Simon Heans argues for a proper understanding of the witness of Mary to the truth of the Gospel

Is your church Papalist? A recent author would have us believe that Anglican Papalism ended in 1960. At least that’s when Michael Yelton decides to conclude his history of Anglican Papalism. But if there was a Mass in your church for the Immaculate Conception, it is probable that it qualifies as Anglican Papalist.

The trouble with Yelton’s decision to end his book when he does is that he can take no account of the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and its important documents. And they are, arguably, the fruit of Anglican Papalism. Certainly they put Papalism, once considered to be so extreme, firmly into the Anglican mainstream.

Ecumenical agreement

Consider the latest ARCIC publication Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ. There we have clearly stated agreement on those two dogmas of Mary’s Assumption and Immaculate Conception which were once cited even by some catholic Anglicans as evidence that Rome had learned nothing since the Middle Ages and still wanted to lord it over the rest of Christendom. Moreover, after endorsing the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception as ‘consonant with the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions,’ the authors do not hesitate to offer an opinion on the wider significance of this agreement.

Their view is that, ‘when accepted by our two Communions’ (note when not if) it ‘would place the question about authority which arises from the two definitions of 1854 and 1950 in a new ecumenical context’. In other words, the authors look forward to a time when papal authority might come to be seen as a gift to be received by Anglicans, which is of course how Anglican Papalists of the period covered by Yelton always regarded it.

But there are differences as well as similarities between this official, episcopally-sponsored Anglican Papalism, and the earlier outlaw version. One of them is exposed to view by the omission from Mary of any analysis of the remarkable number

of Marian apparitions in the previous two centuries, beginning with the appearances to Catherine Laboure at the Rue du Bac in 1830. Yet early Anglican Papalists had no reservations at all about such phenomena.

The witness of Lourdes

Next month in Lourdes they will be celebrating the 149th anniversary of the appearances of Our Lady to Bernadette Soubirous in the course of which she declared herself to be the Immaculate Conception. Mary says ‘There is need for careful discernment in assessing the spiritual value of any alleged apparition.’ I wonder if the following exchange between Malcolm Muggeridge and Cardinal Heenan in the 1950s is the sort of thing the authors had in mind when they wrote that sentence:

Muggeridge: Let us take the absurd business of the Immaculate Conception of Mary… Heenan: Do you believe in original sin? Muggeridge: Of course not. Heenan: Then you certainly believe in the Immaculate Conception. But you believe in the immaculate conception of everyone. Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception only of Our Blessed Lady.

And now all Anglicans can say the same. But I wonder if Mary with its careful and scholarly examination of Scripture and Tradition misses the point that comes across in this encounter between Muggeridge and Heenan. Muggeridge at that time was among those ‘who amplify the power of human reason in order to deny or diminish the benefits of revelation.’ (Pius IX) The 1854 declaration was not merely the result of an academic trawl through the ancient sources of the Faith, valuable though that is, but a response to the specifically modern challenge to it, viz, the rationalist attack on the Christian revelation of our fallen state and our redemption in Christ.

Our Lady herself appeared four years later to confirm how right that response had been. So, as well as December 8, the feast of official Anglican Papalism, let us be sure also to keep February 11, Our Lady of Lourdes. |