Thursday, October 5, 2017

On whose authority do we interpret the Bible?

My Twitter feed leads me to this article recently, "Protestantism's biggest problem: on who authority do we interpret the Scriptures?"

The article has an ecumenical context for the question which it poses:

"On Saturday I joined a group of Anglican and Methodists in our village to walk around its familiar landmarks offering prayers. We started at the (pre-Reformation) Anglican church, moved on to the war memorial, then to the village school, thence to our popular local pub. A Methodist lady whom I know well told me sotto voce that she wasn’t going to join in praying for the pub to flourish. I remembered that Methodists forswear alcohol. Sotto voce I responded, “But what about Jesus’s first miracle at the marriage feast of Cana?” She replied, half-resigned, half-humorous: “Why do people always bring up Cana!”
Why indeed? It was not only Jesus’s first recorded miracle and a heavenly blessing on matrimony; it was also a sign of God’s lavish generosity and of the complete trust Our Lady had in her Son’s divine powers. The deeper question is: on whose authority do we interpret the Scriptures; John Wesley’s or the Church? To be fair to Wesley and as the Methodist lady and myself agreed, he was condemning the “demon drink” of his day rather than inventing a dogma. Yet at some stage in the spiritual life of a thoughtful Christian the question must arise: “Is private interpretation enough?”"

The question is important. We live in a world with more than one issue (believe it or not, Anglicans!). Lives are at stake as we consider questions of euthanasia, abortion (with its 21st century tendency towards infanticide), war, climate change. Quality of life in the church is at stake when we consider questions of gender in relation to ordered ministry or questions of the nature of godly leadership. Or, even, if anyone dares, questions of what might actually shift us from denominational difference to catholic unity.

Two recent personal conversations with fellow (non Anglican) Christians revealed significant questions about  two different (Protestant) church contexts which, all said and done, are questions of the authority by which Scripture is interpreted.

The paragraphs above, of course, elide an issue or three about interpretation!

When "the Church" is invoked as the interpretative authority, which "[Roman] church" are we talking about? The present day church which largely welcomes biblical criticism? What if we were seeking authoritative interpretation during the period of the Modernist controversy (roughly WW1 to WW2) when biblical criticism was severely frowned upon? Was that church a reliable guide to interpretation? A century from now, will "the Church" of 2017 be viewed as reliable as its 2117 successor?

Conversely, when we reflect on (say) John Wesley's role as hermeneutical guide and mentor for Methodists and link that to "private interpretation", is that fair to the role a John Wesley plays in the life of Methodist churches (ditto Luther/Lutheran, Calvin/Reformed, Cranmer/Hooker/Anglican ...)?

What Wesley (and co) have contributed to the life of God's church has been a publicly available, widely disseminated interpretation of Scripture which has generated wide adherence and steadfast application through many centuries. I suggest another description than "private interpretation" could more accurately describe such hermeneutical phenomenon.

Before we get to what that better description might be, let's acknowledge that Wesley was not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. As the years have gone by the Methodist church here and there has moved on from some initial Wesleyan positions (so I understand). In that sense the church founded on Wesley's interpretation has reinterpreted Wesley's Scripture. It might even yet prove that in a reunification of Anglican and Methodist churches that such reinterpretation is involved that we would consign Wesley (and Cranmer/Hooker) to the history section of hermeneutics.

Conversely, we might usefully also acknowledge that Wesley and co did not set out to interpret Scripture as private individuals de nouveau. They were church members who sought the betterment of the church through good teaching. What they may have emphasised differently to other teachers was much less to do with "private interpretation" and much more to do with revising or reforming church interpretation.

Also before we get to that better description, two further observations on Roman Catholic interpretation.

Observation 1: the strength of Roman emphasis on "the Church" as interpretative authority is that it arrives at decisions very slowly, very coherent with previous decisions ("tradition"!) and with very solid theological foundations (e.g. relating any decision to systematic theologies of Augustine and Aquinas). Roman hermeneutics generally stands the test of time. Protestant hermeneutics may or may not stand that test!

