Anglican, apparition, Blessed Virgin, Catholic, Christian, ecumenism, Evangelical, feminist theology, Flannery O'Connor, geopolitics, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Justin Welby, liberation theology, Mary, Pope Francis, racism, secular, theotokos
We call this a Thing, as Churl says, professing to have a meeting of the ‘wise’ without being wise ourselves. But as Churl screams at the evangelical churches he’s been at, ‘Where the hell have you been?’ he seems to have gotten a variety of responses. Some have shown a lot of love and promised quite a bit of prayer. But he has also quite a bit of criticism from those who don’t know him, precisely the disembodied voice he addresses in his first paragraph. For those of us who dared to share the piece, some of us were subjected to the whims of Protestant polemicists who wanted to debate papal primacy and the use of tradition with us. We were accused of having superiority complexes even as we shared a post that asked where all of our accusers were when Churl (and by extension, others of us on this Thing) were when he/we were wrestling with our faith. Some of us who experienced this also asked, ‘Where the hell were you?’ before we shared that post.
As an Anglican, I stand in solidarity with Churl, regardless of whether he swims the Tiber soon or not. But as a Chinglican, I’d like to give Churl a bit of a reminder. Though Churl doesn’t mention it, one of the common objections to Churl jumping communions is that over there, they pray to this woman called Mary, which means that they love Mary more than Jesus.
For one thing, no Catholic in their right mind prays to Mary; they do talk a lot to her, understand her to continue to dispense the graces of her Son, and venerate her as Queen of Heaven insofar as she is the foremost pilgrim in our journey toward the fusion of nature and grace. For another, this view of Mary, I submit, is neither Catholic nor evangelical. It is Christian, and it brings together the ‘catholic’ and the ‘evangelical’ that we in our small minds have sundered since the Reformation (and arguably even before that). So as a Chinglican, I’d like to give Churl a bit of a reminder: whether he stays on this side or that side of communion with the see of Rome, the Blessed Virgin Mary will be his mother either way. (I realize that this may be a bit of a Flannery O’Connor reading of evangelicals, but Churl thinks that too.)
The rest of this post, then, is addressed to Churl.
Churl, the Blessed Virgin stands beside you. As you cry out in consternation at the evangelical world that abandoned you, Mary is the perfect mother, the Immaculate Conception, the one that John Paul II says in Redemptoris Mater has gone ahead of the pilgrim life of the Church, fulfilling the perfect fusion of nature and grace, bringing the eschaton forward to the present. As much as there will be people who will attack us for having this Marian discussion on our Thing, this conversation lies at the heart of ecumenism, not the new modern ecumenism of the latter half of the twentieth century, but the old ecumenism, as in the ecumenism of the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus. There Mary was defined (contra Nestorius) as the theotokos, the God-bearer, the one who bears God for the life of the world and invites us to share in that divine nature through her human son. For those who might dispute this significance of Mary as it can’t be found explicitly in Scripture and thus seek to police our devotion to the Blessed Virgin, we might in turn ask them how it is that they hold it as orthodox that we believe in God as a Trinity of persons and Jesus as a hypostatic union of divine and human natures, for one finds these definitions precisely in the same set of ecumenical councils that produced the definition of Mary as God-bearer. That this radically ecumenical view of Christian theology may be scandalous to some might be a good thing; in time, we may finally reclaim the shock value that comes of all three of seeing God as Trinity, Mary as God-bearer, and Jesus as God and man.
And it was thus that though I, as an Anglican, once visited a Catholic nun (of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, no less), and she told me, as we prayed contemplatively and extemporaneously together over the future of my life, that she saw the Blessed Virgin standing beside me. I, an Anglican, believed her. Beyond our institutional differences, we were able to see clearly then what we see now in Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, that is, we saw the Spirit moving to bring us together as one despite our the impaired nature of our respective communions. The Spirit also brought my wife into my life a month later. She, a self-identified ‘evangelical,’ shows me daily how to embody the ‘catholic’ spirit in her forgiving spirit, her patient forbearance, and her decisively uncanny ability to see the best in the other. I, who purport to be moving in a ‘catholic’ direction, am forced to live as an ‘evangelical,’ always seeking to frame our everyday lives with the prophetic truth of the Word of God. Appropriating free church theologian Miroslav Volf’s terms in Exclusion and Embrace, the Blessed Virgin is both ‘catholic’ and ‘evangelical.’
