Do Anglicans celebrate the Assumption of Mary?

Andrew Goddard writes: I was rather shocked last week to spot in my Twitter feed the following tweet from the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Today we mark the Feast of the #Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Like Mary, let each of us say our yes to God’s call and trust the boundless love of Jesus Christ.

It was a tweet alongside a video of his trip to Walsingham for its national pilgrimage back in May. I later discovered that this was the second tweet of the day on the subject from the Archbishop and that four hours earlier the video had been tweeted and we had been informed:

It was joyful to be at the national pilgrimage to @ShrineOLW earlier this summer. As we celebrate the #Assumption of Mary today, I pray that the example of the mother of God will draw us to Jesus afresh.

So two tweets on the same day making the same point. What was I to assume (pun intended)? I have to confess that my initial thought—given the reference to Mary saying yes to God’s call—was that the Archbishop’s twitter account must be run by a young intern who had confused the assumption with the annunciation (the biblically recorded account of Gabriel announcing she would bear Jesus, Lk 1.26–38). Or perhaps it was a recognition that many Anglicans do believe in the assumption and mark it alongside Christians of other denominations? Or was it simply a desire to highlight his recent Walsingham visit on an appropriate day in the church’s calendar but which was then inappropriately named? (August 15th is in Common Worship—but not the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, 1928 Proposed Prayer Book, or 1980 Alternative Service Book—a festival in which Anglicans celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary). 

Apart from the reference to the assumption, the verbal content of the tweets is excellent and uncontentious: Christ-centred exhortation based on the example of Mary who, because of his orthodox Christology, Archbishop Justin rightly calls “the mother of God” (theotokos). This fits with his pattern of focussing on Christ and with the theme of the Walsingham Festival this year, “Do whatever he tells you” (Mary’s words at the Cana wedding in John 2.5). As he says in the video “It’s about allowing Mary to point us to Jesus and that is for me the centre of this pilgrimage”.

But the basis on which these exhortations are made is surprising: that “we” were on that day “marking” or “celebrating” the “Feast of the Assumption”. To clarify the multiple problems it is helpful to explore three questions:

  1. What is the Assumption?
  2. Does the Church of England mark it?
  3. Should we be believe it and mark it?

The Assumption of Mary

The assumption of Mary refers to a belief concerning how she departed her life on earth. About this, Scripture is silent—we last see her at the start of Acts waiting for the Spirit. As late as the fourth century there was no clear church teaching about the end of her life but shortly after the Council of Ephesus in 431, the first Council to deal explicitly with Mary, this began to change. The Council, on the basis of teaching about Christ as truly God, favoured Cyril and theotokos (God-bearer) over Nestorius and Christotokos as a designation for Mary. Following this, various accounts concerning what happened to Mary began to gain prominent circulation and the event began to be marked by Christians. The “assumption” refers to the belief that Mary’s soul and body were reunited and taken to be with Christ in heaven. In the words of the 2004 Anglican-Roman Catholic (ARCIC) statement on Mary: 

The feast of Mary’s ‘falling asleep’ dates from the end of the sixth century, but was influenced by legendary narratives of the end of Mary’s life already widely in circulation. In the West, the most influential of them are the Transitus Mariae. In the East the feast was known as the ‘dormition’, which implied her death but did not exclude her being taken into heaven. In the West the term used was ‘assumption’, which emphasized her being taken into heaven but did not exclude the possibility of her dying. Belief in her assumption was grounded in the promise of the resurrection of the dead and the recognition of Mary’s dignity as Theotókos and ‘Ever Virgin’, coupled with the conviction that she who had borne Life should be associated to her Son’s victory over death, and with the glorification of his Body, the Church (para 40).

This belief continued to be important in much popular piety and in formal celebrations. Tim Perry in his excellent Mary for Evangelicals (IVP, 2006, see also his The Blessed Virgin Mary with Daniel Kendall, SJ) notes that “By the eighth century, the assumption was widely and popularly believed, even if not officially approved” (p 240). Although the Reformation is usually seen as rejecting much of the church’s belief and practice in relation to Mary, the reality was slightly more complex. Many leading Reformers, for example, held not just to the biblically authorised doctrine of the virgin conception of Christ but to her perpetual virginity. Zwingli kept the Marian festivals, including the Assumption, in the city of Zurich. In this continued acceptance of the assumption, however, he was unusual, and most Anglicans rejected the assumption or held it as adiaphora. Paul Williams in his study of Mary in the Anglican tradition (in Mary: The Complete Resource edited by Tina Beattie and Sarah Jane Boss, here at p251) notes Tyndale (1494–1536) was particularly vehement:

Of what text thou provest hell, will another prove purgatory; another limbo patrum; and another the assumption of our lady: and another shall prove of the same text that an ape hath a tail….

As pertaining to our lady’s body, where it is, or where the body of Elias, of John the evangelist, and many other be, pertaineth not to us to know. One thing we are sure of, that they are where God hath laid them. If they are in hyevaen, we have never the more in Christ: if they be not there, we have never the less … as for me, I commit all such matters unto those idle bellies, which have nought else to do than to move such questions; and give them free liberty to hold what they list, as long as it hurteth not he faith, whether it be so or no:…

He also cites Whitaker (1548–95) who commented:

The papists celebrate the feast of the assumption of the blessed virgin Mary with the utmost honour, and the Rhemists in their notes on Acts 1 praise this custom exceedingly: yet Jerome, in his book to Paula and Eustochium, concerning the assumption of the blessed virgin, says that ‘what is told about the translation of her body is apocryphal’… 

The place of the assumption of Mary thus marked a clear difference between Protestant (including Anglican) and Roman Catholic theology, liturgy and piety. The growth in Marian visions from the mid-19th century onwards gave added support for many Catholics to the belief of Mary’s assumption and pressure grew for it to become formal church teaching. Mary was particularly important in the spirituality and teaching of Pope Pius XII and in November 1950 in Munificentissimus Deus he officially defined the dogma (para 44):

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

The following paragraph added:

Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

It is therefore unsurprising that the 1981 ARCIC report Authority in the Church II stated:

The dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption raise a special problem for those Anglicans who do not consider that the precise definitions given by these dogmas are sufficiently supported by Scripture. For many Anglicans the teaching authority of the bishop of Rome, independent of a council, is not recommended by the fact that through it these Marian doctrines were proclaimed as dogmas binding on all the faithful. Anglicans would also ask whether, in any future union between our two Churches, they would be required to subscribe to such dogmatic statements (para. 30).


Do Anglicans mark the Assumption?

The tweets say that the Archbishop of Canterbury is joining with others (“We”) to “mark the Feast of the #Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary” and “celebrate the #Assumption of Mary today”. The problem is that there is no such marking or celebration within the Church of England and there has not been for 470 years.

August 15th is, since Common Worship, a festival in which we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also the day in which the Roman Catholic Church has the solemnity of the Assumption and the Orthodox Church marks the Dormition. This has, however, never in the post-Reformation Church of England been a celebration or marking of the assumption and in fact the festival may be celebrated on September 8th instead (when the church traditionally marks the birth of Mary).

As we have seen, Anglicans and other churches of the Reformation had significant problems with aspects of Marian piety and teaching, in particular the assumption. These theological disagreements led to changes in Anglican liturgy where in 1549 and 1552 the Calendar initially removed all Marian feasts except the Annunciation and Purification (both events mentioned in the gospels). This only changed in 1561 when, in the words of Colin Podmore, speaking at Walsingham on Mary and the Anglican Tradition:

The Calendar of 1561 is of crucial importance because it saw the return, after those brief breaks that I mentioned, of three of the Marian feasts. From 1561 onwards the Church of England again marked Our Lady’s Conception on 8 December, her Nativity on 8 September, and the Visitation on 2 July. Only the Assumption remained excluded. (Italics added).

Paul Williams similarly notes in his account of the 1561 changes that “the conspicuous continuing omission is the Assumption, which disappeared from Anglican worship in 1549”. He then adds “only partially to return in some twentieth century Anglican calendars”. 

I am unclear whether any Anglican calendars actually formally celebrate the assumption on this day (I’d be surprised but am willing to be proved wrong). The connections made to it liturgically clearly vary in different provinces. Indeed, on careful scrutiny, I discovered (to my surprise) that the Church of England’s own liturgy goes quite some way to help those Anglicans who do believe in the assumption in the way it frames the liturgy for August 15th.

The Church of England collect could be read as affirming a special glorious place in heaven at present to Mary. However, it need not be read as such particularly in the light of other prayers referring to the departed in Church of England liturgy (on which more generally see here) in which we pray “according to your promises, grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom”:

Almighty God, who didst look upon the lowliness of the Blessed Virgin Mary and didst choose her to be the mother of thy only Son: grant that we who are redeemed by his blood may share with her in the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The set readings similarly include some passages which have been traditionally read in support of the assumption, several of which are used in the Roman Catholic Lectionary on August 15th:

  • Psalm 132 is the Psalm for the Second Service. Its verse 8—“‘Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might”—was often cited in Christian tradition with the ark as a type of Mary in defences of the assumption of Mary to be with her ascended son.
  • Psalm 45:10–17 is the Psalm for the Principal Service. This has been read as, in the words of Pius XII in his encyclical pronouncing the dogma, describing Mary “as the Queen entering triumphantly into the royal halls of heaven and sitting at the right hand of the divine Redeemer”.
  • The Old Testament reading of Isaiah 61.10, 11 also could take on new meanings in the context of belief in the assumption: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”.
  • Combined with the above texts and figural/typological hermeneutic, the New Testament lesson of Revelation 11.19–12.6, 10 opening with “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant” would be seen as further confirmation of Mary’s heavenly presence, now alongside “her child…snatched up to God and to his throne”.
  • Although Song of Solomon 2.1–7 (for the Second Service) is not as prominent as other texts from the Song in traditional attempts to defend the doctrine from Scripture (the 1950 papal encyclical refers to 3.6, 4.8 and 6.9) one can see that the words “Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love” could also easily take on new meanings once read with the woman of the Song as a type of Mary if one believes the assumption.

