Anglican-Catholic Dialogue and Mary

Mary in Anglican Catholic Dialogue

"Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ," also known as the Seattle Statement, is the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), which is the official committee charged with theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Churches of Anglican Communion. The dialogue, which was first called for by Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Michael Ramsey in 1966, was established in 1970. The Anglican members were appointed by the Anglican Communion Office and the Roman Catholic Members by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Since its inception, ARCIC has sought to carry out a dialogue "founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions" (Common Declaration of Paul VI and Michael Ramsey, 1966) thus attempting to "discover and develop our common inheritance of faith."

The first phase of ARCIC’s work (1970-1981) resulted in statements on the Eucharist, ministry, and authority in the Church. ARCIC’s second phase of work (1983 to the present) included statements on salvation and justification, the nature of the Church, morals, further work on authority in the Church, and the newest, on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the doctrine and life of the Church. The commission which prepared the document was comprised of eighteen members. It commenced in 1999 and completed the text in 2004.

The Seattle Statement is the first international bilateral dialogue to take up the subject of the role of Mary in the Church. The first major section of the document (numbers 6-30) traces the place of Mary in the Scriptures and constitutes nearly one third of the entire document. The text states that the Scriptures bear “normative witness to God’s plan of salvation,” and thus are the starting point for ARCIC’s deliberations. ARCIC’s treatment of Mary in the Scriptures is summarized in # 30:

The scriptural witness summons all believers in every generation to call Mary 'blessed'; this Jewish woman of humble status, this daughter of Israel living in hope of justice for the poor, whom God has graced and chosen to become the virgin mother of his Son through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. We are to bless her as the 'handmaid of the Lord' who gave her unqualified assent to the fulfillment of God's saving plan, as the mother who pondered all things in her heart, as the refugee seeking asylum in a foreign land, as the mother pierced by the innocent suffering of her own child, and as the woman to whom Jesus entrusted his friends. We are at one with her and the apostles, as they pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the nascent Church, the eschatological family of Christ. And we may even glimpse in her the final destiny of God's people to share in her son's victory over the powers of evil and death.

The second section of the text deals with Mary in the "ancient common traditions" (31-40) which are authoritative for both Anglican and Roman Catholics and in the writings of the Fathers of the Church. It stresses the central importance of the early Church’s understanding of Mary as Theotokos.

The next part (41-46) proceeds to review "the growth of devotion to Mary in the medieval centuries, and the theological controversies associated with them" showing "how some excesses in late medieval devotion, and reactions against them by the Reformers, contributed to the breach of communion between us" (summary of # 77). The section concludes by tracing subsequent developments and emphasizes the importance of seeing Mary as inseparably linked with Christ and the Church.

The final major segment of the document (64-75) addresses the place of Mary in the life of the Church, touching on questions pertaining to Marian devotion. The text stresses that Marian devotion and the invocation of Mary are not to obscure or diminish the unique mediation of Christ.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the document is neither an authoritative declaration by the Catholic Church nor by the Anglican Communion but the result of an in-depth dialogue between theologians of both confessions.

The statement was officially promulgated on Feb. 2, 2004, and published on May 27, 2005. 

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