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review for Anglicans Online
A review of
The role of Mary in Christian theology has been a controversial one at many different points throughout the history of the Church. Arguments over her identity as Theotokos (God-bearer) were the cause of divisions within the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries, and they surfaced most prominently in the Nestorian debates of the Council of Ephesus in 431 (p. 29). Her role in Roman Catholic piety as “co-redemptrix” during the medieval period was demonized and rejected by Protestants during the Reformation. She is even a divisive figure today amongst Catholics and Protestants, often at the center of continuing prejudices between the two traditions despite being an important part of the theological affirmations (i.e. the Virgin Birth) of both.
It is in part to address this current divide that the two authors, both priests (one a Roman Catholic and one an evangelical Episcopalian), decided to write on the Blessed Virgin Mary for Eerdmans’ “Guides To Theology.” The book is divided into two sections: the written guide and the annotated bibliography. As this is a short book, the authors waste no time in diving immediately into Scripture, tradition, and theology with only the briefest of introductions. The first section is dense, though quite readable, and quotes many if not all of the major Patristic, Scholastic, Reformation, and modern theologians (including a handful of Eastern Orthodox ones) who had something important to say about Mary. It is concise, and the authors have done a remarkable job of balancing the need to summarize with the desire to let the works of theologians speak for themselves.
While I wouldn’t normally advocate taking bibliographic material into consideration in a review, the second section of this book is wonderfully robust. It includes not only lists of the theologians and their relevant written works that were mentioned in the first section, but also short biographies of each one. It also includes a comprehensive Scripture reference list so that one can easily find the relevant biblical passages for personal study. As might be obvious from the outset, the second section makes it clear that The Blessed Virgin Mary is a text that is meant to introduce readers to the wealth of theological thought about Mary and to provide a starting place for further inquiry.
It should be noted that the authors do an excellent job of not advocating a particular theological position on Mary, and the concluding thoughts that each provide (pg. 89-100) help frame the book as a middle ground between Catholic and Protestant extremes. While noting that recent scholarship has shown some Catholic theologians seeing the Bible as "attenuating" (pg. 97) some Marian belief and practice, they also take care to observe that some Protestant theologians are coming to have a more robust view of the importance of Mary for their faith. If they encourage any position at all, it is that Mary is indeed important and worthy of significant reflection in any Christian tradition.
Thorough, compact, well-researched, and naturally presented, The Blessed Virgin Mary is an excellent, balanced introduction to the history of Christian theological thought about the mother of Jesus and a welcome resource for further individual or group study.