A Speculation on Marian Devotion: Hardcore Anglo-catholicism
I come at Roman Catholic praxis from way, way outside; my early contact with Christ came via Jehovah's Witnesses. Thus I do not get that bent out of shape over Spong et al. But in the past I have been quite alarmed at the clear trend in the Roman Catholic Church toward the promulgation of additional Marian dogma which gives her the titles of "Co-redemptrix" and "Mediatrix"; it seemed some might be led into regarding her as somehow divine, as another Christ. So far as I can tell, that is not the intent of the dogma at all, but then one might ask, what is its intent? It seems the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church stands or suffers on exactly this question, at least for those looking in.
I. Statements & the Drive for Promulgating the Dogma
Irenaeus had referred to her as causa salutis rather early on; St. Antonius (c. 300) had said "All graces that have ever been bestowed on men, all came through Mary." "All" is rather strong--and is sure in some quarters to raise eyebrows and ire, no? St. Bernard says Mary is "the gate of heaven, because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her"; St. Bonaventure speaks at greater length in a very important passage:
As the moon, which stands between the sun and the earth, transmits to this latter whatever it receives from the former, so does Mary pour out upon us who are in this world the heavenly graces that she receives from the divine sun of justice.
I suppose instances of support from tradition could be multiplied, and it ought to give one pause: is it all just poetic fluff, or is there something more serious here? Consider the line of relatively recent Popes who have promulagted the doctrine:
Pius X: We are then, it will be seen, very far from attributing to the Mother of God a productive power of grace - a power which belongs to God alone. Yet, since Mary carries it over all in holiness and union with Jesus Christ, and has been associated by Jesus Christ in the work of redemption, she merits for us de congruo, in the language of theologians, what Jesus Christ merits for us de condigno, and she is the supreme Minister of the distribution of graces.
Benedict XV: As the Blessed Virgin Mary does not seem to participate in the public life of Jesus Christ, and then, suddenly appears at the stations of his cross, she is not there without divine intention. She suffers with her suffering and dying son, almost as if she would have died herself. For the salvation of mankind, she gave up her rights as the mother of her son and sacrificed him for the reconciliation of divine justice, as far as she was permitted to do. Therefore, one can say, she redeemed with Christ the human race.
Pius XII: It was she, the second Eve, who, free from all sin, original or personal, and always more intimately united with her Son, offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father for all the children of Adam, sin-stained by his unhappy fall, and her mother's rights and her mother's love were included.
JPII: Mary, though conceived and born without the taint of sin, participated in a marvellous way in the suffering of her divine Son, in order to be Co-Redemptrix of humanity....
As she was in a special way close to the cross of her Son, she also had to have a privileged experience of his Resurrection. In fact, Mary's role as Co-Redemptrix did not cease with the glorification of her Son.
Mother Theresa and cardinal O'Connor signed on to Mark Miravalle's drive from the '90s to call on JPII to promulgate the dogma--a drive that has gathered six million signatures from 148 countries, including over 40 cardinals and 500 bishops. That's bigger than GC--and Lambeth, I dare say. The drive continues under Benedict XVI--and opposition to promulgation seems not to come within the RCC on theological grounds, but rather merely pragmatic grounds: the timing is not right; Protestants etc will be unduly alarmed. Ladies and gents, it is only a matter of time. What's going on here?
What's an Anglo-catholic to do? There is a strong case for getting on board, it seems to me.
II. Inside the Dogma, so far as I can tell
The problem is simply that we--and all of creation--are broken off, contrary to our natures, from the Father. The whole point is to get back to him. An additional problem: we are very, very low, and the Father is very, very high--we are bound to mess up the effort to get back to him unless he makes a special effort to "bridge the gap." One could from a Christian point of view look at religions outside the Judeo-Christian line as attempts to get back to the Father that have gone awry in various ways; it is not as if we have not tried, as if we could stop trying. But we will never get it right on our own.
Hence the Advent of the Word in flesh, the Bridge that crosses the Abyss, who makes it possible for us to approach the Source, the One, God as Father, even Daddy. Hence Christ in his
life among us, his Crucifixion and Resurrection, makes it possible for us to return to the Father: he is our Mediator; we could say it in a schema like this:
the Father---the Son---the People
since it would not work to simply leave it as:
the Father---the People.
