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The Servant of God §1: Redemptor Hominis

In his first papal encyclical, Pope John Paul II offers a profound theological reflection on the situation of the modern world in light of the reality of the redemption of the world in Christ.  Articulating themes that will define his papacy, Redemptor Hominis provides a great starting point for those attempting to understand the theology of John Paull II.  The key themes that emerge in this encyclical are first, an overwhelmingly Christocentric focus.  Throughout the encyclical, John Paul II emphasizes repeatedly the centrality of the redemption of humanity solely in and through Christ.  “Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history” and as such is the center of all of the Pope’s reflections of the ailments of modern life (par. 1). 

Secondly, a key theme of the encyclical is the Pope’s commitment to a personalist philosophy.  The uniqueness and inherent dignity of each individual is a central commitment that defines and shapes all of the theological thought of the late Pontiff.  The third key theme that emerges from this encyclical is the way in which it culminates in a vision of the Marian and Eucharistic church.  The practice of the Eucharist is the “center and summit of the whole sacramental life” (par. 20) from which flows the fullness of our experience of the church’s reality in union with Christ.  Likewise, the church must understand itself in light of the Mother of the Lord who embodies the form of the church whose receptive, maternal love lives in response to the active love of the Father who redeems the world through the Son (par. 22).

The first section of the encyclical is in large part a homage to the inheritance of John Paul II.  Herein he takes great pains to express his indebtedness to his predecessors Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, both of whom he draws his name from, seeking to extend their legacy through his own papacy.  It should not escape notice that it was Pope John XXIII who was in many ways the unexpected architect of Vatican II, calling for the renewal of the church in a profound and (to many) surprising way.  Pope John Paul II, in taking his name from these two predecessors, illustrates clearly the nature of his pontificate as a whole: a rejection of self-focus and the desire to make a name for himself or create a legacy for himself, but rather a posture of humble service to the church, its tradition, and history.

The second section of the encyclical is focused on “the mystery of redemption.”  Here Pope John Paul II expounds an utterly Christocentric theology of salvation with a view toward showing how the Christian gospel speaks to the particular problems of the modern age.  The Christological starting point here is quite important.  It marks the basic orientation of the Pope’s theology throughout his life, and is quite consonant with the ethos of the Catholic tradition as a whole.  For John Paul II, the first word must always be Christ, “Our spirit is set in one direction, the only direction for our intellect, will and heart is towards Christ, the Redeemer of man.  We wish to look towards him because there is salvation in no one else but him, the Son of God” (par. 7). 

The Pope goes on to expound the nature of the redemption that was achieved in Christ.  Here, striking a distinctive note (indeed, one that sounds much like the theology of Thomas Torrance, and the Scottish Reformed tradition as a whole), John Paul II articulated that “by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man” (par. 9).  In Christ’s act of incarnation, God unites each and every person with himself in their concrete uniqueness as persons.  This is the basis of John Paul II’s soteriology, that humankind cannot live without being united to the God who is love.  “Man cannot live without love.  He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (par. 10).

It is this insistence on God’s act of uniting himself with each unique person that theological grounds the Pope’s commitment to the philosophy of personalism.  Because God, in Christ has united himself to every person, every person has indissoluble dignity and significance.  It is this conviction of the dignity of each person that grounds the Pope’s commitment to the church’s missionary task.  “the missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for ‘what is in man’, for what man has himself worked out in the depths of his spirit concerning the most profound and important problems” (par. 12).  It is this Christocentric orientation focused on the dignity of the individual and the church’s missional imperative that ground the Pope’s discussion of the church’s relationship to the modern world.

In moving into his third section, discussing the specific problems of modern life in depth, the Pope again underscores his Christological theme of Christ uniting himself with each person.  As he sounds that note, Pope John Paul II moves into his discussion of what precisely is the fear of modern humanity.  He notes the fundamental feature of alienation in modern life, particularly alienation between the worker who produces and the things produced which seem to continually become an object of threat.   It is the things that we, the human community created and produce that seem to be the biggest threat to human flourishing in the world.  The Pope notes that this state of fear breeds a culture of “immediate use and consumption” which, coupled with “the ascendancy of technology” yields a way of life that is distinctly predatory on human dignity and relationships.

