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The place of the Virgin Mary in Dogmatics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2009

David D. C. Braine
Gifford Fellow Department of Logic, King's College University of Aberdeen


In their common acceptance of the immediacy of God and of the dependence of all things upon God, in their common belief in grace and the supernatural, the importance of God's free choice and initiative, and the value of prayer, and in their shared insistence on the immediacy with which the Father can be addressed, the immediacy of the presence of the Risen Lord, and the immediacy of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (by which I mean those in the tradition of Luther and Calvin) are in perfect accord; and, as they begin to understand each other's positions better, when this accord is combined with their belief in the importance of assent to God's revelation, to his word as given, in the supremacy of this revelation and its authority as truth from God, the community between them is striking.

Research Article
Copyright © Scottish Journal of Theology Ltd 1984

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page 145 note 1 Pius XII in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus in which in 1950 he promulgated the definition of the corporal assumption of the Virgin Mary makes this remark after previously having rehearsed various arguments from the agreement of the ordinary magisterium, from the liturgy over many centuries and from the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

page 146 note 2 It is not wilhin the power of man and woman by the normal or natural processes of nature, upheld by and co-operated in by God in the customary way, to procreate a person who is the Divine Son of God. Therefore if Mary and Joseph had had intercourse, then, in order for the child issuing from this intercourse to be the Son of God, the natural upshot of their intercourse would have had to be superseded and set aside and the Son of God substituted for tha1! natural issue. Therefore it would have been no less a miracle but rather more for the Son of God to have been conceived by the intercourse of Mary and Joseph than for him to be conceived virginally. The latter does not involve the suppression of the natural effect or issue of intercourse and the substitution of something different. We find again and again in the history of Christian theology ways of thinking which involve confusions in the logic of identity, i.e. ways of thinking that involve the idea that it is sensible to speak of the man who would have existed anyway (as a result of what occurred in the Virgin Mary, whether virginally or otherwise) whether or not God had chosen or willed the becoming incarnate in this man of the Son of God. This way of thinking involves thinking that Jesus had an identity as a person, as a man, independent of whether or not he was the Son of his Divine Father; that is, it involves thinking of jesus as containing or being a man in some particular relationship to the Son of God, that is to the second person of the Trinity, rather than understanding him to be the same person as the second person of the Trinity, that is to be the second person of the Trinity, to be himself that Person. It is essential to Christian theology that Jesus' humanity should have no existence which is independent of the existence of the Divine Son of God (whether or not his humanity has some existence distinct from, but not independent of, the eternal existence of the Divine Son is a separate technical question). It is not that God willed that this man exist and at the same time willed the Incarnation, but that in one object of will he willed the Incarnation, and in willing the Incarnation willed the existence of a certain person to be human as well as divine, willed that this person should exist humanly as well as divinely, willed that this person's divine existence should take human expression, willed that the Word be made flesh. We must reject Duns Scotus's opinion that God could have suspended the Incarnation and that, if he had so done, Christ's humanity would have remained, now become mere man.

page 146 note 3 There is no surrogate for biological masculine and feminine in God's relationship to Mary. In Jesus' conception, the New Creation is sown, and in his Resurrection the New Creation is begotten: the begetting which God does in respect of jesus is either before all worlds (so far as the divine nature in Jesus is concerned) or at the Resurrection. I say this in order further to make clear that nothing analogous to the male-female relation is involved, nothing analogous to what we find in pagan myths about gods eloping with mortals.

page 147 note 4 St. John's Gospel 2: 3–5 and 19:25–27, as it were sandwiching the rest of the Gospel, should be read against the background of Genesis Chapter 3 where we find portrayed the proto-typical woman, Eve, on whom there is a midrash in ihe first Kpistle of john 2:16. The Gospel within which Mary is addressed as ‘woman’ is the one most permeated with ideas from the Torah, most Jewish in its pe-occupations and apologetic, and at the same time most cosmic and universal in its appeal, and written by one whose disciple (more Greek in ideas, if Dodd in his commentaries is right) writing in I John perpetuates the tradition of pre-occupation with the Torah and even with Genesis in his midrash on the temptation of Eve in 2:16. References to Genesis are difficult to trace in the New Testament outside the writings of the Johns.

