Mary Should Be Source of Christian Unity, Not Division, Says Abbot

“Our Lady should not be a subject of division between Christians, but a symbol of unity,” said Abbot Christopher Butler, O.S.B., of Downside Abbey, president of the English Benedictine Congregation.

He spoke at a press conference arranged here by the British hierarchy for a discussion of the council proposal on the Blessed Virgin.

A vote is to be taken by the council (Oct. 29) on whether it should be debated as a separate schema or incorporated as a chapter in the schema “On the Nature of the Church.”

A proposal on the matter prepared at the request of the British hierarchy and a similar one sponsored by the bishops of Chile, Abbot Butler said, complement each other and may be combined “to gain massive support.”

The English draft differs from the council proposal in giving greater emphasis to Biblical sources than to dogmatic pronouncements on the Assumption and Immaculate Conception.

Besides the English and Chilean proposals, Italian, Spanish and French Mariological drafts have been submitted to the council.

The great interest in the topic, Abbot Butler said, is reflected in some 600 suggestions received by council preparatory commissions. “We feel,” Abbot Butler added, “that in considering them two aspects should be stressed, first the progress of Scriptural research, and secondly, ecumenism.

“We should deal with Mary from a Biblical viewpoint, realizing that the separated brethren insist on Christ being the only source of our redemption, while Mary is the type of all those who by faith have entered into the redeemed fellowship. Since she illustrates in her person the meaning of the Church as the supreme example of faithful discipleship, the Mariological draft logically should be part of the ecclesiological one.

“We feel strongly that we should go back to the Biblical foundations and other sources we have in common with the separated brethren, especially the Eastern Church Fathers whence Catholic devotion to Our Lady originates.”

A Protestant reporter in the audience questioned these Biblical foundations of Mary’s role as not being conclusive.

Abbot Butler acknowledged that Orthodox theologians dislike formal definitions on Mary because they tend to rationalize a mystery. But, he said, “all Christians could meditate together on what the Bible tells us about the Mother of God, which would help the cause of unity, whereas further elaborations of dogmatic definitions now valid for Catholics only might raise further obstacles to this cause.”

At another press conference, Father Aloysius Grillmaier, S.J., of Frankfurt, Germany, stressed the necessity in discussing the Mariological issue not to assume a sharp division between “maximalists” and “minimalists.” This, he said, would only cloud the problem and create an unhappy atmosphere for discussion in the council, which is expected to be rather controversial.

The council, he said, is seeking “a well proportioned Mariology based on Scripture, one in keeping with the pertinent statements of the late Pope John when he proclaimed the inclusion of St. Joseph in the Canon of the Mass and with Pope Paul’s Christological emphasis in his council inaugural address. The Mariological teaching of the Church, he said, should be made known in terms understandable to this age, especially to the separated Christians. We should see to it that our Christology is not neglected by an overemphasis on Mariology, Father Grillmaier concluded.

Father Placid Jordan, O.S.B.
NCWC Rome correspondent

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