Carl E. BRAATEN and Robert W. JENSEN, Editors, Mary, Mother of God. Grand Rapids, MI-Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004. Pp. viii + 123. No price given. ISBN 0-8028-2266-5.
Reviewed by Michael JONCAS, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN

Defining itself as “an ecumenical organization that seeks to cultivate faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the churches” by nurturing “theology that is catholic and evangelical, obedient to Holy Scripture and committed to the dogmatic, liturgical, ethical and institutional continuity of the Church,” the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology [CCET] sponsors yearly conferences, supports on-going research projects, and publishes the journal Pro Ecclesia [see its website at]. Braaten and Jensen, editors of a series of CCET publications in addition to Pro Ecclesia, serve as executive and associate directors, respectively, of the Center. The essays collected in this slim volume were originally presented in June, 2002 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, during a theological conference sponsored by the CCET on “Mary, Mother of God.”

Jaroslav Pelikan’s “Most Generations Shall Call Me Blessed: An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Liturgy” is an elegant parsing of seven of the prayers and hymns found in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, demonstrating how Orthodox Christian tradition lauds the Blessed Virgin liturgically. While the essay manifests the biblical and historical erudition one associates with all of Pelikan’s work, it also discloses a problem sometimes encountered when systematic theologians approach the liturgy: texts are prized above non-verbal expressions of theological insight, are extracted from their liturgical context, and are treated synchronically without much regard for their historical development. The results, while interesting and insightful, seem generated by a method dangerously similar to arguing theologically from biblical proof-texts.

Relying on various passages in Luke-Acts, Beverly Roberts Gaventa argues that Protestant Christians should identify Mary as Mother of Believers in “’Nothing Will Be Impossible with God’: Mary as the Mother of Believers.” Recognizing that “many Protestant interpreters…would prefer to identify Mary as an exemplar of obedience or a model of faith” [32], she asserts that, although the title “Mother of Believers” is not biblical, it is appropriate because (1) one of the divine acts heralded in the gospel is God’s creation of a new household by means of Mary, (2) her “maternal thinking” extends from her concern for her Son to the protection, well-being, and good will of all God’s children; and (3) believers are thus invited not so much to imitate Mary but rather to receive her story as our own. Gaventa concludes: “By identifying Mary as our Mother, we do not so much elevate Mary as recognize in her story the fundamental Lukan claim that nothing with be impossible with God, not even our consent to God’s will” [35].

Lawrence C. Cunningham’s “Born of a Woman (Gal. 4:4): A Theological Meditation” takes a sustained look at a single Pauline phrase asserting that the Son of God was “born of a woman.” After situating the phrase in the wider context of Galatians 4:4-6, where Paul succinctly outlines what is elsewhere referred to as the mysterion, i.e., God’s now-revealed hidden—plan to send His Son for our redemption— Cunningham avers that the Pauline confession that Jesus was “born of a woman” is not only a challenge to any docetist or gnostic Christology, but the “base point from which reflection on the more particular assertions made about Mary in the rest of the New Testament rest” [41]. He further states that deep meditation on Gal. 4:4 is a “benchmark test for any sustained dialogue about how theologians should think of Mary in the light of the larger picture of Christian revelation” [45]. This should include: (1) a fuller appreciation of the role of Mary in the Incarnation of Christ, (2) a commitment to the historical particularity of the Incarnation, and (3) an understanding in which, in some sense, the Incarnation recapitulates Creation: “Creation is through the Word and re-creation through the fiat of Mary” [48].

In “A Space for God,” Robert W. Jenson notes that praying the second half of the “Ave Maria” raises two theological questions: “The one concerns the legitimacy and necessity of invoking Mary’s or any other saint’s prayer. The other is the question: Why invoke Mary’s prayer precisely as Mother of God? Is her prayer for us somehow different than the prayer of another saint?” [49]. He quickly dismisses the first question: If I can ask a living fellow believer to pray for me, then there is no fundamental difficulty in asking a departed fellow believer to pray for me, assuming that death cannot sever the fellowship of believers. His answer to the second involves thinking about Mary’s unique place among God’s holy ones as a question about God’s space in our world, modeled as heaven, Tabernacle/Temple, prophecy, and Scripture. Jensen concludes: (1) that “Mary is Israel in one person, as Temple and archprophet and guardian of Torah…. After all the Lord’s struggle with his beloved Israel, he finally found a place in Israel that unbelief would not destroy like the Temple, or silence like the prophets, or simply lose, like the Book of the Law before Josiah. This place is a person.” [56]; and (2) Mary embodies the whole company of heaven, therefore to ask her to pray for us “is to ask the church triumphant to pray for us.” [56]

