MARY MOTHER OF GOD AND THE PROTESTANT REFORMERS
I would like to start with a few definitions. When I speak of ‘the Protestant Reformers’ I am referring to the great figures of the Continental Reformation. I am, of course, well aware that a great many Anglicans would proudly call themselves Protestants and would see such figures as Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley as amongst the most significant of the Protestant Reformers. However, I consider Anglicanism a special case, not being a religion originating from the Reformation but rather a part of the Holy Catholic Church continuous with the church of the Apostles and brought to England in 597 AD by St Augustine of Canterbury, reformed in certain respects in the 16th century but retaining in all essentials the catholicity it possessed before the Reformation.
The Protestant Reformers to whom I refer were essentially the founders of new churches – new, in the sense that they to one degree or another discarded (or at least downplayed) any continuity with the pre-Reformation church. In this respect, I am confining my remarks to the Continental Reformation of the 16th century, and therefore am not including (for instance) Methodism – a form of Protestantism dating from the 18th century – or Presbyterianism, whose formation bears some similarity to a certain Continental Protestantism but which in other respects is a separate religious entity.
Still less am I referring to various more recently formed Protestant or neo-Protestant religious bodies, ranging from the Seventh-Day Adventists through the Pentecostalist Assemblies of God, the Salvation Army, the Plymouth Brethren and other such sects, to various fringe religions such as Mormonism which, in the eyes of many (including myself), does not even qualify as a Christian religion.
You will see that, having placed these limitations on the scope of my remarks, I am obviously restricting myself to the two most significant Continental religions of the Reformation, namely Lutheranism on the one hand, and the Reformed churches issuing from Calvinism on the other. What I want to explore is the way in which the founders and other early figures of these religious traditions talked about Our Lady in their writings.
Before I move on to quoting some concrete examples, I would like to remind you of a point that I made in an earlier talk to this Cell, concerning the Third Council of Ephesus and its official conferring on Our Lady of the title Theotόkos or ‘God-Bearer’. This conferral was largely based on the arguments of St Cyril of Alexandria, in opposition to the teachings of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, who saw the Holy Virgin only as ‘Christ-Bearer’, thus implicitly denying that what was conceived in the Virgin’s womb was in fact fully God.
I start, then, with the man who is often considered the father of Protestantism, namely Martin Luther. I suspect that it is with some surprise, given the general downplaying of the figure of Our Lady in Protestantism, that we read such passages as the following, taken from Luther’s 1539 treatise entitled Von den Concilien und Kirchen (‘Of the Councils and Churches’):
‘Hence this Council [the Third Council of Ephesus] did not establish anything new in the faith, but defended the ancient faith against the new obscurantism of Nestorius. Indeed, the article according to which Mary is Mother of God has been in the church from the beginning and was not newly produced by the Council but on the contrary was contained in the Gospel or in Holy Scripture. For in St Luke (Chapter 1, verse 32) we find that the angel Gabriel announces to the Virgin that she must bear the Son of the Most High and Elizabeth says: “Whence comes it that the Mother of the Lord should come to me?” And the angels at Christmas together sing: “Unto us is born this day a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.” In the same way St Paul (Galatians, Chapter 4, verse 4) says: “God has sent his Son, born of a woman.” These words, which I hold to be true, surely maintain quite strongly that Mary is the Mother of God.’
I might add in passing that Luther also held to a notion of Mary’s freedom from original sin which comes very close to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception – a doctrine highly controversial in his own day and indeed contested in certain Dominican circles. I haven’t time to enter here into the detail of Luther’s teaching, but in broad terms he taught that, while the physical generation of Mary fell within the scope of original sin, her soul had escaped this (following the Augustinian doctrine that the coming of the spirit into the physical embryo is subsequent to its conception). In Luther’s own words, ‘at the first instant in which she began to live she was without sin, adorned with the gifts of God.’
So much for Luther. Let me turn next to another highly significant figure of the Continental Reformation, the Swiss theologian Ulrich Zwingli, who lived from 1484 to 1531. Generally considered the most ‘Protestant’ of all the Reformers, he taught a highly simple and straightforward belief system: the Bible is truth, therefore any doctrine not in the Bible is not truth. A logician would immediately point out the problem with this proposition: it is what is known as the undistributed middle (to quote a well-known example: all cats are mortal; Socrates is mortal; therefore Socrates is a cat). Nonetheless, Zwingli’s teaching – perhaps by reason of its very simplicity – became extremely popular.
In 1524, Zwingli arranged for the printing of a sermon of his entitled Von der ewig reinen Maria, der Mutter Gottes (‘Of the eternally pure Mary, Mother of God’). In a passage in which he defends himself against the accusations of men of ill will, who have declared that they have heard Mary spoken of by him as a sinner like any other creature, he says this:
‘I have never thought, still less taught or declared publicly, anything on the subject of the pure Virgin Mary, Mother of our salvation, which could be considered to dishonour her, or to be impious, unworthy or evil. … I hope that this will be sufficient to make plain to pious and simple Christians my clear conviction on the matter of the Mother of God: namely, “I believe with all my heart according to the word of the Holy Gospel, that this pure virgin bore for us the Son of God and that she remained, in the birth and after it, a pure and unsullied virgin, for eternity.”’
You will note in this passage, not only the reference to Mary as Mother of God, but also the clearest possible statement of Zwingli’s belief in her perpetual virginity.
Though Zwingli had an important role in what we think of as the first generation of the Reformation, the more influential theologian was his successor as head of the Zurich church, namely Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), who was instrumental in the stabilisation of Protestant teaching in the second generation of the Reformed church. In 1557, Bullinger wrote as follows:
‘The heretic Nestorius recognised two natures in Christ, and he understood them as being two persons. Indeed he taught that the Word had not been united in one person with the flesh, but had only been its habitation in the flesh: that is why he would not admit that the Blessed Virgin Mary was called God-Bearer or Mother of God.’ [Bullinger uses the German terms Gottesgebärerin and Mutter Gottes].