The Pope goes on to indict the modern world on the basis of how it separates and alienates humankind.  He insists that “the consumer civilization, which consists in a certain surplus of goods necessary for man and for entire societies” is fundamentally wrong in that it is based on the suffering of great sectors of humanity who “are suffering from hunger, with many people dying each day of starvation and malnutrition” (par. 16).  His call to the church, then is to a “principle of solidarity” by which the Pope means a thoroughgoing  commitment to the “transformation of the structures of economic life” (par. 16).

The Pope insists that “it is possible to undertake this duty”, that it is not a hopeless task for the church to attempt the transformation of the world in and through Christ.  He also insists that any such social transformation will be impossible “without the intervention of a true conversion of mind, will, and heart.”  The Pope also notes that the weapons that the church has at its disposal are the purely nonviolence weapons of love.  Making one of the most moving appeals in the encyclical, John Paul II argues that the church “has no weapons at her disposal apart from those of the spirit, of the word and of love” and thus “for this reason she does not cease to implore each side of the two [likely referring to the capitalist West and Communist Russia] and beg everybody in the name of God and the name of man.  Do not kill!  do not prepare for the destruction and extermination of men!  Think of your brothers and sisters who are suffering hunger and misery!  Respect each other’s dignity and freedom!” (par. 16). 

The fourth and final section of the encyclical brings the discussion to a close by focusing on the mystery of the church and her sacramental life as the summit of human life.  The God who unites himself with every persons calls every person into the unity of faith in one Eucharistic body.  Indeed, it is in the Eucharist that the height of the divine mystery of God in union with humanity is realized.  “The Eucharist is the centre and summit of the whole sacramental life, through which each Christian receives the saving power of the Redemption” (par. 20).  The Pope is also careful to underscore the close connection between the Eucharist and Penance.  “The Christ who  calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats his “Repent” (par. 20).  Striking a note that will be particularly appealing to Protestants, John Paul II insists that “We cannot, however forget that conversion is a particularly profound inward act in which the individual cannot be replaced by others and cannot make the community a substitute for him” (par. 20).  The mystery redemption reaches its summit in the Eucharist, but rightful participation in Christ’s redemption involves every person in their own concrete, irreplaceable uniqueness. 

The final paragraph of the encyclical focuses on the Mother of the Lord as the exemplar and archetype of the church, and indeed, the embodiment of the maternal love that the modern world stands so desperately in need of.  “the Church always, and particularly at our time, has need of a Mother” (par. 22) as the Pope says.  The Marian “fiat” embodies the way in which Christians are called to respond to the work of God in the world, simply saying “yes” to his redemption in Christ.  It is this mindset of active anticipation in receptive passivity which Pope John Paul II calls the church to take up in his prayer for “humanity’s new Advent.”  The encyclical ends, rightly with the invocation of the Holy Spirit whose vivifying presence mediates the redemption of Christ to the world in the formation of the Mystical Body of Christ (par. 22).

42 Comments

  1. Freder1ck wrote:

    “Pope Paul IV” should be “Pope Paul VI”

    In taking the name John Paul II, he also ratified the quite odd choice of Pope John Paul I (odd because he used two names and odd because he called himself the first).

    I was impressed both with his pains to establish continuity with his predecessors, but also in the way he looks forward to the millenial year, 2000 – a theme of his papacy from the beginning.

    Monday, March 10, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  2. R.O. Flyer wrote:

    This is a great summary of Redemptor Hominis. Do you have any critiques of the encyclical?

    Monday, March 10, 2008 at 9:47 pm | Permalink
  3. Dennis wrote:

    I don’t think I’ve read a summary of a Catholic document (or Catholicism for that matter) as succinct as this from a Protestant or Catholic.

