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Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

The Seattle Statement


  1. In honouring Mary as Mother of the Lord, all generations of Anglicans and Roman Catholics have echoed the greeting of Elizabeth: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42). The Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission now offers this Agreed Statement on the place of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church in the hope that it expresses our common faith about the one who, of all believers, is closest to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We do so at the request of our two Communions, in response to questions set before us. A special consultation of Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, meeting under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and Cardinal Edward I. Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, at Mississauga, Canada in 2000, specifically asked ARCIC for "a study of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church." This request recalls the observation of the Malta Report (1968) that "real or apparent differences between us come to the surface in such matters as … the Mariological definitions" promulgated in 1854 and 1950. More recently, in Ut Unum Sint (1995), Pope John Paul II identified as one area in need of fuller study by all Christian traditions before a true consensus of faith can be achieved "the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ's disciples and for all humanity" (para. 79).

  2. ARCIC has addressed this topic once before. Authority in the Church II (1981) already records a significant degree of agreement:

    We agree that there can be but one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, and reject any interpretation of the role of Mary which obscures this affirmation. We agree in recognising that Christian understanding of Mary is inseparably linked with the doctrines of Christ and the Church. We agree in recognising the grace and unique vocation of Mary, Mother of God Incarnate (Theotókos), in observing her festivals, and in according her honour in the communion of saints. We agree that she was prepared by divine grace to be the mother of our Redeemer, by whom she herself was redeemed and received into glory. We further agree in recognising in Mary a model of holiness, obedience and faith for all Christians. We accept that it is possible to regard her as a prophetic figure of the Church of God before as well as after the Incarnation (para. 30).

    The same document, however, points out remaining differences:

    The dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption raise a special problem for those Anglicans who do not consider that the precise definitions given by these dogmas are sufficiently supported by Scripture. For many Anglicans the teaching authority of the bishop of Rome, independent of a council, is not recommended by the fact that through it these Marian doctrines were proclaimed as dogmas binding on all the faithful. Anglicans would also ask whether, in any future union between our two Churches, they would be required to subscribe to such dogmatic statements (para. 30).

    These reservations in particular were noted in the official Response of the Holy See to The Final Report (1991, para. 13). Having taken these shared beliefs and these questions as the starting point for our reflection, we are now able to affirm further significant agreement on the place of Mary in the life and doctrine of the Church.

  3. The present document proposes a fuller statement of our shared belief concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary and so provides the context for a common appreciation of the content of the Marian dogmas. We also take up differences of practice, including the explicit invocation of Mary. This new study of Mary has benefited from our previous study of reception in The Gift of Authority (1999). There we concluded that, when the Church receives and acknowledges what it recognizes as a true expression of the Tradition once for all delivered to the Apostles, this reception is an act both of faithfulness and of freedom. The freedom to respond in fresh ways in the face of new challenges is what enables the Church to be faithful to the Tradition which it carries forward. At other times, some element of the apostolic Tradition may be forgotten, neglected or abused. In such situations, fresh recourse to Scripture and Tradition recalls God's revelation in Christ: we call this process re-reception (cf. Gift 24-25). Progress in ecumenical dialogue and understanding suggests that we now have an opportunity to re-receive together the tradition of Mary's place in God's revelation.

  4. Since its inception ARCIC has sought to get behind opposed or entrenched positions to discover and develop our common inheritance of faith (cf. Authority I 25). Following The Common Declaration in 1966 of Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, we have continued our "serious dialogue … founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions." We have asked to what extent doctrine or devotion concerning Mary belongs to a legitimate 'reception' of the apostolic Tradition, in accordance with the Scriptures. This Tradition has at its core the proclamation of the trinitarian ‘economy of salvation', grounding the life and faith of the Church in the divine communion of Father, Son and Spirit. We have sought to understand Mary's person and role in the history of salvation and the life of the Church in the light of a theology of divine grace and hope. Such a theology is deeply rooted in the enduring experience of Christian worship and devotion.

  5. God's grace calls for and enables human response (cf. Salvation and the Church [1987] 9). This is seen in the Gospel account of the Annunciation, where the angel's message evokes the response of Mary. The Incarnation and all that it entailed, including the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church, came about by way of Mary's freely uttered fiat – "let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). We recognize in the event of the Incarnation God's gracious ‘Yes' to humanity as a whole. This reminds us once more of the Apostle's words in 2 Corinthians 1:18-20 (Gift 8ff): all God's promises find their ‘Yes' in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. In this context, Mary's fiat can be seen as the supreme instance of a believer's ‘Amen' in response to the ‘Yes' of God. Christian disciples respond to the same ‘Yes' with their own ‘Amen'. They thus know themselves to be children together of the one heavenly Father, born of the Spirit as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, drawn into the communion of love of the blessed Trinity. Mary epitomizes such participation in the life of God. Her response was not made without profound questioning, and it issued in a life of joy intermingled with sorrow, taking her even to the foot of her son's cross. When Christians join in Mary's ‘Amen' to the ‘Yes' of God in Christ, they commit themselves to an obedient response to the Word of God, which leads to a life of prayer and service. Like Mary, they not only magnify the Lord with their lips: they commit themselves to serve God's justice with their lives (cf. Luke 1:46-55).

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