Interestingly, in 1539 Bullinger had gone further still. In his polemical treatise against idolatry (De origine erroris) we find this:
‘Elijah was transported body and soul in a chariot of fire; he was not buried in any church bearing his name, but mounted up to heaven, so that on the one hand we might know what immortality and recompense God prepares for his faithful prophets and for his most outstanding and incomparable creatures, and on the other hand in order to withdraw from men the possibility of venerating the human body of the saint. It is for this reason, we believe, that the pure and immaculate flesh of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is to say her saintly body [in Latin, sacrosanctum corpus], was carried up into heaven by the angels.’
Is it not extraordinary that one of the chief exponents of Protestantism as understood by the Reformation should proclaim, not only the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, but even that of her Bodily Assumption?
I pass now from the German, or German-speaking, Reformers to the French – and notably to the most influential of them Jean Calvin (generally known in English as John Calvin, the father of Calvinism). Calvin, who was born in France in 1509, broke with the Roman Catholic Church in 1530. Following an uprising against Protestants in France, he fled to Basel in Switzerland, then to Geneva; he was in Strasbourg from 1538 to 1541, finally returning to Geneva where he remained until his death in 1564. In 1536 he published the first edition of his magnum opus L’Institution de la religion chrétienne (known in English as Institutes of the Christian Religion), of which a number of later editions followed.
Calvin’s attitude to the term ‘Mother of God’ was rather more hesitant than that of some of his Protestant contemporaries. Being highly respectful of the teachings of the early Church Councils (including Ephesus), he does not go so far as to condemn the use of the title outright, but rather recommends against its use on the ground that (in his own words) ‘it can only serve to harden the ignorant in their superstition.’ In fact, a number of commentators have seen in Calvin’s teaching a Christology which comes close to that of Nestorius – namely, Mary is the Mother of Christ, but to speak of her as Mother of God would mean that it would be equally permissible, in relation to the death of Christ, to speak of it as the death of God. I won’t go into the intricacies of the theological arguments involved here, but Calvin’s teaching seems to me to evince a certain ignorance of traditional Incarnation theology. I suspect that this is one of the areas in which Calvin and Luther held quite different views.
But in fact, not all Calvinist theologians followed Calvin’s teaching on this matter. One of the leading French Calvinist pastors and writers of the 17th century was Charles Drelincourt (1595-1669), who in 1633 wrote a work entitled De l’Honneur qui doit estre rendu à la saincte et bienheureuse Vierge Marie (‘On the Honour that should be rendered to the holy and blessed Virgin Mary’). His own view of the Incarnation is clearly different from that of Calvin, and reflects the orthodox teaching that the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, had two natures (one divine and one human), both of them cohering in a single person.
[I might interpolate briefly that it is here that the virginity of Our Lady takes on its full significance, because whereas the outcome of heterosexual conception is the bringing into existence of a new person, what is involved in the Incarnation is not the bringing into existence of a new person but the taking of human nature by an existing person – the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who had existed from all eternity: as St John puts it, ‘the same was in the beginning with God’.]
In any case, here is what Drelincourt wrote:
‘On account of this close and incomprehensible union [that is, of the two natures of Christ], what belongs to one of those natures can be attributed to the person in general. Hence, just as the apostle St Paul said that the Jews crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians, Chapter 2), … we find no difficulty in saying with the ancients that the Virgin Mary is the Mother of God; for he whom she bore is God above all else, eternally blest (Romans, Chapter 9).’
It is clear that the acceptance of the title Mother of God is closely related to the view that one holds of the union of the natures of Christ in one person. In other words, it is a test of one’s view of the Incarnation and its meaning. Here, it is obvious that Drelincourt’s view of the Incarnation, unlike Calvin’s, is the orthodox one defined by the Council of Ephesus.
* * *
Over the centuries following the Reformation, Protestant churches – with their characteristic emphasis on the individual – tended to concentrate less on the Incarnation than on personal salvation on the one hand, or the social Gospel on the other. Towards the middle of the 20th century, however, as if having a sense that something important had been lost in this development, certain groups within the Continental Reformed churches moved to restore the unique position occupied by Our Lady on the basis of a re-discovery of traditional Incarnation theology. Before I conclude, I should like to mention briefly two of these movements. The first relates to a group of Dutch Reformed clergy who in 1947 met at Hilversum in Holland to share their re-discovery of the values of the Church and sacraments as they were in vigour in the early Church as well as the Catholic spirituality expressed in the works of the early Church Fathers. They put together a statement to this effect, known as ‘The Hilversum Convent’.
These clergy were anxious to correct the over-emphasis in the Dutch Reformed Church on soteriology at the expense of Christology – that is, on the work of Christ (in salvation) as distinct from the nature of Christ as revealed in the Incarnation. From their re-statement of the significance of the Incarnation there followed a renewed theology in which Mary once again regained the position I have been discussing in these remarks. In 1954, they put out a statement of their views under the title Reformation and Catholicity, edited by the Reverend J. Loos, Minister of the Dutch Reformed Church at Hilversum, and by J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, Professor of Theology at the University of Leiden.
Two years earlier, in 1952, a first conference had been held in Lund, Sweden, of a body which took the name The International League for Apostolic Faith and Order (the relevant acronym being ILAFO). This meeting was presided over by the Primus of Scotland. It brought together Anglicans, Old Catholics, and Catholic-minded Protestants (both Lutherans and Dutch Reformed). The signatories of the Hilversum Convent became members of ILAFO.
[It is interesting, by the way, to note the significant involvement of Anglican religious orders in the early work of ILAFO. The early committee members included Father Raymond Raynes, CR (from the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, England), Father W.O. Fitch, SSJE (from the Society of St John the Evangelist, known as the Cowley Fathers), and Father Gabriel Hebert, SSM (of the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham).]