    I think you understand Catholicism better than most of us Catholics.

    Our way is always through Christ. Our interactions with others is always through Christ and our understanding of ourselves is always through Christ. And all of this is always in love. When it’s not is when we have problems.

    That was excellent.

    Although, I am interested (as R.O. Flyer is) to know any parts that you had trouble with (aside from the obvious ones–Mary and Sacraments).

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 4:36 am | Permalink
  4. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Halden,

    thanks for the summary . . . very interesting. Apart from the theotokos, there is much that is commendable in the late Pope’s general emphases. Christocentrism is a “weakness” of mine ;-) .

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  5. Bobby,
    why is the Theotokos part not commendable?

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink
  6. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Maximus,

    because I’m not “Catholic” or “Orthodox” for that matter. Sorry for the terseness and assertiveness.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:15 am | Permalink
  7. Freder1ck wrote:

    It’s interesting that the pope could be radically Christocentric and yet also appreciate Mary Theotokos. Maybe being Marian opens up a deeper Christocentrism?

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 4:52 am | Permalink
  8. adamsteward wrote:

    Thanks for this helpful reading, Halden. Would you happen to have a link to an online text?

    Bobby, maybe you could explain a bit more for my sake your reservations about the theotokos. I’m a protestant and have no trouble saying that Mary was the “Mother of our Lord.” I simply would want to be cautious in speaking about what it means for the Church to “understand itself in light of the Mother of the Lord.”

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 7:45 am | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Bobby, I don’t think being protestant means you can’t appreciate Mary as the theotokos. Just to weigh in.

    Adam, I went ahead and added a link to the origninal post. Good thinking.

    As for those who have asked about any critiques I have about the encyclical, I’m afraid that any I come up with wouldn’t really be all that interesting. For the most part I simply admire it.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 9:43 am | Permalink
  10. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Halden/Adam,

    and I agree in a sense. Of course we should revere Mary as the “Mother of the Lord”, since she was . . . but to see Mary as a constituent aspect of the churches’ life is problematic for the Protestant (at least for this one). To argue for her sinlessness, in light of her role as theotokos, or to go further as SOME Catholics have , and speak of her as co-redmptrix, relative to her theotokos role is not justifiable. If I’m not mistaken John Paul II did much to forward this doctrine (given the influence of the cult of the “Black Madonna” in his youth).

    Anyway, this represents some of problems I have with elevating Mary to a spot she does not have . . . and much of this is related to the language that theotokos represents.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Actually, JPII didn’t do as many people in the church wanted him to do by not elevating the language of co-redemptrix to the status of dogma. I certainly agree such forms of Mariology are problematic.

    But I do think that seeing Mary as the paradigm and archetype of the church is important precisely because she does not direct attention to herself, but to Christ. Her response to God is pure passivity and affirmation, simply a “yes” to God’s action. To my mind this is absolutely the form of the church’s life.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  12. Bobby Grow wrote:

    And I don’t disagree with your last paragraph, Mary’s response to the Lord indeed is paradigmatical for the “form” and life of the church . . . but not as the “constituent” aspect of the life of the church–which is what I had said.

    I realize John Paul II didn’t elevate it to the status of dogma . . . but then again, he didn’t really have to dogmatize it, in order for it to have a level of prominence within his own ministry and those of his bishops. I also realize that this is a matter of “in-house” debate amongst Catholics.

    Anyway, I still have problems with the language of theotokos because of its connotations, as developed within Roman Catholicism. And remember I made my first comment on a thread dedicated to John Paul II, who took theotokos (maybe not dogmatically) to levels that Protestants are not comfortable with.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    As far as I am aware, theotokos simply means “God-bearer”. The only member of the early church that I remember having problems with this languages was Nestorius. I feel like I’m in better company by embracing the term and just being clear about what I mean by it.