page 148 note 5 Mary in the Documents of the Church, collected Palmer, Paul F., Oates, Burns, London 1953Google Scholar. Mary's sinlessness: Irenaeus p. 13f, Ephrem pp. 17–22–3, Augustine p. 33f, Sixtus IV & Trent pp. 74–7. Exegesis of Luke 11:27–8, pp. 47–8. Mary's Motherhood of the faithful pp. 47–8 etc. Mary–s Death or Dormition p. 64. Liturgy pp. 57–61. Early evidence of excesses to Mary p. 49.

page 150 note 6 In saying that the perfection even in the preparation for the receiving of grace is God's work and not solely man's, we are taking up a position that maximises the role of grace to the degree compatible with free will: as it were in the spectrum of Christian views, we are, within the range of Catholic views, taking up that position, associated with Dominicans more than Jesuits, which is closest to Calvin, maximising the role and responsibility and initiative of God so that grace is needed even in the acceptance of grace, i.e. we are reaching out to a position which makes continued assertion of human freewill not contradictory but paradoxical in the context of an all embracing antecedent divine plan and fore-ordinalion, so that in this instance Mary's obedience although a free act remains fore-ordained and a work of God. In this way the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is perhaps the most embarrassing of all Catholic doctrines in the context of discussions of predestination, because it is one that makes it impossible for Catholics to adopt any of the easier or more obvious refutations of Calvin, or easier or more obvious ways of dealing with the problem of evil.

page 151 note 7 What is here involved is the state of sanctifying grace, in Scholastic textbooks, which is arguably the same as the grace of justification in Protestant preaching. One must distinguish between the fact of being in a state of grace, i.e. the fact of being justified — facts do not have degrees, they either obtain or do not obtain — and sanctifying grace or the grace of justification in that sense in which they may have degrees i.e. as there can be degrees in a certain sense of holiness amongst those who are all in the same state in respect of being holy or set apart; whether we speak of the state of sanctifying grace or the state of being justified. In either case (sanctifying grace in one terminology and the grace of justification in another) what is involved is the work of the Holy Spirit making us just, placing us in friendship with God and developing this friendship.

page 152 note 8 On the notion of original sin, see below, and see remarks in footnote 9.

page 153 note 9 The predicament within which man finds himself is that of being in a state of universal solidarity in provisional alienation from God (I say provisional because man's being within this stage of alienation is within the context of an underlying and preexisting will of God for the salvation of all man, so that although man is in a state of alienation, i.e. out of friendship with God, he is not outside the sphere of God's goodwill and God's desire to renew that friendship). This state is one for which God is not to blame, not responsible. Yet it is a state which in some way need not have obtained and ought not to be or to have come to obtain: it is only because it is a state for which God is not responsible and which ought not to be and need not have been, and is in some way the expression or result of human will, that it can be described as a state of sin. It is a state which is not so integral to human nature that Christ needed to share it, i.e. be out of friendship with God, in order to be human and to redeem man. It is not so integral to human nature that human beings cease to be human in the act of being redeemed, in the event of being freed from this state. There is therefore a problem as to how God can allow man to be conceived and, in a stale of alienation from himself, independently, to exercise his individual will, with some evil consequences flowing from this alienation (disorders in nurture and disorders in the relation between reason and passions), and impute this to man as sin, and yet be regarded as just. This problem of insisting on the justice of God while maintaining the sinfulness of man, antecedent to men's individual decisions, is the one to which the Fathers and more modern authors in their attempts to explain the nature of human solidarity were and are addressing themselves. To this problem the discussions in such articles as that of Gabriel Daly (Heythrop Journal 13, 1972) contribute nothing: all we are offered is statements of the fact of man's being divided within himself and of his experiencing himself as thus divided and of the fact of deep-seated social disorder and systematic disorder in nurture; no explanation is given as to why man should be in this state, or how God can be regarded as just in bringing man into being in this state, or how this can be regarded as a state of sin rather than merely a state of immaturity and yet-to-be-completed development. The beginnings of an explanation of this, not in terms of quasi-physical generation, were offered by Emil Mersch in his Theology of the Mystical Body (St. Louis, Mo., 1951) written before his premature death in 1940. Some metaphysical solidarity amongst men, transcending the merely biological, social and psychological, was a positive gift of God to the human race, and not removed from man as a result of man's sin, despite the fact that sin in one in the context of this solidarity involved the fall of all — not removed, because allowed by God in view of his intention to redeem man in solidarity. It is because Christ enters this metaphysical solidarity by the very fact of being a man that he is able to redeem us, and, in redeeming us, redeem us as a community or race rather than solely in a purely individual way. The explanation given by the Fathers of this solidarity antecedent to the restoration of sanctifying grace may be unsatisfactory but modern authors do little to offer substitutes. Rather what they do is appear to abandon the doctrine and with it the appropriateness of describing the state as one of sin and describing God as just. The notion of original sin as primarily a privation of grace, a grace which ought to be there, which was as it were man's birthright as man, that is a privation of a gift above nature, and therefore not in its essence involving the destruction of that nature (rather than as a positive injury to this nature), so that the injuries associated with original sin (social and psychological) are rather effects than the essence of original sin, is one traceable in the writings of Newman and in some modern writers such as the Benedictine Father Bevenot on the Virgin Mary.