In 1967, following the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, members of ILAFO felt that the creation of a more inclusive ecumenical body was now desirable. At a conference in Fribourg, Switzerland, in February 1967, ILAFO, whose predominantly Anglican, Old Catholic and Lutheran membership had already been enriched by some Reformed, Orthodox and (since 1966) Roman Catholic members, decided to re-constitute itself as the International Ecumenical Fellowship or IEF. Nowadays, IEF is made up of ten national bodies (known as regions) and has its own website: www.iefnet.info
The second movement that I want to mention briefly before closing is that which led to the foundation in 1940 of the originally Protestant, but now ecumenical, religious community of Taizé, in the Saône-et-Loire region of Burgundy in France. The community was founded by Brother Roger Schutz, of the Reformed Church of France. On Easter Day 1949, seven brothers committed themselves to a life following Christ in simplicity, celibacy and community. Numbers gradually increased, and in 1969 a young Belgian doctor became the first Roman Catholic brother in the Taizé community. More brothers followed, from Anglican, Reformed and Roman Catholic backgrounds, until today it is a community of over 100 brothers and sisters. It, too, has its website, email@example.com
The community puts out its own publications through its press (Les Presses de Taizé), and I would like to mention one book in particular. Written by Brother Max Thurian, it was published in 1962 under the title Marie, Mère du Seigneur, Figure de l’Eglise, an English translation by Neville B. Cryer appearing the following year under the title Mary, Mother of the Lord, Figure of the Church, published by The Faith Press. In writing this paper, I have been very much indebted to this work, and I conclude by quoting a paragraph which is central to our concerns. [I will quote it in my translation rather than Cryer’s, which is at times somewhat inaccurate.]
‘If God really took flesh in the Virgin Mary, and if the two natures of Christ are really united in one person, Mary cannot be only the mother of Christ’s humanity as if that could be separated from his divinity. She is the mother of one single person, the Mother of God made man, of the only Christ, true God and true man. On the other hand, if Christ’s humanity is real He has, as a unique person, a true mother, which requires a relationship of mother to son in the full sense, physical, psychological, and spiritual. There is in the reality of the incarnation of God and in the reality of the humanity of Christ a fundamental requirement for Mary to be called Mother of God, and for her to be a truly human mother and not merely an instrument to permit God’s appearing on earth. Because God was in Christ He had in Mary a Mother who was thence Mother of God; because He was truly man He had in Mary a true human mother.’
Kenneth R. Dutton
INVOCATION OF OUR LADY IN ANGLICAN HYMNS
At the outset, I should make a couple of things clear. First, I use the term ‘invocation’ in its broadest sense, that of ‘addressing directly’, rather than in the narrower sense in which it means calling upon a higher being for aid. So I am referring to hymns in which the Virgin Mary is directly addressed.
Second, although the hymns to which I shall refer came into use in the second half of the 19th century or the early years of the 20th as an outcome of the Oxford Movement, a number of them pre-date this Anglo-Catholic movement by over a thousand years, being in fact translations into English of hymns originally written in Latin during the Middle Ages. In so far as the Anglican Church, as a distinct part of the Holy Catholic Church, had been in existence since St Augustine landed in Kent in the year 597, having been sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English, the Latin form of these hymns had undoubtedly been a part of Anglican worship throughout the Middle Ages.
What the Oxford Movement did, in restoring Catholic usage in Anglican liturgical practice, was to emphasise the continuity of such practice (and the theological premises on which it was based) with what had existed for nearly a thousand years before the Reformation and had never completely died out in the four hundred years since. One need only think of the theologians and writers known as the Caroline Divines – the word ‘Caroline’ here being taken from the word ‘Carolus’, the Latin word for Charles, as these ‘divines’ or religious thinkers lived during the reigns of King Charles I or (after the Restoration of the monarchy) Charles II. Names that spring immediately to mind are those of Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Ken, Jeremy Taylor and the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud. These men had a major role in defining the distinctive nature of Anglicanism within the Catholic Church as a via media, a middle way between the excesses of Romanism on the one hand and Protestantism on the other. They are often referred to as ‘High Churchmen’ because of their respect for Apostolic order and tradition.
But it was not until the Oxford Movement had started to take hold within the Church of England that the need was felt to put together major collections of those hymns which the compilers believed reflected the religious experience of Anglicans across the centuries, including that of Anglicans belonging to what is often referred to as the Catholic ‘wing’ of the Church. Two great collections of hymns were the result: Hymns Ancient and Modern, first published in 1861, and The English Hymnal, dating from 1906. While most of my examples will be taken from the latter collection, I want to start with a most interesting inclusion in Hymns Ancient and Modern – namely, hymn number 450 in that collection, the hymn beginning ‘Shall we not love thee, Mother dear’. Some of you, I’m sure, will be familiar with it, but for those who aren’t let me quote some of its verses:
Shall we not love thee, Mother dear,
Whom Jesus loves so well?
And, to his glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell?
O wondrous depth of grace Divine
That he should bend so low!
And Mary, oh, what joy ’twas thine
In His dear love to know;
Joy to be Mother of the Lord,
And thine the truer bliss,
In every thought, and deed, and word
To be for ever His.
And as He loves thee, Mother dear,
We too will love thee well;
And, to His glory, year by year,
Thy joy and honour tell.
Jesu, the Virgin’s Holy Son,
We praise thee and adore,
Who art with God the Father One
And Spirit evermore.
It will not come as a surprise, I’m sure, if I mention that the inclusion of this hymn in an Anglican hymn-book of 1861 caused something of a controversy, and that those of a more Protestant frame of mind objected to it as ‘popish’, even blasphemous. To understand its inclusion, it is necessary to know something of the background. Although Hymns Ancient and Modern was published by an anonymous group calling itself ‘The Proprietors of Hymns Ancient and Modern’, of which I’ll say more in a minute or two, the first editor-in-chief (from 1860, a year before the work appeared, until 1877), was a clergyman by the name of The Reverend Henry Williams Baker. It so happens that Father Baker was himself the author of this hymn, so as editor-in-chief he was the sole (or at any rate the ultimate) decision-maker as to its inclusion. Not that this was the only hymn of his that he included in Hymns Ancient and Modern. In fact, he contributed some 50 or so hymns to this collection, including some translated from the original Latin.