The Episcopal Church in the US also remembers Mary (simply as Saint Mary the Virgin: Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ) on August 15th and although it too does not speak of “the Feast of the Assumption” its collect (also used in the Scottish Episcopal Church (p 37) and in the new ACNA BCP) points even more strongly to Mary’s assumption than that in the Church of England:

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

In short, despite the Archbishop’s tweets and a certain amount of careful ambiguity in liturgical wording and selection of readings, “we” in the Church of England do not have a Feast of the Assumption and have not had since 1549. That is because we do not believe in the doctrine of the Assumption.

Should we believe in the Assumption?

It is beyond question that a number of Anglicans do believe in the Assumption of Mary, perhaps even in the form expressed in the 1950 encyclical. This has been true not just of more catholic Anglicans such as E.L. Mascall but even of those who might be viewed as more liberal theologically such as John Macquarrie who gave a detailed biographical account (in his Mary for All Christians (T&T Clark, 2001 (2nd edn), pp. 82–96) of his journey to the place where “I have come to see the dogma of the Assumption as the expression in appropriate theological symbols of some of the most hopeful affirmations of the Christian faith”. Evangelical New Testament scholar, John Wenham, could also say at a Mariological conference at Walsingham, in a paper then published by Churchman in 1972:

Finally, I see Mary as our forerunner in heaven. I cannot quite accept the dogma of the Assumption as promulgated in 1950, but I can very nearly. I do not think that there is evidence that her earthly body saw no corruption—I find it very difficult to believe that she suddenly disappeared and that this amazing miracle was not widely known in the Early Church—but I do believe that clothed in her spiritual body, she in her full humanity was taken into heaven.

However, as already noted, the Church of England since the Reformation have never formally accepted the assumption of Mary and this has been one of the major divides with Rome (and, in some importantly different ways, with Eastern Orthodox belief). In an attempt to address this, in 2004 ARCIC produced a report on Mary and the Marian dogmas which concluded

that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions (paragraph 60).

This was just one of a number of controversial claimed agreements in the document. It is important that, in the ARCIC report’s own words, “It is not an authoritative declaration by the Roman Catholic Church or by the Anglican Communion”. In fact, the Church of England’s Faith and Order Advisory Group produced a helpful set of rather critical papers in 2008 including ones from an evangelical perspective by Martin Davie (pp 49–65 and also in Anvil) and David Hilborn (pp 84–90). In February 2011, General Synod passed the following very cautious motion from the Council for Christian Unity and rejected an amendment explicitly welcoming the report:

That this Synod, affirming the aim of Anglican – Roman Catholic theological dialogue “to discover each other’s faith as it is today and to appeal to history only for enlightenment, not as a way of perpetuating past controversy” (Preface to The Final Report, 1982), and in the light of recent steps towards setting up ARCIC III:

 (i) note the theological assessment of the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in the FOAG briefing paper GS 1818 as a contribution to further dialogue;

 (ii) welcome exploration of how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a common faith and spirituality, based on the Scriptures and the early Ecumenical Councils, with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary;

 (iii) request that, in the context of the quest for closer unity between our two communions, further joint study of the issues identified in GS 1818 be undertaken – in particular, the question of the authority and status of the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Anglicans; and

 (iv) encourage Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical colleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours.

It therefore cannot be claimed that following the ARCIC Report the Church of England has accepted the doctrine of the assumption. 

For evangelicals there is certainly the need for a rediscovery of Mary’s importance after often over-reacting against the place she is given in Catholic teaching and piety. There are signs of this happening as in Timothy George’s 2007 article, Tim Perry’s book and the 2009 Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) statement on Mary taking the same title as the Walsingham Festival this year. As Perry writes, “we can and should affirm the role of God’s grace throughout Mary’s life, so that, as a result of such grace, she is indeed an example to believers and that her example precisely is her grace-enabled perseverance” (p. 285). However, that sentence from Perry begins “While immaculate conception and bodily assumption are notions closed to traditional Protestants…” and, as Davie and Hilborn point out, there are good reasons why this is so and should remain the case. Even if evangelicals need to recover a proper place for Mary in their theology, that place needs to be biblically and theologically defensible and so cannot embrace Mary’s assumption into heaven as part of the teaching of the church. 

Hilborn sums up the three classic evangelical objections to the Roman Catholic teaching on the assumption: the lack of biblical authority (as illustrated above, the claimed biblical support depends on peculiar readings of particular texts into which belief in the assumption is read); its relatively late doctrinal development; and its detraction from a focus on Christ. 

Davie looks at alleged biblical precedents for Mary’s assumption (as opposed to the typological and figural readings noted above) such as Elijah or Enoch but then notes that

there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that what happened to these two individuals provides a precedent for the fate of either Mary or any other Christian believer. In the New Testament the only person who enters into glory in body and soul prior to the final resurrection of the dead is Christ Himself and there is no suggestion that this will be true of anyone else… there is no general biblical pattern of especially godly people being assumed body and soul into heaven that could then apply to Mary: in the Bible itself what happened to Enoch and Elijah is seen as exceptional rather than normative.

He also highlights that while it is true that believers have been with raised with Christ already, “we shall only experience this fully at the end of time. (Rom. 8:18–25; 2 Cor. 5:1–5) and so we distort the biblical pattern if we suggest that “in Mary at least this tension has already been overcome”. Even more seriously, there is the risk that in talking of Mary’s assumption we give to her “a role that in the New Testament belongs solely to Christ. In the New Testament it is Christ and not Mary or anyone else who foreshadows what will be when the new creation is revealed”.

As the ECT statement says, applying the Church of England’s Article 6, on the sufficiency of Scripture, to the assumption:

At one level, the doctrine of Mary’s bodily assumption applies to Mary what the Bible declares to have happened to the prophets Enoch and Elijah—that she was taken into heaven, body and soul, at the end of her earthly life. In this way, Mary is believed to have anticipated what many Evangelicals refer to as the rapture of the Church at the return of Christ. Mary’s assumption presupposes a number of things that are indeed a part of our common Christian confession: the reality of heaven; the communion of saints; the overcoming of death; the resurrection of the flesh; the certain triumph of Jesus Christ over sin, hell, and the grave; belief in the literal, visible return of Christ in glory; the goodness of creation; and the unity of soul and body for all eternity. None of these biblical truths, however, requires belief in the bodily assumption of Mary, which is without biblical warrant (the vision of Revelation 12:1-6 says nothing about Mary’s body being taken into heaven) and has no basis in the early Christian tradition.

The apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus (1950), in which Pope Pius XII promulgated the dogma of the assumption, does not take a position with respect to Mary’s death, yet this is a question of some theological importance. If Mary was taken to heaven without death in the manner of Enoch and Elijah, was this because her body was incorruptible and thus not subject to the fact that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)? On the other hand, if she actually died (without having sinned) and then was raised from the dead to heavenly glory, then her resurrection would seem to be parallel to that of Christ who alone died and rose again for our justification (Rom. 4:24-25). Both opinions are present in the apocryphal writings that form the basis of later legends (such as Christ’s surrender of the heavenly kingdom to Mary at her coronation in glory), but it seems prudent to follow here the silence of the Scriptures and the reticence of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries.

In short, there is absolutely no biblical evidence for Mary’s assumption. The biblical truths that it is claimed to be consonant with and to bring to a focus are either truths which relate uniquely to Christ or to all believers. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest that the pattern and outcome of Mary’s departure from this life was any different from that of any other faithful follower of her son. To claim there is theological rationale for distinguishing her journey from ours is, furthermore, to make a biblically unwarranted distinction which risks detracting from the unique work of the Saviour she bore. It is through Jesus’ full humanity that our human nature has been redeemed and entered into glory and it is Jesus who in his person as truly God and truly human now intercedes for us at the Father’s right hand.

Conclusion

Predictably, responses on Twitter and elsewhere showed how divided Christians remain in relation to Mary. The Archbishop’s tweets and scenes in the video delighted some and enraged others. Some responses highlighted how Christians fail to engage with each other well or respect different traditions, something Archbishop Justin consistently challenges as he urges us to disagree well. Others, presuming he sends or approves all his tweets himself (which is often not the case for high profile figures), offered their own assessments of Archbishop Justin in the light of how they already viewed him. These too were not always charitable.

The first key question, however, is simply whether the tweets were right in what they said about the assumption. They are right if the “We” refers to “some Christians” rather than “We in the Church of England” or “We Anglicans” although the terminology favours the Roman Catholic West over the Orthodox East (it would have been better for one tweet to use “Assumption” and the next to speak of “Dormition” if that was the intention). But “we” in the Church of England (and the overwhelming majority, perhaps the whole, of the Anglican Communion) have no such Feast. We do not as a church believe in what the Feast marks in other parts of the church. In suggesting otherwise, the tweets therefore significantly misrepresented Anglican doctrine and practice.

The next question is whether any of this matters. In one sense this could all be dismissed as making a mountain of an article out of a molehill of a few words in a couple of tweets. But that is to forget the significance of what appears in the name of the Archbishop of Canterbury, even on Twitter, if it touches on matters of theological controversy. 

Another reason it matters is the deeper issue of different approaches to issues on which the church is divided. We cannot and should not deny that different traditions exist and that some of our divisions arise from doctrinal disagreements which are long-standing and significant. Attempts are, however, sometimes made to achieve greater Christian unity by going down that path but ultimately this undermines ecumenical endeavours. The ARCIC report on Mary failed to be received by the Church of England in large part because the Anglicans involved in it were not honest about the real differences, including on the assumption of Mary. It is therefore not surprising if some read the “We” in the tweets as suggesting that celebrating the Feast of the Assumption is part of the teaching and pattern of Church of England worship or implying such doctrinal disagreements are unreal, unsubstantial or unimportant. This understandably upsets and offends many faithful Anglicans, adding fuel to some of the already fiery disputes. 

