The Virgin Mary in Recent Ecumenical Dialogues
Jared Wick, S.J.
Gregorianum 81, 1 (2000) 25-57
    There are indications that the dominant theme of future ecumenical discussions will be ecclesiology: what is the nature of the church, how can diverse structures be reconciled, how should the apparently intractable differences between the churches be approached? In such discussion, attention will be given to the Virgin Mary, model of the Church, member of the Communion of Saints, the "preeminent and wholly unique member of the Church." (Vatican II) For this reason, two recent ecumenical dialogues merit careful study: the Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue VIII in the United States (from 1983 to 1990, leading to the study of the One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary and the Report of the Group de Dombes, published in 1997 and 1998, Marie dans le dessein de Dieu et la communion des saints

Both documents affirm that the Virgin Mary was present in the early church and also in the life and preaching of the principal reformers. It was only in the post-Reformation period that a silence regarding Mary enveloped the Protestant Churches. Both documents concur in identifying the principal challenges to agreement regarding Mary: the definitions of 1854 and 1950; the notion of Mary's cooperation with Christ in the work of redemption, and the invocation of Mary.

There is a major difference in the two documents. A standard feature of all the documents of the Groupe de Dombes is "the call to conversion," that is, a call to the churches to reexamine their positions in the light of Scripture, church history and their own traditions. In this spirit, Catholics are encouraged to continue the reforms of Marian devotion as outlined in Lumen gentium and Marialis cultus, and Protestants are challenged to break their silence concerning the role of the Virgin Mary and to return to the position of the founders. It is unfortunate that no similar feature - "a call to conversion" -exists in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue.

A comparison of the two documents indicates a major difference in the way Scripture is interpreted. The Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue begins with historical-critical exegesis, and then attempts to formulate a statement of belief. The Group de Dombes proposes as starting point for the interpretation of Scripture the faith of the Church as expressed in the Creeds. The Creeds provide a Trinitarian, Christological, and ecclesial matrix for interpreting the Scripture.

--Thomas A. Thompson, S.M.

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