I have been studying the articles, and have a question about the invocation of the Saints. Now, even as someone who identifies as “Anglo-Catholic”, who is closer to a “Prayerbook Catholick”, I have never, ever thought that st. joseph will sell my house, st. clare would clense my t.v., or st. jusde would find my missing keys. I have also never thought that “flying to the patronage” of the Blessed Mother would “save me”. But, what is doctrinally wrong with the Hail Mary in regards to asking for prayer? How is it different than me asking you for the same?
And Ian writes:
I love the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray the Angelus everyday. There are two versions that I use, one where the refrain goes: ”Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. The other refrain is “Son of Mary, Son of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death”. There are a few other variations in the prayer also. Would you say these prayers contradict classical Anglicanism, and if not, why did they become less popular until the Oxford Movement?
There have also been a smattering of more general “What do Anglicans believe about Mary?” type questions as well. Clearly this is something of interest to many Christians, for a variety of reasons. The more Catholic minded folk tend to ask because they already have some degree of devotion to the Blessed Mother and they do not wish to see that diminished. Many Evangelicals, on the other hand, worry that any kind of devotion to Mary would be a sign that Anglicanism has become a bastion of latent popery, ready to swallow us whole into the belly of the beast.
A Cautious Embrace
The concerns that people have about Mary are not new. Anglicanism has always accepted the first four Ecumenical Councils as authoritative, which means we accept the decree of the First Council of Ephesus in 431 that Mary is to be regarded not merely as Christotokos (the bearer of the Messiah) but as Theotokos (the God-Bearer or the Mother of God). To deny the special place that Mary holds in the history of salvation as the one whom God chose to bear His Son, the one from whom God took human flesh, is to deny the Incarnation itself. Moreover, we affirm what Scripture says in Luke 2, that Mary is “full of grace” and that “all generations shall call [her] blessed.” The Magnificat which is said or sung at Evening Prayer is a daily reminder that Mary is no ordinary woman but a great Christian saint, perhaps the greatest, and certainly the Blessed Virgin Mother of God.
That said, early Anglicans were somewhat careful about what they said about her, out of fear that veneration of one sort or another could easily lead to worship which would be entirely inappropriate. King James I wrote:
For the Blessed Virgin Mary, I yield her that which the Angel Gabriel pronounced of her, and which in her Canticle she prophecied [Sic] of herself, that is, That she is blessed among women, and That all generations shall call her blessed. I reverence her as the Mother of Christ, of whom our Saviour took His flesh, and so the Mother of God, since the Divinity and Humanity of Christ are inseparable. And I freely confess that she is in glory both above angels and men, her own Son (that is both God and man) only excepted. But I dare not mock her, and blaspheme against God, calling her not only Diva but Dea, and praying her to command and control her Son, Who is her God and her Saviour. Nor yet not, I think, that she hath no other thing to do in Heaven than to hear every idle man’s suit and busy herself in their errands, whiles requesting, whiles commanding her Son, whiles coming down to kiss and make love with priests, and whiles disputing and brawling with devils…
This was a popular sentiment among early Anglicans, the rather strange insinuation about Roman priests wanting to have sex with her notwithstanding. Mary was to be honored, above all other saints and even above the angels, but there must not be even a hint that she could be called upon or otherwise related to because to do so would be to open the door to calling upon her instead of her Son for our salvation.
Quite Contrary Thoughts About Mary
Though this is an overreaction, it is an understandable one. Neither Rome nor the East have ever taught that Mary is in any way a kind of second savior. Nonetheless, the popular cult of Mary persists in those communions and at times it seems that there is very little said about Christ that differs from what is said about His mother, particularly in the Roman Church. Medieval Marian piety led prominent theologians such as Bernard of Clairvaux and Duns Scotus to conclude that Mary was not only sinless but that she had been conceived without original sin. Centuries later, this would become dogmatized by papal decree, much to the chagrin of all other Christians. It may not be the last problematic position that Rome takes on Mary either. There continues to exist in the Roman Catholic Church a movement to dogmatize the popular belief that Mary is “Co-Redemptrix” with Christ. It should not be a surprise then that the reformers wished to be cautious.
Mary Makes a Comeback
The Catholic Revival that took place during the Oxford Movement helped to re-establish Marian piety within Anglicanism. Anglican spiritual manuals were produced containing the prayers of the Angelus and other similar Marian devotions. Groups like the Society of Mary were established. Pilgrimage to the Marian shrine at Walsingham became popular amongst Anglicans once again. Many Evangelicals and other Anglicans were scandalized by this, of course, worrying that the same Marian idolatry that they see in Rome might be coming home to nest in the supposedly Reformed Church of England. There is room for disagreement about whether or not any particular element of the Marian revival goes too far.
But on an official level, does adoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary contradict both Scripture and the Anglican formularies? Not necessarily. Certainly the idea of referring to Mary as “Co-Redemptrix” is beyond the pale, but what about a simple prayer like the Hail Mary which is mostly scriptural and which asks the Blessed Mother to pray to her Son on our behalf? As I have written elsewhere, there is a great difference between invocation of saints and advocation of saints. The former involves making a saint into a kind of demi-god who must be appeased in order for you to find your car keys, sell your house, cure your cancer, or whatever it is that a particular saint is supposed to specialize in. The latter, however, is nothing more than what Christians do every day when we ask our friends and loved ones to pray for us. No one should ever be forced to ask a saint to offer a prayer, and all our official collects for various feasts are written directly to God accordingly, but there is also no Biblical warrant to anathematize the same.
One of the best spots to see a modern Anglican understanding of Mary at work is in the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) document produced in 2005 called “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.” There were dissenting voices when this document was released, but by and large it does a nice job of showing the places where Rome and Anglicanism agree and where we disagree about Mary, without any unfortunate insinuations attached.