I commend Timothy George for his balanced article "Evangelicals and the Mother of God" (February). I also appreciate George's reference to the wonderful work of the Groupe des Dombes. Evangelicals will certainly benefit from embracing what the first seven universal councils confess about Mary. As a pastor in the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, I am concerned about the uninformed anti-Mary attitudes among some in my own church body, which can only frustrate constructive dialogue with our fellow Christians in the Roman Catholic Church.
However, as wonderful as George's article was, I wish he had given more details concerning official Roman Catholic teaching about Mary that should be cause for great concern among evangelicals--especially Lutherans. For example, can sincere and constructive dialogue between Rome and evangelicals move forward unless Rome is willing to reconsider the following in Pius IX's 1854 declaration on the Immaculate Conception, Ineffabilis Deus: "Hence, if anyone shall dare--which God forbid!--to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart."
Obviously, these words apply especially to those who are already members of the Roman Catholic Church. But these words do not encourage humble dialogue with those who are not.
I sometimes wonder how many Roman Catholics are aware of what Rome actually teaches about Mary. Concerning prayer to Mary, a Roman Catholic priest once told me: "Rome sees Mary on the same level as every Christian. When we pray to Mary, we are simply asking her to pray for us as I can ask any fellow Christian to pray for me." If that were all that Rome actually taught about prayer to Mary, Lutherans wouldn't be so concerned.
However, Ineffabilis Deus says: "All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin--in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world: in her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honor of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament, impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers."
In addition, Lutherans are even more concerned about how such views on Mary affect our understanding of the doctrine of justification. Lutherans confess that the justification of the sinner is a gift of God that is total and complete, based as it is on the merits of Christ alone. However, Rome's doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as confessed in Ineffabilis Deus can be used to support Rome's view of justification being a process that can be increased before God through human merit--our own merits as well as the merits of the saints (especially Mary) given to us.
For example, in paragraph 956 in The Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness.... They do not cease to intercede...