 “In Her Image and Likeness,” in JESUS: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet. Critical Issues in Feminist Christology. London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1994.
[45] JESUS: Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet, p. 163.
[46] Ibid., p.164.
[47]Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone (Vatican City, May 22, 1994).
[48]Mary Gordon, “Coming to Terms with Mary,” Commonweal (January 15, 1982, p. 11.
[49] Fiorenza, op. cit., p. 165.
[50] Ibid., p. 165.
[51] See Richard N. Ostling, “The Search for Mary: Hand-maid or Feminist?” Time (December 30, 1991), p. 62-66.
[52] Fiorenza, op. cit., p. 166.


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