    And just for clarity, I’m not really sure what you mean by the difference between “paradigmatic” and “constituent”. If you mean that only the Spirit constitutes the church as Christ’s body, then I certainly agree. I would say that it is only the Triune God who constitutes the church. However, I would also say that the archetypal faith of the Mother of the Lord conditions the being of the church and shapes it’s distinctive character.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    Use of the term theotokos originates from the council of Ephesus. It is something all Christians ought to embrace. Regardless of how one feels about Roman Catholic doctrine regarding Mary, it is ceding ground that any Christian ought to claim to reject the use of the term theotokos. The allergy to Mariology in any form is unfortunately often a reaction to something not well understood. (Not necessarily referring to you, Bobby, but the phenomenon I describe is quite widespread.) Along these lines, the current Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, has written a fascinating article entitled “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole.” As a former Protestant quite familiar with the reservations regarding Marian doctrine (and also as a Catholic critical of some of the excesses) I found it very helpful and approachable. I highly recommend it.

    http://www.communio-icr.com/articles/PDF/ratzinger30-1.pdf

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  15. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Sure, I have no problems with using the merely “descriptive” language of theotokos, as long as you’re clear about what you mean ;-).

    On the paradigmatic point, that is exactly what I mean, that constituency of the church is only found within the triune life of GOD. I was using paradigmatic to underscore the nature of Mary’s response . . . much in agreement with you, I thought.

    But, again Halden, given the context of this post, and the Catholics who read here, I think that theotokos prompts other thoughts for them than it typically does for the typical Protestant (which you aren’t ;-). And I think Fred’s question/response is illustrative of this. There is something more to theotokos for the Catholic . . . and in this sense Marian thought becomes more than an “archetypal response” (or paradigmatic–choose your word), but elevated to a “constituent” aspect of the life of the church.

    Are there any Catholics, “Fred”, who would be willing to clarify what you think on this point? Is Mary constituent for the life of the church . . . within her role as theotokos? Does she have special access to her Son, Jesus, even now as a mediator, beyond what “we” have?

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  16. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thank you Hill. So you do recognize that there are excesses within Catholicism, in re. to theotokos? Which is probably who I am thinking of relative to my responses thus far. I do realize there are questions surrounding christology, esp. in Patristic theology, which theotokos addresses (i.e. communicatio idiomatum). But the context of this post, was John Paul II, and from what I had read and heard before, he represented the “excesses”, which theotokos language can foster, at least for some Catholics–and then some Protestants in response :-).

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:18 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Just one last comment, I don’t think Mary has any sort of special access to Christ or is a mediator in a way that “we” are not. I would say instead that she is the archetypal and paradigmatic figure of who “we” are (to be).

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  18. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Halden,

    amen!

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  19. Hill wrote:

    I guess I would say that it is unnecessary to conflate “theotokos” language with particular strains of Roman Catholic Mariology. If anything, theotokos language represents a starting point (in that it is nearly as conciliar and ancient as the doctrine of Trinity) for a meaningful discussion among Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians. I really recommend reading the Ratzinger article I linked. I think properly understood, what many Protestants construe as over-reaching, can actually be understood as quite coherent theology, and it is certain grounded in the traditions of both the east and the west. The real problem is that many Catholics have a poor understanding of Marian theology, so you can imagine the level of understanding held by your average Protestant. I would wager that less than 10% of all Christians could give an even remotely accurate account of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Given that this is but a small fraction of what is at stake in the discussion of Marian theology, it reveals the difficulty associated with discussions of the topic.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  20. Hill wrote:

    Halden,

    I have a question just to clarify what you mean by your most recent post:

    -Do you think Mary is in heaven now, or if not heaven, otherwise in the presence of God in a way that we are not currently?

    If the answer to either of those is yes, it would seem that at the very least, Mary and the rest of the saints do in fact have access to Christ in a way that we do not. Not that this level of analysis is sufficient justification for Roman Catholic Marian doctrine (which is somewhat vague, anyway). I’m just curious.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  21. Freder1ck wrote:

    Bobby,
    This is a good question and a difficult one to answer precisely, that is, how could being Marian make one more Christocentric?