And I think lots of Christians would be quite happy to leave things at that: Christ is our Mediator; we need a relationship with him, and through him we are reconciled with all creation to the Father--true so far as it goes.
But there's a problem: Christ has ascended. Can't deny it: it's right there in the Creeds, in Scripture, in tradition. And it's obvious to experience: search the world, and you will not find the risen Lord strolling through Jerusalem. Is he just gone then? Has he abandoned us? How could he possibly mediate grace through which we might be reconciled to the Father if he is simply gone? Well, he is present through the Holy Spirit. How exactly? In lots of ways, but most especially in the sacraments, in the Holy Eucharist. So: the mediation of Christ is itself mediated by the Eucharist; but the Eucharist cannot mediate on its own, which is to say our schema is now a bit more complicated:
the Father---the Son---the Bishop(---the Priest)---the People
And many more Christians will be happy to leave things at that--and many high Anglicans too, I suspect. Here is where the Marian dogmas come in: the mediation of grace from the Son through the Bishop must itself be mediated--in the salvation economy of this state. But by whom? Mary; hence our schema will look like this:
the Father---the Son---Mary---the Bishop(---the Priest)---the People
What's the point? Succinctly: anyone who partakes of the Eucharist without the heart of Mary fails to discern the Body in its fullness, and fails to partake with the fullness of meritorious faith--of course such partaking is possible only through grace, not by our own fiat.
The point is there is more to the needed discernment than what the intellect alone could possibly provide. What matters is a reception of the sacrament with a will aligned to that of God's--a will suffused with holy charity. Do not partake of the sacrament thinking "Thus I shall escape Hell" or "With this I shall enter heaven" or the like; that is not genuine charity, and signifies a will out of alignment with that of God. It is not genuine love that loves for what one will get in return; such "love" is fallen, suffused with sin, vitiated and of itself without merit. What then? Love God for who God is; when you know that Christ is in the sacrament, you are to love him for who he is, not for what he can do for you.
Yes, an instrumental approach to Christ might be useful as a beginning, but only as a beginning to the reception of the sacrament in grace, where Christ is loved simply for who Christ is: true reception in the Spirit. But how? What would such grace look like from within? Here we come to Mary: Mary free from sin is able to love her son as we fallen are unable to love at all. To the extent we are able to love Christ with genuine charity, we love him with the same type of love that Mary loved him--all through grace of course. We see him with eyes of grace, with her eyes, inasmuch as we can only approach hm through the Gospels, i.e. through the very mysteries by which she knew him. So we should learn to regard Christ with her eyes, with her heart, and in that regard we come to discern him in fullness. Hence the point of developing Marian devotion: one becomes with God's help disposed to charity.
On this view, the Bishop and Priest are--considered strictly--like empty vessels, vehicles conveying grace through the Eucharist and essentially no more. The living content in the Eucharist, the presence of the Lord for us, passes through the lens of Mary--as it were--in the sacrament. After all, one can learn all this from the unordained; a teaching bishop is strictly accidental. Likewise, Bishops and priests are only accidentally fitting models for mimesis; even corrupt clergy may still be vehicles for the Eucharist, but Mary is always a fitting mimetic model.
Anyhow, this is the core of what I can make of the Marian dogmas. There is more, and there are other angles to take, but this one seemed apt.
III. And Anglicans?
To the extent Roman Catholics, driving to promulgate this doctrine, love their neighbors, they will wish to bring their neighbors closer to God, as Christ commanded, for instance. Given the truth of the schema above with Mary playing a role as Mediatrix, promulgating the dogma would be of some importance, especially to fellow Chistians; otherwise they are obstructed from the fullness of reconciliation. Thus pragmatic considerations are of immense import; if Protestants are not ready to receive, promulgation may drive them further into alienation from the Father. How then to prepare them to receive?
It seems to me that the Anglican Communion could contribute something here, even now. On the one hand, its members have succeeded here and there in drawing mainline Protestant fragments together: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians even. To that extent, modest Anglican devotion to Mary has an opportunity to grow in other mainline churches. And to the extent that succeeds, the right time, the kairos, for promulgation draws nearer. To the extent, however, the AC is drawn over into a modern, Calvinist orbit, one wherein Marian devotions are dismissed with scorn, that day recedes further away.