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C. Mary Within the Pattern of Grace and Hope
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  1. Participation in the glory of God, through the mediation of the Son, in the power of the Spirit is the Gospel hope (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4-6). The Church already enjoys this hope and destiny through the Holy Spirit, who is the ‘pledge' of our inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:5). For Paul especially, what it means to be fully human can only be understood rightly when it is viewed in the light of what we are to become in Christ, the ‘last Adam', as opposed to what we had become in the old Adam (1 Corinthians 15:42-49, cf. Romans 5:12-21). This eschatological perspective sees Christian life in terms of the vision of the exalted Christ leading believers to cast off sins that entangle (Hebrews 12:1-2) and to participate in his purity and love, made available through his atoning sacrifice (1 John 3:3; 4:10). We thus view the economy of grace from its fulfilment in Christ ‘back' into history, rather than ‘forward' from its beginning in fallen creation towards the future in Christ. This perspective offers fresh light in which to consider the place of Mary.

  2. The hope of the Church is based upon the testimony it has received about the present glory of Christ. The Church proclaims that Christ was not only raised bodily from the tomb, but was exalted to the right hand of the Father, to share in the Father's glory (1 Timothy 3:16, 1 Peter 1:21). Insofar as believers are united with Christ in baptism and share in Christ's sufferings (Romans 6:1-6), they participate through the Spirit in his glory, and are raised up with him in anticipation of the final revelation (cf. Romans 8:17, Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 3:1). It is the destiny of the Church and of its members, the "saints" chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world", to be "holy and blameless" and to share in the glory of Christ (Ephesians 1:3-5, 5:27). Paul speaks as it were from the future retrospectively, when he says, "those whom God predestined he also called; those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). In the succeeding chapters of Romans, Paul explicates this many-faceted drama of God's election in Christ, keeping in view its end: the inclusion of the Gentiles, so that "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26).

    Mary in the Economy of Grace

  3. Within this biblical framework we have considered afresh the distinctive place of the Virgin Mary in the economy of grace, as the one who bore Christ, the elect of God. The word of God delivered by Gabriel addresses her as already ‘graced', inviting her to respond in faith and freedom to God's call (Luke 1:28,38,45). The Spirit is operative within her in the conception of the Saviour, and this "blessed among women" is inspired to sing "all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:42,48). Viewed eschatologically, Mary thus embodies the ‘elect Israel' of whom Paul speaks - glorified, justified, called, predestined. This is the pattern of grace and hope which we see at work in the life of Mary, who holds a distinctive place in the common destiny of the Church as the one who bore in her own flesh ‘the Lord of glory'. Mary is marked out from the beginning as the one chosen, called and graced by God through the Holy Spirit for the task that lay ahead of her.

  4. The Scriptures tell us of barren women who were gifted by God with children - Rachel, Manoah's wife, Hannah (Genesis 30:1-24, Judges 13, 1 Samuel 1), and those past childbearing - Sarah (Genesis 18:9-15, 21:1-7), and most notably Mary's cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:7,24). These women highlight the singular role of Mary, who was neither barren nor past child-bearing age, but a fruitful virgin: in her womb the Spirit brought about the conception of Jesus. The Scriptures also speak of God's care for all human beings, even before their coming to birth (Psalm 139:13-18), and recount the action of God's grace preceding the specific calling of particular persons, even from their conception (cf. Jeremiah 1:4-5, Luke 1:15, Galatians 1:15). With the early Church, we see in Mary's acceptance of the divine will the fruit of her prior preparation, signified in Gabriel's affirmation of her as ‘graced'. We can thus see that God was at work in Mary from her earliest beginnings, preparing her for the unique vocation of bearing in her own flesh the new Adam, in whom all things in heaven and earth hold together (cf. Colossians 1:16-17). Of Mary, both personally and as a representative figure, we can say she is "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand" (Ephesians 2:10).

  5. Mary, a pure virgin, bore God incarnate in her womb. Her bodily intimacy with her son was all of a piece with her faithful following of him, and her maternal participation in his victorious self-giving (Luke 2:35). All this is clearly testified in Scripture, as we have seen. There is no direct testimony in Scripture concerning the end of Mary's life. However, certain passages give instances of those who follow God's purposes faithfully being drawn into God's presence. Moreover, these passages offer hints or partial analogies that may throw light on the mystery of Mary's entry into glory. For instance, the biblical pattern of anticipated eschatology appears in the account of Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7:54-60). At the moment of his death, which conforms to that of his Lord, he sees "the glory of God, and Jesus" the "Son of Man" not seated in judgement, but "standing at the right hand of God" to welcome his faithful servant. Similarly, the penitent thief who calls on the crucified Christ is accorded the special promise of being with Christ immediately in Paradise (Luke 23:43). God's faithful servant Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:11), and of Enoch it is written, "he was attested as having pleased God" as a man of faith, and was therefore "taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God had taken him" (Hebrews 11:5, cf. Genesis 5:24). Within such a pattern of anticipated eschatology, Mary can also be seen as the faithful disciple fully present with God in Christ. In this way, she is a sign of hope for all humanity.