Unity among Anglicans and ecumenically is much better served by being clear about, explaining, and exploring our different beliefs and practices and then seeking to deepen mutual understanding and bonds of Christian love across our doctrinal divides. Ten years ago, Evangelicals and Catholics Together sought to follow this path in relation to Mary and their joint statement ends with these powerful words:

As brothers and sisters in Christ who are in lively communion with the saints on earth and the saints in heaven, we together pray—in words Richard John Neuhaus composed for us before he died:

Almighty and gracious God, Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was in the fullness of time born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from whom he received our human nature by which, through his suffering, death, and glorious resurrection, he won our salvation, accept, we beseech you, our giving thanks for the witness of Mary’s faith and the courage of her obedience.

Grant to us, we pray, the faithfulness to stand with her by the cross of your Son in his redemptive suffering and the suffering of your pilgrim Church on earth. By the gift of your Spirit, increase within us a lively sense of our communion in your Son with the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. May she who is the first disciple be for us a model of faith’s response to your will in all things; may her “Let it be with me according to your word” be our constant prayer; may her “Do whatever he tells you” elicit from us a more perfect surrender of obedience to her Lord and ours.

Continue to lead us, we pray, into a more manifest unity of faith and life so that the world may believe and those whom you have chosen may, with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, rejoice forever in your glory. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and forever.

Amen.


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162 thoughts on “Do Anglicans celebrate the Assumption of Mary?”

  1. Aren’t we talking about mysteries we cannot hope to fully define?

    People will probably have different beliefs on Mary. I think we can live with that.

    Personally, I believe that Mary is already risen and present in eternity, in the felicity and grace of the household of God, in the physical resurrection.

    I believe that we may ask Mary to intercede for us, and collaborate in our prayers to God. I don’t often but I sometimes feel prompted to.

    I also believe Mary may sometimes intervene unilaterally in our lives, though that may be uncommon.

    I have no idea whether Mary was sinless or not. It doesn’t trouble me either way. Perhaps she was just very pure.

    In one sense, the term ‘Mother of God’ could be explored spiritually as a way of seeing Mary as herself an expression of God, of the maternal God, but not everyone would choose to do this.

    Fundamentally, I think we have mysteries at work, that can neither be fully explained and defined by scriptural text, nor fully understood by theologians. On the theological map we maybe enter ‘terra incognita’ and sometimes perhaps it is no bad thing that we acknowledge limits to our narratives and control.

    It is fantastic that the divine feminine can be celebrated through the conduit of the Holy Virgin and theotokos. This has been a deep impulse in Christianity for countless centuries, and in my view much needed and popularly understood.

    Personally I believe Mary reflects the female divinity of God, who emanates through her.

    • ‘Mysteries we cannot hope to define’ is what I see as wrong about the liberal position. It excludes the possibility of falsehood. Which is why, as a position, it must be certainly wrong and unreal. Because in real life, many things are false.

      You are basically saying – we know *that* x is true but we do not know *how*. But if the question is so intractable that you do not know ‘how’ it is true, it will very often be the case that you cannot *know* ‘that’ it is true either.

      How many things in real life fall into the category ‘We are absolutely sure that it is true, yet we know so little about it (!) that we cannot explain any of the mechanics’? Yet in liberal (or sometimes catholic) theology practically every question falls into this very odd minority category. Unless it is a cop out of course.

      If you confessedly know so little about something, it follows that it is unlikely that you ‘know’ that it is true. More likely, it is sociologically a requirement of your people group to treat it as true.

      • Theological “knowledge” is of course different in kind to empiricist observation of the world around us, and the most orthodox Christianity imaginable still emphasizes the awesomen mystery of the Godhead. If anything, it diminishes God’s greatness to compare him to things in the materials world.

        • Yes, but explain to me how you know which particular things you do and do not ‘know’ theologically. And is it not against clarity, and rather devious, to use ‘know’ in such very different senses simultaneously? It would be quite easy to choose another word. The whole area is ripe for wishful thinking, ideology and control.

          • I’m sure we’ve covered this before, but regardless, since theological claims aren’t open to scientific study, I don’t claim to “know” theology like I know how the tides move and the earth orbits. Faith is a better word.

            Since theology’s different in kind, best I can do is extrapolate from what I do know (from the available evidence): Jesus of Nazareth lived in 1st century Palestine, taught the Kingdom, was crucified, and immediately after his death, his followers proclaimed his resurrection and his movement fanned out across the plains of the Earth. Theology’s built upon that scaffold.

          • I’m sure we’ve covered this before, but regardless, since theological claims aren’t open to scientific study, I don’t claim to “know” theology like I know how the tides move and the earth orbits. Faith is a better word.

            I don’t think it is a better word. Theological claims aren’t open to scientific study, no — they’re closer in kind to the claim that, say, the three angles of a triangle on a plane add up to a straight line.

            I wouldn’t say ‘faith’ is a very good word to use there. I don’t have faith that those angles do add up to a straight line. I know it.

          • But ‘faith’ is not a biblical word, so cannot be better only worse. The biblical pistis does not map onto our ‘faith’. The extent to which it does not do so can be seen by the fact that it translates ‘belief’ as well, which is not at all the same as ‘faith’ in English. But the semantic range of pistis is not especially close either to the English ‘faith’ or to the English ‘belief’. So, no.

          • James
            Just a tweak: Jesus of Nazareth did not live in C1st Palestine – he lived in Nazareth in Judea, in the land of Israel- given in perpetuity to Abraham’s ancestors. Palestine was a name that stuck in the C2nd which was given as a Roman slur against the Jews, an attempt to eradicate their name and claim to be land. The Romans’ renamed Israel Palestine for utterly anti-Semitic reasons. I know that won’t be why you did – it is a convention widely used – but wholly and historically inaccurate. Jesus was a Jew and not a Palestinian.

          • “the land of Israel- given in perpetuity to Abraham’s ancestors”

            Well, that’s what the victors claimed… step back and try to recognise the history: the land wasn’t exactly “given”… it was *taken*… by invasion and by clearing the existing inhabitants off the land.

            The same thing occurred in the 20th Century, when countless Palestinian families were usurped and the land taken over. To be fair, both groups do have historical claims to the land, but one could equally call the land Palestine or Israel. In Jesus’s day, I admit, Israel or Judaea.

            Politically today, if we don’t acknowledge the equal right to call the land Palestine, we are mandating the theft and usurpation suffered by the Palestinian people.

            Regarding the alleged ‘gift’ of the land as described in the Old Testament, that was a victors’ and an invaders’ narrative, claiming a mandate from God to usurp a whole people, to ethnically cleanse the land, to murder innocent children, so the whole background of Palestine/Israel is highly charged, but we need to be careful about taking the biblical narrative and claim at face value.

            We should not use God to justify bad deeds.

          • we need to be careful about taking the biblical narrative and claim at face value

            Do we need to be equally careful about taking the Biblical narrative of the resurrection at face value? The incarnation? Miracles? Paul’s conversion? The beatitudes? God being love?

            Are there any bits of the Bible we should take at face value? Why? What makes them different?

          • We should be careful about *all* the Biblical narratives, just like – as a nurse – I should be careful about everything a patient says to me, trying to understand symptoms, trying to discern the reliable and the less reliable. We should use our critical skills, to try to understand what is factual statement and what is subjectively influenced.

            Do I think the narratives of the resurrection are ‘de facto’ reliable. No, not completely. Do I think they are true. Yes, I do. Why? Because encounter with God has led me sufficiently to believe. Encounter with Jesus Christ.

            Does that mean that everything in the Bible should be accepted at face value as fact and truth? No. Why should it? I’m not afraid if some bits are less reliable, more culturally limited, than others.

            I’m not looking for factual proof.

          • Do I think the narratives of the resurrection are ‘de facto’ reliable. No, not completely. Do I think they are true. Yes, I do. Why? Because encounter with God has led me sufficiently to believe. Encounter with Jesus Christ.

            Do you have any actual reason to think you really did encounter Jesus, though, and weren’t just hallucinating?

          • And how, you inevitably ask, can I tell and be sure that any one statement is true? I suppose you will say religion just becomes subjective, pick and mix, believe what you want to believe. You can say that.

            All I will reply is that I find profound wisdom and insight in some of the bible narratives trying to make sense of encounter with God, but that they are also fallible and human and culturally influenced, but that doesn’t matter to me, because the Bible is simply the conduit.

            What matters is opening up to God ourselves, and God flows through the conduit of the Bible, as God also flows through many things. Through music, through stories, through testimony, through human encounters, through compassion, through suffering, through creativity, through nature, through many many things. They can all be conduits for the flow of God’s love, and so can the Bible.

            And then… we have God-given intelligence, feeling, conscience, sensitivity… through which we may ‘pick up the vibe’… and open to the presence of God in our hearts, in our very own hearts!

            And I think these are the ways God births our relationship and trust.

            Like a mother, who gives birth to us, and then watches us grow, and stumble, and grow some more. And we grow through relationship, and quietness, and trust.

          • S: “Do you have any actual reason to think you really did encounter Jesus, though, and weren’t just hallucinating?”

            Was Mary hallucinating when she encountered Jesus in the Garden?

            You know people. You recognise them.

            And through the habit and practice of prayer you grow to know (and trust) them more.

            I’m not sure I need ‘reasons’ for recognising Jesus. I think God does that for us. God opens our hearts, our minds, our eyes.

            What makes you believe that it’s Jesus when *you* encounter him? It seems quite a strange question. It’s faith. It’s recognition. He’s just there.

            The amazing thing is Jesus is present, right in the centre of our souls, longing each day for us to open our hearts and minds to his presence there. Jesus is real. Jesus is eternal fact. Don’t ask me to prove that. Ask God if you like. He’s just there!

          • “Do you have any actual reason to think you really did encounter Jesus, though, and weren’t just hallucinating?”

            Was Mary hallucinating when she encountered Jesus in the Garden?

            No; but you are not Mary.

            You know people. You recognise them.

            So you saw Jesus before He died? I know it’s impolite to ask your age but wow, that’s impressive.

            I’m not sure I need ‘reasons’ for recognising Jesus. I think God does that for us. God opens our hearts, our minds, our eyes.