page 155 note 10 The Epistle of Jude, Verse 9 against the background of Deuteronomy Chap. 34.: 6–7.

page 156 note 11 I expressed the matter in this way in order to leave open the question whether for instance the salvation of Peter may not be integral to the doctrine of the Church; and I leave open the question whether the salvation of John, who with Mary represented the faithful remnant of Israel at the foot of the Cross and who unlike Peter believed in the Resurrection in seeing the graveclothes (John 20), may not be credally significant; and I leave open the question whether the salvation of the eleven may be important or integral.

page 158 note 12 In Matthew 27:56 we meet Mary the Mother of James and Joses who reappears in verse 61 and in 28:1 as ‘the other Mary’; and in Mark 15:40 we meet Mary of James the younger and of Joses, who appears in verse 47 as Mary of Joses and in 16:1 as Mary of James. It is reasonable to suppose that the title the younger or the less as applied to this James is making a contrast to James the elder of the two sons of Zebedee, the first Apostle to be martyred (Acts 12:2). In Luke 24:10 we have Mary of James. In John 19:25 we have Mary the Mother of Jesus and his mother's sister, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdalen who may be four women if his mother's sister and Mary of Clopas are distinct. Clopas appears in Church historian Hegesippus in some relation to Joseph and to Simon the second Bishop of Jerusalem. Jerome's identification of Clopas with Alphaeus seems to be quite unsubstantiated, and therefore it is unsurprising that the Eastern Church has continued to celebrate three, not two, James: first, James the Son of Zebedee the brother of John, then James described as the brother of the Lord, and finally James the son of Alphaeus. The exposition of Hegesippus and the account of relationships in the family of Joseph offered by McHugh, in his book The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament (London, 1975)Google Scholar seems to me the most plausible that I have met. The Helvidan view that Mary had children by Joseph after Jesus was well refuted by Bishop Lightfoot in the nineteenth century, who also refuted St. Jerome's view, described above, but himself preferred the view traceable in the second century that the so called Brethren of the Lord were sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, Joseph being supposed to be a widower, a view also criticised by McHugh. Mc.Hugh's view has it that Mary the Virgin, spouse of Joseph, had (i) a sister-in-law, sister of Joseph, called Mary with children James and Joses, and (ii) a brother-in-law, brother of Joseph, called Clopas, who married another Mary, that this Mary of Clopas was mother of Simon or Simeon, who succeeded James as Bishop of Jerusalem, and that all these, James, Joses and Simon were, in virtue presumably of the deaths of their fathers, foster-children in the household of Mary and Joseph. Jude does not appear in this account but might be placed either as a brother of James and Joses or as a brother of Simon, and in either case his grandchildren would count as descendants of David, as you see Euscbius reports Hegesippus as telling us. The account also saves Joseph from having a son of the same name,(McHugh pp. 213–15 and 244–8 et al).

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