Observation 2: (and obviously from a Protestant perspective) what is one to do when one is convinced "the Church" is wrong in its interpretation? Whether we are an unconvinced but otherwise model Catholic Martin Luther opposed to indulgences in the 16th century or a 21st century ecumenically minded Christian (i.e. sympathetic to Rome's many virtues) who is unconvinced by Marian dogma, what do we do with disagreement? Especially when we find that on some matters at least (and indulgences and Marian dogma would be such matters) we are united with a great host of Protestant Christians for whom 500 years of Protest have stood the test of time! No new Scriptural evidence supporting indulgences or Marian dogma has emerged in that time. That is, "private interpretation" does not do justice to a serious, plausible, sustained disagreement over what Scripture means.

So, what is, arguably, more helpful to describe two significant modes of interpretation than "the Church" and "private interpretation"?

How about this? We replace "the Church" with the authority of the church which guards the interpretation of Scripture (i.e. conserves and maintains what has always been taught and only in a very guarded way ever changes what has always been taught).

And we replace "private interpretation" (in respect of churches interpreting Scripture) with the authority of the church which guides interpretation of Scripture (i.e. churches work on guiding interpretation of Scripture free from anxiety to guard it; individuals (preachers, scholars, Bible Study group leaders, etc) look to the church to guide them in understanding the Bible.

Thinking in terms of two such authorities, church as hermeneutical guardian and church as hermeneutical guide, could help our respect for one another and foster ecumenical relationship building.

I am sketching out some broad terms here, mindful of the fact that the notion of "guarding the gospel" is an important motif in Protestant biblical hermeneutics.


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I am interested that you speak of 'Marian dogma' as though it were a Roman Catholic (Orthodox?) figment of the over-heated human imagination.

As an Anglo-Catholic, I have been brought up to recognise the value of Mary's fiat, in answer to God's call upon her life through the words of the Archangel Gabriel, to become the Mother of the Christ. Surely one might, in this respect, call Mary the first Spirit-filled Christian in the Body of Christ (no pun intended!) As such, we who appreciate her personally, view Mary's vocation as 'priestly' - in that she brought into being the True Presence of Jesus in her womb.

In the Scriptures, Gabriel's greeting: "Blessed are you among women" (echoed by that of her cousin Elizabeth later on in her pregnancy) accorded to Mary a very special status, which the Catholic and Orthodox Churches (the largest Christian Churches),
have recognised ever since. Rowan Williams has written at least one book about Mary that many Christians have read and appreciated.

Anonymous said...

"(6) Tradition: The Holy Spirit's proper works include the occasional ripening and designation of ideas and practises that enable the sanctification of souls in the Church, which by scripture recognises and by grace cultivates them.

"(7) Tradition: The Reformers' critique of the innovations of the High Middle Ages was mandated by God for the good of the Church but does not entail rejection of the tradition of the first millennium.

"(8) Authority: Because the Holy Spirit saves souls through tradition, the recognition and cultivation of the body of it is the principal exercise of authority in true churches, and both individual charism and official processes are necessarily dependent on, and subordinate to, that work."

If one has a defective working theology of the Holy Spirit, then tradition is discounted, the center does not hold, and some nihilistic polarisation of alienated individualism and fascistic officialdom must result. Neither is compatible with what the scriptures are as the Word. Conversely, the solution is a sound working theology of the Holy Spirit in which his rule of the Church is recognised as tradition that contextualises and moderates both the *personal insight* of those indwelt by the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and the *corporate witness* of the whole Body that began at Pentecost.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

"Around 1400, methods to distill spirits from wheat, barley, and rye beers, a cheaper option than grapes, were discovered. Thus began the "national" drinks of Europe:.. gin (England)..." -- "Distilled Beverage," Wikipedia.