  6. The pattern of hope and grace already foreshadowed in Mary will be fulfilled in the new creation in Christ when all the redeemed will participate in the full glory of the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18). Christian experience of communion with God in this present life is a sign and foretaste of divine grace and glory, a hope shared with the whole of creation (Romans 8:18-23). The individual believer and the Church find their consummation in the new Jerusalem, the holy bride of Christ (cf. Revelation 21:2, Ephesians 5:27). When Christians from East and West through the generations have pondered God's work in Mary, they have discerned in faith (cf. Gift 29) that it is fitting that the Lord gathered her wholly to himself: in Christ, she is already a new creation in whom "the old has passed away and the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Viewed from such an eschatological perspective, Mary may be seen both as a type of the Church, and as a disciple with a special place in the economy of salvation.

    The Papal Definitions

  7. Thus far we have outlined our common faith concerning the place of Mary in the divine purpose. Roman Catholic Christians, however, are bound to believe the teaching defined by Pope Pius XII in 1950: "that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." We note that the dogma does not adopt a particular position as to how Mary's life ended,10 nor does it use about her the language of death and resurrection, but celebrates the action of God in her. Thus, given the understanding we have reached concerning the place of Mary in the economy of hope and grace, we can affirm together the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture and that it can, indeed, only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize that this teaching about Mary is contained in the dogma. While the calling and destiny of all the redeemed is their glorification in Christ, Mary, as Theotókos, holds the pre-eminent place within the communion of saints and embodies the destiny of the Church.

  8. Roman Catholics are also bound to believe that "the most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin" (Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, defined by Pope Pius IX, 1854).11 The definition teaches that Mary, like all other human beings, has need of Christ as her Saviour and Redeemer (cf. Lumen Gentium 53; Catechism of the Catholic Church 491). The negative notion of ‘sinlessness' runs the risk of obscuring the fullness of Christ's saving work. It is not so much that Mary lacks something which other human beings ‘have', namely sin, but that the glorious grace of God filled her life from the beginning.12 The holiness which is our end in Christ (cf. 1 John 3:2-3) was seen, by unmerited grace, in Mary, who is the prototype of the hope of grace for humankind as a whole. According to the New Testament, being ‘graced' has the connotation of being freed from sin through Christ's blood (Ephesians 1:6-7). The Scriptures point to the efficacy of Christ's atoning sacrifice even for those who preceded him in time (cf. 1 Peter 3:19, John 8:56, 1 Corinthians 10:4). Here again the eschatological perspective illuminates our understanding of Mary's person and calling. In view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One (Luke 1:35), we can affirm together that Christ's redeeming work reached ‘back' in Mary to the depths of her being, and to her earliest beginnings. This is not contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and can only be understood in the light of Scripture. Roman Catholics can recognize in this what is affirmed by the dogma - namely "preserved from all stain of original sin" and "from the first moment of her conception."

  9. We have agreed together that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of 1854 and 1950, understood within the 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 traditions. However, in Roman Catholic understanding as expressed in these two definitions, the proclamation of any teaching as dogma implies that the teaching in question is affirmed to be "revealed by God" and therefore to be believed "firmly and constantly" by all the faithful (i.e. it is de fide). The problem which the dogmas may present for Anglicans can be put in terms of Article VI:

    Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

    We agree that nothing can be required to be believed as an article of faith unless it is revealed by God. The question arises for Anglicans, however, as to whether these doctrines concerning Mary are revealed by God in a way which must be held by believers as a matter of faith.

  10. The particular circumstances and precise formulations of the 1854 and 1950 definitions have created problems not only for Anglicans but also for other Christians. The formulations of these doctrines and some objections to them are situated within the thought-forms of their time. In particular, the phrases "revealed by God" (1854) and "divinely revealed" (1950) used in the dogmas reflect the theology of revelation that was dominant in the Roman Catholic Church at the time that the definitions were made, and which found authoritative expression in the Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council. They have to be understood today in the light of the way this teaching was refined by the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution Dei Verbum, particularly in regard to the central role of Scripture in the reception and transmission of revelation. When the Roman Catholic Church affirms that a truth is "revealed by God", there is no suggestion of new revelation. Rather, the definitions are understood to bear witness to what has been revealed from the beginning. The Scriptures bear normative witness to such revelation (cf. Gift 19). This revelation is received by the community of believers and transmitted in time and place through the Scriptures and through the preaching, liturgy, spirituality, life and teaching of the Church, that draw upon the Scriptures. In The Gift of Authority the Commission sought to explicate a method by which such authoritative teaching could arise, the key point being that it needs to be in conformity with Scripture, which remains a primary concern for Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike.