            So do certain chemicals, I hear…

            What makes you believe that it’s Jesus when *you* encounter him?

            I’ve never encountered Jesus. I don’t expect to, until after I die.

            But I have woken up in the night and thought I saw someone in the room, before I realised it was just the shadows on the wall. So I know that perception is unreliable.

            The amazing thing is Jesus is present, right in the centre of our souls, longing each day for us to open our hearts and minds to his presence there. Jesus is real. Jesus is eternal fact. Don’t ask me to prove that. Ask God if you like. He’s just there!

            I just asked. Answer came there none.

          • I’ve given you honest and forthright answers, S. Anyway, I’m calling it a day here, because I can see this contributes little to Ian’s topic, and as Andrew says, this is theory talking across theory, and face to face relationship is more real and interactive and substantial. It’s the same with God. I’m left trying to understand how you can have a relationship with Jesus if you have never encountered him. Christians seem to have diverse paths to walk, but I always supposed that relationship involved some kind of encounter. I mean, in prayer, that surely involves some experience of a relationship with God, a tenderness, a recognition that God is present and God cares, some kind of actual encounter? The give and take of relationship. The recognition of that lovely presence of God that comes with the habitual practice of prayer. Or is prayer all hallucination too (to redeploy your term)? I guess we have to trust even more, if we don’t actually encounter God. I do find that sometimes, in contemplation, when God is being stand-offish (sorry, Beloved, but you know what I mean). But I do believe God wants to be encountered. I think God wants (and invites) relationship. And not just as Master and servant. In relationship with God we serve one another. We want to be with one another. Incidentally, and in conclusion, S, I don’t at all think the God you believe in is not real. I believe the God you worship is the God I worship. I believe we find our communion in the eternal household of God in Jesus Christ. So if you think I worship some kind of ‘other’ God, some kind of fake God, then what can I do except appeal to God to judge, because my citizenship is in heaven. Let God be the judge, but meanwhile, let us try to live and act kindly, and here I conclude our conversation.

          • I’ve given you honest and forthright answers, S.

            From God, answer came there none, I mean.

            I believe the God you worship is the God I worship.

            Well, I can tell you for sure that that is absolutely not true.

          • Dear Susannah
            We don’t get to pick and mix from God’s revelation in his inspired written word. God is who he is in his Word, not who an individual thinks he may be existing inside all of us. And the ways of God revealed in the Word of God show he gave the Jewish people in perpetuity the land now called Israel. He speaks, promises, acts, fulfills, and stands by such. I won’t always understand his economy. His ways are not mine nor his thoughts mine. But you question his ways and his thoughts and reject what don’t conform to your own preferred ways and thoughts. Or indeed, you say this and that bit of his word are not true. So you become the inquisitor of scripture, the arbiter and interpreter of truth about God. This may work for you but it won’t work for anyone else. If you reject the God of the Bible, excising all the bits you feel uncomfortable with, and remodel a god who only decrees and acts in a way that you approve, then what we are left with is no longer the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but a DIY God. If you and your feelings and your experiences are the determining basis of who God is then your God is, as Feuerbach noted, a projection of you, writ large. If we reject what Scripture reveals of God we reject the God revealed in Scripture.

          • Except of course that is to completely misrepresent what Susannah and many others are saying. Deliberately mis-represent.

            The issue is not about God but about whether scripture fully, properly and without any kind of error represents God.

            If it does, then what you say is correct – although you will still have a hard job explaining why God’s mind changes here and there, and why God’s expression is different at different times of history.

            If it doesn’t, but instead gives us various and incomplete pictures of God that are attempts to express the inexpressible (or as Colin Morris once said ‘eff the ineffable’), then what you say is incorrect.

            The early Church Fathers said that words were ‘helpful to man rather than descriptive of God’. Susannah is not picking and choosing. She is simply indicating which of those thousands of words and pictures in the bible are helpful and ring true to the experience of the holy spirit in her life and the life of the world. Just as the many biblical writers do. God’s word was not closed when the canon of scripture was fixed. If it was, then it limits God. And God has no limits.

            You are making a God out of the bible Simon and it won’t do. The bible helps us to understand God as others have understood God. It’s sufficient. But it isn’t the whole picture. We will never get the whole picture. We see through a glass darkly.

          • A brilliant response. Thank you, Andrew.

            I don’t need to say anything. Nor do I want to.

            I have saved your words and Simon’s to my hard drive, for future use and reflection.

            Both of you, have a great day!

          • The issue is not about God but about whether scripture fully, properly and without any kind of error represents God.

            If you think that the Bible contains a mix of truth and error (as you obviously do) then how do you separate the truth from the error? What criteria, heuristics, princples do you use to work out which bits of the Bible are true and which are the mistakes?

          • God’s word was not closed when the canon of scripture was fixed

            Does that mean you think there are other writings which are just as God-inspired as those in the Bible? Could you give some examples?

          • “Does that mean you think there are other writings which are just as God-inspired as those in the Bible? Could you give some examples?”

            Yep – the real life lives of the Saints. Take your pick.

            As to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ in the bible. Have answered this many times before. You will have to look back through the many pages where we covered that.

          • Yep – the real life lives of the Saints. Take your pick.

            All Christians are saints, right? So you mean you think a biography about any Christian’s life would be just as inspired, and just as valid to draw theological lessons from, as the Bible? So you think that, say, Surprised By Joy is just as inspired and just as good for drawing doctinre fomr as the Bible?

            As to ‘truth’ and ‘error’ in the bible. Have answered this many times before. You will have to look back through the many pages where we covered that.

            I don’t think you ever gave an actual answer as to how to tell which bits are true and which aren’t, you just said something vague like, ‘I use reason, tradition and experience’. You didn’t explain what principles of reason you use, for example, or how you determine what is true and what is false in tradition.

            If you have could you give a reference?

          • Can’t give a reference I’m afraid – too busy for that! You are quite capable of searching. End of conversation on that.

            And I mean the ‘lives’ of the saints, not books about…. The word of God is not just written in books. It’s written in the lives of real people. And of course was primarily written in the life of a real human being. The lives of the saints follow him.

          • Can’t give a reference I’m afraid – too busy for that! You are quite capable of searching. End of conversation on that.

            Okay, well in that case we’ll just have to agree that you did not in fact give any such description of how to separate out the truth from the error in the Bible, as you refuse to back up your claim that you did with a reference.

            And I mean the ‘lives’ of the saints, not books about…. The word of God is not just written in books. It’s written in the lives of real people. And of course was primarily written in the life of a real human being. The lives of the saints follow him.

            You say the word of God is not ‘just’ written in books. So you think it is written in books, as well as in other places, like the ‘lives of the saints’, but let’s leave that aside as being practically meaningless (how do you even read the life of a saint?).

            So the question is, which books?

            Clearly it’s written in the books of the Bible. Do you think it’s also written in any other books? If so, could you give examples?

          • I don’t *have to agree* any such thing! And I most certainly don’t. If you want the references that badly look them up yourself. And if you want a conversation with me that badly agree where we can meet to have it. For the moment on here it is ended. I was talking to Simon and Susannah and I look forward to Simon’s response *if* he wants to give one.

          • I don’t *have to agree* any such thing! And I most certainly don’t. If you want the references that badly look them up yourself.

            The person who makes the claim has to back it up; surely that’s logical? Burden of proof is on the person advancing the case.

            So if you don’t back up the claim, you concede the point.

            And if you want a conversation with me that badly agree where we can meet to have it.

            I’ve been clear I have no desire for a private conversation. I think all discussion on these matters should be out in the open, in public.

          • Faulty logic again S. The person who wants the answer has to do the research if they really want it, having been told it is available.
            Have a good day!

          • The person who wants the answer has to do the research if they really want it, having been told it is available.

            But it’s not available, because you never gave it. So searching would just be a waste of my time, a wild goose chase.

          • Andrew
            I object to you stating I have deliberately misrepresented Susannah et al. I merely state the obvious – if you edit out the parts of scripture that reveal God acting in a way you object to, then you place yourself over God. Susannah et al have regularly stated that you reject as authoritative portions of scripture or revelations of God based on how you feel God is to you

    • I fully admit, my view of Mary’s schizophrenic: historically, I believe that she was a normal human woman who gave birth to Jesus of Nazareth and his siblings; but I find the theological Mary constructed by centuries of Catholic doctrine emotionally powerful (while acknowledging the many feminist objections).

      So, I’m quite comfortable nodding along when evangelicals emphasize Mary’s humanity; but, although I don’t share them, fully acknowledge the power of the Marian dogmas.

      • So, I’m quite comfortable nodding along when evangelicals emphasize Mary’s humanity; but, although I don’t share them, fully acknowledge the power of the Marian dogmas.

        Isn’t an idea which is emotionally powerful, but false, a rather dangerous thing though?

          • It can be, but since this stuff’s all unverifiable, it’s not “false” like some testable fact is.

            Well, indeed, it’s false like logical positivism is.

          • Given that there is an infinite number of things that is false for every one thing that is true, ‘false’ is the default option.

          • Andrew,
            That is an assertion without explanation.
            What is the Gospel? What is the Good News? Is it in opposition, in tension to bad news?
            Does it include the whole of the Triune God, pre existent Christ, incarnation, life, atonement, death, bodily resurrection and return of Christ.
            What is it Andrew? What do you actually believe?

          • What is it Andrew? What do you actually believe?

            Oh, believe me, I’ve tried, but all you’ll get is, ‘I can say the creeds without crossing my fingers.’

          • No S: what you get is that I would be happy to meet you, correspond with you, discuss with you and establish a personal relationship, which is how discussions about the gospel are effective. The offer is the she for Geoff.

          • And Geoff, the stuff about inerrancy in that article. Yep, fine. That’s basic stuff.
            But let’s say the bible claimed the world was flat. Or that the sun revolved around the earth. It would be in error now, but of course reflected what people believed when the texts were written.
            And yet another possible approach: what if God’s mind had actually *changed* about something written in the bible?

          • what you get is that I would be happy to meet you, correspond with you, discuss with you and establish a personal relationship, which is how discussions about the gospel are effective.