Distilled spirits began to be marketed to the masses in Europe long after the NT was written. Did John Wesley actually base his opposition to such marketing on a text in scripture explicitly prohibiting them? If so, what was that astonishingly prophetic text?

The Catholic Herald seems to have projected a Reformed biblicism on Wesley, who had other and more interesting ideas about spiritual authority.


Anonymous said...

Peter, the Catholic Herald article misstated the Methodist lady's problem. Her problem is not that she has to choose between Wesley's reading and some opposing Church reading. Her problem is that she believes that she cannot locate authority for her community's practise anywhere else but in the Bible, but that practise includes a rule that is clearly non-biblical. The practise works for her, we assume, but she cannot explain what makes it authoritative so long as she believes that only the Bible has any authority at all. She does not need to believe that.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I may be misunderstanding your comment and/or the article but I thought the article worked more like this in respect of what it presupposes:

(1) The Methodist lady has an interpretation of Scripture re (non) drinking which rests on the authority of John Wesley.
(2) The interpretation of Scripture (e.g. the wedding at Cana) in "the Church" begs to differ (and a good time is had by all consequently!).
(3) That's the problem with a bloke such as Wesley reading the Bible and becoming some kind of authority in doing so: it is a private interpretation, not an interpretation of "the Church."
(4) As always - from the perspective of "the Church", private interpretation has a tremendous ability to be wrong, as in this case.
(5) As a matter of fact, of course, many people who think what they believe is based on the authority of the Bible alone, have a so-called private interpretation which raises its glass to the interpretation of "the Church". I think especially of the Exclusive Brethren and their enjoyment of a good dram!

Anonymous said...

Peter, your summary of the article from the Catholic Herald is accurate yet witty. The article itself is misinformed, self-refuting, and unhelpful.

My 5:00 corrects the article's (1). The Methodist lady is living by her tradition just as the writer for the Catholic Herald lives by his. She is not reading her Bible alone and idiosyncratically finding a ban on a molecule.

At (2), our Methodist traditionalist is perplexed that Jesus did not follow her tradition. It might be similar if our Catholic writer was perplexed that Jesus was properly vested for the First Mass.

My 3:18 corrects the article's (3). John Wesley never claimed to have found a scriptural prohibition of advanced fermentation techniques unknown in the world of Jesus. Rather, he found souls and families being broken by the aggressive marketing of Demon Alcohol to the poor. And as a moral leader, he responded to that situation with a ban, just as the writer for the Catholic Herald would hope that a Catholic bishop would do if his people were being broken by eg porn. So the interpretation of scripture, private or churchly, is nowhere present in the story.

At (4), if no scriptural interpretation happened in the story, then the story does not show anything about scriptural interpretation.

Your (5) should be restated: "Many people who think what they believe is based on the authority of the Bible alone, have a *tradition* applied by local *authority* which raises its glass to the interpretation of scripture in the *the Church*." Which is what I say above in (6) and (8) at 2:15.

Anonymous said...

Protestants do have a problem, but it is not with interpreting scripture, and indeed Rome has the same problem: a weak working theology of the Holy Spirit in the West leads to a chronic inability to recognise the Holy Spirit working through tradition and leadership in the Body. When this happens, they rationalise their compliance by referring it to the Bible (or the Pope) because they do not know what else to do with it, and once they have done this, it becomes an untouchable moral absolute-- no Demon Alcohol ever! no communion for the remarried ever! The Bible itself is not the source of this problem because (a) the Orthodox, Quakers, and Pentecostals do not have it at all, and even Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Wesleyans have rather less of it, and (b) the Bible clearly affirms the Holy Spirit's relation to tradition in the pastoral epistles and to leadership in the *man of YHWH* theme of the whole canon.

