To understand Mary is to understand the Christian faith. The consideration of the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ at next months session of General Synod is, therefore, of real importance. For a representative body more used to debating structural and political issues, it will not be easy to move into the careful reading of Scripture, and come up with a response appropriate to a church that is both Catholic and Apostolic.
What is required of us all is that we study the scriptural passages about Mary with something of the same grace, gentleness and obedience that she herself shows in those same texts. The references may be both few (albeit rather more than many Anglicans suppose) and brief, but they are extraordinarily rich in meaning and teaching.
There is, rightly, an element of theological struggle in seeking to grasp the nature of faith and grace as expounded to us by the Apostle Paul. But all is very different when we study the word concerning the mother of our Saviour.
We have to listen quietly, ponder these sayings in our heart, and receive the message of the Lord in gracious obedience. We have to lay aside the divisions of history, and read what Scripture says in all its fullness - to be content not with a supposedly adequate portion, but only with the whole wealth of that glorious Word.
To know Mary is not a doctrinal matter, it is (rather obviously) personal. And to know her is to know her Son, and to know the Lord Jesus is the Christian faith. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to mission that General Synod is not led into some political cul de sac.
It is true that there are seemingly political elements to Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ with regard to an Anglican acceptance of papal definitions, but these issues, acknowledged still to be resolved, must not be allowed to obscure the central role of Mary as the Mother of our Lord, nor the affirmation that he is 'God and Man' and as Man, 'of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world.'
There is no understanding of the Incarnation of Our Lord without an acceptance of Mary's role. If the press, ever eager to misrepresent the Church of England, were to interpret anything less than full support for this report as a rejection of Mary herself (and do not tell us this is inconceivable), it would be disastrous for the mission of the Church.
The Incarnation is a great mystery, which needs prayer and reflection to be properly understood in an age so unfriendly to serious theological thought. It is absolutely central to
the life and mission of the Church. Pray therefore for all the members of General Synod that they may, this month, study the report and reflect upon it, and, next month, affirm the Catholic faith.
I egius Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford.' The words L conjure up an image of staid scholarship, conservative, erudite, measured.
Not so the present (and first female) incumbent, Marilyn McCord Adams. Professor Adams is a radical of a new and excoriating kind. A case in point is her recent paper, 'Shaking the Foundations: LGBT Bishops and Blessings in the Fullness of Time', delivered at the Chicago Consultation, Seabury-Western Seminary, 5 December 2007. In it Adams not only makes the case for Lesbian-Gay-Bisex-ual-Transgendered bishops, but also the case for a complete and radical re-imagining of sexual relationships among Christians:
'The Church has inherited an institution of marriage that involved buying and selling women - like reproductive livestock - from domination by one male into subservience to another (remember, 'love, honor, and obey"?). Despite a couple of decades of dialoguing, the Church still joins society in treating marriage as a 'sacred cow' that cannot be touched (witness the dogmatic insistence that homosexual marriage is a category mistake), when the whole idea of godly partnership needs radical revision.
'Modern heterosexual couples involving 'liberated' women are left to their own devices to transmogrify the institution from the inside. My suspicion is that uncloseting same-sex partnerships will help us to distinguish dimensions of intimacy - for example, to explore the relationship between friendship and sexual activity. They might also furnish models of equality and illustrate different divisions of labor. Honest reflection on varieties of 'transgression - heterosexual and homosexual - would not only move us towards marriage reform but also lead us to fresh conceptions of godly unions that might help the wider society as it evolves new norms.'
Bishop Peter Selby, a soft cuddly radical by Adams standards, whilst condemning his fellow bishops for a negative attitude to Civil Partnerships, is on record as telling the Church Times that 'nobody has ever been prepared to tell me that their own marriage was threatened by the public recognition of gay relationships.' Perhaps he should have consulted the Regius Professor before revealing his naivete. I