    Are there any Catholics, “Fred”, who would be willing to clarify what you think on this point? Is Mary constituent for the life of the church . . . within her role as theotokos? Does she have special access to her Son, Jesus, even now as a mediator, beyond what “we” have?
    Jesus came so that we could come face- to- face with God. Mary doesn’t interpose herself here.

    Traditionally, however, Mary has been the guardian of the incarnation and a strong hedge against any attempt to spiritualize Jesus to gnostic forms. Also, it’s striking that the fact of the incarnation rested upon her free assent to the Father’s will. So, Mary has a unique role in the drama of salvation. What happened is a mystery of grace, that a creature could say yes in such a significant way in something that is of critical importance to history and to us.

    I grew up Catholic, but had no devotion to Mary before the age of 20. When I confronted Catholics at that time, nobody could give me a reason for Marian devotion beyond sentimentalism (Jesus’s mama, etc). I read a book by Hans Urs von Balthasar and he pointed out that Jesus sent the beloved disciple, John, to His mother. This made all the difference to me.

    As I’m fond of saying, Jesus is the one mediator between God and man and that Jesus is also the one mediator between man and man. Friendship (with those on earth or in heaven) is possible only through the person of Christ.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink
  22. Halden wrote:

    Hill, I suppose what I meant to emphasize is that the connection that Mary has to Jesus is not ontologically different from that which all humanity has to him. This is not to say that it is not unique, special, or paradigmatic, rather that it is of the same “order” as the relation of all humanity to him.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 4:35 pm | Permalink
  23. Hill wrote:

    Thanks Halden, I think that reading is consonant with proper Catholic Marian theology, at least as I understand it.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  24. Bobby,
    I think you should read more about what Orthodox and Catholics believe about Mary before being so “assertive”. Especially what Orthodox believe.

    Here are some resources:
    Articles (http://jbburnett.com/theology/theol-theotok-ss.html)

    And some lectures (http://ancientfaith.com/specials/hopko_lectures) These are long but very well worth it.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 4:19 am | Permalink
  25. Hill wrote:

    The Florovsky article is fantastic.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  26. Hill wrote:

    Just read it again. This is one of the most compelling accounts of the traditional teaching of the Church about the Blessed Virgin that I have ever read. Highly recommended. Thanks for pointing it out, Maximus Daniel.

    http://jbburnett.com/resources/florovsky/3/florovsky_3-6b-evervirgin.pdf

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  27. Pontificator wrote:

    There are aspects of Mariology and Marian devotion with which I am uncomfortable and which seem problematic to me, though they are permitted by the Catholic Church. But it also may be, and perhaps is likely, that I have not yet fully assimilated the Catholic mind.

    I realize that the Catholic understanding of and devotion to the Blessed Virgin seems to contradict a truly christological understanding of God; but believe me when I tell you that it does not. But I know that it is probably impossible for you to believe me on this. Just as there are, for example, dimensions of Eastern Orthodoxy that I cannot understand simply because I am a Western Christian, so there are dimensions of Catholicism that Protestants cannot understand simply because they are Protestants. It’s one thing to learn a language in the classroom; it’s another thing to learn a language by immersing oneself in the culture. I think that understanding the role and importance of the Theotokos probably requires conversion to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

    If, for example, you do not believe that Christians may invoke the saints in prayer, then Marian devotion cannot make any sense whatsoever, and will necessarily appear as a detraction from, if not repudiation of, the mediatorial role of Christ Jesus. I suspect that this is where the discussion really needs to begin. Christians have invoked the saints in prayer since the patristic period. Whether they did so in the apostolic period we do not know, given limited evidence of the prayer life of apostolic Christians. As far as I know the legitimacy of the practice was never called into question until the Reformation. So I would regard the practice as belonging to the grammar of the Christian faith.