Rome and hyper-synodical Anglicans have the problem insofar as it identifies the Holy Spirit's work too exclusively with rule-bound institutions that resemble Babel rather than Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is an opportunist and uses creative possibilities that are usually rather far from duly constituted power. Even the great exceptions prove the rule: Pope St Gregory the Great did not write the complex system of Gregorian Chant, but was rather the Cranmer of Western music who collected the Latin variations on the Byzantine chant into a cohesive whole. Conversely, the medieval innovations that began close to power in Rome are the ones that the Reformers were raised to correct. Given everything we know about people and organisations, this is not surprising at all.

The Reformed (including Reformed Anglicans) also have the problem and they have it bad. The reason, apart from their having the same weak pneumatology as the rest of us, is that their deep preference for protological explanations of everything undercuts the living, breathing Word's own explanation of things in terms of the eschatology revealed in the Resurrection. In their view, crudely stated, the gospel is that Jesus is the Enforcer of the Perfect Plan, rather than that the Holy Spirit is making all things new. The Reformed journey is backward to fix Eden and punish evildoers rather than forward to the New Jerusalem and the reconciliation of the whole creation to the Creator.

Which brings us back to the Methodist lady. For if anything in the history of the Church of England has looked like the work of the Holy Spirit in its midst, it is surely the Methodist revival that came in the very nadir of the Enlightenment. But the CoE was then too contentedly Catholic and Reformed to recognise anything but that Wesley was bursting some venerable wineskins. Perhaps if the Methodist lady could be an Anglican lady, she could too could lift a dram with the vicar, but could also remind the bartender that the drunk on his second whiskey should not be driving home.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
Excellent and exactly.
Though that does leave the question how we discern the Spirit?
However I take your point that synods and Popes are poor methods of doing so.
We do need to wake up more (I speak as an Anglican, in these islands, in respect of some liturgical practices as examples) to what the Spirit is saying to the church through the developing life of congregations, paying special attention to the ways in which congregations "independently" develop the same "innovative" practices ... the one Spirit of the church at work?

Anonymous said...

Peter, Bryden, et al-- More about Robert W Jenson. BW

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, dear readers, but among other infelicities in my comments above, a sentence in my 2:39 is deprived of a needed *not*. The third paragraph should read--

At (2), our Methodist traditionalist is perplexed that Jesus did not follow her tradition. It might be similar if our Catholic writer was perplexed that Jesus was not properly vested for the First Mass.


"Though that does leave the question how we discern the Spirit?"

Yes, Peter, it does. But in that discernment, we are at least thinking in God about God rather than about some technology for new theologies. That is already a step from a Golden Calf to the Living God. Faith is not wishful thinking trying to control God or his Body.

We read the Word and the fathers to know the Holy Spirit, we recognise the deep unity of the tradition that we have already been given and practise, and then when he consecrates something new, that will be evident to all who pray for discerning eyes.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

In an earlier Festschrift to Robert Jenson from 2000, Robert Louis Wilken poses the question, “Is Pentecost the Peer of Easter? Scripture, Liturgy, and the Proprium of the Holy Spirit.” The driving question is a direct quote of course from Jenson himself, from his Systematic Theology, vol.1, The Triune God. How this impacts this thread, as it has developed here, I hope to show.

In the first place, God has addressed human beings in the Story of his words and deeds, specific testimony to which is found in that “unique instrument and divinely appointed servant”, the Bible, within “the triune economy of grace” (as John Webster would put it). That Biblical drama, furthermore, speaks notably of God’s two “sendings”, the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit (Gal 4:4-6). And while the Son is sent in such fashion that the Word/Son is ever now enfleshed, there is no sloughing off his humanity henceforth, the language of the Holy Spirit’s mission is such that he is said to be “poured out” (Joel, Acts & Rom 5:5). And when the Church Fathers come to grapple with the Holy Spirit’s specific identity among the Persons of the Trinity, such language evokes, in the end, “overtones of reciprocity and mutuality” (Wilken), as the Spirit is come to be known as that unique work where God is “given, received, and possessed” (Hilary of Poitiers) among his People. The icing on the cake, as it were, from the West’s point of view, is achieved by Augustine’s uniting all such texts together with notably 1 Jn 4:13, reinforcing Hilary’s earlier language.

