From Mr Francis Etheredge
Sir, The article entitled "The case for Mary the redeemer" (Jan 28) raises two questions: the meaning of Christian suffering; and the purpose of a declaration on the role of Mary in our Redemption.
In On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering , Pope John Paul 11 develops a commentary on the words of St Paul: "Now rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Articles I and 24 of SD). He says: "Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limit: but at the same time he did not bring it to a close" (art 24,SD); and then: "it seems to be part of the very, essence of Christ's redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed" (ibid). The Second Vatican Council said,"The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal" (Lumen Gentium, art 8). If our suffering completes the suffering of Christ, for the Church, then so did the suffering of Mary.
Now what would justify a particularly Marian expression of the Christian doctrine on suffering? First of all 'the Mother of God is a type of the Church' (Lumen. Gentium, art 63). Secondly, we live hi a society in which advancing the death of the sufferer is advanced as a solution to suffering. In other words, suffering is no longer alleviated in the context of helping a person to prepare for death. it has become the pretext of causing that death. The justification, therefore, for a Marian expression of the meaning of suffering would be to defend the redemptive purpose of human suffering. Finally, defending the spiritual significance of suffering would do two things: it would help us to help the suffering (cf. Art 16,SD); and it would help to turn us anew to the sufferings of Christ: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (in 3: 16; cf. Articles 14-18 of SD).
Reflecting on Mary turns us to Christ and our need of His answer to suffering; and reflection on the Paschal mystery will serve the cause of unity and not division. For as Hans Urs von Balthasar says in his commentary on Pope John Paul II Mary: God's Yes to Man, "each denomination should first explore the depths of its own beliefs ... for these depths may indeed provide the common ground to meet the other".
Yours faithfully, FRANCIS ETHEREDGE Cheltenham, Glos.
From Mr Keith Mitchell
Sir, 1 wonder whether the "traditionalists" who are pressing for the solemn definition of Mary as Co-Redeemer are aware of the totally untraditional nature of any such development.
It was Cardinal Newman who pointed out in 1870, in relation to the impending definition of papal infallibility, that never in the previous history of the Church had definition of doctrine de fide been "a luxury of devotion and not a stern painful necessity."
A century later this same truth was put equally strongly by Canon Garrett Sweeney, formerly Master of St Edmund's House, Cambridge.
He called the Petrine prerogative "a disagreeable necessity, like the skill of the surgeon" and insisted that papal definitions "belong only to times when the Church is sick, and torn by dissensions that cannot he cured by discussion and agreement."
It does not, of course, need a distinguished theologian to predict the very severe, and probably irreparable, damage that would be done to the cause of Christian unity by this new Marian definition.
Yours faithfully, KEITH MITCHELL Tunbridge Wells, Kent.