A baronetcy had been conferred on his grandfather, Sir Robert Baker, in 1796. Henry Williams Baker succeeded his father to the baronetcy in 1859, and from then on was known as the Reverend Sir Henry Baker, 3rd baronet. A poignant, and well-attested story concerning him is that, as he lay on his death-bed, his last words were taken from one of his own hymns, ‘The King of love my shepherd is’. The words he quoted were these:
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
There is another reason why I wanted to mention Henry Williams Baker. Having been brought up on Hymns Ancient and Modern, I had always followed the wording of the fourth verse of hymn 298, Praise, my soul, the king of heaven as found in that collection, namely:
Angels in the height, adore Him;
Ye behold Him face to face;
Saints triumphant, bow before Him,
Gather’d in from every race.
When I joined a congregation that used the English Hymnal instead of Hymns A & M, I was surprised to find a different form of wording, namely:
Angels, help us to adore him;
Ye behold him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before him;
Dwellers all in time and space.
In both collections, the author is given as the Reverend H.F. Lyte (1793-1847). How, I wondered, did the variant form arise? Nobody, so far as I am aware, can answer this question with certainty, but I have at least come up with a theory. First of all, what Lyte wrote was clearly the ‘sun and moon’ version rather than the ‘saints triumphant’ version. It had been included in a collection of his which was published in 1834 and entitled The Spirit of the Psalms, where it is based on Psalm 103, beginning: ’Praise the Lord, O my soul : and all that is within me praise his holy Name.’ However, there is no mention of ‘sun and moon’ in this Psalm, and the relevant verse appears to be Verse 20, namely: ‘O praise the Lord, ye angels of his, ye that excel in strength : ye that fulfil his commandment, and hearken unto the voice of his words.’
My theory is this. H.F. Lyte, the author, was a keen Evangelical, married to a Methodist. I suspect that, when the Anglo-Catholic Henry Williams Baker was considering including Praise, my soul, the King of heaven in Hymns Ancient and Modern, he disliked the reference to ‘sun and moon’, feeling perhaps that Lyte was unwilling to address the ‘saints triumphant’ directly for reasons of churchmanship – invocation of the saints being anathema to the strict Evangelical that he was. So, in defiance of whatever copyright laws may have existed at the time, he may well have felt free to change the words to a more ‘Catholic’ form. Whether or not my hypothesis is correct, it certainly seems to be a possibility.
Before leaving Hymns Ancient and Modern, I might just remark that the mysterious and anonymous ‘Proprietors’ whom I mentioned earlier were clearly financially astute: in 1975, they formed themselves into a limited company and registered charity. In 1989, this company bought Church Times, the Church of England periodical, and in 1997 bought SCM Press.
I pass now to The English Hymnal. Let me first of all say a couple of words about its producers. Unlike those of Hymns Ancient and Modern, they are readily identified. Its two chief editors were the Reverend Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams; the latter (a renowned composer who surely needs no introduction) was musical editor. Dearmer, who lived from 1867 to 1936, was a High Churchman and Ritualist, but although an advocate of a return to more Catholic forms of worship, he believed that these should be derived from the pre-Reformation ‘English Use’ (such as, for instance, the Sarum rite used in Salisbury) rather than from post-Tridentine Roman Catholic practices. His most influential work was The Parson’s Handbook, concerned with ritual and ceremonial but particularly emphasising art and beauty in worship.
Just as Henry Williams Baker contributed a number of hymns to Hymns Ancient and Modern, so Percy Dearmer contributed a number of hymns – often translations from the Latin – to The English Hymnal. What I would like to do is select from this collection a number of hymns addressed to Our Lady and deal with them in the order in which they appear in the hymnal.
The first is No. 208, entitled All prophets hail thee. This is a translation from Latin by the Reverend Thomas Alexander Lacey, a joint editor of The English Hymnal and a prominent Anglo-Catholic apologist of his day. The Latin hymn in question is the work of the Frankish Benedictine monk Rabanus Maurus (c. 780-856), who became Archbishop of Mainz in Germany. It begins
Quod chorus vatum venerandus olim
Spiritu Sancto cecinit repletus
In Dei factum genitrice constat
This hymn for the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary is translated by Lacey as follows:
All prophets hail thee, from of old announcing,
by the inbreathèd Spirit of the Father
God’s Mother, bringing prophecies to fullness,
Mary the maiden.
Thou the true Virgin Mother of the Highest,
bearing incarnate God in awed obedience
meekly acceptest for a sinless offspring
In the high temple Simeon receives thee,
takes to his bent arms with a holy rapture
that promised Saviour, vision of redemption,
Christ long awaited.
Now the fair realm of Paradise attaining,
and to thy son’s throne, Mother of the Eternal,
raisèd all glorious, yet in earth’s devotion
join with us always.
Glory and worship to the Lord of all things
pay we unresting, who alone adorèd,
Father and Son and Spirit, in the highest
The next such hymn, numerically, in The English Hymnal, is No. 213, Hail, o star that pointest. Once again, it is a translation from the Latin – of the hymn Ave Maris Stella, which the Penguin Book of Latin Verse describes as ‘the most famous of all Marian hymns’. Its author is unknown. The Penguin Book, once again, comments that it
‘owes much of its charm to the simplicity of its language and construction. Apart from proper nouns, only four words in it have more than two syllables, and most of its lines are end-stopped. [That is, they are self-contained phrases, rather than carrying over into the next line.] It contains some of the favourite word-play of the Middle Ages; e.g., the word “Mary” is supposed to mean “star of the sea”; and Gabriel’s “Ave”, which brought salvation to man, is an anagram of “Eva”, the first woman, who brought about man’s fall.’