    To appreciate the role of the blessed Virgin, I suggest we have to reflect deeply on (1) the fact that the Incarnation was dependent upon the free assent of Mary (God did not force himself upon her) and (2) the profound spiritual-physical union between Mary and the Incarnate God (Mary bore and nourished the Creator of the universe within her womb for nine months!). In some sense, I think we must speak of Mary as having exercised a mediatorial role in the work of salvation. How we formulate this mediatorial role will no doubt be debated, but that she exercised this unique and unsubstitutable role is clear. By Catholic and Orthodox lights, most Protestants have not even begun to appreciate the profound significance of these two facts. Mary is truly Theotokos, the Mother of God. It is not insignificant that this title was dogmatically asserted at an ecumenical council focused on christological issues.

    Catholics and Orthodox believe that Mary’s faithfulness continued until her death and that by the ordination of God she now enjoys a special intercessory role in Heaven. This role is expressed in an early 4th century eucharistic prayer (Alexandrian Basil):

    “Since, Master, it is a command of your only-begotten Son that we should share in the commemoration of your saints, vouchsafe to remember, Lord, those of our fathers who have been pleasing to you from eternity: patriarchs, apostles, martyrs, confessors, preachers, evangelists, and all the righteous perfected in faith; especially at all times the holy and glorious Mary, Mother of God; and by her prayers have mercy on us all, and save us through your holy name which has been invoked upon us.”

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  28. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thanks Fred and Hill.

    As far as theotokos being almost conciliar amongst Catho., Orth., Prot., I doubt that, but I’ll read the article.

    Daniel,

    Give me a break . . . my original comment was a “passing” remark, and I didn’t “spit” on the theotokos, I just said I didn’t think the theotokos doctrine was commendable relative to what I know of John Paul II’s “Mariology”. Oh, btw, I have read on this . . . and have had face-to-face interaction with both Catholic and Orthodox Priests on the issue of Mary . . . and yeah, I still find it unsound.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:14 pm | Permalink
  29. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thank you Pontificator,

    I really don’t think someone has to be an initiate to truly understand the implications of something . . . or be able to critically engage a concept; but your brief summary on Mary is helpful.

    Again, this whole discussion revolves around authority, tradition, and ultimately ecclesiology. Sola Scriptura, not just the Reformed, but even some Patristics (i.e. Irenaeus), does not provide for the theotokos, and elevation of Mary, as construed by Catholics and Orthodox. I.e. she is not sinless, she was not “assumed” to heaven (i.e. she died), she is not a mediator between men and Jesus (I Tim 2:5-6), etc. I do believe she was a very honored vessel of Yahweh . . . but ultimately no more than any other saint in Christ.

    I will read those articles Hill and Daniel linked, but I am skeptical that I will find anything “new” or different from what I have read before.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  30. Hill wrote:

    The conciliarity of the term theotokos is beyond doubt. It was explicitly defined at the Council of Ephesus (the third Ecumenical council) and is as foundational to the Christian religion as is the Nicene Creed (chronologically perhaps even more foundational) and is prior even to the formal canonization of Scripture. There are a lot of things on this topic worthy of debate, but to all Christians worthy of the name, Mary is in fact Theotokos. To the degree that Protestants deny this, they deny the witness of the most ancient practice and teachings of the Church and are in heresy. Just to reiterate, I’m not referring to an assent to a specific Marian theological tradition, just that the worthiness of the Virgin Mary of the title Theotokos cannot be disputed without heresy.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  31. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Hill,

    I have no problem calling Mary theotokos “God-bearer”, descriptively, and like I have already said . . . I realize that this language is connected to early Christological articulation by ecumenical councils. But the tension comes for me when theotokos becomes an occasion for “elevating” Mary to levels that seem to define the “affective” or “pious” traditions within Catholicism . . . the ones that Ratzinger highlights in his article (which I just read).

    Was Mary “assumed”, sinless, mediator . . . in the ecumenical council? Not that I am aware of, and this is the point that I drop out of unity with both Catholics and Orthodox. Ratzinger seems to “assume” that the “assumption of Mary” is a given . . . and for him it is, given the burgeoning doctrine of the Catholic church; but not for me.

