THE TRAGIC accident at York Minster has made an impression on British Christians in general that belies many of the pessimistic prognoses of the state of religion in our country. Hearts have been profoundly stirred and a vast sum of money for repairs has already been pledged by a generous public. Those, moreover, with an instinct for Christian landmarks in our island story have noted that the damaged transcept is associated with no less formative an event in our religious history than the baptism of the Northumbrian King Edwin as a result of the mission sent by Pope Gregory.
Perhaps, inevitably, after the first shock had been absorbed, questions were raised which seemed reminiscent of the superstitions of another age. Could there, asked one churchman, have been some element of "divine intervention" connected with the recent consecration in the Minster of a man accused by some of holding views incompatible with episcopal office?
The controversy over the views Dr David Jenkins, in fact, have been given a new dimension in as much as the very century which saw the Gregorian mission to Britain (that is the seventh century) also saw some of the most important consolidation of developed belief concerning Our Blessed Lady.
The earliest writings about Mary, including biblical ones, did not and could not be the'final word about the manner in which ,Christ, born of a woman, should be the Incarnate God. Matthew, in fact, is the only evangelist to make a completely clear statement about the Virgin Birth. He says categorically that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He puts great store by the prophecy (Isaiah, 7.14) "Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is God with us."
Christians in this secular and scientific age must be fully prepared, now that the storm over the new Bishop of Durham has sounded something of an alarm, to defend their traditional beliefs about Our Lady and the Incarnation by remembering, without worrying over, the difference in the original prophecy by Isaiah and that quoted by Matthew (1,23). Matthew has used the Greek Suptuagint translation of the Old Testament where the Hebrew word almah (meaning "young woman") has been translated as parthenos (meaning "virgin). The Greek, in other words, did not preserve the original meaning of the Hebrew.
Nevertheless, what was long recognised as a difficulty in the realm of intellect was never allowed to develop into a doubt in the realm of faith. In a similar way, though familiar beliefs seem recently to have been under fire, the integrity of overall doctrine has remained intact. We must be as grateful for this as for the fact that though York Minster has suffered partial damage, the great church as a whole has been preserved from destruction.