            Wow… so anybody who’s ever written a book, an article, a thesis on theology has just been wasting their effort?

            I guess it’s a view but it makes it all the odder that you spend your time reading such articles on a website.

            Anyway. As before, I don’t see the point of non-public discussion. Obviously neither of us is going to change our minds so the only possible point of the conversation is to allow spectators to determine which of us is correct.

          • S: you get to know what people believe by being with them understanding them, knowing about their lives, their context, seeing what they do. It’s interpersonal. You don’t get to know what people believe by shouting across the Internet.
            It’s about incarnation. A key belief.

          • you get to know what people believe by being with them understanding them, knowing about their lives, their context, seeing what they do.

            Only if they are illiterate. If they are able to express themselves in writing, then you get a better idea of what they believe by reading what they themselves write about what they believe, and by asking questions when they are unclear.

            Otheriwse you’re left trying to back-form motives from behaviours, which is a process fraught with error.

            Far better, if someone can write the answer, to get them to write it down, so it can then be judged to decide whether they are correct in their belief or not.

            You don’t seem illiterate. Therefore you ought to explain what you believe in writing, and I the same, so those who look on can judge between us.

            It’s about incarnation. A key belief.

            It’s nothing to do with the incarnation, as neither of us is God incarnate.

          • S: faith is a living thing. You write theories in a book. Christian faith isn’t a theory to be proved, as Jame and i have pointed out many times.

          • Christian faith isn’t a theory to be proved, as Jame and i have pointed out many times.

            Christian faith is a series of claims about facts: that the universe was created by God; that sin corrupted it; that God became a man in order to save it; that Jesus rose form the dead, among others.

            What matters is whether these claims are true or not. If they are not true, then we are all wasting our time and we are the most pitiable, deluded fools who ever existed. If they are not tue than all our hope is in vain and we will die and cease to exist having thrown our lives away on a lie.

            So no, you’re wrong. Christian faith is about proof. Because it’s about truth, and the truth is all that matters.

          • Please prove it for me then S

            Well, at least as regards to the resurrection, we have eyewitness accounts which I think are reliable. The incarnation then follows because how else could Jesus rise fomr the dead than that He was God?

            If you don’t think the eyewitness accounts are reliable then I don’t see how you can possibly believe that it is true. So why do you believe it’s true?

          • Once again you are not offering proof. You are offering statements of faith and belief from salvation history and even making assumptions about one of the things.

            I’m sorry – as always, no proof there.

          • Once again you are not offering proof. You are offering statements of faith and belief from salvation history and even making assumptions about one of the things.

            You think eyewitness statements aren’t proof?

            Good grief, what do you think even happens in courts?

            Should we let out all the murderers and rapists who were convicted by eyewitness testimony? Seems you do, if you don’t think eyewitness statements are proof of anything…

            Anyway, you still haven’t said what reasons you have for believing the truth of Christianity’s claims. Do you have any? Or do you not even believe those claims are true? Are you one of these trendy-vicar types who doesn’t think it matters whether it’s true or not, just how the stories make us feel?

          • I am not querying proof of the resurrection.

            “The incarnation then follows because how else could Jesus rise fomr the dead than that He was God?”

            This is the part I am querying S. Lazarus was also God? Tabitha was also God?

          • I don’t think God is meant to be “proved”. I think God is meant to be *trusted*.

            And trust springs from relationship.

            So I believe the basis of faith in God is prayer, encounter, tenderness, feeling, relationship… and receptivity to love.

            Even then we don’t have proof that can prove God is real. I don’t think that’s what God has sought to provide. Rather, encounter with God, and opening to God, is a lived out relationship.

            And faith equates to trust: trust in who God is in terms of God’s love, God’s fidelity, God’s givenness, God’s tenderness.

            I don’t think faith is an academic theory. It’s an opening of the heart to God, and its trust. It’s a relationship of person with person. For me, it’s a relationship with Jesus Christ. I found that helped by the Bible. But the Bible doesn’t prove him. The Bible leads and coaxes us into relationship. It’s a trust that doesn’t depend on proof.

          • I am not querying proof of the resurrection.

            Ah. So you agree I have provided proof of that. Good.

            So what reason do you have for believing in Christianity?

          • I don’t think God is meant to be “proved”. I think God is meant to be *trusted*.

            Yes, but we have already established that the God you believe in, and the God I believe in, are totally different.

            I do not think the God you believe in is real — I think you made him up.

            (And some people think the same about the God I believe in, as established on the other page re: the God I believe in being ‘a monstrous idol’.)

          • S: by your reckoning – you might even call it logic – Lazarus and Tabitha are also God incarnate. How do you explain that?

          • by your reckoning – you might even call it logic – Lazarus and Tabitha are also God incarnate. How do you explain that?

            They didn’t raise themselves by their own power. Only God incarnate can do that.

            So, what reason do you have for believing Christianity to be true? Do you even believe Christianity is true at all?

          • Ah – I see you are now saying that Jesus raised himself by his own power! Your creativity gets even greater.

            As to your question – I refer you to my answer at 8.19am and my invitation to meet.

            And as to the biblical accounts. As I have said many times before – these are not transcripts of tape recordings. They are not written down by a stenographer in a court room. So none of your ‘proof’ is ever going to be able to be compared to that.

            But Jesus raising himself! This is a first…..

          • Ah – I see you are now saying that Jesus raised himself by his own power! Your creativity gets even greater.

            Yes. God raised Jesus. Jesus is God. The power that raised Jesus was Jesus’s own power. To claim otherwise is to rend the parts of the Trinity asunder and to believe in three gods, not one.

            As to your question – I refer you to my answer at 8.19am and my invitation to meet.

            And as I replied, that would be pointless. So can you please answer the question so that those reading along can judge your answer?

            And as to the biblical accounts. As I have said many times before – these are not transcripts of tape recordings. They are not written down by a stenographer in a court room. So none of your ‘proof’ is ever going to be able to be compared to that.

            Nevertheless, I have answered your question. You may disagree with my answer, which is always your right, but that is my answer. So can you please answer mine: what reason do you have for thinking Christianity is true?

          • It’s true because it’s good news and it works.
            (This doesn’t happen in sound bites and short phrases S. Much longer, fuller answers needed. That can only happen when we meet. So please don’t ask the same question again.)

          • It’s true because it’s good news and it works.

            Well, the first of those is obviously rubbish: the fact that something is ‘good news’ is no reason at all to think it’s true. Scientists have solved climate change! That’s great news, isn’t it? Pity it’s not true.

            The second… well, if something works then it certainly suggests it’s true. It’s circumstantial evidence, at least. The semiconductors in modern computer chips rely on calculations from quantum physics and they seem to work, most of the time, so that suggests quantum mechanics might be true.

            But in this case I think you need to explain further. What do you mean by, ‘it works’? I mean, by ‘works’ presumably you mean that it saves people from Hell and they are raised to enternal life in the presence of God. That is after all the point. That’s why Jesus came into the world. So you have proof that people have been raised to eternal life, do you? Do share.

            (This doesn’t happen in sound bites and short phrases S. Much longer, fuller answers needed. That can only happen when we meet. So please don’t ask the same question again.)

            I’ll ask until you answer (there doesn’t seem to be any character limit on the text entry box so ‘longer, fuller answers needed’ is not an excuse).

            If you continue to refuse, then I invite anyone still reading to draw their own conclusions about what motives you might have for being so evasive.

          • Invite all you like S. I’m not refusing. I’m saying how I will do it.
            Presumably people also draw conclusions from your refusal to say who you are. “Don’t communicate with anonymous correspondents” I was once told. It’s good advice.

          • Invite all you like S. I’m not refusing.

            Then answer.

            “Don’t communicate with anonymous correspondents” I was once told. It’s good advice.

            Not as good as, ‘Play the ball, not the man.’

          • I don’t think Andrew’s being evasive at all. This is not the right place to hold extensive discourses on the reasons a person believes in Christianity. We’re supposed to be talking about Mary and once again it’s run outside the reasonable limits.

            Andrew’s right. Meet up. That way you can talk for hours and hours, and discover that trust and understanding that comes from face-to-face conversation, and you could enjoy some good coffee as well.

            Otherwise we (I impugn myself as well) should have been talking about Mary and the Assumption. My first post did (see above). And then the death spiral of arid interrogation began all over again… I’m away to find something productive to do. This is all wrong place, wrong time. Find a pub or coffee shop. You might actually like each other. God bless you, and be with you.

          • Yes, that’s good advice too!

            Then why does it matter who I am?

            I don’t think Andrew’s being evasive at all.

            Then why won’t he answer? Is there something he doesn’t want to admit to in public?

            Andrew’s right. Meet up. That way you can talk for hours and hours, and discover that trust and understanding that comes from face-to-face conversation, and you could enjoy some good coffee as well.

            ‘Hours and hours’ of talking seems like quite an inefficient way to answer what should be a simple question. And of course it’s far easier to accidentally say something ambiguous when speaking, so if we did meet up then when I wrote up our conversation and published it, he could accuse me of misrepresenting him. Far better if he answers in writing in public in his own words because then we will all know where we stand.

          • S
            We don’t have eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. We have them at second or third hand.
            That doesn’t make the unreliable. But we have nothing written by witnesses.

          • We don’t have eyewitness accounts of the resurrection. We have them at second or third hand.

            Some of them, yes, and they technically wouldn’t be admitted in court under the rule of hearsay. But…

            That doesn’t make the unreliable. But we have nothing written by witnesses.

            …we do have the fourth gospel, don’t we? Written by an eyewitness to the Galilean fishing trip.

          • S
            Your assertion about the fourth gospel is just that, an assertion. It may be true. More likely not. The evidence is inconclusive.

          • Your assertion about the fourth gospel is just that, an assertion. It may be true. More likely not. The evidence is inconclusive.

            It certainly claims to be; do you think that’s a lie?

          • Still not sufficient to stand up as proof in a court of law, which is the kind of proof you have been comparing it to. It is contested and unsupported by other independent witnesses.