David S. Yeago’s “The Presence of Mary in the Mystery of the Church” derives two theses from John Paul II’s Redemptoris Mater: (1) “Mary is irreducibly present within the redemptive relationship of the church and of the believer to Christ, not merely as a symbolic figure but as a particular person; there is no redemptive relationship to Jesus Christ that does not contain within itself a relationship to Mary, though not, of course, the same relationship;” and (2) “Mary is present to the church and to the believer both as theprototype and model of the church and the believer, and also as an active agent of the formation of the church and the believer.” [59] He then argues that these two theses, as well-grounded in Scripture and conforming to the analogy of faith, should be accepted by Protestants. He concludes by suggesting three ways in which Protestants might recover an appropriate awareness of Mary’s presence in the mystery of the church: (1) by celebrating liturgically the feasts of Christ in which Mary appears as a significant personage; (2) by singing the Magnificat; and (3) by refusing to translate the term doul* in the Magnificat as “servant” but as “slave-woman”, since “[t]he Magnificat is the church’s song because it is the song of the specific Jewish woman Mary, whom God’s election and promise have set in the midst of the church as the prototype of the church’s faith and prophecy—and therefore as the archsinger of the praise of God’s mercy in Christ.” [79]

Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald explores “Mary the Theotokos and the Call to Holiness” from an explicitly Orthodox perspective; her article complements Pelikan’s quite beautifully. After briefly exploring three especially significant terms in Orthodox thinking about Mary (theotokos [Mother of God], aeiparthenos [ever-virgin], and panaghia/archrantos [All-holy/immaculate], the author lists and develops five theological observations about Mary that can apply to our relationship with God and growth in holiness: her theocentricity, freedom, humility, collaboration with God, and authentic personhood.

Finally, writing from a Baptist perspective, Timothy George explores five biblical Marian motifs that may allow evangelicals (here defined as “a worldwide family of Bible-believing Christians committed to sharing with everyone everywhere the transforming good news of new life in Jesus Christ, an utterly free gift that comes through faith alone in the crucified and risen savior” and “a renewal movement within historical Christian orthodoxy…shaped decisively by…the Protestant Reformation, the Evangelical Awakening, and the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy” [102-103]) to discover an enriched place for Mary in doctrine and practices: Daughter of Zion, the Virgin Birth, Mary Theotokos, Handmaiden of the Word, and Mother of the Church. The first two, as more immediately discernable in evangelical reading of the Scriptures, present fewer difficulties than the last three.

The addresses edited here further the post-Vatican II ecumenical conversations on Mary signaled by volumes such as Raymond Brown, et al. (eds), Mary in the New Testament (Philadephia, PA: Fortress, 1978) and H. George Anderson et al. (eds), "The One Mediator, the Saints, and Mary,” in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue VIII (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1992). Though the contributors are carefully chosen to represent Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Baptist perspectives, the center of gravity for the collection falls in what I might term “high church Lutheranism”. The central concern seems to be: how much Marian doctrine and devotional practice might be acceptable and even commendable to churches espousing sola gratia, sola fide and sola scriptura as foundational principles. Surprisingly, there is nothing in these essays I could identify as arising from feminist, womanist, or liberationist perspectives or concerns, although the critique and re-appropriation of the figure of Mary has been of interest to theologians employing these methods.

Those enjoying these essays may want to read deeper soundings in theological reflection on Mary by two of the contributors: Jaroslav Pelikan’s Mary through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven, CT – London: Yale University Press, 1996) and Beverly Roberts Gaventa’s Mary: Glimpses of the Mother of Jesus (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1995). More exploratory would be the fascinating attempt to critique and appropriate the theological and spiritual riches of a presumed Marian apparition from a Lutheran perspective in Maxwell E. Johnson’s The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran Liturgist (Lanham-Boulder-New York-Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002).

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