However, all this exegetical work is driven by its context, and that context is decisive. For the setting of any reading of the Bible is the communal life of prayer and worship, and notably the sacraments. Creedal debates were often settled as much by such realities as the throwing around of biblical texts. For these very texts were the springboard to worship - and vice versa! And ‘of course’ the Son and the Holy Spirit are worthy of all worship ...!

But the Story or Drama of Scripture is not yet complete: the very triune economy of grace offers still precisely the Holy Spirit as arrab┼Źn (Eph 1:3-14, Rom 5:1-5, 8:15-39). And in the Eastern traditions of the Christian Faith, this is no more evident than in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy or Eucharist, with its epiclesis. For how else will the anamnesis of the Lord Jesus’ death be proclaimed as a foretaste of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb?! The West has forgotten this to its detriment; nor has its more recent liturgical revisions really made any difference - yet ...

All of which suggests that wrangles about any due textual interpretation, if they have any chance of being ‘settled’, require us, the Church of the 21st C, both to look back over our shoulders to those past giants upon whose shoulders we may surely only stand, and from them/there look forward to how the Holy Spirit takes what is Jesus’s and shows that to us; just so Jn 16:12-15. Yet that very exercise today is fraught with difficulty. Not only are we afflicted with what CS Lewis termed “chronological snobbery” - only the most recent ‘insights’ are worthy of consideration. We are also obviously rather schismatically divided: East from West, the RCC from Protestants, with supposed via media Anglicans themselves flying apart at a rate of knots—and all this after a century of intentional ecumenical endeavour (post Edinburgh 1910). That is, what of that context so vital of the Early Church?!

Perhaps one Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, one time Patriarch of Moscow’s diocese for Great Britain and Ireland, may assist: “if you wish to catch a dove, open your hand, and keep very still and quiet for a time ...”

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
Much appreciated thoughts and sentiments but a few "buts"!
(1) Is there not some role for human authority in a kind of zookeeper role? What you say above presumes a church engaged in liturgical worship more or less in the Great Tradition of Liturgy but we Anglicans (unlike Romans and Easterns) have some disposition in some places to liturgy so lite that (e.g.) the epiclesis is not only left out, its right to be there is disputed. Can liturgy which is so free flowing that it no longer uses the vocabulary of Scripture be the context in which the church interprets Scripture? We need some order and control (on your and, I think, Bowman's approach) if the Spirit is to be heard. So, bishops etc important! But, are they faithful men and women and who is custodian to them when not? Easy, along this line of questions, to see virtue in Roman structure!
(2) What to do when the church disregards the Jensons and like and goes more for those whose writings amount to a parody of solid and sound theology? (Again, Anglicans well known tendency to do this, if not to write the stuff ...). We probably do not want to institute an Index etc but, again, no one has authority in our church to say "Read this and definitely not that."

Father Ron Smith said...

Just a word for you expert pneumatologists here: Blessed Mary did not have an internal theological debate about how the Holy Spirit would work in her womb to bring forth the world's Redeemer. She just trusted that God knew what God was doing. Perfect trust precedes and follows upon spiritual experience."Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church" - a revelation built upon a real experience of the 'Word made flesh', who dwelt among us.

Bryden Black said...

Liturgy lite = theology lite = S/spirit lite = exegesis lite = liturgy lite: Christianity lite => death! No buts ... just death.

Bryden Black said...

To be sure Ron; my physics ends at A Level. So each time I get on board an aeroplane, I surely let the captain do the flying, the engineers their maintenance, and the air traffic controllers their guidance, and just sit back - and trust! Been doing it for years - as have you, I guess!

Anonymous said...