          • Still not sufficient to stand up as proof in a court of law, which is the kind of proof you have been comparing it to. It is contested and unsupported by other independent witnesses.

            It’s contested, is it? Really? By what alternative accounts?

            By the way, you still haven’t said what reason you have for believing Christianity is true.

          • As Penny says, it is simply an assertion which may or may not be true so is contested. Several other factors mean it would not stand up in court. So it does not count as the kind of proof you suggest it is.

            I have indicated several times my response to your question. Please send me some options for meeting face to face.

          • S

            The Pastorals claim to be written by Paul. They are not. Does that make their authors liars? No.
            Parts of Acts are ‘eyewitness’ accounts. They may or may not be. Does that make them untrue? No.
            John’s Gospel was (most probably) not written by an eyewitness. Does this matter for its Christology? No.
            Bit of a doubting Thomas, aren’t you.

          • I always thought that being untrue was something easily accomplished. In Penny’s presentation, what does something have to do to be untrue? She is proclaiming everything true whether or not it wants to be.

          • Christopher: I’m not quite sure whether you are choosing not to follow the argument here or unable to. James made the point initially: “… but since this stuff’s all unverifiable, it’s not “false” like some testable fact is.”.

            S then opined that yes it was verifiable, and it was true and that was the only important thing and it could be proved.

            I asked for this proof. S offered some and said it was the kind of proof that was offered in a court. Witness statements etc. His ‘proof’ has not quite passed that test however and he is unable to verify things in the way he claimed. That is what Penny is pointing out.

            Does that make the Christian faith ‘untrue’? Penny thinks not. 2000 years of tradition are on her side.

          • As Penny says, it is simply an assertion which may or may not be true so is contested.

            A contested witness account is one where there are otherwitnesses who also claim to have been present who claim that things went down differently. I’m not aware of any other accounts by people who claim to have been present at the fishing trip who disagree with that of the gospel writer. Therefore it is not contested.

            If I say that last night I put on a spandex jumpsuit and fought crime, and no one comes forward to say any different, then my account isn’t contested. It’s false, but it isn’t contested.

            I have indicated several times my response to your question. Please send me some options for meeting face to face.

            Why not just answer in public? It would be much simpler. Have you something to hide?

          • S: the assertion was that the eyewitness was the writer of the fourth Gospel. That assertion is contested.

          • S then opined that yes it was verifiable, and it was true and that was the only important thing and it could be proved.

            You seem to be the one confused. I never claimed that it was verifiable. Things can be true but unverifiable, like Mr Russell’s teapot. I also never claimed it could be proved conclusively; I claimed that there is sufficient proof to convince me.

            I asked for this proof. S offered some and said it was the kind of proof that was offered in a court. Witness statements etc. His ‘proof’ has not quite passed that test however and he is unable to verify things in the way he claimed.

            The fact that what convinces me doesn’t convince you is fair enough; in a trial, not every member of the jury is always convinced by the evidence. That’s why we have majority verdicts.

            What confuses me, and the question I’d still like you to answer, is why, having rejected all the evidence, you still believe in Christianity. It’s like, on the jury, I have said that I wish to vote guilty because I am convinced by the witnesses and the evidence; but you are saying that you find the witnesses shifty and unreliable, and the evidence totally unconvincing, but you still want to vote guilty anyway.

            I could understand if you said that the Bible was unreliable, so you were an atheist. But how can you think the Bible is true and still be a Christian? On what are you basing your guilty verdict, if you distrust the witnesses and dismiss the evidence?

            Do you just feel the guilt in your gut?

          • the assertion was that the eyewitness was the writer of the fourth Gospel. That assertion is contested.

            But tThen you used a very odd phrasing when you wrote:

            ‘ It is contested and unsupported by other independent witnesses.’

            Because that makes it look like the ‘it’ there, which is ‘unsupported by other witnesses’, is the account. And the account itself is not contested (because there are no other accounts contesting it).

            Yes, the claim of the account-writer to be an eyewitness is contested, but that doesn’t appear to be what you wrote.

            I can see how what you wrote can be read the way you now say, but it was pretty ambiguous and unclear. Perhaps you should try to be more clear and not leave bare pronouns like ‘it’ to do so much would when you could reduce confusion by being precise.

  2. Thank you for all the work you’ve done on this.
    The whole idea, churns stomach.
    Why don’t we pray to her, and all the dead “saints”, and for the dead and be done with it?
    I think I saw a plate of chocolate Marys to be eaten on the day. Perhaps a continuation of trans substantiation in the eating?

      • Penelope,
        What a mess, from a mixed up, pick-and-mix kid.
        It gets better and better.
        So we worship the same God,this do we? Not likely.
        And this from a self-identified evangelical who seems to be neither Catholic, cos you’d not be ordained there, nor your queer theory of family embraced, nor evangelical, cos the evangel of the Triune God, is a stranger, even an anathema, to you.
        So you pray to Ian., and Christopher and Simon and Philip, even me, but maybe only to the spirits in the sky, who are where exactly?? Suppose we all have to be dead first?
        And I suppose it ‘s just a question of choice, of personal preference who to pray to in any given circumstance. Negating the indicatives of scripture:
        Jesus is praying for us in heaven.
        Hebrews 7:25: “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them,” and Romans 8:34: “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
        First John 2:1,2 adds that “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.”
        And of course Jesus teaching on how to pray is another alternative. And God is there, figuratively, wondering, ponders, what to do with all these multiple choice prayers.
        What a mess of pottage.
        Is this truly a snapshot of where the CoE is doctrinally, spiritually? Even in the liberal cohort?
        If so it’s on its knees, or should be

        • Geoff
          I pray to the same God as you and Ian, and my Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran siblings, the last three all praying for the intercession of the saints.
          I am not an evangelical. I am a Catholic Anglican. And there is nothing more pick n’ mix about my theology and ecclesiology than anyone else commenting on here.
          Like many Catholics (RCs) and Anglicans I read and benefit from (and attempt to write) queer theology. Some of the queer theologians I read are RC. A book which begins with a talking snake and whose high points are a virginal birth and a resurrection is a very queer thing indeed.

          • Like many Catholics (RCs) and Anglicans I read and benefit from (and attempt to write) queer theology. Some of the queer theologians I read are RC. A book which begins with a talking snake and whose high points are a virginal birth and a resurrection is a very queer thing indeed.

            What definition(s) of the word ‘queer’ are you using there?

          • Look up queer theology.

            There are lots of different definitions of the word (like ‘gay’); I’d like to know which in particular you are using, that encompasses all the meanings you are ascribing to it.

          • Penelope…

            “virginal birth” what?

            Now you believe that Mary produced a large musical instrument? At least she could accompany her own Magnificat.

          • S
            Queer theory doesn’t work like that. It’s a process, rather than a method and eludes all attempts at precise definition. Otherwise it wouldn’t be queer. Broadly, queer attempts to disrupt and rupture white, male, western cishet patriarchal discourse as normative or ‘natural’ by queering the hegemony of this as a ‘norm’. White dominance, male dominance, heterosexual dominance isn’t natural, inevitable, default or divinely designed. And white, male, cishet discourse and dominance has all too often suborned the gospel (or colonised indigenous cultures) for its own, far from altruistic, ends.
            Queer theory is not ‘pure’ any more than any discourse is free from ideology. It has been criticised as being too white and western.

          • Broadly, queer attempts to disrupt and rupture white, male, western cishet patriarchal discourse as normative or ‘natural’ by queering the hegemony of this as a ‘norm’.

            Okay. So how under that definition is: ‘A book which begins with a talking snake and whose high points are a virginal birth and a resurrection is a very queer thing indeed’.

            Because I don’t see how a talking snake, or a virgin birth, are ‘queer’ in the sense of ‘attempt[ing] to disrupt and rupture white, male, western cishet patriarchal discourse as normative or “natural”‘.

            I mean a talking snake and a virgin birth certainly are ‘queer’ in the old-fashioned sense of ‘strange’. But not in this technical academic sense.

            So it looks to me like you are trying to equivocate dishonsestly: to point out that the Bible is ‘queer’ (meaning strange) and therefore try to imply that it must also be ‘queer’ (meaning all the academic guff).

            But this is unsound reasoning, not to mention disingenuous.

          • S
            Did you not read what I wrote?
            Queer is not a method, it’s a process. Queer biblical studies can start from the idea that the Bible includes some very queer (that is strange texts) which do actually disrupt western white cisheteronormativity. That’s part of ademic discourse. You can’t colonise queerness, else it wouldn’t be queer.

          • Queer is not a method, it’s a process. Queer biblical studies can start from the idea that the Bible includes some very queer (that is strange texts) which do actually disrupt western white cisheteronormativity.

            It does? Well, the examples you gave (a snake and a virgin birth) don’t ‘disrupt western white cisheteronormativity’.

            So do you have any actual examples of Biblical texts which ‘disrupt western white cisheteronormativity’?

    • No Catholic advocates praying to saints: asking saints to intercede on your behalf with God is entirely different. Since Catholicism of course agrees that God’s omniscient, the unspoken purpose of saintly middle-men is to make the prayer-giver more comfortable by allowing them to address a human intermediary instead of God directly. Trinitarianism aside, it’s a similar concepts to praying to Jesus.

      • As an ex-Catholic, I have first-hand knowledge of the Catholic propensity to parade grovelling self-abasement before the Church’s recognised saints as the grace of humility.

        And it’s difficult to imagine any qualification more inapposite than “trinitarianism aside” in the context of this bone of contention between two trinitarian denominations.

  3. Witness ye all the theological blancmange spawned by uncritical diversity and despair! 😉

    Great article, and I couldn’t agree more. What on Earth is a lifelong evangelical like Welby doing parading around Walsingham bedecked in liturgical bling that’d shame Francis and parroting high Marian dogma? Far from respecting Anglo-Catholicism, this cosplay makes a mockery of its beliefs.

    It’d show Walsingham far more respect if Welby had shown up in simple robes, made plain that he doesn’t share their beliefs, but praised them for being true to their consciences and reviving an ancient custom so effectively. A broad church doesn’t necessitate junking what makes us diverse in the first place.

