If you have not already read the latest statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together, you should. The topic is Mary. Most ecumenical statements are pretty bland and predictable. We’re all familiar with the conciliatory nuances involved with statements on soteriology or ecclesiology. But when it comes to mariology, it’s pretty hard to nuance “conceived without sin” or “bodily assumed into heaven.” So, we have the Evangelicals saying, more or less, “Nope, not gonna go there. What Bible are you reading?” Actually, they did a very admirable job of accommodating, albeit minimally, certain intentions enshrined in the Catholic position. For example:
Evangelicals find unnecessary and unbiblical the notion that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception. Still, we affirm much of what this teaching is intended to convey—that Mary was the object of God’s gracious election in Christ; that she was uniquely prepared to become the mother of our Lord; that she is an extraordinary model of the call to discipleship and the life of holiness; that her assent to the purpose of the Lord was itself the result of God’s unmerited favor toward her—an example of sola gratia; and that she should be honored and called “blessed one” in all places and by all generations.
The entirety of the Evangelical response is marked by a deep understanding of both the history and the theology behind the Catholic position. Thus, they rightly note the apocryphal sources as varying tradents, as well as the pious intentions in the trajectories which yielded the dogmatic formulas. I was very impressed. I would really like to know who was the principal writer for the Evangelical response — perhaps Professor John Woodbridge (TEDS) and/or Professor Kevin Vanhoozer (Wheaton), signers of the statement.
The Catholic portion of the statement was also well done. Of particular interest, the Catholic position makes it clear from the beginning that they are working with a “progressive revelation” of sorts (of course, they would never say “progressive revelation”). Thus, we read:
The Bible is the foundation of all Catholic teaching. Catholics also believe, in accordance with Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church all things (John 14:16), that, under the influence of the Spirit, the gospel of grace is more fully and completely understood. Thus the Catholic Church believes that in its listening to, praying with, and reflecting on the truth of Holy Scripture, the Spirit is active as a divine guide, leading to a rich and comprehensive consideration of God’s Word. The Spirit leads the Church to see the full implications of the gospel through the teaching of the early Fathers, through ecumenical councils, through prayer and liturgy, through the lives of the saints, and through the study of theologians. All of these help the Church to see more clearly the profound meaning of Christ’s message and the extraordinary role of his mother, Mary, in the history of salvation.
The key word here is “implications.” St. Thomas and others would say, “fittingness.” The bridge between fittingness and knowledge is the Roman Catholic magisterium. That’s the divide between Evangelicals and Catholics.