26 November 2007

Calling Her 'Blessed.'

This will be interesting and, one hopes, gratia plena:

The project known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together is now in its thirteenth year—following its initial statement, “The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” with much-discussed statements on salvation, Scripture, and the Communion of Saints.

The group is currently engaged in studying what can be said together about the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a number of participants were asked to prepare preliminary papers. Though these are only first thoughts and not final positions, we thought our readers would find them interesting. With the permission of the authors, we will be posting five of these papers over the next five days—papers by Edward T. Oakes, J.I. Packer, T.M. Moore, Matthew Levering, and Cornelius Plantinga.—eds.

First off today comes Fr. Oakes' paper:

In other words, Mary is the perfect example of sola gratia at work: Everything she later did and was given came from this first grace of predestination, won for her purely and entirely by the merits of Christ, not her own; and even those “merits” she “earned” came from the graces given her aboriginally, in view of her predestined status as the chosen Mother of the Savior. As Pius IX clearly asserts, by a venerable exegetical tradition dating from patristic times, she was predestined to be sinless when God spoke thus to the Serpent in the Garden of Eden after our first parents’ first sin: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your dead, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

By placing the promise of Mary’s sinlessness in the Garden, Pius definitively altered the usual perspective on what predestination means. Unlike both Protestant and Catholic views of predestination in the Augustinian tradition (which tends to see predestination in terms of the fate of the individual soul at the end of time), recent Catholic mariological thought picks up on Pius IX’s salvation-historical perspective by interpreting Mary’s predestined status to be the mother of the Lord as part of God’s wider intentions for the world. For example, in his essay “The Sign of the Woman,” located in his book Mary: The Church at the Source (coauthored with Hans Urs von Balthasar), Cardinal Ratzinger speaks this way:

The Fathers saw God’s words of punishment to the serpent after the Fall as a first promise of the Redeemer—an allusion to the Descendent [Seed, Offspring] that bruises the serpent’s head. There has never been a moment in history without a gospel. At the very moment of the Fall, the promise also begins. The Fathers also attached importance to the fact that Christology and Mariology are inseparably interwoven already from this primordial beginning. The first promise of Christ, which stands in a chiaroscuro and which only the light to come finally deciphers, is a promise to and through the woman. (emphases added)

In other words, Mary is wholly enclosed within the biblical narrative of God’s dispensation to his people, an insight deftly caught by Dante when he places on the lips of St. Bernard of Clairvaux this address to Mary: “Virgin Mother, daughter of your Son” (Paradiso), a coinage that forms a nice chiasmus to another of her titles, “Mother of God.”

. . .

But if, as part of its logic, the cross itself is made possible only through Mary’s consent at the Annunciation (which Luke clearly holds), then the implications of the denial of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception should become clear. For such a denial would then make our very salvation dependent on Mary’s free will operating independent of grace. Her Yes to God would have had to have been made, even if ever so slightly, under her own power, which would have the intolerable implication of making the entire drama of salvation hinge on a human work—the very apogee of Pelagianism.

Here's the whole thing.


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