    • James,
      What a marvellous first sentence. Another chuckle. Thanks.
      But, (there is always a but). Your last sentence begs the question, to me at least, and it seems that broad church meaning may diverge now from what it was understood or accepted to be. I speak from a position of not knowing. It may take another essay to elucidate, for me at any rate. I am, however, a stranger in these CoE mystical orbiting spheres.
      Is the scope of broach church, without limits, boundaries, stretching to infinity, an endless PhD or ThD? or an outworking of Consensus Management, that was something of flavour of the month in the last century?

      • “Is the scope of broad church, without limits, boundaries, stretching to infinity…?”

        Geoff: have you read about the Elizabthan settlement?
        Do you think that any but a few enthusiasts really care about the limits and boundaries that so trouble you?

        • Thanks Andrew for the nudge.
          No I haven’ t, but will.
          Can’t give much of a response to your last question, but I to say there seems to be sufficient evidence on this blog, and from an Anglican church I attend, with two infant baptisms yesterday and 150 or more (a guestimate) in attendance, and previous preaching on teaching on 39 Articles and always revolving around the Creeds and Biblical, preaching. teaching and a multi-ethnic, young family, university educated, congregation.

        • Indeed, thanks Andrew,
          I’ve had a far too quick look and admittedly on Wikki, flying in the face of such expert Anglicans.
          It reminded me of touching upon this era in the study of the History ofthe English Legal System as part of a Law Degree.
          Approaching this from that position, where there is always disambiguation in interpretation and application of laws, which excludes the middle.
          (I realise that this reductionism to via media is far too an oversimplification of such a skant look, and likely to offend experts in this field.)
          It also seems that any so called middle ground does not exist, is a logical fallacy.
          My assessment remains: there is no middle ground. We worship different Gods. I don’t know what is middle about the Liberal position, or, to use another term, the Liberal position is far from from a bridge, but something that increases a fault-line chasm, a movement away, not towards. It is and always will be an end point, whatever that may be. On a line between Biblical Christians (B) and Liberals (L) is there a point that extends beyond, is outside of L (an L which does not include, but excludes B.

          • I have no idea what you mean by ‘biblical Christians’ I’m afraid Geoff. Surely all Christians are biblical?

          • But many these days conflate ‘Christian’ with ‘self-proclaimed Christian’. It is the easiest thing in the world for someone to call themselves Christian and renounce everything (or many things) biblical simultaneously.

          • You can’t simultaneously hold
            (a) ‘all Christians are biblical’;
            (b) ‘there is no such thing as a biblical Christian’
            -apart from the fact that (b) did not follow from what was said.

            How can all Christians ‘be’ something that does not or could not exist???

            You are actually proposing (a) ‘100% of Christians are biblical’ and (b) ‘0% of Christians are biblical’.

            No larger leap is possible than between these 2 positions.

          • Rubbish Christopher. I’m not proposing either. I’m saying it’s a meaningless concept.

            I might as well say ‘I’m an acts of the apostles Chrsitian’ …or ‘I’m a law and prophets kind of Christian’.

            Meaningless nonsense. And neither you nor Geoff have offered any explanation for the term.

          • Rubbish Christopher. I’m not proposing either. I’m saying it’s a meaningless concept.

            But you write:

            ‘I have no idea what you mean by ‘biblical Christians’ I’m afraid Geoff. Surely all Christians are biblical?’

            So you are proposing that ‘all Christians are biblical[sic]’: it’s there in black and white.

            How can you write ‘Surely all Christians are biblical[sic]?’ if you think ‘Biblical Christian’ is a meaningless concept?

          • Ah well it was irony – rhetoric. Call it what you will. Rather like ‘Brutus is an honourable man…’ Do you think Anthony really meant Brutus was honourable? I think ‘biblical Christian’ is a meaningless phrase.

          • Ah well it was irony – rhetoric.

            Ah, famously tricky to convey on the inter-net, irony.

            Probably best not to attempt it if you haven’t the necessary level of skill. Just be straight.

          • Maybe I could claim to be a ‘British library Christian’. Would that work? The bible being a library and all that. (Christopher agrees it is a library)

          • The bible being a library and all that. (Christopher agrees it is a library)

            It’s not really a library, though. A library stores all the books it can get its hands on, subject to the considerations of space. A library doesn’t generally exercise judgement over which books it considers proper to include; a book being in a library is not indicitive of the library being prepared to stand behidn the book as being in some sense authentic.

            A library is therefore a bad metaphor for the Bible. A better metaphor would be a museum, because museums have curators concerned with ensuring that only authentic items end up in the collection.

          • Geoff

            I had hoped that you might have had the grace to respond to my response to your rather intemperate comment on the other thread.
            At least to admit that the orthodox doctrine of theopoesis (as propounded by St Athanasius) is neither pagan, nor heretical.

          • At least to admit that the orthodox doctrine of theopoesis (as propounded by St Athanasius) is neither pagan, nor heretical.

            Well, I still think it’s both, unless there’s some subtlety to it that you’ll have to explain to me whereby it doesn’t actually mean that humans can become as God.

          • At least to admit that the orthodox doctrine of theopoesis (as propounded by St Athanasius) is neither pagan, nor heretical.

            Also note that nobody objected to ‘the orthodox doctrine of theopoesis (as propounded by St Athanasius)’; the objection was to your claim that ‘God became human that we might become divine’.

            Perhaps in your (admirable) quest for brevity you inadvertently mischaracterised the doctrine?

          • No S
            The quote is from Athanasius: God became human that we might become divine.
            It is known as theopoesis, theosis, or divinisatiom.
            You might not like it. But it is a perfectly orthodox doctrine.

          • The quote is from Athanasius: God became human that we might become divine.

            It doesn’t matter who the quote is from, if it’s wrong.

            It is known as theopoesis, theosis, or divinisatiom.

            Isn’t the word of humans becoming divine ‘apotheosis’? That’s what they called it when the Roman emperors became divine anyway. So how is it not pagan again?

            You might not like it. But it is a perfectly orthodox doctrine.

            If it’s a perfectly orthodox doctrine does it show up in, say, the Westminster Confession? In Calvin?

          • S

            I give up. St Athanasius was a theologian, bishop, and Father of the Church. He safeguarded trinitarian orthodoxy against the heresy of Arianism and, was for a time, when Arian was popular, exiled.
            We still say the Athanasian creed (in the CoE).
            I have no idea if Calvin believed in theopoesis. I’m not a calvinist and neither Calvin nor the Westminster Confession are the touchstones of orthodoxy. Church councils are.

          • Don’t give up Penelope 🙂
            I am a Calvinist but I too believe ‘we participate in the divine nature ‘ as St. Peter’s epistle states 2Pet1v4. The creature Creator divide remains but God in his loving mercy has brought us close. And as St. John says, 1Jn3:2 beloved, Now are we the sons of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know hat when we shall appear we shall be like him…

          • St Athanasius was a theologian, bishop, and Father of the Church. He safeguarded trinitarian orthodoxy against the heresy of Arianism and, was for a time, when Arian was popular, exiled.

            That he was right on one issue doesn’t mean he was right on all issues.

            We still say the Athanasian creed (in the CoE).

            I just looked it up. It doens’t mention humans becoming gods; but it does say:

            ‘Those who have done good will enter eternal life,
            and those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.’

            so am I to assume this is you Penelope saying you believe in the judgement of God on those who have done evil?

            (actually that creed looks proper Pelagian to me: it says judgement is based entirely on deeds, no mention of saving grace. Are you sure this guy was a great theologian?)

            I have no idea if Calvin believed in theopoesis. I’m not a calvinist and neither Calvin nor the Westminster Confession are the touchstones of orthodoxy. Church councils are.

            Church councils can be utterly wrong though, eg the Council of Trent.

            I am a Calvinist but I too believe ‘we participate in the divine nature ‘ as St. Peter’s epistle states 2Pet1v4.

            But ‘participating in the divine nature’ is a long long long way from ‘becoming divine’.

    • I love liturgical bling. The fancier the better.
      Vestments, beautiful Mass settings, music, singing (hymns and anthems, not worship songs), asperging, incense, benediction.
      I don’t like Walsingham’s sacralised misogyny.

  4. Ive never quite understood the Catholic elevated view of Mary, as it is unsupported by Scripture. An objective person would come to the conclusion that Mary was a young, devout Jew whom God chose for a very specific and clearly very important, indeed unique, role. But given Jesus’ own apparent attitude towards his blood-family, including his mother, I find it odd the Catholic understanding that she was sinless or that she was ‘assumed’.

    It seems to me the whole Mary devotion really does take the focus off Jesus, and is one of the reasons I dont believe the Catholic church is the one true church.

    • It is best explained psychologically, fulfils a felt need, as has been seen with mother goddesses through history. Purity has not surprisingly been felt to be central in what people consider it’s appropriate to venerate, and purity is at least as much associated with females as with males.

  5. I grew up RC and was actually converted, born again, within the RC church as a teenager, having walked away from religion completely. It took me about four months of reading the New Testament after my conversion to start asking my priest, “What’s with all this devotion to Mary and the saints, Father? Why is that even a thing? I don’t get it.” I still find it quite baffling that the movement we read about in the Acts of the Apostles could end up venerating Jesus’ mother, and the Anglican (supposedly catholic reformed) high church focus on Mary seems to me about as off beam as printing horoscopes in the parish magazine.

  6. This piece of courteous polemic misses the point. When the Archbishop says “we mark the Assumption” aren’t you assuming too much? He is surely talking only about those who do, irrespective of whether Anglicans believe it. He is saying he does and that, as Archbishop, he joins with all who do. He’s not encouraging it, or commending it. It’s rather like his speaking in tongues. He joins with all who use that charism even if its not necessary for Anglicans to believe in glossolalia let alone be asked to practise it. We are all entitled to our personal devotions, and to share our attachment to them neither requires assent nor demands acquiescence.