I referred to the Eva-Ave dichotomy in an earlier talk. In the case of this hymn, the relevant verse is:
Sumens illud Ave
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans nomen Evae
which translates literally as: ‘Receiving that Ave from the lips of Gabriel, establish us in peace, changing Eve’s name.’ The notion here is that the obedience of Mary (symbolised by the Angel’s ‘Ave’ – Hail, thou that art highly favoured) – cancels out the disobedience of Eve (Eva).
The translator of this hymn into English is one of the most interesting contributors to the English Hymnal, and a man whose name I shall be quoting more than once in the course of this talk, namely Athelstan Riley. Let me quote just a few of the verses, in his translation:
Hail, O Star that pointest
Towards the port of heaven,
Thou to whom as maiden
God for son was given.
When the salutation
Gabriel had spoken,
Peace was shed upon us,
Eva’s bonds were broken.
Jesu’s tender Mother,
Make thy supplication
Unto him who chose thee
At his incarnation.
So, as now we journey,
Aid our weak endeavour,
Till we gaze on Jesus,
And rejoice for ever.
The translator, Athelstan Riley (or, to give him his full name, John Athelstan Laurie Riley) was born in 1858 and died in 1945. He was a layman, educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was highly active in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England. He was chairman of the editorial board of The English Hymnal, to which he contributed a number of hymns, both original and translated. Among the latter is one of my favourite hymns, Christ, the fair glory of the holy Angels, which Riley translated from the Latin original Christe, sanctorum decus Angelorum, attributed to the medieval monk Rabanus Maurus whom I mentioned earlier.
But I would like to mention here Athelstan Riley’s most celebrated hymn, even though it is strictly out of order of appearance in The English Hymnal, being No. 519. This is the hymn entitled Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, which I’m sure is well known to us all. Sung to the wonderful German tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen (‘Let Us Rejoice’), the first stanza – as you’ll recall – addresses each of the traditional nine choirs of angels (Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Princedoms, Powers, Virtues, Archangels and Angels). But it is the second verse that is of most interest to us here. You will remember how it runs:
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th’eternal word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
So, here we have a verse which directly addresses Our Lady, calling her ‘most gracious’, higher than the cherubim and seraphim, and ‘bearer of the eternal Word’ (a near-synonym, surely, for Theotόkos or God-bearer). It is not surprising that the hymn should be extremely popular amongst Catholic-minded Anglicans. What is surprising is that it also appears in the Church Hymnal of the Church of Ireland (not particularly noted for its Anglo-Catholic tendencies), and that it appears as Hymn No. 90 in the United Methodist Hymnal. Moreover, an internet search will allow you to see on You Tube the hymn being vigorously sung (in full) by the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Who would have thought that invocation of Our Lady had infiltrated Protestant congregations to such an extent?
Returning now to the order of appearance in The English Hymnal, we come to No. 215, O glorious Maid, exalted far. Based on the medieval hymn O gloriosa femina, it was translated into English by the Reverend Percy Dearmer whom I mentioned earlier. Once again, it includes reference to the Virgin Mary as the new Eve (as Jesus is the new Adam). It runs as follows:
O glorious Maid, exalted far
Beyond the light of burning star,
From him who made thee thou hast won
Grace to be Mother of his Son.
That which was lost in hapless Eve
Thy holy Scion did retrieve;
The tear-worn sons of Adam’s race
Through thee have seen the heavenly place.
Thou wast the gate of heaven’s high Lord,
The door through which the light hath poured.
Christians, rejoice, for through a Maid
To all mankind is life conveyed!
All honour, laud and glory be
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to thee!
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete.
I might just mention that the composer of the original Latin, Bishop Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), was a fertile source of material for later hymnologists, being the author of such great hymns as Salve, festa dies (‘Hail thee, festival day, blest day that art hallowed forever’), Vexilla regis prodeunt (‘The royal banners forward go’), and Pange lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis (‘Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, sing the ending of the fray’). This last-named hymn was in turn the inspiration for St Thomas Aquinas’s Pange lingua, gloriosi Corporis mysterium (‘Of the glorious Body telling’), Part 2 of which (Tantum ergo sacramentum) is of course an integral part of the rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (‘Therefore we, before him bending, this great sacrament revere’).
The second-last of the hymns I want to refer to is No. 216 in The English Hymnal. Entitled Ave Maria! Blessed Maid! it is the work of one of the great figures of the Oxford Movement, namely the Reverend John Keble. Indeed, the Oxford Movement is generally understood to have begun – or at least to have been given its first impetus – by what is known as the Assize Sermon on ‘National Apostasy’ preached by Keble in July 1833 at St Mary’s Church, Oxford. Such a major figure was he, that Keble College in Oxford was named in his memory. Probably his best-known work was The Christian Year of 1827, a collection of thoughts in verse for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the year. His poem for the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary contains the following verses among others:
Ave Maria! blessed Maid!
Lily of Eden’s fragrant shade!
Who can express the love
That nurtured thee, so pure and sweet,
Making thy heart a shelter meet
For Jesus’ holy Dove!
Ave Maria! Mother blest,
To whom, caressing and caressed,
Clings the eternal Child;
Favoured beyond Archangels’ dream,
When first on thee with tenderest gleam
Thy new-born Saviour smiled.
Ave Maria! thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim,
Yet may we reach thy shrine;
For he, thy Son and Saviour, vows
To crown all lowly lofty brows
With love and joy like thine.
The origin of this hymn was a poem written by Keble on the death of his mother. Those parts of it which were too personal for publication were omitted when the poem, or hymn, was printed in The Christian Year. This latter collection proved extremely popular, and surprisingly there does not appear to have been an outcry at Keble’s direct addressing of Our Lady, let alone his use of the Latin expression Ave Maria, which must no doubt have been thought in some quarters to smack of Popery.