The Virgin is ‘catholic’ because whether we are in communion with Rome or not, she is the eschatological fusion of nature and grace in the present. She doesn’t care what we call ourselves institutionally. After all, while the schism of institutions is often politically policed by ideologies (‘Catholics are bad because of x, y, z,’ or ‘evangelicals are bad because of a, b, c’), the Virgin, as James Alison reminds us, keeps our faith from becoming an ideology–precisely what you eloquently protested against in your first piece. She reminds us that God is not interested in ideological police work, but in the redemption of the world in a plane suspended between nature and grace, what Henri de Lubac terms le surnaturel. This is no ideology; it is embodied reality. If it is a superiority complex to have such a mother, then so be it. We know, after all, that we are loved and take joy in that love.
The Virgin is also an ‘evangelical.’ She will draw you to that Word that you desire, that Word that you rightly note many of your evangelical friends protect as inerrant but fail to actually read and live. It is a prophetic word, a word that calls us to bear God in us with the Virgin as the church, to confess her fiat: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum. Be it done to me according to your Word.
Be it done to me, the Virgin prays. Balthasar taught me this one. He showed me that the Virgin’s prayer has never been about what she would do for the Lord, which is how many read the Word and attempt to live it out in their everyday lives. No, the way that the Virgin contemplates and lives the Word is to reflect on how the grace of the Lord is causing her to bear God into the world. It happens to her. It is thus that she reflects on the mysteries of the shepherds coming to the cave where her son is born, the old man and woman in the temple holding her child with joy, her son in the temple debating with the elders. She ponders these things in her heart as the word that is done to her. In many ways, then, the Word that is her Son is our hermeneutic for the Scriptures, but this meditation on Scripture can only be made real as it in turn becomes our hermeneutic for everyday life.
It is thus the Virgin who shows us how to truly be ‘evangelical.’ If ever there were an evangelical statement not co-opted by that movement styling itself as definitively ‘evangelical’ while defining itself as not Catholic, not ecumenical, not liberal, not neo-orthodox, and not fundamentalist, it is the Magnificat. As feminist theologian Rosemary Ruether reminds us, Mary is not a symbol of virgin church power; she is a figure of liberation for the wronged, the one who magnifies the Lord because the old order of powers and dominions is cast down, the poor are shown mercy, and the hungry are fed. Those who reject Mary because they purport to be ‘evangelicals’ fail to see that she is showing them precisely how to be an evangelical, one who proclaims that in her Son, the time is up, the kingdom of God is at hand, the Gospel is unveiled, God is visiting his people, reconciling them as he redeems the world precisely by drawing us into himself, his life suspended between nature and grace.
The Virgin is an evangelical because the Virgin preaches the Gospel, and she stands beside you. She is still preaching, you know, which means, as a Catholic friend I spoke with a few days ago put it to me, all Catholics should believe in women in ministry (the Holy Orders bit may be debatable, but in ministry? Well, yeah!). Those Marian apparitions that the Catholic Church have approved–there’s no monopoly on them, for this is the point of an apparition; it is a concrete embodiment for the life of the world, contra the very notion of an ideology. The apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Juan Diego brought the Americas together because by appearing as a little brown girl, the Virgin taught us that racism is of the devil, that skin colour is a stupid way to judge people, that there is neither European nor indigenous in Christ, but all are one, fused together in our collective redemption. The apparition of our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette Soubirous radically challenged the secularization of the French Revolution, unmasking the powers of the secular as colonial through the voice of a destitute girl saying that she saw the Immaculate Conception without knowing what the Immaculate Conception even was. The apparition of our Lady of Fatima to the three children in Spain was a prophetic word against the destruction wrought by geopolitical ideologies in the twentieth century. The Virgin is an evangelical because the Virgin is a prophet, speaking the Gospel of life into a culture of death so that we all, whether self-identified ‘catholic’ or ‘evangelical’ might hear and live the life of her Son.
This is how it will be, then, regardless of on which side of the Tiber you wind up. We are thus more than merely praying for you to make a good decision. We are praying that you will feel the solidarity of the communion of saints that refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of schism and the beautiful gaze of the Blessed Virgin, our mother who stands beside you and me in this hour and who will be your mother whichever side you end up on.
Chinglican would like to thank one of his evangelical Anglican friends for reading this over for him before posting it.