    The article was good, and there are pieces that are insightful on Mary and, as Halden has labeled it, her archetypal response–but beyond that I’m not on board.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Permalink
  32. Hill wrote:

    Thanks Bobby. I just wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a terminological issue at work. I think the ecumenical conversation about Mary ought to take “theotokos” as its starting point. To try to move on to something more fruitful, I don’t think the question revolves around authority, tradition and ecclesiology as much as you are suggesting. If it did, there would be far less agreement between the east and west on this issue. What is actually at stake is the nature of grace and of divine election, as Florovsky points out. Is it possible to bear the son of God made man and to freely cooperate in an absolutely unique way in the salvation of all men without being changed at the deepest level of being? This is the line of inquiry that I think bears more fruit than attempting to force the discussion into partisan categories that did not develop until well after the essence of the Marian doctrines had been formulated. There is a superabundance of information about his glory and love for us that God communicates in the details of his plan for the salvation of mankind, and I think the traditional understanding of Mary is simply the result of taking this seriously.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  33. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Hill said:

    . . . To try to move on to something more fruitful, I don’t think the question revolves around authority, tradition and ecclesiology as much as you are suggesting. If it did, there would be far less agreement between the east and west on this issue. . . .

    Indeed. But remember I am Protestant, and in this regard, I think my/Protestant’s divergence from both RCC and EO certainly stem from out variant ecclesiological constructs–and subsequent views on tradition (which Marian doctrine falls into), etc.

    Hill said:

    . . . There is a superabundance of information about his glory and love for us that God communicates in the details of his plan for the salvation of mankind, and I think the traditional understanding of Mary is simply the result of taking this seriously.

    Indeed, thus the paradigmatic or archetypal role that Mary plays for the Church in her response to Jesus. But that is it . . . the other “elevating” doctrines surrounding her, are not part of the “scriptural” witness (unless of course one assumes that the scripture’s teaching and the churches’ teaching are univocal realities).

    Great discussion, peace.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink
  34. Pontificator wrote:

    Bobby, just a clarification: the Assumption of Mary does not necessarily entail a denial that Mary experienced a natural death. Certainly all Eastern Orthodox affirm Mary’s death (the Dormition), as do the overwhelming majority of Catholics.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 1:39 pm | Permalink
  35. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Fr. Kimel,

    thank you . . . yes I did realize this. A Father at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox (Portland, OR) explained this to me quite some years ago–and I have since read on this, a bit.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  36. Hill wrote:

    Bobby, just to continue the discussion if you don’t mind, the most compelling “argument” for a more robust Mariology, at least in my own personal theological journey, was the realization that the veneration of Mary beyond what is typically acknowledged by modern Protestant was in fact a widespread feature of the earliest Christianity. I think there is a noble impulse among Protestants to attempt to recover a more “primitive” and “biblical” Christianity, but the execution of this impulse often involves more than a little willful ignorance when one considers the historical milieu that produced the sources which are unequivocally acknowledged as infallible by Protestants (namely, Scripture). In order for “sola scriptura” to be compelling beyond a purely axiomatic status, one must provide an account of the origin New Testament that authorizes its canonical status in a way that does not refer to tradition. If Christ had personally authored this book or it had otherwise come to us in an unmediated fashion, this would be plausible. It is clear, however, that the books of the New Testament were in fact composed by human beings, most of whom, it could be argued, had little to no comprehension of the significance of what they were writing. So it is that the transmission of the divine revelation of the New Testament is in fact mediated by otherwise fallible human hands, and that furthermore, being that these works were letters, any number of structurally similar works also existed at the same time from which the now canonical books had to have been separated. It is clear from the historical record that prayers for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and a special veneration for her were already in practice well before the canonization of the NT (see the Sub Tuum Praesidium, etc.) and even before the formal development of much of what is considered foundational dogma (the nature of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, etc.). Since it must be acknowledged by all Christians, Protestant and otherwise, that the Holy Spirit was manifestly at work in the development of the New Testament canon, why is it stretch to assume it was at work in every other aspect of the Church? There isn’t a clear exposition of the subtleties of Marian dogma present in the Scriptures, that is true, but this can be said of almost every aspect of Christian doctrine. The veneration of Mary beyond what would be allowed by most Protestants is as continuous and ubiquitous a feature of the Church in every age as virtually any other point of doctrine. If this were in clear contravention of Scripture, it would be one thing, but I think any charitable reading would agree that it is not. If anything, the Bible, both the Old and New Testament is rife with typological and literal exegetical support for what the Church has always taught regarding the Blessed Virgin. It isn’t reaching to say that what Catholics and and Orthodox believe about Mary really was and is the status quo. There are aspects of Catholic theology that are potentially at odds with various theologies of the classical “reformers.” I’ve never felt like the Marian doctrines fell within that category, though. It is more like they were the victim of collateral damage. I realize that sola scriptura is the mechanism by which the Marian doctrines were excised from Protestantism, but if the same level of “rigor” were to be applied to the rest of Christian doctrines, I feel like Protestants would be forced to part with much more than most would be comfortable with. This is perhaps clear in the almost anti-credal sentiments of some hyper “low church” pentacostals. Given that this constitutes basically a rejection of theology itself, I feel safe in suggesting that no one who comments on this blog would espouse these sentiments. That is a bit of a ramble, I’m sorry. I think ultimately when it comes to Mary, many Protestants want to ask “Why?” when in truth, the question is “Why not?”

    Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  37. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Hill,

    I see what you’re getting at, but I disagree. You said: . . . There isn’t a clear exposition of the subtleties of Marian dogma present in the Scriptures, that is true, but this can be said of almost every aspect of Christian doctrine. . . .. I think this is an overstatement, what other Christian doctrines aren’t implicitly in the NT–and parallel early teaching on Mary?

    I don’t think the fact that the “church” recognized scripture as scripture=or imbues an de facto “authority” for the church. In fact early on, tradition (oral) was considered as a “synopsis” of what is contained within scripture. Note Kelly:

    Irenaeus represents:

    . . . tradition itself, on his view, was confirmed by Scripture, which was ‘the foundation and pillar of our faith’. . . . The whole point of his teaching was, in fact, that Scripture and the Church’s unwritten tradition are identical in content, both being vehicles of the revelation. (Kelly, 38-9) In other words, tradition . . .was simply a condensation of the message contained in it. Being by its very nature normative in form, it provided a man with a handy clue to Scripture, . . .(Kelly, 39)

    This at least illustrates a distinction between the authority of the “church”, and the authority of scripture for some seminal Patristics . . . the latter is “over” the former.

    We seem to be at an impasse. I’m Protestant and you’re Catholic ;-). Peace.

    Friday, March 14, 2008 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  38. As long as Irenaeus is being invoked, we should also note his articulation of Mary as the Second Eve. Clearly he must have believed that his teaching on the Blessed Virgin was consonant with Holy Scripture.

    Friday, March 14, 2008 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  39. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Or at least with his view on recapitulation ;-).

    Friday, March 14, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  40. Bobby,
    I didnt imply in any way that you had “spat” upon Mary. There is no need to take offense to easily. My apologies if I came off that way.

    Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  41. Dear Father,

    I found your posting on the summary of John Paul II’s Redemptor hominis informative. The subject of the dignity of the Human person is one that interests me with passion.

    I am a theology student studying for the pristhood in Unité Université Catholique d’Abidjan and I am planning to write my project on “The dignity of the human person in the light of John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis: The African man as a case study.

    Please can you help me with insights?

    Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 6:01 am | Permalink
  42. I am suprised to learn that you are not a priest. The article on the summary of Redemptor Hominis is a nice one. You captured the major themes so succintly

    I am student to theology in the Catholic University of Abidjan. I am doing my research essay on “the dignity of the human person in the light of Redemptor hominis: the african man as a case study.”

    Can you (or any of your friends) help me with insight on this subject

    Thanks

    Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 6:54 am | Permalink

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