The final hymn that I want to refer to is No. 218 in the English Hymnal; it begins with the words ‘Ye who own the faith of Jesus’. One of the most beloved of all Marian hymns, it was written by the Reverend Vincent Stucky Stratton Coles. Educated at Eton College and at Balliol College, Oxford, Fr Coles was on the staff of Pusey House, Oxford, for a number of years before becoming its Principal from 1897 to 1909. Pusey House is firmly rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, being named after Edward Bouverie Pusey, Professor of Hebrew at Oxford and a leading figure in the Oxford Movement. Solemn High Mass is celebrated there every Sunday, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is regularly practised. (It may be of interest to this particular Cell to note that three members of the Chapter of Pusey House are members of the Society of the Holy Cross.)
Father Vincent Coles wrote only three hymns, O shepherd of the sheep (No. 190 in the English Hymnal), which is a hymn for the commemoration of Confessors; that wonderful Eucharistic hymn We pray thee, heavenly Father (Hymn No. 334) which ends with the words ‘For praise, and thanks, and worship, For mercy and for aid, The Catholic oblation Of Jesus Christ is made’; and the hymn most relevant to our topic, No. 218, Ye who own the faith of Jesus.
The hymn is too long for me to quote it in its entirety, and in any case I’m sure most of you are familiar with it. Let me just remind you of the first verse, and the second-last and last verses. As printed in The English Hymnal, verse 1 runs as follows:
Ye who own the faith of Jesus
Sing the wonders that were done
When the love of God the Father
O’er our sin the victory won,
When he made the Virgin Mary
Mother of his only Son.
Hail Mary, full of grace.
The tune given in the English Hymnal is the somewhat dirge-like German tune Den des Vaters Sinn geboren, and I note from an internet search that there is a You Tube clip of an organist playing it to the only slightly less downbeat tune Daily Daily. My recollection is that at St Stephen’s we use a different, and more uplifting, tune altogether, in which the refrain is the threefold: Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace. In any case, the final two verses are as follows:
For the sick and for the agèd,
For our dear ones far away,
For the hearts that mourn in secret,
All who need our prayers today,
For the faithful gone before us,
May the holy Virgin pray.
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace.
Praise, o Mary, praise the Father,
Praise thy Saviour and thy Son,
Praise the everlasting Spirit,
Who hath made thee ark and throne
O’er all creatures high exalted,
Lowly praise the Three in One.
Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary, full of grace.
If you go to the internet and do a search under the heading ‘Hymns to Mary’, you will find a Wikipedia entry under this title. Ye who own the faith of Jesus is mentioned there under the heading ‘Roman Catholic hymns’ – yet another example of the oft-repeated warning that you can’t always trust Wikipedia. While I have no doubt that this is a popular hymn amongst our Roman Catholic brethren, I welcome this opportunity to set the record straight. Like the other hymns I have mentioned in this paper, it is part of the glorious tradition of Anglican hymnology of which I hope we are all rightly proud.
Kenneth R. Dutton
Mary, the Mother of God
[An address to the Cell by Prof. Kenneth Dutton]
In July and August 1948, the annual Summer School of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius was held at Eastbourne in England. The Fellowship had been founded in 1928; its aim was (and still is) to increase understanding between the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the course of each annual Summer School, several days were devoted to a theological conference on a particular theme. The theme chosen for the 1948 conference was ‘The Mother of God’. Two papers on this theme were read to the conference by Russian Orthodox theologians, and three by Anglican theologians. These papers were edited by the eminent Anglican theologian Dr E.L. Mascall OGS, who later became Professor of Historical Theology at King’s College, University of London. The papers were published in book form by Dacre Press in 1949, and were re-published in 1959 – a sign, no doubt, of their significant status as theological documents.
In addition to editing the papers and contributing a foreword to the volume, Dr Eric Mascall delivered a paper entitled ‘The Dogmatic Theology of the Mother of God’. It is in some places a highly technical document, containing a number of Greek and Latin quotations and some specialised theological terminology which is not readily understood by the layperson. What I would like to do is attempt to summarise Mascall’s main arguments in language that even I can understand, and I will also refer briefly to another paper from the Conference, given by the Reverend T.M. Parker and entitled ‘Devotion to the Mother of God’. Both papers, I think, are relevant to our concerns as a cell of the Society of Our Lady of Walsingham.
I would like to start with a quotation from Dr Mascall’s paper. It is not his opening statement, but it is as good a statement as any with which to introduce this summary. He writes this:
‘Catholic theology makes two fundamental assertions about the Incarnation. The first is that God the Son became man; the second is that he remains man. At one particular moment in world-history, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity united human nature to himself in the womb of Mary of Nazareth and thus, by a process of human birth, came into the world as true God and total man. Having passed, in this human nature, through growth, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension, he is still man and will remain man for ever, though his human nature is transfigured and glorified to a degree that exceeds anything that we ourselves experience.’
Mascall then goes on to explore the implications of these two assertions in relation to Our Lord’s mother. The first (the assertion that he was really born from her as regards his manhood) means that, in the process by which God became man, Mary had a real physical role, and not merely a fictitious role or even merely a moral role. She did indeed have a moral role – a role of obedience, trustfulness and fidelity. However, her part in the Incarnation was not merely a moral role. It was a physical one as well. Mary was physically the mother of Jesus in the same materialistic sense as we would say today that Queen Elizabeth II is the mother of Prince Charles. Obviously, in the conception of Jesus sexual union and fatherhood had no share (at least, such is the traditional Catholic belief affirmed in the Creeds), but that does not take anything away from the physical reality of Mary’s motherhood. Here again, I would like to quote Mascall at some length. He writes this:
‘The fact that the Virgin-mother is a virgin does not make her any less a mother. The point of the virginal conception – concepit sine semine – is that what was involved was not the production into existence of a new person who did not previously exist, but the giving of a new nature, a human nature, to a divine Person who already existed and had existed for all eternity.’
[Perhaps I might interpolate here that Mascall is using the traditional terminology which speaks of the Holy Trinity as three Persons in one Substance, and of Jesus – the Second of those three Persons – as having two Natures (one divine and one human) in the one Person.]