Bryden is referring to this--


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Somewhat belatedly I take up your comment re Marian dogma.
You are talking as a good Anglican about Marian respect and veneration, deservedly so for the Mother of our Lord and for one who was exemplary in his discipleship (obedience to the call of God). There is no disagreement on that because it is well-founded in Scripture.

By "Marian dogma" I mean those doctrines which are unsupported by Scripture concerning Mary's own sinlessness and her assumption.

I guess Mary remaining a perpetual virgin is also part of the dogma but that does incur a debate about Scriptural references to siblings of Jesus (which, on the face of it, involves special pleading in order to translate "brother" as "half-brother."

I also cavil at the notion that Mary hears our prayers to her when we ask her to pray for us (as some Anglicans do, including in your own parish). That also is unsupported by Scripture but that is part of a misleading teaching about praying to any and all saints for help.

Father Ron Smith said...

"I also cavil at the notion that Mary hears our prayers to her when we ask her to pray for us (as some Anglicans do, including in your own parish). That also is unsupported by Scripture but that is part of a misleading teaching about praying to any and all saints for help." - Dr.Peter Carrell -

Peter, I did not expect any other response to my post on the BVM from you, who have been inculcated with the Protestant lack of inspiration by the Saints of the Church.

Theology did not cease to be 'done' at the publication of the King James version of the Bible - nor even with the publication of any of its 'more enlightened' successors. The majority of Christians are content to continue in the tradition of praying for the Faithful departed - that they may 'Rest in Peace and Rise with Christ in Glory. They do also - despite this factor not being mentioned in the Bible; some of us have the profound spiritual prompting to ask the intercession of those (Saints), whom the Church has already declared as being with Christ in glory, to cover us with their prayers, which we believe are heard on our behalf. After all, I think even you, Peter, might concede that they could actually be in the fuller presence of God already. This, for Anglo-Catholics like myself, is a matter of Faith, not obedience to some dogmatic pronouncement.

As I have said before on this blog. If it was good enough for Elijah, in the scriptures, to be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind; does not the Mother of our Redeemer warrant as much dignity? "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than this world dreams on". Some people's faith is based on both the revelation in the Scriptures AND the revelation (and subsequent experiences) that have never appeared in the existing Scriptures. Writings have already appeared - and may well continue to appear as 'Scriptures' about God's activity in our world in the future, depicting this reality. My mind is not closed to this possibility.

People like Padre Pio's and Dorothy Kerin's experience of the Stigmata bear reference to such revelation. I'm a multiplier of the numinous - not an agnostic. "My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts" - God.

Jonathan said...

On the topic of Mary hearing our prayers (or not) I wonder if the desire for her to do so arises from a underdone view of Jesus' full humanity? Are we ( am I...) so rightly emphasising his divinity that he cannot relate to or sympathise with our weaknesses? But I very much like Fr Ron's comment on the 7th at 8.03: it is beyond my comprehension as to how Mary, in trust, managed the internal conflict between theological propriety, social and family expectation, and the reality of her pregnancy. I suspect the input of the angel and Elizabeth must have heen hugely important there.

Anonymous said...

Martin Luther agrees with you, Jonathan.

"Men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God.... It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.... In order to become the Mother of God, she had to be a woman, a virgin, of the tribe of Judah, and had to believe the angelic message in order to become worthy as the Scriptures foretold.... Mary does not desire to be an idol; she does nothing, God does all. We ought to call upon her, that for her sake God may grant and do what we request. Thus also all other saints are to be invoked, so that the work may be every way God's alone."

Martin Luther. "The Magnificat," Luther's Works. Vol. 21, pp. 326-29.

"Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)."

