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Mary’s intercession at her Son’s side is theological ‘distortion,’ says bishop

February 11, 2011

In an address to the general synod of the Church of England, a Catholic bishop said that the “development of a theology which places [the Blessed Virgin Mary] as an intercessor by the side of her Son” is a theological “distortion.”

Auxiliary Bishop George Stack of Westminster said on February 9:

[A]s a Catholic bishop, I welcome the properly “critical” nature of the series of essays by the Faith and Order Group of the Church of England. The neuralgic points of the Catholic doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are examined in those essays through the eyes of scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the place of Tradition and now the authority of the Magisterium is exercised by the Pope and Bishops.

I realise that these are all loaded words. John Paul’s “fuller study before a true consensus of faith is found” needs to engage critically with the evangelical conviction that the sinlessness of Mary somehow removes her from the need of the whole human race for salvation, makes her somehow “less” of a human being is focused on the text from Romans 3:23 (all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God).

Realised eschatology is the creative tool which explores this seeming conflict when applied to the two Marian doctrines. The status of Tradition in interpreting the scriptures, and whether it diminishes or distorts the primacy of the Word of God is a legitimate evangelical concern. Contrast the conviction of John Henry Newman that “it is not the assertion of an individual Father of the Church that carries weight, but their common testimony by which they witness to an apostolic tradition” with the weight placed in some essays that individual Fathers had dissenting views on the sinlessness, virginity and obedience of Mary.

The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary may sometimes seem to distort or misunderstand the role of Jesus as the unique mediator between God and the human race. An example of such a distortion would be the development of a theology which places her as an intercessor by the side of her Son. [emphasis added]

Bishop Stack’s statement, if taken at face value, appears to call into question the teaching of the Church’s ordinary Magisterium on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s maternal intercession at the side of her Son. Pope Leo XIII, for example, wrote in his 1894 encyclical Iucunda Semper Expectationethat “the recourse we have to Mary in prayer follows upon the office she continuously fills by the side of the throne of God as Mediatrix of Divine grace; being by worthiness and by merit most acceptable to Him, and, therefore, surpassing in power all the angels and saints in Heaven.”

“Glorified at the side of her Son in heaven, Mary has already crossed the threshold between faith and that vision which is ‘face to face,’” Venerable John Paul II taught in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater. “Mary’s motherhood continues unceasingly in the Church as the mediation which intercedes, and the Church expresses her faith in this truth by invoking Mary under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix.”

Bishop Stack continued:

And the degree to which these dogmas and their teaching on virginity, sinlessness and obedience in the life of Mary have affected an understanding and role of women in the life of the church mentioned in the Faith and Order Group Response need to be explored in the historical context in which the dogmas were proclaimed. A changing understanding of sin and the need for redemption when these truths were under attack from an atheistic and reductionist politique was certainly an influence on Pius IX in his proclamation of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of the Assumption in 1950 might be viewed in the context of a totalitarian crushing of the dignity of the human person by Fascist and Communist regimes.

Born in Ireland in 1946, Bishop Stack was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Westminster in 1972 and was appointed auxiliary bishop in 2001.


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  • Posted by: bnewman - Feb. 13, 2011 10:38 PM ET USA

    Bishop Stack was addressing a Church of England synod. In that context it is difficult to be sure what he meant. For example when he says "evangelical" is he using the word in the catholic sense,or is he referring to the beliefs of that wing of the C. of E. that is loosely termed "evangelical?" To speak from the "side of the throne" would not normally be thought to suggest a position independent from the throne, or Christ,but some "evangelicals" might think so and think it a distortion.

  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Feb. 12, 2011 11:50 PM ET USA

    That all of the honors and distinctions of Mary recognized by the Church are attributable to God is affirmed by our Lady herself in the Magnificat, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." To suggest that the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are "theological distortions" however, is to say that Mary is not Theotokos recognized by the Fathers at Council of Ephesus in 431. To the contrary, the above dogmas are meritorious of Mary, the Mother of God.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Feb. 12, 2011 11:42 AM ET USA

    I am curious to know why Bishop Stack chose to air his views in front of a Synod of the Church of England. Maybe we can effect a swap.

  • Posted by: msorensen71798 - Feb. 11, 2011 10:33 PM ET USA

    "A changing understanding of sin... was certainly an influence on... [the 1854] proclamation of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of the Assumption in 1950 might be viewed in the context of..." In 2011, bishops who denied Marian dogmas would likely have drawn their conclusions from the worldly culture's insidious efforts to water down Catholic identity, the first step toward a more homogenized, vague form of Christianity, lacking the solidity of dogma, and requiring no papal authority…

  • Posted by: pdhow5802 - Feb. 11, 2011 8:43 PM ET USA

    As Fr William G Most affirms, Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (LG) 62 (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) taught that Mary is the Mediatrix of All Graces by the footnote which gave the teaching of Leo XIII, St Pius X, and Pius XII, all of whom so taught. The Council would (and could) not have so done if this was merely the expression of personal opinions by these Popes. The Council teaches that she was eternally united with Jesus in the decree for the Incarnation, and thus from eternity before time began and through all eternity (59). There are twelve Papal Texts speaking of Mary as the Mediatrix of All Graces. [See "Our Father's Plan", 1988, Trinity Communications, p 92-93. ] Lumen Gentium (62) teaches that the maternity of Mary in the order of Grace lasts until the eternal fulfilment of ALL the elect; (69) until ALL families of people, whether Christian or whether they still do not know the Saviour, become one People of God. Every Grace, therefore, comes to us from Christ through Mary as an essentially secondary and subordinate channel of His redemptive power -- as His design for our salvation. This does not mean that we HAVE to ask Mary to intercede for us. Just as the pagan may be saved WITHOUT knowing Christ and His teaching or His Church specifically.

  • Posted by: MatthewG - Feb. 11, 2011 5:58 PM ET USA

    Let's be careful. One can grant that historical and cultural context can influence the time and manner of declaring a doctrine without denying the truth of the doctrine. Many councils and doctrinal definitions came about to counteract heresies that were current at the time. Regarding Mary as intercessor, it depends on what he meant by "by the side of her Son". If he meant it as "aside from" as being somehow equal to or separate from Christ, he's right. Mary's intercessory power is derivative.

  • Posted by: ltoscan2645 - Feb. 11, 2011 10:41 AM ET USA

    and he is joining his Anglican brothers when.....oh and what does the statement "A changing understanding of sin and the need for redemption" mean?? I thought a sin was a sin yesterday, today and tomorrow