‘We ought not, in strict speech, even to say that the Holy Spirit played the part of a human father – to say that would be to assimilate the Incarnation to the pagan legends in which women bear children to gods – for what the Holy Spirit did was to make Blessed Mary a virgin-mother, and that is a very different matter. Fatherhood simply does not come in, except the fatherhood by which God the Father communicates his divine nature to the only-begotten word from all eternity. But the Holy Ghost made Mary a mother in the fullest physical sense, for it was in her womb, not in the cradle at Bethlehem, that the Word became flesh.’
Now this, it seems to me, is a very important point. The Incarnation is, of course, a great mystery, even if it can be summed up quite simply, as St John does in the opening words of his Gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.’ But I think that if many Christians – even mainstream Christians with a good understanding of their faith – were asked when the Incarnation took place, they would say that it was at the Nativity, at the birth of the Saviour. Mascall’s point, however, is that it in fact took place nine months earlier, at the conception in Mary’s womb. There are probably good reasons why Christmas is kept as such a significant Christian feast as compared with the Annunciation, and I won’t go into them here. But the fact remains that, if we want to understand fully the Incarnation of the Word or the motherhood of Mary, we must lay the stress on the conception rather than on the birth of Jesus.
Mascall illustrates this point by describing a religious pageant known as the Joyous Pageant of the Holy Nativity which was traditionally performed every year by the people of St Mary’s church in Graham Street, near Sloane Square, in London. The pageant begins with Mary being shown praying. The angel Gabriel then comes to her with the message that she has been chosen to be the Mother of God. A conversation ensues, ending with those familiar phrases which we can translate into modern English as: ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me.’ There is, says Mascall, a moment’s trembling pause, and then Gabriel falls on one knee, adoring not her but the Holy One who is incarnate within her. Angels enter, robe her and crown her, and place her, flanked by lighted candles, in the centre of the altar, in the place where the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament stands.
The Magnificat, Mary’s hymn, is then sung, as it is sung at Vespers, and Mary, the living tabernacle of God-made-man, is censed. And from this moment until the moment of the birth at Bethlehem, wherever Mary goes she is preceded by an angel carrying a white light, just as the priest is preceded by a server with a white light when he bears with him the Blessed Sacrament.
Mascall continues (and this is the crucial point):
‘I do not think that we can ever understand either the full meaning of the Incarnation or the unique position held by Mary among all created beings unless we reflect calmly and reverently upon the fact that for nine months Mary carried God incarnate within her as she went about her work.’
Mascall goes on to clarify this notion, which follows from the traditional Catholic doctrine of Christ (or Christology), by contrasting it with a number of heresies that were rejected by the early Church. The context of his discussion is that the third Council of Ephesus in 431 AD officially conferred on Mary the title Theotόkos (θεοτόκος), a Greek compound-word made up of the two words θεός meaning God, and τόκος meaning parturition or childbirth. The compound word thus means ‘God-bearer’ or ‘the one who gives birth to God’, a term used by the Church fathers as early as 250 AD.
Mascall gives four examples of these heresies, which I will briefly quote because I think that (perhaps in modified form) they are still held by some people today.
The first heresy is Adoptionism, which held that Mary gave birth only to a man who was afterwards elevated into equality with God; if that were the case, the Incarnation (insofar as there can be said to be an incarnation at all) did not take place until Mary’s part was over. This doctrine was rejected as heretical by the early Church.
The second heresy is Nestorianism, which held that Mary gave birth only to a man who was united in a specially close way with the divine Son of God; if that were the case, Mary was the mother of a man named Jesus, but she was not the human mother of the Word of God. This, too, was rejected as heretical.
The third heresy is Docetism, which held that Christ’s human nature was not a reality but only an appearance; if that were the case, Mary is reduced to one of the actors in a pageant. This was also rejected as heretical.
The fourth heresy is Eutychianism, which absorbs Christ’s human nature into his divine nature; this makes Mary, not the physical source of her Son’s humanity, but merely an instrument in a theophany (that is, a manifestation of the divine which, once again, fails to recognise that Jesus was fully human).
In contrast with these heretical doctrines, orthodox theology insists on the reality and the completeness of the manhood of Jesus and on the fact that this manhood is really assumed by and inheres in the eternal Word. Mary is thus seen as in the fullest sense the Mother of God, as the woman whose freely-willed response to the call of God made it possible for God not merely to appear in the world in a human likeness, but to unite human nature to Himself in order to redeem it.
So much for the first of the two traditional assertions about the Incarnation that Mascall mentions: that is, the assertion that, at one particular moment in the world’s history, God the Son became man. The second assertion, you may recall, was that Jesus, although ascended and glorified, is still man. This is of just as much importance for the topic we are studying. Many people, once again including many Christians who take their faith seriously, think of the Incarnation as a temporary episode in the life of the Son of God. That is, he became man at Bethlehem, performed certain acts and said certain words which are of great religious significance to those who are his followers, then ceased to be a man and went back to heaven, leaving for our inspiration his doctrine and his example. In this view (which, as I say, is held by a number of sincere Christians), the Incarnation is not a permanent reality but merely a past event which we commemorate.
How does Mascall deal with this? Let me quote him again:
‘If it were the case that Christ’s manhood was extinguished at the Ascension, he, the concrete human figure of whom we read in the Gospels, would be merely a past being who no longer exists, somebody who God once was but who God no longer is. Indeed, he would be the only human being who has ceased to exist as such, for whereas other human beings survive the death of their bodies, he, as human, failed on this view to survive his ascension. And if he is no longer man, then Mary is no longer his mother. She was once, but she is no longer now. … It is because Christ is still man that the relation of mother to son which began when Mary conceived him in her womb still continues and will continue to all eternity. Because he is still man, she is still his mother.’