Martin Luther. "The Hail Mary," Luther's Works. Vol. 43, p. 39.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
We pray for the living and once they are dead we entrust them into the merciful judgement of God. Their fate is beyond our prayers.
There is not one shred of encouragement to pray to God via the saints and every encouragement to prayer in the Spirit to the Father through the Son.
That is scarcely some kind of awful dogmatism - rather a simple acceptance of the teaching of Scripture allied with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Your point re the assumption of Elijah and therefore of Mary is a pleasant speculation. It is not a foundation for dogma (which, in any case, you seem somewhat averse to espousing!!).
There are more things in heaven than on earth than ever dreamed of (was the Spirit speaking to Shakespeare at that point?) because there is indeed a great mystery beyond what we can see, touch, etc. But the penetration of that mystery should be via the few shafts of light coming down out of heaven rather than via the unwarranted speculations of our imaginations.

Bryden Black said...

Jonathan is surely right to point out Ron too is right, focusing upon Mary’s wonderfully faithful disposition. In fact, Luke’s portrait of her is as the archetypal disciple, “hearing the word of God, holding it fast in an honest and good heart ... doing it”, “producing” “fruit”, Lk 8:15, 21; cf. 2:19, 51. A simple comparison between Mark’s treatment of the parable of the sower and Luke’s highlights Mary’s role—and enables others to emulate it. The ambivalent family stuff of Mk 3:21, 31-34 comes before the famous Mk 4 chapter on parables, headed by the sower, while in Luke it forms the positive climax of the first section of ch.8.

Finally too, we should note Mary’s last mention in his two volume work at Acts 1:14, “praying” for the expectant Holy Spirit’s coming, rounds off this portrait. For the description of the Holy Spirit’s “coming upon her, and the power of the most high overshadowing her” at Lk 1:35 is uniquely repeated at precisely Acts 1:8, where the rare compound verb epi + erchomai occurs in both verses. That is, by a judicious use of language, Luke is telling us the beginnings of each of his volumes parallel each other. Firstly, the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary in power to establish the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb to the praise of the Father, the Magnificat. And then, by way of repetition but expansion, the Holy Spirit comes in power upon the nascent Church, “who utter God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11) once more. The pattern is explicitly and powerfully trinitarian what’s more; and Mary a delightful disciple of such a God.

But Jonathan is also right in his comment to highlight a real issue - one which actually has been well researched and written about. If I may, my own ch.8, “Deconstruction”, in The Lion, the Dove & the Lamb addresses it directly and assembles the historical, liturgical, and theological evidence. By way of whetting the appetite. One of the consequences of the Nicene victory over the Arians was this: never again is Jesus going to be allowed to be viewed as anything less than fully divine. JA Jungmann, that RC liturgical giant of the first half of the 20th C, explicitly speaks of this “anti-Arian backlash” and carefully traces it in his work. Similarly, TF Torrance, notably in his essay “The Mind of Christ in Worship: The Problem of Apollinarianism in the Liturgy”, in his Theology in Reconciliation (1975), shows how Christ’s once great mediatorial role, the Jesus who is Mediator and Mediation in Person, notably ministering the things of God to humans AND ministering human things to God on our behalf, as TFT also carefully traces, gets pushed aside. Thereafter, consequently, surreptitiously, a vacuum begins to appear—ever so slowly but surely down the centuries. And just as nature abhors a vacuum, the supernatural even more so. Something has to fill that mediatorial vacuum. In a nutshell, the solution becomes the Church itself, viewed as that embodiment of supernatural grace which spans heaven and earth, instrumentally dispensing grace via special people and special means. Just so, Mary, gratia plena, “full of grace”, the Vulgate translation of Lk 1:28, fits delightfully into such a picture. Yet all of this classically puts the cart before the horse! For God has already established his own Incarnational-cum-trinitarian “mediatorial field”, which IS his OWN triune set of relationships. The Church thereafter should be witness, herald, and steward of this Triune God of the Gospel.

I.e. Mary does indeed have her beautiful place; Elizabeth, Jonathan, and Ron are right, Lk 1:42! Sadly, for reasons we are now better able to appreciate, her place however is also (IMHO) overblown by some/many. Teasing out the rich wheat from the hollow chaff is the challenge - and my own point.