  11. Anglicans have also questioned whether these doctrines must be held by believers as a matter of faith in view of the fact that the Bishop of Rome defined these doctrines "independent of a Council" (cf. Authority II 30). In response, Roman Catholics have pointed to the sensus fidelium, the liturgical tradition throughout the local churches, and the active support of the Roman Catholic bishops (cf. Gift 29-30): these were the elements through which these doctrines were recognized as belonging to the faith of the Church, and therefore able to be defined (cf. Gift 47). For Roman Catholics, it belongs to the office of the Bishop of Rome that he should be able, under strictly limited conditions, to make such a definition (cf. Pastor Aeternus [1870], in Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum [DS] 3069-3070). The definitions of 1854 and 1950 were not made in response to controversy, but gave voice to the consensus of faith among believers in communion with the Bishop of Rome. They were re-affirmed by the Second Vatican Council. For Anglicans, it would be the consent of an ecumenical council which, teaching according to the Scriptures, most securely demonstrates that the necessary conditions for a teaching to be de fide had been met. Where this is the case, as with the definition of the Theotókos, both Roman Catholics and Anglicans would agree that the witness of the Church is firmly and constantly to be believed by all the faithful (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

  12. Anglicans have asked whether it would be a condition of the future restoration of full communion that they should be required to accept the definitions of 1854 and 1950. Roman Catholics find it hard to envisage a restoration of communion in which acceptance of certain doctrines would be requisite for some and not for others. In addressing these issues, we have been mindful that "one consequence of our separation has been a tendency for Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike to exaggerate the importance of the Marian dogmas in themselves at the expense of the other truths more closely related to the foundation of the Christian faith" (Authority II 30). Anglicans and Roman Catholics agree that the doctrines of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception of Mary must be understood in the light of the more central truth of her identity as Theotókos, which itself depends on faith in the Incarnation. We recognize that, following the Second Vatican Council and the teaching of recent Popes, the Christological and ecclesiological context for the Church's doctrine concerning Mary is being re-received within the Roman Catholic Church. We now suggest that the adoption of an eschatological perspective may deepen our shared understanding of the place of Mary in the economy of grace, and the tradition of the Church concerning Mary which both our communions receive. Our hope is that the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion will recognize a common faith in the agreement concerning Mary which we here offer. Such a re-reception would mean the Marian teaching and devotion within our respective communities, including differences of emphasis, would be seen to be authentic expressions of Christian belief.13 Any such re-reception would have to take place within the context of a mutual re-reception of an effective teaching authority in the Church, such as that set out in The Gift of Authority.


  1. The reference in the dogma to Mary being assumed ‘body and soul' has caused difficulty for some, on historical and philosophical grounds. The dogma leaves open, however, the question as to what the absence of her mortal remains means in historical terms. Likewise, ‘assumed body and soul' is not intended to privilege a particular anthropology. More positively, ‘assumed body and soul' can be seen to have Christological and ecclesiological implications. Mary as ‘God bearer' is intimately, indeed bodily, related to Christ: his own bodily glorification now embraces hers. And, since Mary bore his body of flesh, she is intimately related to the Church, Christ's body. In brief, the formulation of the dogma responds to theological rather than historical or philosophical questions in relation to Mary.

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  2. The definition addressed an old controversy about the timing of the sanctification of Mary, in affirming that this took place at the very first moment of her conception.

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  3. The assertion of Paul at Romans 3:23 - "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" - might appear to allow for no exceptions, not even for Mary. However, it is important to note the rhetorical-apologetic context of the general argument of Romans 1 – 3, which is concerned to show the equal sinfulness of Jews and Gentiles (3:9). Romans 3:23 has a quite specific purpose in context which is unrelated to the issue of the "sinlessness" or otherwise of Mary.

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  4. In such circumstances, the explicit acceptance of the precise wording of the definitions of 1854 and 1950 might not be required of believers who were not in communion with Rome when they were defined. Conversely, Anglicans would have to accept that the definitions are a legitimate expression of Catholic faith, and are to be respected as such, even if these formulations were not employed by them. There are instances in ecumenical agreement in which what one partner has defined as de fide can be expressed by another partner in a different way, as for example in the Common Christological Declaration between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East (1994) or the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation (1999).

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