There is a great deal more in Dr Mascall’s conference paper, particularly in relation to the ecclesiological and typological (as distinct from the Christological) significance of Mary – for instance, Mary as the second Eve just as Jesus is the second Adam, Mary who reverses Eve’s disobedience by her own obedience to God (this is sometimes known as the Eva-Ave dichotomy, Eva being the Latin name for Eve and Ave the Latin word for ‘Hail’, as in Ave Maria, ‘Hail Mary’). Mascall also devotes quite a lot of space to the historical aspects of devotion to Mary in the Anglican tradition. There isn’t time to go into these matters today, though perhaps they will provide a topic for future discussions.
What I do want to do before closing is refer briefly to the paper by the Reverend T.M. Parker entitled ‘Devotion to the Mother of God’. Father Parker takes a little further some of the points made by Mascall. He writes this, for instance:
‘Let us look a little more closely at this phrase, “Mother of God” – for it seems to frighten many worthy people. It is quite extraordinary to what lengths they will go to avoid it without actually falling into heresy. Thus they will say that it has an un-English ring about it – and therefore try to substitute for it ‘Theotokos’, which explains what is meant so much better to the simple Englishman. [Heavy irony, of course.] Or they will invent uncouth neologisms like ‘Birth-giver of God’… (In what way a ‘birthgiver’ differs from a mother I should be pleased to know).’
Father Parker continues:
‘The expression “Mother of God” conveys accurately, to anyone who is at all acquainted with Christian dogma, the unique privilege of Mary in a way that no other English expression does. The suggestion that its use will revive paganism, by causing the simple[-minded] to imagine that Mary is the Mother of God in the sense that Juno was the mother of Mars, seems to me [totally] far-fetched. There will indeed always be the occasional fool among the faithful. I have heard of an old Orthodox lady who thought that the Holy Trinity were God, Our Lady, and St Nicholas. …I am quite sure that it is within the powers of any competent teacher of the Faith to make it clear to the simplest mind without danger of misconception, whereas I doubt very much whether any other term could be found which would serve in the same way.’
And, if you will permit me a final (rather lengthy) quotation from Father Parker’s paper, I would like to use it to conclude this inadequate summary. He says this:
‘No, the real danger is not that men should think too highly of Mary, but that they should think too lowly of her, or rather that they should think too lowly of Christ. It is, I think, no accident that absence of devotion to Mary commonly goes with lukewarmness of devotion to her Son. For I suspect that some of the objection to the words “Mother of God” springs unconsciously from a lack of deep conviction about the Deity of Christ. This is more frequently met with than we think. I said just now that the laity can be trusted if well instructed; but in the Church of England they are often not well instructed. And I sometimes wonder what the honest answer would be if one pressed upon certain Anglicans, not ordinarily suspected of unorthodoxy, the question “When you say that Christ is God, do you really mean that he is so in just the same sense as the Father is God?” Would they perhaps hedge, or at least hesitate? Too many do not realise that the logical consequence of the Incarnation is that Jesus of Nazareth, a character in history, was and is personally God in the fullest sense of the word, and therefore to be worshipped as such.
‘Not to be clear about this not only obscures the unique privilege of Mary and so makes men niggardly in honouring her. It also creates the risk that the throne which should be hers is given instead to the Son, in place of his rightful one. That is to say, our Lord, in men’s minds, instead of occupying his place at the right hand of the Father, comes instead to be thought of as merely the highest of beings after God. The way to keep the proportion of faith is, not to measure out nervously the devotion you give to Mary, but to be quite sure first that you have given to God the things that are God’s.’
To try to summarise my summary, and to do so as briefly as I can, let me first acknowledge that some Christians, particularly Protestant Christians, have difficulty with the term ‘Mother of God’. Even the alternative term ‘Theotόkos’ (or God-bearer) presents them with problems, and some Protestant theologians have proposed the term ‘Christotόkos’ (or Christ-bearer) in its place. Curiously, this is the very term used by Nestorius, whose teaching on this matter was rejected as heretical. I think that there is confusion in some minds between the Catholic doctrine of the Mother of God and the pagan notion, found in Greco-Roman religion, whereby a number of goddesses appear as the mothers of other divinities – a case in point is Cybele, believed in pagan religion to be the mother of all the other gods. But, of course, in both the Catholic and the Orthodox tradition, the term is not understood, or intended to be understood, as referring to Mary as Mother of God from eternity – that is, as Mother of God the Father. (This would, of course, be a logical impossibility, as God the Father is the cause of all, without origin or source, and is therefore without a mother or father.) No, the term is used solely with reference to the conception and birth of Christ, that is, the Incarnation.
It was no doubt in order to make this perfectly clear that ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) in its 2004 report entitled Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, issued an agreed statement which reads in part: ‘We recognize the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Theotόkos, the mother of God incarnate, and so observe her festivals and accord her honour among the saints.’
What we have seen from Dr Mascall’s and Father Parker’s papers is that the Incarnation is the crucial belief lying behind Mary’s status as Mother of God. This is absolutely fundamental. It seems to be the case that, in the modern world (and particularly in modernist theology), it is so difficult to accept that Jesus Christ was fully God, that all sorts of alternative explanations have been put forward as to who he truly was. Only if you believe that the man Jesus Christ was also fully God do terms such as ‘Mother of God’ and ‘Theotόkos’ (God-bearer) make any sense. It has been truly remarked that the significance of these terms lies less in what they say about Mary than in what they say about Jesus, for they are basically the assertion that what was conceived in her womb was truly God. It seems to me that an alternative term such as ‘Christ-bearer’ instead of ‘God-bearer’ simply avoids this fundamental truth, even implying that Christ was not in fact God. Indeed, the purpose of the third Council of Ephesus, in conferring on Mary the title ‘God-bearer’, was not to exalt Our Lady, but to combat the Nestorian heresy which held that the fruit of her womb was not God, but simply a man who had a special relationship to God.
Properly understood, then, the term ‘Mother of God’ is entirely in accordance with the orthodox teaching of the Church, and indeed with the New Testament account of the Incarnation: the eternal Word was made flesh. I hope that this summary of two papers from the 1948 Conference has added to, or at least confirmed, that traditional understanding of an important aspect of our faith.
Prof. Kenneth Dutton
2 June 2012