Bryden Black said...

Bowman; Luther's extolling Mary fits perfectly with his entire stress upon the Divine Word of Promise. That's the Gospel's engine; and Mary is that Gospel's faithful disciple - beautifully!

Father Ron Smith said...

Just in case some readers on this thread should imagine my Mariology to follow, without question, the Roman Catholic trajectory; I do stop short of postulating her 'Immaculate Conception' (any idea of Mary's own sinlessness). To think otherwise would have lessened the incidence of Jesus' full humanity. I do believe that, through her obedience, Mary became God's chosen vehicle of Jesus' own 'Immaculate Conception' by the Holy Spirit.

I am also (because of the - disputable - evidence of Scripture to the contrary) not a mindless advocate of Mary's 'perpetual virginity'. Her blessedness lies in her perfect obedience to God's call upon her life - enabling Mary to claim, in the words of Luke's Magnificat: "All generations shall call me 'Blessed'"

Bryden Black said...

Thanks Ron for these latest remarks.

One line of thought you might like to ponder - I realise that perhaps it's too 'theological'! ;-) ... - is what's called the Minority Report re what you call Jesus' own Immaculate Conception. Namely, Jesus precisely took to himself fallen human nature, from Mary, in order to redeem it, moment by moment, in the power of the Holy Spirit, who conceived him in the very womb of Mary. The outcome therefore is his sinlessness. Worth pondering I sense. Peace and joy!

Anonymous said...

Or, Father Ron, you could consider the view of SS Nicholas Cabasilas and Gregory Palamas that the Theotokos did what the *minority report* says that Jesus did so that the human nature that he assumed from her was that of Adam and Eve before the Fall. To Western ears it sounds as though these Byzantines are saying that we are justified by Mary's faithfulness rather than by Jesus's, but of course God did the work in her and if not for her Son's still greater work, we would have no participation in it. From their perspective, getting humanity past the Fall is just preliminary to the main event which is getting humanity-- or at least a representation of it-- into the transformative communion with the Son that is theosis. They might well wonder why so many in the West settle for mere justification and a vague expectation of sanctification when participation through the Son in the perichoresis of the Three beckons. But Bryden's fine books have shown them that there is hope for us yet.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...

Thank you, Bryden and Bowman. We seem, then, to be in agreement in considering the work of God at the Incarnation of Christ as being consonant with Mary's full humanity (no 'Immaculate Conception' for her) being transformed by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the Conception of the Divine Word in her womb. This makes total sense of the Roman Catholic words at the co-mixture of the water and wine at the Eucharist: "By the mystery of the water and wine, may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity". A humble attempt to convey what is essentially a Mystery.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou among women

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I agree that Fr Ron does not adopt dogma, he quotes scripture. Marian dogma holds Mary to be (1) mother of God (2) a perpetual virgin (3) immaculately conceived and (4) assumed into heaven.
(1) is hardly controversial from a theotokos point of view. (2) was accepted by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Wesley. (3) is probably just logic at work, but we Catholics accept it as infallible teaching. (4) is likewise ex cathedra. Munificentissimus Deus does not however rule out Mary’s death. That then accords with the Orthodox dormition. JP2 clarified that Mary did die. So, in terms of where that leaves us, only (3) would seem objectionable to non-Catholics. I note that the Orthodox consider (3) false. It’s logical at least and one of two (possibly the only two) crystal clear invocations of papal infallibility.

As for praying to the saints; try this when you are in a hurry :
Dear St Joseph and St Ann, find me a car park as quick as you can :)


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Nick
That is exceptionally clear!
I am probably a bit of a Calvinist (Augustinian?) re carparks: if I have not been elected to have one ... there is no point in praying for one :)

Anonymous said...

No, Arminius is correct. Take the park, but you might lose it.