    • “When the Archbishop says “we mark the Assumption” aren’t you assuming too much?…He’s not encouraging it, or commending it.”

      So, marking might neither encourage, nor commend belief in the Assumption, but he does seek to reify it with public recognition. Just like the marking a person’s gender transition through Affirmation of Baptism seeks to reify a person’s reassigned gender and (in the words of the HoB) “constitutes a public recognition of their identity”

      Your comment’s embedded assumption is as groundless as Mary’s.

  7. Good and necessary response from Andrew to an appalling error in judgment from the ABC – if indeed he and not some intern posted he tweet. It is not scientific validation we need for any Christian doctrine and practise, it is Biblical justification. This heterodox doctrine and spirituality is patently without Biblical warrant. It is a nonsense. Worse it diverts focus from Jesus to Mary. It is an age old heresy to Share what is Christ’s alone with Mary. It is the main reason I could not be Roman Catholic. The Holy Spirit always shines the spotlight on Jesus – never Mary which is why she is never mentioned in the epistles.

    Statements above like ‘Mary reflects the female divinity of God who emanates through her’ beggar belief. Christianity is a revealed religion – we don’t get to make stuff up.

    • Indeed, I think Mary would be shocked and dismayed at how she has been elevated to such a position and would be pointing to her son.

  8. Obviously Andrew Goddard is quite right : the C of E does not accept the Assumption of the BVM as a dogma. Its a pity our liturgists didnt mame the 15th August The falling asleep of the BVM” which has some Anglican precedent. But the C of E is extremely diverse and in my life time ( b 1949) its traditions have moved further apart and become more diversified in themselves. You now encounter any number of expressions of Anglicanism even within one deanery. And just look at the diversity within my old diocese of London. +Justin has wide sympathies and is rather eclectic in his spirituality. I suspect he just wants to try and keep a rather unstable theological and liturgical amalgam together and hope to arrest further decline.

  9. When I was on the CofE’s Faith & Order Commission, I contributed a paper on Evangelical theology and the Marian Dogmas to this set of essays from 2008 on the ARCIC report ‘Mary: Grace and Truth in Christ’. It addresses the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as well as the Assumption. My contribution starts on page 84. I trust it’s a helpful addition to this thread:

    https://ecumenism.net/…/2007_cofe_gs_foag_arcic_mary…

      • I don’t think there is agreement on Anglican doctrine, is there? That is the difficulty. Within the Anglican Communion, and even more so within the Church of England, we do not agree on uniform views on various subjects. That is pretty much self-evident.

        Our unity therefore cannot be found in uniformity, but in Jesus Christ and in love. Otherwise we disintegrate into multiple sects.

        But no, there is no ‘agreed’ Anglican doctrine. I mean, there may be, on paper, in the rubric – but that is an assertion, and it can’t be imposed on what Christians in the Church of England actually believe, which is a wide variety of things. I always smile wrily, when some wheeled out spokesperson says, “The Church of England believes…” when actually, each of us is the Church of England, and the Body of Christ, and no, many of us may not ‘believe’ certain things, so the assertion is not really true.

        What we do know, whatever diverse views we hold – on Mary, on whatever else – is that there is an imperative to love, and that holds true even (and especially) in our diversity.

        • I suspect Ian is thinking of 39 articles etc……
          Maybe he is another who supports Capital punishment and uses nothing but the Book of Common prayer in worship?

          • Maybe he is another who supports Capital punishment and uses nothing but the Book of Common prayer in worship?

            You know my curiosity was piqued by all this talk of capital punishment so I looked up this article and it reads, according to the website:

            ‘The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.’

            which to me doesn’t require support for, say, the reintroduction of capital punishment. It only says that the Laws of Realm may use capital punishment ‘for heinous and grievous offences’, not that they must.

            So it would be perfectly consistent with that article to not support the reintroduction of capital punishment on the grounds that although the legal authorities have the God-given moral authority to execute people (as the Article states and so an Anglican must sign up to) they ought to forbear from ever exercising that authority on the practical (rather than moral) grounds that it is exceedingly unlikely that we could be sure no tragic miscarriages of justice would result.

          • In other words – it’s all about interpretation!

            Of course it is. It’s all about finding the correct interpretation and disregarding all the other interpetations, which are wrong.

          • Doctrine does not necessarily stand still.

            In reality, the beliefs and practices of the Church of England are in a state of flux.

            They are certainly not set in aspic in 1552.

            This is to be expected, as God’s Word speaks to people, in various ways, in different times and in changed circumstances.

            Understandings change – even understandings about how we read the Bible.

            I think God seems happy to work through multiplicities, and does not necessarily seek uniformity. What God does clearly seek, though, is the opening of the heart to the flow of God’s love and compassion. I have seen this love in evangelicals, liberals, catholics – and however diverse views may be – the absolute touchstone in each case is the love. I am not really a conservative evangelical Christian but I want to fully acknowledge the quality of love shown by Christians of that kind to my children. Equally I have experienced love of that quality from other expressions of Christianity. I want unity with them all. I can never hope for uniformity.

          • Ah well of course – what is the right interpretation to one is the wrong interpretation to another. Hence lawyers earn so much money. Hence sooooooo many different denominations in the Church. Hence why you are not a member of the C of E S.

          • Ah well of course – what is the right interpretation to one is the wrong interpretation to another. Hence lawyers earn so much money.

            Hence why we have judges to hear the lawyers and determine which one’s interpetation is correct and which is wrong.

            Hence sooooooo many different denominations in the Church.

            Well, yes. And why the point is to figure out which one is correct. Because if two denominations disagree about a matter of doctrine, they can’t both be right (though they could both be wrong, of course).

            Hence why you are not a member of the C of E S.

            They should have got rid of bishops when they had the chance.

          • That’s quite right Susannah.
            Robert Runcie was, I think, the greatest archbishop of our time. He was a gifted teacher, had a wonderful sense of humour, and could command huge respect in a wide variety of settings. His little book about ‘Authority’ is well worth reading and he makes just those points.

  10. I don’t agree that calling Mary “the mother of God” (theotokos) is ‘orthodox Christology’, if by orthodox is implied ‘biblical’. It’s a contradiction of orthodoxy, indeed of logic itself, masquerading as paradox and mystery. According to Luke 1:35, “Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” – and (how does one do italics?) – “Wherefore the one begotten in holiness will be called Son of God”. By the power of his holy spirit (there is no suggestion of ‘the’ Holy Spirit being a third parent), God is his father, and therefore the child is called his son. This is the doctrine of the incarnation. The child is God’s son, not God himself. Orthodox Christianity understands Jesus to be the Son of God. He is not the son of himself, and if we understand God as eternal, outside time and without beginning, God certainly cannot have a mother.

    • Mary was still Jesus’s mum, and Jesus is God. One of three persons who are one God.

      Mary will always be Jesus’s mum.

      I would argue, in the context of eternity, that God IS the Mother, and that Mary was chosen to bear that Motherhood of God, in human form and life.

      In a sense, the divine Motherhood of God emanates in the human motherhood of Mary. I don’t think that’s ‘masqueraded’ mystery. I think it is huge mystery.

      Imagine if it was you in her position.

      God the Holy Mother living and bearing and loving and nurturing Jesus, through the human motherhood of a pure and lovely woman.

      To the extent that she was Jesus’s mum, she was mothering God, giving birth to the human God child, she was Jesus’s mother alright, and Jesus was (and is) God.

      That doesn’t make Mary the mother of the entire Godhead, but she has a unique relationship, and I would argue is most highly favoured.

      (Before we go down a derailment, I also understand God as The Father, but like many people I believe God transcends only one gender. God knows motherhood from the inside and the heart of who God is. God is all Fatherhood and all Motherhood. But please, let’s stick to the subject of Mary.)

      I believe there is profound and trembling mystery in the relationship of Mary and her son Jesus, both now and in all eternity. She was invested with the divine motherhood of the God who dwelt within her.

  11. The Arians thought their Christology was biblical. The Church catholic ultimately decided other wise. The C of E since the Reformation has always accepted the first four General Councils.
    The Council of Ephesus affirmed ( contra Nestorius) that Christ was one person possessing two natures: divine and human ( later refined at Chalcedon) .
    Theotokos means God bearer. Mary was Jesus’s mother. He was God Incarnate.So the Council ( and catholic Christianity since) have judged it an appropriate title for the mother of God Incarnate

    • Yes, you can either take the 4th-century creeds as your authority or take Scripture as your authority. Since they are in conflict, you cannot respect both. Preferring the former, you will also accept the amillennialism of the creeds, the unscriptural presentation of the Holy Spirit as someone to be worshipped and glorified (equivalent to worshipping yourself, if you have the Spirit), and the characterisation of the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord’ and ‘Giver of Life’ (scripturally, the Holy Spirit is something/someone given, not the giver). As you imply, it also substitutes the concept of ‘incarnation’ for sonship: the ‘one Lord (sic) Jesus Christ … was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary’. If sonship were implied by this, then the Holy Ghost would be the father and Mary the mother. As I have indicated, Luke 1:35, not to mention Heb 1:5, speak otherwise. For the sake of your tradition you make void the word of God.

  12. Well having held a Licence/PTO for nearly 40yrs as a priest of the Church of England ( 30 of them drawing a stipend) and having made the Declaration of Assent I feel under an obligation to follow Ian’s view at Aug 23rd 10.05 above.

    • I’m sure God will overlook the offence, just as he was willing to pardon Naaman for bowing down in the house of Rimmon.

      • That’s an odd response. Perry is agreeing with me that Anglican’s don’t believe in the Assumption because it does not have scriptural warrant. Surely you don’t disagree with that…?

        • Our discussion was whether ‘mother of God’ was an acceptable designation, a question that broadened into considering whether the Nicene Creed’s unwillingness to characterise Jesus’s (God’s?) birth as his becoming the son of God was not part of the same way of thinking. Perry’s reply seemed to be that the Nicene Creed was part of Anglicanism and therefore to be accepted and taught, whether or not it agreed with Scripture. I agree that belief in the Assumption is not part of Anglican doctrine.

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