The Mother of Christ as a symbol of Christian unity: A case study for ecumenical dialogue

Maura E Hearden, Marquette University


Catholic faith convictions have declared the Blessed Virgin a "key" to Christian unity. She is the archetype of the Church, exemplar of the Christian life, and a living, interceding member of the communion of saints who enjoys a singular status because of her unique relationship with Christ. Furthermore, the story of Mary concretizes soteriological, anthropological, and ecclesiological doctrines. All of these factors point toward her relevance to many aspects of ecumenical dialogue. However, ecumenical treatment of Marian topics has, to date, existed in relative isolation from other dialogues, seeming to command only a minority interest. Furthermore, historical antipathies have placed Mary at the very heart of Christian divisions, giving rise to the perception that the Mother of Christ is an obstacle to Christian unity, a subject to be approached with caution. It is time to move forward. Certain trends within Protestant circles and the progress made by Marian dialogues in recent decades indicate that Christians have now come to a point in history when ecumenists may step beyond a mindset that seeks to overcome Marian "obstacles" to investigate the many ways in which mariological reflection might benefit dialogues focusing on "extra-Marian" topics. Indeed, we may even be able to appropriate Mary as a symbol of Christian unity within the context of each dialogue partner's theological heritage. Such a move would provide important benefits spanning the areas of doctrine, piety, and the affective dimension of Christian divisions. This work explores the extent to which Mary may be appropriated as a symbol of unity and demonstrates the benefits of such appropriation within the specific context of Catholic-Methodist dialogue, focusing on the particular "extra-Marian" topic, "the Church as a sacramental communion." Issues pertaining to doctrine, piety and the affective dimension of Christian division are addressed throughout. The investigation concludes with a proposal for adopting Mary as a symbol of unity (including concrete measures to be taken) that is directed toward Catholic and Methodist ecumenists.

Recommended Citation

Hearden, Maura E, "The Mother of Christ as a symbol of Christian unity: A case study for ecumenical dialogue" (2008). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3306512.