Over the last 30-some years, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my Church. I love The Episcopal Church, but sometimes it drives me crazy. I love our liturgy, but hate it when our liturgy becomes the object of or worship. I love our flexibility, but hate it when it feels like we believe nothing at all. I love our tradition, but hate that tradition means the 1950’s American Church , the 1549 Prayer Book, the 11th century Sarum Missal, or any number of other dates to which we affix undue import. All in all, however, I love The Episcopal Church. Hell, I wouldn’t invest so much of my time and energy in seeing it flourish in the 21st century if I didn’t.
I was reminded of that love this afternoon as I went about doing research on the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I started out by trying to track down a legend I thought I had heard once that Mary laid hands upon John of Patmos to make him a Bishop. I never found that particular legend, but I did end up on my favorite source of theological wisdom, Wikipedia. In the section entitled “Christian Doctrines” there is a list of the various doctrinal statements made by the Church about the Virgin Mary. Some are rather innocuous: The Mother of God and the Virgin Birth. While some are widely speculative: the Assumption and Perpetual Virginity. And then there’s the one that everybody misunderstands, Immaculate Conception, which isn’t about the Virgin Mary conceiving Jesus in her womb, but instead that Mary was conceived without “original sin,” which thanks to the stain of Augustine means here mommy and daddy didn’t have sex. What I found fascinating was the chart that goes along with all of this, indicating which Christian denominations subscribe to which doctrine.
I like that the tree more hotly contested doctrines: Assumption, Immaculate Conception, and Perpetual Virginity are said to be accepted by “some Anglicans.” The BVM is perhaps the most bifurcated soul in the Biblical Christian tradition. It seems as though she is treated either as an object of worship, the Theotokos on par with Jesus Christ himself, or entirely ignored after Christmas Eve. If you are a Presbyterian or Baptist or Congregationalist, Mary plays no role in your religious life whatsoever. If you are Roman or Orthodox, she is at the forefront of your religious practice. But in the Anglican Tradition, that bridge between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism, our Marology runs the full spectrum.
I love my Church because there is room to struggle with Mary and what she means for our lives. “Some Anglicans,” indeed.